The Keurig. Eleanor & Park. Say Yes to the Dress on Netflix Instant. Bean Boots. Madame Clairvoyant. One delicious suntan. Flight Behavior. That rumor about the Joe Jonas sex tape. A top-secret project, or three. My Mad Fat Diary. A very, very limited amount of DIY. Mumford & Sons. Super-dark Ann Taylor modern skinny jeans. My friend Lisa. Holding hands. Baby spinach and almonds. Songza. Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. Three identical Gap cardigans. Grad school. A satisfying ache. Dinner with Sierra and my sister at the Meatball Shop. The USPS. Ginger molasses cookies from Flour. Fort Lauderdale and Cleveland and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. George Strait (no, really) and the Zac Brown Band. The Fourteenery. You.
(It’s a new week and the world is full of good things. Come tell me yours.)
In January Tom broke his elbow and needed surgery so we spent the first three months of 2013 getting to the end of television, holed up on the couch in the new apartment watching every remotely arty drama we could get in our eyeballs and a lot of other crap besides. I made a lot of pesto. We ate a lot of soup. Mad Men finally grew on me but I only liked the parts of Dexter with the creepy incest, which is typical; Homeland was kind of annoying and Shameless continues to be my very fave. A mid-February weekend in Florida notwithstanding, my skin has the color and mostly the feel of loose-leaf paper. I open the windows even when it’s freezing, just to feel the air.
Three supposedly fun activities I find hugely boring and/or stressful:
Two words I never, ever spell correctly on the first go:
One thing I would like to say to a person who is not you:
well HERE are some things i am liking this summer:
mushroom and ricotta pizza from otto’s. nine hundred page books about prostitutes. castle island. those weird/charming breakdowns in the middle of sugarland songs. white sheets. giving in. one-piece elizabeth taylor bathing suits. cherry tomatoes. the water pressure in my parents’ house. anticipation. ice cream sandwiches from the hub. longform.org. sue miller. jesse pinkman. joe biden. looking at people’s pictures on facebook and saying, “ugh, get away from me,” in a disgusted tone. egg and cheese with ham on an english muffin. the third season of grey’s anatomy. neon purple sneakers. throwing stuff away. task lighting. the new maroon 5 cd. lake houses. wes anderson, sort of. thunderstorms. adventures. playing outside.
(tell me what you like this summer)
It seems I am crashing into things left and right lately. I have the bruises on my body to prove it.
Here, have a weird, spooky song.
The Residence Inn in Roanoke, Virginia is, improbably, a palace of epic Southern proportions. “This is my favorite hotel,” I keep declaring, looking around at our giant suite, the fireplace and full kitchen and a pool where we drink cocktails made from the sweet tea vodka Megan is moving to her new house, along with the rest of her earthly posessions. “This is the best hotel of my entire life.”
Meg laughs at me as she checks us in, Lisa’s sunglasses perched on top of her head and our bags spread out all over the tiled lobby. “Please tell me that’s not true,” she says.
Which, okay, it’s not. It is a nice hotel, though. And nice hotels are important when you’re two nights into a road trip from Boston to Fort Smith, Arkansas with two of your book club bests and armed with only a bathing suit, a cooler full of hummus and Vitamin Water, and 600 channels of satellite radio. Small things starts to matter. When we pull out on Thursday morning it’s a hundred degrees at nine in the morning, and I glance wistfully over my shoulder at the complimentary breakfast we’re leaving behind.
Luckily, there are a carload of adventures to be had on the other side of the Mason-Dixon: we spend Friday night at the Grand Ole Opry and a steamy afternoon touring Graceland, stopping often for bathroom breaks and Sonic limeade. Every single bar we go into has a band. In Nashville Lisa saves my life with a band-aid magically procured from the depths of her purse while we wait in line for some ill-advised late night Frito pie: “And macaroni and cheese!” she instructs cheerfully, heading back to the table to wait for me; completely unprovoked, a kid in front of us in line tells us it’s his twenty-first birthday, and that his friends are making him go to Hooters even though he doesn’t want to. “And a goo-goo cluster.”
In Arkansas we hit the strangest traffic jam I’ve ever encountered in my years on this planet, an hour-long standstill that seems to portend zombies or nuclear apocalypse, flat endless green on either side of the highway; eventually we pull off and take a back road, farmland and abandoned general stores, the sun settling a little bit lower in the sky. I toss my phone into my purse, lean my head against the window. We have miles and miles to go.
After five years of taking the Bolt up and down the Northeastern Corridor I have finally mastered doing it with some level of efficiency, an early ticket and an iced coffee from the Dunkin Donuts on 34th Street, a sesame bagel from the guys at the Metro Cafe next door. In the seats directly in front of me, two middle aged men discuss the unnecessary bloating of the Greek government and their plan to read the major newspapers at the cafe in the Boston Public Library once we get there. It is supposed to be one hundred and five degrees.
Before that of course there is the rest of it, a tromp up and down the banks of the Hudson River to visit Marissa in her fairy-princess cottage, the Metro North humming underneath the soles of my feet. We eat lamb sausage and polenta and wait out a thunderstorm in a dive bar where all the beer tastes a little bit like mildew, watching Old School on mute and debating which Wilson is the best Wilson (Sierra says Owen. Marissa says Luke.) I fall asleep on the couch to the noisy hum of the fan by the window, two black cats strolling unconcerned across my back.
There are friends to see and families to check in with; we swim in the pool at Tom’s aunts’ house and have dinner at Tarry Lodge, where I inhale a plate of bolognese that could easily feed three people and accidentally make an enemy of the woman sitting next to me at the bar. I decamp to the porch with my mother, picking at a plastic tub of strawberries that are just slightly overripe. Jackie buys me an Ommegang at Young the Giant in Central Park and we sit on the artificial grass eating organic hot dogs while I tell her the kind of long, convoluted story only your sister really wants to hear, and even then only if you have a certain kind of sister, which I do. They play Strings, which is my favorite and which, in certain contexts, makes me cry like a crazyperson; Jackie sits back down for a minute to rest her ankles, one hand curled around my arm to brace herself.
(“Let’s move back,” Tom says on Monday, and I nod because of course, although behind my sunglasses I am equal parts excited and afraid. It’s coming, of course, the move and the rest of it. All of it is. I never was a patient child.)
“Okay,” the bus driver murmurs in the meantime, shutting the door against the muggy air outside; a woman has run across the street and bought him coffee, cream and a sweet’n'low. A guy in his twenties helps an old lady with her bags. New Yorkers, I think, are nicer than people give them credit for being, unless of course these are not New Yorkers at all. “Time to get out of here.”
It’s Sal’s turn to spring for coffee, so he swings past the 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts in Andrew Square and runs in for two large regulars. By the time he gets back to the sedan Renee is snapping her phone shut like she’s trying to punish it, hurling it into the deep canyon of her purse. She looks really, really pissed.
“What?” He hands over one of the enormous Styrofoam cups, careful. Back when they were first partnered he spilled thirty-two ounces of hazelnut all over her lap. The light from inside the shop catches the badge on her uniform, the tiny gold cross she always wears around her neck. “Hey. What?”
“Nothing.” Renee shakes her head. “Don’t.”
So he doesn’t. Dorchester’s the main street of a ghost town at this hour, stores shuttered, pavement slick with an icy sheen of water and neon. Sal pulls out into traffic. The radio hums.
His first day back on active duty after the thing and she dropped a sack of French crullers in the center of the chaos on his desk.
“Is that, like, a cop joke?” he asked, squinting up at her. Eight-thirty in the morning and her hair was already falling out of its braid, a dark corona around her face. The elastic at the end was screaming purple, one of her daughter’s. Renee always smelled faintly of pears.
“It’s a congratulations, dumbass,” she said, and just barely bumped the side of his ankle with the toe of her boot. “Welcome back.”
Still, she wouldn’t look him in the eye.
Active duty was maybe an overstatement: they’re sitting on a side street next to a desiccated playground in the Cathedral Projects, a meetup point for a dope ring that caught a seven-year-old in the crossfire over the weekend. It’s eleven degrees Fahrenheit, too cold even for the bangers. The coffee went tepid right away.
Renee is quiet, staring out the window at a discount store Santa listing on somebody’s lawn. “You all right?” he finally asks.
Renee smiles at the glass, the faintest reflection. “I’m great,” she replies, and she’s full of shit but Sal lets it go. They’ve been partners four years; he’s used to her silences.
They’ve been partners four years and he’s loved her just about that long.
Three weeks ago they caught a domestic on the west side of Southie, all cheap beer and epithets, TV bleating in the background. Sal pulled the squalling wife into the kitchen, her nails raking livid tributaries up and down his arms, and when he turned around the husband was aiming a nine at Renee with one shaking hand.
Sal thinks he said, “Put the gun down.”
He thinks he said, “Put the gun down now or I will shoot you.”
He’s pretty sure that’s what he said.
”I was supposed to sew tinsel on a bathrobe for Kaylee’s play before I came in,” she tells him, out of nowhere. It’s quarter of one and she slips her hands between her thighs to warm them, leans her head back against the seat.
Sal blinks. “Tinsel on…?”
“She’s the angel Gabriel.” Renee shakes her head. “ Anyway, of course I forgot, because I’m a terrible mother, so I had to call Damien and get him to do it before he went to bed. That’s…you know. With the phone.”
“Oh.” Damien is Renee’s ex-husband, though they’re still living in the same triple decker in Revere, so. Sal isn’t really sure how much ex that actually is. “Can Damien sew?”
“I don’t know. No. He’ll staple it on there. That’s not really the point, Sal.”
“No,” Sal says, and listens. A block or two over there’s shouting, but from this far away it’s only noise. “I guess it’s not.”
The night of the shooting she showed up at his place in Charlestown and muscled past him into the living room, sharp elbows and ready for a fight. “The hell were you doing?” she demanded, so close their ribs were almost touching. Her cheeks were raw and reddish from the cold. “Quite seriously, what in the hell did you think you were doing?”
Sal blinked. “What?”
“I was handling it!”
“You were handling it.” He tried to remember the last time he’d been so completely, shatteringly angry, and couldn’t. He’d killed a man this afternoon. “Guy’s got a bottle in one hand and a gun to your fucking head, but I should mind my own business because you were handling it.”
“You can’t do this,” she said, shaking her head like she was panicking, like it was about more than just today, and he almost interrupted but she was right on the edge of something so he didn’t. “We can’t–just because we–Jesus Christ, Sal, can this please just be the one area of my life that I am not perpetually fucking up beyond all recognition? Please?” She looked around then, like she’d never been to his apartment before. For a second she was quiet. “Do you have a date here?” she asked.
“I thought you might have a date here.”
“Yeah, well.” His lips twitched; he felt his fingers flex once at his sides. “Never stopped you before.”
“You’re not a terrible mother,” he says eventually. It’s sleeting again, ice on the wide gray expanse of the sedan. The wind rattles the swings on the playground, a shrill worrying sound. “And you’re not fucking everything up.”
“I’m fucking this up,” she says, and it’s the closest they’ve come to talking about it. “Am I not?”
Sal doesn’t have an answer for that.
It started right when she and Damien were splitting, back when she first found out about the waitress in town and Sal was pretty sure they were going to get divorced like normal people. For a couple of weeks she worked a ton of overtime, an extra set of clothes in her locker and Kaylee at her grandma’s in Methuen, so Sal worked a lot of overtime, too.
“Look,” she said that first time, in the car, and her mouth was on his neck and his jaw and the hard line of his cheekbone. Her coat was in a heap on the floor mat. The armrest dug into his back. “I’m not–I don’t want you to think I was planning on–I’m wearing mom underwear right now, Sal, so just–.”
“Renee,” he said quietly, and he wanted to remember this in case it never happened again. His heart was slamming away inside his rib cage. “I swear to Christ I could not care less about your lame underwear right now.”
Renee threw her head back and laughed.
“They’re not going to show, are they,” she says. It’s close to four in the morning, and the sleet has turned to snow. Fucking Massachusetts, Sal swears to God.
“Would you?” he asks. “They’re laying low. They’re just,” and he shrugs here, his voice doing a weird thing he doesn’t entirely appreciate. “They’re laying low.”
Renee gives him this look like she’s trying to see the tissue under his skin. A plastic bag blows across the street. “Yeah,” she says finally. “I know that.”
They sit in the car and wait for something to happen. Her cold hand slips into his.
Over mussels at Bar Americain in Mohegan Sun of all places Meg and Lisa decide that what I really need to do this summer is write the next 50 Shades of Grey and get rich enough to take us all on a cruise. “Also you can buy a mansion,” Lisa says. Earlier we were drinking Stoli Raz but now we are drinking something else Raz, which the waitress says is better. “The house that porn built.”
It’s Lisa’s birthday so we order chocolate cream pie and more cocktails and look out the window trying to guess which girls are hookers. There’s a bach party across the restaurant and everyone at it has bright blue hair. I’ve never been to Mohegan Sun before and I wonder if it’s a thing you do for fun in central Connecticut, just another Saturday night: downstairs a bull-riding event is breaking up and people start to wander in wearing plaid and cowboy hats, boots clicking across the marble floor. In the middle of the casino is a sculpture by Dale Chihuly. We get catcalled by two men wearing crowns made out of balloons. We share a cab back to the hotel with two wasted girls who turn out to have gone to my high school; they drunkenly namedrop my eleventh-grade precalc teacher while the hulking neon complex recedes in the distance, everything gone suddenly dark.
“I’d need a pen name,” I say eventually, considering. I wonder who in the world I might be.