Dignity Is Highly Overrated

by Karen Gsteiger

It was a good thing that Olivia Karpov had gotten over Harrison Goodwin because had you told her six months prior to her 23rd birthday that she would end the night of celebration by sloppily kissing him on the cheek and then vomiting in his presence about 45 minutes later, she very likely would have chosen a protracted and bloody form of ritual suicide rather than face the horror and shame of such less than prudent behavior. Now that she thought of him most often with annoyance and prim revulsion--when she thought of him at all--it didn't seem like such a big deal. And the regurgitation, although hardly pleasant, had made her feel better besides. The following morning had been headache- and nausea-free, and she was able to lift some weights for about 25 minutes before lunch although not quite as strenuously as she might have.

"Productive, productive, productive," she muttered to herself as she purposely strode across her living room to the bathroom to take a shower. Afterwards she made a point of tossing her workout clothes in the laundry basket rather than just dropping them carelessly on her bedroom floor. She had aspirations of buying some new work clothes at the mall and then rewarding herself by going to a local bookstore and spending a gift card that she had received from Tonia and Michael. She determined that instead of the contemporary fiction she typically consumed (most of which would be classified as the literary equivalent of a network sitcom), she would pick up an Italian grammar workbook to review language skills that had long since grown rusty and half-forgotten. Although in college she had taken 400-level Italian classes, now, sadly, the only practice she regularly got was arguing over the pronunciation of pasta dishes with a stubbornly ignorant 17-year-old waitress at Olive Garden. But she was convinced that with a little effort, her ability to discuss the sonnets of Petrarca in la lingua bella would return undiminished. Of course, she currently had no one in her circle of friends who would even be able to discuss the weather in la lingua bella, but that was no reason that she shouldn't put forth the effort to expand her vocabulary and recall irregular verb conjugations for different tenses.

Birthday hedonism notwithstanding, Olivia wanted to turn the anniversary of her birth (which was officially on Tuesday, anyway) into a rekindling of already-broken New Year's resolutions, and she took a moment to brush her teeth and rub a dab of moisturizer on her cheeks before she left the house, momentarily satisfying her renewed promises of improved dental and skin care. Just as she had put on a light jacket and was searching for her keys on the coffee table, the phone rang, and caller ID revealed a familiar number. Olivia groaned softly in mild frustration; she had not wanted to be impeded in her day's progress, nor did she feel the need to explain herself and her alcohol consumption of the night before. But for some reason, she always felt slightly guilty when she let the machine pick up the phone calls of friends or family, so against what she believed to be her better judgment, she answered the phone. Upon delivering an unenthusiastic "Hello," she heard Cara's gloating voice on the other end. "Heeeeeey, I'm just calling to check up on you...are you okay?"

"Never been better," Olivia chirped with just a little more perkiness than was warranted.

"Oh, good...I was worried...you sure were a mess by the end of last night."

"No, no, managed to...get it all out of my system in the parking lot before I went home. I'm fine now," Olivia firmly assured her.

"Man, you should have seen the look on Harrison's face when you and Donald got into that discussion about toe-sucking..."

"Yes, yes," she replied curtly and dismissively. She certainly was over Harrison, but there was no need to dwell on regrettable indiscretions.

"You missed all the excitement after Amal took you home, though..." Cara began, pausing dramatically.

"Oh yeah?" Olivia asked, working to disguise her roused curiosity.

"Yeah, Donald was just as bad off as you, only he was like your evil twin. Instead of spreading love and joy all around like you did, he was more interested in picking a fight. It was all very disturbing and sinister. Anyway, I don't even know what went down, but he wound up calling Harrison an 'ass-hat' and spilled his drink down the front of Harrison's shirt. Harrison was obviously really offended and left without even saying goodbye to anyone."

"Holy shit, are you serious?" Olivia asked, not even bothering to disguise her incredulity.

"I swear to God, I saw it with my own eyes. I just wish I knew what led up to it all. We have to get to the bottom of this."

"Yeah, no kidding. Hey...did he really use the word 'ass-hat'?"

"That's a direct quote, darling," Cara replied authoritatively. "Juvenile, I know, but you have to admit that Harrison really can be an ass-hat sometimes."

Olivia, who had not only steadfastly denied any romantic feelings for Harrison for the past year but also was truly over him, felt no need to comment.

"Clearly," Cara continued, "it's your task to call them both up and ask them how the rest of their night went --all innocently, as if you had no idea that anything out of the ordinary happened."

Olivia agreed that this was the best plan of action and further promised to disclose all to Cara, in spite of whatever oath of secrecy she would be forced to take to obtain such information. After a few more pleasantries were exchanged, Olivia was able to gracefully escape the phone call. Rejuvenated by the prospect of enigmatic scandal, she left her apartment humming the chorus to a song she heard on the radio seemingly about every five minutes but whose title she had never bothered to learn.

Olivia marveled at how she could successfully drive in fairly crowded, stop-and-go traffic and yet be mentally transported to another world--to the point where she could visualize herself in other places and practically hear herself speaking to other people and yet brake in time to avoid an accident when the minivan in front of her slammed on its brakes for no discernable reason. During her commute to and from the mall, other than a brief diversionary daydream in which she won the figure-skating world championship by skating an extremely difficult and flawless routine to the David Bowie/Queen song, "Under Pressure" (such fantasy conveniently ignoring the fact that she had ice skated exactly three times in her life), she mostly relived the more enjoyable aspects of the evening before. She pondered what exactly would motivate Donald to attack Harrison on a night when the latter was wearing what appeared to be a pricey new shirt, especially since passive-aggression was the officially sponsored weapon of her circle of friends. She wouldn't have denied that she secretly hoped that the argument somehow revolved around her. Perhaps Harrison had said something that Donald interpreted (mistakenly, of course) as insulting to Olivia and, for reasons that perhaps he couldn't quite explain, he felt compelled to defend her honor. Donald undoubtedly felt tenderly towards her; even an ill-advised intimate encounter during their sophomore year in college could not strain their sincere enjoyment of each other's friendship. However, Olivia couldn't help feeling that if Donald really had engaged in such provocative behavior for her sake, perhaps he could have been just a little more violent, but not to the point, of course, of harming Harrison or marring his flawless skin and perfectly straight teeth. And then there would be some delicious tension between them, broken when Harrison realized what Donald thought he had said, and no, he hadn't meant it like that at all! Donald would feel suitably sheepish, and all would be well once again, but a gauntlet would have been thrown down--there would be an unspoken understanding among everyone that there were certain things you could not say about Olivia.

However, it was, she had to admit, equally likely that such a heated dispute could have revolved around pretty, confident, and well-manicured Cara or passionate, argumentative, and very married Tonia, or even forgetful, lovable, and earnest activist Amal. Olivia soon realized that there was no reason to assume that she among all her female friends would necessarily be at the center of a chivalric dispute. She insisted to herself that there was no way that Donald and Harrison would fight over Debbie instead of her; however, Debbie too was heterosexual and available, so it couldn't be discounted.

This thought deflated Olivia somewhat, which reminded her of the less enjoyable aspects of the evening before, and by the time she pulled into her parking lot, she was positively depressed. When she reached her apartment, she carelessly tossed her purchases in the middle of the living room floor and retired to her bedroom to take a nap.

But she couldn't immediately fall asleep. She lay on her side, one pillow underneath her head and another held in her arms, a substitute for the stuffed animals she reluctantly gave up at the age of fifteen. See, that's the thing about Harrison, she glumly reflected. He's never been more than a friend of a friend. He's utterly determined to learn as little about me as possible. He probably couldn't be bothered to insult me, even if I would have thrown up on him and his stupid, overpriced, effeminate shirt. Uggggggh, I can't believe he saw me puke.

She buried her face into the pillow that lay in her arms and for a moment thought of smothering herself with it. But these destructive plans were interrupted by the ringing of her telephone.

With a thrill of excitement, she saw that it was Donald who was calling from his cell phone. She certainly couldn't do away with herself without completing her detective work. She had, after all, made a promise to Cara.

Unfortunately, her conversation with Donald consisted of the following:

Olivia: Hello?
Donald (as if phoning from the inside of a 1960s Russian space capsule mid-orbit): HE...LIV...YOU WOULD...LIEVE...HARRI...HAT...DRIN...SAID...DON'T KNOW WHAT TO--

And with this cryptic transmission, the line suddenly went dead.

Olivia immediately attempted to call him back, but his voice mail recited its familiar litany delivered in monotone, "Hey, it's Don. You got my cell. Leave me a message. Bye." Upon hearing the beep, Olivia snapped, "Damn it!" and immediately hung up her cordless phone. She tossed it lightly across the room, and it landed safely on top of the dirty clothes in her laundry basket.