I don’t know why I am like this. Today, at work – I work at ‘The Shack: Gifts and Apparel’ in Anchorage - I was arranging a new display in the window. Teddy, our taxidermy beaver, was getting a fresh fair isle sweater and matching beanie that I finished knitting just last night to wear when a man entered the store.
Tracy chirped, “Hello! Is there anything I can help you find?” from behind the counter. The man nodded, “Yes I was actually wondering, do you make custom knit sweaters?”
He was a bit lanky, but his beard was oiled and kempt and his eyes glistened beyond crow’s feet lines that shone out like sun rays. He was cute, but I could find flaws that made sure he wasn’t my type.
“Kita, you got this one?” Tracy peered at me from beyond her readers.
“Hi, yes, I knit some of what you see in the store here. What is it you were looking for exactly?” I’d been knitting to pass the time and keep my hands busy in the evenings. It stopped the hand-to-mouth action of cheap wine in dollar store glass wear and buttered saltines with thick cuts of marble cheese. The feeling of fullness always signalled comfort, but it was catching up with me. I had to start wearing leggings on the daily because my jeans no longer buttoned up.
The man gave me soft eye contact that I felt melt a tiny piece of me. There was still a shred of youth in his features. He was probably about my age, ‘round 40ish. I immediately felt looked at – like I was on the screen of a T.V. Being the center of attention makes me feel vulnerable, like a 20-pointer stepping into an open meadow first day of hunting season. I’ve always been that way – shy and reserved (unless I’ve had a few glasses of merlot.) But I guess this is just part of my job, I need to talk to people, and sometimes they happen to be good-looking people. Good-looking people that make me nervous.
He said, “I want something custom for my mom’s birthday.” He pulls out a sepia polaroid rusted from time. “Can you replicate this sweater? It was my mom’s favourite in the ‘70s.”
“When do you need it for?” I asked. My hands felt hot and humid, like a leafy jungle in Bangkok. I became suddenly very aware of the heavy wool of my sweater.
He cringes, then gently touches my arm, “In two weeks?”
Oh my god, he’s touching me. My arm burned from his touch. I felt a boil starting in my heart and I could feel my face flush. It’s as though my body were warning me – this will be a path of tears and heartbreak, just like every other guy that steps into my life. And at 38, I’m exhausted. I’ve built a nice little life for myself. Quiet. But nice. Love just isn’t in the cards for me, I should know this by now.
So, I got a grip and hardened myself up. Scoffing with a dismissive laugh, I said, “Sorry. That’s not nearly enough time.” I needed to feel my power again. I didn’t care how I got it.
Why did I have to laugh and accentuate 'nearly'? Did I have to make the poor man feel stupid?
He looked dejected and put his photo back into his wallet. “Okay, I thought it might be a long shot. Thank you anyways…” he paused and looked at my employee name tag then lifted his eyes to meet mine, offering a kind smile, “Nakita.” There was nothing but the sound of the bell on the door and he was gone.
When I got home after work, the silence of the walls liquified into a cold sadness in my chest. I put a podcast on as I stirred peppers, mushrooms, broccoli and baby corn to drown out the stillness and the profound quiet. I could have knit him that sweater in two weeks. If I tried. So why do I do this to myself? There was something there. But it scared me. They say, ‘it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all', but I never felt that to be true. At least in my experience.
Plating my stir fry, I take it and my wine to the living room and set it on the coffee table. I turn on Netflix and quickly navigate past the dating show category, feeling a twinge, like the plucking of a guitar string, in my chest.
Being alone is painful. And I do a really good job of keeping it that way.
I’m doing it again. Overeating and indulging in the levity of having more than three glasses of wine. Fuck it. I pour the rest of the bottle in my glass and root around the kitchen for something sweet. Settling on frozen chocolate chip cookies from the freezer, I grab a couple, setting them in my mouth for transport and grab my wine with another twist-cap bottle back to the coffee table.
I crack open my laptop on the table. Anchorage is by no means small, but if I find this guy online, I can tell him I change my mind. I’ll knit the sweater. I’ll go with him on a date. We can get married and have kids. And build our own cabin out in the Alaskan wilderness. I catch myself. Nakita, settle down. You’re thinking crazy now. Just knit the sweater and see what happens.
I wake up in the dark, disorientated. Shit. A burning candle is next to the sleeping laptop and red estuaries are all that is left of the wine in my glass. I finished another bottle. I gotta stop doing this to myself.
Pulling my body off the couch feels like picking a sticky label off a new ornament from Homesense. Blowing out the candle, light smoke wafts in my face and I shut the laptop. I hadn’t been able to find Sweater Man, which was really no big surprise. What did I think? I was just gonna type in rugged mountain man with a beard in Anchorage and find him? Ha!
I brush my teeth in the bathroom, avoiding myself in the mirror, but I notice a red stain on the dry parts of my lips. Spitting the foamy toothpaste out, it comes out in the sink a diluted hue of dark pink. I cup my hands under the stream of cold water from the faucet and take a cool sip. See, that’s self-care Nakita – water, not drinking two bottles of wine.
Crawling into bed I arrange a pillow in front of me. I wrap my arm around it, holding it tight, being the big spoon.“You deserve good things, Nakita,” and I pull the pillow closer to me, feeling a morsel of comfort, but a longing for more.