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Thursday, November 12, 2020
I hadn’t seen her in more than 20 years. I had to ask for a hug. She paused, as to think: Did I pack one? We took a breakfast of family drama centered around her aunts' only son and his pack of dogs. He was last to the table, New Girlfriend in his wake. He hugged me, long-time ______ to his aunt and adoptive mother. The 8-year old I once knew is now a hairy, rugged dude who laughs easily since his mother now holds all the reasons to frown. Over breakfast, she fell mute after he sat at the table. She paid the check, financial problems whatever, and in turn was offered not even a crumb-sized Thank You.
But anyway, my friend said. Back to me now, she said.
She passed her phone for a séance of photos -- a white tiger cub in proxy for having no children, her smiling brilliant and alone before a Niagara Falls robed in fog. She waved off photos of her mother and brother taken at the same restaurant where she’d once, foolishly, married.
But anyway, she said. Never mind that, she said.
We ate. When the waiter reached for her untouched plate, she growled un-ironically and kept going. The boy and his lady laughed. The boys’ mother did not. I begged the waiter to stop pouring coffee, even as my friend could not stop talking. So we waited.
After breakfast, the boy showed off his pit-bull terriers. One sociable girl, one suspicious boy, one blue-eyed puppy. The only one who survived, he said, lifting the shivering pup out of my arms.
My friend and I then waved to the boy, the girl, the frowning aunt, and the smiling dogs and drove across a town she hadn’t seen since high school. It was the same and not the same. As we were. Forgot something back at the hotel, she said. As she drove, I rushed my decade summary before she snatched the conversation and ran.
The loneliness of the long distance conversationalist. I, her valet of words.
I sat on the twin bed across from her. Audience to her vaudeville of years.
Mid-monologue, I raise my hand, ask: How do you keep from drowning in your own life?
And right then, she marches over to the dresser to exalt her one, true and faithful God. The One who never falters. In her palm, a small white bottle glowed.
She'd asked her doctor for either the answer to everything or how to make everything stop, and her doctor said: Take These. She talked through me as opposed to with me. Compressed the word suicide into a syllable so small I nearly missed it. But it was there, like a pill rolled beneath an oven. She was dazzling – cursive landscape of hair, triumphant hips. I’ve loved her for a fourth of my life. So what. The friend who dated her back when we were teens, once asked why I never, Why I Never. Whatever I was to her over the years, was nowhere near as devoted as the benediction rattling like keys in her tight little fist.