Saturday, early evening…but too late to turn back.
Really, I should have fucking known when I ordered that drink. Outside, it was still snowing. And inside this cozy, tough-to-get-a-reservation joint was something called a Bourbon Storm. The name made me think of George Clooney and, specifically, The Perfect Storm.
I looked it up—a “perfect storm”— to remind myself of how much it would suck to be in one. Basically, it boils down to a lot of stuff, combining to create a “once in a lifetime” event; things that are not “individually dangerous, but occurring together produce a disastrous outcome”. If you’re even remotely equating something you are about to drink with a high-seas disaster of any proportion, it ought to be a sign.
It was not brave, opting for the beverage that now had me thinking of a terrifying death at sea; but neither would I call it stupid. It was as if the choice had been made for me. The menu spoke; Ouija board-like (except it did not have to spell everything out with a floating plastic doo-hickey), it told me: two hours have passed since the afternoon performance of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance ended and ordering anything insubstantial or fluffy would be just plain wrong. In much the same way I had matched my hat to my gloves, so would my booze and food complement the matinee. That was it, then—bourbon and the duck. Ordering should always be this easy.
Thankfully, my dinner companions—my son and one of his friends—bore no hint of resemblance to any of Albee’s characters, ensuring that abuse of any sort was off the table. Small favors are often big enough.
Thirty-six hours earlier…
At 7 a.m. on Friday, it was exactly 1 degree outside when my plane touched down. One. By the time I met my son and a friend of his for lunch and a trip to the museum, it had easily warmed up by ½ a degree. I don’t even know if there is such a thing as ½ a degree in weather-speak. I only think of degrees in the plural form—as in, “It’s going to be 90 degrees today. What the fuck?” (That’s what I say in California…in March.) I really shouldn’t have given it any thought. By the time we left MOMA, the ½ degree of heat had vanished and I was wasting my time, as usual.
Nothing was settled yet for the evening. When you are visiting a nineteen-year old, you can’t say that anything is ever really settled. It all just manages to happen, somehow, on its own. Yet, I had gone so far as to plan to meet an old friend for dinner. She made the reservation for four people. That accounted for all possible diners—not that a definitive answer was ever going to materialize because, well, nineteen. (The number has now become a concept and a way of referring to my son.)
Friday, sometime in between the day and night…
Ice on, ice off… Ice on. Why bother?
Having spent the better part of the morning obsessively trying to de-ice the inside of the windows at the apartment where I was staying, and having spent the better part of the afternoon at the museum, I could no longer say there had been any advantage to taking the red-eye flight the night before.
Oh, I know. I’ve told myself a million times, “You have the whole day to pack. You don’t lose a whole day travelling.” I’m going to remember this feeling for next time is what my zombie-self was thinking. I never do.
A nap was out of the question because, under these circumstances, it is not of any use, the way a nap would be. It is a coma-like state from which you awake, not knowing what day or time it is. There is no one standing over you to shed tears of joy or to shout, “It’s a miracle!” You feel cheated, or I do, anyway. My imagination tells me that awakening from a real coma must be satisfying on some level. This is not. You have to figure out if it is morning or evening all on your own. Have I slept for fifteen minutes or fifteen hours? You have to get dressed for dinner five seconds after coming out of this pseudo-coma. It’s unfair, and so, like I said, no nap.
“Nineteen” et al decide they will stay downtown to eat. Uptown, my friend and I try to remember when it was we last saw each other. We decide not to care. Now we remember the funniest time we ever spent together. It was at a funeral.
Friday night, after dinner… I have no idea what time it is.
I text “Nineteen”: Let me know when you decide whether you’re staying at your dorm or uptown with me. Translation: Let me know either way, so that if I wake up in the middle of the night and you’re not here, I won’t have to worry.
Of course, I wake up at 3:50 a.m. to an empty second bedroom and no text. I’m pretty sure I’m only awake because of the fucking beeping in the entryway to the apartment. I vaguely recognize the sound as the low battery signal from the smoke detector. The only reason it sounds familiar is because the same thing happened at home, a few months before, in my bedroom. This never occurs, you’ll notice, at an hour when you can go out and buy another 9 volt battery without looking like some kind of person who is “socially active” late at night. (By the way, when the detector is also hardwired in, taking the battery out does not stop the beeping. You’re welcome.)
I slam the bedroom door on the intermittent chirp…chirp…and send a text message to “Nineteen”. Delivered. I send another message. Delivered. I call. Voicemail.
“The voice-mailbox you are calling is full.” Of course it is. It’s now 4:30 a.m. and either I keep worrying and calling or I go back to sleep. Bad mommy took the red-eye and… Zzzzzzz.
I don’t know why, but when I next wake up at 7:30 a.m., I just presume I’ll look at my phone and see a text. Chirp. This would make me so happy that…chirp…I wouldn’t give a crap about the…chirp. I would simply roll over and sleep more. There is no text. There is Law and Order: Criminal Intent on TV and some parents who—okay, what are the odds that this is what I’m seeing on TV? I can't even say what is happening. Too disturbing.
So, I dial my son’s number. Like, enough times to make the total number of calls add up to twenty-one times. I’m talking to myself. I’m talking to Vincent D’Onofrio on the TV. Maybe I’m crying. I don’t even know.
I text a friend in the same time zone because I don’t want to wake anyone where it’s three hours earlier. She calls and reassures me that everything is going to be fine. I want to say, “But what about the shit that’s going down on Law and Order: Criminal Intent?” Instead I just say nothing. I’m sure she can hear whatever is dripping from my eyes and nose. “It’s gonna be fine,” my friend says.
When my phone rings at 9 a.m., it’s him, my son. I’m so happy and so mad. The “ringing, ringing, ringing” (to quote him) has “annoyed” him. Never mind that the last time I “rang” was over an hour before this. I think the ringing infiltrated his dream over the course of time. “I was asleep,” he says. Yes, that seems to have been the case. I’m so happy and so mad. I don’t bother to tell him he could have stopped the real "annoying" ringing by answering the first time.
It is Saturday, the part that is not just a continuation of Friday night.
I spend the rest of the morning wondering how much shit I’m going to be given in the afternoon for the texts and twenty-one phone calls. “Nineteen” will use the “I’m an adult” defense. I am sure of this. I’ll use the “I’m a mom” one. Then I cease to care because it is snowing and because my son actually likes Edward Albee’s plays.
I am amazed by the amount of snow that can accumulate on the ground between a 2 p.m. curtain and a 5 p.m. curtain call. And again, I am amazed at how much more can appear between then and dinnertime. I stop caring, most likely because of my drink, the Bourbon Storm.
When it is time to leave the restaurant, my son and his friend wait for their Uber. It is now raining. I like that they will be shielded from the damp and the cold going across town.
I don’t allow myself the same comfort. It’s still early and I can take the subway uptown—probably trying to prove some kind of point by walking to the station in the rain and leftover snow that only just fell. I seem not to care that I will look like some kind of drowned rat. There is a certain freedom in that, I’ll admit. So fuck it, which I wouldn’t ordinarily say.
I hear someone behind me on the street talking about the singer Lesley Gore. I thought he was on the phone. Then, I realize he is talking to me. I’m not sure if he is a he or a she. I don’t have any opinion about it either way. I just don’t know how to refer to the person here—the person who is talking to me about Lesley Gore.
“She’s dead, you know,” he/she says to me.
“I know. It’s sad,” I say back.
“You’re not old enough to know who Lesley Gore is,” he/she says.
It’s raining and I would hate this except that I am old enough to remember Lesley Gore and someone thinks I am not.
“Don’t sleep in the subway, darlin’. Don’t stand in the pouring rain.” I am also old enough to remember Petula Clark. This is what I am thinking as I head downstairs into the subway station…
It wasn’t until I had swiped my MetroCard and was standing on the subway platform that I realized I was waiting for the wrong train. Sometimes it’s the right train, depending on where I’m going. I am by myself and, that being the case, none of this is a big deal. I figure out how to solve the problem, I don’t have to be anywhere at a specific time. I’ll transfer to the other subway line after six stops, walk the maze to the right train, and get out two blocks from where I’m staying.
And this is how the rest of my plan unfolds:
- At the 4th stop, the train does not move. The hard to hear announcement says we are waiting for either “ safe passage” or a “sick passenger”. Considering there is also an announcement about a power outage on two other train lines, everyone is betting on "safe passage".
- The next announcement: There will be another #1 train arriving at this station in three minutes. All I can think about is whether it’s going to crash into the #1 train we are sitting in. I try to decide where to sit or stand in the subway car so that when we are crashed into, I will remain alive. I’m a mother. My nineteen-year old child needs me.
- The other # 1 train whizzes by on the express track. We live.
- EMTs come and go. "Sick passenger" question answered. Everyone loses bet. After twenty-five minutes we are back in business.
- I didn’t get out and walk because it was raining and I still had forty uptown blocks to go…and a bunch of crosstown ones. You try getting a cab, okay?
- The train stops in the tunnel for about a minute between 34th St. and 42nd St. I go with the “this has to be normal” explanation.
- I exit the train at 42nd St.
- I find my way to the N-R-Q trains. The platform is mobbed—crowded in the way those pictures of the Tokyo subway look.
- The entire platform moves together as one onto the train when it arrives a minute later. A minute! This is awesome (and more words I don’t ordinarily use).
- Sudden realization as the doors are closing: the subway car smells—reeks—of vomit. What the effin’ fuck? A woman makes her way from the opposite end of the car. She says, “Oh, Thank God. It’s so much better down here.” I am breathing into my beanie. Some people have pulled their turtlenecks up over their faces.
- I can’t get off the train and wait for another one. I saw The Taking Of Pelham 123 and I’ll take my chances with the vomit because at this rate…
- At my stop, I get off the train and head the hell for fresh air. (Honestly, at this point, it would not have surprised me if someone had said that King Kong was at the top of the Empire State Building.)
I walk the two blocks back to where I am staying. The Bourbon Storm has worn off. The rain has stopped. What is left of the snow is unremarkable. It has all happened so fast and so slowly at the same time.
A little later on…still Saturday night.
I received a text from “Nineteen”: Did you make it home? Upon learning that I had, he continued: Oh my God. Glad you’re safe.
Apparently, we all want the same thing. Some of us get it with fewer texts and no calls.