Exit Strategy

She can barely hear herself think over the screams of hypocritical judgement surrounding her. They call themselves ‘friends’ so they can excuse being snotty and rude together. No fun being both lonely and shitty.

The unspoken rule is that anyone present is ‘one of us’, and anyone absent is fair game. She stands, forgiving herself as fast as they judge the others, and she wonders, ‘where did I go wrong?’

Her eyes drip with disappointment in her life choices. Without moving her head, she scans and shifts around the room in quick, strategic motions; planning an escape route. ‘Does he look interesting? or just uninterested?’ she considers the boy in line for the bathroom.

The gaggle of pecking hens clucks out at a rhythm indecipherable until it is interrupted — a late comer arrives, so the gossip has to change gears. None of the girls realize it at first, but they weren’t talking about the late girl. Can’t be too safe, though. Just in case ‘late girl’ is actual friends with the present subject of judgement. Just in case late girl has a soul.

After a quick kiss on the cheek with late girl, she scans the room again. ‘Maybe the bouncer has a lighter.’ she thinks. ‘Maybe he also has a cigarette. Maybe even something to say…’ Her mother would be horrified.

Smoking is not the problem. Her decision to temporarily waterboard her integrity for the sake of vapid company is the problem. Her inability to just be alone tonight and be perfectly happy in that loneliness would be devastating to her dad. She knows better. He taught her better. She knows there is more to life than endless company; than surrounding yourself with people who will agree with you despite themselves. Which is exactly what she now does.

‘I think Adam Sandler is so sexy’, she blurts out. The sentence escaped her mouth without checking in at her pre-frontal cortex. She was in rhythm with the new topic before she even realized it. Her heart was beating at their pulse, not hers. Sure, she loves Adam Sandler, and wants to agree with something. But ‘sexy?’ Really?

She thought nothing like that. What she thought was, ‘before anyone disagrees, I will support the supporting of someone I support among this group of knee-jerk haters, before I find myself the subject of said knee-jerkishness.’ It was not until the rest of the girls agreed with her, wholeheartedly, emphatically, that she consciously realized her error.

She realized that what she had just done — thoughtless agreement with the group — was exactly what she hated about her present group of friends, and therefore, lately, herself. The Spiral of Silence; as her dad once called it. She hated feeling like a sheep. She was a wolf. She knew she could eat these bitches alive. She knew she had it in her.

Once, when she was 9, she lit her older brother’s army men on fire. Not because she was mad at him, but she wanted to impress him. She knew that she was capable of being a bad ass; swimming like a salmon. She is an up-stream kind of girl. A spontaneous arsonist. What, she had to ask, was she doing here?

As the level of discourse continued to decline into guilty pleasures of petty mindlessness, she could almost feel her spirit dying. Her heart was digging its way out of her chest, making a run for it. She overheard one of the girls mention her bangs, and she couldn’t take it anymore.

“’Scuse me”, she said. “I gotta have a smoke.”

“Oh my god! I’ll come with you!”

“OMG! Me too!”

“Hey, let’s all go!”

“Wait, I haven’t had a drink. I’ll save our spot”, said the late girl.
Suddenly, she felt the urge to stay. To take it all back.

She wanted to say, “on second thought, why don’t you herd of cunts just march your petty, bitch asses outside and lie down in traffic. I’ll stay here and hold the spot for people with a sense of the magic of life.”

She was entertained by this inner monologue. “I’ll wait for a conversation that doesn’t include human beings verbalizing abbreviations that were invented specifically because of the limitation of not being able to verbalize their thoughts. I will wait for a person with intelligence enough *not* to say ‘OMG’ out loud. I will wait for engaging, deep, interesting conversation about literally fucking anything else. You worthless wastes of waists should go on ahead without me, and delete me from your ridiculous lives.”

She wanted to jump into a tirade of insults so cutting, so brutal, so loud as to insure that these girls only had two choices for dealing with her from this point forward. Either they could forget her entirely and therefore try and forget the direct, unmistakable truths she would swing at them; or they could run outside, and begin a life-long gossip session about what a hormonal lesbian she was.

As she considered her options, the group started making waves through the bar; gathering bags and devices; chugging beers; talking, talking, talking. The rhythm was building. As she neared the door, she could see her father in the corner of her mind, looking over the top of his reading glasses, knowingly staring a hole through her stomach. Not so much judging her, but watching closely.

He was always great at knowing when not to say a word; when to just watch. He was great at letting her know he could see her, without getting involved. She could feel him letting her know. She could feel her breath shortening. Her heart was picking up speed. She was tired of the noise.

“Don’t throw a grenade when a warning shot will do the trick” he once told her. She was preparing to isolate herself from a boy at the time. She was tired of his jealousy, and had asked for her father’s advice. “Sometimes, the most powerful strategy is deciding not to fight.” As the gaggle of would-be-princesses waddled toward the door, negotiating a room full of equally unimpressive boys (she refused to call anyone a ‘man’ unless they earned it), she found herself formulating a plan.

Before she could articulate her strategy, she was already applying tactics. Reaching the last table before the door, she turned to face a group of boys who had been eyeing her ‘friends’ for the last half hour. She pulled her purse higher on her shoulder, and leaned over their table to interrupt. She didn’t have to work for it, the table of horned frogs had been watching, trying not to get caught staring.

“Hi guys…” she started in her most confident, mischievous voice, and could feel her dad sit up in the corner of her mind, himself leaning in to listen. “I was wondering if you could do me a favor…”

“I’m willing to bet we can” one hopeful spoke up, nudged by his friend.

“These girls going outside are really bored. I was wondering if you guys weren’t too busy, if you might be willing to get up right now, and go outside, and get to know them. Show them a good time. You know, work your magic.”

The looks on each boys’ face was so transparently shocked she had to try not to laugh. She was making their dreams come true.

“I’m kind of their guide for the night, and I’ve gotta head out early. They don’t know it yet, so I need you to buy me some time.”

“Um… so you’re not …”

Before he could finish, she interrupted. “I’m leaving out the back. I need a diversion. Who knows, if you’ve got any game at all, maybe one of you will get lucky.”

She hadn’t stood up and turned around before the whole table had cleared, and a half dozen matches were made outside. She turned toward the bar and made for the back in a hurry. Reaching the exit, she felt a tug at her purse strap.

“Hey wait up” one of the boys had decided to be a hero. He would stay with her.

She smirked, turned to him, and prepared herself for a cutting, unrelenting strike-down. She prepared herself for a cheesy pickup line, and a boy with nothing much to say, and even less to offer.

“Thanks” he said, offering his hand to shake.

“Excuse me?” Her hand automatically began to glide away from her body.

“I just wanted to say thanks.” As he took her hand, his eyes softened. “I’ve been trying to find a way out of that bullshit since I got here. I know you’ve got somewhere to go, so don’t let me hold you up. I’m on my way out the same way as you. Let me get the door.”

He reached past her, pushed the door open, and put a hand gently on the small of her back. As she walked through, she had a moment to consider that this was just a very clever pickup line, considering the moment, and that she was still going to need some heavy defense. As she stepped outside, she turned to see him walk out, and without another word, walk past her.

For a moment, she thought about calling out. She thought about looking to see if he was indeed a kindred spirit. Maybe it was worth another hour or two with him; wandering the alley and finding out what made him tick.
He didn’t even look back. Was he married? No ring. Who was he? In the back of her mind, her dad picked the newspaper back up to eye-level, covering his face. He leaned his head back to look through his glasses, and the foot dangling over his resting leg began to gently rock up and down. She was all good for now. Nothing more to see here.