Miami Vices by Harrison Comfort

Goodbye To The Kid

I’m not sure how it happens for everyone else, but the week of my twenty-seventh birthday marked the beginning of adulthood. My immediate concern was how much longer I could credibly keep my self-imposed nickname: The Kid. While it’s more of a persona I adopt to shamelessly promote my avant-garde creativity and explain the controlled chaos around me, The Kid is my attempt to be the friend I always wish I had. It’s not that I don’t have friends. Or family. I just possess a borderline manic tendency to analyze every aspect of my environment to motivate and dignify my ambition, which in the short-term includes writing a bestseller that is adapted into a film to jump-start a career in screenwriting and acting, all while supporting my start-up to deliver a next-generation technology that revolutionizes enterprise software strategies. I also have an intense desire to have a physique rivaling that of Brad Pitt’s in Fight Club. My intensity makes sustaining relationships challenging and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the only people I’m close with are my parents and younger sister. But I’ve finally accepted that I can’t do everything myself and risk continuing down this unfulfilling, empty road if I don’t make some significant personal adjustments.

I love my birthday because it’s the only time of year I’m deliberately not self-critical; July 17 almost always coincides with a turning point in my life. I spent my fifteenth birthday in the barracks of Valley Forge Military Academy, the hellhole that inspired Holden Caulfield’s prep school in Catcher in the Rye and accelerated my legendary work ethic. Fast-forward ten years, I was outlining my first novel under an umbrella by the clay tennis court while the other fifty or so folks partied by the pool. I didn’t judge them for chasing the glorified Hamptons lifestyle, but I couldn’t keep pretending as if I wasn’t different.  I left finance a few months later for a start-up as one of the first employees and embraced my evolving creativity, eventually launching my own site. I quickly fell out of touch with my fraternity brothers and soon wasn’t hanging out with anyone, using feelings of being misunderstood to fuel productivity. I tried convincing myself that being alone was far better than being with people who couldn’t relate, but I began enduring elongated periods of sadness. My oldest friend Jim fortunately moved to New York for a graduate program in non-fiction and helped fill the interpersonal gap.

I don’t care if you have to do a presentation right now,” he messaged me the morning of my birthday. “Or if you’re writing or at the gym. Just do me a favor and do everything you need to as quickly as possible. Then let me know when you’re done. I’m coming over later and we’re doing something for your birthday.”

I’ve known Jim for twelve years, he also happens to be one of the few people I like more now than the day we met. We first spoke during the beginning of football season sophomore year after my family moved cross-country to California for my mom’s job. I figured going out for the team would be an easy way to make friends and had this delusional fantasy of being a star player, despite having zero experience. Underclassmen were expected to clean up equipment after practice and as the new kid; I was expected to do even more. Following a brutal full-contact practice, my jersey was drenched with blood and all I wanted was to cry in the hotel lobby bathroom since my family hadn’t yet found a house. I removed my shoulder pads and trudged back to the locker room, tossing one of the last sled bags into a rickety shed. Virtually the entire team had already left, so I was surprised to hear cleats running up behind me.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Jim pushed me in the back. “You’re the new kid, for fuck’s sake. You should be the last one off the field.”

I paused before reacting, in somewhat of a dilemma. On the one hand, I felt relieved none of the humungous Samoans ganged up on me, but I was also livid that some scrawny kid I outweighed by at least forty pounds thought he could bully me. I contemplated grabbing his wavy blond mane and throwing him to the ground, but fighting Jim had zero upside. Either he’d win and I’d be a laughing stock for getting clocked by someone not even on varsity, or I’d win, and I’d invite more capable opponents. I stared into his squinted eyes, and I didn’t blink.

“The locker room,” I said plainly. “I have to get home.”

“Why would you go to the locker room when the field’s not spotless?” he demanded. “Who do you think you are?”

“Look,” I nodded to a pair of equally disgruntled sophomores carrying the last tackling dummy. “That’s the last bag. In the time you ran over here, it’s already been put away. So we can all go now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“That’s not the point,” he pressed his finger in my chest. “The point is you were leaving before the field was clean.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I’m the new kid, which is why this conversation is pointless. Nobody likes me. I’m going to spend the entire year riding the bench. And calling me out is just going to make everyone think you’re trying to be a tough guy.”

I turned away and Jim didn’t say anything. A few weeks later some of the varsity guys cornered him in the locker room and the beating eventually led him to quit. I did the same given I had no athletic potential. We didn’t see much of each other until the end of senior year. I began reinventing myself in the interim, running to the beach every day and reading books about how to make friends. I wanted to erase the prior seventeen years of eating lunch alone in the library and having limited female interactions outside of doing their homework. My transformation showed promise right before graduation as I landed a cute, lively date to prom. It turned out she was friends with Jim’s then-girlfriend, so we rode in the same limo and attended a bonfire until sunrise. We hung out nearly every weekend at his apartment that summer, watching Pulp Fiction and drinking Tecate on the porch, which overlooked a Costco parking lot. I kept in semi-regular contact with Jim when I went to college in North Carolina, and he ventured to Santa Barbara for an English program. Ironically, despite living further from each other in different cities, our communication grew significantly due to our girl troubles and unsuccessful attempts at writing the next Great American novel.

I heard a knock at my apartment door, despite deliberately leaving it open.

“How are you doing, champ?” he grinned, extending his hand and placing a silver bottle of tequila on my coffee table. “Happy freaking birthday. What are you, twenty-seven now? If the last few months are any indication, it’s a hell of an age.”

He shifted towards my half-sofa while I remained standing. The studio had tall windows with rooftop views and a direct line to Central Park if I cricked my neck. Ten-foot ceilings made the place seem marginally more spacious, and I had a few paintings hanging against the walls – mostly teal and lavender works my sister Samantha did in college. Jim and I typically watched football whenever he came over, though the season wouldn’t start for another six weeks. I contemplated pouring us each a drink, but I didn’t feel like clouding my mind on a sunny afternoon meant for self-reflection.

“Uh oh,” he said, retying his boots on the coffee table. “I know that look. What’s going through The Kid’s head?”

“I’m trying to decide what we should do,” I said slowly.

“What are you feeling? There’s tons we can do. We can stay here. I brought tequila. We can smoke. There’s baseball on. Last I checked, Seamless delivers.”

I reached for a pair of aviators Jim had gifted me a couple years prior and nodded towards the hallway.

“Have you gotten coffee?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I can always go for more.”

“Alright,” I said. “Then maybe we can walk around for a bit.”

We rode my century-old elevator and turned towards the park entrance, only a long toss from my building. Locals and tourists alike strolled around the outer loop, lounging on large patches of Kentucky bluegrass. I secretly enjoyed the faint smell of horse poop as we strolled towards the pond. I’d never gone rowing given it seemed like the kind of activity reserved for a girlfriend, but I made another mental note to do so someday. We reached the cobblestone path and plopped onto a shaded bench near the water.

“You doing okay?” I asked. “How’s the writing going?”

I needed to rant about this girl who wrote a story about me on her blog, but Jim messaged me several times that week stressing about his thesis due in less than two weeks. I hadn’t mentioned it directly to him, but I’d been trying to be less selfish in my social interactions by giving others the chance to speak. He sighed as geese waddled onto the bank picking at a pile of breadcrumbs. I would’ve judged Jim for waiting until the last minute had he not been a better writer than me by almost any literary criteria – structure, diction, grammar, anything they use in formal evaluations. My only advantage was an unruly belief that I had something meaningful to say.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “Better than yesterday, worse than the day before. I know I’m going to get this done. That’s not the issue. It’s not like I don’t have plenty of content. I’m just trying to find the right structure.”

I wanted to shake the guy, but I remembered not everyone responds as well to confrontation.

“Why do you write man?” I sipped the rest of my iced coffee.

He shrugged as a pair of rollerbladers whizzed by us.

“As in, what are you trying to say?” I continued. “What do you want me to think when I read your stuff? I have my own thoughts, but I’d like to hear it from you.”

“I guess it’s about defining my idea of masculinity,” he readjusted his watch. “Like how we used to bash our helmets against each other in practice. How many times did you see stars? Those were concussions man. And then we’re supposed to join fraternities. And corporate America. I’ve been hearing horror stories about it from you for years. It perpetuates this idea that in order to be a man you need to be ruthless and treat women like shit.”

I couldn’t disagree based on personal experience, but I felt like the dynamic he described made me a target to that wannabe social influencer Andrea. My college roommate’s girlfriend set us up, and I was immediately smitten based on her profile. Also a writer, Andrea had platinum hair, forest eyes, and a lip ring. We met at a dive bar in Astoria. She arrived twenty minutes late in a low-cut tank top, immediately asking for a vodka tonic, flirting with the bartender and casually dropping an on-going fling with a famous basketball player. Refusing to show my insecurity, I ordered shots and joked how a girl I used to see was engaged to a rapper with the top song in America. I lasted the entire evening successfully dodging every slight or black-handed compliment, and I kissed her goodnight without forcing myself upstairs. She texted me the following morning, and we messaged non-stop until seeing each other a few nights later.

“This is pointless,” she rushed away from our high table minutes after we’d been seated in the West Village lounge. “All we’re ever going to do is fight like crazy people. You’re going to be sweet and charming and then you’re going to fuck me and never talk to me again. Or I’m going to get bored of you because you’re never going to care about me more than yourself. Goodbye forever.”

Andrea pretended to storm out of the narrow, pine establishment, but I didn’t budge. I’d provoked her by making some comment about how most of my female experiences result in short-lived, draining flings, but I didn’t know how to match her aggression without trying to make her feel ordinary. I sipped my tequila soda and watched her stomp towards the bouncer, assuming it was part of her routine. For as much as I wanted validation, succumbing to Andrea’s ferociousness would never earn her affection. Reaching the end of the bar, she spun around and swayed towards me in anger.

“You were just going to let me go!?” she crossed her arms, climbing onto the stool. “Based on how intently you stare, I thought you were obsessed with me.”

She was partially right. I’d never been with anyone who kept me so fixed in the moment. Her unpredictability felt like the weightlessness before the first drop on a roller coaster. No matter how sharply Hurricane Andrea swirled, the mind games and intermittent sweetness made me believe she’d never felt so intensely towards any other person in the world and I didn’t want it to stop.

I crumbled on our third date, unable to sustain the aloofness. Notwithstanding the banter, I naively believed she’d reward my efforts by revealing a caring, supportive soul who’d inspire my creative and professional vision. But Andrea quickly escalated our charming battle to a level which destroyed all intimacy.

“You realize I’m not attracted to you, right?” she slurred. “I probably have more sexual tension with my brother. Plus, I’m almost positive you’re gay. Will you get me another drink? I feel like I need to go out and get railed out by a real guy before continuing this conversation.”

I pathetically tried taking her back to my place, which only solidified my inability to satisfy her. Andrea messaged me the following week that she’d written a story about our interactions, which likened me to a used, discounted sweater she had every intention of returning. I unwittingly went to the same wine bar I’d taken her to before, and I picked up an early 30s, ginger casting director named Heather. I told her about Andrea. She felt my thigh, ordering us each another glass as I ranted. She eventually made a not-so-subtle remark around auditioning for her at my apartment. Terrified of losing momentum, I invited her over and I proceeded without protection to shut Andrea’s high-pitched voice out of my head. Latex often kills performance and I idiotically needed to reassert my masculinity. I subsequently developed a sore throat and had an appointment booked for that Friday – the earliest possible time for a credible result after not wearing protection.

“Understandable, but probably not your brightest moment,” Jim laughed. “Hey, we’ve been out here a while. How do you feel about getting some food?”

I’d eaten nothing that day except my standard assortment of oatmeal, chicken and spinach, and I felt an immediate desire to reward myself. I used to have epic cheat days with pizza, bagels and every kind of dessert imaginable on Sundays after eating only steak and eggs during the week. I’ve since transitioned to a more sustainable routine given I grew somewhat emaciated and my cholesterol skyrocketed to 335, but I liked reliving the glory days on the rare occasion I deserved it.

“I’m into it,” I said. “I think it’s time for some self-indulgence.”

“Thank God.”

We shot up and strolled towards Columbus Avenue; I wanted to swing by this Spanish-American joint in my neighborhood while Jim hinted at Italian. My dinner entailed an extraordinary combination of spaghetti, garlic bread, and paella. I also opted for tres leches cake, ice cream, and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

“Thanks again for coming all the way up here,” I slapped his hand on the street corner across from my building. “I had a blast.”

“Talk to you soon, buddy,” he moved towards the subway.

I appreciated Jim for not mentioning he intended to swing by his girlfriend’s walk-up on the trek back to Brooklyn. While I hadn’t had a girlfriend in almost five years, Jim hadn’t been single for more than a few weeks. It made me somewhat jealous, though he insisted if I went for nicer girls and exhibited some semblance of patience, I’d have similar fortune. I reentered my creaky elevator and scrolled through my phone, responding to my family’s messages. Beyond my parents and sister, my mom’s family lived in Miami: my aunt, uncle, two cousins, abuela and madrina, or godmother in Spanish. I tried visiting every summer as I identified far more with my Cuban relatives since I didn’t know my dad’s side. I still needed to book a weekend down there. On the verge of a food coma, I received a picture from the sexy brunette my sister introduced me to at Coachella.

Happy Birthday!” Sabrina wrote, followed by a winking face. “I wish I could be with you. If you were down in Texas, we could really be celebrating right now.

I smiled. We hadn’t done anything besides kiss given the challenge of being alone with someone at a music festival. Not seeing more of her left me a bit flat. We messaged constantly for the next several weeks and even spoke on the phone. I had no idea what Sabrina did for a living beyond the fact she’d studied sports journalism in college, but I liked the idea that she had nothing to do with life in New York. She represented an escape from my ambition, telling me about concerts and drinking with her high school friends, which only made me wish I could reinvent myself in a far simpler existence.

Thanks Sabrina,” I replied. “I’ll give you a call you later this week.”


Never Again… But Actually

I’m not a saint. While I like thinking that I treat people how I’d like to be treated, I’ve also done a lot of morally reprehensible things out of my need to feel special. I saw a dark comedy called The Lobster, which suggested the only way to experience compatibility is by having similar flaws. I recognize that I’m more fortunate than virtually every other human being on the planet, but it frustrates me beyond belief when people don’t understand I wasn’t born a creative entrepreneur with a jawline. It takes courage to wake up at 5AM to lift, write a few hundred words, and run cross-town to an Upper East Side clinic alone before work, but my best moments often happen with no one watching – like managing the stress of phantom pains and fatalistic Google searches. I hadn’t yet presented any obvious symptoms, but the feverish heat and a sore throat left me all but certain my carelessness had finally caught up to me.

I eased down a flight of stairs with a garden entrance and approached the dreary, heavy-set receptionist. I unloaded my wallet to the dismay of a gray-haired lady behind me and grabbed one of the few open spots on a long bench that wrapped beneath courtyard windows. My back felt damp and I composed work emails for the day ahead. At the mercy of some physician’s assistant’s schedule, I bounced my loafers against the carpet as they called other patients. With my mind racing about the probability of an infection, I reread my previous conversation with Heather to try alleviating my concern.

Hi there,” I’d written to seem casual. “I had a really nice time the other night.”

And I wasn’t lying. Heather laughed at my childish humor and wrapped her freckly legs around me, helping me forget about Andrea and the pressure I place on myself. As we rested together with nothing but lighting from uptown windows, I wondered what it would’ve been like to date someone so comfortable in her own skin. But I also wasn’t sure I’d respect myself for staying with a person who gave herself up so quickly; she could’ve just as easily gone home with someone else that night. My phone vibrated minutes after I messaged her.

Me too…” she replied. “What are you up to this week? I’d definitely be up for reenacting that fantasy of yours, though I’m not sure how long I’d be able stay in character while telling you why you didn’t get the part. You’re pretty handsome, you know.

I valued Heather’s affection because she didn’t make me wonder if there was something about me that secretly bothered her, though it highlighted my budding emptiness. I was never the biggest Harry Potter fan, but I’d given a horcrux with my body to a stranger in exchange for short-term satisfaction – an insatiable consolation prize for genuine connections. I cleared my throat and coughed from balmy dryness, scrolling through the rest of our conversation.

Thanks for that,” I responded. “I’m actually going out of town for a wedding this weekend, but it would be nice to see you when I’m back… hey I know this is a pretty awkward topic, have you been tested lately? I got checked pretty recently and am fine, but I just got paranoid.”

I found asking most palatable in the context of seeing her again.

“Well you can relax, Kid…” she sent across a rolling my eyes emoji.  “I’m always careful… And if you get back early enough on Sunday, we can be as safe as you’d like over a bottle of wine.”

I sighed, accepting she hadn’t provided a straight answer. The oddly dressed physician’s assistant, wearing strapped sandals and no lab coat, pushed into the main area; she looked as if she’d come from a Montauk brunch and had no intention of practicing medicine. She stared at me in designer glasses and I followed her through tight hallways into a bright, sterile room. I removed my shoes and hopped onto a sheeted cot, mildly taken aback by her unfriendliness. The woman rolled up to a freshly scented desk and halfheartedly skimmed my chart.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

I grew intrigued by her indifference and decided either she was covering someone else’s shift or I reminded her of someone she preferred to forget. I typically enjoyed doctor visits because I could make endless confessions without judgment. The taboo nature of conversation extending outside the evaluation room presented an additional layer of intrigue. I also welcomed the chance to say something they’d never heard. Or make her laugh. I didn’t respond until she flashed her pecan eyes.

“Have you traveled to Africa in the past ten years?” she ran through the customary list of questions.

“Yes. I went to Morocco and had a very bad time. I don’t know why people like it there so much. I got horrible food poisoning and people kept following me everywhere.”

“Do you use drugs?” she continued, unamused.

“Not really. I sometimes take ibuprofen when I hurt myself lifting.”

“Have you had unprotected sex?”

“Didn’t you see the chart?”

Completely expressionless, the woman flipped to the next page.

“What about other forms of penetration?”

“Uh…” I didn’t appreciate the insinuation. “I just have a sore throat.”

She rose and nodded for me to lean back, avoiding my gaze. I gagged while she swapped my throat and took my temperature. The latter came in elevated, and she shook her head.

“Take off your pants,” the woman said in no way that could have been misconstrued as friendly.

She inspected me all of ten seconds and I felt somewhat ashamed. What the hell was I doing? Attempting to flirt with some woman whose job it was to help me?  I sat up and readjusted my belt, suspecting the reason for her icy demeanor had everything to do with the behavior landing me in that office. I stood without looking at her and the physician’s assistant handed me a clear beaker. I exited, hoping for both of our sakes we’d never see each other again. I squeezed into a single-stall restroom per her instructions and I placed my three-quarters full sample outside the IV room. Six or seven other folks waited anxiously beside me.

“You ready?” a portly nurse waved to me.

I entered the vacant stall, sinking into a cushioned chair as the nurse closed the pale curtain in front of us. He unraveled a rubber band for the procedure and passed me a form; the letters HIV appeared nearly every other word. Finality hit like the needle in my vein. I knew the chances were slim to none, but how would I explain it to my mom? What would I tell abuela and madrina? Forget about having a normal relationship. My full-bodied blood reminded me of my mortality. The nurse swiftly pulled away and covered my forearm with a bandage. I placed my co-pay on the counter and climbed back into the humidity. I paused on the top step, promising I’d never do anything that stupid again. I hopped on the train to work. Results came back five business days later – negative.


Happy Hour Is For Mooks

I hadn’t yet booked the three-hour train to my buddy’s wedding in Cape Cod given I generally pride myself on failing at logistics. I liked the idea of someone else handling it for me, pretending I’m famous given how often my sister raves about the power of visualization. But a part of me also didn’t want to spend the weekend traveling to another liquored-up ceremony. Going stag obviously highlighted my loneliness; it’s just I hate how often people asked about my dating life. I should be more grateful for my seemingly endless network of supportive, talented individuals, but I can’t help feeling like Sisyphus pushing a rock up the hill, repeating the same role in every narrative. I’ve heard I’ve never told anyone this more times than I can count, excluding references to previous occasions where I played the wingman. The last one in the office, I checked the train schedule and settled on the 9:39PM shuttle as the last possible chance to catch the tail end of welcome drinks.

Still with a few hours before my train, I made myself a vodka neat and closed my eyes, trying to forget about the clinic. Nothing but blank monitors and coffee mugs remained on the long cedar table as I listened to traffic outside, wondering whether I’ll ever make a living off my writing. The last editor I met with told me I had no voice and should never quit my day job. I believed I’d publish something decent eventually, but I also needed high-stakes professional stimulation that satisfied my results-oriented disposition and intellectual curiosity. I’ve struggled articulating this unusual dichotomy to everyone I’ve ever worked with besides Rohan, which is likely due to how many hours we spent talking. Rohan and I shared an office during my previous gig in private equity; he was a few years older, but we got along since we each had chips on our shoulders and a propensity for absurdity. We also detested everyone at our firm and would complain to one another about the maniacs in investment committee. Since he more than anyone I knew encouraged me to pursue my interests, I didn’t hesitate when he messaged me to grab a drink near Lincoln Center.

I entered the summery tavern off Amsterdam and spotted Rohan gesticulating wildly; the pre-theater crowd hadn’t yet consumed enough champagne to appreciate his scruff or booming voice. Already on his third whisky, he shouted for a tequila soda upon my arrival. Amused by his boisterousness, I joined him at the bar and ignored the other patrons’ stares.

“Everybody, shut it down!” Rohan bellowed. “The Kid is in the building. How the fuck are you?”

“I’m alright, man,” I hugged him with my arm. “How you doing?”

“Terrible. My parents are being annoying as shit and my mom is insisting Beatrice and I come visit when we have tickets to this show. I told you about my dad getting sick last year, but I think my mom is just being dramatic. So let’s see who can pound more liquor before my fiancé gets here. Also, why do you have a Band-Aid on your arm? Anything you need to tell me, buddy?”

For as much as I appreciated being around someone who accepted me, Rohan reminded me of a nihilistic period of my life when my weekend plan was being not sober and hoping for the best. Miserable from another sleep-deprived week with no writing or exercise, I’d pound drinks from Friday night through Saturday boozy brunch and a Murray Hill pregame to Sunday Funday with a nightcap to numb myself from the soullessness of projecting cash flows for sociopaths who used buzzwords like synergies and market penetration. My only regret quitting the buyside is I could’ve eventually made partner; they offered me a third-year associate position within my first six months and the managing partner took me out on multiple occasions to discuss my future. I just couldn’t handle conforming to a cookie-cutter character pontificating about industry trends en route to the Hamptons in a silver BMW. Rohan, for all his absurdity, could at least empathize with being an outsider given he wasn’t born in America, though had I known he invited his fiancé to meet us, I probably would’ve skipped playing third wheel and headed straight to the wedding.

“I had to get tested,” I said. “I just made a dumb decision. I also have a wedding this weekend and it’s bumming me out because I’m tired of rolling to these things solo. Work’s also stressful, but I’m starting to think that’s the case regardless of the industry.”

“I hear you man,” he grinned. “But I actually have some decent news, if you can believe it.”

As it turned out, our old shop promoted Rohan for sourcing one of the fund’s top investments. I bought him a congratulatory drink; I felt genuinely happy for the guy because I knew how hard he worked to fit into that place – he became the first person to get to work each morning after I left. Increased income and stability meant he also planned on buying an apartment. He and his fiancé had scoped out a few neighborhoods in Brooklyn. I checked my phone, noticing a call from my aunt Silvia. A few years younger than my mom, she lived in Miami with my uncle Ron, and two cousins. Abuela and madrina stayed in a townhouse thirty minutes away from them. I explained to Rohan I needed to answer and wove through a wall of fragrance, anticipating an unpleasant conversation since we’d spoken a few days prior for my birthday.

“Hi tía,” I said forcefully, stepping onto the sidewalk. “Is everything okay?”

Cars were stopped alongside a repaved area and honked mercilessly; I jogged away from the noise and cut across traffic towards the river. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t suspect the reason for my aunt’s call; both my grandma and great aunt were well into their 80s and could barely climb stairs or crouch down to feed their cats. The current chopped as the sun disappeared from the sky.

“I’m not bothering you, am I?” she said in her alto voice. “It’s not too loud, is it? I’m on the highway.”

“Not at all,” I replied. “What’s the matter?”

“Well I haven’t told anybody yet,” she trembled. “The only people who know are you, me, and the neighbor. The neighbor found madrina lying unconscious in the kitchen. The ambulance came and they tried to resuscitate her, but they couldn’t. Abuela is at my house right now and she’s asleep; I don’t even know how I’m going to tell her. I tried calling Ron and your mother and father, but you’re the only one who answered.”

“Where are you?” I said calmly, feeling like someone had knocked the wind out of me.

“Driving back to my house.”

“Are you sure you should be driving right now?”

“I’m okay, really, I am. I just don’t know how I’m going to tell abuela. She’s already not well, you know.”

“Well don’t worry about it because I’m going to take the first flight down to Miami.”

I checked online and I couldn’t find anything until the following morning; I contacted the airlines I usually flew, but they were useless. I leaned against the railing and processed what just occurred. I felt for my aunt, who had to deal with the situation alone on the ground. And what about abuela? She was already confined to a bed due to leg pain with a history of heart trouble and just lost her only sibling. I almost hopped in a cab to take my chances talking my way on the flight until realizing I wouldn’t make it in time if I tried. I would’ve called my mom had it not been the middle of the night in Europe and I wished I could be with her with when she heard.

My mom and madrina had a unique relationship. From Cuba, my mom’s parents agreed whoever left the island first would take my mom to America. My mom’s dad was some kind of gangster and abuela worked as a maid in one of the safe houses; I only met the man once a few weeks before he passed in his North Miami Beach apartment. Madrina didn’t share abuela’s work ethic, but she made it to New York first on the heels of her beauty and charm. She lived in a lavish two-bedroom apartment financed by a stable of men. My mom moved in with her at age eleven not speaking a word of English. Filled with telenovela drama and arguments over why my mom would ever try supporting herself instead of finding a guy, my mom’s living experience was less than ideal, though I suspect her style was partially influenced by her aunt’s mink coats and silk dresses. Joggers passed behind me and I sighed. I needed someone other than myself at that moment, but I preferred to not spoil my sister Samantha’s night – she was in D.C. visiting a guy she met at a music festival.  I could’ve called my dad, though the last thing I wanted was to make him think I needed attention when he’d be more focused on caring for his wife thousands of miles away. Spoiling Rohan’s celebratory evening with his fiancé also felt pointless, so I ripped off my bandage and messaged Andrea.

Hey,” I wrote. “Your story confirmed my biggest fear that girls just like me because of how I make them feel, not because of how I am and the only way to make them like me is pretend like I don’t have emotions. I don’t understand why girls respond so well to being treated like they don’t matter.”

I didn’t care if she responded, but the satisfaction of telling her how I felt outweighed admitting she hurt me. The truth is I’ve known dozens of Andreas in my life and they feed off redirecting my passion towards them. On some twisted level, I wanted to validate whether she meant what she’d written or it was actually part of some elaborate seduction as she was secretly in love with me. Because truthfully, beneath all this perceived insecurity and overthinking, I have the chance to be extraordinary and I imagine whoever I end up with will have an equally high opinion of herself.

You told me you wouldn’t read it,” Andrea responded. “I never pretended writing wasn’t my number one priority. I also said it wasn’t exactly how I felt, but you just inspired it. Also, are we really never going to see each other again? I’m in the city with some guy who keeps talking about how many cars he has. What are you doing tonight? Wallowing at that wine bar of yours? I can meet you in an hour or sooner depending on where you are.”

I almost said yes. She had these enticing flashes of cuteness, which made me want to continue our sadistic, little game. But I wouldn’t distract myself from madrina with pain in the way I used to turn to alcohol when I experienced professional or creative frustration. Andrea essentially admitted being incapable of empathy, and unless my worldview is wildly inaccurate, selfishness doesn’t magically turn into selflessness. I walked back towards the bar as Rohan laughed with his fiancé over a plate of burrata. I regret feeling this in retrospect and not that I even ate burrata, but I envied him for having someone in his life who’d proudly stand with him while drunk out of his mind. I briefly reentered to say goodbye, and I lied about needing to catch my train. I instead trudged home, chugging several glasses of water and throwing gym clothes into my travel bag. I already had my alarm set for 5AM, so I reconfirmed I’d checked in to my 7AM flight to Miami International Airport before passing out.


Porsches and Death Certificates

I stared out the grey window and increased the volume on my headphones to cancel out the breathing on either side of me. A couple not much older than myself fed their toddler a peanut butter sandwich across the aisle. I couldn’t remember the last time I flew with someone I knew on a non-work trip let alone a girl, excluding visiting my ex-girlfriend during Thanksgiving in college. Not that my trip to Miami was for pleasure, but I suspect the lack of companionship contributed to my general aversion towards vacation, which I generally viewed as time that I could’ve otherwise spent working. The captain announced our initial decent and I reminded myself that I needed to project strength. Already sweating from the heat, I grabbed my carry-on and trekked towards the pedaling car rental place.

Unbeknownst to me, July is peak tourist season in Miami, so the vehicle under my reservation wasn’t meant to arrive for another four hours. Undeterred, I ran through at least eight of the twenty-something kiosks, but still found nothing reasonable available. Families and other clueless travelers used their suitcases as furniture against a column of fake plants. I would’ve called an Uber, but surge pricing and wait time were equally outrageous; I also needed my own transportation in case I needed to pick up groceries or drive to abuela’s house to scoop any of her or madrina’s belongings. With a five-day rental from a different airport as my best option, I approached the Enterprise Exotic counter in an attempt to arbitrage the higher end vehicles.

“Do you have a reservation?” the attendant forked through a plate of home-cooked pork with beans.

With long nails and blonde highlights, her unimpressed countenance indicated that she’d either dealt with disgruntled customers all day or she still had a long shift ahead. I slid my driver’s license beside her bottle of Pepsi and placed my index finger on my temple.

“Not here,” I said politely. “But I’m looking for a one-day rental and will pretty much take anything if I can have it now.”

“Hmmmm,” she tapped her chin, briefly glancing at her screen. “How much are you willing to spend?”

I needed to skillfully blend my persuasion tactics as denying the seller’s market would insult her intelligence. I didn’t want to unnecessarily evoke guilt or irritate her with some sob story she had no way of verifying. So I exhaled slowly, flashed my hazel eyes and responded in Spanish.

“At this point, you can probably charge me anything you want,” I said. “Mi madrina se fallecío y me hace falta cualquier carito para andar a mi familia. Can you please help me?”

She finished chewing and revealed a laminated key card.

“Relax,” she winked. “I got you, papi. Can you drive stick?”

I nodded and followed her to the elevator, remembering my two-tone hand-me-down Honda from high school. I wanted a pickup truck to fit in with the guys on the football team, but my dad insisted on the manual transmission hatchback his estranged sister offered me due to his interest in reconciling. In addition to a part-time job changing oil filters, I worked as a valet at the Hyatt during fancy affairs. I didn’t exactly need the extra cash, but it gave me something to do on weekends and appeased his mandate I learn more about cars. Entering the downstairs parking lot, I assisted her in removing the polyethylene cover and tossed my bag in the passenger seat.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” she patted my shoulder. “Be strong.”

I shoved my key in the ignition and pressed the clutch, reversing onto a yellow speed bump and pushing through a series of spikes and checkpoints. I sighed and observed my expressionless face in the mirror, pulling onto the hazy highway. When did I get so morose? Sure, my godmother passed away, but I’d still experience that same underlying bitterness if I went to that New England wedding by myself. I downshifted into the left lane and blazed past the other sports cars and two-seaters. Revving the engine, I held my breath and watched the speedometer exponentially rise. 80, 90, 105… I didn’t have any sort of desire to hurt myself, but I wanted to see how high I could go without losing control. It’s not like I had anything of value in the car besides my laptop. My mom called as I hit 112 and I slammed the brakes.

“Hi, mom,” I put her on speaker, slowing just above the speed limit. “I’m really sorry about madrina. And I wish you didn’t have to be in Istanbul all by yourself. I love you a lot, okay? How are you holding up?”

My dad is a rock, Samantha knows me as well as anyone, but my mom is the only one who loves me unconditionally. I hated how rarely I saw her growing up because of her job, though the thirty seconds we had from the driver’s seat of her Mercedes to the garage door was usually the highlight of my day. She never made me feel anything less than special every time we moved, so I appreciated the chance to support her for a change.

“Thanks, sweetie,” she said.  “Are you at tías house yet? I spoke to grandma and she’s very excited to see you.”

“You spoke to grandma?”

“Yes. I also told her already, so she already knows. I figured letting her know now was best and then you showing up would make her happy.”

I felt slightly irritated that my mom took my responsibility, but saying anything would’ve conveyed unchartered selfishness. I don’t consider myself an especially confrontational person, it’s just I’ve always tried pleasing my parents, probably to the detriment on my interactions with other people. Neither had ideal situations growing up – I know next to nothing about my dad’s parents – so on some level every interaction with them is rooted in my attempting to justify their decision to have kids.

“I just hope my being here is helpful to you.”

“It is,” she said abruptly. “Hold on. Your dad’s calling.”

She hung up and I returned to the road. Between time zones and the fact I was twenty-seven years old, I reminded myself that I couldn’t keep depending on someone six thousand miles away for emotional support. I exited the freeway onto a four-lane road separated by palm trees and pulled into my aunt’s neighborhood. It had a bridge connecting the entrance, which I accidentally approached too fast and almost scratched the bottom of my ride. Circling the plot of one-story homes with crimson roofs, I parked on the curb beside the driveway and found the front screen door unlocked.

“Well if it isn’t The Kid,” my ruddy uncle Ron waved from the shaded dining room table, as if momentarily forgetting the reason for my visit.

I leaned over and hugged his beefy back; Ron suffered an accident a decade prior, which significantly hindered his mobility. He had a light sense of humor, which complimented my aunt’s melancholic aura, and frequently joked about their Dachshund’s refusal to eat anything except human food. We only spoke when I visited Florida and rarely about anything substantive – not because I didn’t like the guy it’s just I prefer not to impose my intensity on people who make comments like what are you going to do, as an answer to every problem. I sometimes wish I were more comfortable with my lack of control provided it didn’t come with obsessive compulsiveness with aligning picture frames.

“How are you? I asked. “How’s abuela? Tía and the kids?

“You know how it is,” he shrugged. “Just trying to be supportive. Silvia is in the room with abuela in case you want to say hello.”

I nodded and turned towards the L-shaped hallway, which passed the den and all three bedrooms.

“But before you do that,” he mumbled. “Would you mind taking off your shoes?”

I obliged, hiding my smirk en route to the back bedroom. Tía sat on a rocking chair in darkness beside my grandma, who lied covered in navy blankets. I tapped on the door gently, so I wouldn’t startle them. My aunt stood slowly and placed her arms on my shoulders.

Mi sobrino,” she whispered. “Thank you for coming. I’m glad you arrived safely. I saw on the news there’s a storm coming and I thought you might get delayed.”

“Hi, tía, it’s good to see you.”

I hugged her core and felt a simultaneous sense of warmth and coldness – literal warmth from the dark, curly hair above her cotton sweater and somberness in her disposition. My aunt didn’t exactly have the easiest time in America supporting a household by herself, though she seemed at ease in sorrow. My mother rescued both her and abuela from Cuba in a cigar boat and I sensed that she regretted leaving. Not that life in Havana posed any great prospects, but it’s easier to complain about current circumstances than not fantasize about what could have been. I squeezed her shoulder and abuela insisted she give us privacy.

Oye,” abuela cleared her throat. “Let me talk to my grandson.”

I sat beside her on the mattress and held her wrinkly arm; my grandma’s frailness never seemed more apparent, though the twinkling in her eyes reinforced her unwavering mental strength. An avid reader, she could always determine people’s motivations within seconds and had no issue calling them out. I just didn’t know what to do beyond sit there in silence. I wanted to ask about madrina, but I couldn’t fathom what it must’ve been like losing someone she’d known for over eight decades. My great aunt had been abuela’s only direct family member since Bautista murdered their parents for protesting his regime when they were kids.

“I’m sorry about madrina,” I kissed her hand. “But how are you, abuela?”

She winced, rolling her bleached hair on the pillow.

“It’s very sad, mi vida,” she said softly. “But she didn’t have pain. I spoke to her Saint. Pero, I am very happy you are here. Tell me, ¿Como tu estas?

Understanding that wasn’t the appropriate time to divulge the truth, I felt the fan’s coolness and feigned a smile.

“Things are good,” I said. “Very good, actually, not taking into account what happened. It’s very nice to see you as well. Can I get you anything?”

She nodded to the nightstand and I helped her drink through a straw how she did for me when I was a child.

Gracias, mi hijito,” she said. “How is your writing going? Can you read me one of your stories?”

Undeniably pleased with her request, I chose a vignette about this rebellious dog’s plight to sleep in his owners’ bed as I didn’t want to divulge my relationship issues. Given abuela speaks little English, I struggled translating some of the words because my Spanish embarrassingly isn’t as strong as it should be. Still, she nestled into her pillow happily listening until her caretaker interrupted.

“Well, hello there,” a portly fellow with a grey mustache huffed at the bedroom door. “Boy, is it hot out there! And you must be the grandson!”

I frowned, disappointed I wouldn’t be able to finish since she’d be tired later. I studied the man and abuela gently tapped my wrist. She nodded, so I cautiously stood and I extended my hand.

“Nice to meet you,” I looked back at my grandmother. “Abuela, are you okay?”

She nodded and blew me a kiss.

“We won’t be long,” he assured me. “She’s a strong one, your grandma is.”

I exited as he prepped her for an IV. I noted the area around my vein had swelled since the day before and rolled down my sleeves. Moving through the living room, I crossed the house and found my aunt in the kitchen.

“I made you coffee,” she motioned to the amber counter. “You take it black, right?”

I nodded, sliding onto the high chair, which faced away from the back patio.

“Thank you,” I raised my mug.

“Anytime. You’re always welcome here, you know.”

Silvia made herself tea and told me about her job. I felt badly for criticizing her earlier; I can’t help fixating on my flaws in other people. A former top sales rep at a national packaging company, she moved to a smaller business with better compensation and less competent management. I commented on the ironically inverse relationship between the two and she laughed. I asked about my cousins and my aunt began boiling black beans with olives.

“They’re okay, thank you for asking,” she replied. “It’s amazing to me that they are both now in college. Did I ever tell you about when I watched you for the first time? You were three and we were at your parents’ house in Las Vegas. I didn’t know where anything was and you kept saying, ‘Tía, I’m very thirsty. I want juice. I want water. I want milk.’ And you kept naming every kind of liquid you could think of because you thought I wasn’t giving you anything to drink because you didn’t name the right thing.”

A smile spread across my face and she recounted our first trip to Disney World; abuela, madrina and Samantha all went while my parents handled another move. I sometimes forget the magnitude of positivity my family sends because it’s so decentralized – mom in Istanbul, dad in California, sister in Europe, and everyone else in Miami. I just needed to remember how much they rooted for me when I touched down in New York.

Abuela’s nurse popped his bushy head from behind the wall.

“She’s all set,” he gave us a thumbs-up. “I’ll swing by tomorrow afternoon.”

“How is she doing?” my aunt asked. “She ate this morning, but yesterday she didn’t want to eat anything.”

“Yeah well, you know how it is. I knew a guy whose brother died in a plane crash and the same thing happened. It really was terrible. Left behind two kids and a wife.”

His lack of self-awareness made me want to punch him in the face, but I obviously restrained myself. As someone who helped abuela manage pain, he was more relevant in that house than me. I sighed and wished him a pleasant evening.

“Smell ya’ later!” he called on his way out.

Sensing my frustration, Silvia patted my arm and added minced bacon to the beans. I offered to drive to the store and she reluctantly agreed. Ron had fired up the grill by my return and set up his process of ridding bacteria from fresh meat. With tía chopping a salad and the dining room table already set, I assisted escorting abuela from my cousin’s bedroom. Barely up to my bicep, she reminded me of a time when it was the other way around.

“You want a beer or something?” Ron broke the silence as we began eating. “We’ve got wine in the garage, too, if you want.”

I shook my head and made abuela a plate; she liked mixing steak juice with rice before spooning on beans. I assume some combination of narcissism and anxiety compels me to alleviate awkwardness, but I couldn’t help noticing their blank stares. My grandma hung her head and my aunt forked the vegetables. Ron whistled while dousing his rib-eye with a mountain of ketchup. Compelled to address the melancholic environment, I dropped my knife on the tablecloth and straightened my spine.

“I know we all miss her,” I said. “It’s just… for all the ways a person can go out… she was almost ninety and could barely walk. And for as much as we all loved her, she hadn’t been happy in quite so time. And now at least we all know she’s resting and in a much better place.”

Ron curled his lip and I took my grandma’s hand; she teared up and I held a paper towel as she blew her nose. A few minutes went by and the room breathed easier. I flicked on each of the side lamps and the dog hopped on one of the open chairs. He chased his tail and Ron lobbed him a piece of steak. My aunt arched her eyebrows and mouthed thank you to me.

“So tell us, how are things going in New York?” Silvia changed the subject. “Do you still like it? I know you’ve said in the past you might want to go back to California. Would you ever move back? I know that would make your father happy.”

I didn’t feel like answering the same question I heard from anyone who discovered I lived in both places. But I had a job in that dining room. Abuela stopped crying and looked at me with intrigue.

“I like both a lot for different reasons,” I said. “Whenever I’m in one I think to myself how I don’t want to leave. And there’s a million reasons why. Beach, weather, excitement, culture, the nightlife. But to be honest, Miami is the best of both worlds.”

“Really?” abuela beamed. “You’d move to Miami?”

“I mean it depends how things shake up with work,” I said, careful not to promise something I couldn’t deliver. “I mean you guys are here. So are the rest of the Cubans. And last time I checked your living room couch is extremely comfortable.”

The three of them looked at one another in mild disbelief, momentarily not thinking about madrina.

“Wouldn’t that be something?” my aunt chuckled. “The Kid comes to Miami.”

We finished dinner and I brought pecan pie for dessert – I even had a bite since it was abuela’s favorite.


Please Baby, No More Last-Minute Flights

I awoke on the living room couch well before my 6:15AM alarm and held off on reaching for my sneakers since the nearest gym didn’t open until 7AM. I interlocked my fingers behind my head and started up at the stillness, reflecting on what I said about Miami. My mind immediately went to how I would sustain my comfortable standard of living. Beyond the port and a few niche healthcare businesses, it’s not as if Southern Florida offered any especially promising opportunities not present in the city. I could presumably find some type of real estate investing or business development position, but both sounded excruciatingly boring.

Independent of Miami, I regularly asked myself where I’d go if I wrote a bestseller and didn’t need to worry about money; I doubt any other city would offer nearly as much inspiration given there’s no more densely concentrated pool of talent. I needed the Damien Chazelles and Donald Glovers for motivation – people only a few years older than me who’ve realized success that’s only a pipedream at this point. I’m plagued by this fear that if I do not spend every waking moment in the studio that I’ll end up as one of those burnouts drunkenly recounting what could have been. But I’m mostly afraid of what The Kid or whatever I’m calling myself in a few years would think if I left the center of the universe without maximizing my potential.

This mental exercise almost breaks when I consider the possibility of meeting someone. Moving presents the chance to adapt to new circumstances with fresh experiences, though I generally despise having to uproot to somewhere else when I’ve just grown comfortable in my current environment. I’m also terrified of blindly committing to another human being with no guarantee of it ever being reciprocated. I’d always mull what could’ve been at the slightest disappointment, torturing myself for potentially trusting the wrong person. Dosed with anxiety, I crept out the garage and wiped mist from the windshield. My gym session proved better than expected and I scooped bagels and pound cake for abuela, tía and Ron on the ride back. As I finished the last of my protein shake, I spotted a tall woman with short hair and a thick folder under her arm waiting on the stoop.

“Hi there,” she said, shifting in her tunic. “I got here early and it didn’t look like anyone was awake. I told Silvia I’d be coming by Sunday morning. Is she your wife?”

I shook my head and paused. It took me a moment to realize she was from the funeral parlor, but her stoicism and black sedan made an introduction redundant. My aunt also mentioned a representative would swing by the house, so I invited her inside and motioned to the dining room table.

“Can I get you anything?” I said. “Coffee? Water?”

“I’m fine,” she moved rigidly towards the now-bare surface. “Thank you, though.”

I took the chair across from her and I tossed my gym towel aside. The woman placed a set of perforated documents perpendicular to the table and stretched her fingernails just over the edge. She cleared her throat and I gazed at the golden locket around her neck.

“Is your grandma around?” the woman asked. “We need her to review the documents.”

“She’s still asleep,” I replied. “She’d also not well and doesn’t speak English very well. Can’t I do it for her?”

“I’m afraid not. She’s listed as the primary contact, so it has to be her.”

I didn’t hide my irritation and braced myself for having to wake up my grandma, who’d already began the process of rolling out of bed. Abuela required no explanation given she’d seen the car through the blinds. Her feet hung above the floor and she slid down the side of the mattress. I tried supporting her arm like I had the previous evening, but she refused. I insisted and she gave in because of the pain. Breathing through her nose, she grimaced while shuffling towards the table.

“Hello,” abuela said in a polite, heavy accent. “Good morning and thank you for coming.”

My grandma eased into the seat beside me and the woman explained each document one-by-one; I started translating, so abuela would understand what she was signing, but I soon stopped. Formalities didn’t matter. She’d lost her only sister and no one could do anything to save her. Words like “deceased” and “cremation” naturally made me wonder when and who’d be doing this on my behalf, but abuela’s feeble hand halted my egocentric tendencies. I’d never witnessed such a melancholic blend of anger and acceptance. I brushed my grandma’s back and whispered in her ear. We finished after about ten minutes and the woman stood, offering her condolences and sliding her contact information. I nodded and she excused herself, holding my grandma as the door shut in front of us.

Te quiero mucho, abuelita,” I said.

Si, I know” she replied softly. “Yo tambien.”

We sat in silence until my aunt emerged from her bedroom; I repeated what happened, mumbling that she’d receive the death certificate in ten business days, so abuela wouldn’t hear. My mom called and we put her on speaker. In santería, souls reincarnate until achieving enlightenment where they then serve as spiritual guides. The three of them discussed a ritual-based ceremony for later that week and I felt ashamed. I could’ve objectively stayed indefinitely, supporting my aunt and grandma, but I needed to head to the airport in a few hours. It frustrated me that I didn’t know how else to help. I saw my phone light up from my Coachella girlfriend, and I stepped outside, leaving them to continue the conversation about madrina.

“Hi there,” I walked on the partly cloudy sidewalk. “It’s funny you called because I was just thinking about you.”

My comment wasn’t exactly true, but I certainly welcomed hearing from an ex-cheerleader with a Mustang.

“Oh yeah?” Sabrina said in her endearing drawl. “What were you thinking? Nothing too perverted, I hope. Actually, don’t tell me. Because knowing you that’s probably not possible.”

I reached up and ran my fingers through the neighbor’s basketball net, picturing her in my arms.

“You’re right,” I laughed. “I’m actually in Miami, if you can believe it.”

“Get out!” she responded. “I’ve always wanted to go there. I can’t believe you went without me!”

For as much as I wanted to tell her, I didn’t see the point in upsetting her mood. I told Sabrina about the rental car and my aunt’s black beans, omitting the rest of the story. She worked the morning shift at a department store on Sundays and was driving to meet friends.

“So, are you going to come visit?” she asked. “My friends really want to meet you.”

“Maybe,” I replied. “I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Okay, mister,” she said. “But you better not be tanner than me now.”

I hung up and returned inside, finding my aunt heating up rice for abuela in the kitchen. I climbed into the high chair and listened to them talk about my cousins. Beyond helping with admissions essays and resumes, I never did much as the oldest grandchild. To be honest, they probably thought I some selfish bastard who only remembered their birthdays because I’d set a calendar reminder. I waited until the last possible minute before leaving for my flight, unsuccessfully alleviating my guilt.

“Thank you for coming,” my aunt threw her arms around me. “Let us know when you get back okay.”

I reciprocated and kissed my grandma’s forehead, jumping into the driver’s seat without opening the door. I nearly spun out on the bridge and stopped at a gas station to avoid the outrageous rental company penalty for premium gas. After inching behind a highway accident and making several wrong turns, I dropped the car off just forty minutes before departure. I ran to the lengthy security check, lugging my exhausted thighs from the morning’s intense session of squats. Desperate to cut the line, I made eye contact with a large woman in a floppy hat and barreled towards the front.

“Hi,” I said calmly, mildly out of breath. “I’ve never done this before, but would you please mind letting me go in front of you?”

She ignored me and shifted forward. A part of me wanted to beg, but none of them would feel sorry for me. I knew missing my flight was irrelevant based on the weekend’s events, but I just wanted to be back in my apartment. I could distract myself with writing or work or adding another round of cardio. The hundreds of messages I received in a group chat from my friend’s debaucherous wedding certainly didn’t help. I momentarily reconsidered cutting in front, but I didn’t want to give them another reason to dislike me.

“Excuse me, sir,” I approached the security officer on the side. “My flight is about to leave, so would it be possible to please let me through?”

He glanced at my boarding pass, frowning because he technically had to oblige.

“Go ahead,” he grumbled. “But next time get here on time.”

I made it onto the aircraft three minutes before takeoff and took my middle seat. They’d predictably put me between two more middle-aged fellows with massive guts, but I didn’t care – three short hours and we’d touch down in New York. I rushed to the taxi stand and Rohan called me as we caught glimpse of the clear skyline.

“Yo dude,” I answered, a bit confused given we’d seen each other on Friday. “Sorry again for bailing early the other night. Did you end up having a decent weekend?”

But the typical abrasiveness I’d grown to appreciate in him had vanished.

“Hey man,” he said softly. “Do you have a minute?”

“Sure,” I pressed my nose against the window, sensing a similar tone in his voice to my aunt. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah…Not really…”

“What happened!?”

“I’m sorry for dropping this on you…” he choked up. “But uh… my dad died. He’d been sick for a while… it turned out he was in the hospital. We’re out in Jersey right now and I didn’t know who to call, but would you mind letting guys at our old job know… I mean don’t tell them… Just that I’ll be out for a while… do you mind?”

I slapped the glass in disbelief. Why was I the guy everyone called in a crisis; I hadn’t even worked at the place in almost two years. We glided towards the island and I began seeing little merit in returning.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Rohan,” I said. “And don’t worry about the guys. I’ll take care of it. My condolences, really. Please let me know if you need anything else.”

I messaged my former colleagues, but I didn’t respond to any of their questions about the situation. Fingering my apartment keys, I literally had no one at that moment. My family had suffered enough that weekend and I’d dumped on Jim plenty the previous Sunday. My coworkers didn’t know me well enough and I didn’t speak to anyone regularly enough to reach out for no reason. The driver almost reached the tollbooth separating Queens and Manhattan when I directed him back to LaGuardia. He looked at me blankly and spun the wheel as I dialed Sabrina’s number.

“Hey you…” she said, slightly tipsy. “You miss me already?”

I knew the answer wasn’t one hundred percent yes, but I had nowhere else to go.

“I do,” I replied. “And I know it’s last minute, but I’m finally coming to visit.”



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