I walked up the cold, gray steps to doors that dwarfed me and entered the police station. My heels click clacked across the marble, I’m guessing it was marble, until I was standing before the counter. Or under the counter, I should say, considering how ridiculously elevated it was. I could understand why, though. I took Psych 101 just like everyone else. It was to make people like me feel insignificant.
A police officer with a stern brow and almost an extra chin looked down at me over the counter. He didn’t have to say anything, his facial movement said it all. I got straight to the point.
“I’d like to report something missing.”
“Not who. What. I’ve lost my self respect.”
He pushed a sheet of paper my way until the corner hung off the edge of his counter, just enough for me to reach up and grasp between my thumb and finger.
I grabbed the sheet and glanced it over. “What do I do when I’ve filled this out?”
“You give it to me. You make sure your phone number is correct. You go home and wait for us to call you.”
“And what do you do with this when it’s filled out?”
“We solve it.”
“No. Hardly ever.”
“But you’ll try?”
Good enough, I thought and retraced my steps back outside.
The next day I got a call from Detectives Derek McCaleb and Susan Fitzgerald. Not because they’d located my self respect—I had been forewarned about their ineptitude, after all—but because they had a few additional questions that the report I’d filled out had not answered. After a brief and pleasant exchange on the phone, we decided that they would swing by my home on their way to the station.
When they showed up I was surprised by Detective Fitzgerald’s tiny stature and Detective McCaleb’sGQ model looks. I wanted to ask whether either of these traits were considered normal in their line of work. McCaleb, who frankly looked like he should be dancing to music and yanking his pants off by the crotch, remained standing, wandering, actually, while Fitzgerald plopped herself into a chair with a large exhalation of air. I can’t say I had a whole lot of confidence in these people.
Detective McCaleb looked genuinely interested in the framed photos dotting my bookshelf as he asked me the 'additional questions'.
“So,” he said to the glossy three-by-four of my cat asleep in a paper bag. “You’ve lost your self respect. Is that right?”
I nodded, then realized he wasn’t looking at me and said, “Yes.”
“Can you describe it for me? What does it look like?”
“I…I don’t really know….”
“When was the last time you saw it?”
“Long enough ago that I don’t remember when it was stolen.”
“Stolen?” McCaleb turned to Fitzgerald, who snapped her attention away from her fingernails. “You never said anything about robbery.”
“Kidnapping,” I corrected.
McCaleb cut his eyes to me, then dragged them back to Fitzgerald. “Kidnapping.”
She shrugged her shoulders.
McCaleb turned back to me. “So. Your self respect has been gone for a while. Why didn’t you notice that it was missing before now?”
I tried not to be mesmerized by his lips and the fact that the lower one was fuller than the upper one. “I was distracted.”
“You’d think something as important as self respect wouldn’t go unnoticed.”
I didn’t answer. I was too busy thinking about that.
“How did you come to notice its absence?”
“It was after I realized I’d been feeling really awful for a while, you know, uncomfortable in my own shoes all the time. Nothing that could be blamed on PMS or a fight with the boyfriend or inadvertently drinking dairy. I started thinking about why I was feeling so bad. And then I realized.” I shrugged as if to say ‘and here we are’.
But Detective McCaleb asked anyway. “Realized what?”
“That it was me who was making me miserable.”
His eyes bore into mine for a heartbeat and then he said, “Why would you make yourself miserable? That’s not rational.”
I stabbed a finger into the air in front of me. “That’s precisely what I intend on asking Little Miss Self Respect when I find her.”
“How do you know your self respect is a ‘her’?”
I rolled my eyes. “Are you kidding? Up and leaving just to prove I’d miss her? That behavior’s got ‘female’ written all over it.”
Two days after I’d filled in the gaps for McCaleb and Fitzgerald, I got a call from them. From him. I’d never actually heard Fitzgerald say anything yet.
“I think we may have a lead. Can you come down to the station this morning?”
Twenty minutes later I burst through the heavy front doors of the police station, full of hope that my prayers had been answered. Had they found her? I was dying inside.
McCaleb’s office was small and windowless and the thick, stale air you got when you smoked indoors pressed against my nose. He offered me a white cardboard cup of black coffee and I took it even though I don’t drink coffee.
“We traced its last known—”
“Her. Her last known.”
He stared at me, silent and expressionless. “—sighting to the supermarket over on Third. Many sightings, in fact, in the couple days before…she disappeared.”
I sat on the edge of my seat. “What was she doing?”
He pulled a long, thin white piece of paper from his pocket. “Buying a three-tier chocolate fudge cake, variety-pack of bonbons, cookie dough ice cream, butter croissants, bottle of Shirah, Party Peanuts and an egg timer.”
I felt sick to my stomach.
“Do any of these items sound familiar?”
I shook my head slowly from side to side. “Yes.” Tears, mostly of revulsion, stung my eyes.
“What happened, Miss Adams?”
“It’s a little hazy, but I remember her dragging me into the store to buy all those things…bringing them home and…” I bowed my head. “Eating it. All. In one sitting.”
“Didn’t you fight back?”
“Of course I did. All the way to the store. And while paying for it. And while walking home. And while cramming all that food in my mouth. She was too strong for me.”
“Why didn’t you file an abuse report against her afterwards?”
“Too humiliated,” I said to my feet.
Later that day, in the evening, I rang the intercom at Mike’s apartment, and as I was buzzed into the lobby I came face-to-face with McCaleband Fitzgerald.
“What are you doing here?” I asked them. Him. I had stopped looking at Fitzgerald by now. It seemed like a waste of eye movement.
“What are you doing here?” he asked right back.
“I’m going to Mike’s. He’s my boyfriend. What’s your reason?”
“The supermarket binge didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to know what drove your self respect there at 1:35 in the morning. And that brought me here. Brought us here.” His eyes flickered to his partner. “Mike had some very interesting light to shine on this case.”
“That’s because he over-bleaches his teeth. And fluorescent lighting makes it worse.”
“He says that he was with you that night. Before you, er, left.”
“Ran off in a piss fit. That’s how he really said it, wasn’t it?”
McCaleb nodded and I’m pretty sure he was biting back a little smile.
“It’s true. I flipped out.”
“I just got so tired of it all. Of him. Of his stupid rules and rationalizations and excuses.” My shoulders slumped. “He can be a little—”
“JESUS EVIE! How the hell long does it take you to get your ass up here?!”
I pointed to the floor above us. “Mike,” I explained.
McCaleb’s eyebrows rose.
“So, do you think that Mike drove my self respect to the supermarket at one in the morning?”
“He says he’s never seen your so-called self respect before,” McCaleb said. “What I’m thinking, is that your self respect was gone long before that night, and that Mike drove you to the store at one in the morning.”
“That’s not true. My self respect dragged me there against my will.”
McCaleb slowly shook his head. “No. If your self respect had been with you, she would’ve prevented you from buying all that crap, not encouraged it.”
Was that true? It was, wasn’t it? A vague memory from a long time ago seeped into my mind, an image of walking hand-in-hand with my self respect past the cookie aisle without a second glance.
“Well where do you think she is?”
“I have a few ideas, nothing in stone yet.”
I trudged up the stairs and got only up to the second one before I paused and turned around. “Please keep looking for her.”
McCaleb and Fitzgerald stood there side by side and watched me go. I was surprised to see Fitzgerald being so active.
A few steps later I felt a tap on my arm and looked back. Fitzgerald stood there, looking much taller now that she was only inches away. Not bad looking, either, now that I saw her up close.
“You should look for her yourself,” Detective Susan Fitzgerald said.
“But aren’t you two—”
She nodded with a gentle smile. “Of course. But nobody knows how to find her better than you. It’s instinctual. Also, budget cuts are requiring us to take on other cases.”
She opened the front door to join McCaleb outside.
“What if my instinct is wrong?” I called after her.
“That’s your instinct talking.” She smiled kindly again.
A couple days later it turned out to be Saturday. After I had devoured everything in the fridge, I left my apartment with every intention of going to the store to duplicate that shopping list that McCaleb had read off to me. It wasn’t that I wanted to eat an entire cake by myself, it’s that without my self respect I couldn’t prevent myself from doing so. If only I could find her and lure her into coming back to me. Maybe I could promise her an expense account and her own room.
But instead of taking a right to the supermarket, for some reason I took a left and kept walking. I came across a little bar and even though it was still light outside, I popped in. As I stood there letting my eyes adjust, I made a deal with myself: I would give up comfort food and take up drinking instead. Alcohol I could handle. Alcohol I could control.
It was dark in the small bar but I still saw her immediately. I hurried across the room and sat on a stool beside her.
“Hi,” I said to my Self Respect. She looks a lot like me, only much prettier, slimmer and with better teeth. Her sunglasses were pushed up on top of her head, making a headband for her bob-length black hair. Her lips were glossy red and there were never any strands of hair sticking to them. She leaned onto the bar on arms that were firmed by diligent yoga and weights.
“Well, well, well. Look who finally found me.”
Now that I had her, I didn’t know what to say. I was as shy as a teen on a first date.
“Glenlivet, neat,” she called out to the bartender.
“But you’ve hardly touched the one in your hand.”
She shook her head sadly. “It’s not for me, honey. It’s for you.” She motioned the bartender to make it two more.
She kept an eye on me as she sipped her drink, pausing now and again to twirl the half-melted ice cubes around and around in her tumbler. Up at her ear, as if she liked the sound of it.
“Evelyn!” said a male voice and we both looked up. A tall guy with tousled blond hair, a short leather necklace, the kind that surfers wear, and jeans that made you wish you were denim, stood over us.
My Self Respect’s eyes half-lowered and the corner of her mouth half-turned up as she took in this beautiful sight.
“Will. I didn’t expect to see you here tonight.”
“That’s how I roll, babes.” He gave her a cheeky grin and then turned to me and extended his hand. “Will Power,” he informed me.
“Don’t I know you?” I asked him.
He held my eyes for a long time. “No. I guess not.”
I sensed rather than saw my Self Respect get up from the bar. Quick as a whip I jumped up and blocked her way. “Where are you going?”
“To the bathroom, honey.”
I followed her to the back of the bar and through the double doors into the bathroom. I wasn’t chancing losing her again. I’d stick with her every step of the way.
“Why did you leave?” I asked her once she was settled in a stall.
“You started ignoring me.”
“Well why didn’t you get my attention? All you had to do was say something!”
“I did. For six months. Every time I said something you ran away with your hands over your ears.”
She flushed and came out. She bent over the sink to examine herself in the mirror—fluff her hair, adjust her cleavage—and then glanced at me. “You sure got fat.”
I stood up taller, sucked in my gut, and pulled my shirt down over the top of my jeans. “If you hadn’t left, I would’ve had the willpower to resist all those desserts!”
She straightened and looked at me. “Oh no, honey, you haven’t had Will for a long time. You stopped answering his calls a while back. No worries, he may be hiding out in the shadows, but he’ll never really leave you.” She elbowed me and winked. “He’s got a big ol’ crush on you. If he had his way, he’d be at your side night and day.”
The idea of Will Power at my side night and day sent quivers down my back.
“Why on earth would I stop taking a man like that’s calls??”
“Because you’re an idiot.” She laughed. “Kidding. I have no idea why. But it was a few months before I left.”
I frowned. “Did something happen?”
“Do you remember anything happening?”
“No. But why would I drive you two away? You seem like great people.”
“We are. You should try inviting us over for lunch sometime.”
Early the next morning I was at the police station, seated on the other side of the desk from McCaleb and Fitzgerald.
“You are off the case.”
“It isn’t up to you when we’re off a case.”
“Well then thanks but no thanks. I no longer need you to look for my Self Respect. I found her.”
“Where?” said McCaleb at the same time that Fitzgerald said, “How?”
“At a bar. By instinct.”
McCaleb made a big show of looking around the room. “So where is she? Or is she make-believe?”
“No, she’s definitely real. I just…It’s just…” I frowned and did a quick survey of the room, but McCaleb was right. I’d lost her again. In fact, I couldn’t remember leaving the bar last night or how things ended with me and my self respect. Or me and Will Power, for that matter.
I sagged in my seat.
“Don’t give up,” said Fitzgerald.
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“You can’t just say ‘I found her’ and expect her to stay. She’s not a dog.”
McCaleb snickered and then disguised it as a cough.
“So how do I get her back? For good?”
Fitzgerald smiled kindly at me. I wanted to rip that smile right off her face.
“I know, I know” I said glumly. “Instinct, right?”
I left the station and wandered out into the overcast day. A page out of a newspaper blew in little fits and bursts down the sidewalk, and I just let myself follow it. When I next looked up, I was looking directly at the “Little Bar” sign above me. I frowned because I had no recollection of getting here.
The cavernous feel to the bar made for a perfect hide-out for me at the moment. I wanted to distance myself from the world outside and just exist in dark anonymity.
“Give me a whisky and seven,” I said to the bartender.
When a tumbler was set before me, I grasped it but felt my fingers close over a warm hand instead of cold glass. I looked up at Will Power who was wearing an apron and standing on the other side of the counter.
“You work here?” I asked him.
He shrugged and threw a tea towel over his shoulder. “Sometimes. When I feel like it.” He flashed me a grin and added, “I own this place.”
“I own a lot of places.” He hopped over the bar expertly and slid onto the stool next to me.
His intense look had me saying, “You’re not going to try to own me, are you?”
He laughed. “Ix-nay on that idea. I own places and I go into business with people.”
I nodded thoughtfully.
“I wouldn’t mind going into business with you,” he said.
“I have nothing to offer.”
“Put down some collateral.”
“Anything you feel you have a surplus of.”
I thought about it. “How about cake and cookies and ice cream?”
Will leaned just a little bit forward. “How about the idea of cake and cookies and ice cream? The mere thought.”
I frowned. I wasn’t sure I was following him. “What are you putting on the table?”
He grinned. “Sure. Not only am I a terrific kisser, but I’m a great listener, I always get things done and I can fix your car. And,” he added, “I love you. I’ve always loved you. And I’d make sure you never forgot that.”
I squinted at him. “All that for cake and ice cream?”
“Yes, plus the idea of comfort food. Every time you even think of stuff like that, you give up that thought to me, and in return I give you my love. And a night in the sack you won’t soon forget.”
He leaned in further, his hand resting on my leg. “So? Do we have a deal?”
A small smile formed on my mouth. It had been so long since I smiled the corner of my mouth actually cracked. I extended a hand. “Deal.”
“I can do better than that.” He put a hand on the back of my head, drew me to him and kissed me until forgot who I was.
After that, I was walking home and I could still feel Will’s lips on my own and his arms around my body. Even though he wasn’t with me right now, it felt almost the same as if he were. After several blocks I was aware that I was being followed, so I whipped right around and said, “What?”
Detectives Fitzgerald and McCaleb stepped out of the shadow. “You caught us.” I was pretty sure they said that in unison.
“You’re not very good, are you?” I commented.
“You only caught us because we wanted to be caught,” Fitzgerald said.
McCaleb grinned. “So who’s the guy you were performing CPR on?”
His partner turned her head and said under her breath, “That’s Will Power.”
“Ohhh.” He nodded and looked impressed.
I looked from one to the other.
“Your Self Respect is not the only one you drove away,” McCaleb said. “Will was another one of your exiles.”
Fitzgerald flapped her spiral-bound notebook at me. “There’s a long list of people you drove away. Vigilance, Love, Determination, Gratitude, Choice. Shall I go on?”
I felt hollow inside, like a pumpkin with its seedy guts scooped out. Ready to have a face drawn on me and a candle inserted in my stomach.
“Some of them,” Fitzgerald said while scanning her notes, “went so far as to press charges against you.”
“Never mind,” I said. I knew.
“They are willing to drop the charges, though.” Fitzgerald studied me for a moment. “If you’re willing to take them back. Unconditionally.”
“Unconditionally? How do you mean?”
“For example, don’t say you’ll take Love back but only during the day. Don’t invite Choice back into your life and then slam the door in her face every time she shows up.”
I was suddenly aware of the burden of guilt pressing down on my shoulders. I had treated these people the way I would never want to be treated. I was ashamed of myself.
McCaleb stepped forward, neatly elbowing Fitzgerald out of the way. “So we’ve been doing some digging and we know what happened to cause you to drive your Self Respect—and all these others—away.”
I was all ears. And eyes. I stared at Detective McCaleb and tried not to think about kissing him. “And?”
Fitzgerald spoke up, even from behind McCaleb’s bulky figure. “We do not know. We suspect.”
“We highly suspect.”
Their eyes locked together, and neither backed down for a full minute. Finally, I said, “So…what do we suspect?”
McCaleb broke his eyes away first and turned to me. “We can’t divulge our information just yet.”
“But that shouldn’t stop you from continuing your quest,” said Fitzgerald. “You’ll figure it out. Eventually.”
“But I don’t want to figure it out eventually! I want to know NOW! You know. You have to tell me!”
I turned to McCaleb and gave him my best puppy dog eyes. “Please, McCaleb. Tell me.”
He traced a finger down the front of my body, right to my waistband. He hooked a finger in my pants and reeled me in. He licked his luscious lips. “Sure,” he said. “If you give your body to me tonight. Just for one night. And let me do whatever I want with it.”
“Yeah. You look so hot, I just want to go crazy all over you.”
I pulled away, confused. Turned on, I’m ashamed to admit, but definitely confused. And queasy.
“No,” I said. “No.”
Fitzgerald was still standing in the same place, arms still crossed over her chest. She uncrossed them now. “You see?” she said to her partner. “I told you.”
McCaleb stepped back from me with a cocky grin as though he had, in fact, gotten what he’d wanted. “Damn. You’re right.” He clapped me on the shoulder. “Congratulations.”
“For what?” I implored them.
“For not selling yourself anymore,” McCaleb told me. He saluted me and then disappeared with Fitzgerald into the darkness of the street.
Congratulations for not selling yourself anymore. If only McCaleb and Fitzgerald could see me now. I’m standing in line at Bee’s Bakery to purchase a dozen donuts which I plan to inhale the moment I get home. Hell, most likely in my car before I even make it home.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not standing here contently. I don’t even feel it’s by choice, not mine anyway. I’m fighting desperately with myself, alternately berating and encouraging this big pile of failure squeezed into skinny jeans. Tears sting my eyes and I concentrate on the Cash Only sign taped to the register. I know I should leave, but I can’t.
A flash in the corner of my eye makes me look over. I frown. No one’s there. And when I turn to face the front, I swear I see him again. I swear that’s Will’s reflection in the mirror before me. I squint.
“Next,” the cashier calls out.
I step up and take one last look over my shoulder. Is that Will sneaking out the door? No, I guess not. Maybe.
I turn around and face the cashier, only it’s not ‘the cashier’. It’s Will.
He gives me that cocky, half-grin of his and says, “Yeah, I own this place, too.”
I’m not sure why, but I burst into tears, drop the donuts, and flee the bakery. And even though I run around the corner and huddle behind a large tree, Will finds me. He turns me so that I am facing him and then wraps his strong arms around my body until I stop shaking.
“Why do you do this?” he murmurs into my ear.
I feel new tears coming on. “I don’t know,” I say into his shirt. I start crying. “He can’t stand myself.” I look up. “I can’t stand myself.”
Will stares at me, just stands there staring with an intensity that makes me want to both cower behind the tree and grind my pelvis into his. It gets to be so I couldn’t look away if I wanted to, and a montage of images and feelings flash by. Even though I try hard to identify these images and feelings, they just keep slipping away, always slightly out of reach. So I try to let them just play over me, go with the flow, but that becomes way too overwhelming and I get dizzy. I blink and internally talk my way out of this state of hypnosis. And when I recognize the world around me again, I am aware of a new feeling inside me. I feel ripped off. I am tired of waiting all day for the refrigerator repair guy that never comes. I’m impatient.
“Will you come with me?” I ask Will.
He doesn’t even ask where or why. He just nods and takes my hand.
Five minutes later we are at Mike’s door. We stay out in the hall, determined to not get sucked into Mike’s vortex of fucked-upness. Mike glares at Will.
“Who the hell’s this?”
“That’s my new friend Will Power.”
He snorts. “Bullshit. You don’t have any friends.”
I hold my head up high and squeeze Will’s hand very tightly. “It’s over Mike. Goodbye.”
“Ha! You’re not breaking up with me. You’re fucking breaking up with me?! Bullshit! Why?”
I could go on about how he projects his pathetic little self all over me, so that I’m the insecure one, I’m the uncaring one, I’m the liar, I’m the whore. I could accuse him of belittling me, of degrading me, of preying on my weaknesses just to hide his own. Maybe I should even let him know that I truly did love him. In the beginning. How I would’ve done absolutely anything for him. And how I told myself that I stayed with him all these years in an effort to find that love again.
But I am too weary for all those words. So instead I say, “You’re more of an asshole than I’m willing to put up with.”
A knock sounds at my door at precisely one p.m. on Sunday. I take a deep breath and open it. My mouth breaks into a grin, and this time I don’t crack. My Self Respect stands there, looking as beautiful as ever. She mirrors my grin.
“Nice invitation. Hand-made, ooh la-la!”
“I figured you’d notice.” I curtsy and motion her through the door. “Welcome to my humble abode.”
She enters and looks around. “So this is what it looks like from the front door.”
An hour later I’m sitting at my dining table with the extra leaf inserted into the middle with a group of old friends. Some of whom I haven’t seen since my childhood, like Happiness and Choice, others I know quite well but have had a rocky relationship with, such as Love and Gratitude and Worthiness.
But that’s all in the past. Now I am laughing heartily and the empty place in my stomach has been filled. Probably by the egg salad sandwich, but still, it’s an honest start.
My Self Respect clasps my hand under the table and winks at me. “Thanks for inviting me back. Mind if I stay for a while?”
I shake my head ‘no’ and press my lips together.
“What?” she says, sensing a slight unrest in me.
“How do I know you’ll always be there for me?”
“Oh I’ll always be here for you. You just have to take my calls, that’s all.”
And with that, everyone at the table holds their drink up and cheers for me. It feels great to sit at the head of my own table with everyone I love best around me.
At one point I go into the kitchen to get another plate of sandwiches and when I turn around from the counter, Will is there. He does that a lot, shows up without my having to call him. And when he shows up, he shows up close. I go cross-eyed looking at his mouth which is just a few inches away.
“Babes,” is all he says before he leans in and kisses me. I melt in his arms. It feels so safe there.