This is something I worked on for quite a while, but stopped because life decided to catch up to me. I wasn’t going to post this, but now that I’m working on it again–and I know that it will change significantly–I don’t mind anymore. Consider this a second draft. Also, I know that majority of the time, I don’t get comments on my posts; that’s totally fine. I would never force you guys to do something you don’t want to. All I’m saying is that this is a special post for me, so read it with care. I want to make this better, so I’m open to any suggestions. Enjoy.
ps. I copied and pasted this directly from word, so the spacing is going to be off in some places. Ignore it best you can.
I can just tell how someone’s feeling by the way they’re standing, the way they stare, or the way they ignore me. If I’m talking to someone and at some point they’re actually interested, I notice them leaning a little closer to me, but not too close. They feel awkward around me—through no fault of their own—but that’s okay because I don’t want them too close to me either.
I live a lonely life, like most kids on the spectrum, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. I don’t always sit inside though. Sometimes I like to go for a walk around the block, provided the weather is alright. I hate thunderstorms, and clouds remind me of thunderstorms, so I can only go out if I’m certain there are no clouds in the sky and there won’t be for at least three hours. I need time to get home—just in case, you know? When I go out, I have the weather report pulled up on my phone at all times. I cannot take my eyes off it; I also put my headphones in so I’m not distracted. If I’m distracted, anything could happen, and if anything is going to happen, it’s going to be bad.
“I’m glad you could make it, Mary!” says Carol. “Go get some sangria. Linda made it, so you know it’s good.”
“It’s true, Mary. You gotta try it,” says Linda. “I got the recipe on the Food Network!”
Mary goes to the table and finds the pitcher. She pours herself a generous glass and loads it up with fruit, for the extra boost of alcohol. It’ll be necessary, she believes, to make it through the inevitable, inescapable onslaught of questions regarding Christopher’s wellbeing that always seem to ruin these types of nights.
Regular conversation takes place around the fire pit while everyone is waiting for the food to finish. The aroma of caramelizing vegetables and smoked meat fills the air, gradually increasing everyone’s appetite, making it fair game to talk about anything as long as what they’re talking about distracts them from their desire to eat.
“You know, I just don’t understand Facebook,” says Linda.
“Why?” asks Carol.
“Hold on, my daughter’s texting me and I can’t see what she’s saying without my glasses. You know, they really need to make the screens bigger—so us older folks can actually see what we’re doing, right?” Linda asks obnoxiously, causing Mary to cringe the same way her son does when she shows him affection. Mary’s younger than most of the people at the party, who are in their late forties, but she lives down the block from Carol, so she usually gets an invite. She’s new to town, coming from Queens, still adjusting to the more relaxed lifestyle of Long Island, so she needs to be around other people in order to feel better. They also need her to feel better about themselves, so they can forget about how close they are to middle age.
“What were you saying about Facebook?” asks Mary.
“I don’t remember; it’s not important,” says Linda. “You know, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Linda.”
“Mary,” says Mary, extending her hand.
“So I’ve heard.”
“Have you?” asks Mary, unsure if she should be offended or not.
“I have. You’re the one with the Autistic child.”
“I am,” says Mary, staring blankly into her empty glass of sangria. “Excuse me.”
Mary goes to find the pitcher, but someone took it off the table. “Linda!” she yells from across the yard, “did we run out?” while pointing to her glass with a fake smile.
“Yeah! I guess so! Can you live with beer? The cooler’s over here.”
“I guess I don’t have a choice.”
“How is Christopher?” asks Linda when Mary sits back down.
“Fine. He’s at his aunt’s.”
“Your aunt came all the way from Astoria to watch Christopher?” asks Carol.
“No. He’s over there.”
“Is he spending the night?”
“Is it safe?” asks Linda, jumping in.
“Have you ever been to Astoria?”
“There’s a lot of stimulation in the city though. Aren’t you worried? He could have, like, a sensory overload, or something.”
“He’ll live,” Mary stresses, desperate for a bottle opener. “Where’s the bottle opener, Linda?”
“It’s a twist off.”
I’ve always wanted to have a day to myself, where I could go anywhere I want, do anything I want, and there be no repercussions, but the idea of actually following through scares me half to death. I spend hours upon hours per day, thinking about all these crazy scenarios, like trying new foods without feeling anxious, or going to a barbeque and not having to worry about bees and wasps and flies flying all over me and landing on my food and stinging me. I want to go to the barbeque with my mother so badly, but I can’t. The little, well, in my case, giant voice in my head told me not to, so I did everything I could to back out at the last minute. My mother’s upset because I’m upset; upset to the point where people turn their sadness into anger.
She ends up telling me not to come, and that I’ll be staying at my aunt’s house in Astoria. My aunt is a very nice woman, according to everyone in my family, but I don’t believe it. She treats me like I’m normal, and I’m not, so when I don’t act in the way she defines as normal, she gets angry too. Because of her anger, I’m in her spare bedroom. She gets upset very quickly, ever since her husband died. But it makes sense that she’s my mother’s sister. It doesn’t take much to put them both in a fit of rage. Unfortunately, my aunt seems to be a little bit crazier, almost to the point where she might not be so normal.
I ask her if she could drive me to Gamestop, so I could buy a couple games for my Xbox, and she says no, so I ask why and she says that she doesn’t have an Xbox, or a car, so she wouldn’t be able to drive me, even if she wanted to. She’s not even sure if there’s a Gamestop in Astoria. I know there is though. I saw one on 31st street, over by Ditmars, but she lives down on 36th avenue, near the beer garden. I ask again to just drive me, just to see if she’s lying, because she said to take the train and I don’t know how. I tell her I can’t and come up with all these valid reasons not to, like, it being dirty and the chance of being pushed on the tracks and getting hit by the train, and possibly living, like I sometimes see on the news. If I die, at least it would be instantaneous. Either way, I’m not in the mood to tempt fate because fate has never been kind to me. She tells me that most, if not all, twenty-one-year-olds know how to drive and starts going off on a rant in the kitchen about my mother spoiling me. I ask earnestly if she can do better, but she takes it the wrong way.
She gets really mad and starts throwing things, while drinking straight from her box of wine. How do they even do that? Wouldn’t the wine dissolve the paper? I ask her to stop drinking because it upsets her; I ask why she constantly tries to solve her problems with alcohol when they only make things worse; I even go out of my way to explain that alcohol’s a depressant, which is why women end up crying at the end of a long night out drinking. Anyways, she keeps drinking and tells me that “although there’s no such thing as a stupid question, the shit that comes from your mouth is pretty fucking stupid,” so I become hysterical, my final attempt to show her that I care more about her wellbeing than she does, and I tell her this, but she only gets more angry. She starts throwing things and I start banging my head hard against the wall, mainly because I’m frustrated with myself for not being able to tell her that I care and I just want her to stop because I see what alcohol does to my mother and the last thing I want is to be surrounded by people that aren’t entirely there to look after me. She sees this and drops the box of wine, scaring me, but at the same time calming me down because I enjoy the way the wine flows out of the box and onto the floor.
I realize the severity of our fits and look around the apartment. Plates shattered on the floor, shoes everywhere, her dog, which is kept hidden in her room because of my fear of dogs, is barking uncontrollably; everything that could go wrong went wrong, so I lock myself in my room. My aunt apparently has a pin to unlock the door from the outside and comes in. She apologizes and I forgive her. I ruined her apartment and I felt bad, so I figure I’ll be good from now on and just do what she asks. She says again to take the subway if I want to go to Gamestop. This time, I listen. The N train, she says, will take me right there. A strong feeling of uncertainty immediately overwhelms me, but my aunt’s warm smile and gentle back rub using only the tips of her fingernails quickly suppress my anxiety and get me out the front door.
“But it’s safe, right? You’re sure?”
“He won’t leave the house!” says Mary, growing more and more impatient. “He’s going to sit inside the entire time. He can’t do anything on his own. I make his meals, I bring him water, I remind him to go to the bathroom while he’s on his Xbox for five hours straight; I do everything for him. I want him to go out and make friends, but he won’t let himself enjoy life the way you’re supposed to.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do know that. If he won’t go out here, what makes you think he will in the heart of Astoria?”
After a long pause, Linda continues, “You know, you should be more supportive. Why are you so quick to assume?
“He’s still young; he could change if you give him a chance,” says Carol.
“You don’t know him,” says Mary. “You don’t know me. You don’t know what goes on in my house or what it could possibly be like to—”
“I didn’t mean to—”
Mary knows her night’s over. In the back of everyone’s mind is Christopher. Sure, they won’t bring him up, but that’s because Mary had to tell them not to. A sense of ungainliness fills the backyard and the minds of everyone in it. Everything they talk about from this point on will be well thought out, in order to not bring up Christopher, but doing so is contradictory, and they all know it. She contemplates leaving, in hopes of salvaging the night for the rest of the girls, but that would be rude, so Mary drinks her beer silently, waiting for the host to bring something up—anything. At this point, Mary will settle for a minute without thinking about Christopher.
“We all have kids, Mary, and we all feel the same way. We aren’t that different.”
“You have no idea.”
“Alright, what do you want to talk about then?”
“I don’t know. Think of something, and I’ll jump in.”
Something inside told me to be brave and go out by myself. Normally, I’d ignore the thought, but I remember nothing is normal about me, so I grab my jacket, my phone for the weather, and I find my aunt in the kitchen cleaning up the mess we made.
I tell her, “I want to go out.”
“You do?” she asks, surprised.
“Yes.” How many times do I have to tell her? And why is everyone always so surprised?
“It’s ninety degrees out,” she exclaims, not knowing I don’t put it on because I’m cold but because it helps me feel more secure when I go out. “Take it off, you look silly.”
I say that I like it on and she takes it off anyways, telling me that I’ll stick out like a sore thumb, not realizing that I’ve always stuck out, jacket or no jacket.
“I don’t know how to take the train.”
“I’ll give you my metrocard,” she says, handing it to me. A smile secretly reveals itself to me. I start to feel better about my decision. “Do you have money?” she asks.
“How much do you need?”
“I don’t know. My mom uses her credit card.”
My aunt takes a deep breath. Something went wrong. What went wrong? Hurry up and fix it.
“I’ll just look around, I don’t need to buy anything,” I suggest. The smile’s back. Good.
“Alright, just keep your phone on. Call me if you need anything.”
“Is it okay with my mother?”
“She doesn’t have to know.”
“Yes she does. What if something happens? She’ll be mad you didn’t tell her. Maybe I should call her just to—”
“You know what? It’s on everyone’s mind anyways, so let’s just get everything out in the open,” says Mary, startling everyone. She looks over at Linda. “Linda, you’re perfect, right? Tell me how you would raise my kid.”
“I think you got the wrong—”
“No, you’re always right. Tell me what I’m doing wrong. Or you,” she suggests, pointing at Carol. “Do you want to hear what I had to go through the other day?”
“Please what? You guys are desperate to find out what it’s like, so I’m going to tell you.”
“You don’t have to—”
“I want to, and I’m going to.”
Mary loses it. She can’t see the frightened faces of everyone sitting around the fire. The smoke billows into the dark night, giving off smells of nostalgia, back when she was little, when she and her family vacationed at their summer house in Upstate, New York. Her mind pauses, desperate to grab hold of the thought, to keep her sane, but she’s been quiet for too long. The thought quickly dissipates. The stories about Christopher aren’t horrible, but they never end. Each day, there’s something else to deal with. There’s never a break. She had done well so far, keeping it under control, but the stress of Christopher and the recent move, on top of all these women desperate to make their own lives seem better, have driven her mad, to the point where her mind has made it impossible for her to react rationally. She knows the only way to get better is to let it out, so she does.
I actually managed to find the N train. My aunt says the ride should be no more than five minutes. Everything, for once, was as easy as someone said it was. I look at the time and notice that fifteen minutes have gone by. What happened? What’s going on? I start to panic. Everyone in the subway car is staring. Why are they staring? Can they see me panicking? They have to; they just think I’m crazy. I want to ask for help, but that would make me look like a tourist and New Yorker’s don’t like tourists. They’d probably send me off in another direction and I’ll end up more lost than I already am. I try to listen for the stations, but I can’t hear over the crowd of people all around me. Why are they all around me? They seem to be getting closer too. They see me, but they also don’t. They’re looking through me, seemingly into my soul, knowing that I’m close to snapping, but there’s no reaction, like how animals look at you when they’re hungry. I want to cry, but I stay strong.
I get out immediately at the next stop, rushing through the crowd of people trying to get on, ignoring the curses being muttered under everyone’s breath, and walk out onto the street. Desperate to get my bearings straight, I find the courage to ask someone for help. What do you mean I’m in Manhattan! Having no practice at interacting with strangers, I ask the man where Gamestop is. Naturally, he has no idea what I’m talking about. What I wanted to ask was how the hell do I get back to Queens, but my anxiety took over. My mind works like a GM or Toyota: once it gets going, nothing can stop it. It only needs one small, insignificant thought and I could find a way to connect it to eventual nuclear Armageddon. The man asked me if I needed anything else, but I was too embarrassed to ask for help, so I ran away. I didn’t even say thank you.
“Are you serious, Mary?”
“In the middle of the movie?”
“We didn’t even make it to the middle. Everything was fine at first. The lights were dimmed, but not enough to scare him. He was a little anxious at first, so he asked if he could listen to his iPod.”
“During the movie?”
“Like, in the theater?”
“Yes,” says Mary, annoyed at all the questions.
“The lights went dark, after the credits stopped, and he started yelling. Everyone was okay at first, thinking Christopher would stop, but it only got worse. The shush’s started to make their presence known and I tried my hardest to quiet him. I apologized to the people close by, and they were nice, but I saw in their eyes that they wanted to snap my baby’s neck, and I didn’t blame them. The screaming kept getting worse and worse and more people were starting to shush and mumbling could be heard from the rows behind us. At that point, I caved. Not even five minutes into the movie and we were already gone. I swear, I remember hearing cheers leaving the theater.”
“Yeah, he hasn’t left his room since. Not even for dinner. He sleeps with the lights on, if he actually sleeps at all.”
“Mary,” pleads Linda, “I get it.”
“You don’t though. You’ve never had to deal with something like that. Maybe when your kids were younger, but Christopher just turned twenty one.”
“I had no idea.”
“I thought you did,” says Mary sarcastically.
“I thought I did, but obviously I don’t,” says Linda, trying to find something to turn the story into something positive.
“You know, if Mike was still around, it’d be easier, taking care of Christopher, but I’m doing it all alone,” Mary says as tears hang up in the corners of her eyes. Mary sees an unopened bottle of wine inside on the windowsill. She rushes up while dabbing her eyes dry and fills the glass.
“Bring that bottle out here! I think we could all use some,” says Carol, smiling.
I aimlessly wander the streets of downtown Manhattan, somewhere in the village, and the only thing I notice is how disorganized it all is. What happened to the grid? Everywhere else, the streets make sense. The signs say that I’m somewhere around Astor Place. I have to find a numbered street; as soon as possible. No one else is able to help either. Most, if not all, are tourists. Any locals I do find either ignore me or cannot hear, or even see me, like I’m invisible. The streets spin all around me. Car horns blast constantly, distracting me from thinking. I’m afraid of the thought of not being able to think, starting up a vicious cycle. Sweat starts to bead down from every orifice of my body, giving me a chill as the more present garbage-smelling air hits me from every direction. They’ll do what it takes to stay away from the crazy, sweaty guy who can’t see straight. I look to at the tall buildings all around me, and all their windows, and I see hundreds if not thousands of versions of myself, all different, but looking surprisingly normal. Each window acts as a portal to a part of myself that I never knew existed. It’s tempting to jump into one to see what I could learn, but I remember I have to get home. The ground begins to shake like an earthquake with every step I take. One wrong move and I could go flying into the street. I desperately need and look for something to ground me. Remembering what my mother’s friend told me, I find a comfortable place to sit, away from people, and take deep breaths until I start to come around. I wonder what it would be like if he married my mother, and how different my life would be having a father figure in my life, but I know that isn’t possible, so I shift my focus back on figuring out how to get home.
Carol calls for her husband through the window, but no response. The wine obstructed her ability to recognize she’s being ignored, so she just yells louder and louder. The glass door is locked from the inside, and she’s too lazy to go around, so she goes back to the fire pit.
“The asshole locked the door,” says Carol.
“What do you mean?” asks Linda.
“My husband. He’s constantly depressed. He’s been reading a lot of philosophy lately; Nietzsche mostly.”
“I read some of his stuff,” says Mary.
“Why?” asks Carol.
“I don’t know. It’s interesting stuff. People see him as being depressing just to be depressing, but he’s just trying to find the source of truth.”
“My husband and I had to read some of his stuff in college,” says Linda. “He just came off as contradictory.”
“That’s not totally true though. He just tried to find what’s true in different ways. Unfortunately, he came up short, leading him to the conclusion that there’s no origin of truth.”
“Either way, I stay away from that stuff,” says Carol. “I think Philosophy’s bullshit. Just enjoy life. Look at what it’s doing to my husband. He won’t even sleep with me. Most nights, he chooses to sleep on the couch, so I don’t distract him, he claims.”
“When was the last time you guys had sex?” asks Linda. Mary tries to hide a smile. Carol notices, but answers anyways.
“Six months ago, when we last slept in the same bed. Ten since we last had sex,” explains Carol, almost with a sick sense of pride.
“Alright, enough!” exclaims Linda. “You know, Mary, maybe…”
“What about Christopher? That I should be more open to the idea that he’ll get better?”
“Well—yeah. God, whether you believe in him or not, works in mysterious ways. I call it a miracle, you might call it luck—”
“I believe in God, Linda, but I’m also a realist. I know when to throw in the towel. He’s not saving Christopher.”
“I’m not saying that, but you might want to be more open to the possibility that he could be more functional one day.”
“If God wanted to save Christopher, he wouldn’t have given him these issues in the first place.”
“He has His reasons, Mary.”
“That’s BS. Grab me another beer. I’ll let you know how I feel when I’m done.”
“You’ve never heard of this place!”
“No, that’s why I’m asking.”
“What’s your name?”
“Christopher, I’m Kai.”
“What’s this place called?”
“McSorely’s. It’s famous.”
How could this place be famous, I think to myself. It looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since it opened. I can barely see anything either. The giant crowd filled with hipsters, probably from NYU, make it impossible to think clearly. This guy, Kai, isn’t any help either and for whatever reason, he won’t leave me alone. I understand I’m different, but I want to make one thing clear to you: I hate hipsters. I don’t say that because I think I’m a hipster though. That’s a trademark thing for hipsters to do, to deny being a hipster, but I know for a fact I’m not a hipster.
I look at my phone and of course it’s dead. How could that be possible? How am I going to call my aunt? I can’t ask someone to use their phone. They’d wonder why I don’t have one. I refuse to use Kai’s. Last thing I need is him finding out my number. He’d be the type to save it and actually call me on weekends. Then I would have to deny him or come up with some kind of excuse and I’m a horrible liar and he would know right away, even on the phone, that I’m lying and he’d get mad and I’d get upset and embarrass myself or do the unthinkable and cave and go out with him and all his stupid hipster friends.
“You alright? How about I buy you a beer?” asks Kai.
“I don’t drink, and I’m not okay.”
“Calm down, man. Do you like light or dark? Dark’s good here.”
“I don’t drink,” I repeat to him, with hopefully, a more assertive tone. I start to believe I’d rather be lost forever than have to keep dealing with this guy.
“This one’s on me, Chris.”
“I said I didn’t want it,” I stress, taking the beer, not knowing why.
“Taste it, it’s good.”
I cautiously taste the beer. It almost tastes like chocolate, but the aftertaste kills it. I shake my head like a dog shaking its wet coat, and Kai, for some reason, laughs at my discomfort. I tell him it sucks, so he goes to grab the light one for me. Again, I refuse, and again, he ignores me.
“Try this one,” he says, handing me the glass.
“It’s a little better,” I tell him.
“Good. Now watch what I do.”
Kai grabs a light and a dark and holds the two glasses together in one hand. He says what he’s doing is called a waterfall. The dark beer on top quickly spills into the light beer underneath and into his mouth, which, according to Kai, gets you drunk faster and gives the beer a unique flavor that can’t be found anywhere else in the city.
“Your turn,” he says, pointing to the glasses on the table.
I nervously look at him, wondering what could make him think that I can do something like that. I’ve never had beer in my life until today. Just having a sip is hard enough. I tell him no, but he insists, so I get up and try to run away, but I slip on the sawdust floor. I try to get up as fast as I can, so no one can see me cry, but I keep slipping. The only way I can describe what I’m doing is flopping on the floor of McSorely’s like a fish out of water. Kai, presumably, grabs me while I’m still on the floor, telling me to calm down. He says to take a deep breath and slowly sip his beer. I toss the beer aside and one of the bartenders comes out from behind the bar, asking if everything is okay. He sees me coated in sawdust, bends down, and laughs while patting me on the back, telling Kai to buy me another round.
“In the car?”
“It doesn’t matter where he is. He’ll throw up anywhere. But yeah, he was in the car.”
“Why does lightning scare him so much?”
“I don’t know.”
The focus of conversation naturally shifted back to Christopher. It has to. The difference today, is that Mary is bringing him up. It was a first for her. She never brings him up, not even with her sister.
“He’s always been that way; he was born during a hurricane,” says Mary.
“Wow, you’d think he’d be used to the weather,” says Carol.
“In a perfect world, sure. Unfortunately, I got the opposite.”
“Well, you didn’t get it, Mary,” says Linda, butting in, “he did—Christopher.”
“What do you mean? I gave birth to him. His issues are my issues, are they not?”
“His issues. Look at it from his point of view.”
“I get it now,” says Carol. “She’s right, Mary. Do you think Christopher wants to be afraid?”
“No, of course not.”
Mary’s inexperience with her own emotions frightens her, the same way old music you used to listen to during the hardest moments of your life does by making you relive them all over again as if they never happened at all, makes her question if the alcohol numbs you from the pain or if you subconsciously do it yourself. She’s never been questioned like this before. It’s like everyone’s against her now. She’s already had her cry too, so now she’s in that phase we all get into where we’re paddling up shit creek and we drop the paddle on purpose, to see what will happen, to see what we could learn about ourselves, because if we survive, we’ll come out as better people. You would think Mary would have to have hope for Christopher in order for something good to come out of this situation, but she knows he’s going to be the same.
“So they really aren’t your issues. Yes, they cause you heartache, but they aren’t your issues.”
“Does that make me a bad mother?”
“You obviously mean well for your child, we all know that, but maybe you have to try to take yourself out of the picture more. He feeds off your emotions, so if you’re upset, he’s upset; if he sees you being more supportive, or understanding, he’ll reach out more.”
“I don’t know. I think it’s just a matter of understanding. Just be there to help.”
“I’m going to call him.”
“That won’t do anything. Let him live. He’ll come to you, and when he does, be a mother. Love him for who he is because if you don’t, he’ll resent you and get worse.”
“What do you mean you don’t like Shakespeare?”
“He wasn’t that good, honestly.”
“How could you be so stupid?”
“The only reason we talk about him is because there was no competition. Do you know who Marlowe is? He wrote lDoctor Faustus. He was more popular than Shakespeare. If he didn’t die young, we’d be talking about him.”
“Yeah, if he didn’t die young, but guess what? He did. You can’t play the if-game; that’s bullshit. You have no argument, Kai. He was great and you know it.”
“I’m not denying he wasn’t talented. I’ll even go so far as to say that we’d still be talking about him, but we wouldn’t be treating him like the god he isn’t.”
“Who says we’re treating him like a god?” I yell, over the roar of McSorely’s, a feat difficult for anyone to accomplish. “Marlowe has published work. Why don’t we just shift our attention to those specific works if they’re so superior to Shakespeare’s?”
“People are afraid of change. They’d rather go with the status-quo than have to reach out and find something different.”
“Bullshit!” yells Christopher, enthusiastically. “If we were afraid of change, we’d still be in the Dark Ages. People change all the time.”
“He didn’t pick up. His phone went right to voicemail. That’s not like him. I’m calling my sister.”
It seems like I silenced the crowd, and everyone in McSorely’s is looking at me. Kai stands up from his chair and gets very close to me, completely disregarding my comfort zone. I ask him if he’s okay, but he just stares through his thick-framed, Warby Parker’s, waiting for me to say something. I don’t know what to say, so I don’t say anything. I wait for him to make a move, but nothing happens. The bar, I believe, is anticipating a brawl. That’s what I get for being too cocky. What I thought was a moment of liberation is really just another example of what happens when I try to be something I’m not, which is accepted. Kai may be a hipster, but I don’t want to mess with him. Not even his tattoo sleeves can cover what’s hiding underneath his obscenely deep v-neck. I assume he doesn’t want to hear any more of what I have to say, so I try to apologize, but he cuts me off, surprising me when he tells me I’m right.
“What do you mean you guys had a falling out?” asks Mary.
“I told him to go out and he didn’t want to. He yelled at me, so I yelled back. You know I don’t tolerate that shit.”
“He’s different; you have to! Even if you don’t give a shit, you have to at least pretend.”
“I thought you wanted him to be normal. You can’t treat him like he has a problem if you want him to be normal. You have to treat him normally! Isn’t that why you never followed up on those tests?”
“He’s fine, Mary. We both apologized and forgave each other. He’s been good ever since. I haven’t heard a word from him. Stay at the party.”
“I’m coming now,” says Mary, hanging up immediately. There was either a suspicious or anxious (maybe both) tone on her sister’s voice that needs to be addressed.
“I’ll drive,” says Carol’s husband, eavesdropping through the kitchen window.
The attention shifts from us to her. She yells something to the crowd and they go back to drinking at the bar and their tables, like nothing happened. I look back at Kai, confused, but he’s gone. He must have left with the crowd. Anyways, this girl walks right up to me and asks what’s up. I say good, and she says we should leave. I say we can’t because I’m covered in beer and sawdust, but I look down and I see that I’m already half way out the door. We quickly find a small store on 3rd Avenue and buy a new t-shirt. Lucia, horrifyingly, rips my shirt off in the middle of the sidewalk and tosses the old one aside like nothing happened.
“So,” I finally say, making Lucia jump, “do you live around here?”
“Yeah, well, not in Manhattan—in Brooklyn. Dumbo.”
“It’s a nice place. Cobblestone streets; big, industrial buildings; very artsy, Dumbo.”
“What’s your name?”
“No, it’s Italian. People call me Luc, though.”
“That’s weird,” I repeat softly to myself (a habit I’ve never liked) as we continue to walk.
I wish I knew where she was taking me. I can’t stand doing spur-of-the-moment type things. Then again, I’m lost in Manhattan and this girl might be the only person willing to help me. All I can do is hope to God she won’t murder me.
“Where are you from?” she asks me.
“Astoria, but I live in Long Island now.”
“Do you like it there?”
“It’s quiet. Do you like Dumbo?”
I already ran out of things to say. I’ve never done this before. How could anyone hold a conversation for more than a minute? I’ve imagined countless times how I’d talk about what I like, like going to the movies and being around people in general, but I, like most people I assume (hope, actually), don’t realize that that’s not even close to who I actually am.
“Where are you taking me?” I finally ask.
“Do you trust me?”
“Not really, no.”
I don’t think she liked that. She punched me really hard. I just want to go home. I want to tell her she’s crazy, but I think she’ll aim for my face next time.
“Did your father ever hit you?”
“Excuse me,” she says with a real nasty tone. Adrenaline rushes through my veins. Again, my mind tells me to run, but I hold my ground. I stand there quietly (awkwardly), hoping she’ll forget, but thankfully, she forgives me after I finally burst out, apologizing profusely. She doesn’t say anything, so we just go back to walking down the loud busy streets of Manhattan. People say New York’s a walking city, but I can’t help but wonder how long it’s going to take to get to wherever Lucia’s taking me.
“I’m sorry girls, but I have to take care of something.”
“Are you okay? You sure you can’t stick around?”
“I’m okay,” says Mary earnestly, “but I have to go.”
“Get my husband to drive you. You’re too far gone to drive.”
“He’s waiting in the car.”
“Where are we going? I can’t just go out to eat with you. I barely know you and if you really want to know something about me, you should know that I don’t go out to eat.”
“How?” she asks me. “How could I know something like that? I just met you.”
“…I don’t know.”
Don’t stare at me like that, I think to myself. I want to tell her to just take me home, but I have to stay on her good side. There’s no way I’m going to eat with her. What if I just ask her to go to a place with all the foods I like? If she’s going so far out of her way for me, there’s no reason to think she wouldn’t go a little further.
“I only eat chicken and steak and fries. Hot dogs are good too. Every once in a while I’ll try a burger with nothing on it but raw onion. Raw onion’s the only vegetable I’ll eat by the way. Anything green scares me. Raw red onions work because they’re red. They don’t look like they were growing in dirt. That’s why I don’t like mushrooms either. Are you listening?”
“Where are we going?” I ask again.
“We’re here,” she says excitedly.
Are we? Everything seems to be happening so suddenly. I don’t get a chance to think about what’s really happening. I guess that’s what I get for being adventurous. Seriously, it really feels like every time I try to be proactive, it somehow comes back to haunt me. I can’t even see the place.
“I hope you like Ukrainian, Chris.”
Chris? Does she mean me? I look around and see no one else but us. No one calls me Chris.
“My name’s Christopher.”
“I like Chris. Christopher sounds childish,” says Lucia, giving me a genuine smile that radiates warmth and love. She even fluttered her eyelashes, like they do in the movies, which I usually find off-putting due to the lack of actual emotion, but for some reason, it’s got me hooked. As long as she continues smiling like that, I’d do anything, as long as it isn’t too weird.
“Did you say Ukrainian?”
“I did. You gotta problem?” says Lucia, quickly losing her patience. I laugh and tell her that her Italian accent comes out when she’s angry. I impress both of us by telling her it was cute.
“I do gotta problem,” I say back to Lucia, teasing her. I even use my hands when I tell her, “I don’t eat Ukrainian food.” She asks if I ever had it, so of course I tell her no. Then she asks how I could know if I never had it before, so I tell her that I don’t have to have it to know I won’t like it, but she, like everyone else, doesn’t buy it.
I can hear Lucia talking, probably about herself, but I’m not really listening. She’s a very pretty girl. I want to talk to her, but I have to save it for when we sit down to eat. As we walk down this narrow, dimly-lit hallway that seems to be going below street level, we finally get to the restaurant. It seems like one of the last few joints in New York that honestly suck, but manage to stay open. She says the food is cheap, which relieves me, but then I remember I have no money on me.
I order potato latkes; something cheap and filling and familiar. I’ve had them before, but not like this. They were gigantic, like, the size of my face, and I had two of them. The plate comes with three, but I can’t eat the third one, so I give it to Lucia. It’s the least I could do considering she has to pay. I don’t remember what she ordered. It didn’t sound appetizing when she ordered it and the looks don’t help. She says there’s meat in it, but it’s covered in a thick, brown gravy that looks disgusting. It looks kind of like what it should look like after I (hypothetically) tried it and then proceeded to throw it back up onto the plate.
After our meal, we leave and I ask how to get home. Lucia was surprised I didn’t know and laughed when I said that I got on the train going the wrong way. All I had to do was go on the other side of the tracks. Everything could have been avoided.
“I had a great time, Lucia,” I say, desperate to change the embarrassing subject.
“I couldn’t tell,” she says sarcastically, I think.
“You don’t believe me?”
“You barely spoke. You seemed full of life in McSorely’s. You and that crazy guy were really going at it.”
Right, Kai. I can’t believe I already forgot about him. Usually, I remember everything, but today is just a blur. Some things, like having to get home, stick out, but other things like the weather and streets and cars and faces, don’t even exist. I look up and notice there isn’t a single cloud in the sky. Instead of car horns blaring and police sirens wailing and bums panhandling, I hear children laughing and birds chirping in the background, as Lucia wraps her arm around me?
“Come home with me, Chris,” says Lucia, smiling while running her fingers down my shirt.
“I can’t. I have to get home.”
“Can I see you again?”
“Maybe. I don’t know how to contact you though.”
“Well, if you ask nicely…”
I rudely cut her off, telling her I can hear the screech of the subway brakes and that I can’t miss the train. Without a second to spare, I get on the N train going to Queens.
“How are you Christopher?”
“I heard you went on an adventure today. Did you have a good time?”
I want to say I had a great time, but I don’t want to get into the specifics with my own mother. She always manages to turn my own accomplishments, like hugging and holding hands with a girl outside of family for the first time, into her own.
“Christopher. Did you have a good time?”
After today, I learned that ignorance is bliss and bliss is freedom. I just wish there wasn’t such an ugly connotation to the word ignorance. As I try to think of a more suitable word—
“Yes, I had a good time.” I ask her the same question and she says yes as well.
“Maybe we can go on an adventure of our own one day. Would you like that, Christopher? We’ll do whatever you want.”