Elliot doesn’t say much for a few loaded seconds, just lets my words reverberate around us. Then he gives me a simple “Ah.”
I clear my throat awkwardly. “So, tell me what you’ve been doing?”
He’s interrupted only briefly when the waiter returns with our wine, displaying the label for Elliot, opening it tableside, and offering a taste. There are ways in which Elliot’s confidence throws me, and this is one. He grew up in the heart of California wine country, so he must be comfortable with this, but I’ve never seen him taste wine at the table. We were so young…
“It’s great,” he tells the waiter, then turns back to me while he pours, clearly dismissing the man from his thoughts. “How far back should I go?”
“How about start with now?”
Elliot leans into his chair, thinking for a few moments before he seems to figure out where to begin. And then it all rolls out of him, easy and detailed. He tells me that his parents are still in Healdsburg (“We couldn’t pay Dad to retire.”); that Nick Jr. is the district attorney for Sonoma County (“The way he dresses is straight out of some bad crime show and I’d only say that in this safe space, but no one should wear sharkskin.”); Alex is in high school and an avid dancer (“I can’t even blame my gushing on brotherly pride, Mace. She’s really good.”); George – as I know – is married to Liz and living in San Francisco (“He’s a suit, in an office. I honestly can never really remember what his job title is.”); and Andreas is living in Santa Rosa, teaching fifth grade math, getting married later this year (“Of all of us to end up working with kids, he would have been the least likely, but turns out, he’s the best at it.”).
The whole time he updates me, all I can think is that I’m getting the cream, skimmed from the top. Beneath it is still so much. Volumes of tiny details I’ve missed.
The food comes, and it’s so good but I eat it without giving it any attention, because I can’t seem to get enough information, and neither can he. College years are outlined in the monochromatic ways of hindsight, graduate school horror stories are exchanged with the knowing laugh of someone who has also suffered and seen the other side. But we don’t talk about falling in love with someone else and where that leaves us now, and no matter how much it’s with us in every breath, and every word, we don’t talk about what happened the last time I saw him, eleven years ago.
monday, july 28
fourteen years ago
ur first summer with the cabin, my dad and I were there nearly every day, with only one trip home, late July, for a visit from his brother, Kennet.
Kennet had two daughters, and a wife, Britt, whose idea of affection was a cupped hand around my shoulder. So when I came to her, whispering in mild horror that I thought I’d started my period, she handled me with the anticipated emotional sterility: buying me a box of pads and a box of tampons and having her younger daughter, Karin, awkwardly explain the basic application process.
Dad was better, but not by a very wide margin. Once we returned to the cabin that weekend, he referred to Mom’s list, where, at position twenty-three, she had written:
When Macy starts her period, make sure she doesn’t have any questions about what is happening with her body. I know it’s awkward, meu amor, but she needs to know that she is amazing, and perfect, and if I were there I would tell her the story in the envelope marked 23.
Dad opened it, his cheeks pink. “When I —” He coughed, correcting, “Your mother first started her… ah…”
I grabbed the letter from his hands and jogged upstairs, to the comfort of my library.
I used to have the worst cramps, it began, and the sight of her handwriting made my breastbone ache.
They would hit me at the most unexpected times. Shopping with my friends, or at a birthday party. Midol helped, when I discovered it, but what helped the most was visualizing the pain evaporating from my stomach.
I would imagine it again and again, until the pain subsided.
I don’t know that it will work for you, or if you will need this, but if you do, imagine my voice, helping. You will be tempted to hate this thing that your body does, but it’s your body’s way of telling you everything is working, and that is a miracle.
But most of all, meu docinha, imagine how proud I am to share this with you. You’re growing up. Starting my period was the process that eventually let me get pregnant with you, when I was ready.
Treat your body carefully. Take care of it. Don’t let anyone abuse it, and don’t abuse it yourself. Every inch of your skin I made diligently; months I slaved over you. You are my masterpiece.
I miss you. I love you.
I blinked up, startled. At some point while I’d been reading, Elliot had materialized in the doorway, but he didn’t see my tears until I’d turned my face to him. His grin slowly melted away as he took one step, and then two, closer to me, kneeling on the floor beside where I sat on the futon.
His eyes searched mine. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I said, shifting in my seat as I folded the letter. He eyed it before looking back at me.
Nearly fifteen, and he was already too perceptive.
More and more it bothered me that our daily lives were these odd unknowns to each other. We gave updates whenever we met in here. Who we spent time with, what we were studying. We talked about who irritated us, who we admired. And, of course, we shared our favorite words. He knew my two closest friends’ names – Nikki and Danny – but not their faces. Although I’d seen their faces in the photograph in his room, I had the same limited information about Elliot’s friends at school. I knew Brandon was quiet and calm, and Christian was a criminal record waiting to be written. In here, we read, and we talked, and we learned about each other over time, but how could I tell him what was happening to me?
It wasn’t just that I got my period so much later than all my friends had, or even that Dad was struggling to relate to me, or that my mom was dead, or any of it. Or maybe it was all of it. I loved my dad more than anything, but he was so ill-equipped for some of this. Without a doubt, I knew he was downstairs, pacing, listening for the sound of my voice to know whether he had been right to let Elliot upstairs, or whether his instincts were all wrong.
“I’m okay,” I said, hoping I’d spoken loud enough for the words to reach downstairs. The last thing I wanted was both of them up here, worrying about me.
Frowning, Elliot took my face in his hands in a move that shocked me, and his eyes searched mine. “Please, tell me what’s wrong. Is it your dad? School?”
“I really don’t want to talk about it, Ell.” I pulled back a little, wiping my face. My fingers came away wet, explaining Elliot’s panic. I must have been really sobbing when he came in.
“We tell each other everything in here, remember?” Reluctantly he shifted back. “That’s the deal.”
“I don’t think you want to know this.”
He stared at me, unfazed. “I do want to know this.”
Tempted to call his bluff, I looked him dead in the eye and said, “I started my period.”
He blinked several times before straightening. Color spread from his neck to his cheekbones. “And you’re upset about it?”
“Not upset.” I bit my lip, thinking. “Relieved, mostly. And then I read a letter from my mom, and now I’m a little sad?”
He smiled. “That sounded an awful lot like a question.”
“It’s just that all your life you hear about periods.” Talking about this with Elliot was… actually, not that bad. “You wonder when it’s going to happen, what it will be like, if you’ll feel any different after. When your girlfriends get theirs, you’re like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ It’s like a little biological time bomb sitting inside you.”
He bit his lip, trying to stifle an uncomfortable laugh. “Until now?”
“Well, do you? Feel any different?”
I shook my head. “Not really. Not like I thought I would, anyway. It sort of feels like something is trying to gnaw its way out of my stomach. And I’m a little testy.”