SHE HAD NEVER BEEN TO CLUB ASIA. Outside, a line of fifty party-goers stood queued. Most of them under-dressed for the night’s brisk weather. Shoving hands in armpits, trying to stay warm, hopping in place. Teeth chattering in the nippy air while Mag’s group enjoyed the privilege of strolling past them all.
Like they had golden tickets.
She approached the entrance, awash in a mixture of esteem and privilege, coated with a smidgen of guilt. Upon entry, deep-bass rumbled the floor and walls. Reverberating through dense-dry-iced air like a cloudy-club-dream. A door attendant attached a plastic bracelet to her wrist, then waved the group down a hallway as Mag trailed Helen, entering the club’s inner sanctum. A multi-tiered, industrial warehouse swarmed with frolicking partiers. In front, bodies jostled and jerked. Swaying in a sunken dance floor, surrounded by wide aluminum rail tubes. Looking up, a mesh of lasers gyrated in syncopation. Zapping, they spread, then merged like spiderwebs above, protecting the crowd.
Mag tapped Helen’s shoulder and yelled over the music, “This place is packed!” Helen nodded, “Yeah, it is! Have you been here before?”
A woman attempted to climb on top of a speaker in the corner of the dance-area. Unable to hoist her drunken body, she tumbled to the floor, falling beneath two other dancers. They assisted her up and pushed her backside, elevating her on top of the speaker as all three applauded, high-fiving each other in celebration of the accomplishment.
“What about you? Have you been here before?”
“No!” Helen smiled, turning her head, bumping into strangers, “This is the first time and probably the last! I feel like we’re the oldest people here! But who cares? It’s only for a night!”
A hostess guided the group to a catwalk staircase where a bouncer checked their wrists for plastic bands. Climbing up, a single row of booths hugged three walls of the second level. Each space spilling over with twenty-something-year-old party-goers. They overflowed, talking and dancing along a railed perimeter. An attendant led her group to an empty booth overlooking the main entrance, then removed a reserved sign from the top of the table. Two waitresses arrived, placing a large silver bowl filled with ice in the center of the table, surrounded by five cocktail glasses, Moet champagne, grey goose vodka, and three carafes of cranberry juice.
Raising her brow, Mag grinned at Helen mouthing the word, ‘Wow!’ as Monica lined up beverages. Afterward, the group gathered along the rail in front of their table, absorbing scenery.
For an hour, Mag and Helen talked and danced-in-place, entertained by the antics of other club-goers. Many too inebriated to be in public. They located a man and a woman groping each other, standing in the center of the dance floor. Lips mushed together sloppily, oblivious to everyone around. The woman’s legs clasped around his waist and the man’s hands wrapped beneath her butt, holding her up. Another VIP’er approached Helen and Mag from behind. His gangling frame lurched into their personal space. Droopy eyes targeting Mag’s cleavage. He spoke with a slur, “Wud are you ladiesh drinkin?”
Facing him, Mag glanced at Helen concernedly… this guy’s drunk as hell. “We’re drinking grey goose and cranberry,” she replied. “That’s cool. You guysh got good stuff just like us.” He motioned two booths down, toward a table housing a yuppified gaggle of well-dressed guys and gals. Boozing it up fraternity style… messy. “We have shiroc and patron,” He chuckled, “I mean, ciroc. You want some?”
Helen angled herself between Mag and the drunkard, “We have our own drinks.”
“Oh! Right! You just said that.” He leaned close as if about to divulge a secret between the two. “You have to excush me. My friends and I drank a lot tonight.” Helen inched forward, “Yeah. We can tell.” The man’s face frowned, “You guys need to drink more. You just got here, right?”
He stared at Mag, “Where were you before you came here?”
“All over the place,” replied Helen. “Hey!” Monica jumped in front of the intruder, “Excuse me!” Jutting her palm back, she blocked the boozer’s face and turned toward Helen and Mag, “I have to talk to my friends!” The man’s head lunged back. Scowling, he stutter-stepped to prevent from falling on his ass.
“That’s the only thing about this place,” she said, ignoring the interloper’s existence. “There’s a lot of boys here, pretending to be men.” She thumbed over her shoulder toward the drunkard, “His parents are probably ADKAR executives, and this loser spends his allowance trying to prove how cool his life is. What a joke.”
Mag and Helen smiled, partially from Monica’s comment. Primarily from the dejected look on the poor saps face, slumping back to his table like a defeated dog.
“Is he still there?”
Were the answer ‘yes,’ Monica anticipated confronting his intrusion even more assertively. “No. He’s gone,” said Mag.
They monitored more weirdness from the crowd for thirty minutes, until Helen and Monica walked back to the table, conversing with other co-workers.
Mag gazed over the club. Thoughts shifting inward as a wave of depression washed over her. Deluging… unfulfillment.
Staring at blank faces in the arena, seeing people in their twenties, all partying without a care in the world. She guessed the average age of her co-workers was below twenty-five. The assumption, forced all thirty-three years of her own existence to fall upon her shoulders. Pressuring her… you are not where you should be.
It wasn’t just the feeling she didn’t belong in Club Asia. It was the thought, she didn’t belong at her present underachieved position in life. Recurring emotions she’d forcibly buried throughout five years. Having admonished herself not to desire happiness in marriage, nor excitement in her job, or satisfaction in life.
Another emotional tide flowed in… depression.
Reminiscing on her love for the city… San Francisco, she questioned… why don’t I own a home here yet? Why don’t I have children? With each passing year, once-attainable goals slipped away and time ran out. Finding it impossible to quantify an immediate response to the question, she reasoned… some of this is my fault. Rebecca’s only twenty-seven, but she and her husband bought a townhouse with a nice backyard. The perfect place to start a family. Monica’s twenty-eight. She’s single and bought a condo by herself! It probably cost her eight years salary, but she did it!
How come they’re able to achieve goals. And I’m not?
What’s wrong with me?
WHILE COMPLETING HER MASTERS DEGREE, she waitressed at a restaurant in the city. One evening Drew sat at the bar, dining during a San Francisco vacation. He overheard Mag, conversing with guests nearby. Intrigued by her accent, he introduced himself, asking about her place of birth, how much she liked the United States, and major differences between Australia and the U.S.
That night, departing with Mag’s number… he phoned the next morning to arrange a lunch date before traveling back to Pittsburgh. Within a few weeks, they spoke daily and emailed nonstop. Sharing an appreciation of sun, sand, and sea, they vacationed in the Florida Keys and Caribbean Islands together, progressing the relationship.
At the time, Drew was full of potential.
He was energizing, intelligent, and assertive.
A lover of conversation, he enjoyed debating, just like Mag. At twenty-five years of age, he’d earned a Masters Degree in Business Administration and worked as a Supply Chain Analyst for a medical device manufacturer in Pittsburgh. Though he stood only two inches taller than Mag (not the ideal height she imagined for her husband), his smooth olive tone complexion, fit physical condition, and well-traveled mannerisms made up for it. Having toured England, Ireland, and France. He’d even visited Mag’s birth city, Brisbane.
When Mag acquired employment at ADKAR, they both agreed Drew would move to San Francisco and find work there. And upon arrival, that’s what he did. Accepting a job as a Business Strategist made their combined salaries enough to save for a San Francisco home with the mutual understanding… it’ll take five years of nest egging for down payment, but we can do it.
However, three years later… Drew loathed the people he worked with and despised corporate bureaucracy. He claimed office culture made him physically ill, depressed, and lethargic. And Mag noticed, since he’d moved to San Francisco, he guzzled beer like a fish, exercised less, and complained more.
He begged to quit his position and eventually Mag agreed. Hoping… maybe this will make him happy and healthy again.
After he resigned, he found part-time work as a Business Acquisition Researcher. A remote ‘work from home’ position for the same company as his brother. Paying eighty percent less than his previous salary. The money wasn’t great and the work inconsistent. But his stress level was low.
Though she initially supported the decision, Mag wondered… why do you get to avoid corporate work, while I’m stuck doing it? Her salary maintained their lifestyle. A fact she mentioned to Drew, one time.
SITTING ON THE COUCH IN THEIR APARTMENT, scanning homes for sale online. Victorians. Bungalows. Condos. Exquisite lines, crown molding, and colors. Perfect paint jobs and immense entryways. Underground garages and manicured courtyards. Mag’s eyes glazed, “Ooh! That’s gorgeous. It’s right down the street from us.” Drew clicked, loading another image of the home, “I’ve walked by this place before.”
“Me too! We should go there and kick the owners out.”
“It’s only $2.1 million dollars,” She sighed, “I’m not sure we could even afford the taxes.”
Drew scoffed, “It’s not worth it. We’re better off moving to Pittsburgh.”
“I don’t wanna live in Pittsburgh.”
“That’s your city. Not mine. I don’t know anyone there. Plus, I don’t like the winter.”
“You always say that. But most of my old friends are married now too, you can hang out with their wives.”
“I don’t know them.”
“That’s because you don’t try.” Mag’s expression soured, “What!? That’s not fair.”
“But it’s the truth. When we visit my family, all you do is hang out with Popper. You don’t make any effort to know my friends.”
“Because they’re your friends. Not mine!”
“All I’m saying is if you were a little more friendly and social around them, you wouldn’t seem so stuck up.”
“I’m not stuck up!”
“I didn’t say you are. You just seem that way.”
“How can you honestly say that?”
“I didn’t say it.”
“Then, who did?”
“One of my friend’s wives mentioned it.”
“Now I’m definitely not gonna hang out with them! They already don’t like me.” Anger boiled inside her, recalling the last time she met Drew’s friends, Mag wondered… which one of those bitches called me ‘stuck up?’ She scowled, “We’re not moving to Pittsburgh!”
“I didn’t say we were moving. You’re missing the point of the conversation.”
“I’m not missing the point! You quit your job! Now we don’t make enough money to buy a house in the city. That’s your fault! Not mine. When we moved in together, we both agreed to work so we could have enough money to buy a house.”
“Are you being serious right now? You barely make any money. My parents saved $200,000 to help me buy a home and I can’t even use it because it’s not enough money!”
“It’s enough money in Pittsburgh.”
Mag stood and stepped away, “Stop talking about f*cking Pittsburgh! If you didn’t quit your job, we’d probably have a house right now!”
Drew raised his voice, “You know why I quit! You agreed! We talked about it together! It’s not like I came home one day and said…’Hey! I’m quitting my job, forget it!’ You know exactly why I quit. Do we really have to talk about it again?”
“No. But you…”
“I what!? You know what happened! The stress and all that! The doctor told us both! You were there!
“Then why are you acting like this?! Like I quit on a whim? Like it was a surprise, when you know it wasn’t!” He twirled his finger mid-air, “You’re spinning this conversation out of control! What’s going on with you? We were looking at homes on the computer and talking, then suddenly you’re talking about how much of a failure I am? How I’m wasting your parents hard earned money?”
“I didn’t mean it…”
“Then why’d you say it!?”
Mag sobbed, “I – I’m sorry.” Drew walked toward the door, “I can’t be around you right now. Neither of us know what you’re capable of saying or doing next, and I don’t wanna be in this environment. I have to leave for a bit.” Grabbing a pull-over, he approached the door, “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
During his absence, she replayed the conversation, second guessing her words until Drew returned. Upon entry, he stepped close to her with his head hung low, then erupted in tears on her shoulder. Inconsolable for an hour, crying about how he wanting to provide more for her. Drew admitted, corporate work was killing him. He felt inadequate.
It was the first time she witnessed his fragility and Mag hated making him feel weak. Seeing him emotionally crushed by something she said. From that moment on, she decided, Drew could not survive more attacks on his inability to financially support their relationship. As a result, Mag decided… I’ll never attack that spot again.
MONICA NOTICED HER STANDING ALONE, staring blankly over the dance floor. She approached Mag, “Are you okay?”
Realizing she’d unknowingly isolated herself from the rest of the group, Mag stood upright and turned, “Yeah, I’m fine.” Waving her hand over the dance floor below, “There’s some crazy people down there.”
“Yup. These rookies can’t handle their liquor. It’s like amateur night at the Apollo in this place.” Examining Mag’s swollen eyes on the verge of tears, Monica moved closer, “Why do I get the feeling you’re thinking about something else? Something serious.” She peered into Mag’s eyes,
“Tell me what it is.”
Fearing to speak with her about personal issues, Mag shifted her gaze to the dance floor, then glanced back at Monica, debating… can I trust you?
“It’s silly really. I just thought I’m the oldest person here.”
“Well, you’re not. But even if you are, what difference does it make? I’ve seen ancient people party like it’s 1999 in this place. A few weeks ago… I saw this lady, probably in her seventies. I sh*t you not. She partied like prohibition just got repealed and hit on guys half her age. Some of them liked it. She was insanely old and… you know what? Now that I think about it.” She lowered one brow, raising the other. “It’s kinda disturbing how old she was. Like watching your grandmother hopped-up on vodka and redbull. Hella ugly.”
She intended the story to lighten the mood. But while Monica chuckled, Mag’s thoughts focused inward. She peered into Monica’s eyes, “Do you ever feel like everything’s wrong, and you’re not living up to potential?”
Monica’s gaze widened. She leaned back, scanning their surroundings for discretion, “That’s a sober question.” Mag shook her head, “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want. I’m not sure what I…”
“No. You asked me a question. Let me answer it.” Taking a deep breath, Monica gazed toward the crowd and leaned into Mag’s side, “The answer is… I used to. I really did. But then I found ways to keep things exciting.”
She spoke slowly. Clearly. Selecting words with delicate precision.
“Self-doubt is like a serial killer. I can’t afford to spend time second guessing things I could’ve done differently. It’s like diving headfirst into a rabbit hole. Doubt spirals us down and it never ends. Some of us never get out. I was in a hole like that for a long time. It made me miserable.”
She leaned back, creating space.
“I don’t know if this is the same thing you’re experiencing. But in my case, I decided a long time ago to encourage positive processes in life.” She draped an arm over Mag’s shoulder, extending the other as if peering through the windshield of a car. “It’s like the difference between steering your life, and being a passenger. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my life, I gotta be driving. I can’t sit there staring out the window, because eventually I’ll ask myself… ‘Why didn’t I grab the wheel?’ Life’s too important to let anyone or anything else control it.”
She moved close to Mag’s ear, “That’s how I focus energy toward achieving my goals. It’s how I prevent regretting anything in my life.” Absorbing her words, Mag attempted dissecting the message, but the alcohol in her brain criticized analysis… of course I want to be in control of my life. Who doesn’t want that?
“I don’t understand what you mean. How do you do it?”
Eyeing the empty cup in her own hand, Monica glanced at Mag’s dry container, “I wanna talk more about this. But I gotta admit…” She tilted her head. Spreading arms at her waist with shrugged shoulders.
“You’re killing my buzz, Mag!”
Laughing, she placed both hands on Mag’s shoulders, then leaned into her, “Let’s talk about this tomorrow. I’m serious. There’s a lot I need to tell you, and we never get any ‘girl talk’ time at work. Let’s meet-up tomorrow, when we’re both sober. We’ll chat over coffee, okay?”
Mag smiled, “Okay.”
“But first! We gotta finish this VIP party!” Monica yelled, waving her hand toward the table… littered with cocktail glasses, vodka, and champagne bottles.
“You’re not driving home tonight, right?”
“Me neither. So let’s have fun!”
She embraced Mag and spoke softly in her ear, “We’ll talk more about real life stuff tomorrow.”