George Frederic Handel Hotel
If you happen to be staying at the George Frederic Handel Hotel during your time in Dublin, and you’ve made the perilous decision to rent a car, spring for the GPS. While the hotel itself doesn’t have a parking lot, they will provide you with a coupon for the garage at Christchurch, which is just a quick 10 minute walk down the road. However, I advise you drive past the hotel before making your way to the parking structure in order to familiarize yourself with the location. Because, while proximity may be on your side, the George Frederic is located on a small side street called Fishamble which no Dublin local has apparently ever heard of. Ever. I mean no one. Don’t even bother asking. You’ll have better luck finding out how to locate the lost city of Brigadoon.
Once you manage to amble to Fishamble, however, the hotel itself is quite quaint. The front desk is manned by a staff of friendly eastern Europeans who, once you get an ear for the accent, are a limitless source of information regarding all of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities happening in town. As a bonus, they can also point you in the direction of every secret hideout that serves up a steaming bowl of authentic kapusniak and will remind you of this each and every time you pass by, whether you ask them to or not.
The room itself met all of our basic needs. It’s clean, well-kept and decently sized by EU standards. When I booked the reservation, I had requested two double beds; one for myself and one for Aldo, my cousin and travel companion. Upon entering the room, however, we were met with three twin beds, each roughly the width of a Snickers bar. Perhaps there was some confusion in the conversion from imperial to metric but, nonetheless, the extra bed is a great place to toss your baggage (both literal and emotional) and to conserve floor space. Because, trust me, you’re going to need it.
Which brings us to the bathroom. If you’ve packed any electrical appliances, the luck of the Irish may not be on your side as there is exactly one outlet in the entire room and it’s located inside the closet across from the bathroom door. For those of you wishing to blow-dry your hair, here’s a tip: bring an extension cord. However, if you lack the necessary luggage space, the hotel provided dryer will work with your outlet converter and the wire is just long enough to reach the bathroom doorway…as long as you remain on your knees. But, never fear, the vanity mirror sinks just low enough that it cuts off right at the eye line (for reference, I’m 5’8”). After wrangling with this personally, I’m now convinced this very predicament is what originally birthed leprechaun lore. It’s no legend. Just a myth perpetuated by a bunch of inebriated tourists who, in trying to zazz up their coifs a bit, forgot what they were doing, got jolted out of their skins by a squat pair of eyes staring back from the mirror and returned home with stories of enchanted imps and pots of gold.
If the front desk gives you a floor option, I suggest picking a third floor street-facing room. The windows are thick enough to keep out the March chill, but thin enough so as to keep you perpetually immersed in the comforting, muffled rumble from the downstairs pub intermittently punctuated by the sound of co-eds (all of them named after some flyover state capital) as they spill out onto the street. With each swing of the door Cheyenne and Topeka will invariably argue back-and-forth for twenty minutes over which one was “supposed to call the fucking Uberrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr;” their shrieks waging battle against the 586th version of “I’m Gonna Be” that some sauced karaoke hopeful convinced themself was an idea whose hilarity was only outdone by its originality. City dwellers will find the sidewalk commotion to be an endearing reminder of home while suburbanites can rest well knowing that, at the very least, the chronic cacophony works well to drown out the thunderous lager-fueled snores from Aldo in the adjacent bed.
The hotel’s greatest asset is easily its location. Situated just around the corner from the entryway to the historic and popular Temple Bar district, finding your way back is effortlessly accomplished in even the most gelatinous of stupors. And, should you find yourself peckish after three hours of lying face-down on your bed praying that the world will stop spinning, there is a Subway conveniently located on the corner adjacent to the hotel’s main entrance. No, it might not be the authentic cuisine you were looking for but it’s close and, what’s more, it’s the only thing open at 11:30pm on St. Patrick’s Day without a disturbing smellscape greeting you upon entry.
An additional plus to the George Frederic is its reliable wifi. Unlike most of these smaller hotels, the staff does not change the password every day. And so, every crossing of the threshold will have you reaching for your back pocket as your phone syncs up to the network and provides you with the reassuring vibration that signifies the receipt of emails, text messages or, if you’re like me, newly-minted matches on Bumble. Also, if you’re like me, you’re most probably returning from the aforementioned Subway, half-eaten sandwich in hand, to find both your bed and the mystery third bed completely ransacked while your roommate noisily inhales his mattress, recovering from what appears to have been a rather savage hookup who has since vanished. But, don’t fret. Instead, use the mixture of rage and jealously from this discovery to fuel your own search for some cross-Atlantic hanky-panky.
If you don’t find the damp residue of a stranger on your bed sheets to be particularly inviting, the windowsill provides just enough of a ledge on which to sit and admire the view while you furiously swipe right on every cute guy within a five-kilometer radius. And finally, after chatting for a couple of hours with Tyler, an adorable and seemingly charismatic American traveling with a university tourist group, you can decide to stop beating around the proverbial bush and make plans to meet up. Sure, he’s not the freckled, brogueish local you were hoping to bag. Sure, it’s 2:30 in the morning and you’re about to meet an unfamiliar individual in the pitch-black darkness of a city you barely know. And, sure, you should probably tell Aldo, the only person within a thousand-mile radius who’s even aware that you exist. But, screw it, if you can’t try your luck in Dublin on Irish Christmas then your balls are purely ornamental.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
When meeting a Bumble hookup in the early hours of the morning, standing in the middle of a city you don’t know, location is everything. Ideally, you should find a place that is somewhat symbolic and sprinkled with just a hint of irony. Convenience is also a major factor, especially when physical distance is impeding the sense of immediacy. Taking all of these matters into consideration, it is best to try and find a meeting point that is as close to the halfway mark between the two of your hotels, especially if your soon-to-be playmate is griping about how late it already is and how we “just need to make a decision already.” Normally, you wouldn’t put up with such puerile irritants but you’ve already lumbered back into your clothes and brushed the flecks of tuna sandwich out of your teeth, so this shit is going down.
In a perfect world, this place would also be fairly well lit and sufficiently visible to the public so as to allow yourselves an opportunity to evaluate each other while simultaneously diminishing the likelihood of being thrown into the back of an unmarked van and, subsequently, your life being turned into a Lifetime movie. But, dawn approaches and anyone still on the street is likely to be either homeless or passed out, so beggars can’t be choosers.
Now, it may take some persuasion to convince the other party that meeting in front of a church is not, somehow, the weirdest idea ever. It is, after all, exactly midway between yours and his hotel and the spires of the bell towers should be easy to spot even in the haze of twilight. But, once he agrees and you head out into the dewy chill, you can’t help but laugh at the inarguable humor in it all; two sinners conspiring to commit an abomination in front of the house of the Lord. It’s as if Colonel Sanders and Roy Rogers had decided to have a picnic in front of the headquarters for PETA. There’s no salvation on the menu tonight.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is an easy ten minute walk from the George Frederic Hotel and it provides just enough time for any semblance of excitement or arousal to bubble down into pure dread until it sits like acid in your stomach. You should know when you’ve arrived as your intestines will have knotted up so tightly, they’ll be unmistakable from the braided Celtic crosses that adorn the church’s façade. But, before nerves are able to send you running in the opposite direction, you stop in your tracks as a figure becomes visible. Just across the street, no more than two hundred feet away, a young man stands under gothic arches bathed in Kelly green light from ground level lanterns that make the house of holiness look like a gargantuan topiary. He’s tall. Incredibly tall. You wonder how someone could look so tall from this far away. Is he cute? Could be. Too hard to tell from here. And, just as you notice you’ve stopped breathing, your phone buzzes and knocks the wind back into you. Fumbling, you lean over and peer into the screen, cradling it in your hands so as to prevent the illumination from giving you away.
There are too many answers to this question. I mean, really, where are you? Geographically, you only have the wisp of an idea and, mentally, you don’t even want to think about the actual prospect of this undertaking because the possible consequences should be more than enough to send you running into the abbey screaming “Sanctuary!” But, this isn’t Paris, you’re not Quasimodo and, oh look, the young man has cocked his head in your direction. And, as if your feet and your brain have made a tacit agreement without your counsel, you’re suddenly on the other side of the street without even the tiniest recollection of having moved.
You’ll likely find it unbelievable that, with one word, he can make your knees buckle. He’s younger than you, sure, but in this mischievous glow, he looks to be about nineteen years old. His baby face and slender frame don’t quite match the deep and rounded voice that softly bellows from his throat as he pronounces your name in a way you’ve never heard before, a way that makes you question whether you’ve been pronouncing it correctly all these years. As he stands there swimming in a black pea coat, you pretend not to notice his shoulders relax as he scans your body from stem to stern and raises the corner of his upper lip to expose a flash of gorgeous white chompers.
Another bonus to choosing St. Patrick’s is the fact that it sits as an island at the intersection of four streets. So, the sidewalk that wraps around the structure provides the perfect rounded pathway on which to muddle through the introductory chitchat as you meander along the lengthy parapets of the hallowed fortress and discreetly size each other up. The cathedral takes so long to orbit, in fact, that by the time you’ve reached your starting position Tyler has managed to divulge that he’s the middle child of divorced parents, tells you all about his deep south-frat boy-tour group roommate, and reveals that he attends a university in New Jersey a mere 45 minute drive from where you live. But, before you’re able to pause long enough to let all of this knowledge sink in, he breaks the silence.
“Can I just try something?”
And, with that, he’ll land two perfectly soft, pink and symmetrical lips onto yours as you’re pressed gently but firmly against the wrought iron fence. You’re not quite sure how you managed to get lifted off of the ground but you know you’d have to be in order to reach his mouth. You’re not quite sure of anything, really. Your phone number, your name, your home address all seem to have been misplaced. All you know for certain is that no one has ever kissed you like this before and you’re suddenly afraid no one else will ever again.
One smirk. One trip around a cathedral. One kiss is all it took for him to quickly and efficiently Sally Rooney your giblets clean off.
“Glad we got that out of the way. You wanna come back to my room?”
It’s at this point that you should probably take a minute to feign indecisiveness because: A) You really have no idea where he’s taking you, B) You don’t want to seem desperate, and C) For God’s sake, Jesus is watching. But, when the Jeopardy clock has run out, you know you’re going with him because Aldo is busy sawing down trees back at your hotel and, while you may be a nature enthusiast, the sounds of lumber farming won’t quite set the mood you’re looking to create.
So, here is where you allow him to take your hand (yes, people still do that) and usher you off of the emerald isle you’ve been circling. Be sure to take note of street names and landmarks when crossing the River Liffey into a part of Dublin that you’ve yet to explore. But, even if you manage to get lost as you Hansel and Gretel your way through the inevitable morning walk of shame, St. Patrick will still be there to guide you.
Camden Deluxe Hotel
Your stay at the Camden Deluxe Hotel was a brief but illuminating one. Located in a fairly dodgy part of Dublin, the front door is always locked, requiring guests to be buzzed in by the desk agent where they then must sign the registry every time they return. Once you get past the lobby, which is no larger than a postage stamp, a narrow stairwell leads you into the upper corridors and through a sea of beige. Beige carpeting, beige walls, beige ceilings. Color scheme by Dockers™. The intention here is to draw your focus to the long line of doorways upon which are emblazoned bright gold stars. You see, the rooms are not numbered. They are, in fact, named after famous Irish actors and personalities of past and present. Wandering down the hall, you’re likely to spot some names you recognize and others you don’t. There’s the Liam Neeson Room, the Maureen O’Sullivan Room, the Adrian Dunbar Room, et al. The idea itself is almost charming. That is, until you’re rudely reminded of the caliber of traveler that stays here. As you face your room of destination, the Brenda Fricker Room, nostalgia washes over you and images of the bird woman from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York run through your brain. But the happiness is short lived once you notice that some petulant turd has scraped off certain letters, thus renaming the suite:
The B end a rick Room
Poor Brenda. And poor Rick, for that matter.
There’s no time for dwelling, however, as soon you’ll find yourself on the other side of the door, sitting pensively on a twin bed wrapped with sheets so flimsy and uncomfortable that the thread count must be somewhere in the negatives. Tyler eyes you from the corner as he kicks off his shoes and tosses his coat into a wall unit clearly purchased from the “As-Is” section of IKEA. He sits next to you and slowly runs his hand up your back, pulling off your winter beanie and working his fingers through your disheveled mane.
“I used to style my hair this way,” he breathes, resting your right ear in the crook of his thumb and index finger.
His gaze is unsettling. Icy gray eyes command your attention in a determined stare that completely unmakes you. At once you are nervous, lucid, nauseous, confused, guarded, weak, shaken, resolute, hungry and aroused. Until now, you never knew you could be all of those things at the same time. But there you are. And, there he is, slowly letting you fall into his hand as he lays your body out with a smooth flourish. Straddling your chest, he slowly undoes the buttons of his shirt, exposing a silver cross that dangles against a backdrop of smooth flesh so wholesome and pale you’re sure it must be pasteurized. Then it’s your turn. Button by button, he runs his fingers down the center of your chest and slides the panels apart, leaving you so exposed it’s not certain whether it was your shirt or your ribcage that was just torn open.
“OK, yea, I can definitely tell you used to be a swimmer.”
You don’t recall telling him you were a swimmer.
“I love your body.”
And, that’s where it begins. The systematic undoing of every emotional guard, firewall and booby trap that you’ve meticulously set after years of insecurity and over-analysis made way for failure after epic failure in your love life. Every lie, every text that went unreturned, every guy that used you for a couple of nights and then tossed you aside had stacked up like blocks in a game of Jenga until the top of the tower was so high it was no longer visible. But, as anyone who’s played the game knows, it only takes the removal of a few carefully chosen blocks to bring the entire structure tumbling down. And, little do you know the demolition man is already hard at work.
One block down.
Over the next couple hours, clothes, words and decency will become scarce as you come to feel more and more at home at this shoddy hotel, exploring a foreign body in a foreign land. The clinking radiator that had been a nuisance when you walked in will become your metronome, tapping out a rhythm as you sate and fellate while it simultaneously wags its finger at you in disapproval. However, you’ll be too caught up in the moment for that to even register. Somehow, you’ve convinced yourself that, by taking this risk, by spitting in the face of danger, you’re doing something completely unlike yourself and, thus, perhaps it’s not you at all. And, if it’s not you, then all bets are off and the rules no longer apply.
But fate knows no time zones and destiny never has to pay for oversized baggage. And, as you lay there, all skin and sweat and carbon dioxide, he gives you your lips back and takes you by surprise.
“Can I please see you when we get back home?”
Two blocks down.
He wants to see you. He’s asking to see you. This is not supposed to happen. Vacation hookups are supposed to be like hotel beds, used at night and left in the morning for someone else to take care of. What happens in Vegas, right? But you’ve never been that person, and you’ve never really liked Vegas and it doesn’t even matter because there’s a noise at the door and you’re suddenly on your feet frantically trying to pull your pants up while Tyler throws on his shirt and throws down instructions.
“You’re a friend from home, OK? We ran into each other at the bar and came here to shoot the shit and catch up.”
It’s here that you’ll want to smile and nod but don’t even bother thinking about trying to find a way out because, within minutes, you’re shaking the hand of Cash, an inordinately plowed 20 year-old from Kennesaw, Georgia who is offering you a swig from the bottle of Jameson he swiped from the pub. He buys Tyler’s introduction of you without even batting an eye and proceeds to regale you with the debauched tales of his day through an accent that would make Ouiser from Steel Magnolias feel like a Yankee. Not once does he seem to notice or question why his bed is freshly made and Tyler’s has been torn apart nor is he phased by the fact that you have a thick clump of hair matted to your forehead and that your belt remains unfastened. He just wants to know what pubs you’ve hit.
He listens to you intently as you answer his questions, all the while peeling every piece of clothing off of himself until he’s down to his underwear at which time he belly flops onto his comforter and begins to snore.
At this point, you’ll want to look at the clock because it’s nearly five AM and you’re supposed to check out and be on the road to Cork by eight. But, as you begin to gather your things, Tyler interjects.
“Why walk all the way back tonight? Just stay here and leave in the morning.”
“Yeah man, stay here,” says Cash, smacking his lips and immediately going back to devouring his pillow.
“Stay,” Tyler mouths silently, sliding back under the sheets but never taking his eyes off of you.
Three blocks down. You’re teetering.
And, so you stay. You settle back against his body and allow him to cradle you in his arms until you match his breathing and fall quickly away, waking only to the chirp of your phone as Aldo harangues you via text message a mere two hours later.
Not wanting to cause any further disturbance, you slink from the boy’s sleepy embrace and feel around for your jacket and hat, taking great care to avoid mirrors. Once you’ve collected yourself, or at least whatever semblance of yourself can be found as you wipe the morning film from your eyes, you begin to make for the door but not before something tugs at the cuff of your jeans.
You don’t want to turn around because you know, if you do, it’ll be the end of you.
“This is the part where you give me your number.”
You turn. Those eyes.
Beau Ridge Apartments – Unit 407
Most second dates tend to take place at a restaurant, bar or movie theatre. And, while they may eventually end up at one of the participant’s domiciles, they certainly don’t often begin there. Not unless this is 1955 and Jim-Bob is picking you up to go get a milkshake at the corner drug store. But, there are exceptions to every rule and, in this particular case, your date is a college boy who couldn’t be more excited about the fact that you have your own place. Really, all you had to do was mention it and he did the rest of the work.
He’s actually coming. Despite your rampant cynicism and belief that, within the week between your European union and the proposed domestic assembly he would likely lose interest, he has not. He wants to see you. So much so, in fact that, rather than share you with the world, he wants you all to himself. Alone.
Are you terrified yet? Of course not. Because you’re not paying attention. Because your defenses are down. Because you’ve spent the last few years going on dates only to wake up the following morning feeling completely ambivalent and not caring if you ever heard from that person again. Because boys did this to you. Because spending the majority of your twenties as a wide-eyed idealist allowed you to get habitually taken advantage of. Because repeatedly opening the same wound has formed a hardened tissue around your heart. Because you didn’t think you actually had the capacity to feel anything for anyone anymore. Because you feel something now.
All of this should be completely unnerving but you’re far too busy fluffing up pillows, washing your towels and windexing things that should never be windexed. When did you become your mother? You even scrubbed the shower. Why did you scrub the shower? Who the hell showers together on the second date? Calm your tits, Blanche Devereaux, you don’t even know if he’s staying.
He’s probably staying, though.
So, the night before, you sleep on a mattress pad and lay out fresh sheets in the morning to make it look like no one has ever slept there. Your cozy lived-in condo now resembles one of those eerily pristine model homes that strangers come to look at but never actually buy. In this case, though, what you’re selling is not a home. You’re selling an idea; the idea that you have your shit together. Never mind the fact that having your shit together is terrifying to a college guy. They want to see clothes on the floor. They want to see rumpled bedding. Disheveled implies complaisance. Stability is serious. And, boys don’t do serious. Not at 21. But, pay no mind to these suggestions. You just go and plug in more of those Glade Automatic Room Fresheners™.
When he arrives, Tyler is every bit as handsome and magnetic as you remember him. More so, even. Seeing him on your couch, though, summons a feeling you can’t quite capture. Something about this whole thing doesn’t seem real. He’s ethereal in a way. For those first few days after you met, you weren’t totally convinced that the whole interaction hadn’t been a drunken hallucination. That’s why, now, you keep finding excuses to brush up against him to remind yourself that he’s actually there.
“So, I was looking at your profile again today. Are you really 29?”
Uh oh. “Yeah. Why?”
“No, nothing. I just didn’t even realize. You don’t look it. But, it’s totally cool, I don’t have a problem with it.”
CHANGE. THE. SUBJECT. NOW.
He slides his hand over and slips one of his digits in between your index and middle finger, running it up and down and giving you the look that guys give. The look that has spawned a thousand Taylor Swift singles.
And, off you go. The next few hours are spent with the television on, but not watching very much of it. At some point you take a break to pour through your drawer of takeout menus, indecisiveness leading you to order every single appetizer from the local diner. And somewhere between the nachos and mozzarella sticks, you find yourself sitting with his head in your lap, watching him breathing big, satisfied breaths. How long you spend looking at him you’re not sure but, eventually, he looks up and meets your gaze with eyes that you would happily drown in.
“Bed time?” he smiles.
You nod. Lights out. Upstairs.
Being naked in front of another person has never been a comfortable experience for you. On the occasions when it does happen, you prefer to hide in the darkness. Everyone is equal in the darkness. But, in this situation, you leave the lights on. Not because it feels right to, but because it feels so incredibly wrong to miss out on a single glimpse of him. You barely notice him undress you because you’re far too busy unwrapping him like it’s Christmas morning. And, that’s the last thing you remember actively doing before you he pushes you onto your back and lowers his face to within an inch of yours, his hair brushing your forehead and breath warming your cheeks.
“You’re different tonight. You were so hesitant the night we met.”
“I just didn’t want to seem needy.”
He cranes his neck back and laughs at your headboard.
“There’s nothing needy about wanting to get fucked.”
It takes just about a minute for him to begin. At first he just leans back and scans every inch of you, but not to observe. It’s as if he’s working something out, feverishly searching for some clue; the key to a map. He runs the pads of his fingertips softly along your arm, up to your shoulder and down the side of your chest until he reaches the point where your abdomen meets your hips and a visible chill betrays you. His eyes widen. He’s found what he was looking for. And, from that point on, he spends the rest of the night taking you apart. You are Cavity Sam and this is Operation. All you can do is lie there as he moves with the precision of a skilled surgeon, systematically traveling from region to region, taking out your broken heart, wish bone and the butterflies in your stomach, purposely brushing the sides to set off your buzzer.
The last thing you can remember before you flatline is the overwhelmingly satisfying feeling of there being absolutely nothing left of you.
But what lurks after nightfall has nowhere to hide come the morning. So, as your eyelids part somewhere around the nine o’clock hour, you sneakily slip into the bathroom to fix your hair and brush your teeth, trying to maintain some illusion of effortless polish. There’s no going back to sleep once you’re back under the covers, not with this boy next to you. In any other case you’d already be formulating ways to get out of breakfast and, more importantly, ways to get this person out of your house. But this morning is not like the others. This morning you will spend hours studying his face. You will look at him longer than you looked at “Starry Night” when it came to the MoMA. You will get lost in a forest of long eyelashes and the sinew of tumescent lips. And, all the while, you’ll desperately search for what it is about this boy that makes him so different. What is it about him that makes you want more? What is it about him that makes you wish you never met him while, at the same time, has you questioning how on earth you ever got along before you did?
Your phone pings. It’s 11:30am.
Oh, good God, the cemetery. You promised your Mom you’d go to the cemetery with her today and this kid is still sleeping! By your calculations you’ve got no more than forty minutes before she’s on your doorstep.
Shit. Shit. Shitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitshiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.
You look at your phone, then at the boy. Back to the phone. Back to the boy. Phone. Boy. Phone. Boy. Furiously you begin to tap away at the screen, trying to bang out anything that would sound even remotely believable.
Ouch. You just turned down your own mother for the possibility of a morning quickie. There’s a sudden shift in the air as every Italian matron in your long ancestral line rolls over in their graves and reaches for a rolling pin. But, it’s too late. You’ve made your choice. And, how easy was that? How terribly, scarily easy? You’ll have plenty of time to feel guilty later, though. As for right now, turn back. Turn back to that sleeping boy. Turn back to Ireland. In his face you can almost hear it.
When I wake up, well I know I'm gonna be,
I'm gonna be the man who wakes up next to you…
But, just before you’re about to start walking 500 miles, he stirs. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, Tyler rolls over and reaches for his phone on the floor.
He bolts out from under the covers, nearly losing his footing in the process.
“Fuck, it’s so late,” he says, scrambling into his underwear and skidding into the bathroom. “I’m supposed to be at my Mom’s for early Easter brunch.”
“It’s Saturday, though.”
“Yea, but I have to be at my Dad’s tomorrow.”
There’s really nothing more to add here. So, you prop yourself up on your elbows and watch incredulously as he brushes his teeth, palms the sex out of his hair and finishes dressing. It all happens so quickly you’re not sure what to do or where to look. Mostly because he’s not looking at you. He’s looking everywhere but at you. At this moment, he is a toddler jumping from couch-to-couch and you are the floor. You are hot lava.
Clothes on and bag in hand he begins to work his way down the stairs and you quickly scuttle after him. You hit the landing as he begins to unlock and open your front door.
He pauses and shifts his head so that you’re in his peripheral, but that’s the most he’ll give you. “Hmm?”
“Can I see you again?”
“Oh…yeah. Definitely. Text me.”
And, he’s out the door.
Stepping to the glass, you witness him jumping into his driver’s seat and tossing his bag in the back of the car. As he backs out of the space in front of unit 407, his eyes swing toward the rear-view mirror but mistakenly land on you.
He flinches, gives a half-wave, and drives quietly out of sight.
There are about a million questions running through your head as you stand in the doorway. But of all the things not to know, of all the matters currently obscured, there is one thing you’ve never been more certain of: Tyler is never coming back.
Holy Cross Cemetery
Holy Cross Cemetery is one of those unpleasant places to visit, but not for the reasons you’d expect. While visiting the dead isn’t exactly the kind of weekend activity that puts a spring in your step, some cemeteries can be quite beautiful. At the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Hudson County, NY you can wander under lush butterscotch treetops and marvel at grand pewter monuments that mark the final resting places of literary legends and American royalty like Washington Irving, Elizabeth Arden and William Rockefeller. In Los Angeles, you can lay out a blanket at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and enjoy a screening of “The Shining” as you lie among the spirits and munch on Jiffy Pop. But, the Holy Cross Cemetery in northern New Jersey is, at its best, a car dealership. It’s the kind of place where it’s impossible to get to your loved one without passing by the sales office that sits just inside the entryway to the mausoleum. If you’re looking to feel incredibly bad about your Catholic upbringing, feel free to walk by their always-open door where you can surely catch a snippet of a purchasing pitch as the manager attempts to bilk some bereft, weepy-eyed widow out of money she probably doesn’t have.
“No, ma’am, unfortunately we don’t allow real flowers here. However, you’re in luck as we’ve extended our ‘Bereave It or Not’ sale and, for the low, low price of $350, we will affix an urn on your husband’s stone where, every three months will be placed a beautiful new bouquet of acrylic flora. This change-out service does, of course, come at the additional yearly fee of $250.”
Ok, maybe it doesn’t go quite like that, but it’s not far off. And, God does it make you cringe.
In the Grimm version of Godfather Death, the reaper appears to a mortal man and introduces himself, saying: “I am Death, who makes everyone equal.” Well, the Grimm brothers clearly never visited Newark because here you can maintain your earthly status post-departure, for a price, of course. Yes, much like some of our thriving metropolitan areas, here at Holy Cross you can wander past the low-rent district where cremains are kept neatly tucked into tiny wooden cubbies. But, turn a corner and you’ll instantly find yourself standing in the Beverly Hills of the afterlife, where the iron gates of the communities that once housed you can now keep the very same riff raff out of your five hundred thousand dollar family crypt. Quel grand luxe!
The irony, though, is lost on you today as you trudge through the hallways having just broken every speed limit twice-over in a mad dash to beat your mother here. Every bit of your energy is funneled into your legs in a desperate attempt to stay erect under an air so weighted it may as well be made of the very marble as the mammoth slabs that go sliding past. You’ve been here before. You know the way. You’ve come here at least a dozen or so times over the last couple years and stood in front of the same stone and grieved your soft griefs while your mother cried. But now, at least for the moment, you are alone. And, as you take your seat on the same side of the same bench and raise your eyes to your father’s headstone, your entire world caves in.
Today you will cry as you’ve never cried before. It does not come on gradually, but instantly, involuntarily, and violently at that. You will sob loudly for every sob you’ve ever quietly suppressed. Your body will heave and shake and turn in on itself like a doodle bug. You will mourn for the man who worked every day so that you could have a better life. You will mourn for the man who let you sit on his lap and drive the car into the garage each time he would come home. You will mourn for the man who retired one day and got cancer the next. You will mourn for the man who never sweat the small stuff, or even the big stuff, for that matter. You will mourn for the man who, sitting in a doctor’s office during the last weeks of his life, would turn to you and say “Don’t worry. When he comes in, he’s gonna make it sound a lot worse than it is.” You will mourn for a man who never once asked you to be anything other than what you are. You will mourn for a man you were ready to bail on just hours before for a boy who would turn and bail on you not minutes later.
You will mourn. You will mourn. You will mourn until, that is, an older gentleman drags his feet across the carpet of your emotional enclave and plants himself directly behind you, not to visit a friend or relative, but simply to disrupt your cathartic moment by standing in front of the statue of Mother Cabrini, mumbling a prayer under his breath. At first, you put up with it. You remain hunched over, biting your arm and trying to muffle your cries. But, it’s around the fifth bead of whatever rosary he’s reciting that anguish turns to aggression. Can’t this dude see that you’re just trying to have a single god damn private moment? Just one brief window where you can simply exist as the exposed nerve you are without worrying about who’s watching. Can no one interpret social cues? You’ve been shaken up. Your lid has been removed. And, much as you’d like to try, there’s no putting the top back on the bottle once it’s been popped. It has to empty. You have to empty. And, so you do.
“CAN YOU NOT SEE I’M HAVING A FUCKING MOMENT HERE?!”
And, off he scoots, much faster than he entered.
You’ve always been good at making people leave. It’s a sick gift, really, because it’s never the people you want to go. But, try as you might, you’ve never understood the why or the how. And, it doesn’t discriminate. Boys, friends, family members, the people you most expect to stick around; they all leave. No one is immune. No one is permanent. So, after hapless attempts at trying to get to the root of the issue, at some point you decided to fight fire with fire. You decided to be the one to leave first. So, you started keeping people at a distance. You started going on eight million first dates and zero seconds. You started to detach. Better to be hollow and sincere than emotional and soft. And, for a while, it worked.
But you can’t stay backed up forever. Try as you might to stuff rag after rag into the sink drain, the water’s just going to bubble up into your bathtub and, if not there, the toilet and, if not there, the walls until the damage gets harder and harder to fix. In your case, though, sadness churned into anger. Anger at the person who sits next to you on the bus when you just wanted to be alone. Anger at the idiot who stops the elevator door from closing. Anger at all of these people who don’t deserve your anger because, really, you’re just angry at yourself. For missing your Dad’s last good years while you were “having a life” in Florida. For making the same mistake again and again. For all the times you said you were going to learn and you didn’t. For foolishly letting a Trojan horse into your own house and acting surprised when history repeated itself. For making this all about you. For everything that Stephen Sondheim wrote about curses and reverses. Just…no more.
Right now, though, in this moment you’re just going to feel. Feel without cutting it short. Allow yourself to. Give yourself permission. Sanction your own humanity. Even when Mom arrives and, surprisingly, doesn’t cry this time but, instead, places her hand on your shoulder and sits silently.
And, when you find the strength to stand up, walk to the bathroom. Splash some cold water on your face. Look at yourself in the mirror. Really look. Observe the redness in your eyes. Watch the droplets of water as they cascade down your cheek, off your chin and into the bowl, one-by-one. Adjust your collar to hide the giant hickey on your neck. Laugh about it. Or, at least smile.
Let him go.
Let the fury go.
No more, please.