There are two women in my circle named Marsha and Patricia who argue a lot about how to be a mother because of God and also not because of God, depending on who is talking. We keep things old school in our development, whereas other people in other neighborhoods of other towns would be on a Facebook group, everyone in their own homes, banging away at a keyboard, click, click, click, with a punctuating swig of the wine. Or so I figure. But we get together. We had a Golden Girls night with a marathon made possible by no less than four DVD sets of the complete series to pick from between the ten or so of us.
“Stocking stuffers,” I said, trying to make a joke register without wishing to convey I could truly joke, but that I was at least there in spirit, to which Patricia cracked back about her favorite kind of stocking stuffer, pinching my elbow in that way people do when they want to impart to you that they are overcompensating, for the situation is such a hard one—cue a Blanche joke—but they mean well, and you, someday, will bounce back. Then we ate cheesecake and everyone guessed which “girl” everyone else was most like, and who who they probably thought they were most like. Rarely does the dyed-in the-frumpy-sweater Dorothy fail to try and see herself as a brassy Blanche or a clement Rose, but it’s more like a Jiminy Cricket party in that way, with a whole lot of wishing going on.
That was my first time with the people I used to call my other girls, after my girl Portia was run over on her bike by her old sixth grade science teacher, Mr. Derata, who had retired to drink and die.
For all of the people wanting to say “What are the chances?” I always had the words, “What aren’t the chances?” ready to go, but I never said them, because people didn’t know how to even begin that exchange. Elbows get pinched. The neck is rubbed. I strengthened hands like some tennis ball you squeeze to build up the wrists.
Everyone generally felt bad for Mr. Derata prior to the final time he saw my daughter—if he saw her—when they chanced upon him in town because he was widowed and came off as one of those people who seemed like he’d have to be married for sixty years—because he got married at about twenty—to live the full allotment of his years, or else would die very soon after his spouse did.
Portia used to call the spotting of a teacher, outside of his or her natural environment—she interwove the argot of science into her speech, but you never sensed she aimed to leave you behind—a peak surprise. Akin to when one reads a news report of the deer that went wandering some random night, found no resistance, and so kept going, only to cause a commotion in the city come the morning when people found it there.
When we’d spot Mr. Derata and his wife at the doughnut shop or the grocery store, Portia all but skipped to him, and within what could not have been more than three words—I couldn’t hear, but I’d watch her mouth—she had him laughing the way that two people laugh for whom jokes that everyone can get nonetheless have additional meanings to just the two of them.
The high school hockey team had put a bunch of players in the pros, and hockey was big in our town because there also wasn’t much to do on a Friday night except try to defrost your balls, which was a joke that went back long before we got there, and left women shaking their heads, or “scratching their clits,” as my saucy friend Janis said, who was the exception to the prevailing Golden Girls rule in that she was both a lot like Blanche and knew herself to be as well.
I say “run over” because run over is not hit. There’s a bounce with a hit. Going off to the side. A wrap-around quality, which is body-preserving, ironically, though the same cannot always be said for the life within that body. A three-dimensional, physical person is maintained. There is no flattening, no turning into what is a kind of crunching paper but still something of a face.
Mr. Derata and his wife attended all of the hockey games. Sometimes in the paper the next day, there’d even be a quote from him about how he’d never seen a goal like the one Tim Findershun scored with one guy—no, make that two—draped on his back and a third hooking him. He was the old salt of the stands with Mrs. Derata next to him, before she herself became a pillar of salt, or dust, because Mr. Derata didn’t have her buried. I always figured a man of science would know too much about decomposition to stop himself from imagining. Those were the stupid thoughts I had during boring hockey games, with the left ass cheek gone numb the muffled sounds of so many mittens clapping.
Portia would always say, “Wait, mom,” like we were doing anything besides watching kids chase a puck, when she picked out Mr. Derata in the crowd with his wife, all of us up in the stands, and then later when he didn’t have a wife. He didn’t drool, per se, when she was gone, but you could make out an aspect of glazed eyes from a distance, the drinker’s eyes of someone who could shit themselves in their bed and stay there for another few hours because what did it matter anymore anyway, and who was there to see?
“I bet that guy can stink up a fucking room,” my husband Matt would say as we’d turn and look half a period later, with Portia still sitting beside Mr. Derata, whose eyes at least looked like they had some sort of pilot light of humanness in them again.
He was hunched and she was more straight up, not a pillar of salt, but a fine column of a girl who had the vertical foundation of a woman in her, as if you could have slanted her on her side and built the pyramids on her back and character. She was so damn foundational, and it occurred to me that maybe there is nothing better you can think about someone.