We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat.
Jon / Friday, July 20, 8:17 am
“Mother, please. You shouldn’t need to ask about this anymore. It’s been over 20 years.” I’m walking around the house, trying to gather my work stuff together while holding the phone with one hand. I wonder if I can shave without her noticing. Speakerphone microphones pick up ambient noise too well to get away with that, I suspect, but I may have to resort to that if this conversation goes much longer.
“But, honey, I just want to spend more time with my darling grandkids. You’re all so far away.” You’d think her grandkids were toddlers, not surly teenagers, the way she talks about them.
“Yes, New York is still 3,000 miles from Seattle, just like when I left. In 1990.” My voice has that caustic edge that drove her crazy when I was 18. It still drives her crazy, and even if my kids are almost 18 now, I succumb to the sarcasm demon all too often with Mother. Something about conversations with my mother always brings out my best sarcastic streak.
Every phone call with her – which always take place early in the Seattle morning, just another of her little jabs at the fact we’re not even in the same time zone – ends the same way. Recriminations, oh Jonny, you’re so far away, when are you coming back to New York? My answer’s always the same: Never, Mother. We’re settled in Seattle.
“I know that, Jonathan. And why can’t you just say you’re from Four Corners? It’s a lovely village.” Four Corners is what longtime residents like mother call Speculator, NY, a village nestled far away from anything in New York State. Yes, it is lovely – for a visit. There’s a reason I left for college in New York City and never came back. Speculator, NY, population approximately 350, had its heyday in the 1920s and spent the following 90 years remembering its glory days.
I sigh, explaining it yet again. “Because, Mother, nobody out here knows where Speculator is. I can just say I came from New York, and that’s perfectly true.”
“But people think you mean the City, not the State.”
“Yes, Mother, that’s the idea.” I’ve learned that it’s not worth adding snide comments about my former hometown; Mother’s heard them all, but she loves it there, and nothing will dent her armor. I don’t want to dent it, really; it’s a fine town. Just not for us.
“Only by omission.”
“Seattle is so far away, I suppose nobody there would have heard of it.” Now we’re getting back around to the point of this conversation, which is to make me feel guilty about moving away permanently.
“As I said before, yes, it’s still the same distance away as it was when I left. That was the point, remember?” That, and the Seattle grunge scene sounded like a happening place for an aspiring musician, even if I was a little older than average.
“Oh, Jonathan, sometimes I have to wonder if you even care about me anymore.” She makes herself sound extra-frail when she says this kind of thing, trying to guilt me into uprooting my family and moving across the country just so she can see her “darling grandkids” more often. As far as I can tell, they have minimal interest in spending time with their Guilt Trip Queen Grandmother. They’d rather spend that time texting their friends.
I sigh. “Mother, please.”
“Janice married a nice local boy and they’re close enough we can do Sunday dinner every week.” And I know for a fact, courtesy of the Grandkids Grapevine, that Janice’s kids dread and loathe those Sunday excursions. Mother continues, oblivious: “Janice’s kids are just wonderful, and they adore me and Poppa.” Poppa, aka Harold, is Mother’s second husband; Janice’s and my father finally succumbed to Mother’s nagging and gave up the ghost a dozen years ago. I’m sure he’s peaceful, except for when Mother visits his grave for a little post-decease recrimination session.
“I’m glad you have them, Mother, but you know I won’t uproot Austin and Mackenzie. Jean and I have good jobs here. We’re settled. How can I state more clearly: We aren’t going anywhere, period. I’m sorry to disappoint you.” I put as much finality into my voice as is humanly possible while trying to hide the fact you’re brushing your teeth.
A big, morose, sorrow-laden sigh from the other end of the phone. I let Mother stew on that while I mute the phone to rinse and spit.
“Well, Jonny, of course it’s your decision.” By which she means that she thinks I’m making a mistake, and I’ll have to suffer the consequences of my choices with no help from her. I anticipate that among those consequences will be fewer tooth-extraction-quality phone conversations with my mother; the goodwill of my children and wife; holding an excellent job in a tough economy; and enjoying my so-new-it-still-smells-new Porsche 911 during Seattle’s famously temperate summer.
“Thank you, Mother. Why don’t you come out to visit us here in Seattle this summer? It’s shaping up to be quite lovely.” That is, after the rain finally stopped, some time around 4th of July.
“Oh, no, you know I could never fly. Never since Carl…” A little sob, to remind me of how thoughtless I am to bring up any topic that might remind Mother of my brother’s fatal airplane crash. My feeling is that he died having a good time, and if he wanted to pilot World War II-era aircraft, that’s the risk he’s going to take. Which jacket goes with these slacks? I almost never wear a sports jacket, but today’s meeting in Bellevue includes enough higher-ups that I should make some kind of nod to dress codes.
“OK, Mother, sorry I brought it up. I just thought it’d be easier for you to travel than for us…” Also, much cheaper. She’s a senior, and milks it for all it’s worth.
“Oh, it’s true, and if you want your poor mother to go through the terror of flying, when her other son died doing that very activity just to save a few dollars, well…”
I roll my eyes, yet another teenage behavior that phone calls with Mother elicit.
“Mother, listen, I have to get going. I have to go win some bread to pay for your grandkids to go to that fancy prep school.” I’m sitting in my Porsche, top down, briefcase on the passenger seat, phone to my ear. I’m ready to back out of the garage, but can’t easily do that with the phone in my hand. This is my excuse to hang up, since I do have a Bluetooth headset that I use all the time in other circumstances – namely, for calls with people I want to talk with.
“Oh, yes, of course. Run off to work, I’ll just stay here all alone. I’m fine.” I ignore the attempted guilt trip. I’m 99% sure Harold is sitting right there, probably trying to chew some of Mother’s impenetrable toffee with his ill-fitting dentures. Harold’s teeth alone would account for Janice’s kids’ aversion to visiting their grandparents.
“Love you, Mother. Take care until next week.” As I hang up, all I receive in reply is another long, mournful sigh.
Shaking off the doldrums of an hour’s conversation with Mother, I shift my car into gear and gently depress the gas pedal. The engine rumbles, sunshine pours across me as I roll into the driveway, the sky is blue, and I forget about Mother. It’s going to be a good day.
Jon / Friday, July 20, 8:57 am
Even sitting in traffic isn’t so bad when you’re doing it in a Porsche. Yes, it’s taken me 40 minutes to get from our home in West Seattle to this point, but who gives a shit? I get to feel the rumble of the bass passing through my chest when I turn Pearl Jam up, and I ignore the angry looks from polite Seattle drivers. The cars around me all have their windows rolled down; it’s already warm for Seattle, and it’s looking to get warmer.
I take advantage of every opening in traffic, slithering through spaces where your average Civic or Camry would falter. Forget about some lumbering SUV or pickup truck. They’re as good as stationary objects.
This Porsche wasn’t exactly a midlife crisis vehicle. At least, that’s what I try to tell everybody. “Oh, no, I’ve planned on getting this car for years,” I say. And who’s to argue? What teenage boy doesn’t drool over a car with more muscle than sense? So in a sense I’ve planned on it for a long time. On the other hand, I did purchase it impulsively just over six months ago, when the prospect of turning 51 years old depressed the hell out of me.
Jean and I have achieved the American Dream, and sometimes it’s fucking terrible. We have two kids – a boy and a girl, of course – and a house in the ’burbs (if West Seattle counts as suburbs), with a mortgage to match. Soccer matches, kids’ concerts, visiting obscenely expensive colleges like Bryn Mawr, Reed, and Wellesley with Mackenzie, celebrating 20 years of marriage with Jean by flying to Hawaii – god, it’s everything I feared I’d become, and everything that drove me to Seattle to scream angst-ridden lyrics. Springing for a Porsche doesn’t seem like such a bad call, considering what else I could’ve done. Some of my peers are starting second families, with kids in their late teens from Wife No. 1 and kids in diapers from Wife No. 2. Hell, it’s better than having an affair with Nadine. Although I’m not ruling that out. Nadine is fucking hot.
I’ve finally merged onto I-90, and traffic seems to be picking up a bit. My meeting isn’t until 9:30, and I’m hopeful that things will thin out even more as we cross the bridge. I pull out my iPhone 4S and turn my music down. Holding the phone close to my mouth to drown out the engine idling noises around me, I depress the Home button, wait for the telltale beeps, and say, “What’s the traffic on the I-90 bridge?”
After a minute, during which we creep forward a little closer to the lane split in the tunnel, I glance at my screen. A Google map showing traffic on the floating bridge is there. Suddenly everything speeds up and we’re actually moving along at over 20 mph. I put my phone down in the cup holder after one final glance at the screen. Even with the traffic it’s possible I should text Nadine to let her know I might be a little behind.
Pressing the Home button again and keeping one eye on the road, I say, “Send Nadine a text that I’m going to be a little late.” I glance at the screen to confirm the command went through right, and then back up again just in time to slam on the brakes and swerve around a huge Hummer lumbering along in the middle lane. “Get in the slow lane!” I shout, but probably for the better, my voice is lost in the roar of my engine as I accelerate into a spot several cars up. I’m sure that Hummer owner has some kind of illegal gun stashed in his car that he can hardly wait to pull out at the slightest provocation. That was exciting.
Where was I? Oh, yes, fantasizing about Nadine. Nadine is a middle aged manager’s dream secretary, 25 years old, svelte, long sheet of black hair, tits and legs that would shame a porn star. Or I should say “administrative assistant.” Secretaries wore tight skirts and slept with their bosses.
Unfortunately, although Nadine may do the former, but the latter is strictly out… for now. She seems genuinely fond of her Significant Other, more’s the pity, and I’m not 100% sure that Significant Other isn’t a woman. Nadine’s always saying “Chris” and she are doing something, but somehow I’ve never figured out whether Chris is a dude or not. Doesn’t really matter. I’m still taking every opportunity to check out Nadine’s ass when she walks back to her desk. Sometimes I buzz her in just to watch her walk away.
Time to make a choice about which lane to take at the split. Of course, for me, it’s no choice at all: Clearly, the left lane, as soon as I get around this incredibly sluggish semi truck that’s lumbering along in the wrong lane. I’m already glancing back down at my phone, to check on the text to Nadine, as I scoot in around that semi and accelerate again in the space ahead of him.
Jon / Friday, July 20, 9:09 am
I’m about to come shooting out of the tunnel and onto the bridge when everything goes wrong.
First, all the other drivers around me are swerving all over the road. What the fuck? “Get back in your lane!” I shout at the driver next to me, but suddenly I’m heading towards a wall myself, and it’s all I can do to keep myself on the road.
There’s this incredibly loud noise. Like nothing I’ve ever heard – ten thousand jets flying right overhead. I can just catch a glimpse of the bridge bucking, holy shit, now it’s coming apart in pieces – what the fuck –
My eyes snap back to the road ahead of me, and I just have time to start slamming on my brakes, glancing into my rearview mirror to watch the car behind me come zooming up behind me, fishtailing all the fuck over the place, and I’m doing the same thing –
Jon / Friday, July 20, 9:16 am
It’s dark. I can’t breathe – oh fuck, fuck, fuck, I can’t breathe.
I’m coughing, violently, trying to gasp but failing. I can hardly expand my chest. Using all my strength to cough and suck air in. God, I need a breath.
Bright white lights are flickering in front of my eyelids. Not gonna be conscious much longer if I don’t get air.
Coughing. More coughing, and now this sludge is coming out of my mouth, all this slick dirt spewing out. Fuck.
The first breath in seems to pull more of that soil into my lungs, but some air comes in with it. More coughing. More spitting out all that shit.
I can’t take a deep breath; there’s this incredibly heavy weight crushing me into my seat. It seems to ease up a little bit about halfway up my chest, but although I’ve opened my eyes, I can’t see a damn thing. It’s darker than hell in here all of a sudden. Where are the lights?
Am I blind? I try to reach to rub my eyes, but I can’t move my arms – they seem trapped, cemented in place. Now I try to move my fingers, and yes, there’s some movement. Thank god. But when I try to move my feet, nothing happens. I can’t even tell what’s going on down there, if they’re crushed or free or what. Oh, fuck, I cannot feel my legs.
This cannot be happening. I was just looking at the Bellevue skyline, all those brand-new skyscrapers glittering in the rare Seattle sunshine, the Cascade Mountains looming behind like a painting. I had a meeting with somebody… somebody important, in Bellevue.
I’m coughing again. I still can’t see, can’t hear anything, can’t move my arms, can’t move my legs. Good thing this isn’t actually happening. If I wait a while, I’ll wake up and bite the bullet for my dreaded weekly phone call with Mother. I can’t begin to imagine what could have happened if this was real. I’m probably dreaming of being trapped and crushed as a reflection of my subconscious feelings about my current situation, or some psychobabble shit like that.
Eventually my eyes start adjusting, and I start shaking, even trapped in place, because I’m starting to realize that this isn’t some kind of horrible nightmare.
Slowly I start to see what’s going on, and somehow I just can’t process it. This is way, way beyond comprehensibility.
What the fuck is going on?