Subject: A Reckoning
I’m on the train to New Jersey to see my parents, typing on my phone. I’m still so worked up I can barely sit still, but my rapidly bouncing leg (which the guy next to me keeps looking at) will have to stand in for my whole body.
“Ironic.” Webster’s (online) dictionary defines “ironic” as “relating to or constituting irony.” And, ironically, that’s the perfect way to describe the situation today at El Coffee!
You: Oh, how so, Bri?
Me: Well, Glenn, it was ironic that, while I was going on to you about my future as an uploaded, cloud-based, all-knowing, all-seeing internet god, my brother — the very brother I played with, looked after (my parents would give me a dollar), and joined in eighth grade to create Fort Lee Convixx, a family rap duo — was not 20 feet away with the woman on whom I’d pinned so many PRECIOUS MOTHERFUCKING DREAMS!
And they did it brazenly, in front of me, as though they didn’t know I was there, which was true. They held hands and sipped their hot drinks while exchanging intimate words and mirthful glances. And believe me, mirthful glances do not look good on a muscle-bound former English teacher whose default facial expression is like the disgusted sneer of a waiter when you ask if their clam chowder has real clams in it (I have seen this look my whole life because of a bivalve shellfish allergy, and also because my brother).
I stood up to say “What the hell!” but in the confusion, it came out as “What hell!” Thinking quickly, I covered by shouting “What hell!” a second time, to show I’d meant to say “What hell!” all along.
This got their attention. I looked at Nicole, who turned to Tommy with a “you handle it” face. Tommy approached, saying, guiltily, “Bro.”
I could feel the rage gathering in my chest, my teeth clenched, my fists balled. What was there to say? I did something I haven’t done in thirty years. I struck him. I think I struck him. Things happened quickly. I know I swung, connecting with the edge of his collar, but something shifted and suddenly Tommy was behind me, my punching (right) arm pinned behind my back and his forearm around my neck. He marched me toward the door and onto the sidewalk.
“Bro, I’m sorry,” he said, still holding me tight, his face somewhere near my shoulderblade. “We knew we couldn’t keep it a secret. This is almost a relief.”
“How could you do this?” I yelled. “You knew how I felt about Nicole.”
“But she didn’t feel the same way, dude. She never felt the same way. Do you remember how Cecil Vyce browbeat Lucy Honeychurch into accepting his proposal, even though her heart belonged to George Emerson?”
“What are you talking about?” I spat.
His hold on my neck tightened. “Jesus Christ, A Room With a View.”
“Do you mean ‘A View to a Kill’?”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“A Roger Moore James Bond. You’d love it, it’s terrible.” (I’ve written at least ten Bond-related quizzes for CAS.)
Again, Tommy tightened his hold. “I’m talking about E. M. fucking Forster, which is obviously pointless with you. Look, here’s the deal. Nikki and I have something I never thought I’d experience again after my divorce. She’s been a fucking balm to me.”
“You call her ’Nikki’?”
“In a way, this is your fault. If you weren’t such a pathetic lightweight and gotten so drunk that night at the Bass Clef, me and her never would have connected the way we did.”
“This is not cool! You can’t do this! Plus I know you stole my cowboy hat, too! I’m not paying back the money I took out of the house fund for it.”
“The house fund is for food and utilities and that debt is not off the books!”
“And The New York Times was making fun of the Raft in its deadpan, read-between-the-lines way!” I had more to say, but, in the heat of the moment, and the pressure on my windpipe, I could no longer breathe.
Tommy removed his arm from across my windpipe and dropped my punching hand. He pushed me away from him and I turned to face him. I didn’t know if he was going to hit me, but if that was the price for touching a nerve, I would be okay with it.
“You’ve lost it, buddy,” he said calmly. “Go home and lick your wounds.” He started back inside but I stopped him.
“You don’t get the last word, buddy,” I whispered. I searched for something in the zinger department, but came up empty, so I decided that just the suggestion of a last word yet to come was enough. I turned and walked away.
And then I realized: “Where is home?”
So now I’m on the train to New Jersey. Mom and Dad should take me in tonight. I’m kind of thinking that once I tell them what Tommy’s done, there’s a chance they’ll make him give me Nicole back. Although now that I type this, it seems like probably they won’t. Maybe I would learn something if I read “Room With A View.” Is it long? The name Lucy Honeychurch makes me think it’s long. And British.
Is it too much to ask for a girlfriend, Glenn? And maybe a bidding war over my screenplay? And some more Intensity Gel? (I ate the last one just now.)
It all seems so close, and yet just out of reach.
— The Bri