The fall's what's going to kill you.
Is that what I meant? It's just a figure of speech.
What else do I need to know?
What else should I know?
Why are you lying to me?
Who's lying now?
This is enough to make my head want to spin right off into orbit. Maybe it will be one of those nineteen thousands objects that fall to earth each year. Never in all my years of doing this did I ever imagine falling into something so colossal, so big, that when I put my foot in the water I'd be seven feet under faster than I could spit.
I'm laughing right now. Do you know why I'm laughing? Because if I stop, I'm just going to start crying, and I'm not going to stop. It's that hysterical, not funny ha-ha hysterical, but that I-just-might-be-going-mad hysterical laugh that I always cringed at when I'd see the heroine from some movie fall victim to the evil clutches of the villain. I'm sure I'm drawing stares from anyone within hearing distance. It has to be close to 11 PM, I'm sitting on a park bench near the Mall, and I'm laughing hysterically. It's a wonder the cops haven't come by to send me on my way.
I can't go home. I mean I could, and I should. But I can't, so I won't. God, I sound like some Sesame Street character. No, Sesame Street is too young. Why am I even thinking about Sesame Street in the first place? Shit.
Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit!
This has to be happening now. Hell, there was free floating anxiety in the building long before this dropped into our laps, why not add a couple more pounds of pressure to the mix.
You know, it's spring. It's been warm outside. I can leave my windows open at night, I can lay down and listen to the distant traffic. I'm supposed to have more energy now. There's more daylight to savor. The fresh air is supposed to be invigorating and pleasing and not so goddamn foreboding, and --
Ah, to hell with it. There has to be something fundamentally wrong with me if I'm laughing about this whole thing. It is very probable that I will be out of a job this time next year, or next month, or even next week. And it doesn't matter who says what and in what order, the stigma is already there, and all of us are implicated. How the hell are we going to spin this?
There's a shift in the air. There's a breeze that on any other night I would be reveling in, but everything is just too tightly strung right now and I can't enjoy it. It's coming from the south, and I think that's why it's been so warm lately. But a cold front is expected to be coming in from across Alberta by week's end. I don't sleep well in the cold.
I can't sleep even if I tried, no matter what the weather.
And I know I'm out of sorts when I can't even recognize Josh's footsteps from fifty feet away. His keys jingle, I don't know how else to describe it, but I must have missed it since I know he's sitting down next to me. I can tell by his cologne.
I just want this day to end. Really. Is that so much to ask? Can I call in for a do-over? Cash in all my chips and IOU's and blackmail facts and just start over, maybe going back -- oh, let's say 3 years, 3 months and some odd days?
I don't want to open my eyes. In fact, I'm not going to. Maybe if I sit here quietly, Josh will think I've fallen asleep and he will leave me alone. Yeah, right, fat chance of that happening.
He's sitting so close that I can feel him breathing. Josh doesn't believe in personal space. It's an anathema to him. I know he's not going to let the 'you' thing go, either. And I have to wonder if it really was a figure of speech.
"I thought you were going home," he says quietly.
And I start to laugh again. Seriously, there is something wrong with me.
"Sam knows," he adds, just as quietly as he spoke before. Josh doesn't speak quietly. I didn't think he knew how to talk at such a low decibel, and I think that scares me. In fact, I know that scares me.
And I'm still laughing. I know my voice is shaky, and I don't care. It only makes me laugh harder. "Hail, hail, the gang's all here!"
Gallows humor. My father once told me that I was going to get in trouble for that one day. Guess what, Dad? Your baby girl got bitch-slapped by the White House Council's office today. Your baby girl could very well be indicted for aiding and abetting in the perpetuation of a fraud on the American people.
There was a time sometime after the midterms when I let something slip about a grand jury summons or something and I didn't sleep for days. I lived in fear that I was going to be indicted for doing something that stupid, and I really wasn't in the wrong at all on that one.
I wonder how much sleep I'm going to lose over this one.
A hug and a kiss goodnight and a promise that bedbugs won't bite is not going to help, either.
"You're not leaving, are you?"
For a moment I make no sound. A couple of weeks ago, maybe it was months, I don't know -- a couple of weeks ago I had wanted to chuck it all into the Potomac. It was my new phrase; I quit. It became a running joke.
I'd flub a statistic in the morning briefing. I quit.
Toby tells me to announce that Seth Gillette will run the Blue Ribbon Campaign, without informing Seth Gillette first. I quit.
The Surgeon General says something that many take to mean that marijuana should be legalized. I quit.
I was kidding then, I think.
I wasn't kidding last night when I wanted to scream it at the top of my lungs, trying to capture what little amount of sleep my brain would let me have.
I don't answer, and I think it's bothering Josh. He's trying to be patient, this bundled ball of energy sitting next to me and all I really want to do is not think about anything right now.
But I'm not laughing anymore.
"CJ, open your eyes."
I shake my head. Rather quickly, in fact, and now my head hurts. No way am I going to open my eyes. I've got this fine control of my facial muscles. As long as my eyes are closed, tightly, I can keep the rest of my face from quivering. Never let 'em see you cry. That's what I was told. Hold your head high, step forward with the right foot, never look down and never let them see you cry.
I sound like a freaking Hallmark card or one of those inspirational speakers on late night TV. Not that I'll be able to do much of that without seeing this whole scenario bulleted in every news cast and highlighted in every opinion column. I'm going to be stuck watching the Cartoon Network, or worse yet, ESPN.
"You can't stay here all night."
Oh, yes, I can, and I say so by nodding my head. I take a deep breath, and I almost lose it. I'm shaky and achy and now I sound like a Simon and Garfunkel song. When the hell did my life become one gigantic sound bite? It took him a full twenty minutes to get that one out. I don't think he's ever sat still for that long a period before. I could sit like this for days, I've decided. It's quiet, it's peaceful. The air is clean, and sweet and smells of cherry blossoms. Yes, I think I will stay right here on this park bench for the rest of my natural born existence.
"Please don't leave."
Josh has this pleading quality to his voice now and I start to laugh again. But I make the mistake of opening my eyes and everything goes to hell. I try to close them again to staunch the flow, but it's too late.
I've got a death grip on the bench, my fingers are clamped so tightly on the seat that I don't have to look at my hands to know my knuckles are white. Josh is prying my hand loose, but I'm determined to keep it there. It's probably the only thing keeping me upright now.
I can hear Josh making noises at my side, and even though I've got my eyes closed again, I can tell he's anxious. I don't cry in front of these guys. I don't. It's a fundamental no-no.
Despite the fact that he's invading my personal space, I make no move to shove him away as he envelops me in his arms. I don't have the strength right now to move of my own accord anyway. My head falls and lands somewhere in the vicinity of his shoulder. I don't know. I really don't care.
The one thing I've prided myself on is that I can shut off the waterworks at will. Sort of. I'm going to have the hiccups for a while now, but I'm just too tired to pull away, and I think my lack of motion is starting to scare Josh now too.
"Toby told you that he'd be waiting in his office when you got out of your meeting with the President and Leo, right?"
I nod into his shoulder. I'm not moving any time soon.
"He said the same thing to me. Did you go see him? Afterwards, I mean."
I hesitate, but shake my head, taking a deep breath to calm the hiccups. I didn't want to see anyone after hearing the news. In fact, I did my utmost to avoid the Communications bull pen after my little chat with the President. Which was fortuitous, seeing that I probably would have killed Toby on sight.
No, that's a lie. Maybe I would have maimed him. With a dull, heavy object. I couldn't talk to Toby then; I can't really talk to Josh now. It's too raw.
"I'm not going to get you to talk to me now, am I?"
It's like he's reading my mind. I shake my head, taking another deep breath. I'm practicing. Babish, that bastard, said to stop providing more of an answer to a question than what was asked. I'll graduate to grunts tomorrow, maybe even try a few monosyllable words by the afternoon. Otherwise, I'm going to go off on someone and they will get an earful.
I gather enough strength to pull myself up, only to let my head fall over the back of the bench. The position I'm in can't be very lady-like, but at least my legs are crossed at the ankles. You can take the girl out of Catholic school, but you can't take the memory of the nuns' ruler-slap on the knee out of the girl. Believe me, I've tried.
I use the cuff of my coat to wipe my face, again not very lady-like, but to hell with that. And I start to laugh again. I open my eyes and stare at the stars. There's still a nice steady breeze, and I watch the
branches of a nearby tree sway a bit in the wind. I'm going to have a crick in my neck come morning, and I don't care.
Josh settles next to me and from the corner of my eye I can see that he's mimicking my posture. "Mind if I stay and sit awhile?" he asks.
I nudge him with my elbow and he takes the hint. Passing his arm through mine, we sit in companionable silence for I don't know how long. The night is warm, and I'm in no hurry to go home at this point.
Maybe the winds will continue out of the south.