My Girl Tina
"Oliver, tell me how you and Tina became involved."

I had forced myself to appear calm, although I was anxious as hell in this cold-ass tiny office filled with a giant, ancient, walnut desk and this 50-something woman behind it. What this bitch didn't know was that my composure did nothing to dull my senses. Nothing escaped my attention, not even the tiny shift the slits of her eyes made to check her cheap watch with the brown "pleather" strap. It was a minor miracle I refrained from scratching my right leg until it bled. This entire setup was uncomfortable. They designed it that way to keep you off guard.

Ms. King was matronly. It's the only word I can think of to describe her. Mostly, she wanted to appear interested in what I had to say. The tilt of her head, immobile Mona Lisa-like smile, and folded hands were all on display to convince me that she was non-judgmental. Ms. King cared about me. Yeah, right! But I had no choice but to play this scene out. Thirty minutes could blink by easily because I had begun to lose entire days without remembering anything I said or did. I'd beat her at this little chat. I just had to stay still as cold steel, and not talk to damn much.

"A buddy at work introduced us on a Friday after work. Think it might have been at the end of February. Anywho, it was before my birthday in March...this year," I answered after a pause. An old friend at the first advertising firm I worked for taught me the art of lying. He was, and probably still is, the maestro of deception. His philosophy is to always begin with the truth, pause briefly, then weave in the details you needed to tell the story you wanted the sucker to believe. It's a strategy that's worked in business and personal life for me ever since.

"What was your first impression?" she asked. Her expression had not changed. She was savvy in dealing with people like me. That was in her favor. What she didn't know was that I'm smarter than most people, and I know not to let them realize it.

"That's not a good question. It doesn't matter. Tina convinced me I was smarter, sexier, less awkward, and desirable. I don't know when it hit me that we'd see a lot more of each other," I said. Foolishly, I allowed an edge to cut through my voice. A menthol cigarette was the antidote I desperately needed at this moment. But then again, nicotine is a stimulant too, right? What I needed was a Xanax for my frayed nerves. Concentrate and chill out, fool! Don't blow it by letting her see through you. I trained my gaze back to her eyes and tried not to think about what felt like a trillion ants burrowing through the capillaries of my face. I knew what was coming next.

"Why do you call her Tina?" she asked as if she was interrogating a naughty six-year-old boy, and she, as the omniscient adult, already knew the truth.

"'Cause that's her name. Why do you call your husband, if you have one, by his name?" I snapped. I'm not accountable for being sarcastic when asked witless questions. I‘ve always been capable of making appallingly rude comments. I was pissed and she knew it. She was winning the game I started. Damn! Why didn't I visit my stash of Xanax I stole from the bipolar kid down the hall?

"Oliver, you're being defensive. You're not confronting the real issues by lashing out at me. It's to be expected. You're dealing with a lot right now. I'm here to help you resolve your problems with Tina, and help you learn to live without her. Don't you want the life you had before you met her?"

Platitudes really jangle my nerves worse than the keys on that omnipresent janitor's belt loop. These little clichés are worse than having your "service engine light" glow a hellish reddish-orange when you're hundreds of miles from home in the middle of the night without a cell phone. They're worse than what Tina does to me when she sneaks out at the end of the weekend, usually by the third hour of Monday morning, leaving me alone to wonder how I'll be strong enough to wait for her again at the end of the work week. But that's a lie because I'd started visiting her before hump day as I began to crumble. Maybe I'll tell this dumpy lady that nugget of truth.

"Well, yeah. I had an okay life before we got entangled. I made good money; people pretended to respect me. They called me "Mister" and shit because I wore designer suits and expensive Italian shoes. But Tina doesn't give a damn if I haven't showered and shaved in three days. She makes me feel I don't have to be the respectable gentleman I pretend to least most of the time." I pulled in a cool draft of air with my eyes closed. I hoped she was happy I'd just spilled my guts. Honesty is not my strong suit, but it‘s a novel sensation, and Lord knows I need something new. Besides, she was trained to sniff out bullshit from punks like me not unlike a bloodhound on the trail of an escaped convict. I didn't stop there, couldn't shut the hell up if I tried with all my might.

"Look. I'm not an idiot. I know Tina is no good. Hell doesn't describe what I feel without her right now. It ain't no joke, lady. You people are clueless on how tough this is for me. My anxiety is at a perpetual fever pitch. I always got the sniffles from a runny nose that threatens to dehydrate me, and I don't know if I'm ever gonna get over that evil bitch. But despite all she‘s taken from me, I'd be her slave this instant if given the chance," my voice dropping an octave on the last sentence. My poise had melted; I sounded less the professional man I was just five months ago, and more like these others bums I had to share the television with during the afternoons. My buddy at the job had warned me that Tina could do that to you.

Something I said caused a shift in the old bag perched behind her antique. There was a time I could spot sincerity or someone merely patronizing me. Lately, my formerly refined instincts had declined to the point where true human motivations baffled me. I didn't think my perceptions were deceiving me this time. Leo's enigmatic expression disappeared, her lined face no longer the work of a Renaissance artist. Ms. King's eyes were shining with a sheen of tears she was fighting not to lose to gravity. She looked as if she did give a shit.

"You've got a long way to go, but you can get there. And we can help you. You call her Tina. I called her Crystal. Some give her other handles, but it doesn't matter what you call her; crystal meth will eventually destroy all of us if we don't stop it. We allow the drug so much power that we personify it. It becomes our cheap lover and confidante, much more than the two cups of coffee we think we need each morning, or the cigarette we crave after lunch." Her chest fell as she expelled the last of her breath, and yet there was more she wanted to say. This time I managed to keep my fat mouth shut by gently biting my tongue. It must not have been too gentle. I tasted the iron essence of blood in a few seconds.

"You know she is killing you. Now let's work to change how you feel about yourself and her before you lose everything like I did," Ms. King finished in a voice that could calm a rabid pit bull.

My lungs, heart, stomach, and other vital organs I couldn't recall the names to, itched like they needed to be scratched with a metal comb. I relaxed a bit and allowed myself to rub the spot on my leg that had been begging for attention. I dropped the mask from my face, letting the nerve under my eye twitch for the first time in her presence. She was still focused on something I couldn't see on her desk, or maybe beyond it, in silence. Maybe she was remembering what Crystal had taken from her.

The silence was a welcome break for both of us. It was then for the first time that I looked above her mostly salt with a dash of pepper helmet of hair, and saw her framed face hanging on the bare white wall behind her. She had none of the mystery of Mona Lisa. Six years ago she was a chestnut brunette, 5'5" tall, and weighed 188 pounds. I knew this precisely because the sign she held below her face stated her vitals and a long number in bold type. It was her mug shot.

StarPoet   StarPoet wrote
on 11/6/2008 4:42:54 AM
Great! I think you told this with such depth and wisdom that it leaped out at me. A true gem here. Shakatoah was so right in that you should be EXCEPTIONALLY proud of this.

Warriorprincess55   Warriorprincess55 wrote
on 11/5/2008 1:25:49 PM

shakatoah   shakatoah wrote
on 11/4/2008 10:32:46 PM
Oh my've drawn these characters exquisitely. I could see every twitch, taste the blood, feel the defensiveness...and your ending was something I'd love to have written myself. Well should be exceptionally proud of that piece.

G_Money   G_Money wrote
on 11/4/2008 7:15:37 PM
You successfully created a character that has an edge and can garner sympathy. I like how you put his thoughts and his emotions through a full transition. I hope you continue the story :) Nicely done.

Short Story
writing jlew1973
"It could be better, but it's good enough."
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Rating: 4.0/10

A revision of a short I've worked on for a while. The story and characters are fictional, but the problem is not. Oliver is based on a man I once worked with this problem. Ms King is based on a counselor at a mental health and drug abuse clinic. He kept a mugshot of himself in his office to jolt addicts he worked with and show them that recovery was possible.
A Word from the Writer
The story was placed third in a short story contest last summer. I made some revisions to tighten the writing and ultimately, I envision a novel with Oliver as the main character.
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Not published