Wifi & Marriage

Personal Essay

It was two days before I left for a semester in London. I was sitting on the couch in my basement, drinking a glass of red wine and watching re-runs of sitcoms from the 90’s. I had been trying to check my phone less recently, but, in this moment, I couldn’t fight the urge; I needed to see if he was online. I opened Instagram and clicked on his profile. A small green dot signified his online presence. I smiled. It was 4 am his time which meant he had either woken up to use the restroom or he was returning from a night out with friends. I sent him a picture of the wine glass in my hand. It wasn’t a good picture, simply dark and blurry since the television screen was the only source of light near me. A vibration notified his response. It was probably something witty or sarcastic like “don’t go too crazy tonight” or “you better watch that drink.” He’s good at showcasing his sense of humor in only a few words. I’ve typed “LOL” to him an excessive amount of times. But it’s true. His short, charming messages make me smile and laugh. The best is when he sends me voice messages so that I can hear his surroundings, car horns and wind. I picture him walking through the city, holding his phone up to his mouth, and singing whatever song happens to be stuck in his head. When I press play my mouth flattens into a thick red grin. Sometimes I draft messages to him, saying how grateful I am for our friendship and how I wish, more than anything, that our lives occurred in the same time zone. The same country. I never send these messages, but I should.

After exchanging a string of sarcastic messages related to my wine consumption, he asked me something serious. I like how he prefaces his inquiries with deliberate phrases like “May I” and “I’ve been curious about you,” being careful not to overstep. He respects my privacy, but I am willing to share.

“You must get attention at school, going out, etc. Are you not interested? What are you looking for?” His question both flattered and floored me. I had been on a few dates here and there, but I had always been apprehensive to talk about them with him. Slowly, and with much concentration, I typed a thorough message. To the question of what I am looking for, I told him that I want to feel chosen. It is a truth to my womanhood that I cannot deny. I want to feel pursued. I ended the message with, “If something sticks, it sticks and nothing has.” I considered adding “except you” at the end but I ended up deleting those two words.

He confirmed to having been a few dates as well, indulging on the importance of a woman’s voice. I imagined him sitting with a tan woman, from work or in passing, eating pasta in a romantically lit restaurant and drinking Aperol Spritz’s and laughing at how irresistible it all is. Of course, I didn’t let on that I was a bit jealous. How could I be? We are not dating. We have never defined our relationship or gone exclusive. It seems strange to do any of this when your friendship relies on a sturdy wifi signal.

We began talking about long distance relationships. The how’s and why’s. The complexities and anxieties. He seemed to be admitting that a relationship with me would be too hard. And I have to agree. I began to feel discouraged and uncomfortable as if I could feel the process of losing him begin. I assume that this is what it feels like to lose something that isn’t even yours to misplace.

“I like you, there’s no denying that,” he typed. “I like you too.”

Then we got married. Not legally or religiously or course, but I enjoyed how natural and light it was to send pretend vows and gifs of rings to each other as a means of matrimony. That huge fat grin filled up my face. The corners of my mouth pushed up into my cheeks harder than anytime before.

“I’m going to bed a married man,” he sent.

“Goodnight husband,” I replied.

“Goodnight wife.”

An Acquired Taste

Personal Essay

I drove home from a date on the cusp of tears. I wanted to cry, but the interior flood gates remained shut. It seemed like a perfect moment to cry with the dreary scent of perfume and hairspray saturating the driver and passenger seats. The darkness weighed in and around me. An obnoxious amount of time passed since another car flicked by. I felt like the road kept existing for me. I began to wonder how far my gas tank would take me. Ohio? Illinois? Maybe I want to go east. New York? Pennsylvania? My father always told me that, if I ever really desired it, I could drive all the way to Miami for a long weekend. He made sure I knew which highways ran north and south and which ones ran east and west. He hasn’t travelled much but, if he wanted it bad enough, I think he could. 

My hands gripped the steering wheel. In a final attempt to cry, I tried thinking of something really sad like my mother dying or working a job I hate. I also tried thinking about the fourth grade boy who returned to school after being treated for leukemia. That had made my mom cry. We watched it on the local news. The boy walked through a channel of classmates clapping and cheering for his healthy return. I saw my mom’s cheeks grow red like a vodka reaction. Then her eyes swelled and I rubbed her back until the feeling subsided. Nothing was sad or happy enough in this moment for me to cry. I felt myself surrendering to the absence of emotion, the place I fear most where no hope or creativity resides. 

The date was a pile of ash. It was like sifting through debris and rubble, trying to make it sound less toxic. When I asked for a glass of the house red, the waiter, with bleached hair and a broad chest, told me that they don’t really have a house red. I told him to bring me any red they had. He asked which blend I preferred. Lighter or darker. Smokier or smoother. I remembered my step father describing a red wine as light at my birthday dinner the week before. It was a lovely pairing with my entree of lamb chops and creamy risotto and crunchy green beans. A light red would be great, I said.

As I sipped my glass of wine, leaving cherry lip stamps on the rim, I tried to let my body sink into the leather booth. I wanted to release my weight and feel permanent. In a few more gulps of wine I would be right there. He drank water from a short, cylinder glass. The ice cubes knocked into each other like chilly bones. He drank cup after cup of water. Our waiter was quick and happy to refill. He carried the water pitcher to our table with a long smirk pulled across his face. He walked with one arm folded along his back like an English butler. I sort of expected him to have an accent. 

There is nothing more deadening inside than scrounging your mind for light-hearted, substantial questions to ask on a date. Part of me relied on the slim chance that our conversations  would be natural and cut smoothly like a crisp apple. But I realized, rather quickly, that instead of effortless transitions and unencumbered questions, I would be picturing a map of the United States as he listed all of the places he’s been. In a flirtatious manner, I told him that it might be easier for him to list the states he hasn’t been to because that would be a shorter list. He might have laughed, but I didn’t hear anything. He carried on with the list and I sipped my wine. 

At some point during the meal we talked about shoes. What are your favorite pair of shoes and why, I asked. This was a question a short, bubbly girl had asked me at my old college. I remember being impressed with the question’s surprisingly personable nature. He finished chewing a piece of grilled Greek chicken and told me that white Nike’s are his favorite. He said he likes how a white shoe looks polished and I agreed. We also agreed that, although they are hard to keep clean, it is still worth buying a pair of white shoes. I put a ripe slice of avocado in my mouth and smiled. Then I decided to share my incredible dislike for black sneakers. They aren’t stylish. It’s not a good look. I can’t stand them. He shifted in the booth and I noticed a pink haze develop on his cheeks. Well that’s good to know, he said. I looked under the booth. His black sneakers were doubled knotted and staring up at me like two offended school girls. He laughed at my passionate hatred toward his shoes but I still felt bad. I apologized and ate a forkful of butternut squash covered in sprouts.

When the check came, I reached for my purse right away. It didn’t feel right to have him pay for the whole meal. I suggested that we each pay half. Actually, my exact words were, “Why don’t we go dutch?” I put my credit card on top of his fifty dollar bill and told the waiter to split the check evenly. Later, when I told my best friend about going dutch, she said he still should have paid. But I was the one who had a glass of wine and insulted his shoes, I told her. Still, she said, it was a date. 

Before we left the restaurant I used the restroom. I walked down a flight of stairs, passed a hallway of oblong mirrors, and entered the bathroom. On my way out, I stopped in front of one of the mirrors. I looked at myself dead in the eye, trying to see if anyone was in there. Brown and white and black with swirls of hazel and tints of the slightest, most lenient green. Then I looked at my nose and mouth. My lips were stained red from the Dior lipstick I had put on in the car two hours ago. When a woman walked out of the bathroom I jogged back up the stairs. 

Outside, the temperature was perfect, a mild January evening. I wanted to stay downtown and walk around or maybe grab a coffee, but I knew the only way to regain my solitude would be to let him walk me back to my car and say goodbye first. We walked side by side, passing bars and restaurants bustling with college students. Our conversation was recycled commentary on his unfamiliarity with the area and his desire to change that. At each corner, I pointed before we turned. His body jolted every time, proving his foreignness. When we reached the parking garage, I told him that my car was on the fourth level, thinking this would separate us but he walked up all four flights of stairs with me. I started counting cigarette butts and bobby pins and colorful splotches of gum smashed by a foot. I smelt the remnants of smoke. When we reached the fourth level, he made a joke about not having to exercise tomorrow after that climb. At my car, I initiated the hug. He pressed his torso into mine like a cold, firm handshake between men. I had a great time, he said. My eyes flickered in the foggy lighting. My words stumbled. We turned away from each other and walked our separate ways. 

I sat in the running car for a while with the heat up and flipping through channels on the radio. I tried calling my best friend but she didn’t answer. She was probably watching a movie with her mom or cleaning or packing up her clothes to move back to college. I stared at the concrete wall in front of me. The solidity and permanence of it. My eyes relaxed, vision fading. I took in the balmy scent of my Jimmy Choo perfume. It is how I imagine an eccentric French grandmother’s cluttered closet to smell, with her vintage jackets and thin, sheer dresses and a tattered jewelry box filled with gold pendants and turquoise. I love how scents make me think up scenes, linking it back to where it was born.

My desire for a cup of coffee had faded. I wanted to be home, peeling the tights off my legs and collapsing into bed. I drove like a slow parade float out of the parking garage, waiting for the radio to acquire a signal. A drowning female voice cut in and out of the stereo in sorrowful fragments. I took a right out of the parking garage and started east toward the highway. On the corner, a black man, wearing a thick wool coat and leather gloves, played his saxophone. A young woman walked by and dropped a dollar into his hat. The man smiled at her and I smiled to myself. 

As I merged onto the highway, the voice of Mina Fossati, an Italian artist, filled my car. Her voice flowed out of the speakers slowly, flattening onto the car floor. As the song continued, the impact of her voice began to rise, reaching the seat belts, the center console, the glove compartment. The sounds purged me. I started to feel heavy and permanent just as I had desired at dinner. Mina’s voice reminds me of what I expected Thursday nights to feel like as a young woman. Lonely and sorrowful, but sexy nonetheless. I stared at the road in front of me. Mina’s voice pulled me under. I let my body yearn and ache with her. The darkness weighed in and around me. My eyes were on the cusp of tears. There is a lot of gambling involved in the early stages of womanhood. Gambling that inflicts sorrow and loneliness I do not know how to bare. I began to think of all the ways in which I belong to myself. It was a quiet dialogue at first, muffled and insecure. Then, I watched it all come together once again just as it had months ago. The answer lies in Sue Monk Kidd’s book titled Traveling with Pomegranates. The passage reads, “Every woman needs to become self-mothering… To learn to take care of herself, to love herself.” The words hung in front of me as if I was driving solely to reach them. I thought I learned this months ago. I thought I had found the mother inside of me. Feeling a little happier, I drove on. Mina and I. We sang our way to the driveway of my home. 

Self-mothering. It is a blanket I will always have to refold. It is scripture I will always reread. It is a taste I need to acquire.

Journal Entry: Eight

Journal

January 20th, 2019

Today I woke up at 9:30. I made coffee with my new french press and then I read in bed for a while. I did my first load of laundry today. The washing machine is puny. Around 12:15 I ate yogurt and granola. The woman from Italy Excel emailed me back and said she wants to meet at her office. I hope the internship goes through.

I went to Coop today and bought carrots, lettuce, mushrooms, and brown sugar for coffee. It makes the coffee taste sweet and good. I just relaxed all day. Classes start tomorrow. At 5:30 I went to La Chiesa di Santa Maria in Trastevere. I bought a pair of leather boots on my way home from mass because the ones I’m wearing give me blisters.

For dinner I made the following: two-three mushrooms, one garlic clove, 1 oz spaghetti noodles, extra virgin olive oil, red wine, and a salad. Now am drinking a glass of red wine and eating chocolate in my room. Meg and Anna are talking about taking a trip this weekend but is sounds nice to be on my own.

Journal Entry: Six

Journal

January 18th, 2019

I went on a walking tour of Rome today. We went on various forms of public transportation. Isabela was my tour guide. She showed us the Colosseum, the sight of Julius Caesar’s stabbing, and overall how to navigate the city. After the tour I went to lunch in Tiber Cafe and then to a wellness workshop. Anna, Meg, and I went grocery shopping at Conad. I bought pasta, sauce, garlic, Nutella, chocolate, and milk.

We had meeting with our RA’s this evening. Afterwards, I went with Ursella to a pizza place called Pizza Trilussa. I bought two slices of Margherita  and two slices of zucchini pizza. Then we stopped at a mini mart. I bought a bottle of red wine for five euro.

We went back to our apartment. I called Lia on WhatsApp and we talked for an hour while I ate. For dessert I had a few pieces of chocolate dipped in Nutella.

A large group of girls went out to eat tonight. I was invited but I just couldn’t bring myself to go.

Journal Entry: Two

Journal

January 14th, 2019

First day in Rome. We landed at Fiumicino Airport at 10:30 a.m. Despite being told only to use white taxis, I got in a black one. It turned out fine though. The driver’s name was Giuseppe and he gave me his card.

I waited outside of Denise’s apartment for about fifteen minutes. She is very kind and hospitable. For lunch, she made us tortellini soup with bread and mozzarella. I fell asleep in Matteo’s childhood bedroom after we ate. Matteo is her son. He is grown now with a wife and two sons.

After napping, Denise made me an espresso and we ate some hazelnut cookies together. We talked about American politics as the radio mumbled news in Italian throughout the kitchen. I laid on her couch and watched episodes of Friends until dinner.

Denise made a spinach meatloaf with potatoes, baked olives, cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes. We ate dinner around 8:00 p.m. and then watched more episodes of Friends and crime shows.

I am in bed now. Denise said we will have cappuccinos and chocolate croissants in the morning.

Journal Entry: One

Journal

January 13th, 2019: 1: 55 p.m.

I am in the JFK airport. It is 1:55 p.m. and my flight doesn’t leave until 7:46. I started a low dose of anti-depressants this week. I just split a pill in half using the pill splitter my mom gave me. The more I remind myself of reality, the more content I feel. Maybe that’s not the right way to phrase it. I would say, the more I take responsibility for my life and walk with confidence and compassion, the more content I feel. I think it is necessary for me to be away from home for a while. I need to feel what it’s like to navigate my life on my own for once. My mother and I grew even closer over Christmas break. She is the love of my life.

I want to focus on being frugal while I am in Italy. I really want to condense my wardrobe when I come home in May. Packing for this trip showed me how much I don’t need.

For now, I am tired. I only slept for three hours last night because my dad took Kevin and I rollerskating for my final bon voyage. We stayed at the rink until midnight. Kevin and I held hands while we skated. I will miss my family incredibly.

Flash Fiction: Girlhood

Short Story

We rode the bus home together everyday, sharing snacks and drinking from the same water bottle. Our stop was in front of a blue-shutter-house with dead bushes. The front porch was crumbling. We walked to the end of the street together before going our separate ways. 

One time, before parting, Alana made me laugh so hard I peed. I felt the warm urine trickle down my inner thigh like a train track. It reached my kneecap, then absorbed into my white knee high sock. The walk home was uncomfortable. I kept looking down at the little spot of yellow as it dried in the cotton. I felt the urge to pee every time Alana made me laugh. The worst time was at recess with our red cheeks and runny noses. Only the smart girls wore pajama pants beneath the plaid uniform skirts. The smart girls had warm, protected legs. The smart girls jumped rope on black asphalt. 

Alana and I stood in a circle with some boys from homeroom. Everyone had their fists scrunched into sweatshirt sleeves. The boys kept their hoods up, sniffling and wiping their eyes. As a joke, Alana told Shane to put on her sweater. I watched Alana unzip her green woolen cardigan. She handed it to Shane with a huge smile on her face like something great was about to happen. Without removing his sweatshirt, Shane forced his arms into the cardigan. He looked fat and protruding. He laughed the entire time. Everyone did. Alana looked at each face in our circle with her arms folded on her chest. She was a generous leader, passing mints to me in math class. At the lunch table, she auctioned off her vanilla pudding or cookies. 

Alana saw the pain in my eyes. I looked deaf and worried. I felt cold and awkward. A whistle blew and recess was over. Shane tossed the cardigan to Alana. Our circle flattened and we stumbled back to school like a misplaced bridal party. I felt an arm float around my neck. Alana’s touch was gentle. With her thick muscles and rough skin and scabby knees you wouldn’t expect delicacy. I turned my head to her. She was smiling and looking onward. I had a wonderful feeling that she knew what I had done. I felt safe under her arm. She would take care of me. 

I went right to the bathroom. It was empty. I chose the stall on the far end for privacy and because it always had the most toilet paper. My uniform skirt slapped the tile floor when I unbuttoned it. I lowered my shorts and underwear. The fabric was heavy and saturated with urine. It smelled like my grandmother’s basement after a flood. I waited. I started wondering if any of the boys had noticed. If they had, I decided I would tell them it was a condition, that I couldn’t help it. 

A group of eighth grade girls, with knotty hair and dry lips, entered the bathroom. I watched them through a wide crack in the stall. They laughed and swore and stuck their tongues out. Some applied lip gloss. A tall girl, wearing a ponytail tied with blue ribbon, lifted her shirt. She wasn’t wearing a tank top like we were suppose to. Her torso was pale and shaped like a box. She gathered the attention of her friends and showed them how many times she had rolled her skirt that day. She told them how she walked past Mr. Henley without getting caught. 

The bathroom door flung open. I saw Alana’s reflection in the mirror. A crumpled plastic bag was in her fist. She went into a stall three down from mine. Once the eighth graders left, Alana whispered my name. I told her I was in the furthest stall. She began to fiddle with the lock. Then, with her fingernail, she tapped on my door. Seeing her dirty sneakers and permanently knotted laces, I let her in. She handed me the plastic bag and told me to put my wet underwear inside. I did as she told me. I trusted her like a godmother. Then, from beneath her skirt, Alana lowered her shorts and underwear. We both stared at the fabric around her ankles. We both felt a slight terror rush through our little girl limbs. Until this moment, I never saw Alana hesitate before sharing. She had given me her toothbrush, her bed. She had smuggled granola bars out of the pantry for me during the night. She rode her bicycle to my house in the rain.

She handed me her underwear. The cotton was soft and light pink. A trim of white eyelet graced the waistband. I stepped into the leg holes and pulled them up. I felt restored. Alana pulled her shorts up her legs. I put my skirt back on. She tied the plastic bag tightly into a double knot. With a broad, firm wrist, Alana handed me the bag and told me to bury it in my backpack right away.