Home > We're All Damaged(3)

We're All Damaged(3)
Matthew Norman

“Outside. This is what outside sounds like here.” I look at the bar across the street, the one I just left. A few more people wander in.

“It’s Grandpa,” she says. “It’s time.”

Even when something is inevitable, you still feel it, and for a while, I don’t say anything.

“Are you still there?” she says. “Andy?”

“Are they sure?” I say. “Is there anything . . . they can do?”

“No. There’s nothing they can do. That’s not how this works. You know that.”

“Oh,” I say. My grandpa has been sick for a long time, so long, in fact, that I struggle briefly to think of a time when he was totally healthy.

“He asked about you. I told him you’re coming. He’s in and out of it, but he wants to see you. I’ve got you on an 11:50 a.m. flight tomorrow out of LaGuardia. I’ll text you the details. You have a layover in Chicago. From the way you sound right now, it’s probably good I didn’t put you on the 8:00 a.m.”

“Mom, I’m fine.”

“Anyway,” she says. “Your brother’s picking you up. He has all the information he needs.”

“I don’t know, Mom,” I say.

“What do you mean you don’t know? There’s nothing to know. It’s all been arranged. You just have to get to the airport.”

“I don’t know if I’m ready to come back yet,” I say.

My mother is the type of woman who’s prepared for things—a no-nonsense type of woman, a take-no-prisoners type of woman, et cetera. She takes a long breath, gathering herself. “Andrew. Your grandpa is about to die. My father is about to die, and he wants to see you. You’re not a teenager. You’re a thirty-one-year-old man. You’re getting on that plane, and you’re coming back to Omaha. Do you understand me?”

I’m a kid again—a skinny teenager with bad skin and an enormous Adam’s apple—totally powerless. “I’ll think about it.”

“You’ll think about it? Your plane takes off in . . . twelve hours. There is no thinking.”

“Just . . . I’ll call you, OK.”

“So help me God, Andy, if you’re not on—”

I slide my phone into my back pocket and wish I’d actually said the word good-bye. It would have felt much less like I was hanging up on my mother. And now I’m thinking about my grandpa laughing. It was years ago, over Thanksgiving break. My brother and I were watching Austin Powers in the basement in our pajamas. “What’s this stupid thing?” my grandpa asked. He sat down between us on the couch with his coffee mug. “Holy Christ, is that Robert Wagner?” Within minutes, despite himself, he was cackling like a little kid. All three of us were. He spilled some of his coffee on his pants, which made it even funnier.

I step off the curb and back into the street, headed toward my apartment. There’s a shape in the corner of my eye. It’s blurred out and silent, and it’s on top of me in seconds. There’s another flash of reflective Lycra, of skinny arms and legs, of a bicycle gliding and then weaving and then striking. Dude! And now I’m tumbling to the ground.


I’m walking up the four flights of stairs to my apartment.

I’ve got a half-pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream pressed to my face. I bought it a few minutes ago, along with some gum, a six-pack of weird-looking Japanese beer, and a box of Nerds.

The checkout guy at the all-night corner store stared at me as he rang me up. “My friend,” he said. “Your face, it is very much fucked.” His accent was so thick, and so completely unidentifiable, that I wondered if these were the only words of English he knew and this was his one-in-a-million chance to finally use them.

I tossed back some Nerds. “You should see the other guy,” I said.

The bicyclist’s bony shoulder hit me square in the side of the face, at the corner of my left eye, like a punch. He was riding alone, flying through the night, trying to catch up with his friends. He was really sorry. I know this because he said so as he rode away, right before he suggested that I look where the fuck I’m going next time.

When I finally make it up to my floor, there’s a cat sitting in front of my door. His name is Jeter, and he’s this mangy, gray-and-black thing that wanders my building all the time. He stands up and thumps his tail against the door. Little particles of dander float all around him like a solar system.

“It’s really not a good time,” I tell him.

He doesn’t care, though, because he’s a cat. When I open the door, he darts inside and parks himself right in the middle of everything. I pour him a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and he goes crazy for it. Like pretty much every cat I’ve ever met, Jeter swings back and forth between loving me and trying to murder me, so I never know exactly what I’m getting. He started showing up right when I moved in. His tag just said “Jeter,” no number or address.

I open my top drawer and look for a while at my underwear, stacked and wrinkled in a pile. This will be my second attempt at returning to Omaha. Five months ago, I was supposed to go back and sign the divorce papers, but I didn’t make it past security. I chickened out and bolted from the line in my socks. Consequently, my divorce was made official at a UPS store on 8th Avenue a week later. A notary public named LaShandra stamped the pages with her special little stamper. “Done and done, baby,” she said. And then she gave me a free New York Knicks pen.

I take out my phone and dial Byron. He’s my boss at the Underground and, technically speaking, he’s the only friend I’ve made in New York. “Yo!” he shouts over bar noise. “How was the date?”

“Not great,” I say. I can’t bring myself to yell back.

“What? Shit, wait up! Hold on! Let me go outside!” There’s rustling, and a girl shouts about a 7 and 7, and then he says, “Hey, you there? I’m back.”

“Why don’t you just turn the music down?” I say.

“I tried that once. Didn’t work. People ran out of stuff to say to each other, I guess. Anyway, the date. Good? Did you guys make out? First base?”

“She didn’t show up.”

“What? No. Shit, man.”

“Stood up.”

“She totally seemed into it. I thought you’d hit it off.”

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