In Providence: Falling in love on Smith Street

When I was in high school, I used to walk up Smith Street to my dad’s office. I’d start at LaSalle Academy and make my way past the houses, law offices, gas stations and plazas. I’d pass the North Providence town line and haul my backpack almost to the end of the street. I never had a problem with doing the walk, because even on a busy road, you’d catch glimpses of people’s lives as they walked past you or you stopped at a light and listened to the music coming out of their open car windows.

“I started walking last April when the weather warmed up, and I asked him if he wanted to join me. I live near the Walgreen’s and he lives closer to where the college is, so we would meet up near my place and go from there.”

They had dated briefly at the beginning of the year, but both their schedules were so tight, it was hard to ever make plans to see each other. They chose to interpret that as “the timing being off” and they let any chance of future dates go by the wayside.

“That would happen to me all the time. I kept saying, you know, that my work was my main priority — and it was, but I had, you know, convinced myself that I would meet someone who could fit into this crazy schedule I had, and now, looking back, I see that nobody was going to. There was nowhere to put anybody. My life from the time I woke up until I went to bed was work, work, work. I don’t know how I thought I was going to be able to start a relationship with all that going on around me.”

Like many young professionals, she found herself having to reorganize her entire life once going into the office was no longer an option. Not only was she now working from home, but drinks with coworkers after hours and going out on weekends to try and maintain some semblance of a personal life was out the window as well.

“I thought, ‘Let’s try walking.’ Everybody’s walking. I live in this nice area. Let me go for a walk.”

But she didn’t want to walk alone.

“I had met him through a friend, and conveniently, we lived near each other. I don’t know why, but I shot him a message one day, and I said, ‘I’m going for a walk. Would you like to join me?’ He said he would like that, and we started walking together every day after that.”

If you’re one of those people who started walking as the result of the pandemic, you might have noticed places you thought were familiar take on a new light. Driving by something and walking past it are two very different things. She was discovering that about her neighborhood, and about her walking partner as well.

“The thing is, you go on a few dates with someone, and you think you’ve got a sense of who they are. We were walking every day, and I’m learning all these interesting things about him. Why didn’t I hear any of that before? I would stop him and say ‘Why didn’t you tell me that before?’ and either he had told me and I wasn’t listening or I hadn’t shown enough of an interest in him to the point where he even wanted to tell me anything. He knew things weren’t going anywhere because I was so preoccupied. I was so mad at myself, because he turned out to be this great guy, and I had written him off.”

She found herself in the odd position of falling in love with someone she had already dismissed from her life. Luckily for her, he was enjoying getting to know a different side of her. The two soon found themselves going walking more than once a day, running nearby errands on foot, even making trips to downtown and back.

“I tell everybody I got in great shape trying to make up for lost time. We both got addicted to it though, I think, to spending time with each other and to walking when we could. We couldn’t go in anywhere at first, because of COVID, but we would get fresh air, and see other people walking, and just get out of the house for a little bit and feel like we were taking back a small part of our lives.”

By the time things started to settle down, she had already determined that she wanted him to be more than a walking partner.

“We started to go for a walk. It was a Sunday afternoon. I kept trying to start the conversation, and I was so nervous about it, I almost walked into traffic. He knew something was up with me. When I told him that I wanted another shot at us dating, he was so relieved, because he thought I was going to cut him loose again. We were both feeling like we didn’t want to let this go this time around, and, you know, we both feel very appreciative that we got a second chance, because not everybody gets that.”

If you go walking down Smith Street, you may see two people walking by you or on the other side of the road. They might look like a couple that’s always been in love, but not every happy ending is the result of a fairy tale. 

“We still walk every day. I still work hard. I love my work. I’m proud of my work. But this year has taught me that work isn’t going to be there for you when you’re having a hard time with the world. You need people for that. You need people.”

Sometimes you need to be forced to take a second look to see what it is you almost missed.




In Providence: Falling in love on Federal Hill

If you took the chance to walk down Federal Hill on a cold February night a few years ago, you might have seen her showing him how to change a tire.

“He wanted to go out on our first date. I knew it was Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t want to bring it up, because I thought he knew what day it was, and that’s why he was asking me. I get to the date, and he says, ‘Did you know it was Valentine’s Day?’ He didn’t know, but here we are, no reservations anywhere and all the prices were up, because of what day it was. He hadn’t planned for any of that.”

They found a place that would take them, but the table was near the kitchen, and they couldn’t hear each other over the sound of the Valentine’s Day rush.

“You know how you’re on a bad date and you know it’s a bad date and they know it’s a bad date? That’s what this was. It was a bad date. I felt bad for him, to tell you the truth. He knew it was a disaster.”

Afterward, he tried to salvage the date by taking her to an upscale bar, and the two of them were walking in as a brawl was spilling out onto the street.

“Some guy thought some other guy was hitting on his girl, and they come flying out, and the manager’s behind them, and some of the other drunks were getting in on it. I think he caught a fist to the side of his head, if I remember it right. The side of his head or his cheek. But he got hit. Somebody called the police. Him and me were sitting on the sidewalk — me in this new dress I got — and I’m holding snow up to the side of his face to try and stop the swelling.”

When it was clear this date wasn’t just bad, but historically bad, he offered to walk her back to her car so they could call it a night.

“We got to talking as we were walking down Atwells, and he made me laugh more in that walk back, talking about the night we just had, then I had laughed in a long time. I had been through a lot that year, and I was not laughing a lot. My mom had gotten sick, and we lost a cousin of mine, and the only reason I went out on the date is because we had a mutual friend who told me that she thought the two of us would get along, but I wasn’t buying it. Then we’re going down the street, and I notice that I’m walking slower, because I want to keep talking to him.”

They got to his car first, and he offered to drive her to her car. That’s when she noticed the flat tire.

“I thought he was going to run away. He was so embarrassed. I said, ‘You got a spare?’ He said he could call AAA, but his card was expired. I told him, ‘Let’s walk to my car. I have a jack. I can change the tire.’ My father ran an autobody shop. I had everything I needed to change the tire. Changing a tire is nothing to me.”

She was expecting him to put up some sort of macho fight about it, but he was nothing but grateful. That resonated with her.

“I said, ‘If he puts up a fight about this’ — because I’ve had guys not like it when they find out I’ve worked on cars and I’ve played sports my whole life growing up, but he thought it was great. He kept complimenting me on being able to do something like that, and I said I could teach him, and next thing I know, we’re kind of flirting with each other about it.”

That was how they ended up making out in his car.

“I put a new tire on it. I may as well get paid for my work, right?”

That was several years ago, and this year, they celebrated Valentine’s Day in their apartment together.

“Every Valentine’s Day since then has been great. No problems, but that first one is my favorite, because it was the first, and because, even though it all went wrong, it didn’t matter. I didn’t realize it until we started that walk back, but I was never going to wind up with anybody else. He had me the minute I saw him standing outside that restaurant without a reservation. I thought, ‘Look at this dope,’ but what I really thought was, ‘That dope’s all mine.’”

If you’re looking for love in Providence, it might not look exactly how you thought it would, but that’s why it’s good to keep an open mind and a spare in your backseat.




In Providence: Falling in Love on Thayer Street

If you love someone, it’s romantic to say that you’d stand outside in the cold for them, but when put to the test, he really was willing to freeze.

“The thing you have to understand about this woman is that she’s only hot. She only ever gets hot. You touch her skin and you can feel it. Like she’s burning up all the time. Constant fever. She was always like that. When she was younger, her mother thought it was because she was a teenager and the hormones and all that, but she’s still that way. You cannot hug her without feeling that heat. It’s always there.”

That heat was what allowed her to stand outside on Thayer Street all winter back in the ’90s when standing around was about all you could do.

“She’d go up there at nine in the morning and she’d go home at midnight or 1am. Ask her if I’m lying. The first time I saw her, I walked by her on the way to dropping my sister off at her job, because she worked at the consignment store, and when I walked back, she was still there, and I don’t know why, but the second time is when she caught my eye. She was smoking a cigarette and she had this little jacket on and — you always wore the wildest ****, nothing matched, all different colors and whatnot, but when I tell you, this woman — she was a girl then, and I was a kid– She was so beautiful. You saw it. It didn’t matter what she had on. You saw it.”

He started volunteering to drop his sister off at work more often, and sure enough, each time he did, she was there. Standing in the same spot. One or two friends around her, more if it was a Friday or Saturday. Smoking and talking about things he could only ever catch in passing. It didn’t matter how cold it was, she would be there. One night, he saw her standing out in the middle of a snowstorm, seemingly unaware of the blizzard forming around her. He was too nervous to stop and say “Hello.”

“It was my sister who ratted me out. She knew I had a crush on this girl, and one night, we’re walking back to my car, and my sister goes, ‘My brother likes you.’ Like that. Like how sisters do. I wanted to go jump into traffic, that’s how embarrassed I was. But she waves me over, and my sister is pushing me, so I go. She asks me my name and I tell her, and we get to talking, and her friends are there. They’re going, ‘He’s cute. He’s blushing. Look how cute he is blushing.’ That only made me blush more. But she gave me her number.”

The first time he called, there was no answer. The second time, somebody picked up and told him he had the wrong number. He went by Thayer Street again to see if maybe he had written it down wrong, but when he got to her usual spot, she wasn’t there.

“Her friend — one of her friends — was there, and he told me she took off, because the guy she had been dating was making threats against her, being a ****, and her friend didn’t know where she was. He told me the number she gave me was right, but it was a landline to the place she had with her ex, because they were still living together even though they were broken up. It was probably the ex who picked up when I called. That number was all I had to go on. Man, I was– When I tell you I was sad, like I was sad.”

As sad as he was, he was also determined that if she ever came back, he’d know about it. That’s why even after his sister quit her job at the consignment store to go work at the newly opened Providence Place Mall, he kept driving by Thayer to see if she’d returned. Time and again, the spot was empty. Her disappearance seemed to herald the disappearance of other businesses up and down Thayer, but he kept driving by hoping to see her in her light coat and mixed colors.

“I gave up probably after a year or two, but I didn’t forget her. I just felt like a **** driving down Thayer all the time when I didn’t need to.”

Then, one night, he’s back on Thayer. This time grabbing food from East Side Pockets. The line is long, and he’s at the end of it, irritated because he’s starving.

“From behind me I hear, ‘Hey!’ I turn and look. There she is.”

She’d moved back a month earlier after living in all kinds of arrangements all over New England. On futons. In guest rooms. In garages. Bunk beds. With relatives. Friends. Acquaintances. Jerks and saints. They’d only ever spoken once, but this time it was her seeing him as she was walking by only quickly glancing in the window to see the face of a guy who couldn’t even look at her without blushing.

“When I tell you I gave her the biggest hug. I think we hugged for a whole minute, and that’s when I thought, ‘Man, she’s hot.’ Like, for real, hot. That’s when I realized how come she could wear that little jacket even when it was subzero out.”

While he was waiting to get food, she was on her way to meet friends at a bar, but those plans quickly changed once they started talking.

“It was like seeing an old friend you never got to have that friendship with, you know? We got interrupted, but it didn’t matter, because it was meant to be what it was meant to be. We hung out the whole night, then the night after that. I told her all the time, ‘I lost you once, I’m not going to lose you again.’”

In fact, that’s what he told her the day he proposed to her. They were having dinner at a restaurant on Thayer Street when he showed her the ring.

“Where else was I going to ask her? I couldn’t do it outside. It was 30 degrees out. She wouldn’t have cared, but my teeth would have been chattering.”

If you live in Providence, you’re used to making a connection only to find out that the state has whisked someone away the same way it welcomes so many in. It’s the same for businesses and sentimental landmarks and streets where you grew up standing on corners with your friends from morning ‘til night.

“The place where I first saw her is all different now, but I’ll tell you, she’s still the same. Every time I see her, I still see her like I did that first time, and she still makes fun of me for blushing, and I tease her about how she’s too hot to hug, but then I hug her anyway, because I can’t help it. We got a great love story. How many people do you know got a love story like that?”

And while it’s a sign of old age and longstanding Rhode Island citizenry to refer to what used to be, sometimes you can’t help falling in love with whatever took its place.




In Providence: The Pod Problem

If you’re in the Fox Point neighborhood these days, you should know there’s somebody on the lookout for a new pod.

“Dating was hard enough before you had to find someone worthy of inviting into your bunker.”

He wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. Just someone he could let off some steam with while he waited for the pandemic to expire.

“We had gone on– I want to say four or five dates when it started, but nothing had turned physical yet. Some kissing; that was it. I like to go slow at first. I wasn’t looking for a relationship either. I’m one of those guys who thinks he’s married to his job, but he’s the same way, which is why we started connecting in the first place. We both liked going out and doing things, but neither one of us wanted anything serious. Dates and fun. That was it.”

That was it.

“You can’t do that anymore though, because now, even if you’re using protection, one night stands are a public health crisis.”

Unless you’re willing to go all in.

“I still wasn’t willing to say ‘boyfriends,’ but I knew there was no way I was going to make it two years without physical contact. I had friends saying they could do it, and I thought, ‘They’ll last for three months and then summer will get here, and they’ll be over the whole thing and they’ll be twice as reckless.’ I wanted to come up with a better solution.”

So he pitched the idea of a pod to the guy he was casually dating.

“He thought it was a great idea. I thought it was a great idea. Cool. We’re good to go.”

Everything was going well.

“For the first month.”

For the first month.

“It’s just that thing where you get sick of someone. I’m guilty of it. We’re all guilty of it. I got bored with him, and normally, I would move on. Because that’s what you do. But we had done the whole isolating, he works from home, I work from home, not seeing other people, doing all of that. We waited so many days before we took things to the next level. It was this whole process, and now I have to do that all over again with someone else? I didn’t have the energy for that.”

It soon became clear that he wasn’t the only one feeling this way.

“He made it clear to me that he was also no longer interested in me, but we both were stuck in this way that– It’s interesting, because it’s usually the way you get stuck in a relationship, but we weren’t in a relationship, we were supposed to be just having fun and helping each other out, and now that wasn’t happening anymore.”

But, because the needs that led them to this arrangement weren’t going anywhere, they pressed on.

“The sex was great. Even when we got sick of each other, we still had great sex. So that was one more reason not to throw the whole thing out the window. We just kept hanging out, following the rules of the pod we created, but it became this thing where we were openly hostile to each other the entire time we were hanging out.”

You might wonder if that made the sex less enjoyable or–

“Way more enjoyable. Way more. Have you ever had sex with someone you really dislike but still find attractive? It’s so hot.”

Hate sex is known to (sometimes) be the hottest kind of sex, that’s true.

“It’s true.”

But then he started to suspect that his pod partner was opening up other options.

“I heard from a mutual friend that he was talking with someone else about starting a pod, and I confronted him about it. This is weird for me, because–What can I accuse him of? Cheating? We’re not exclusive in the sense that we care about each other and made a commitment to each other. It’s strictly about health and safety.”

His podmate confessed that he was only planning on seeing the other guy once they agreed to form their own pod, and then he was going to leave the pod he was in, pointing out that things had become too toxic.

“Right, but where does that leave me?”

Strangely enough, they didn’t stop seeing each other after that. Instead, he began looking for a new pod, and when his pod buddy’s back-up plan fell through, it became a race to see who could get into a new pod the fastest. But don’t worry, they weren’t dumb enough to keep having sex as all of this was going on.

“We were definitely having sex the entire time.”

Of course they were still having sex. This column isn’t called Good Decisions, is it?

“He ended up moving to Atlanta at the beginning of the year. He wanted a change. That tells you everything you need to know about him. The dumbass moved to one of the worst COVID spots in the entire country because he wanted to shake things up. Why are the stupid ones always the best in bed?”

As for him, he hasn’t found a new pod-lover yet, but that might be for the best.

“I went from thinking I couldn’t live without sex this whole time to resenting sex for making me act like such a #$%-ing idiot, so who knows? I might be able to hold out until all of this is over.”

He will not be able to hold out.

“I’m not going to be able to hold out. Even as I was saying it, I knew it wasn’t true.”

We’re all telling ourselves lies these days, aren’t we?

“Things are bleak out there.”

Lies about what we can handle and how long we can handle it and what we’re comfortable with and how safe we’re willing to be.

“I’m right in Fox Point, gays all around me, and I can’t find a decent one to watch horror movies and hook up with once a week. I’d even let him keep the mask on.”

While part of me thinks that what we’ve learned about the people around us has been startling, lately it seems like what we’ve learned about ourselves can be even more frustrating.

“Before this, I would have thought I had way more self-control than I do. They better start working on a pill that gives you pandemic amnesia, because I want to forget all of this.”

So if you’re near Fox Point and you’d down to potentially make some mistakes you can forget post-pandemic, have I got a pod for you…




In Providence: Tag Me Next Time

“I think every woman’s dated that guy. He’s– I can’t believe I dated him for as long as I did. That’s the thing. Every woman dates a guy like that, but I date them twice as long as anybody else does. That’s my problem. I don’t know when to call it.

This one– He was Mr. Providence.

He really thought–

He thought he could be Mayor.

That’s how he acted.

I would go over his house, and he would have lists of places he needed to go in Providence, and the lists were based on places you had to go to in Providence. Like, if there was a new restaurant, he has to go to that restaurant. If there’s a big event or fundraiser everybody is going to, he has to be there.

This is a guy–

He didn’t make much money. He made less than me, and I don’t think I make that much at all. But he would buy tickets to everything, and he had to get the VIP tickets.

I would ask him–

Why are we going to the Providence Preservationists Society’s annual thing that they do?

If you’re a Preservationist, okay. We can go. If you support the cause, I’ll go with you. But he would go to everything, and you can’t tell me you support every cause, and– and like I said, he didn’t have the money to be supporting all these causes.

He would tell you, too.

I would ask him–

Why are we going to this? Is this something you–?

I think it’ll be fun!

That was what he would say.

I think it will be fun.

You want to know something?

It’s never fun.

No offense to these– these events or the planners, but it’s a whole thing to get dressed up and go and he–

He didn’t know anybody at these things.

We would go. He would get pictures of himself there. Hardly ever took pictures of me, and I don’t care about tagging myself places. He had to tag himself. Had to tag everybody there. All the higher-ups at every different thing.

I told my friend about it and she tells me–

He likes networking. That’s good. It means he has goals.

What’s his goal?

To get every chef in Providence to follow him on Instagram?

That’s not a goal.

Get a good job.

Buy a house.

Comb your hair.

Those are goals.

We go out to eat–

Is the chef here?

He has to talk to the chef.

These people aren’t your friends.

They don’t want to be bothered by you.

They’re at work.

They’re working.

Who do you think you are?

I would think that, but I wouldn’t say it.

Who do you think you are?

One time I said–

Can’t we just enjoy our meal?

He didn’t know what I meant.

I dropped it.

Because I wanted to say–

Do you have to tag us here and take pictures of the food and tag the chef in the post and the restaurant so you can let everybody know you’re a big shot?

He’s a grown man.

He’s not a teenager.

What are you trying to do?

Become an influencer?

Over the summer, he wanted to take me to some art thing outdoors.

I said–

There’s a f___ing pandemic going on. I’m not going to some art thing with people walking around.

No, everybody’s going. It’s going to be good.

I don’t care if everybody’s going. I’m not going. There’s a pandemic. What’s wrong with you?

That time I did say it to him.

By then, I’d had it.

And once I’ve had it, I’ve had it.

It killed him.

This pandemic.

Because all he’s about is where he is, and who he’s with, and going on vacation, and pictures of everything.

As soon as he couldn’t do that anymore, it was like somebody took his personality away.

I told him we’re lucky, because we have each other, we can quarantine together, be a pod together, and he was losing his mind.

He said it was mental health.

I call bulls___.

I call bulls___ because if what it takes to keep your mental health where it needs to be is bragging to everybody online about how you got to go to the soft opening of this new place that’s opening downtown, then your mental health is not in good shape regardless, you know?

Between you and me–

No, you know what?

Never mind.

You can put this in the column, I don’t care.

I really don’t.

Like I said, I’ve had it.

He wanted to throw a Gatsby party when the book came out and went into the public domain.

I’m not joking.

We got people dying everyday. My cousin caught it. Thank god, she’s all right, but she does everything right and she caught it, and he’s talking about doing a swinger party at his house and wouldn’t that be fun?

I said–

Are you out of your mind?

And that was the final straw.

Because he was really going to do it!

We’ll all wear masks.

My cousin never takes off her mask and she got it.

But god forbid he has to go a whole year without having a party. A whole year with no pictures of him and his cool friends all dressed up with stupid captions.

None of them are smart.

I’ll just say it–

Not one of them is smart, and most of them are ugly.

I’m no prize, but you’ve never seen pastier women in your life who all think they’re Beyonce with these dresses they have made, and they act like they don’t want to tell you how much it cost, but that’s all they care about. If nobody asks them what the dress they’re wearing costs, they’ll wait until they’re drunk and then blurt it out.

One of them said to me when I first started dating him–

You know you’re dating the Mayor of Providence, right?

I didn’t know what she meant.

No, I’m not.

She kept saying it.

Everybody knows him. He’s the Mayor of Providence.

Let me tell you something–

The mayor is the mayor.

This is a guy who made me go to Los Andes three times a week just to see who he could run into while we were there.

My sister called me last night and said–

You still dating Mr. Providence?

I told her–

No, I’m done. He wanted to throw a party.

She was so happy. 

She couldn’t stand him.

She told me I did the right thing.

You’re going to be a lot happier without him.

I told her I already am.

You can’t believe how happy I am.

I deleted my Instagram and everything.

I wanted to do it while we were dating, but he didn’t think it was a good idea, because he wanted to be able to tag me in things.

Yeah, well, I got rid of Instagram and I got rid of him.

You should go talk to him for your column.

See how that Gatsby party went.

I bet he got some great pictures.”




In Providence: And Away You Go

If you were driving down the street, you would have seen the people trying to help.

That special kind of huddle that forms around a tragedy. A body on the ground. You would have seen the people standing around the body wondering if they could help and already knowing there was no help to give. Then there’s the feet, maybe. An arm. You would have known something was wrong. He knew something was wrong. From the safety of his car, he saw the mass, and then heard sirens. They hit like a jolt. He pulled away. His apartment is on the East Side. He had plans that evening. A dinner. A nice dinner. Meeting friends. He didn’t even see the face of the person lying on the ground. It never occurred to him to stop. To get out of the car. To assume he could help. He couldn’t help, right? What kind of help could he offer? He was still part owner of the restaurant back then. This was before he got bought out, and lived off that money for two years while he lived in California telling himself all the sun didn’t bother him. The point is that he was no doctor or nurse or EMT or any kind of person who can do anything about a body lying on the ground.

How does a body get on the ground?

How?

This was years ago.

He went to dinner that night. His friend had made vegan tacos and there was pot smoking and somebody put on Bowie and two of the guests had a fight out on the street about something political and he sat in the bathroom refreshing all the local news websites for information that never came.

How could that be?

How could there be no information?

A body was lying on the ground in downtown Providence.

It was a Friday night, but not much else appeared to be happening. And those people. All those people standing around, thinking they could help. He didn’t stop. He couldn’t help. He drove on. He went home. He got ready. He put on cologne. He showed up to his friend’s house with a bottle of wine. He gave out hugs. He laughed at a joke that wasn’t funny. He went outside in the middle of the argument about politics and interrupted the two debaters to tell them he saw a body on the ground and he couldn’t stop thinking about it and why wasn’t there any news on it and the two people fighting told him that he was just high and he knew that wasn’t it, and a month later he’d be in California, and someone would break into the building where he lived, and things were stolen, and all his neighbors were very concerned, and he was still thinking about the body on the ground in Providence.

On another Friday night, I was driving home in the rain when two cars off in the distance appeared to be coming at me at a speed that was hard to register until one of the cars hit a barrier and the impact sent the car flying up in the air, spinning it around so that for one brief moment, it was directly over my car, before coming down on its roof only a few feet away from me.

I remember thinking that I wasn’t watching what I was watching. That it was a movie. That people don’t race cars in the rain, and they don’t get into accidents when they do, and they don’t fly up in the air so high it looks like they’re in flight, and they don’t seem suspended for half a second, and they don’t come crashing down with a sound so loud that later one of your roommates asks you if you heard that explosion.

It sounded like an explosion.

As all that was happening, I kept driving. I kept my hands on the wheel. I didn’t think to hit the brakes. Had I hit the brakes and the car came down any sooner, it could have landed on my car.

Or maybe all this is inaccurate, because how could you ever accurately remember something like that?

But I know the car landed upside down.

I know I slowed down as I looked in the rearview mirror and saw it there.

That was when I noticed a car on the right side of me. The driver was looking exactly where I was. At the upside down vehicle in the other lane.

Then he looked at me.

He sped away.

I thought–

I’m a minute away from home.
I can call 9-1-1.

Why didn’t I call from my cell phone?

Why didn’t I stay there?

Why didn’t I try to help?

Could I have helped?

Does it matter?

Years later, a man is back home after leaving his friend’s friend. He’s stopped checking for news about a body he saw downtown, but he can’t sleep. He needs to get outside. He needs to go for a walk. But he feels vulnerable. He wants to stay in. But he feels claustrophobic. He needs to get out. He needs to know who the person on the ground was. It’s Providence. Everybody knows everybody. Could he know the person on the ground? At the very least, he must know someone who knows the person who was lying on the ground. He checks social media. Nothing. An entire state full of people who can’t mind their own business. Who can’t help but post things like, “Anybody know what’s up with those helicopters over Warwick?” and the one time you need the busybodies to clue you in–

Nothing.

By the time I got home and called 9-1-1, they’d already gotten three other calls and were sending someone out to the accident.

I checked the newspaper the next day.

And the day after that.

Nothing.

I thought anytime somebody died in any way that isn’t natural there’d be a story about it, but that’s not true. We don’t know everything and we don’t have the means to know everything unless we really want to know, and while I did want to know, I worried about what it would mean if I was too interested. Looking back, it doesn’t make any sense for me to be anything less than heavily interested, but at the time, it seemed like I shouldn’t care so much.

I witnessed an accident.

That’s what I told myself.

I witnessed an accident just like thousands of people do every day, and I drove away, because I didn’t know why I would have stayed, what I could have done, what good I would have been had I gotten out of my car and–and–

And what?

Pulled people from the vehicle?

You can’t pull people from a vehicle after an accident. Everybody knows that.

You can’t do something for someone who’s lying on the ground when they’ve already got 10 other people standing around them.

But what does it say about the person who sees something like that and goes home to get ready to go out on a Saturday night like it’s any other day?

What does it say if you go home and fall asleep the way I did? A little rattled, sure, but still tired from the day and certain I did everything I could, no matter how little it was.

He did end up going for a walk that night.

Down College Hill, into the city, past Haven Bros. and City Hall and up past the Hilton and into the West Side.

It wasn’t terribly late, but it wasn’t early, and he felt like he’d been sent out to find something without being told what it was.

He walked back to the spot where the body had been.

Nothing.

He wasn’t sure what he thought he would find there, but there wasn’t anything to find.

Every night after that accident, on my way home, I would look at the spot where the car hit the barrier and try to picture it again.

The impact.

The flip.

The suspension.

It all felt like I was outside of the experience. Watching it from some other vantage point. Was I adding things? Was I editing them out?

A month or so later, I would tell someone about the accident, and they would tell me they thought they heard about something like that happening. Two cars racing, stupid kids, feeling invincible, driving that fast in weather that bad.

Do you know if anybody died?

I think everybody in the car that flipped over did.

Oh.

Three or four people. The driver, the passenger–

Oh.

Maybe two in the backseat?

Oh.

But it might not be the one you’re talking about.

Yeah.

It might be something else.

If you want to go out into the world, there are things you have to see and then unsee.

Accidents, crimes, disasters–

This started out as a Man About Town column.

It was going to be in the spirit of Truman Capote and Dorothy Parker and metropolitan charm — art galleries and restaurant openings.

But all of that exists around lives and events that are jarring and forceful. Even Truman Capote, in between enjoying cocktails in penthouses, wrote about murder in cold blood.

How do you hold those two experiences in one hand while you write with the other?

And how do you choose which to write about?

One day, we will get back to recreation.

Theaters and concerts and dining out in restaurants where people are packed in on every side will return, and when they do, there will be a part of us that wants to celebrate.

And though we may tell ourselves we’re celebrating in spite of the catastrophic loss that’s surrounded us this past year, there is a primitive part of us that celebrates because we are here and others are not. Because we believe it says something about who we are that we’re not the one on the ground or in the upside down car.

That they were somehow unlucky, made a bad decision, did something we would never do.

We tell ourselves we’ll be the ones driving away from the brink and that we were never going to get close enough to go over it.

I won’t lie and say there won’t come a time when you’ll hear me describe in detail my relief at being able to go to a party again or hug a friend I ran into on the street or dance in the middle of 100 people.

It’s just that when I think about all of that, I think about the numbers that go up every day.

And the numbers that connect to those numbers.

How they stretch out and expand and rise.

Always rise.

And I think about that car.

Suspended over my head.

Hands on the wheel.

Holding my breath.

Wondering who could be in that car.

Confident it would never be me.

If you live in a city like Providence, you see bits and pieces of lives that can interest you so much you write a weekly column about them.

And you can see parts that you never want to write about, because people write about loss to make loss make sense when there is no making sense of it.

It’s something you drive by on your way to somewhere else.

You can stop if you want to.

But then what?

Then what?

Lately, it’s getting harder and harder to even ask people–

To stop.




In Providence: A Wedding at the Library

If you walked by the library the night of the wedding, you would have seen a woman in a bridesmaid outfit having a cigarette on the steps overlooking the bus stop.

It was her sister’s wedding, and she had stepped outside to smoke, a habit she’d promised to break heading into the new year. This was before weddings became controversial and 100 people inside without masks on became unthinkable to most reasonable people. A few years ago, she was standing outside the library, shivering as she broke her latest resolution.

There used to be something very metropolitan about walking by the Providence Public Library downtown whenever it was hosting a big event. Inevitably, there were always people spilling out onto the street, and at most of the events, you got the sense that you could wander right in and join the fun if you really wanted to.

I’d love to tell you I’m the kind of writer who carries a notepad on them at all times, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Instead, I have to make mental notes whenever I pass by a conversation on the street, and hope I still carry those soundbytes with me by the time I get home at the end of the night.

Looking back over things I’ve jotted down on a Friday or Saturday night in the city, it doesn’t appear that I was out and about the night she stood on those steps smoking and wondering whether she should do the drive back to New York the next day or throw herself a Providence vacation and spend a little too much money staying at the Dean and playing tourist in the town she grew up in.

While she was standing outside, another guest at the wedding approached her and struck up a conversation. She was a friend of the groom’s, and she also was experiencing that special kind of anxiety most of us haven’t felt in a while. The kind where you’re at an event, because you sort of know the person the event is for, but that flimsy acquaintanceship lands you among hundreds of strangers, seated at a table that ends up becoming something of a parlor game where everybody tries to get to know each other before giving up and focusing on picking apart their stuffed chicken.

She asked if she could have a cigarette, and after lighting her one, the two of them talked about the wedding, how stressful the whole thing was, what other weddings they’d been to recently (three and five in the previous year alone), and what would happen if they didn’t go back in. They weren’t the types to bail on anything, but something about their chemistry made them want to refine their focus in that moment to each other and only each other.

Upon consulting my notes, it appeared that night I went to my beloved Boombox and sang Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” and, knowing me and my extremely limited vocal range, I was probably very off-key and wildly enthusiastic nonetheless.

They opted to skip out on a reception that was already dwindling down to the last few drunk people of the night, but she did swoop in quickly to give her sister a kiss on the cheek and whisper in her ear, “I just met this girl, and I think I love her?”

They considered stopping by Boombox after seeing the microphone hanging down over the entrance, and if they had, it’s possible our paths would have crossed, but instead, they went one more stop down on Washington Street and wound up in Stable, where they shared a drink, and then another, and then another.

After closing the bar, they kept walking around downtown, buzzed on alcohol and spontaneity and kismet, because it was abundantly clear that they had wandered into that rom-com trope of a wedding meet-cute, and it was so adorable, they found themselves laughing out loud for absolutely no reason, but when it happened, both knew why.

I don’t know how late I stayed at Boombox that night, but I definitely didn’t close the place down. Apparently somebody decided to sing “Piano Man” in a clear violation of karaoke guidelines, and I ran up to Thayer Street to get Antonio’s Pizza before heading home.

They grabbed pizza as well, but neither one of them remembers from where. In fact, there isn’t a lot they remember about the night they met each other, which is unusual for people who consider themselves soulmates, but even romance can’t withstand post-wedding exhaustion and mixed drinks.

The next morning, she did not head back to New York, but instead, asked for late check-out at her hotel so she could spend a few extra hours in bed with this woman she just met. They spent the day together in Providence, which turned into several days. Four months later, she had moved back to Rhode Island, and moved in with her fellow wedding guest. A year after that, they had their own wedding, but this one was small and intimate and far outside the city at an outdoor venue in South County.

The day they got married, I was at a wedding myself, and I find that detail interesting. How one life can run alongside another life, especially in cities where you’re always walking by people falling in love or falling out of love or meeting for the first time or saying good-bye or eating pizza or deciding what song they’re going to butcher at karaoke.

I was at a wedding having the time of my life as they were seated in front of her sister, who was giving a toast, and relaying the story of how her sister came up to her at her own wedding reception and professed that she was in love.

“And I’m thinking she just had too much to drink,” her sister said, ready to raise a glass. “But it turns out she was right. Meanwhile, I met my husband at a hockey game.”

Even now, if you go for a walk downtown, there are still people you can pass on your way to wherever it is you’re going. There’s still the opportunity to bump into an old friend, or share a light with someone who could end up being the love of your life.

Serendipity isn’t what it used to be, but it’s not completely absent. For many of us, it’s just waiting patiently for the days of weddings at the library and chance encounters to make a comeback.

Once they do, maybe we’ll be more apt to start a conversation or go for a walk with someone who makes us want to act out of character.

A city like Providence can surround you with so many people you’d love to meet and risks you could take, provided that when it asks if you agree to check them out, you say–

“I do.”




In Providence: The Vig

If you were walking by the Hilton downtown one night a few years ago, you may have looked up at The Vig and saw two friends trying to catch up.

One had moved away months before and one was going through a divorce and in need of support. The one going through the divorce felt like the friendship was on the verge of dissolving, and when he told his lifelong friend that, the one who moved away got on a plane and came home to try and save the friendship.

“People thought it was weird that I did that, and I think– I do workshops and seminars for guys on male relationships, male friendships. People think it’s normal to fight for romantic relationships. They think it’s okay if two women go above and beyond to try and work out problems they have in their friendships, but people find it strange when two men talk about working on their friendship with communication and– and it can come to therapy, that’s not uncommon if both of the guys are willing to try that. But it’s hard, because it’s not something we normalize, and you see a lot of male friendships, even best friendships, they end, not because the guys don’t want to work on it, they want to save it, but they think it’s something they can’t do. Because male friendships are supposed to be easy. They’re not supposed to be hard work. That’s what we’re told. Now, it goes to show you, here I am, this is what I do for a living, and my friendship — it needs work. I’m hearing from my friend that it needs work. So what do I do? I put my money where my mouth is. I get on a plane.”

They met at The Vig and began to hash things out. It wasn’t just a question of one of them moving away. They had grown distant long before that. Part of it was that the friend who stayed felt like his friend’s success in so many areas of his life was creating a distance, because he felt like such a failure.

“It’s not that I wasn’t happy for him, but it felt like being in two different places. Before it really was that. Before we were apart. I’m miserable all the time, and I don’t want to burden him with that. He’s having a moment and I’m not trying to bring him down with how bad I’m doing. My marriage is ending. My job is– I hate my job. I hate getting up every day. I’m having a hard time and he’s– He’s had his own hard times, and now he’s catching a break, and I’m going to ruin that for him? I didn’t want to do that.”

There’s a game on, but they’re not watching the game. They order food and barely touch it. At one of the nearby tables, there are a group of guys laughing and talking loudly, and both of them feel a sense of envy. How nice to be one of the guys at that table who seem to have the kind of friendship they used to have. One that didn’t require serious conversation and analysis. But they didn’t know those guys, and it’s possible beneath the shouting there were other things going on as well. They sat at the table near the window overlooking downtown. The one who moved away looked down at the parking lot and remembered the night in July when they stood outside with their keys in hand, talking until three in the morning about everything and nothing, laughing so hard at one point that they were both on the ground.

“When he said, ‘I don’t want you to have to deal with what I’m going through,’ I got mad. Because for a long time, I was going through it, and he was there for me, and for him to think I wouldn’t do the same for him. But then I thought about how it looked to him. I was having a bad time of things, and he stuck by me, then he starts to go through it, and I get on a plane and move. He knows that’s not because of him, but people have a hard time not taking things personally even when they know, intellectually, that it’s got nothing to do with them. A friend leaving you is a friend leaving you. You can slice it up any way you want, but it’s not crazy to feel abandoned. That’s a reasonable thing to feel and I had to give him that. I had to say, ‘I’m sorry I left.’ And as soon as I said that, I felt the conversation start to go in a better direction. We both got emotional. I won’t lie about that. This is my friend and he needs me and I’m not here. And if this was my spouse or my partner, I’d be expected to be there. This is a man I’ve known my whole life, and even people who knew what he was going through, when I said, ‘I got a job and I’m leaving’ didn’t say to me, ‘You shouldn’t, because your best friend needs you.’ Because we don’t think we owe our friends that. We think we only owe family that and people we’re married to, but we don’t think our friends should get that from us. I shouldn’t have left. But I was gone. Now what? What do we do now?”

They talked until the bar closed, and then they found themselves back in the parking lot. Something about standing in a place they’d stood in back when things were better helped create an atmosphere that allowed for them to believe things could get better. At one point, it felt like it was going to snow, but then it held off. The one who had moved away took out his phone and made a plan for them. One that included emails, phone calls and visits. The one who stayed promised to come visit in a month when things got better at work.

“I didn’t know about the whole thing, to be honest with you. I know this is what he does for a living, and I never said it, but I thought it was all too much. I’m not from a family that talks a lot and hugs and does all that. He would ask me to go on his weekend retreats and I’d come up with reasons I couldn’t, but he was here. He made the effort. I had to make the effort, too. But it’s weird to see your friend, this six-three guy who people always think is in the NBA, on his phone with his Google calendar open telling you, ‘You’re going to call me on Mondays and Wednesdays to check in and I’m going to call you on Tuesdays and Thursdays.’ I was like, What are we doing here, man? I felt like it shouldn’t be that hard, but that doesn’t mean I’m right. He’s the friend I’ve had the longest; my longest relationship. I guess you have to fight if you want to keep people in your life.”

In the intervening years, a few more shifts happened. For the one who stayed, the divorce went through, then another love came long, another engagement, and then a marriage. For the one who moved away, a marriage, and two kids. The question was– Did they manage to stick it out with each other?

“He’s the godfather of both my kids. Last week, he called to tell me he’s got one of his own on the way, so I better be asked to be the godfather, because I’ve been waiting. I tease him all the time, ‘When you going to make me a godfather?’ I went back home after that trip, and it was tough for a while to keep up with each other, but then it got easier, and now, we stay in touch and it doesn’t feel like work. I tell the guys in the workshops we do, ‘If you work at it, and it’s right, then it won’t always feel like work.’ This is the person who knows me better than anyone. Better than even my wife, and she knows that. Because she knows who I am, and he knows who I am and who I used to be. That’s why he knows me the best. I’m glad I didn’t give that up. You need people like that in your life. To ground you.”

He also kept up his visits until the pandemic began. By then, they were used to checking in with each other, so not being able to see each other in person, even infrequently, didn’t hit as hard.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him again when it’s safe. We’re going to go out in Providence and have fun this time. Just a good time where we can laugh and enjoy each other’s company, because the last few times, we were still working through all this. I think now we can relax a little bit and reward ourselves for all that work.”

If you walk by The Vig sometime in the future, you might look up and see two friends having a drink together. Watching a game. Laughing over something that only two friends who’ve known each other forever could find funny. They’ll be looking out over the city where they first met, grew up together, grew apart and eventually, reunited. One left. One stayed. And as of now, there’s a happy ending. Almost sounds like a love story, doesn’t it?

“Hey, it was nice talking to you, Kev, but I gotta go. He’s calling me. We got our daily phone call to do. Like clockwork. We never miss it.”

I have to confess that the writer in me would love to write that scene. The two of them sitting by the window, reunited. And this time, there’d be snow.




In Providence: A new night

If you’re the type that goes out on New Year’s Eve, you’ve probably noticed the rotating assortment of events that have occupied the city as it moves into a new chapter. It seems like Providence is just like the rest of us when it comes to the biggest party night of the year–

“Nobody knows how to celebrate.”

Every year, she’s tried to make the most out of New Year’s Eve, and every year, something goes wrong.

“Oh, I’ve tried it all. I used to have a house. When I was younger, in my 20s, I had a place that you could walk to from downtown, and when I moved there, it was right before Christmas, and I said to my girlfriend I was living with at the time, ‘We’re going to have a biga** New Year’s Eve party. We’re going to start at the house. We’re going to walk to the clubs. Ba-dee ba-dah, the whole nine yards.”

That first year was … not a success.

“Everybody got drunk at the house, and I had people passed out in the hallways. On my bed. On my girlfriend’s bed. Everybody went too hard too fast. It was nine o’clock and I’m sitting on the couch watching the ball drop by myself. What was I going to do? Go to the club by myself? I don’t think so. I made breakfast for everybody the next day, even the two guys in my bed. They’re still together, those two.”

After that, a curse seemed to set in. The same way Mary Richards on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was known for throwing a disastrous party, she became known as the woman who could not get New Year’s Eve right.

“I had a boyfriend after that first year, and he was always messing s*** up, because he was a mean drunk, and he didn’t drink too much, but he’d get drunk on New Year’s Eve, and he’d either sulk and put me in a bad mood, or he’d cause a scene and get everybody pissed off. That went on for years. Too many years.”

By that time, she was living in a smaller place by herself near Broad Street, and she found herself becoming a New Year’s Eve cynic.

“Never went out. I was the one you see saying ‘I’m staying home. I’m going to bed early. Asleep by eleven.’ If you’re not going to have any fun, you skip it. That’s what you do. Those were– I wasn’t myself during those years. I hated my job. I wasn’t talking to my mother, which I regret now, because we’re both older and I wish we had that time back, you know? I was done with that guy I was dating before, but the ones after him were just as bad. And a lot of them were worse. One year was as bad as the other, and ba-dee ba-dah, I never saw what there was to get excited about, and usually I was right.”

Last year, a friend called her the morning of New Year’s Eve. She was at her office, and she ignored the call, but the friend kept calling.

“She wanted me to go out with her that night. No plans; just see what’s going on downtown and at some of the bars and this and that. I thought, ‘No way. No way am I going around like I’m still one of these kids.’ I go home and I go to bed. That’s what I texted her. Every year, I go home and I go to bed. But she wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer.”

They came to an agreement. She would join her friend for two drinks at one bar, and that would be it. She’d still be home by eleven, and asleep by the time everyone else was sharing a kiss or knocking back another spirit.

“I have my first drink and who sits next to me? The best looking guy in the bar. I just about died. Then he starts talking to me. I tell myself I’m not going to have more than the two drinks I said I was going to, because I like to watch my drinking, and he tells me he’s sober and he doesn’t drink anyway. He’s drinking soda. Do you believe that? He only came out because his brother and some of his friends were out. My girlfriend is on the other side of me, elbowing me, because she sees us getting along, but I know how my New Year’s go, and I know it’s going to end bad.”

Nevertheless, she stayed past her two drinks, joining him for a soda. The two of them kept talking, and before she knew it, everyone in the bar was shouting that it was a minute to midnight.

“The guy’s looking at me like– We gonna do this or what? My girlfriend takes me in the bathroom and tells me if I don’t kiss this guy, she’s going to lose her s***. She’s already making out with some guy that looks like Lou Albano. I’m dying laughing, and I can’t believe it, but I’m having a good time. Next thing I know, it’s midnight and I grab the guy and give him a kiss right on the lips. My first kiss with him and it’s on New Year’s Eve.”

That means they’re coming up on their one-year anniversary. It’s not easy managing the first year of a relationship during a pandemic, and it wasn’t smooth sailing for them.

“It’s like everybody else. We had a tough year. He lost his father. My mother got sick and I almost lost her. But you got to look around and see who you have in your corner. I never had somebody in my corner like he’s in my corner now, and that feels good. I know not everybody has that, and I feel grateful. You know, I’m out of work right now, money’s tight, ba-dee ba-dah, but I’m trying to think about what I got going for me. I got a new year coming up. I never thought I’d meet a guy the way I did, but I let somebody talk me into doing something I gave up on. That’s what you go to do. Go out. Not now, because we can’t, right? But once we can, you gotta get out there. Not just so you can meet somebody, but because it feels good. It makes you feel like you’re still in it to win it. It’s been a bad year, but all those years I was keeping to myself? Those years were worse for me. I hate to say it, but they were. I don’t know what I would have done this year if I was like I was years ago. Where my head was at. I didn’t have any hope things would get better then. Now I know they will. They will.”

If you text her on December 31 and ask her to go out, she’ll tell you she can’t. Not because she’s a New Year’s Eve cynic, but because we’re all going to have to figure out how to ring in 2021 with a little less fanfare this year.

“My boyfriend has to work, believe it or not, so yes, I will be alone, but I’m going to stay up and say good-bye to this ****** year, and I’ll have some champagne and waffles, because that’s what I want to eat. I’m relieved I don’t have to think about doing too much. I put too much pressure on myself all those times I tried to make a big deal out of it. I’m here and I’m alive and I’m healthy when a lot of people aren’t. That’s all I need to celebrate.”

And a brand new year.

“That too.”

Yeah, that too.




In Providence: We’ll pick you up

“I’ll tell you the story, but it’s not that good of a story.

“This was– This was 11 or 12 years ago. I’m coming up 95 — I’m coming home for Christmas. I hadn’t been home in two or three years, because I worked. That’s all I did was work. Working all the time. Had to work. I was down south, and it cost a lot of money to come home, so I didn’t come home. But I missed home. I would call home, and my family–

“My family was close. We still are. I got four brothers and a sister. I got my parents, my grandparents, and I got all these uncles and aunts and cousins. We all do Christmas together, and before me, nobody ever moved away, and nobody ever missed Christmas. I was the first. When I didn’t come home that first year, I was alone in my apartment on Christmas and the phone rang, and I get on the phone, and it’s my mom calling to say ‘Merry Christmas’ and I can hear all the people in the back, and I was on that phone for two hours, because she had to pass the phone to everybody so they could say ‘Hello and Merry Christmas.’ We did the same thing the next year, and the year after that.

“This is going to be my first year home.

“I’m all excited, but I have to drive. I got this old, beat-up car that made every noise you ever heard a car make in your life. It was making those noises when I left Huntsville, and I got to get it all the way to Rhode Island. I told my Mom, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it.’ She’s going ‘You’ll make, you’ll make it.’ Okay, we’ll see.

“I make it to right outside of Danbury, Connecticut, and that’s it. The car gives up. I couldn’t believe it had made it that far. I don’t have AAA or anything like that. Too much money. I call my Mom. It’s Christmas Eve. Now, we do a big Christmas, but we do an even bigger Christmas Eve, because we’re Italian, so it’s a big night for us. I can hear everybody yelling and asking where I am, and I tell my Mom to ask if anybody there has AAA I can use, and hopefully the tow truck driver doesn’t ask to see the card.

“My mom gives the phone to my dad, who can’t hear a thing, and he gives the phone to my sister, and my sister says, ‘Where are you right now?’ I tell her. ‘Stay there,’ she says. ‘I’ll come get you.’ I tell her it’s too far. She’s in Providence. She’s going to drive all the way to Danbury? No way. I say, ‘I’ll figure something out.’

‘What are you going to figure out, you idiot? You’re in the middle of nowhere. We’ll pick you up.’ Hear that? ‘We.’ Who’s we? But I can’t even ask, because she hangs up the phone. All she knew was what exit I was by. I’m thinking, I’m going to die out here on this highway. She’s never going to find me. Luckily, I had a big coat back then, so I wasn’t worried about keeping warm.

“An hour goes. Hour and a half. I’m getting sad. What am I going to do? Do I have to try sleeping in the car and then try hitchhiking on Christmas? I’m getting really down.

“Cars are going by me, and none are stopping. I’m texting my sister and she keeps saying, ‘We’re on our way.’

I ask, ‘Who’s we?’

‘We’re almost there.’

‘Who’s we?’

‘I brought Bobby with me.’ Bobby’s her husband.

‘Okay.’ Cars are going by. I’m thinking she’s never going to find me.

I see a car pull up behind me. I text her, ‘Is this you?’

‘Yeah, that’s me.’

“Then I see another car pull up behind her. I think that’s Bobby. He must have taken his own car. I don’t know why, but that’s what I thought.

“Another car pulls up behind that car. I’m thinking, ‘What the hell is going on?’

“More cars pull up. This is on a busy highway. Not that busy, because it’s getting late on Christmas Eve, but busy enough.

“I get out of the car and there’s my sister, and she runs over and gives me a hug. Bobby gets out of the car and he comes over. I say, ‘Who are these cars behind you?’

“Then my mother gets out of the car. She runs over. My dad. My cousins. My Aunt Teresa. There are 10 or 12 cars all lined up behind my sister’s car. They all came to get me. Do you believe that?

“I said, ‘You people are nuts! What are you doing?’

‘We wanted to come see you.’ They couldn’t wait. They all got in their cars, and they went in a line all the way down 95, then they had to turn around so they’d be going in the right direction to come find me. I guess they all saw another car they thought was me, but it was abandoned so they all pulled over, and it wasn’t my car, and my  mother’s yelling at my sister, and my sister is asking her how she’s supposed to know which car is mine. ‘Didn’t he give you the license plate?’ They were arguing over the phone, and Bobby is telling my sister to put the phone down, because she was distracting him. He was the one driving.

“All those cars, and they had their hazard lights on, that’s how they followed each other, and I don’t know how they didn’t get pulled over. But I had my own caravan come to get me on Christmas Eve. We left my car there. I never even went back to get it, and I never went back to Huntsville.

“Cars are whizzing by us, and we’re all hugging, and crying, and my mother’s going, ‘You got so big!’ like I left home at 6 years old. It was nice though.

“I remember getting in the back of my sister’s car, with my brother-in-law driving, and my father told my mother to get in the backseat with me, because he knew she wanted to spend as much time with me as she could, and so it’s all of us driving back home from Danbury with all these cars behind us, and they kept honking their horns the whole way, and my mother’s going, ‘We’re all going to get arrested if they don’t knock it off!’ but she was laughing, because she was so happy to have all her kids back home again.

“That’s the story. It’s a nice story, isn’t it? I don’t know if it’s good enough for a magazine, but we tell that story every year.

“The time I broke down on the highway, and the whole family came to get me.

“It’s good to have a family like that. A lot of people don’t have any family. When you got a family who show up for you, you got a lot to be happy about in this world, even with everything going on. This year, we can’t have the big Christmas, but we’re all going to get on the computer and that’s what we’ll do until next year.

“I’m just happy I have a family to talk to. That’s what I tell everyone. Just want everybody to be safe. We already all almost died on the side of the highway, and that’s as dangerous as I ever want to get again. Just be happy if you got a family when a lot of people lost so many people this year. If that’s not you, you’re lucky, and I’m very lucky.

“I gotta go, though, my sister’s calling me. My phone’s always ringing. Somebody’s always calling to see how you are. It used to drive me nuts, but I don’t mind it as much. Just nice to hear from everybody, you know?

“Nice to know you got people you can count on.

“Always good to have somebody who’s there when you need them.”