mask

("Lie to me.  I promise I'll believe." --S. Crow)

 

By the time this is over, you’re going to think I’m the bad guy.  Most people don’t like it when their carefully constructed images are shattered into nothingness.  They weren’t kidding when they said the truth hurts.

I hate him.  I hate what he stands for, I hate the veneer he slicks on day after day, fooling everyone but those who choose to truly scrutinize his actions.  He thinks he’s so fucking smart.  He thinks he’s way above these little kids whose hopeful looks break my heart.  He doesn’t care about them.  Not anymore.  He thinks, that because I’m in a wheelchair, that I’m going to readily accept whatever scrap of affection he can throw my way.  He thinks that because I’m paralyzed, I’m stupid as well.

Fat chance.  He doesn’t fool me.

He walks in, hair freshly gelled and arranged in the latest “unstyled” style.  He’s smiling now, joking with the reporters and grinning at the scantily clad girls throwing themselves at his feet.

I make most people uncomfortable.  I guess they don’t know how to react.  I mean, I’m sitting in this chair, four fingers missing from my right hand and my left leg completely gone.  I didn’t ask for this.  I never asked to get sick.  I never wanted meningitis.  But I got it.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I would have eaten this whole little meet n’greet up.  Hell, not thirty-six hours ago I was salivating at the chance to meet these five young men, but it’s amazing what cataclysmic events can occur in a short period of time.

If I had it to do all over again, I would have never agreed to come.

**

I suppose I ought to explain myself.  After all, dear reader, you’re checking out this “eyewitness account” hoping for some scraps of information and some personality traits you can weave into that little patchwork quilt you’ve got going on in your mind.  I know.  I was once like you.

I had a crush on him for ages…those eyes, that voice…I knew he would never, ever hurt me…if I was lucky enough to meet him.  I knew that he’d be nice to me, that he’d ignore my chubby frame and my ugly glasses, and he’d smile that special smile and then, maybe, we’d ride his sterling horse off into the sunset.

How stupid I was.

My mom got me these meet n’ greet passes to cheer me up when the reality of the way I would spend the rest of my life kicked in.  She wrote this long letter to Melinda, hoping that maybe they’d take pity on a poor little crippled girl, and grant her this one wish.

Well.  They didn’t.  But the promoters did.

Mom actually called them asking for disability seating, but then she got to talking to one of the secretaries who transferred her to some vice-president who transferred her to a promotions coordinator and the next thing I knew, we were going to be in the front row.

I cried that day.  Happy tears and tears of relief ran unfettered down my face.  He would know.  After months of pining away and praying to the only star I can see from my tiny window, I was going to get my wish.  He would know.

Be careful what you wish for.

I spent months waiting for this day to come.  I stared endlessly at my posters on the wall, and even starting playing with lipgloss and nail polish, so he’d like me better when he met me.  I knew in my heart of hearts that I really wasn’t anything to look at, but I’d convinced myself that JC was different.

Ha.

Those months went so slowly.  There were days when I wouldn’t even want to get out of bed, the pain was so bad.  It’s not even like I had anything to complain about.  I was alive.  I had lost parts of my body, but I was alive.  I tried to convince myself that it was all that mattered.

I would hear my mom crying at night, through the paper thin walls, and I would feel so sick to my stomach.  She gave everything for me, even her own marriage, and there I was, useless, a one-legged fat girl with no future and no hope.

**

He walks over to me, a big smile on his face, but I am wiser than that.  I can see the discomfort in his eyes.  I know I am hard to look at.

“What’s your name?” He asks brightly.

“Elaine,” I answer, sulking.  I don’t want to be here any more.  I don’t want my precious image shattered any more than it already is.

“Hi Elaine, I’m JC,” He says softly, taking my one good hand in his.

I look at him, at that perfect face, and I burst into tears.

He seems to be expecting this, slinging a comforting arm around my shoulder.

“I hate you!” I scream, flinging his arm away and clawing at his chest.  “I hate you I hate you I hate you how could you why did you DO THIS TO ME?!”

He stumbles backward as if bitten, appalled, as I am, at my outrage.

“What did I do?” He asks softly, bewildered.

“At the club…with her…how could you?”

The light of understanding clicks on and he softens.

“Elaine she’s my girlfriend…please try to understand…I have a regular life outside of *NSYNC.”

“No YOU try to understand!” I spit suddenly.  “Don’t talk to me like I’m some stupid little moron who doesn’t know any better.  Do you think I’d be upset if you had a girlfriend?!  Hell no…but when you allow her to treat me like that…when YOU…treat me like that…” My voiced fades slightly as I struggle to speak.  In the end, I give up, tears of shame and embarrassment coursing down my cheeks.

JC is deadly white, his lips parted as if to say something, the wheels in his head clearly turning at a rapid rate.  He knows.  He knows I know.

“You were at the club last night,” He says, a statement more than a question.

**

I had never been in a real live club before.  Oh sure, I had heard about them, before I got sick.  A few of my friends even went down to Lithium on Friday nights, wearing their finest hooch gear, looking for action in all the wrong places.

I was less reserved then.  I had my body issues, to be sure.  I wouldn’t wear the clingy velvet camisoles and skin-tight leather pants, but I did wear clothes that I thought were flattering and stylish.  Besides, all fat people are jolly, remember?

Anyway, after I got sick, I wasn’t into the social scene as much.  I belonged in a freak show, not on a dance floor, and no one could convince me otherwise…until that weekend.  My friend Chelsea called to say that she had heard *NSYNC was going to be at Microcosm, just a half-hour drive from where I live.  Of course, I didn’t believe her.  I had been paying careful attention to the message boards and the radio waves and no one had mentioned ANYTHING about which club they would be going to after the show.
Of course, not everyone worked at Microcosm.  Chelsea did.

She pleaded with me and told me that her boss had roped off the VIP room and had even turned away Bud Landers, the richest man in the city, and if they turned HIM away then you know that it has to be true and why the hell didn’t I get off my ass for once and just party.  It took everything in me not to rip her cheerful little face off.  I know she was only trying to help, but comments like that slowly eat at me until there’s next to nothing left.  I COULDN’T get off my ass for once, and why the hell that thought escaped her is beyond me.  It’s not like she isn’t faced with my condition every day.

I wasn’t going to go.  I was just going to sit at home with my compilation tapes and a box of chocolate-covered pretzels and just veg.  Mom was going out with some new guy, Richard I think was his name, and so it would just be me and Princess Boo Boo Kitty, my Persian cat.

I started the tape in silence, watching the Rosie appearance, watching the AMA performance, and then moving on to an NSA press conference that a friend of my mom got.  She works for a magazine and takes pity on me now and again, so she’ll send me interviews and outtakes from photo shoots that she’s been on.  I appreciate it, I really do, but sometimes I think that she’s a bit overwhelming with her affection.

So I was sitting there, listening to him talk about “chasing down a dream” and how he liked “confident girls who knew what they want” when like it hit me like a Mack truck.  I had an opportunity most people didn’t; in fact most people would KILL to know the information I did.  Yeah, maybe I wasn’t the most beautiful person in the whole world, but I was smart and funny and I had more character in my little pinky finger than most people did in their entire body.  He would like me.  I knew it.

I got ready in a hurry, throwing on my favorite Lane Bryant black satin shirt and a pair of formfitting gray pants, tossing a saucy scarf over my shoulder for good measure, before I called Chelsea and told her to pick me up.  She was ecstatic, of course, showed up on my doorstep fifteen minutes later.

My mouth opened in shock and then closed in jealousy.  The thing about Chelsea that annoys me the most is that she’s beautiful.  For some reason or other, guys are often drawn to pretty, ditzy girls.  She fits the bill.  She’s nice and all, don’t get me wrong, but at times I don’t think that she has two brain cells to smack together.  It doesn’t matter, I suppose.  It’s not like she goes to these clubs to discuss Tolstoy.  She looked stunning, wearing a clingy white tank top partially hidden by a filmy silver organza blouse, which swished delicately around her hips, clad in black cigarette pants.  Instantly I felt horrifically dumpy and overdressed, but that didn’t stop her from squealing about how fabulous I looked.  That’s the other thing about Chelsea.  She is probably the most faithful person I’ve ever met, and it makes me sick when I think of what a fair-weather friend I’ve been to so many people.  Anyway, she helped me into the car and away we went.

There was a long line in front of Microcosm, mostly made up of teenagers like me, all desperate for a glimpse of the club’s darkened interior.  We breezed right past the line like we owned the place, and for about thirty seconds I actually felt good about myself…but then the whispering started.

“Who’s SHE?”

“Why is she here?”

“Who the hell let HER in?”

“She’s just a freak in a wheelchair!”

The nails sunk further into my side with each passing second, until I felt like I couldn’t move.  Chelsea came through for me, big time.   She stuck her nose into the air haughtily and declared, “My, my, my…jealousy certainly can make a beautiful person ugly, don’t you agree, Elaine?”

I bit the inside my lip and nodded mutely, as she steered me into the club.  She waggled her fingers snidely at the people outside, muttering, “stupid bitches,” and then I couldn’t hear what she said beyond that because the noise of the club was deafening.

I like dance music.  A lot.  But this was too much, even for me.  The flashing lights were enough to induce a seizure in most epileptics and the bassline hit me repetitively in the chest.  Add to that enough smoke to fill a four-alarm fire and what we had was finely controlled chaos.  Chelsea was in heaven.

Elaaaaiiineee!”  She squealed, tugging on my arm.  “This is OFF THE HOOK!”  She grabbed a cosmo from one of the passing waiters and handed it to me.

I refused at first, reminding her that we were only nineteen and not only that but she had to drive, but she ignored me, pressing the carefully sculpted glass into my hand.

“Relax, girl.  You need to loosen up.  C’mon, let’s dance.”

I froze, shaking my head emphatically.  NO WAY was I going to let anyone see me out there, wheeling myself back and forth ridiculously as I tried to keep from getting run over.  Nuh-uh.

But Chelsea had other plans.

There are times when I truly hate being at the mercy of other people.  I couldn’t see the damn brakes on the wheelchair and before I knew it I was in the middle of a crowd of people, Chelsea among them, throwing their hands up and bouncing along to the music.

I managed to relax somewhat, even doing my own brand of the “white girl shuffle,” but I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable.  I kept looking around, pretending to search for someone, so that people wouldn’t actually think I was out there to dance.

That’s when I saw him.

I can’t be sure if he was drunk from the get-go, but I can say right now that he certainly didn’t seem to be sober.  He had a beer in his right hand and a cuestick in his left, and he kept watching every young hot thing that would come his way.  He’d peruse them appreciatively, in the same manner you would when going to purchase a car, and I’m sure that by the night was over he had taken a test drive or two.  Of course, I didn’t know that then.  At that time, I was still suffering from my delusions.

Anyway, he gave me a passing glance and looked away, but then his eyes locked on Chelsea.  Maybe I forgot to mention this, but she’s a hell of a dancer, too.  She knows how to move and when she does it she does it in such a sexual manner than most guys can’t help but take notice…and JC was no exception.  He slugged the rest of his beer down his throat, wiping his mouth with the inside of his wrist, before tossing the cue stick cavalierly onto the table and making his way toward us.

The man moves like an animal.  I don’t care what anyone else says, if they like to think he’s sweet or whatever, but the way he slunk across that floor was not the same innocent way that a schoolboy might or a hopeless romantic would.  I should have taken that as an indication, but as I said before, I wanted to believe.  So badly.

He came up behind Chelsea, drawing her body against his, his long arm securely splayed across her stomach.  She later told me that she could smell him coming, the strong stench of alcohol mixed with the musky primitive scent of sweat, but that doesn’t mean she resisted his advances.

They began to grind, and that uncomfortable feeling I had been plagued with all evening magnified a thousand fold.  I felt completely useless, a third wheel in a wheelchair, and so as inconspicuously as I could, I wheeled myself off of the floor.

I guess I’m a voyeur at heart, because I watched them.  I watched the way he would continually, rhythmically, press his crotch into her butt.  I watched the way her mouth hung open and her eyes closed, and I watched his lips move across her ear.  I wanted, so badly, to know what he was saying.  I imagined that it was erotic words, filthy naughty little snippets of conversation that would heat her up until that mouth was panting over and over again.  I saw the look of satisfaction in his eyes as he traced his long fingers across her arm, torturing her with the barest of touches.  I saw the desire in his eyes, that primal sexual stare…and then I saw his girlfriend.

I had seen her before.  She was plastered all over the internet and to tell you the truth I couldn’t figure out why he would want to be with her.  I mean, he had his pick of wonderful, sweet, beautiful girls, so why would he choose to be with such a…bitch.

He’s a walking study in contradictions, that man.  He wants someone who can stand on their own but when he wants a little nookie she better be there.  He doesn’t want someone who’s clingy like a sweater but he doesn’t want her any further away than an arm’s reach.  He doesn’t want someone who is in the same circle of people as he is because there’d be nothing to talk about, but the only people she’s continually around are people who work for him.

I mean, she’s not stupid.  She works for a magazine that pays $1.00 per word.  Most standard articles are twelve hundred words or more.  Do the math…and if you add “editor” next to your name, even if you preface it with “contributing,” you’ve got a golden ticket in the palm of your hand.  It’s no accident that she’s working for the magazine she is.  It’s no secret that women’s magazines pay the most.  What I want to know is why she continually depends on him to supply her with material.

Of course, I could be spitballing here.  I know I’ve done more research than I should and I know it’s easier to just manipulate the fragments of facts to fit the scenario I want, but come on now.  She, like him, must think we’re stupid.

Anyway.  I saw her in the corner, her big ol’ smile flashed at the bartender, whose hand was resting on her arm.  She had some fruity green concoction in her hand and just by accident, she looked out at the dance floor.  Her eyes narrowed as she took in the scene in front of her, and Miss Sunshine Congeniality turned into Frosty the FrickinSnowbitch in a New York minute.

Her smile vanished and her posture straightened as she took off toward the dancing couple.  I had heard horror stories about the girl and so I did what a true friend would do: I blocked her path.

I pretended to drop something on the ground and so I called to her, asking her if she could check and see if my very valuable antique cubic zirconia dime-store ring had fallen underneath me.  She seemed flustered, torn between wanting to get to JC and having to appear “decent,” so she did a cursory scan of the floor and said that she didn’t see it, but then I wheeled in front of her yet again, under the pretense of checking the area.

I could see her anger mounting…that little plastic cup in her hand was crushed beyond recognition, but she kept her jaw clenched and, as politely as she could, ordered me to “move.”  Out of the corner of my eye I saw JC lead Chelsea from the dance floor, and so I moved, but apparently the speed in which I did wasn’t to her liking.

Freakin’ slow moron!” She muttered under her breath, but I could see her lips move and I know for a fact those were the words she said.

I simply wheeled away, intent on finding Chelsea and getting the hell out of there.  I was kidding myself by thinking that I would be comfortable in the club scene.

Chelsea was over at the bar, and her new companion seemed to have no qualms about expressing his newfound affection.  He was all over her; his tongue lewdly snaking out to taste her exposed neck, his hands coming dangerously close to that place that mommy said nice boys shouldn’t touch.  She saw me coming and squealed with delight; it was obvious that she hadn’t heeded my warning about too much alcohol.

Elaiiineee!”  She cried for the second time that night.  “THERE you are!  JC I want you to meet my friend Elaine.”

I had been waiting for that moment for I don’t know how long…weeks, months, years maybe.  I had it carefully planned in my mind…what he would smell like, the simple smile he would offer me, the gentle embrace we might exchange.

Reality hits the hardest for those who are unprepared.

He sniffed at me, rolling his eyes and returning his attention back to Chelsea.  “C’mon, baby, I wanna dance…” He mumbled, pulling on her arm in an attempt to walk away.

She shrugged helplessly at me and walked out onto the dance floor with him, where they began a slow grind.  One of the boys from the bar had handed JC a heavy-looking glass bottle, which he kept pressing sloppily to his lips what seemed like every thirty seconds.

At that point, I should have known to bail.  I should have known that nothing was going to go like I had imagined it and gotten the hell out of dodge.  One thing about me, though, is I’m a glutton for punishment.  I sat there, reeling, trying to remember to breathe, trying to swallow the massive arrow of pain that was lodged in my throat.  Two years of waiting, two years of dreams, shattered in the span of fifteen seconds.

When I talked to Chelsea the next afternoon she said that JC liked to talk dirty.  She said that when his girlfriend finally caught the two of them, he wanted two watch them dance “freaky-style.”  The girlfriend didn’t seem to have a problem with it; in fact, she looked bored, but Chelsea said that the whole time, there was an unspoken warning in her eyes.  She said that he was spastic, but almost unsure of himself, dancing in a curiously choreographed manner instead of the silly freestyle that everyone else was fond of.

And then he asked her to go home with him.

Now, Chelsea, for all her ditziness and faults, isn’t a sleaze.  She’s also not stupid.  And she was torn between the two choices.  She knew that it was going to be a meaningless little fuck and then next day she’d go on with her life, just as he would go on with his.  No one would be the wiser, and she could just chalk it up to being a crazy college freshman.  There was just one little problem in that equation.

Me.

I was still, after all of that, sitting there, waiting for someone to hit me again.  I was squished in the corner against the back wall, hiding under a blue haze of cigarette smoke, waiting for the precise moment when I could disappear into thin air.

Chelsea came up to me, JC in tow, and asked if I would still need a ride home.  I looked at her incredulously.

“It’s not like I’m gonna WALK, Chelsea,” I spat angrily, furious at myself for being set up for such disappointment.

And then JC said the words that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

“Get rid of the fat girl, baby,” He slurred, “She doesn’t fuckin’ matter anyway.”

We have respect for everyone.  Each human being is as important as the next.  I want to end bigotry.

Too bad such noble words came from the lips of a liar.

I smiled as bravely as I could at Chelsea, assuring her that I would catch a cab or call my mom and Richard, or whatever the hell is name was, to pick me up.  Those ten minutes that it took me to finally maneuver my way out of the club were the hardest of my life…until I finally made it outside.

Whatsamatta, you get kicked out?”

“I see they let your friend stay!”

“Who’s jealous now?!”

The jeers grew louder until they were all I could hear in my aching head, and so I spun around violently and screamed,  “FUCK YOU!  YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT’S LIKE!”

With tears streaming down my face I hailed a cab, struggling to maneuver my heavy body into the too-cramped, poorly designed seats.  As the cab pulled away I heard the ugly sound that hurt me as much as JC’s words did.

Laughter.

**

Looking up at him now, at the shame and guilt and remorse on his face, I wonder what I ever saw in this man.  My mother was right: they are NOTHING but a prefabricated group of posers, and the sickly-sweet exterior they exude does nothing to hide the fetid truth lurking beneath the cheap paint.  He lied to me.  And I let him.

He mumbles some lame words of apology, and quickly disappears, surrounding himself in a swarm of fake-looking glitter girls.  I know the whole time he was trying to figure out exactly what was said and exactly how much I knew.  He was too drunk to ever figure out what happened, and, for once, I had the upper hand.  I was doing the manipulating.  I’ll tell you right now that what I could get paid for my little story is far more than the dollar per word that his bitchy girlfriend makes.

He said I didn’t matter.  I matter, all right.  I matter more than JC Chasez will ever care to admit.  I hold his life in the palm of my hand…and now it’s time to squeeze.


2000 ~A.

alasavalon@yahoo.com