Under the Eyes of Michael Jordan – Jillian Luft

The first time I thought about leaping out of a moving vehicle was that night after Chinese food with your family, squeezed between you and your brother in your cousin’s pick-up, riding bitch while we cruised the backroads, high beams on so we wouldn’t collide with tree bark. We’d consumed a lethal amount of Scorpion Bowls. All that booze, hot on our breath, and nothing important on our minds. Everything felt wrong. Like I couldn’t trust myself. Like even if I did, it wouldn’t matter because this was my fate. The darkest path. A straight shot to nowhere safe. I could finally see clearly while fucked-up like this. I would have to die here in Gorham, New Hampshire because you and I would never be free. 

When we’d discussed visiting your family, I’d envisioned something different. Not necessarily wholesome but, at least, familiar. My family were proud ambassadors of dysfunction. I could handle messy. But for someone so forthright and transparent, you hadn’t fully explained your situation. To be fair, I hadn’t considered what things would be like outside of motel rooms, vinyl booths in empty diners, rented apartments with no trace of the future or the past. I hadn’t really questioned where you came from, who raised you, what sort of burdens you carried that weren’t of the immediate sort having to do with the wife and kids and separation. I thought I could intuit them, fill in the gaps with what you doled out in moments of moderate inebriation. Like how you’d told me a dark family secret while we downed well drinks at TGI Friday’s. I thought it alone justified the spectrum of pain that plagued you. At the time, I was honored. To have asked for more would’ve been greedy. That night was an apex of intimacy I’ve rarely reached since.  

We’re going to visit his family. In New England, I boasted to my best friend. Until then, I’d barely left the state. As a kid, I’d mostly spent summers sweating in long lines at Disney World or crashing the beachside resort that employed my aunt in Fort Lauderdale. I’d convinced myself that worldliness was a matter of perspective. That I wasn’t sheltered because I hadn’t strapped on a backpack and partied it up with privileged expats in some ancient city. But sometimes I tread the well-worn paths of my imagination for far too long. The same old streets paved with pop-culture references, rudimentary gleanings from existential philosophers, Zen koans, and carefully constructed daydreams in which I impressed some dark soul with my capacity for traversing this brutal world with an open heart. This trip was more than a relationship benchmark. It marked yet another occasion for you to help me unzip my bloated psyche. So my inner life could breathe for a bit. So I could let the rest of the world in.


At TJ Maxx, we bought fall clothes for the trip. Denim jackets and long-sleeved tees. We’d also planned a romantic weekend in Boston after New Hampshire, so I loaded up on neon thongs and black lace anything. When you weren’t cupping my ass in the lingerie aisle, you were cupping your chin, trying to conceal the abrasion that had recently formed there. Flesh eroded raw, oozing and tender, from all the times your goatee had rubbed vigorously against my pussy. We laughed about how we would explain this blemish to your folks but no one asked or even looked twice. The day before our flight, we caught a late showing of Cabin Fever. Horny couples shacked up in the woods, screwing their brains out, blissfully unaware that they were infected with a flesh-eating virus, that their bodies would inevitably eat themselves, that they were diseased. 

Sometimes I wondered if we wanted people to know how consumed we were by our lust. 

Sometimes I wondered if this was a defense mechanism.


Flying out of Orlando, we caught bad air. Eyes like a panicked toddler, you chugged down baby bottles of Jack Daniels, some sort of sleeping pill in your unsteady palm. You’d had a fear of flying since you were a child. I tried to use my voice like a sedative as we jostled and plummeted. But you were too terrified to listen. I’ll be me again once I sleep, I promise. You absently patted the hand that was trying to comfort you. I don’t remember what I did to bide the time while you willed yourself comatose, seat fully reclined. I only remember the image of your face collapsing against the window. Black clouds upon black clouds and everything shaking below my feet.

Your brother picked us up from Logan Airport. The new John Mayer played softly on the stereo. His faux falsetto and acoustic strumming acted as a social lubricant. It relaxed me. We’d listened to this album the first time you took me on a WalMart office supplies run. You’d asked me then if I liked “Your Body Is a Wonderland” and it was one of the few times I admitted I kinda did.

He asked us about our flight. We didn’t mention how you were zonked before takeoff. Instead, you humored him with pleasant chit-chat about the weather, Florida living, your job. Your brother’s younger girlfriend, albeit not by much, chimed in from the front seat with peals of nervous laughter. Her name was Trish. In the back, I clung to you, nestled deep into your armpit until the highway whoosh lulled me to sleep. 

Your brother’s house was steeped in nature’s humble and neutral shades (sand, oak, unbleached roadkill remains). Cozy and carpeted, like a ski bungalow. Or what I’d imagined a ski bungalow to be like. A few deer heads on the walls, a mammoth sectional the color of a fawn’s underbelly, a set of mallard bookends propping up an underwhelming selection of action and war DVDs. I clocked a Buffy the Vampire Slayer box set. Another familiar pop culture touchstone to calm the nerves, to welcome me with its familiarity. Not mine, belongs to my roommate, your brother scoffed. His roommate, a frail boy haunting the corner of the living room once or twice, no more than nineteen, raven-ponytailed and shy. I don’t think I ever learned his name. 

In your brother’s presence, I sat like a ragdoll. I uttered nothing beyond monosyllabic utterances of gratitude. When I wasn’t sipping Smuttynose beer, I folded my hands in my lap and watched the clock, hoping we’d soon retire to our rooms after hours on the road, praying the alcohol would take its toll on you when combined with those sleeping pills from the plane. I sunk deeper into the couch, into myself, as you both rattled on about the Patriots, Tom Brady and other dull topics. Your brother’s girlfriend tried her best to engage me, complimenting my clearance Guess? jeans and basic hoop earrings. I wanted to ask her about what she really thought of me, what she’d been told before they headed out to the airport that night, what words her brother had used to dismiss me, to infantilize me. Instead, I chirped, Oh these? On sale!, flicking my earlobes and patting my thighs like some demented toy.

Your brother decided it was time for us to crash. He had work early in the morning. As we headed downstairs to your nephew’s bedroom, a swarm of anxious thoughts buzzed through my blood, gluing themselves to the heat of my shame. I could not swat these epithets away as long as I stood beside you: homewrecker, mistress, concubine, hussy, slut, whore, courtesan, other woman. In your brother’s house, my body was perceived as a corruptor. Corrupted.  I was nubile meat rotting us both from the inside out. 

You locked the door behind us and discharged a long sigh of relief, a deep hum of commiseration. My laugh erupted like a whimper. Yours like a howl. I threw my arms around you and the swarm quieted, the light dimmed. You knew how it felt for me. I knew how it felt for you. You would protect me but wouldn’t ask me to change for the duration of this trip, wouldn’t encourage me to feign a level of sociability that felt unnatural or obscene. And I would sympathize and soothe because this couldn’t be easy. To return to your family for the first time without her. 

In your brother’s home, I imagined myself through his eyes only: a girl-woman character, naive and temporary. Fodder for family gossip.  So nice, you’d almost feel sorry for her if it wasn’t her choice to shack up with a ticking time bomb. I wanted to see myself through your’s instead: A free spirit, all heart and breeze. You reminded me it was only a few days and then we’d be alone in Boston. You said your brother was difficult, but everyone else would love me as much as you did. No one would be able to deny that I was warm and kind-hearted, whip-smart and non-judgmental. I was your Groovy forever and ever. I said I hoped they’d understand that this wasn’t a fling. Or just for fun. That this was serious. Dead serious, you said. You kissed my forehead and gripped my thighs tighter between your knees. I was most assured when I felt like my body could become tangled with yours for good. Still, I woke up throughout the night, imagining burly shadows prowling under a bulging moon. Peering in through the windows and hexing us. I couldn’t shop shivering no matter how much my skin blanketed yours.

The next morning, we drove out to a wooded lake before heading to the county fair in Fryeburg, Maine with a cousin of yours. New Hampshire wilderness smelled sharp and elemental. Like cold earth and embers. We walked the lake’s perimeter while fretting about my late period. You said we’d pick up a test on the way back from the fair. I said we could wait a bit longer. You said okay, but I could tell you were impatient. It was hard to tell which outcome you hoped for. I couldn’t think about a baby in New Hampshire. I could only think about the maple leaves like tender flames licking my feet. Whatever the test would show, I’d wait until Florida to think about it. I could only imagine our baby in Florida. Nowhere else. 

For now, my sights were set on the fair. A romantic montage of feeding each other sticky fried sweets, flinging our bodies from great heights aboard precarious thrill rides. The redolent smell of corn dog grease and horse manure in the air as we ran through the carnival and fucked in the funhouse while some stoned hesher looked on and muttered, Damn. 

But the montage quickly dissolved into a still frame of disappointment. When arriving, we headed straight to the horse track, unfolding some lawn chairs in front of the fence for a clear view of your haphazard bets. Your uncle smoked cigars and your doltish cousin hocked loogies near my platform boots that were completely inappropriate for this terrain. No one spoke to me. You boys cracked beers, cracked jokes. You rattled on about The Patriots, Tom Brady and other dull topics. I stared at the horses running round and round, getting nowhere fast. I empathized with their plight.

For hours, I slouched against the track fence, peeled the label off my Nantucket Nectars, and thought about how you were special, sure, but still capable of burying your sensitivities to suit the company you were in. In other words, you were an average man in the ways that mattered. In all the ways that were disappointing.  I sulked but you didn’t notice. While the horses continued their loop of suffering, I shot you daggers, freshly sharpened. Looks that said, This isn’t what you promised. Looks that pouted, Show me a good time. We deserve a good time. Looks that pleaded, Make an excuse now so I can at least see the midway. 

Your eyes were gooey with supplication. They said, I’m on your side. I want out just as badly as you do. Believe me. Instead of feeling heartened by this, I felt unsettled.  It was clear your family cowed you. In your hometown, you were spineless and compliant. You did not take charge. You did not rally and entice with a Brothers, let’s go have some real fun. You acquiesced, chain-smoked. Hunched over, dour and reticent. From this vantage, you looked like a stranger I’d try to avoid.

And then I shot you one last look. An expression beneath words. Naked desperation bordering on ferocity. Like my pout bloomed fur and my eyes grew fangs ready to rip my own heart apart. From the beginning, you’d seen the wild in me like no one else had, how I was prone to surrendering to whatever felt the most alive in any given moment. That I valued the romantic above all else but you didn’t know how it’d become a way to stave off the sadness. A way to transform and transcend all that had burdened me for so long. You knew how my grief had changed me. But now I wanted to change back. To become who I was before my mother’s death. To revert to a carefree and vibrant life that’d been promised in the movies and all those videos on MTV. If I could rid you of your darkness, there was the chance you could rid me of mine. Symbiosis, fate, destiny and all that.

You saw all of this now in bleak relief. I knew you wanted to be saved just as much as I did, if not more. You wanted to disrupt familial patterns both here and at home. You wanted to construct meaning outside of everything this world prescribed. You stubbed out your cigarette and pulled me out of my chair, out of my funk, with a “Let’s go, Groovy.” You didn’t explain where we were going, just told your family that we were. Your uncle and cousin barely nodded, their mugs slackjawed with dumb hope in their horses. 

Then it was the two of us again. Achieving montage status. Canoodling in the folk art barn, fondling in the company of livestock. Bells ringing out for game winners in the distance while we swooned below the swings. Grunge rock scoring every deep-throated kiss.

 Leaving the chicken coop, we ran into your brother’s ex-wife, Lacy. What a small world it was for not even being your small town. I registered her discomfort when you introduced me as your new girlfriend. The strain in the teeth, the way her eyes kept away from mine. The way her handshake fell apart before it began. I’m sure I was a spectacle. I looked like a high school senior, waifish and soft-spoken. I blushed often out of deference like I’d been taught as a child. I wish she could detect my fortitude, the resilience others remarked upon once they really knew me. For once, the sweetness that I could never quite shake couldn’t be seen. 

You asked after your mother. She lived in a mobile home on Lacy’s property. Lacy told you your mom was getting on fine and that her new boyfriend, Troy, was staying with her, too. I anticipated meeting your mother that evening. I heard her on speakerphone sometimes in your truck. She sounded warm and decent. Maternal and normal. Your brother’s ex-wife asked after him but I could tell it was just a courtesy by the way she stomped the dirt with her hiking boot, the way she coiled her purse strap around her ring finger like a serpent.

We began an awkward goodbye, both parties stuttering about how they were famished and should get going, how it was impossible to resist those smells of everything that was bad for us hahaha, when a redheaded boy darted from behind the petting zoo shed and leapt into your arms. He had bifocals like I’d worn as a kid. A deep flush to his complexion, youthful but nervous. Uncle! Uncle!, he squealed while you lifted him on top of your shoulders. This was your nephew. 

Lacy could not bring herself to interrupt this reunion. A fissure of a smile cracked her terracotta pout. He missed you, she admitted. Yeah!, your nephew bellowed from his perch. You spun him around in the air up there until he was dizzy with delight. What a remarkable thing to witness, this seven year old disrupting the thick bullshit of pointless adult tensions. He did not inquire about who I was. He accepted my standing beside you, waved a hello from up high. He was precocious and nerdy. Soft-hearted but not soft-minded. He chatted about dinosaurs and 1st grade and computer software, his wide eyes expanding like his universe behind those glasses, while he spoke into the top of your head. He boasted about first prize in a regional robotics contest.  He changed everything. At least, for a moment. 

It was not long before Lacy’s mouth returned to earthenware. She managed to slip out a C’mon, monkey. Time for us to go. You’ll see your uncle in a few days at Peking Sunset. You can share the pupu platter like you used to. There was a slight aww from your nephew and then he was down on the ground again, hugging your knees until Lacy pried him away with a nervous smile. We called out our see you laters to their backs until we lost sight of them.

I needed a drink after that unexpected encounter, so you bought us king-sized beers in plastic cups and a funnel cake to share. We downed the beers quickly. We picked at the funnel cake. Before I’d met you, I wasn’t a big drinker. And it’s not that I became one with you. But I started to understand its purpose. How it could help you frame your life differently. How it could contain it in a way where all the bad was a fuzzy backdrop to all sharply focused good. You could reshape perspective by simply sitting and sipping and talking and feeling and loving and living. A shift in perspective was a shift in me. In you. In the whole goddamn world. Drinking could be near cinematic.

When we returned to your cousin and uncle, the races were over. Neither had won a dime. In fact, both were in the hole. You hadn’t bet on anything. You had enough sense. Or enough to lose already. In silence, we carried the lawn chairs back to the parking lot. I sobered up and resented that you hadn’t offered to carry mine. 

After the fair, your cousin dropped us off at a strip mall bar just outside of the town limits so we could meet up with your mother and her boyfriend, Troy. Your brother, too. The interior resembled a camping lodge for frat boys, crammed full of backwards caps and Red Sox memorabilia. You led me through the fray until we found your family gathered around the pool table. 

I saw your mother first. She was not the mainstream mother I’d imagined. No Supercuts bob or thick, pastel-rimmed glasses kept around the neck for reading Dean Koontz or the Applebee’s menu. No trite adages cross stitched into pillows or a Whitman’s Sampler during the evening news. This was a mother with closely cropped silver hair, reptilian eyes, rough hands, a potty mouth. A sneering bulldog of a woman in unflattering jeans and a black turtleneck. A smoker, a drinker of something brown and neat. The kind of woman I’d admire if she wasn’t so fucking scary, and if I wasn’t who I was in your life. But she seemed indifferent to my presence in general. She roughly shook my hand before angling for the 8 ball. She said, Watch out, sweetie, but didn’t look behind her before she aimed her cue stick.

Each time it wasn’t your turn to pocket another ball, you checked in on me. You rubbed the small of my back and murmured, Only two more days ‘til Boston. You lip-synced to whatever played on the jukebox (Eddie Money, the Boss, Steve Perry who you said everyone in your hometown referred to as the “Voice of God”). Sometimes you’d skip your shot just so we could people-watch and make up stories about the patrons. The sordid lives they led, the secrets they swallowed but inevitably vomited up in under the margarine light of their bathrooms. That was the thing about us. We weren’t deluded. We knew we were just like them. We took a certain pride in that. 


You eventually said Another round? and headed off to the bar before I could answer. Your mother racked up the balls while thrusting her pelvis at strangers on their way to the restroom. This got Troy laughing his repulsive, deep fryer laugh— an oily cackle turned dry cough. I was still unsure about him. Troy was at least a decade your mother’s junior, a vet like you, but also an ex-junkie with a concerning stomach ulcer. Your brother told me this. After a few draft beers and Kamikaze shots, he became a lively gossip. Friendly, even. He said he didn’t trust Troy. Thought he was after your mother’s social security benefits. Compared to Troy, I was coming out ahead.

My boys, my goddamn boys. Approaching last call, your mom teetered between you both, pawing at your necks for balance. And then she turned deep into your face, her wrinkles against your whiskers and cried. I’m so glad you’re home, my baby. It’s been too long. I looked on but lost myself in another Led Zeppelin tune. A watered-down whiskey gripped between my tiny hands until the lights came up. 

Your brother headed out for Trish’s because her ex had the kids, so your mom and Troy drove us back to your brother’s place. They blasted a Joe Cocker Live CD for the whole ride. No one spoke while Joe suggested that we leave our hats on. I thought about that erotic thriller my mom constantly talked about in hushed, excited tones when I was a kid. The one where Kim Basinger does a striptease to that song while Mickey Rourke grins like a sexy gator about to devour her in one slow and seductive bite. I’d finally seen it a few years before. What struck me most was how both Rourke and Basinger’s characters seemed to be infected with the world’s most pleasurable disease. They luxuriated in their sickness. I kept coming back to illness when I thought about love. How it made someone feel marked and fated for a transformation. One that could lead to full recovery or rapid disintegration. 

Your mom was driving drunk because Troy didn’t have his license. DUI. Just like you’d had once. Just like my dad. Your mom was reckless on the road. Running red lights, swerving every which way but dead. She couldn’t keep her hands off of Troy and he couldn’t keep his hands off of her. From the backseat, love looked hideous. Your mom dropped us off without turning down the music, without saying anything at all. She peeled out of the driveway, blew kisses to the dark.  

The next night we got to drinking at your brother’s house. White Russians and shooting the shit in the living room. Trish’s two small daughters slept in the back room. Your nephew was still at his mom’s. Us adults let loose. Your brother had come around to me. I could tell because he was always the first one to offer to fill up my drink or add more ice. “Lay Down Sally” was on the stereo. You and I danced in the living room like we would at home. Like we would when alone and sober. You twirled me around, spun me and swung me between your legs for fun. Our eyes never once tripped up, never penetrated anything other than each other’s faces. Your brother was in the kitchen, draining the rest of the Kahlua into our glasses. Trish watched us from the sectional. I could feel her eyes on me but the White Russians made me not care. 

You guys are so freaking cute!, she shout-slurred repeatedly before turning toward the kitchen, toward your brother. Hon, look at how happy they are. They’re a real couple. That’s real love between them right there. See? Hon, you gotta come see this. It’s so cute I can’t stand it.

We’d been told this before. By the cashier at the Super Target, by Karen at work, the server at that one sports bar. We loved each other so much it was disgusting. But to have Trish affirm this made me feel safe again. Vindicated. What we had was precious and rare. Envied, even. We were right to continue this way.   

What the hell are you yapping about? Your brother returned, glasses clinking, drinks sloshing.

We continued dancing. A wobbly waltz interrupted by some corny knee slapping. We harmonized along to the song, belting it out when Clapton pleaded for Sally to lay down her worries and never leave like we were making good on a promise. 

How come you’re never like this with me? Trish crossed her arms, pursed her lips. Refused to take her White Russian. Made it worse. You never dance. Never look at me like he’s looking at her. Goddamn. I mean look at that.

Our steps slowed. We kept our eyes on each other, wary of our surroundings, trusting only what was in front of us. Trish and your brother argued often. Maybe if we stayed still, we’d become less of a focal point. Maybe they’d forget we were there altogether. Or we could sit down, change the subject, make a joke about how we certainly weren’t perfect, we had our own issues hahaha, but instead we kept on gazing and holding and exuding a blasphemous amount of unfakeable chemistry while Clapton sang about his girl “pretending to understand.” 

Your brother fumed. I could hear him even though my back was turned. I pictured a bull snorting. I pictured danger, red like his hair. Then there was a throat-clearing and a fuck this shit. Couch sounds, ominous creaks and bouncing coils. We knew Trish and your brother had taken their tension to a second location. We knew we were alone.

We stood frozen in front of the dark TV while Slowhand noodled on, clasping hands. And then we heard the crying of glass. Plain old crying, too. You turned down the stereo and then there was screaming and more crying and Bitch, bitch you’re a fucking bitch. Was it plates or our empty White Russian glasses striking walls? Cabinets? Why was I focused on discovering what dinnerware was being hurled against what while a woman wailed at the top of her lungs?  

You bent down, hands on my shoulders. You took charge like I was used to. You told me to go wake up Trish’s girls in the back room and bring them to your brother’s truck. You told me to grab my things because we weren’t coming back. You told me you loved me and you were sorry. 

I forgot my Toni and Guy hair thickening cream in the bathroom. I forgot to put on my jacket. Glass shattered. Animal violence from human mouths. I heard you in the middle of it all. But I did not look. I took the older girl by the hand and carried the other one. Their hair blew, soft and blonde, under the flood lights. It was so cold out there but the truck was open. We climbed in the back, huddled together and breathed hard. Because of the cold. Because of the fear.  I sat between them, letting them rest their downy heads on my shoulder. They stirred and asked where their mommy was. I said she was coming soon, don’t worry, go back to sleep, it’s okay. You came out briefly to tell me to stay in the truck and to not come in the house for any reason. 

I thought about my family. The night my dad punched a hole through the wall so he wouldn’t hurt anyone else. My mother flinging saucer plates into the backyard trees, an exercise her therapist assigned her.  I thought about how naive I’d been to think you were a fresh start. I thought about what might be beginning inside of me. But only briefly. 


I spied you then, a storming silhouette. Adrenaline in a parka. Trish was close behind, wringing her hands, the hood of her pastel puffer jacket pulled low over her face. You hopped in the driver’s seat, your brother’s keys in tow. You asked if I was okay. You asked if Trish was okay. She sniffed, nodded, then whimpered, That asshole. The engine turned over. The girls woke up and began to wail. Trish cried and cried. Between her sobs, she thanked you for intervening. You were the hero. But I knew that you knew the night would end like this. This wasn’t the first time you’d witnessed this kind of violence. You didn’t as much rush into action as enact what you’d already rehearsed. 

You dropped off Trish and the girls and escorted them into their apartment. I climbed into the front seat. It was warmer up there with you. You called your mom on the way to her place. I don’t remember how much you told her but it was enough for her to agree to let us stay.  I remember her opening the door, brusque and cranky. I remember there was no bed. She said to help ourselves to the couch cushions. Use them as a mattress, as pillows. I remember, above us, your wedding photo. The inside of a gaudy church, fake flowers, your rat tail, her ridiculous mane. Smiles that seemed genuine. I cast glances at it like I did the horror movie aisle that scarred my innocence at Blockbuster Video. Afraid if I looked too long, I’d discover something I could never unsee. Afraid that if it caught your eye, you’d discover something you’d missed.

I was about to break down, but you did first. You apologized for your brother and your whole family, how you got away from here and tried your best to become something different.  And how now, I could see what more we had in common. We were outcasts. Outliers. Alone but together. Only I understood you. And I felt the weight of that. You pulled me to you, my ribs against your chest, so close our tears intermingled. Our eyes were hot and raw. I was so close I could see the child in you. And I wasn’t ready to. While we tried to sleep, Troy holed up in the bathroom, hacking up his innards, a phlegm-flecked gag of incredible violence that made us shudder. Made us cry a bit more. This was a bad dream.

Dawn broke earlier than expected. We rubbed our dry eyes awake and smiled into each other’s rough and weary faces. Tomorrow we’d be in Boston and all this would be behind us. Your mom was in the kitchen, smoking. Troy was still asleep.

Oh good, you two are awake. C’mon in the kitchen. Coffee’s ready and I’ve got some of that danish you used to like. With the raisins. 

Thanks, Mom. Thanks for letting us stay here.

 No problem. And you’ll be back for the Pats game Thursday. We’re having wings. You want anything else?

We’ll be in Boston Thursday, remember? We leave in the morning. 

What’s there to see there? You’ve seen it all before. 

She hasn’t seen it, Mom. It’s our vacation. I promised us a vacation.

What’s seeing your family then? A chore?

You know that’s not how I feel.

I know, I know. But it’s been so long, you know. ____ never used to want you guys to visit. I thought things would change now.

Jesus, don’t say her name. I’ve never said it. Not yet. She just…I mean she’s standing right here…sorry. 

That’s okay. It’s really fine. I don’t care. 

I took my coffee outside, stared at the trees. I could hear everything but birdsong. I could hear you.

And what about her family?

Her family?

Yeah. Haven’t seen her call her folks or mention them once. What’s the deal with that?

They aren’t very close. It’s complicated.

Well, then maybe she should be more grateful here. Being surrounded by a close family and all.

She is, mom, she is. But this trip is also about us.

You shouldn’t be rushing into things. See women if you want. And I want you to be happy, I do, but you need time. And she’s young. Have fun but slow it down.

I know what I’m doing, Mom.

Ask your brother. It’s a lot of trouble. Jumping into things. We should invite him over for breakfast. Call your brother up.

Are you kidding?! He hit a woman last night. In front of her kids. Anyway, I have his truck so he can’t come here even if he wanted to. It took a lot in me not to fucking choke him right then and there.

Oh, c’mon. Call your brother and apologize.

Are you listening? I did nothing wrong. I got Trish and the girls out of there because your son was being a fucking asshole. 

Oh, Jesus. Calm down. You always make such a big deal about things.

Yep, you’re right. Smacking around someone you love is no big deal. Thanks for the danish, Mom, but we’re gonna get out of here. Take a breather. 

The porch screen door opened. You were there, lighting up a cigarette, taking me by the hand while your mother called after you. 

The porch screen door slammed shut but we still heard her sarcasm follow us out: Nice having you home, son.

We returned to your brother’s house and hid downstairs in your sweet nephew’s bedroom, praying no one would come looking for us. Beneath piling dinosaur sheets, we got naked and trembled and wept because crying was foreplay, or a way to make our misery matter. And the fucking, a way to transcend it. A Space Jam poster pasted above our heads, the only witness to our erotic melodrama. 

Under the eyes of Michael Jordan, we made love or something like it. You, on top with your cock’s shallow and tepid thrusts. Me, seeking one of your hard spaces to bump against until I came quickly and without ceremony. Our eyes never met. I stared over your left shoulder at MJ’s knowing grin. I wanted to apologize to him, to atone, to explain we were capable of so much more. This wasn’t like us. We were better than this. Much better. We were an erotic thriller, not this miserable tearjerker.

Michael was a behemoth of acceptance. He wasn’t one to judge. His placid eyes said it was bound to come to this at some point. Everyone had an off day or two. So, we pressed on. Pretending not to notice how it was all getting away from us. No matter how long we kept going. No way out but inside of each other.