Wednesday, February 18, 2009

woman scorned, woman burned ii

14 February 1967

Stanley isn't here. You'd think the bastard would have come up with something contrite, even a clumsy romantic attempt, to apologize. But I arrived home this morning to a cold flat - the hearth had never been lit. Three days ago, I might have cared. But now... I asusme he's with his whore.

It's just as well. I needed the time to myself. To think about things. Last night's things. So I lit the fire and put on the heater, preparing - reluctantly - to wash away last night's smells. Smells of champagne, the stale tobacco from John's lumpy couch, his cologne...

My lips are still soft, even a little sore. He couldn't bring himself to stop kissing me. When was the last time I kissed a man first thing in the morning, with no regard for sour morning breath? It was...delightful. I woke up to the feel, then the sight, of his pale fingers entwined with mine, his other hand playing with my tight curls. He was breathing deeply, even though I could tell he was awake. I smiled before I knew why. I'm not turned off by his paleness or ruddy splotches of skin, perhaps because I've seen him in the summer - he has a deep tan that matches my cocoa complexion quite nicely. Those summers on the yacht, bobbing lazy in the Lagos harbor, a cool breeze calmly wafting away the day's humidity. But for decency's demands, who knows what we may have done and allowed the ocean to wash away?

Our love was frantic last night. Desperate. We clawed at each other, as though it were our last chance. This morning, we took our time. It was...perfect.

So why do I feel so guilty?

Since I left John, beneath the exhilaration, I have felt slightly dirty, unwelcome, even to myself. I'm so angry for feeling this way. Am I not justified? Can I not enjoy the pleasure of finally feeling wanted by someone?? I was wronged! A man marries you, takes you away from your home, where you have never wanted for anything, where you knew where to go when you needed a yard of fabric, a juicy piece of gossip, a hot bowl of fish soup - he marries you, and brings you to his home, over rivers, seas, desert dunes. He has been estranged from his family for years; they hear about you, the native bride, and find more reason to maintain their icy distance. My responsibility to fit in, my duty to ignore the whispers, the ignored invitations to our dinner parties, with grace and dignity. I thought I left my happiness in I think my happiness may be with John.

Maybe. I told him I'd see him again, though we never agreed when. And though we both know we shouldn't.

The bed wasn't slept in. Where could he have gone? What will I do when he gets back? What will I do if he doesn't?

I will draw a bath and inhale last night's smells one last time. And let tomorrow come and handle itself.

9 March 1967

I'm pregnant.


i feel sadness in my hand. like a heart attack, despair shoots down my left side and tingles in my palm. which means if i shed a tear, if i dwell on this sadness, i will conjure my own death. so i don't. i will scream, i will bite, and i will throw things. i will kick, i will slap, and i will say things. and none of those things can be taken back. they will build on each other, mounds of insults atop a foundation of hurt, until they create this enormous wall of animosity between us. and then, just like that, we won't be friends anymore.

then. only then. will i cry.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

because i just can't seem to post every week...

25 random thingumajigs about kulu

1) I have 20/20 vision, but i squint when i look at objects at any distance.

2) This is due to a phase of my life when I envied people their various disabilities, no matter how temporary, and wished I were astigmatic, asthmatic, and diabetic with a couple of broken bones and braces. what a sight I would have been to behold...

3) I color-coordinate my wardrobe, down to the hangers that the clothes hang on, and I HATE it when anyone ruins the order. HATE it.

4) I detest water stains, so I wipe down everything that gets wet after I've used it. I only recently trained myself to stop wiping down the shower curtain, because it was making me late for work.

5) I have unabashed love for Janet Jackson. She is the only celebrity that could get me to stand in rain, sleet or snow, waiting for a concert. And she can't even sing!

6) Dimples...I love dimples. I love a man with dimples. And I love dimples so much that I have tried to create a dimple in my own cheek by smiling really hard with my forefinger poking my face. I don't have a dimple.

7) I'm unbearably shy, and it's not getting any better. I now RSVP to events I have no intention of attending, simply so I can seem more outgoing than I am, but I hate being around strangers. I really do.

8) I still wish I were a mermaid. For a 3-month period after watching The Little Mermaid and Splash (I was 8 years old), I would go to the Shell Club swimming pool in Port-Harcourt and swim like a fish, with my legs together. If wishes were mermaids...

9) I still bear scars I've had since my father took me and my sister to the village in 1991 and LEFT us there for a WEEK! I refused to go to toilet that whole week, and got so many sand fly bites that ALL got infected, and then I went to school at Hillcrest and, following a fateful history lesson, the boys used to call me "Battle of Wounded Knee" behind my back. My aunt, who we lived with, wouldn't let him take us anywhere for more than a day after that.

10) I don't like insects or pictures of insects. If there's a picture of an insect (or an amphibian for that matter) on a page, I have to hold a part of the page that doesn't have the picture touching it to turn it, or if it's a full page picture, I have to shut the book and try to continue reading from the other side.

11) I forgot how to dance. The 2-step is my new best friend.

12) For a very long time, I didn't want to touch or be touched by white people cuz I had managed to convince myself they weren't clean or something, I dunno. I was nearly 17 by the time I got over it, and 20 before I got over it fully. To commemorate the occasion, I made out with this Italian guy.

13) I don't like physical affection - kisses, hugs, etc. And I'm dating the most physically affectionate person in the entire world - it's exhausting, but I'm calling it 'therapy'.

14) I didn't know how to cook until I came to America and lived here for a couple of years. The first time I made stew, I tasted it and thought I was subconsciously trying to kill myself. But I kept at it, and now I'm a badass! You don't believe me, ask about me!

15) How can I only be on #15??? I don't like long questionnaires. Dammit.

16) I don't sleep in the dark. OK, OK...I can't sleep in the dark.

17) I never ran a whole mile until I was 22 years old.

18) I wish lesbians would hit on me.

19) I have to contemplate my death - or rather, people's grief at my funeral - in order to cry real tears.

20) I HATE - oh my God - I HATE people who smack their lips when they're eating food or chewing gum. I have moved train cars, pumped music into my ears and crossed the street to get away from their crass incivility.

21) I wish I could dress like Erykah Badu. But I don't have the tits. Or the ass.

22) I love driving long distances - a 7-hour drive is pure bliss to me (if I have enough CDs). And I prefer not to have company.

23) I want to be a screenplay writer, but I don't really like movies. How's that for irony?

24) I develop drug-resistant insomnia when I'm stressed out.

25) I wish I had more friends and a bigger living room so we could play Taboo. I love Taboo.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

had it to Here

The one question that followed me after the week I've had was: can you get fired for telling off the CFO where you work?

Not for the first time, my inability to hold my temper has given me cause for worry. At the same time, however, I have to wonder: how many times should I be expected to hold my tongue in the face of unbearable disrespect? The stamp of my organization is disorganization. The folks who run the programs work on the second floor, and carry out their responsibilities very differently from the people who support them: the operations team, the finance team, the HR team, i.e. the folks on the third floor. It can create significant tension, most of which I avoid in my usual way: by keeping to myself. But I understand the frustration that gets passed around - part of my job, as a left- and right-brained individual, is mediating between my free-spirited supervisor, who has no regard for accounting principles or receipts, and the exceptionally patient senior accountant, who only ever does her best to comply with this company's ever-changing standards and requests with a smile.

The week started with one of my team members snapping at me. She, like many of us, is frustrated because she doesn't think she's being allowed to do her job. She is also, apparently, one of many people who is frustrated specifically with my supervisor. When my boss is away, I'm her mouthpiece. So, by extension, I got snapped at. I wasn't offended, because all she said was, "I don't fucking know what to do about this," and apologized immediately after. In fact, I tried to talk her off the ledge. But when the senior accountant went on a diatribe the very next day, I started to wonder whether it was 'shit on kulu' week. Little did I know: it was. She berated me for a full five minutes, ending with the inflammatory "it's not you..." speech, and if I didn't see her as a mother hen at the office, I'd probably have found some way to lash back. It's a very simple concept: if I'm not the one you're mad at, don't yell at me. But I chopped it, which was probably where things started to go very wrong.

I went home on Tuesday night, very confused and upset. For the first time in a long time, I didn't want to go to work the next morning. And unfortunately, Wednesday was no better. I had my first run-in with the CFO when I went to ask him a very simple question about creating a new internal budget, based on the ever-changing policies of the 3rd floor, and got a 15-minute demonstration, complete with marker and whiteboard, that didn't even answer my question! And the whole time, he's talking to me like I'm an idiot. The last straw was when he said, "Now, what's 90 plus 10? 100, right?" I refused to answer, partly because I was afraid of what I'd end up saying, and partly because I was sure he didn't expect me to answer. Would you believe this motherfucker actually TURNED AROUND, looked away from the whiteboard, and said, "It's 100, isn't it?"

Sweet Lord who created everything that is good. Several thoughts sprinted through my head at that point, including the one that reminded me that he is, after all, the CFO and that it would behoove me for the meantime to just get past this very awkward moment. So I choked out a very restrained Mmhm! and prayed for him to move on. I was doing well, I thought, until he was demonstrating how to multiply 100 by 25% and asked me if I understood how he did that. The rage that had been simmering in my gut shot out of my mouth in five terse syllables: I understand, Jack. Even he had to pause. He turned to me again and said, "Is there something the matter? Did I do something to offend you?" I forced a smile (I doubt I did it convincingly) and mumbled something about being totally fine. Then he switched tracks. He makes it a habit to speak in a falsely self-deprecating, run-on manner he obviously learned at some seminar; he thinks he's playing on your psychology and that you can't see through the act. It's infuriating. "Oh, well, you know, I know you know this, but you know, I'm an old guy, so I have to talk through the whole thing, just for me, you know, because my brain doesn't work as well as yours does, since you're younger than me, and I know you're smart as a whip, young lady, but just be patient with me while I go over this step by step, OK?" Wink, smile.

Slap him, said the devil on my left shoulder.

Slap him, said the angel on my right. But not right now.

They were hard to ignore (But when can I slap him, angel? When?? I busied myself thinking), but by some stroke of luck, I made it through Jack's torture without pointing out that he didn't even answer my question. Presentation over, I went over to the senior accountant's office and got the answer to my question in 3 seconds flat. Then I made the budget and sent it in to be approved. I don't often make mistakes when it comes to something as straightforward as math, so I was surprised to receive an email from the grants & budget manager that said, "Kindly be sure to use the following form when you turn in your budgets. NOTE: Your budgets will not be approved if you don't follow proper procedure." Now, I'm already having a fucked-up day, on top of a fucked-up week. The very last thing I need is this bullshit. No, the very last thing I needed was to scroll down (why, God, did I scroll down?) and see the email Jack wrote to the g&b manager, which said: Could you please make sure she understands the way we want to see budgets?

She? She?? I have a name, you bastard! And furthermore, I used your damn form! Is it my fault the form changes every month?! Maybe if you had a central place where one could go to submit their budget forms, we wouldn't have this problem! And frankly, I was just tired of being talked down to. Tired of having to deal with a bunch of yokels who barely know how to tie their own shoes, and are managed by a liar and a thief. Any peanut-brained moronic fool can do accounting at the level they're expecting to do accounting in this organization, and wouldn't have a problem doing it if we weren't presided over by an iron-fisted man who so happens to have no respect for the money he is granted by donors, big and small.

Whew! You think this is where I exploded at the CFO, don't you? Think again. I thought all this silently to myself, alone in my office for a welcome change because my office buddy was home sick. And then I re-submitted the budget using this most recent form, and went home to bitch to CB and plot my escape from that nonsense. I was already patting myself on the back for having come a long way on my journey to self-control and evenness. Little did I know the ingredients for my internal ticking timebomb had already been mixed. All they needed was a spark.

Enter Thursday: spark. My feet were like lead. It was all I could do to drag myself through the elevator doors to my desk. I just didn't want to be there. I heaved a huge sigh as I sat down at my desk and opened Outlook to check my emails. 25 new. I sighed again, and got up to get a cup of coffee. On my return, I noticed an email from Jack, subject line: Approved. I should have stopped right there, I really should have. But noooo, kulu has to read shit. Opened it up, skimmed the email, which was pleasant enough: Your budget has been approved. I just made a couple of changes. Could have stopped there too. But I opened the attached file and noticed he added some columns and numbers that just didn't make sense to me. I suppose I could have said anything else in my response, but I like to know things and understand things, and so I asked Jack another question instead of just saying thanks and keeping it moving. But my stupid ass decided to ask the jackass (pun not intended) why he added the numbers the way he did, and if he wouldn't mind calling me when he got a chance to let me know.

The day rolled on, and all the little things that take up my time quickly swarmed in my email and my door. So it was hours until I got back to my desk and saw Jack's response to my question from the morning: Oh, well, I'm certainly happy to help you fix this as well. Though I'm surprised, because I thought you'd be smart enough to know what to do here. I should tell you, though, that it's not my job to fix your mistakes so you should take more time to go over your work before you send them to me from approval.

Spark. Light. Fire!

I remember I tried to do several things at once in the following moments. I tried to smash my computer, while hitting Reply. I tried to type a scathing email, while trying to leave my office and never return. In the end, the adrenaline pumping through me proved stronger than any other act requiring thought. Before I knew what I was doing, I had picked up my phone, dialed his extension and was telling him how rude and inappropriate I thought he was. Enter Seminar Jack: "Oh, well, I certainly didn't mean to offend you, but I really have to say, I think you're a little angrier than I'd expect you to be over something as trivial as this. Is there something going on in your personal life that's triggering this reaction?" To that, I said, "Well, just how angry do you think I should be, Jack." Exclamation point.

It took a little while, but he eventually apologized. And because I felt it was the politically correct thing to do, and because the chilling reality that I was arguing with a senior manager was starting to break through my anger, I said that I would come upstairs to his office when I was feeling better to apologize to him. In retrospect, I'm glad I did that because I needed time to figure out what I could apologize for. Otherwise, my insincerity would have no camouflage and I'd almost certainly be on probation right now.

Lead re-entered my feet as I made my way up to the 3rd floor. I came to a complete standstill outside his office door, which was a shock even to me, so rarely am I physically overpowered by my visceral instincts (outside of anger, that is). When I walked in, he had that look on his face, the one I hated seeing, knowing that I had brought it on myself: that smile that said I pity you, lowly peon, overly emotional female, who would be so classless as to lose her temper at work. I felt so wretched, so mad at myself.

He invited me to sit down; I politely declined and launched right into the apology I had practiced at my desk and perfected in the stairwell. We went through the motions of formal apology, I guess. It was odd enough, given that I've never had any sort of confrontation in the whole year I'd been working at that office, but the conversation really took a weird turn once we'd determined that we were, in fact, sorry for our respective roles in the decline of decorum. Seminar Jack showed up, once again, and stuck around for the next half an hour. If you're counting, that's thirty minutes. "You know, and I don't know whether you know this, but I just really like to help people. And I'm very, very good at sensing when a person is going through some personal...distress, and you know, if you're having some personal problems, you should know that you can always come and talk to me in the strictest confidence."

I was shocked. What manner of blatant busybody was this? At the same time, I couldn't help but feel the tide shifting; I'd found his weak spot.

"Well," I said, "thanks for that, Jack. I appreciate it."

"Yeah, cuz you know, I used to work in a church. And one of my responsibilities there was just to listen to people and try to help them, because you know, I really just love to help people. So you can always come and tell me if you're going through anything. If you just woke up today and said, Fuck, I don't want to go to work today, you know, you can always come to me and say that. Or if your neighbor said boo to you, or your car didn't start, or someone cut you off, or you lost a parent, or a sibling, a child. Or if your coffee just didn't taste right. Or maybe you lost a bunch of money over the weekend. Or someone yelled at you. Just...anything. Because there has to be a bigger reason why you'd get so mad over something so trivial."

Apparently all that time at work didn't have any effect on his vocabulary. I was going to enjoy messing with this guy. "You know, I really should think about that, Jack. I'll go back and have a think, but ultimately, anger is a subjective thing. And frankly, I think it was enough that you would choose that response to what was an innocent question."

His play. "Yeah, I'll admit I was being a little bit of a bitch, you know, but y'know, I still think you are going through a little something that you just don't want to share."

We did this for half an hour, folks. Half an hour. Eventually, I got bored with it and started moving towards the door. "Thanks again, Jack. Really glad we could handle this professionally and thanks for accepting my apology."

"I know there's something you don't want to tell me!" he squealed.

I laughed as derisively as I dared. "Don't worry Jack; as soon as I can think of what the problem is, I'll be right here, knocking at your door." With that, I left.

Now I'm avoiding him. But I'm hoping I really have dodged that bullet. If they fire me, though, I might be grateful for the possibility of a life change, forced though it may be.

And now, I must run and catch the last quarter of the Super Bowl. Adieu.