I first saw Coco when she was just a facebook avatar, a weird grin with pigtails and eyes so wide set they seemed to be making separate journeys around to the opposite sides of her head, like characters in a novel by Jules Verne. The photo had been taken during Oktoberfest, hence the pigtails. My wife knew her from work. The woman had picked up the name Coco when a colleague likened her behaviour to that of a guest at a chimpanzees' tea party. She flounced and pouted, complaining loudly that some prohibitive condition or other would not have applied had she been born with a penis, and then once Sherlock Holmes had turned up to apply his characteristic wisdom and insight to the mystery, the problem always turned out to have been her own doing.
She hadn't understood some detail.
She had neglected to include some part of the code, something so simple that even I understood what had gone wrong when my wife described it to me, and I'm not a programmer.
Everyone had reminded her of that one element, that repeat offender blind spot, and she had testily informed them that she knew perfectly well what she was doing, thank you very much; and yet it always turned out that she hadn't known what she was doing.
It wasn't her fault.
It was never her fault.
It was because of sexism, despite her being the highest paid person in the company anywhere below the level of management. It was because of every possible reason other than her having screwed up, and so it was observed that Coco the Chimp is flinging her faeces around - everyone duck.
They would all rally to locate and tackle the problem, to write the code as it should have been, as it would have been had anyone else been on the job.
'I fixed it!' Coco would beam, dancing from one cubicle to another waving metaphorical pompoms, having taken no actual role in correcting her own mistake beyond providing the initial problem.
'I am a good programmer. I am a good programmer,' she would tell herself over and over, sat alone at her cubicle, broadcasting like some horrible motivational radio station; and yet the simple repetition of the words somehow never made it so.
'How are you enjoying your stay in Texas?' she asked me, screeching across the table at Taco Garage with what might be the least sincere smile I've ever witnessed, the smile you keep ready for a foreigner. It was the first time I met her and was able to put a face to the pigtailed avatar. Bess and I had been married a year, but stay seem to redefine this as a temporary arrangement - not how do I like Texas, but how am I enjoying my stay?
How's married life working out for you?
Will it last, do you think?
Owing to the frequency with which she dropped them, I assumed passive-aggressive observations of this kind were learned behaviour, a pre-emptive defence mechanism designed to put the other person off guard before they could properly formulate the realisation of Coco being a bit of an idiot. She had somehow devised a way of kissing your ass whilst flipping you off at the same time. It was confusing, annoying, but also quite impressive.
She'd address my wife Bess as Beth, and with much greater frequency when getting pissy over something, revealing the affectation to be anything but the innocent slip of the tongue she made it out to be. She would claim my wife's programming victories as her doing, having supposedly helped with the parts my wife didn't understand whilst undermining her own story with gibberish about programming in the cloud; and even I know what a cloud is.
She tried to give us her swimming pool, one of the kind which can be set up in the yard and filled with water. It was twenty feet across and free because she was having a proper pool installed in her own garden. I said no, immediately detecting a situation which would become horribly complicated, and because I quite liked our garden as it was without some shitty used pool taking up space; and it would become horribly complicated, because every part of Coco's world was horribly complicated - her two boyfriends for example. She couldn't decide which she liked more, and so she'd been sat between them when we all went out for dinner, not even an example of free-thinking polyamory, just someone who couldn't decide and was taking the general concept of awkward to a whole 'nother level, as they say. Eventually she married the former Scientologist and spent a year planning what she clearly hoped would be the most magical wedding of all time, something to make even the most saccharine coated Disney extravaganza seem like one of Joseph Beuys' more harrowing performances. She spent a year telling everyone about the wedding. It didn't matter who they were or whether they were interested. Sometimes she would be moved to tears in contemplation of how beautiful the wedding was going to be, and the rest of us began to worry about what she was going to do after, with no more magic to look forward to, just her and the former Scientologist sat around their pool and beginning to realise that nothing had changed.
The day of the wedding came and went, and on Sunday the 11th of May 2014, I tried to write about it in an essay provisionally entitled Wedding of the Century.
We were heading for a wedding to be held at the Newhaven River Inn which is near a town called Comfort. It was to be the wedding of the century, at least in the imagination of one of the participants. The rest of us, despite having already had a year to think about it, were yet to be convinced. In fact we anticipated disaster. An event carrying that much expectation seemed destined to failure, not least because of who was involved...
I started on a second paragraph, but had begun to bore even myself. It was just a day out in the country with a ton of people we didn't know, and Coco screeching and getting my wife's name wrong, and cooing like a googley-eyed Care Bear over those members of her family which had turned up because they were actually still talking to her. It was okay, but nothing memorable aside from being a conspicuous display of money which went on too long, and we left with a little bag of small white pebbles with which to commemorate the event. Then many years later I discover them to be sugared almonds and that this is a common marital tradition over here.
My wife is allergic to almonds.
After the wedding, it was the honeymoon and a series of lurid heart-shaped photographs of herself and the Scientologist on the beach; and although we've heard bad things about the Church of Scientology, both my wife and I began to wonder how bad it really could have been. The Scientologist seemed like a genuinely nice guy, so how come he ended up with Coco?
After the honeymoon, it was back to the usual onslaught. How she couldn't stand it in Texas with all these Republicans and rednecks, then right in with the jokes about camels and joining Al-Qaeda when the Moroccan guy takes a couple of weeks holiday. She's from New York, she reminds us on a daily basis, where everyone is wonderful and no-one tolerates racism; and it's true in that she's certainly more liberal than most.
Her daughter has married a man she has known for a matter of months, and they've just had a baby, and now the husband has decided to go for gender reassignment surgery. Coco tells us she is going to be as supportive as fuck, because that's the kind of big-hearted New Yorker she is, leaving the rest of us to wonder why it didn't occur to this guy to mention his gender dysphoria nine months earlier; and if this is genuinely none of our business, then maybe we shouldn't have to hear about it all the fucking time, and particularly not with diagrams of penises bissected and inverted on the office whiteboard whilst we're trying to get some work done.
'They turn it inside out and make it into a vagina, but he'll have to use a dildo so that it doesn't close up. That's what happens.'
Thanks, Coco, but we're trying to eat right now.
Still, it probably isn't any worse than when the dog had cancer, inspiring cross section anatomical diagrams of dogs' arseholes on the whiteboard, because she knew we'd all want to know how the vet was going to proceed.
Still trying to eat, thanks.
Every day she petitions my wife to take lunch with her, sometimes popping the question before Beth has even sat down, because eight hours of Coco the chimp talking about dog's arseholes, her dream wedding, and why she hates the entire state of Texas is just not enough. If they do lunch she gets to keep that monologue going all the way through.
'Do you have any plans for lunch?'
'No, I'm just going to grab a sandwich today. I can't go to lunch with you.'
'Oh - well I guess I'll just have to eat an old shoe then,' because apparently that's what you say. It's supposed to make the other person feel guilty.
I finally get to see the swimming pool with my own eyes when Beth and I are invited over for dinner, one evening - the pool which was going to make Coco's life perfect back in the days before the wedding was going to make her life perfect. It's just a pool in a back garden in a leafy part of San Antonio. Since we've arrived Coco and the Scientologist have spent most of the time telling us what a pain in the arse it is to keep clean. I get the impression that it's less for swimming, more for sitting around whilst drinking Martinis. Then the other previous boyfriend turns up, the one who lost out to the Scientologist. I expect it to be awkward, but oddly it isn't because he seems one hell of a lot happier than the last time we met.
'I always read your blog,' she tells me grinning like she expects a cookie. 'An Englishman in Texas,' she adds, proving to me that she knows what it's called and must therefore be telling the truth; but I hear variations on the theme all the time.
Let me know when your book is coming so I can buy one.
We eat something that's been roasted and drink wine, beer, or iced tea. The food is okay.
'Do you make fish and chips for yourself?' she asks with the volume the rest of us keep in reserve for the hard of hearing, and again with that smile, already congratulating herself on all that cultural sensitivity she wields like a master swordsman.
I don't answer because I'm actually in the middle of a conversation with the Scientologist, and the interruption seems unusually rude and stupid. How does he put up with this, I wonder.
Eventually she leaves. They sell the house and vanish from our lives, somewhere cold and liberal, where they just know everything will be amazing and magical, and they'll finally have the perfect life they've always deserved once they're settled and Coco has an obscenely high-paying job based on her countless skills, not least of these being her people skills. People just gravitate to her. She doesn't know how it works. It's just a gift.
I remind myself that I only met her a couple of times, and most of the suffering was experienced by my wife, but often it feels as though I was there too; and that's the magic of Coco.