Today everything seems old. Sitting in this diner in a burgundy booth with Ann and Destiny, I feel older than I have ever felt. The seats of the diner are worn thin from too many plump asses sliding in for a quick bite to eat. Destiny wants to order French toast again. For some reason this irritates me a bit. Ann is talking to us about the anticipation she feels that her boyfriend will be released from jail sometime in the next couple of weeks. I smile at Destiny and she winks at me. I think that someday I will marry her, but the thought fades and I tell her that I love her for the thousandth time today. She tells me that she knows and calls me silly then takes another sip of her coke. I think to myself that life is passing me by and that there are so many other places that I would rather be in the world right now; yet, I am happy to be here with these two people and can not think of any place that I would rather be. I try. I recall pictures in my mind of being in Frankfurt in 1987, drunk and willing to begin any adventure that came my way. But right now, I would rather be in this diner in Tujunga smelling the suffocating aroma of week old frying grease and cholesterol laden French toast.
I notice that I have not said anything to Ann in a while, so I ask her how certain she is that her boyfriend, whom we had visited just weeks before, would be released. She says that she doesn’t know but hopes that the “fuckers” will release him soon. She adds that she is tired of living alone. A question forms in my head that I hesitate to ask. I can never seem to stop myself from asking questions that may not be appropriate. I make an effort to restrain myself. I ask anyway.
“You need to get laid, huh?”
“Yeah, but it’s not all about that.”
I pause, then ask, “you just miss being held?”
She slowly raises her eyes from her plate of salad and says, “I guess that’s what I miss.” She looks down again and begins playing with her fork, spearing a cross section of cucumber and spinning it a concentration of bleu cheese dressing, then adds, “I just want him here.”
I am sorry that I brought up the subject. I am sorry that she has been through so much pain. I close my eyes for a moment, then open them again and look at Ann. I think that she is the kindest person that I know. I think about how fortunate I am that she is my friend. I wish that I could undo all the hell that her life has been and continues to be. I am no longer thinking of where else I could be. I have forgotten my youthful rebellion, my teasing the governing authorities and my tempting of death to tighten the noose around my cocky, drunk neck. None of this matters. This is perfect. This is where I belong. This is where I want to be for the rest of my life.
The waitress comes by and asks us if we are ready to order. She has many wide lines that run the entire length of her face like the San Andreas fault. This is the fifth time that she has come by our table to take our order. I am annoyed with her for interrupting. I am annoyed, but I then console myself that she is just doing her job, trying to scrape by on a meager wage, not unlike myself and Ann and Destiny, yet knowing that we do not respect her. We turn her away again. She walks off after letting loose a little sigh of impatience. Destiny comments that “she is a grumpy old bitch.” I tell her that she should kick her ass. She looks at me from across the table and says. “YEAH!!” We all start laughing and look in the direction of the waitress. She pretends not to notice us, but we all know that she does. I am happy that the mood is lighter and that Ann is laughing. I no longer care about the waitress. I no longer care about the world outside this diner. The only world that matters is surrounded by a burgundy vinyl couch, cracked in places by the weight of a hungry public, patched with silver threaded duct tape to avoid tearing fifteen dollar Kmart slacks or twenty year old Levi’s, with an over-sized, obtuse table anchored in the middle, so that people of any amount of girth, as myself, have to hold their breath for extended periods of time to sit in a comfortable position without their over-ripened bellies pressing forcefully against the metallic edge of the table. The only people in this world are Ann and Destiny and me.
The waitress returns and we order. Ann and I order the chili size. Destiny orders the French toast and the eggs and the hash browns and the bacon and the sausage. I ask her how she stays so little when she eats so god damned much. She tells me to shut up and says that I am jealous of her and wish that I could eat as much as her. I laugh at her and shake my head.
I remove the lid from a jar of mustard conveniently left on the table by the waitress so as to cut down on the special requests that we as customers might make of her, and wave it under Destiny’s nose. I ask her if she will be having any mustard with her French toast. She does not answer for a moment. She places her hand on the jar, opposite my hand, and pushes it away. She tells me that the smell is making her feel nauseous. I tend, at times, to take a joke too far. I begin to feel bad, as if this were one of those times. Then I realize that this is not and I feel a little better. Nonetheless, I apologize to Destiny. She asks why, then says not to worry about it. Ann looks at me and I return her gaze. She begins a sentence and then stops herself as if she feels uncomfortable bringing up a subject she is not supposed to know about, or knows a subject too well to hold back her knowledge of it, and wants so desperately to speak of, and in the end cannot contain herself. She drops her glance again, studying the artificial wood grain of the Formica table, visible through a thousand layers of lacquer, and says in an almost too blunt manner, ” You know that she is over two weeks late for her period, don’t you?” I am startled, not because I did not know, but because I did not want to think of this here, in this moment, in this universe. Destiny excuses herself. She says that she has to go and pee but I know that she has to throw up. She has been doing that a lot lately. I look over at Ann slowly so as not to give her the impression that I am upset with her. I force a little smile. The universe has collapsed into a little vacuum within my stomach. I feel almost ill. Ann smiles back and I say, “I’m not worried, her period is very irregular.”
“She has all the signs, you know.” She replies, not in a quip manner, but with heavy feeling behind her voice.
“She is always late.”
“Yes, has to do with her medication.” Destiny is a manic-depressive. “When did you finish yours?” I ask, knowing that their periods had regulated a few months earlier and had now begun to get out of sync..
“Two weeks ago.”
“Two weeks since you started or since you finished?”
“Finished.” she answers, her tone almost dry.
“Oh.” I say after a pause. I take a drink of my rootbeer and sit back. I look out of the dull, sun-bleached, orange venetian blinds. It had started to rain and I had not noticed. I watch the headlights illuminate the drops falling in the street. I glance over at the parking lot. The rain is coming down rather hard now and is bouncing off of the cars assembled in the parking lot.
“I will let myself worry in about a week,” I say, letting a little bit more feeling slip through in my tone. Ann doesn’t answer. She simply nods.
I know that she thinks that I am reacting like a “typical male.” I know she is thinking that I will treat Destiny like the asshole men who are shown on Oprha, Geraldo and other daytime talk shows, who turn their backs on the women they impregnate and treat them as if the fault for the pregnancy lies solely on the women and that the men have no responsibility towards to baby or the mother. I think of a girl I once knew named Beth. She was living with a doctor from Jordan and had been telling me for weeks that she was happier than she had been in her entire life. From time to time I would have dinner and drinks with them. Then one day Beth came to me and informed me that she was pregnant. She was on her way home to tell the Jordanian doctor and was hoping that he would ask her to marry him. I wished her luck and she left. Two hours later I received a phone call. Beth was crying and asked if I could pick her up. I drove to a phone booth in the city near her apartment. She was sitting on a bus bench, hunched over holding her stomach. As I pulled up, she looked up. She had wide black streaks on her face, like tire tracks, from her tears pouring through her mascara. With a little help from me, she got in the car. When asked, she told me that when she had told the doctor that she was pregnant, he went “ballistic,” called her a whore, and punched her in the stomach. He then physically threw her out and told her to, “have your fucking bastard baby on the street!” I felt so sad for her. I could not understand how an educated man, a doctor for Christ’s sake, could do this to a woman. I was indelibly marked by this experience. I beat into myself that I would never be that kind of a male asshole. The thought of Ann sitting there, thinking that I am somehow in the same animal class as the Jordanian doctor, makes me mad. I am mad; yet, I am not mad at Ann, but am mad at men in general.
I shift my gaze slowly to the left and meet Ann’s eyes. I love her in this moment. I love her for caring so much for Destiny that she is willing to sacrifice our friendship to protect her. I want to convey so much to her. I want to tell her a world of thoughts and feelings. I search in my mind for words. I open my mouth to speak, hoping that something intelligible will miraculously flow out and set the situation right. I begin to speak, “I want you to know….” Then from behind me, over the clanks and bangs from the kitchen, over the spoons stirring in coffee cups, over the voices and the traffic and the rain, I hear Destiny’s voice call my name. I’m confused for a moment and can’t figure out from where the voice has come. I dart a glance at Ann. In the same moment, Ann is turning her head to her left, in the direction of the entrance. Ann’s face becomes bloodless. The bones of her face pour through her suddenly white face, and her face becomes gaunt, like every statue of Jesus suffering on the cross that I have seen at church, with the weight of his death and the sins of the world causing gravity to multiply and push his face downward towards hell. The one eye of Ann’s that I can see from her profile bulges in its socket, wanting to travel to the horror that it sees, yet is held back by nerves and skin. She begins to make an effort to free herself from the burgundy prison that confines her, but her motion is slowed as she struggles against the metallic edge of the table that is slicing into her breasts, causing her to contort and wiggle to make her escape. I look to my right, in the direction of Ann’s motion and see Destiny wavering in her balance, teetering back and forth like a small child in a wind storm. She reaches out and grabs hold of a wood structure that has been erected to elevate a cash register. She turns her back to the structure and slides down the vertical face until she is sitting in the fetal position. I follow Ann out of the booth. The diner blurs into a tunnel with Ann and me on one side and Destiny on the other. Sounds are distorted and of different speeds as they register in my brain. Each steps is a labor and it seems we are on a journey. Days seem to pass between each stride. I hear people asking questions. I know what they are saying, can see their mouths forming the words, “is she okay?” “what’s going on,” but nothing matters except reaching the end of the tunnel, reaching Destiny.
We arrive. Destiny is barely conscious. We ask her a barrage of questions, much the same as the people in the diner asked us on our journey. I kneel on her left, Ann on her right. I bark an order for someone to bring water. Ann follows the order, although it was not intended for her. She returns and Destiny sips from the glass of crushed ice and water. I wonder if it could be harmful to give icy water to a person who has fainted. I try to recall a magazine article I once read on the subject that I once read, but to no avail. I ask Destiny if she can stand. She says that she will try. Ann and I give her a hand, but Destiny has no strength in her legs and quickly slides back down to her fetal position. She lets out a little giggle and says that she is not going anywhere. I bend down, place my left arm behind her back and my right arm under her legs and carefully lift her. She calls me superman and gives me a little kiss on the cheek. I carry her a few steps and gingerly set her down on a tan, crescent shaped couch in the waiting room. I tell Ann to inform the waitress to pack our food to go and she complies. Destiny says that she is silly for fainting. I laugh and clear a few strands of hair away from her eyes. I ask her how she is feeling and she says that she feels drunk. I tell her that in that case she must feel great. She replies that if she knew what was going on with her body, the feeling might be considered enjoyable. I take her hand and caress it lovingly and wonder if I am comforting her or myself. I conclude that it really doesn’t matter because we both need comforting.
Ann returns and says that everything is taken care of. I give her a 20 and ask her to pay. Destiny says that she feels well enough to walk, so I help her out of the diner, down a little handicap ramp, around the corner and into my car. Ann joins us shortly after, carrying an apple box filled with four Styrofoam containers that are housing all of our gluttonous wantings.
I drive Ann home. On the way, she says to us, “you guys should really buy a test, especially now that this has happened.” I agree with her and promise to buy one on the way home. She politely asks me to phone her with the results and I tell her that I will. I drop her off at her house, take Destiny’s hand and head towards the market to find out what will become of our lives.