“Come on in!” he said. It was such a surreal reversal of how I imagined our lunch would start that I couldn’t help but feel a bit exhilarated. I couldn’t possibly predict what would happen next.
I stepped inside, and he looked around my apartment.
“This is a really nice apartment,” he said. “What do you do?”
“Those two sentences in a row mean ‘How much money do you make?’” I said. I wasn’t being bitchy; at least I didn’t feel like I was. I was teasing him, and he was teasing me back when he said, “Well, it’s just hard for me to imagine that a woman could afford such a nice place on her own.”
I gave him a look of mock indignation, and he gave me one right back.
“I’m a librarian.”
“Got it,” he said. “so you’re doing well. this is good. I’ve been looking for a baby mama.”
“A baby mama?”
“Sorry. not a baby mama. What’s it called when a woman pays for all the stuff for the man?”
“A sugar mama?”
He looked mildly embarrassed, and it was so charming to see. He had seemed so in control up until that moment, but seeing him even the slightest bit vulnerable was . . . intoxicating.
“Sugar mama. that’s what I meant. What’s a baby mama?”
“That’s when you aren’t married to the woman who is the mother of your child.”
“Oh. no, I’m not looking for one of those.”
“I don’t know if anyone looks for one.”
“Right. It just works out that way for them, I guess. people do look for sugar mamas, though, so watch out.”
“I’ll be on guard.”
“Shall we go?” he said.
“Sure. let me just grab my—”
“I was going to say wallet! But yes! keys too. Can you imagine if I’d forgotten those again?” I grabbed them off the counter, and he took them delicately out of my hand.
“I’m going to be in charge of the keys,” he said.
I nodded. “If you think that’s best.”
I wake up to the ugly, disgusting world over and over again, each time closing my eyes tightly when I remember who I am. I finally get up around noon, not because I feel ready to face the day but because I can no longer face the night.
I walk into the living room. “Good morning,” ana says as she sees me. she’s sitting on the couch and she grabs my hand. “What can I do?”
I look her in the eye and tell her the truth. “you can’t do anything. nothing you could possibly do would make this any easier.”
“I know that,” she says. “But there must be something I can do just to . . .” Her eyes are watering. I shake my head. I don’t know what to say. I don’t want anyone to make me feel better. I can’t even think past this very moment in time. I can’t think forward to this evening. I don’t know how I’ll make it through the next few minutes, let alone the next few hours. and yet, I don’t know anything anyone can do to make those minutes easier. no matter how ana acts, how hard she scrubs my house clean, how gentle she is with me, no matter if I take a shower, if I run down the street naked, if I drink every ounce of alcohol in the house, Ben is still not with me. Ben will never be with me again. I suddenly feel like I might not make it through the day, and if ana isn’t here to watch me, I don’t know what I’ll do.
I sit beside her. “you can stay here. stay near me. It won’t make it easier, but it will make me believe in myself more, I think. Just stay here.” I’m too emotional to cry. My face and body are so consumed with dread, there’s no room left to produce anything.
“You got it. I’m here. I’m here and I won’t leave.” she grabs me, her arm around my shoulders, squeezing me. “Maybe you should eat,” she says.
“No, I’m not hungry,” I say. I don’t anticipate ever being hungry again. What does hunger even feel like? Who can remember?
“I know you’re not hungry, but you still have to eat,” she says. “If you could have anything in the whole world, what could you manage to get down? don’t worry about health or expense. Just if you could have anything.”
Normally, if someone asked me that, I’d say I wanted a Big Mac. I always just want a Big Mac, the largest container of fries Mcdonald’s has, and then a pile of reese’s peanut butter cups. My palate has never been trained to appreciate fine foods. I never crave sushi or a nice chardonnay. I crave fries and CocaCola. But not now. to me right now, a Big Mac might as well be a staple gun.that is how likely I am to eat it.
“No, nothing. I don’t think I could keep anything down.” “soup?”
“You have to eat at some point today. promise me you’ll eat at some point today?”
“Sure,” I say. But I know I won’t. I’m lying. I have no intention of carrying through on that promise. What’s the point of a promise anyway? How can we expect people to stick to their word about anything when the world around us is so arbitrary, unreliable, and senseless?
“You need to go to the funeral home today,” she says. “Want me to call them now?”
I hear her and I nod. that’s all I can do. so it’s what I do.
Ana picks up her phone and calls the funeral home. apparently, I was supposed to call yesterday. I can hear the receptionist say something about “being behind.” ana doesn’t dare pass this information along to me, but I can tell by her tone on the phone that they are giving her a hard time. let them come at me. Just let them. I’d be happy to scream at a group of people profiting from tragedy.
Ana drives me to the office and parks the car in front, on the street. there is a parking garage underneath the building, but it’s $2.50 every fifteen minutes and that’s simply absurd. I refuse to encourage those overpriced ass**les by using their service. this has nothing to do with my grief, by the way. I have a lifelong hatred of price gouging. It says on the sign that it’s free with validation from Wright & sons Funeral Home, but that seems awfully tacky on everyone’s part. “yes, we would like him embalmed. By the way, could you validate this for me?”
Ana finds a spot on the street easily enough. I check the passenger’s side mirror and realize that my eyes are red and bloodshot. My cheeks are splotched with pink. My eyelashes are squashed together and shiny. ana hands me her large, dark sunglasses. I put them on and step out of the car. as I catch a glimpse of myself in her mirror one last time, dressed for a meeting with large glasses on my face, I feel like Jackie kennedy. Maybe there’s a part of every woman that wants to be Jackie kennedy, but they mean First lady Jackie kennedy or Jackie kennedy onassis. no one wants to relate to her like this.
Ana runs to the meter and goes to put quarters in but finds herself empty. “shit! I’m out of quarters. you head in and I’ll take care of this,” she says, heading back into the car.
“No,” I say, reaching into my own wallet. “I have some.” I put the change in the meter. “Besides, I don’t think I can do this without you.” then I start crying again, blubbering, the tears falling down my face, only visible once they’ve made their way past the huge lenses.
When we got in Ben’s car, he asked if I was up for an adventure and I told him that I was.
“No, I mean, a true adventure.”
“What if this adventure takes us on a road trip to a restaurant over an hour away?”
“As long as you’re driving, it’s fine by me,” I said. “although, I’m confused about what could possibly require us to drive an hour out of the way.”
“Oh, you just leave that to me,” he said, and he started the car.
“You’re being very cryptic,” I said. He ignored me. He reached over and turned on his radio. “you’re in charge of music and possibly navigation if it comes to that.”
“Fine by me,” I said, as I immediately turned the station to npr. as the low, monotonous voices started to fill the air, Ben shook his head. “you’re one of those?” he said, smiling.