I almost threw up tonight in a restaurant
a panic attack or the beginnings of one
we've known each other since 7th grade
lived a mile apart & walked to school together
It started out simple enough
usual invite to check out a new film
the theater over in your neck of the woods
including a bite sometimes
or a cup of tea before or after
you're alone now, so there's just the three of us
we head for our car while you walk home
when he died you were with my dad
a week or so at home after release from hospital
in your bedroom
I remember how still & shrunken he looked
'you're at peace now, sweet', you murmured
We don't talk during films
always agree on where to sit in the audience
not too far away
preferably the side section
there's tacit approval
We met with my brothers
about helping out financially
when it started to become too much for you
you wanted to punt-kick dad's fucking wheelchair
out the window
'Wow', you said, after the film credits
'I second that wow'
slapped your knee
R. sat silent on the aisle next to me
still digesting the experience
I was with you
when I met the guy I first married
had kids with
you were my maid-of-honor
'Food!' said R.
my dad left my mom
moved in with you
later the same year my husband died
two occurrences only coincidentally related
You went to the restroom
he went to the car for the left-overs bag
then said to myself:
'never miss a chance to pee'
entered the restroom
you were checking your emails
for 'breaking up' my family
began a healing process with my mom—
correspondence, phone calls
lunches at the hospital cafeteria when you were off duty
she was seeing her cardiologist
You came out of the stall
‘I started taking singing lessons!
can't learn my church choir stuff fast enough
so I searched online
found a really nice teacher—she’s helping me a lot
makes tapes for me.'
I thought Wait, what is this? You didn't ask me?
your singing buddy
'Michael Row the Boat Ashore' talent show in 1961
you played the ukelele
you know I have a god damn degree in voice, right?
we already did this, what, last spring, wasn’t it?
I got a little queasy in the small space
we went out onto the sidewalk
R. motioned to us from across the street
our Indian restaurant destination half a block away.
my heart beginning to thump
I have only two real women friends close by
you & J., my college roommate
C. lives in Colorado
that doesn't quite work
though we could Skype
it ain't the same.
I sometimes complain that I'm surrounded by males
female friends are elusive.
We walked in silence
we never do that
Or do I chatter? Is that what happens? What is going on?
racing through thought-chains like a puppet on meth
I can't feel my body
something's going to start coming out my orifices
my dad was on 'mood elevators' he said.
He called me from work & was eating his lunch—
prepared by my mom for his diabetes—
carrot sticks 'scrunch-scrunch'
abruptly he said 'I'm leaving your mother'
I hung up.
I realize now that I couldn't feel my body.
This wasn't working
I had at least to try to express myself
I heard myself say 'Ah. Cafe Raj. That's the place.'
inside my head I heard
'did I do something wrong?'
R. set his jacket over a chair 'I gotta go pee.'
We sat next to each other
I waited a beat & then another beat & another
stared across the table at R.'s empty chair
a stab of danger
'I...feel like I did something wrong...last year
you asked me to help you with some of your choir music...
it felt...really good...I, uh. Um. I. Did I do something wrong?'
You shook your head like ridding it of a pest.
'Don't remember. We just schlepped through some music, I think.'
we had a memorial for my dead husband
mom wouldn't attend if you were there, so dad missed it
so did you for that matter, who had been there from the beginning
I think I was less able to assess the damage in those first days
I let it slide
R. sat down & opened a menu: 'so whatcha think? Some biryani?
We need some naan & chutney, too.'
at this point I was busy listening hard:
words in my head
'I am not going to make it.
I am going to throw up.
I can't do this.
How am I going to make it through this?
I'm down to one friend.'
below me floated the printed menu
aloo gobi, saag paneer
I realize if I look at R. I'm going to bolt
whatever this is I have to be very careful
study the menu
riding the crest of this wave
Our high school reunions are out anymore. Not since the 25th year the 4 of us organized & decided that we wouldn't have beef at the hotel buffet. Jon's content maybe to walk over to the high school for a few minutes from his house two blocks away if they gather there, & I won't go if Geoffrey's not there & Jody's dead now & maybe you just don't want to be Claudine's dead dad's girlfriend.
R. orders the food
sighs 'What I want to know...I mean this is Mike Leigh, so he's not going to do it...but, I really wanted some sign posts in Turner's life...you know? It starts in 1820 & then Queen Victoria is obviously early in her reign, so how much time has passed? I miss getting that information.'
And just like that it's over. Chatter resumes.