My coworker, Shane, is mid-presentation when my phone starts blowing up. One moment I’m listening to him drone on about our client’s newest drug, the next I’m wondering why I just received so many messages. Probably no big deal. Jenny just wants to know when I’ll be home so she can make a dinner reservation or something. Shane continues to spoon feed sales jargon to the on looking crowd while I grow increasingly frustrated. Jesus Shane, how full of shit are you? Cut to the chase already.
The second the presentation is over, I excuse myself from the booth and pull the phone from my jacket.
I’m Sorry Mike, it’s over.
The words jump from the screen and slap me in the face, shattering my well ordered life into a million pieces.
I’m moving all of my stuff out, the keys will be with the doorman.
The second message punches me in the gut. I fight back the urge to vomit, shit my pants, and pass out before I continue reading.
You’re a nice guy, but this isn’t going anywhere.
I stand up straight, loosen my bright orange tie, and unbutton my collar. The crowds gathered in the conference room for the trade show seem to draw in, stealing my oxygen. I pick my way through the swarm until I reach the relative safety of the adjacent hallway and lean against a wall to consider the ramifications of what I just read. Why is Jenny moving out? Is this because I was away on Valentine’s Day? And did I just get dumped by text? This fucking sucks!
My legs threaten to collapse beneath me, like they’re made off rubber. I stagger into the hotel bar, take a seat at the counter, and order a Jameson and double espresso. The whiskey warms my pallet but fails to stem the anxiety rising within. I think back over the past few weeks to see if something stands out. Should I have seen this coming?
Memories lay strewn about my mind like dirty laundry on a teenager’s bedroom floor. It’s a disorganized mess of discarded thoughts and feelings. Sifting through them reveals nothing except the absence of meaningful interactions with my girlfriend Jenny over the past month. She visited her parents while I played rugby, went to bed early on account of a big week of work, then rebuffed my attempts to interest her in sex because she was on her period. Jesus, she even canceled our antiquing trip.
I can remember the last time I jerked off, but can’t remember the last time we had sex. The realization that my girlfriend of almost two years has distanced herself without me even realizing it is sobering. I look around the lobby for a familiar object or face to comfort me, but find none so return to my messages.
Please don’t get all weird about this.
Weird? What the fuck does that mean? Should I just accept Jenny’s decision to end our relationship like a waiter at a restaurant who tells me they’re out of prime rib? I dial her number, but she doesn’t pick up, which is good because I don’t know what I would have said except for, “what the fuck?” Instead, I send her a message.
Baby, please call me. Don’t move your stuff, we can work this out!
I press my palms into my eyes and let out a frustrated moan. Ok dude, pull yourself together. This is just a temporary setback. She’s just trying to freak you out and get your attention. It’s not like she’s announced this to the world, you can still f –
My phone buzzes on the bar. Expecting a reply from Jenny, I’m initially irritated the message is from one of my friends back in Philadelphia.
Dude, check your Facebook. WTF?
Being on Facebook is like living in medieval times where the village gossip goes from house to house spreading rumors. At times, the urge to delete my account is almost overpowering, but burying my head in the sand won’t make the Social Network go away. Better to remain a part of the community and make sure I’m aware if something on Facebook involves me.
I open my account with a sense of foreboding and read the first notification: “Jenny McMillan is no longer in a relationship”. The colors on the screen distort as I tighten my grip. Now everyone and their mothers, mine included, know my relationship has just gone into the toilet. A “Like” from her best friend, Amy, sits beneath the update, a middle finger just for me.
I slam my phone on the bar and down the remaining whiskey.
Amy. She never liked me and I bet she loves this. But it isn’t over.
“Oi Mike, ya stupid bastard!” Shane’s arrival shatters the relative calm of the bar. “What are ya, fuckin’ deaf?” he cries in his Aussie drawl. “We’re on again in one minute. Get yer arse in gear.”
Without giving me time to respond, he grabs me by the arm and yanks me toward the conference room. I stumble behind him, protesting as he drags me along. “But I haven’t finished my coffee!”
“Too bad ya fuckwit, yer outta time.”
A day which started so promisingly is spiraling out of control. An hour ago, I strutted like a peacock before our audience at the Miami Pharmaceutical Trade Show. Customers lined up to speak with us, with a significant financial windfall sure to follow. Now, the remnants of my personal life float through my brain like detritus from a sunken ship and prevent me from focusing on the task at hand.
When we re-enter the booth, customers hover before us, like vultures circling a crippled wildebeest, waiting for it to stop moving and die so they can feast. Shane frowns at me. His blue eyes flash with anger beneath his perfectly imperfect blonde hair, saying, “Don’t fuck this up for me!” I straighten my suit while he welcomes the customers to the booth in his best English.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you so much for your patience. Our last demonstration generated so much enthusiasm that it proved to be rather draining for both of us and we required a spot of refreshment before proceeding.” He glances in my direction before continuing. “I see my colleague is ready to begin. My name is Shane Cooper, this is Michael Woodcock. We’re here today to tell you about the latest and greatest discovery in heart medication from Gordon, Thomas, and Jeffries.”
I stare at the crowd without registering their presence. Memories of Jenny flit across my mind, interrupted only by the thought of punching Amy square in the face. In the absence of rational thought I blame the entire episode on Amy.
She has always been jealous of Jenny. Jealous that Jenny has a boyfriend, is better looking than her, has a better job, and a direction in life. She should be getting her shit together, getting her career on track or getting a boyfriend. Instead, she’s been pouring poison in Jenny’s ear and trying to steal her away for girls’ weekends. Why couldn’t she just be happy for Jenny? I even tried to hook her up with Stilts from the rugby team, but she was such a bitch that he blew her off before the end of the night. I hope she catches gonorr –
“Mike? Mike!” Shane glares at me and repeats his request. “The next slide if you please, Mike.”
“Err, yes, the next slide.” He returns to entertaining the spectators while I cycle zombie like through the presentation.
We’re barely three slides in when my phone buzzes again. I don’t think twice about answering. A mental fog descends upon the conference room, muffling the sound of Shane and the audience. Shrouded in my imaginary veil of privacy, I am free to deal with my personal problems without interference. I drop the remote, turn my back to Shane and the crowd, and answer Jenny’s call.
“Hey, Jenny.” My heart flutters. “What’s going on baby?”
“Mike, it’s Amy.”
“Amy?” The irritation in my voice must be clear. I want to speak with her like Compton wants to host a KKK rally. I try not to choke on my words in my struggle to remain polite. “Where’s Jenny, can I please speak to her?”
“Look Mike, she doesn’t want to speak to you. She’s getting the last of her stuff out of your apartment. Listen, you need to let this go. Don’t be a –”
“Amy, I don’t know what crap you’ve been telling Jenny about me but I need to speak with her so just put her on the damn phone!”
“Hey, Mike,” says Shane in a low growl. “I need ya over here. Get off the phone. Now.”
“Sorry Shane, just gimme two secs to take care of this. Just two secs!” I turn away again. He could be a seven foot tall Viking warrior juggling penguins and chainsaws while getting a blow job from Jennifer Lawrence, and I wouldn’t notice. All I care about is getting Jenny onto the phone.
“No, it’s me. It’s Jenny.” Her voice wavers, betraying unsteady emotions. “Mike, I don’t really want to speak about this now. Let’s not make this any harder than it needs to be, okay?”
I’m not about to let her flush the last two years of our lives down the toilet without some kind of struggle. “Baby, what’s going on? Is this about Valentine’s Day? Can you wait for me to get home so we can talk?”
Jenny sighs. “This relationship isn’t going anywhere. I’ve been trying to tell you, but you don’t listen. We should just go our separate ways.”
“What do you mean it isn’t going anywhere? Everything was great until you texted me this morning!”
“Look, I didn’t want it to end this way. I’ve been trying to talk to you about this for weeks, but you’re either traveling for work, at happy hour, or playing with your friends. The more I tried to talk to you about it, the less you were around. The less you were around, the more I realized that trying to get you to change is pointless and I should just let you go. That’s the only way you’ll grow up.”
“Grow up? What the fuck are you talking about? I’m out here busting my ass to have a career! You’re dumping me by text and I’m the one who needs to grow up?”
My last comment draws a few gasps from the crowd. Shane rips the veil of privacy away by grabbing the phone out of my hand and pulling me back to reality.
“Oi! Idiot! What’s the matter with ya? Get yer head back in the game!”
“Fuck off Shane! This is important! I’m trying to speak to Jenny!”
I’m going into full blown melt down. I need a quick pep-talk from my friend and colleague in the form of a calm, rational plea for me to step back from the ledge before I can commit career suicide. Something along the lines of, “Look mate, I know yer stressed out, but right now I need ya to focus on this presentation. As soon as this is over, ya can tell me what’s going on and we’ll work it out together.”
Unfortunately, Shane doesn’t do pep-talks. He likes to shoot first and ask questions later. This might ruffle a few feathers along the way, but he always gets his point across. And right now, he is shooting first. I reach out to grab my phone but Shane pushes me away. My mind sways like a punch-drunk boxer, unsteady and lurching between thoughts, ready to lash out at the slightest provocation. Even if I could get back on the phone with Jenny, I couldn’t salvage things.
“Last chance mate.” Shane hangs up the phone and flips it back to me. “Leave that drongo alone and let’s get on with the show.”
“Hey, fuck you, asshole! That’s my girlfriend you’re talking about!”
“I don’t care who it is,” Shane hisses. “We’re in front of clients. Pull yer head out of yer girlfriend’s twat and act like a professional!”
My mind snaps. Who the fuck is Shane to talk to me like that? I shove him with both arms, knocking him into the projector, which crashes to the floor. He continues to stagger backward until his foot catches in the cables and he tumbles to the ground. For a split second, I’m aware of the crowd and what I’ve done. Uh-oh.
I’m still staring at the crowd when my head explodes in pain. Fixated on the shocked expressions of the spectators, I failed to notice Shane’s fist on its way to my jaw. I taste blood as I fall to the floor. The crowd gathered to watch our presentation gasps in appreciation at the unexpected entertainment, pressing up against the front of the booth.
I rise to one knee, shake my head to clear the cobwebs, and launch myself forward, tackling Shane through the back of the booth. Somehow, only the back wall falls away and the rest of the stand remains upright. I try to pin him, straddling his torso and grabbing for his wrists. Buttons and cufflinks fly in all directions. He grabs me by the tie, jerking my head downward. “What the fuck is wrong with ya?”
“She’s not a…dunghole…whatever you called her! I love her! She’s –”
He yanks my tie, choking me and throwing me off balance. I tip to the side and he throws me off, rolls on top of me and pushes my face into the floor. Writhing beneath him, my arms grasp for purchase in vain. He lowers his fact to my ear and growls menacingly, “I hate to do this to ya mate, but you’re being a right cunt! We look like a couple of clueless rodeo clowns rolling around down here.”
I try to wiggle out from underneath Shane, but only succeed in giving my face a nice carpet burn. With no way out, I stop my futile struggle and listen to what he has to say.
“I don’t know what has gotten into ya and frankly, I don’t care. All I care about, is that ya stop acting like a fruit loop right now so we can get up and try to fix this ungodly mess you’ve made. Do ya think ya can do that?”
I mumble my response as best I can with my mouth pressed into the carpet. “I cud do dith if you led me go.”
The pressure on my head lessens. “Sorry mate, I didn’t catch that.”
“I said I could do this if you let me go.”
“Right. Take a deep breath and hold there for a sec. When we get up, follow my lead.”
With that, he lets go of my arms and turns to address the crowd who has inched closer to get a better look.
“Easy folks, don’t crowd us. He needs some air and he’ll be fine.”
“What the heck is going on there?” says one of the spectators.
“It’s alright sir, there’s nothing for you to worry about.”
“The hell there is!” comes the indignant reply. “You just assaulted this man!”
Shane’s weight lifts off my back as he stands to address the spectator. “Sir!” he says in his most authoritative voice. “I’m going to need you to calm down and take a giant step back! This man has suffered a seizure. I had to pin him to the floor to prevent him from hurting himself and others. Now, just stay back. I believe the seizure has passed, but your continued belligerence could trigger it again. So, if you wouldn’t mind, please step away from the booth.”
I roll over and sit up slowly, pretending to be in some kind of stupor. Two security guards in white hotel polos arrive, looking slightly confused.
“Ah, security!” cries Shane, seizing the initiative. “Would you gentlemen mind securing the front of the booth for me while I tend to my colleague? He’s had a nasty turn.”
The rent-a-cops seem to accept the explanation at face value and turn to disperse the crowd. Shane drops down to the floor and confiscates my phone, then extends an arm to help me back to my feet. I grasp his hand and he helps me up, but pulls me in close.
“The easiest way for me to sort this out is if ya piss off to the bar. I’ll meet ya there in ten minutes.”
I try to protest, but he cuts me off before I can begin.
“Not another word. This isn’t the place. If ya value yer job, get outta here. Now.”
He turns back to the security guards and leaves me to stumble off toward the hotel bar, wondering what the hell just happened.
I take a seat at the bar, the same one I occupied thirty minutes ago, when all I had to worry about was being dumped. For the first time since Shane pulled me off the barstool and back to the conference room, the world stands still and I can exhale. I rub my jaw where he punched me and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, but don’t recognize the person staring back. Like me, he’s slim and an average height, but he looks ridiculous with his dark hair all ruffled and tie hanging to one side. He isn’t the cocksure sales rep who’d strutted into the conference room this morning like he owned the place. I blink hard in the hope that he’ll be gone when I open my eyes, but he remains there, staring right back at me. The expression on the stranger’s face says, “Good job fuck-face, now you’re single and unemployed.”
I look away and try to think of anything else, something positive in my life to cling to, an event or moment that will wash away the wreckage of today, if only temporarily, but all I can think of is Jenny. Snuggling with Jenny on our couch at home, Jenny and me cooking dinner together, Jenny welcoming me home from work in the red negligee I bought for her birthday and fucking me senseless. You won’t be seeing that again. Get ready for microwave dinners and nights alone with Rosy Palm and her five sisters.
At some point during the next fifteen minutes, I return to the surface of my sea of sorrow long enough to order a whiskey, before the current of self pity drags me back under. I remain in a semi-catatonic state until Shane arrives. In direct contrast to me, his suit is unruffled, his tie straight. He’s fixed his hair so it’s intentionally messy without looking unkempt. No one would suspect he’s just been in a fight.
“Right, that’s sorted. You owe me though.”
“I owe you what?”
“The cost of two tickets to tonight’s Heat game. That’s what it took to convince the rent-a-cops to forget the whole thing.”
I contemplate how I might afford two Heat tickets without a job and take a large slug of my whiskey to help my thought process.
Shane signals to the bartender. “Another round of whatever he’s drinking please sport.” He then turns to address me. “So, are ya gonna tell me what the fuck that was all about, or am I gonna have to pin ya to the floor again and beat it out of ya?”
“That depends. Are you going to give me my phone back?” I’m not sure if he intentionally held onto my phone after recovering it from our mêlée, but he’s saved me from ruining whatever chances I have of salvaging my relationship.
“I’ll consider it after ya tell me what’s going on.”
I run my fingers through my hair and take another drink. The adrenaline surge has passed, leaving me too drained to deflect the inquiry.
“Jenny dumped me.”
Shane gives me an incredulous look. “And ya thought that was justification to just quit on me in the middle of the presentation?”
I shake my head. “Dude, I am so sorry. I don’t know what came over me in there. I…she fucking dumped me by text!” My eyes well up with tears and I look away in embarrassment.
“Oh Jesus Mike, what are ya, twelve? Cut the waterworks ya wuss.” He places his hand on my shoulder.
I take a deep breath to try and pull myself together. “Am I fired?”
“Fired? No, yer not fired. I told ya, I took care of it.”
“And the fight?” I’m startled. How can this just be taken care of?
“Fight? That barely qualified as a punch up. I’ve seen first graders have worse fights than that.”
“I…I don’t know what to say.” In my confused state, I struggle to form a coherent thought. Way too much has happened in the past thirty minutes. I need some time to pick up the pieces. “Thanks man. Look, I don’t think I’m going to be much use to you the rest of this afternoon. If it’s alright, I’d like to just head up to my room.”
“What, so ya can cry like a grubber with a skinned knee? If ya want to be in sales, ya gotta learn to take rejection better than this! Ya think I became Director of Sales at thirty three by curling up into a ball and cryin’ into me pillow every time I got knocked back?”
“Exactly. Man up, this isn’t anything a few drinks can’t fix. Now finish yer whiskey and come with me.”
With that, Shane downs his whiskey and gestures toward the hotel exit.