The Nevada City Wine Diaries
Before going to Augusta, Maine, for my dead friend’s visiting hours, I was in New York for something else that I didn’t exactly have to go to but sort of did. New York involved a lot of revelry and putting on and taking off coats. It was the same as always except under the now two-week-old veil of despair about Trump. Every conversation was some version of “How scared are you” “I don’t know, how scared are YOU?” and, additionally, in my case, “Your friend was murdered? What the FUCK?”
I had taken a redeye to New York Monday and slept soundly only once while there. Friday afternoon, I got on the train to meet my father in Boston and drive to Maine full of so many kinds of grief that I felt like I was almost becoming a different person. I also sensed I was getting epically sick, but I hoped that was just part of the molting process. All I wanted to do was get to where I was going, watch two episodes of The Crown, cry, and fall asleep. My mother was already with the family of my murdered friend. So my father picked me up alone.
It quickly became clear that we were not well matched to spend time together at this juncture in history, in a car, in traffic. We were both horrified that Trump had won the election, but I was horrified in a despondent, terrified way and my father in a reflective, we’ve been here before, I-refuse-to-boycott-the-Patriots kind of way. He didn’t have a lot to say about the ways that he was horrified, while I had quite a lot. Plus, there was why we were even here. “I’m sorry I’m so depressing,” I said. “I’m just — depressed.” My father managed a laugh at my turn of phrase.
“Do you want to hear a funny story?” I said, a few mile markers into a protracted silence.
“Yes,” he said vehemently, “I do.”
I told him how I had spent the morning agonizing over whether I should be honest with a friend about a shortcoming of hers, and when I finally was, she managed to not hear me at all. “She just carried on as if I hadn’t said anything,” I said. My father said nothing. “That’s the funniest story I have,” I said.
I searched for a place to eat that my father would find unpretentious. We used my Google maps to get there. “Take the second right after the rotary,” said the Google map voice.
“What do you call her?” my father asked.
“What?” I said.
“Your mother and I always give the GPS lady a name.”
I felt very sad and then sadder because I did not want to have fun. “Sorry,” I said. “I guess I don’t really have a good sense of her.”
I started crying while we were eating and then drank one IPA and felt good for ten minutes and then worse. While my father was in the bathroom I paid. This was unprecedented. I mean, if my parents are around I don’t even let my eyes wander in the vicinity of a check. My father actually thought I was joking when I said I paid already and took out his wallet. “No really,” I said, as the waiter set down my card and the slip. My father shook his head in astonishment. “I feel it’s the least I can do for being such bad company,” I said.
There had been traffic in Boston, but then there was traffic in Maine. Well past Portland, long past summer. “What the fuck?” I said. “Is every single person who lives in Maine driving right now?”
My mother told me she’d gotten us a nice AirBnb and the whole time we were driving I dreamed about some modest furnished rooms, with World Market sofas, and a small bedroom. I would watch my show and then I would maybe cry and then I would sleep for ten whole hours and wake up and have a cup of black coffee. Maybe there would just be a pullout bed. But that would be fine too. I was so tired and I felt this pulsing at the top of my head, and my skin was tender. I was now not about to get sick, I was sick. But if I could sleep, I might just be able to fight it off.
My mother was there, as well as my dead friend’s sister and their aunt. I hugged everyone. I hugged my dead friend’s aunt probably the longest I have ever hugged anyone in my life. I’ve always liked her. She doesn’t have any children so she never cared about us in that intense way that parents do, which I have always found so oppressive and unfair to the parents. You can say whatever you want to her and she laughs. Parents just feel too bad for you, are too touched by your pain. It just makes it hurt more. They left. “Where’s the other room?” I asked.
My parents hadn’t gotten two rooms. There were two double beds in one room, and I looked at them and swallowed. I might as well have been looking at a cliff. I tried to make the best of it. I took a shower. I got into bed. The lights went out. I was wide awake.
I went into the living room/kitchen to sleep on the floor. Everything was making noise. I unplugged the refrigerator and the microwave. I was just falling asleep when a steady thop, thop, thop, started up. Of course. The ice in the freezer was melting and dripping into the refrigerator.
All the rage and sorrow inside me tangled up with each other and I looked at a space heater on the ground and thought, “I could throw that out the window. What a great idea.”
I said to myself three times, “Do not throw the space heater out the window.”
I alternately watched “The Crown” and sobbed. I got what I had wanted, it just went on all night instead of for two hours. When my father walked out of the bedroom at 7:15 a.m. I was still awake.
Secular WASPS/Yankees often don’t have funerals or memorial services. They have something called visiting hours. Visiting hours entail austere people gathering in austere places to chat, about the deceased, if they wish, but also about other things. My friend’s visiting hours were were also her husband’s, he had been murdered as well and were, as I mentioned, in Augusta, Maine’s capital city. It’s an old mill town with a metal bridge and a lot of old brick buildings along a river. It’s the version of New England that’s between picturesque and stark.
I had managed to sleep for about three hours before the one o’clock starting time. At this point I had the chills and my body hurt, but a one-two punch dose of Alka-Seltzer Plus cold medicine and Advil and I could stand and speak. We waited in a long line. Then we hugged her dad, who was upright and dry-eyed in his old Coast Guard uniform, and her mother. I didn’t say anything to them, like “I’m so sorry.” It wasn’t like that. It was just that I was here, that was the important thing.
But her brother and I hugged each other and I cried into his shoulder. We had all grown up together, like cousins. He and I in particular used to be so mean to each other when we were little, each of us trying to be smarter than the other one. I thought of all the children across America, right now, who were being mean to each other and had no idea that they were all going to be dead one day, possibly soon.
“Oh, shit,” I said, pulling away from him. “I’m sick. I’m not supposed to hug people.”
“It’s OK,” he said. “I work in a hospital. How was your trip up here?”
“Oh, you know, I was just really miserable and was telling my dad about it at great length,” I said.
He burst out laughing. “How did that go?”
“Not very well,” I said, and we laughed more because my dad is just a type and so is his and they are similar and, therefore, so are we, to each other.
There was a big display of pictures of my friend. Among them was one of me, with her, and her sister. I’m ashamed to say I spent some time examining it trying to figure out why my hair looked so bad and why I was so fat. I looked at a picture of my friend, maybe the last one taken of her, dressed for Halloween like a hippie. I remembered one time when we were all little —eight, ten or so — my friend, her brother and sister and my brother and I got dressed up in some fur coats, hats, and gloves we found at our ski rental and pretended to give “concerts” on a player piano. I have never laughed so hard in my life — never. It is really funny seeing someone who looks like an animal play the piano like a virtuoso.
At this point I heard my friend’s laugh inside my head and I almost doubled over from… I don’t know what. How about just reality? There wasn’t a lot of naked emotion on display in the room and I was standing close to the center of it and I didn’t want to be a spectacle. I found a chair and sat in it and ended up having a half hour conversation about novels with a seventy-year-old lesbian who had just retired. “What do you do now?” I said.
“Whatever I want, “ she said.
She didn’t know my friend. She was friends with her sister.
“I’m sad,” I said.
“I’ll bet,” she said.
We went to back to our friend’s house for dinner. It was sort of like normal, except not. My parents had bought a supermarket lasagna. I made myself a hot toddy, because this is an acceptable thing to drink when you’re sick. (It turns out that I had pneumonia.)
Afterward I went to the refrigerator to see if they had any white wine. In the door was a magnum of Woodbridge Sauvignon Blanc. I poured it right into the mug, over the chunks of lemon left over from the hot toddy. I drank it with the mediocre lasagna. People who like wine say it’s not about the wine, it’s about the food, the people. This was the perfect wine for this occasion. It tasted like wine you get out of a big bottle in someone’s refrigerator door.
My friend’s parents host a party every spring, and raised the issue with the family of whether they should do it this year. Everyone agreed that they should. That night I shared a room with my friend’s sister. She was a quieter sleeper than my parents, and I liked sharing a room with her. The darkness felt cozy, exactly as it had when we were children, like no time had passed at all.