To me, it always seems like a crime that the worst things that have ever happened to you make such a good story. Like, in the moment, when the dump truck filled with steaming stink is cascading its contents on your head, you’re supposed to stand up straight and take those sensations with you into a separate world. In the separate world, you can see but not feel live events. That way, you’ll know how to spin it when you’re telling someone else what went down.
When Vic called me up one Saturday in late September to babysit her kid, I had these thoughts worrying me while I walked over. My girlfriend had just humiliated me in the biggest way imaginable; well, maybe in terms of our small circle of friends. For almost a year now—half of the two years we’d been together—she’d told me that she was taking classes in business management at a local college and working part-time at a paper store. She wanted to get out of retail eventually, or at least own a business, was her excuse. But she hadn’t been in school a single day this whole time, though the line about working part-time was true, because I would meet up with her at the tiny SoHo shop from time to time and take her out for some Italian food or a burger.
So, what was she doing with the rest of her hours, you might ask? Seeing another guy? Wasting time with an addiction? Well, no. She was just playing guitar. For hours. Every day before she went into the afternoon shift at the paper store. I mean, every night we met up, it was great to see her, but she was super bleary-eyed and absent-minded, like she’d worked a double shift. Throughout the past year of our relationship, she lying to me about the most innocent of activities. For no reason. I mean, I’m the kind of guy who can forgive a lot in another person and when you add romantic-type feelings to this instinct of mine, I’m like a kudzu vine. In this instance, my forgiveness was not desired.
The humiliating thing about it was how quickly it ended: One night, she called me over to her apartment and handed me some of my things and, in the most surreal conversation I’d ever had, she told me that her secret album had been signed and she was going on tour to promote it and she was sorry about how weird this all was. So, yeah, that was why I wasn’t sure how to tell my friends why my girlfriend wasn’t coming around anymore. Even weeks later, I’m still stunned.
Vic lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment in Cobble Hill and a decent walk from my dingy shared apartment in South Slope. Bikers zipped down the hill as I walked next to a long black warehouse with some type of boutique studios housed inside. The subway rattled and screeched overhead several times as I walked down this stretch. A construction site had a white tarp attached to its chain-linked fence announcing some kind of grand opening. Was Brooklyn incapable of resisting change? I never have gotten a handle on this borough’s ever-changing mind.
Immediately after I reached Court Street: Coffee shops, bistros, stores selling hand-crafted merchandise for those considering themselves in need of such things, I supposed. When I walked into Vic’s apartment, I surprised to find her calmly standing at the kitchen counter talking to her two-year-old, Benny, as he ate his noodles. She seemed so composed, her sprayed and slicked back, black pants and jacket, shoes on.
“You look nice.”
Vic pressed her lips together and glanced at Benny before she turned to me and said, “I’ve got a big meeting with the lawyers today. It was the only day he could ‘make it.’” Vic raised her fingers in air quotes and wiggled them as she said those last two words.
“Break a leg.”
Vic laughed. “Maybe I’ll get lucky and the building will burn down.” She inhaled and quickly breathed out.
“Go with your gut, Vic. You’ll be great. And when you get back, I’ll have some wine waiting and we can commiz.”
After Vic left, I put Benny in the living room with his toys while I cleaned up the kitchen. I had just put the last dish in the drying rack when the boy came into the kitchen sobbing.
“My soldier is dead,” he said in between sobs. He held up an action figure made so cheaply that its head had fallen off. I looked around the apartment. How bad were things that poor Vic had bought a toy with a head that a dumb two-year-old could decapitate like it was nothing? There had to be a dozen toy shops in the neighborhood with better toys. I thought, I’ll be the good babysitter who the kid adores because, in secret, the babysitter is plying the kid with treats and gifts. I wouldn’t mind getting back into Vic’s good graces, if I’m to be completely honest. I feel kind of responsible for how things went to shit with her husband. Though, as they say, it takes two to tango, if you get my meaning.
“We will just have to get you a new toy,” I told Benny. “Come on.” I grabbed the sponge from the sink and wiped the tears off his face.
Benny frowned for a moment while submitting to the sponge and seemed to consider the proposed change of plans before he let out a cheer and jumped up and down.
It was that easy to keep a kid’s spirits up? But who cared, I thought, and I hustled him out the door and grabbed the stroller.
End of Part One.
Please tune in on Monday, October 21, for the second part of this story.
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