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?


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–


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.


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.


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.


Three or four people. The driver, the passenger–


Maybe two in the backseat?


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


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.”

In Providence: It takes a village

If you’re walking around Providence on a chilly December night, you might pass by a house with quite an impressive window display. While the lights on the outside won’t be that elaborate, the large front window features the pinnacle of holiday decor:

The Christmas Village.

“He was always into it, but he got really into it, I’d say, four or five years after we got married.”

They’re celebrating their 37th year of marriage, and their holidays together are now marked with the construction of a miniature city inside their living room.

“The first year, it wasn’t too bad. I think he had– If I had to guess, I’d say it was four or five houses. I like Christmas, and I liked the little houses. They were cute. My mother gave us the first two. She’s who I have to blame for all this.”

When she says “all this,” what she means is the sprawling metropolis that has now taken over the first floor of her house. 

“People think it’s just what they see, but this is his whole life. He starts working on all this in September. I had to make a rule about it, because he started doing it in the summer, and I had to tell him, ‘You need to wait until September.’ So that’s what he does now, but I can tell he wants to start sooner. He told me last year that he didn’t have time to finish the harbor with all the ships in it in time to get it on display before December. I said, ‘You can put it out next year then.’ You have to stick to your guns.”

While the village is relegated to the living room, the behind-the-scenes of it all extends into the dining room and part of the kitchen. Houses that are in need of repair. Some that need a new paint job. Elaborate inventions to help the yuletide city come to life. The rule is, whatever isn’t completed by December 1 can continue to be worked on, but it can’t go on display. It’s a little like a theatrical production. Once the lights come up on opening night, that’s it. Rehearsal is over. It’s showtime.

“He has a working elevator in one of the buildings. I forget which one, but it’s there. You can put one of the little people in it, and it goes up and down. I don’t know how he did it. I ask him to fix the light in the hallway, and he can’t do it, but ask him to put an elevator in a dollhouse, and he’ll make it work. He’s on the computer all day talking to other people like him. There’s a whole community of them out there. They trade advice and things like that. I don’t know what they talk about. I can’t listen to it, because all I think is, ‘Great. Now, he knows how to make a ferris wheel for the carnival. Things like that.”

When their grandchildren come over, they’re allowed to play with certain parts of the village, but they know other areas are off-limits. Ironically, the section featuring the school and the playground are not accessible to tots, but they can move their counterparts up and down the ski slope as they wish.

“My husband made them little doll versions of themselves. There’s no doll version of me, because I didn’t want one. I don’t want to see a little me in my own house. I wouldn’t like that at all. It’s bad enough he has a version of him that he moves around every night like the Elf on the Shelf. Every morning his little doll is in a new spot, and I tell him how much I hate it. He put a little smile on it too. I told him, ‘You never smile. Why is your doll smiling?’ He tells me not to call them ‘dolls.’ They’re something else. I forget what, but I’m supposed to call them something else, but they’re dolls. Who are we kidding?”

When I ask her why she lets him build the city every year, she tells me about their Christmas Eve tradition.

“We have the kids over, and our grandkids, and we set up the couch, and the tv, and we put on a movie, and the tree is over in the corner, and then my husband, he goes over and hits this switch, and all these lights come on in the village, but they come on one-by-one. Usually, he hits a button and–Bang. They’re on. But on Christmas Eve, he sets it up so that they do a little light show. We all sit there together, and we watch the light show, and I love that. On the couch with my kids and the grandkids, together like that. That makes me very happy. As long as he keeps doing that, he can keep making his village.”

She does have to leave the house the day after New Year’s so he can take it down.

“You ever seen a grown man cry while he’s taking down a doll town? It’s the stupidest thing you ever saw in your life. I go over to my daughter’s house while he does it. Takes him all day. I don’t need to be there for that. Part of being married for a long time is knowing when to give each other space, and when he’s putting his dolls away, he can have all the space he wants.”

If you walk by a house in Providence this Christmas Eve that has a small city in it, and a family sitting on a couch admiring it, feel free to stop and admire the lights as they twinkle and flash. One of the hallmarks of any Christmas village is that they’re always the ideal version of a place we’ve never seen in real life. That feeling you get the night before a day spent with family and good food and presents made eternal with cotton and figurines. Some might think it’s silly, and they’re not wrong, but silliness is in short supply these days, and lately, it’s come to feel quite sacred.

“He’s putting in a cathedral, he says. Not a church, but a cathedral. That’s next year. I guess I got something to look forward to.”

After all, it really is the little things.

In Providence: Up on the Housetop

If you drove by a house on the South Side of Providence a few years ago around the holidays, you might have seen a family standing outside trying to figure out how to rescue Santa.

“What happens is, my husband dresses up like Santa every year for the kids, and on Christmas Eve, my brother and his kids come over, and we do the presents, and then we go, ‘What’s that sound? It sounds like Santa!’ My husband — he sneaks out and gets up on the roof. I tell him that he’s getting too old to be doing that, but the kids get all excited for it.”

The custom is for the whole family to go outside, wave to Santa and then head back in to watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Then, the missing member of the family sneaks back in and swears that he was downstairs in the basement when Santa showed up, and oh gosh, did he miss him again like he did last year?

“It’s stupid, but it’s cute. The kids love it.”

But in 2017, things got a little dicey.

“He had snuck out and was gone for about 10 minutes. We were just about to do our whole act where we tell the kids we think we hear something, but we really do hear something. We hear this big bang. I think he’s just overdoing it, and I think, I’m going to tell him to go easy, or he’s going to come right through the roof next time. I think he’s being a ham, you know? Next thing I know, I hear yelling and everybody goes running outside.”

When they did, they saw Santa hanging onto the top of the roof, legs flailing, and a cherished holiday tradition quickly became a family emergency.

“My brother is going– ‘We gotta call the fire department.’ I’m yelling at him– ‘I’m not getting all those fire people involved in this.’ My father was alive 92 years. Never called the fire department once. Not once. We got a ladder by the garage. I told my brother, ‘Go up there and get Santa.’ All the kids are crying. My sister-in-law took them inside and told them, ‘Santa’s going to be okay. Mom and Uncle are going to save him. Don’t worry.’ My poor kids are traumatized now, all because my stupid husband has to play Santa for my kids and all the neighbors to see.”

And speaking of the neighbors–

“They start coming out of their houses. A bunch of nosebags. Get back in your houses. What are you looking at? My husband’s trying to do a nice thing for the kids, and these people are coming out to laugh. He could have died. One of my neighbors brought me over some coffee though while my brother got up on the ladder. That was nice. She’s nice, the woman across the street. She’s a nurse. God bless those people. I don’t know how they do it.”

Her brother managed to get up on the roof, but once he did, he realized what the problem was. The entire surface was nearly covered in ice. It had rained and her husband hadn’t checked to make sure it wasn’t frozen over before it was too late.

“Now my brother is up there trying to get ahold of something, and my husband’s hanging on and screaming that he’s losing his grip, and the kids can hear him screaming inside, so my sister-in-law’s turning up the tv so the kids can’t hear, and I’m screaming at my husband that he needs to shut up, because he’s scaring the kids, and the neighbors are saying we should call the fire department, and I’m telling them– ‘Mind your own business!’ Except for the lady across the street, she’s nice. I like her. You should hear how much she works. She never gets a break. God bless her.”

Finally, her brother managed to get to her husband and help him get to the ladder. Once they were safely down on the ground, he took a few photos with the neighbors, and then waved to the kids through the window so they could see Santa was all right.

“Imagine if he fell through the roof on Christmas Eve! I would have killed him. I would have killed Santa right in front of the kids. Good thing we had that ladder. We borrowed it from my cousin and never gave it back. Don’t use my name. I don’t want my cousin to know we still have that ladder. What does he need it for? He has more money than god. He could buy 20 ladders if he wanted to. That ladder saved my husband’s life.”

Since that year, Santa doesn’t make his trip up to the rooftop anymore, but he does wave to the kids from the comfort of the front yard.

“I told him to go over and wave to the lady across the street, too. She’s a nurse in the middle of all of this. Do you believe it? I told him, ‘Go over there and have Santa wave to her, because she deserves it. She’s a hero. Get over there before I come out there and kick Santa’s ***.’ That’s what I told him. She got a real kick out of it. I’m glad. She’s a good person.”

And what about the kids?

“They’re getting a little older now. I don’t know if they like seeing Santa as much as they used to. But my husband still likes doing it, you know? These days, it’s really more for him. It makes him so happy to do it. As long as he doesn’t try getting back up on that roof, I don’t care. But I’m not paying for a new roof just so he can play Santa. ‘Santa’s walking this year, kids.’ That’s what I told the kids the first year he was outside in the yard. ‘Santa’s just going to walk.

Even the oldest traditions have to change with the times.

In Providence: The Christmas Cat

If you bring up the cat, you’re likely to start a war.

“I’m telling you right now, that cat is not going in the photo.”

For years, the matriarch of his family swore off animals. She never let his mother or aunts have pets growing up. In fact, when any of them would try bringing home an animal, like children do, she would promptly tell them to return it to whatever alleyway or patch of woods from whence it came. She was merciless when it came to this.

“She wouldn’t even be in the same house as an animal. When she’d go over to my aunt’s house, she used to make my aunt put her dog in the back part of the basement. My grandmother would swear she could smell it if it wasn’t as far away as possible. She hated animals. Hated them.”

That is, until her husband died.

“People change after they lose their spouse. That’s what happens, but– She started feeding this cat that would come around to her back door. We didn’t know this. We didn’t know she was doing this. Then one day, my mother goes over to the house, and she sees a cat sitting on the kitchen table. On the table.”

I contacted his mother to confirm this.

“My mother wouldn’t even pet a dog. Not even a nice dog. Now she has a mangy cat sitting on the table. And I like cats, but this cat was mangy. I said, ‘Ma, where did you get this cat?’ ‘She was outside and I started feeding her. Now she’s mine.’ ‘What do you mean she’s yours? She’s a wild cat.’ I’m talking to her, and the damn thing hisses at me and goes to jump at me. I thought it was going to go right at my face. My mother walks right over, picks it up, and starts talking nice to it. I couldn’t believe it.”

Her mother denied that she’d ever had a problem with animals, and she started referring to the newly adopted cat as her “fourth daughter.”

“Not just her fourth, her favorite.”

She denies saying “favorite,” but I can’t say she was all that convincing when I spoke with her.

“They were all worried about me when my husband died. Checking on me all the time. I get a cat and I’m happy and they’re worried about the cat. You can’t please kids. You really can’t.”

According to them, they had reason to worry.

“She’s running home from family events, because she says the cat gets lonely. That cat never got domesticated either. If you went over the house, that thing would run at you. Jump on you. She almost clawed my son to death.”

Her son backs up this story.

“She went right up my back. I thought I was going to die. I wanted to call animal services.”

His grandmother disputes this.

“He’s being a chickenshit. The poor thing was just scared. He came into the house without knocking. You can’t do that. She thought he was breaking in. She was protecting me. That’s why she’s my favorite.”

The breaking point came when she wanted to have the cat in the family photo they take every year for Christmas.

“I told my mother, ‘The cat is not going in the photo.’ Now, we talked about having animals in the photo before, and she always said none of our pets could be in the photo, but now she wants her cat in the photo? I don’t think so.”

Her mother has a counterargument.

“Their pets were pets. She’s not a pet. She’s my baby. You’re telling me I can’t have my baby in the photo with me? She’s so pretty. Have you seen my daughter’s dog? That is an ugly dog. Nobody wants to see that dog. Everybody wants to see my baby. I got her a sweater. I got her a hat. A Santa hat. She wouldn’t wear it, but I was going to put it on my lap so people knew it was hers. It was going to be so cute.”

It became a war.

“I told her ‘Grandma, I can’t take a photo with that cat. It hates me. It wants to kill me.’ She told me that we can do the photo this year without the grandkids. That’s so the cat can be in the photo, but not me. That was her compromise.”

When the family wouldn’t back down, the head of the family simply refused to show up for the photo. They took it without her for the first time in decades. A few weeks later, they all received a photograph in the mail.

“My mother took her own photo — just her and the cat.”

I have to say, looking at the photo, she and the cat both look lovely.

“Are you trying to be funny? It’s the scariest s___ I’ve ever seen.”

Okay, so the cat looks as though it’s trying to escape from its owners arms, and the loving mother looks like she might be having a heart attack, but she got her way.

“That photo is not allowed in my house. I told my son, ‘Never let me see that photo again.’”

This year, they can’t take their family photo, because they don’t want to risk being altogether. It has caused the rest of the family to come around on the idea of adding one more sibling to the family.

“I call my grandma, and she’s chasing the cat around, keeping busy. And I’m glad she’s not alone. You know, we visit, and stand at the window, but I know it’s not the same. If my grandpa were still alive, it would be different, but if she didn’t have that cat driving her crazy, I’d be worried that she’d be getting lonely.”

His grandmother admits as much.

“Oh, if I didn’t have my baby? I’d be losing it. That’s for sure. The other day I was making her breakfast and the next thing I know, she sees a cricket in the house and she’s on top of the china cabinet, knocking everything down, breaking things. I had to stop cooking her eggs and go catch her before she destroyed the whole dining room. Never a dull moment.”

If you walk by a house on the northern side of Providence, you might see a cat sitting in a window, guarding the home of its mother and savior. It’s possible the cat will be wearing a Santa hat, but it’s not likely.

“She still hates that hat. I don’t even want to tell you what happens if I try and put it on her.”

Kids, right?

In Providence: Home again

If you take the train home to Rhode Island from New York the day before Thanksgiving, you might feel that energy of migration. The motion of thousands of other people all headed in various directions — back to families and Friends-givings, weekend bags on the seat next to them, potentially dreading the political conversation that might spring up over turkey and the gelatinous cranberry sauce jiggling on the table.

“I was on the train and this guy sat next to me. We started talking. He said, ‘I’m going back home to Providence.’ I said, ‘Of course you are.’ Because all I do is run into people from Providence. Every bar I’ve ever been in since I’ve lived in New York City, if you talk to enough people, you’re going to meet someone from Rhode Island. It always happens.”

She’d been living in the city for three years, and she’d made it a point to go home for every major holiday. Her family was close, and they wouldn’t take “No” for an answer, but Thanksgiving was her favorite time to return.

“There just isn’t the pressure of Christmas. Christmas is so much pressure. Every other time of year, it feels hard to get away from work and anything else I have going on. Thanksgiving is easier for me. I look forward to it. I put up the Out of Office and I grab a sandwich on the way to the station, and I really … I really enjoy it. The trip home. It’s nice.”

The guy who sat next to her was making the trip home for the first time. He’d moved to the city the year before to work at a startup tech firm, and he was having trouble adjusting.

“We talked about places we like going in the city, and I gave him some tips, some places I like, and we talked about growing up in Providence, and you know, of course, he lives two blocks over from me. I’m on ______ Street and he’s two streets over. We were laughing, because we’re pretty much neighbors.”

They were both planning on renting a car when they got to New Haven, but that didn’t seem to make much sense once they knew how close their destinations were. Then again, it’s not wise to hop in a car with a stranger you met on a train just because they claim they live near you, so she did what any reasonable Rhode Islander would do. She called her mother and asked if there was any connection there.

“Sure enough, his mom and my mom worked together years ago at this law firm. Not only are we neighbors, but our parents know each other, and he randomly sat down next to me on the train. I’m almost thinking that someone is pulling a prank on me, but like I said, this happens all the time in New York. And I say to my mother, ‘Good thing you know him, because it’ll save me money on a rental if I can split it.’ My mom goes, ‘Just don’t ask him about his father, because he had cancer.’ My mom loves to tell you what not to ask people about. Just to mess with her I turn to him and say ‘Your father had cancer?’ And it turns out, he didn’t have cancer. My mother was thinking of someone else. To this day, I’ll tell this story and she’ll go, ‘Are you sure his father didn’t have cancer?’ It’s been driving her nuts for years.”

They drive back to Rhode Island together and find that they’re really hitting it off. Neither can believe the odds of a love story beginning in such a cinematic way, but neither is all that mad about it either. By the time they’re back in Providence, they’ve already made plans to meet up later that night once they’ve spent some time with family.

“We went to this bar, and not only do we keep bumping into people who know me, we’re bumping into people who know both of us. Everybody’s going, ‘You two don’t know each other?’ And I’m going, ‘Well, we do now.’ It happened all night.”

The next morning, he stopped by her house as she was helping her mother get Thanksgiving dinner ready to introduce himself to her family.

“My mother was more smitten than I was. Right then, she was ready to marry me off. I told her to slow down, because we had just met, but we did have a good time the night before, and we were going to drive back together that Saturday.”

But when Friday night arrived and they made plans to get drinks, he called to tell her he had bad news.

“He decided to stay in Rhode Island. He wasn’t going back to New York.”

She was heartbroken. What had looked like some kind of fairy tale was now having an abrupt, real life ending. That Saturday, she made the drive back to New Haven alone, and sat by herself on the train once more, this time without a serendipitous meeting of any kind.

“It just felt wrong. Something about it. I was thinking, Am I supposed to move back or is he supposed to stay in New York? You just knew something should happen, but you didn’t know what it was.”

The answer came a month later.

“I came home for Christmas and he called to ask me if I would get dinner with him. I said, ‘Yes’ but I almost didn’t, because I had been thinking about him all month, and I was trying to forget him. It felt unfair to meet somebody like that and not have it work out.”

They had a nice dinner downtown, and as he was walking her back to her car, they were both trying to find the right thing to say. Instead, the two shared a long hug, and went their separate ways for the second time.

“I cried the whole way home. It was so stupid, because I barely knew this guy, and I was not giving up my life in New York for a guy. That wasn’t happening. But it didn’t make it hurt any less.”

When she got back to New York, it was New Year’s Day, and she was hoping a new year would give her a new perspective.

“Instead I walked into my apartment, and a pipe’s burst. There’s water everywhere. Most of my stuff is ruined. It looked like a tank at an aquarium.”

While she had no intention of moving home for love, she also trusted the Universe to tell her when it was time to make a change.

“I’m walking around the city while the super handles what’s going on in my apartment, and I’m noticing all these things I never noticed before — New York is a beautiful place, but it’s for a certain kind of person, and you might be that person for a long time, and then one day, you’re not that person anymore. I don’t know why, but that day, I wasn’t that person anymore. I don’t know where she went, but she was gone, and that meant I was gone, too.”

She was back in Providence a week later, and a year after that, she had a new house and a new husband. He had been hoping she’d find her way back, and when she returned home in the middle of January, he was waiting for her at the train station.

“My mother said, ‘If you don’t marry him, you’re crazy. He drove to pick you up at five o’clock. Five o’clock!’ She’s got a point.”

The weekend before Thanksgiving, she usually heads back to the city to see friends and check out old stomping grounds. Although that’s going to be a little harder this year — for a few reasons.

“The baby does not do well in the car. Not yet. We’re working on it, though.”

If you feel something missing this year, it might be that sweep of movement that happens every November as people return home to be with their loved ones. While it’s going to be difficult to forego it this time around, it turns out that not every expression is as accurate as it seems.

“I love when you’re driving up the highway and you see the city. It’s silly things like the storage facility and the Big Blue Bug and the factory next to the bridge lit up — all of that. When it’s where you’re from, you love seeing it, no matter what.”

It turns out if you wait for the right time, you can go home again.