In August of 2007, after living in New York for the better part of a year, I found myself between travel jobs, bored out of my gourd, and in need of extra income. I was shopping in my favorite market, Trader Joe's, when, on a whim, I asked for an application. It included questions that required a working knowledge of multiplication, long division, and fractions in order to provide the correct answers. This is knowledge that I possess, though barely. I have always cusped on retardation where mathematics is concerned. In any case, within three days, I was screened, interviewed, and hired. When David, one of the supervisors, called to tell me when to report for duty, I said, "Great! What do I bring? Just myself and my remedial math skills?" he laughed and disconnected.
I had shopped at Trader Joe's for all of my tenure in Los Angeles, after being introduced to it by my friend, Niambi, and the employees there always seemed happy to be at work. Still, having spent years cobbling an income out of this or that acting, decorating, catering, floral design, or travel gig, I was nervous about taking anything resembling a real job. I mean, there's a time clock, for God's sake.
My third day on the job, I was lunching in the break room when a beautiful girl in dreadlocks and multiple tattoos sat down at my table. Her name tag identified her as "Kim C."
Me: "How's it going?"
Kim C.: "So, what's your deal? Are you into guys or girls, or what?"
Kim C.: "Both?"
Kim C.: "It's cool, either way."
Me (thinking she was trying, albeit clumsily, to pick me up): "I skew towards straight."
Kim C.: "That's cool."
Kim C. :"I have to ask, I mean it's Trader Joe's."
This was my first indicator that the Joe is an incestuous sex pool. I decided in that moment that dating at work was a loser move. I also decided that, being a bit older than the average employee, the chances of me meeting someone there with whom I shared any interests were pretty slim. (I was wrong, though. Dead wrong. Two of my dearest friends in life are former Joeworkers.) I later learned that Kim also skews straight, and was undercover in an attempt to gather info about me for some of the male employees, (these days, though, she assures me she is no longer a double agent, but only works for me).
One such employee, Chuck, was kind of a mystery to me. He was really nice, and as he had been working there for over a year, seemed to know all the ins and outs of the Joe. He was always willing to share this knowledge, and always in a good mood. Still, I didn't quite know what to make of this big white kid in his giant pants, XXL T-shirts, and Yankees caps. His constant hip hop references also threw me. I mean, was this just the way native Manhattanites dressed and behaved, or what? I was forced to rely on "Urban Dictionary" and other similar websites in order to decipher phrases like, "Good lookin' out," and "What's good?" or, "Fall back a little."
I was further confused when, towards the end of my first week of work, I was ringing up a customer on register one, and Chuck walked up and grabbed my cheek saying, "Look at that face. If I weren't so broke, I'd take you out for a drink after work." I said something along the lines of, "I don't think so, Jr. In Arkansas, where they start in the tweens, I'm almost old enough to be your mother." He didn't give up easily though, and proceeded to tell me all about himself while we were stocking chips together a few nights later. Mostly, his stories were of his checkered youth, (his "youth" transpiring maybe two years prior to this conversation). As his diatribe continued, I also learned that he was adopted, had Jewish parents, and became obsessed with hip hop music and culture after discovering the Wu-tang Clan at the ripe old age of ten. The whole time, I kept thinking, "I am not attracted to this person." And, "Why is he telling me this? We have nothing in common."
Later in the week, I went out for a few drinks with some of my new co-workers, Chuck among them. He spent most of the evening trying unsuccessfully to convince me that he wasn't too young for me. I had purchased toilet tissue and a few other necessities before leaving work, and had these items with me in a paper shopping bag (this would mark the beginning of a long tradition of my never going out after work without being saddled like a burro with groceries I had purchased prior to closing). One drink led to another, and me being a lightweight, I ended up on the street outside a bar called Finnerty's, having been ushered out at closing time with my comrades. Though many of the details are fuzzy to me, I do remember seeing my six-pack of toilet tissue lying on the sidewalk like roadkill, and then slowly realizing that I was holding the handle - just the handle - to my paper shopping bag in my left hand. Somewhere in the midst of this, Chuck asked me for a good night kiss. I refused, slurringly telling him that I wasn't really interested in him, or in being the office skank. He suggested we walk around the corner, out of eyeshot of our colleagues, and apparently, I did kiss him, though I have no memory of it. That evening ended with me illegally packed into a yellow cab with six other people (Chuck not among them), sitting on the lap of a man named Dwayne (who had the actual black power pick with the clenched fist handle protruding from his hair), and racing uptown to 57th street, A.K.A. the opposite direction of where I live. (Note to self: Do NOT go out drinking with the crew from the Joe).
Chuck asked me out several more times, and I turned him down several more times. My reasons were varied: he asked me out via text message instead of calling, we had nothing in common, he was far too young for me, I didn't want to date someone from work, etc, etc. In the midst of this flirtation, Chuck got promoted to supervisor, which means he is not allowed to date anyone who works in the same store with him, and he stopped asking for dates. I chalked it up to all for the best, since I couldn't even decide if I was attracted to him or not.
Over a year went by, during which we would periodically text or chat for a few days here and there. Or, we would go on break together occasionally. I always found him easy to talk to, though I could also find him extremely irritating. More than once, I deleted him from my phone. All of this culminated in Chuck being the one to take me to the emergency room when I fell at work at Thanksgiving, and since then, I have looked at him in a new way. I realized I was attracted to him, and even worse, that I actually liked him. After more than a month of negotiations (with him about our relationship potential), I transferred to the Brooklyn store in January, and we started to date in earnest.
Though I would definitely not classify myself as a high school teacher from Florida, or anything, this is not the first time I have dated someone younger. My senior year of high school, I dated a sophomore, which at a magnet school full of nerds is not as socially suicidal as it sounds. Also, my long term beau, Ryan, was four years younger than me. I never gave our age difference much thought until we went to see Prince in concert at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. He was performing for five nights, and every night, he had a different opening act, which was not posted or announced prior to show time. As the usher directed us to our seats, I asked who that night's opening act was and was thrilled when he said, "Morris Day and the Time." I turned excitedly to Ryan and said, "Did you hear that, Buddy? Morris Day and the Time!!!" He replied, "Morris who and the what now?" Other than that incident, though, there were few times when our slight age difference occurred to either of us, and our relationship lasted for nearly eight years. Our common desire not to reproduce was a significant contributing factor to the longevity of our relationship.
However, with Chuck, (or Charles, as I prefer to call him) the child issue has reared its ugly, baby-powder-smelling little head again. Not once, but several times. Chuck would really like to have a child, and I have long thought that I really wouldn't. Though having seen baby pictures of Chuck, I am willing to at least consider it (he was EXCEPTIONALLY adorable). But, this is a deal-breaker issue after all, and to that end, I have initiated a few serious discussions about it. After the last time we talked about parenthood, I had the following dream:
I was in labor, but rather than taking a taxi or ambulance, I was making the entire journey to the hospital in a wheelchair. Chuck was pushing me, and as we finally crossed the threshold of the emergency room, a nurse at a huge circular desk said, "Oh. Hello there, Ms. Wood. We were expecting you. Can I get you anything?" I said, "Yes. I want this exact CD (and I held up and shook a copy of a mixed disc that Chuck made me in real life), and some PLAN B, Goddammit!" The nurse responded, "Oh, I'm afraid it's a little late for that. You see, you're already in labor." I replied, "You asked me what you could get me, and I told you. I WANT the morning after pill, NOW!!!" The nurse insisted in an infuriatingly cheerful, singsong voice that it simply wasn't an option, and furthermore, that they had no CD's. I said, "Well, I guess I just won't get ANYTHING I want today!" Chuck started to push me towards the operating theatre (A big one, surrounded by stadium seats, and huge plexiglass windows - reminiscent of the Junior Mint episode of "Seinfeld", or a hockey rink), but to get there, we were required to descend endless cases of M.C. Escheresque stairs. It was a bumpy and disconcerting ride. A white coat-clad doctor was waiting at the bottom of the last flight of steps, and after merely glancing at me, he told me that my appendix was going to burst, and that we would have to take the baby out immediately, even though my labor had not progressed to the point of birth naturally. In the same, irritable voice I had used with the nurse, I yelled, "My baby should get to come out when SHE wants to, and not when YOU say she should!" "She should only come out when SHE'S ready!!!" Then, I woke up.
I'm no psychologist, but it seems pretty clear that I have some deep and conflicted emotions about becoming a parent. I know that those emotions are rooted in my experiences with my own parents, and that makes sense to me. I also know that I don't believe it is necessary to become a parent to be truly fulfilled in life. Even though this is by no means a decision I have to make right now, I do feel that it is a decision I need to ponder as I am not inclined to invest a lot of time in something that is doomed to fail because we know at the outset that we want different things.
Chuck is a truly wonderful person, and I have an attachment to him that is always surprising to me. We are constantly told how cute we are together. I would like to believe that age doesn't matter, but it probably does. We are in radically different places in our lives. He is juggling two careers - supervising at Trader Joe's, and being a hip hop producer (he has his own studio). We spend very little time together, especially now that I am also a supervisor at Trader Joe's (our average shift is ten hours, and usually a bit longer, not including commutes). And very often, lately, I feel like the me in my dream: a petulant child having a tantrum because she can't control things that are already WAY beyond her control.
My mood is no doubt influenced by the fact that I never expected to be managing a grocery store for a living, especially at this point in my life. There is zero shame in this occupation - it is a wonderful company to work for, and filled with great folks. It's just a different destination than I had envisioned for myself. A few days ago, when a customer came up to me and asked where she could find the "vanilla abstract," it gave me pause. I am not gonna lie. I took a minute to reflect on exactly what I want my life to look like.
Here's what I came up with:
I want to own a home (preferably a brownstone).
I want to write for a living.
I want to have a long term relationship with someone whose core values are in line with mine. Marriage is OK, but not necessary, as long as this partner and I are committed to sharing our lives together. (I am over the long separation bullshit, and the no time for the things that really matter crap. I have done those themes to death.) And, a single child is up for discussion, though I am making no promises.
I always believe that things happen as they should, so I am certain that reconsidering what I truly want in life is a big part of why I am in this particular job at this particular time, and in this particular relationship at this particular time. However, more and more recently, it seems that Chuck and I do not want the same things, and that saddens me. I genuinely love this guy, but I wonder: how do you know when something is irresolvable? At what point do you call it? How does anyone do a good job of caring for themselves and also caring for a partner? Everything seems a bit indecipherable to me just now. It seems that everyone I know is at some sort of crossroads, and struggling mightily. My big wish is for it to get MUCH easier for us all. Easy is something I could definitely have sex with, right now. Definitely.