STRANGE AND REAL

“You’re worth it,” he said.

Strange, she thought, that’s the same mantra I’ve been telling myself since October and it still doesn’t feel real, but it is. Real.

They stood in the street in front of his truck after she had shown him a fixer upper house that wasn’t worth fixing. The sun slanted dangerously low in the west.

“I blame your boyfriend for some of it,” he said, “because he’s smart. He should have known better. Women are cyclical. They’re emotional. They change their mind. He can’t pick this, this, and this about you and leave out that, that, and that.” He jabbed the hood of his truck with his fat finger. “I know. I was married to someone like him who only wanted this, this, and this.” He pointed to the spots on the hood he had smeared with his finger. “But I had to remind her I was one person. I came with that, that, and that.” He pointed to the other spots he had previously missed.

Tears clung to the bottom of her lashes. She was not going to cry. Already her teenage daughter had told her that she had cried one too many times this week.

“You know what I’d like for you?” he asked.

“What?” She looked up with an expectant gaze.

“I’d like for you to get your legs,” he said. “Find your bearings. Stand up for yourself.”

She took a deep breath and exhaled. “How do I do that with him?” she asked.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Your boyfriend isn’t a bad man, but he doesn’t like variables.”

“I’m full of variables.”

He laughed. “So am I. That’s why I’m single.”

She smiled. At least, she thought, I didn’t say, ‘Why am I with him and not you?’ like I said the other night at the restaurant when I told him the story about how my boyfriend ordered for me the first night we dined there because the dish I wanted to order was fried, not baked, and he didn’t want me to ‘spoil my lovely figure.’

“Maybe you should invite me over. Let me tell him what is what.”

“Only before he’s had a drink,” she reminded.

“Ah, yes, that’s the dark horse for him.” He gazed up for a moment. “For all of us,” he corrected. “I’m a happy drunk, but he’s closed off. He doesn’t let anyone in, and I’ve known him for 10 years.”

A lifetime, she thought, compared to me.

“Maybe someday we can get together, have a few drinks, talk about life,” he said, a belated invitation. “But right now, we have to talk business. And that means you need to stand up for yourself because you’re worth it. Your feelings are worth it.”

“It takes practice,” she said.

“Then let’s start practicing.” He stood up straight and said, “Say it. ‘I’m worth it. My feelings are worth it.’”

She stood up straight, shoulders back, but still she felt small, crouched over, a coward. “I’m worth it,” she mumbled. “My feelings are worth it.”

“Louder!”

“I’m worth it! My feelings are worth it!”

“LOUDER!”

“I’M WORTH IT! MY FEELINGS ARE WORTH IT!”

“That’s it, dear,” he said. “Now we both have to get home. Tell your boyfriend I said hello.”

She didn’t want to have to return to the empty house with her daughter who huddled behind a closed door completing her homework while her boyfriend was out having dinner with his friends. She wanted to go anywhere but the house he owned. It was the house he would not sell so they could buy a home of their own with money from her divorce and whatever he wanted to add to it. But she had nowhere else to go, no place to call home. She stood up straighter, shoulders back, her confidence abating under her stance. “I will,” she said, her voice weak. “I will,” she said, her voice stronger. “I WILL.”