Twin Gulps

How often did it happen? Standing in a semicircle, condensation dripping over fingers clutching boozy glasses at the neighborhood Christmas party, someone would shake their head and lament, “The older you get, the faster time passes!” The other heads would nod, a collective sigh filling the space between them, like penciling an empty bubble near black on a paper ballot.  

I’m with him. I vote yes!

I’d turn, silently slipping from the group I hadn’t been invited to join in the first place, and surf the snack table instead. That’s a downer, I would think, shoving a Frito in my mouth. I chalked it up to “small talk,” which I defined as conversation kindling, sentences uttered with no real value, a mere offering for the rest of the group to squash the uncomfortable silence. As a kid, I wasn’t on the hook to participate. After initial acknowledgment upon arrival, my presence diluted to nearsightedness with the correlating depletion of bottles corralled on the kitchen island, like painted ponies trapped on Chincoteague Island.

Yet, here I am now, a Cocker Spaniel chasing her tail, looking for the bobbed end that cut and run, like the pendulum that abandoned its clock. One minute I was the only passenger in a row of three seats, travelling west at 500 miles-per-hour, 37,000 feet above sea level; before freezing my ass off in Houston for a week. Then I rolled my bag in the dark through China Town and volleyed meetings all week, from dinner for eight on Valentine’s Day with two days notice, to winter Board Meetings in the office, dressing for the part after two years of not. I missed my writing class Wednesday night due to the fraught, and now I am staring down the barrel of tax submission this weekend, because the paperwork has finally just arrived. The passage of time moves so quickly these days, the force of it renders me limp, like a strawberry dropped from a child’s hand out the window of a car, forgotten on the asphalt, left to thirst under the summer sun.

I have become one of those adults at the Christmas party..

I was so pissed, missing class, but the image of strangers sitting at a round table, holding menus covered in hearts, as was reported back to me, cheered me more than it probably should have. It was the third restaurant I had called, the first one with space still available. The manager warned me of the pre fixe menu, prepared solely for the annual celebration of romance between couples, not for a group of strangers, knees touching, talking shop.

He said, “Let me tell you what’s on the menu to make sure it’s okay with your party.”

I cut him off. 

“Is steak on there?”

Silence.

“Well, there are actually three…”

I cut him off again.

“Got steak, we’re good.”

My question was purely rhetorical. I was talking to the frontman of a steak house, the only places this industry in DC patronizes. Did it really matter what cuts of cow were covered in Bordelaise, or Hollandaise, or Marsala? I didn’t think so. Hearing the chef’s spreadsheet was unnecessary. That would be a waste of time. Besides, there were no complaints.

I flew to Texas last week to help my parents, while Mom recovered from minor surgery. I arrived the day before her procedure. A family of one vehicle now, I dropped her at work in the morning, and later, my father and I had plans to meet my brother for lunch. Preparing to leave the house, I gathered the keys, and sweaters for the both of us. Dad stood in the living room behind his walker, pointing towards the door, patting his pockets.

I can’t find my wallet.”

I didn’t take him too seriously. Without a word, I went looking. I rummaged the usual cubbyholes, and checked places where it might be stashed, but shouldn’t be.

I’ve looked in all the places I might keep it, and it’s not anywhere,” he said, flabbergasted.

This was an unusual occurrence for my father. Turning pillows over and opening drawers, Russ’ words flashed across my mind like ticker tape. “Everything in its place, Jenn. Then you won’t lose it.”  There were two things Dad bragged about repeatedly over his lifetime. One, he never missed a day of work, in his sixty-plus year career. And two, Dad knew where every “thing” was. He could find “it” in five seconds flat—photos from a particular family trip to Europe; every financial document pertaining to the year 1968; or his tweed hat, worn once every five years. He needed just enough time to walk wherever the item sat and pick it up. Every thing had its place, and that was where he kept it. 

I checked the usual suspects: the crevices in the car; the garage floor surrounding the car; his khakis from the day before, plastered against the sides of the washing machine like a wet dollar bill; his desk drawers downstairs; his desk drawers upstairs; under the covers of his bed; the crack of emptiness between the bed and his nightstand, a vacuum for missing and abandoned trinkets; the cushions of the couch and living-room chairs; the pockets of his jackets hanging in his closet and the ones dangling from hooks lining the wall in the laundry room. I checked the baskets of his walkers; the one upstairs, the one downstairs, and the one that lives outside on the porch, for excursions off-premises, only. 

I began to sweat.

“Where did you and Mom eat the other night?”

“Last night?”

“No, last night we ate pizza with Rick, here at the house.”

“Hmm. What did we do yesterday?”

I had worked in my office, then flew to Texas, later in the evening. My brother picked me up at airport. I ordered a pizza on my phone en route, to collect on the way to the house. Once there, I ran inside, but the restaurant had no record of my order. Instantly, I knew what mistake I had made. I placed the order at the wrong location; the only other location, we had already passed inadvertently, when Rick missed the first exit off of the highway, caught up in chitchat, taking us the “longer” way to the house. I had made this mistake plenty over the years. The exit was easy to sail past. But we doubled back for a second time, retrieving the pizza, making the long route twice as long. I was ravenous when we finally arrived at the house. 

Standing with my father, thinking about the previous night, all those pizza slices shovelled into my mouth and washed down with cheap Montepulciano, I remembered Mom said they went to see Dr. Wang that day, but Dr. Wang ended up not being there. A different doctor had injected Dad’s eye. I called the practice. After being placed on hold several times, as the receptionist rang the different floor attendants, the head of security, and the valet, she reported back no wallet was found .

“Dad, you went to dinner the other night. Where did you go?”

“We did? Didn’t we have pizza?”

“No, the night before that. You and mom.”

“Well, we must have gone to dinner, but I don’t remember where.”

Tick tock goes the clock. 

I texted Mom at work. 

“Raffa’s,” she said.

In the meantime, Dad and I loaded ourselves into the car to meet Rick. Pulling out of the driveway, Dad laughed and said, “Well you have your wallet, right?” For a man who has never lost a wallet before, his laissez-faire humor surprised me.  Once seated at our table, I ordered a tall glass of Valpolicella from the waiter. Rick smiled.

“That kind of day?” he asked.

“Dad can’t find his wallet.”

“I could disappear, become someone else entirely!” 

Dad’s smirk twinkled. I pulled long and hard from the nine ounces of red swirling in my glass. 

Rick said, “Well I hope you didn’t keep your social security card in there.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s in there.”

A bubble popped above my head, the image of an old Archie Bunker episode, sepia-toned, playing on a tube TV. i pictured Dad creeping his walker back and forth through the zigzag of taped lanes in the government administrative building, full of pissed-off people, in order to reach a desk, to replace the missing license with a state-issued identification card. And then doing it again, all over for a second time, at the Social Security office. 

I threw my head back. 

Twin gulps.

When we got home, I repeated my ransack. This time, I worked backwards, starting from the outside of the house, circling all the way to its innermost depths: my parent’s bathroom. Still empty-handed as the search tapered, I opened drawer number four in the bureau, one of three drawers I hadn’t opened, because, well, it was near impossible his wallet would ever find its way to one of those drawers so close to the floor. But there I stood, knuckles wrapping knobs, hovering over a sea-foam of white socks, his wallet tossed carelessly like driftwood on top. 

I took his wallet apart. He wasn’t carrying his social security card. Instead, tucked inside was scrap paper, both his and my mother’s social security numbers scribbled across it. Using Russ’ word, I took the opportunity to “sanitise” Dad’s wallet. I shredded the scrap paper, and removed his insurance cards, replacing the originals with a photocopied version. Later that evening, Mom home from work, the three of us sitting around the dinner table, I uncorked another bottle of Italian. 

Picking up her glass, Mom asked, “Is the wine any good?’

Shipwrecked by the day, I quipped, “Does it even matter?,” raising my own glass like Lady Liberty’s torch.

We drove downtown the next day for her cataract surgery. I warned her not to judge my wrinkles too harshly, when they appeared more prominently, with her new eyes. Or at the least, I suggested she keep those thoughts to herself. The doctor explained the process, with his rudimentary pen drawing. He would remove her damaged lens and implant a new artificial one in its place. I said, “So you’re saying my mother will have implants?” My joke fell flat. Dr. Chang didn’t laugh.

She came through the surgery great, her vision improved almost immediately. With my parents settled, I headed back to DC, landing at a gallop to keep pace with the schedule outlined on my calendar. Combing emails, I opened one from the head of IT. 

He wrote, “‘JS’ received this scanned document and marked it as SPAM. Is this yours?” I looked at the attachment titled, ‘PDFTEST.’ 

How did she end up with that? I wondered. It was the latest addition to my latest story, that I sent to the printer in PDF format. Usually I export a piece written in Pages to Word. Every now and then, I need to read my work in hard copy, printed on paper, especially when they get longer, in order to suss out any bumps in the text. I opened the attachment to be sure it was mine. The first paragraph read:

The surgeon said, ‘We can do this arthroscopically, but your uterus is a bit big to pull out of your vagina.’ The image of the surgeon, gripping rabbit ears slick with blood, one foot on the table between spread leg for leverage, while vainly trying to dislodge the head, crossed my mind.

Yep. That was my story. I don’t know how ‘JS’ ended up with the document, except for the possibility the office printer was confused by our matching initials. I might have felt ashamed, like the famous dude whose dick pic was intercepted by the wrong person (paparazzi), when the intended recipient was someone other than his wife or proctologist. Except, this wasn’t a case of adulterous dick. This was the memoir of my vagina, a true story. I wondered for about five seconds if  ‘JS’ and IT had read the document. I decided they did, now knowing more about their coworker’s vagina than they ever dreamed possible. But a human’s propensity for remembering the minutiae is short-lived, and erroneously, we presume others spend a disproportionate amount of time examining us, when they are not. Pretty soon, not even my vagina will qualify as small talk, hashed out around the water cooler in whispered voices.

This too shall pass.

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