Two things were happening: my former boyfriend Chris was coming to visit, and I was going to a John Updike reading and reception (which I am actually doing tonight and am unbelievably excited about it). Chris and I had decided to be friends, I guess, but when we arrived at my parents' house, it was obvious that we hadn't had much practice with the "friends" thing yet. He kept shooting down every suggestion I made, and he kept telling me about things we'd previously done that he had only pretended to like.
"Remember when we went to Jittery Joe's Coffee?" he said.
"Yeah," I said.
"Well, I hated that place," he said. "I hope you're not planning to take me there again."
I said I wasn't. I said he could just stay at home if that's what he wanted.
My parents had made grilled chicken fajitas for dinner. They usually make me something vegetarian, but this time the chicken was all there was. I got out a fork and started taking pieces of chicken out of the pan.
"You're going to eat it?" Chris said.
"Well, I'm hungry," I said.
(In reality, I haven't touched any kind of meat in years, so this part was rather disturbing.)
I kept reminding him of the John Updike reading that night, and he tried to act excited at first, but he finally admitted that he didn't want to go.
"Fine," I said. "My dad and I will go You can sit around here if that's what you want."
He didn't say anything.
Before I headed off to the John Updike reading, I found myself in the basement with Chris. He was looking at a bunch of pictures he had brought down from Ithaca with him. He was organizing them into a photo album, complete with captions. Beneath one photo of a girl read, "This is Alicia, the girl I sleep with when I'm bored."
I was in denial at first. I kept telling myself that he just shared a bed with her, possibly because he was bored with his own dorm room.
"She's just a friend, right?" I asked him.
"Yep," he said.
Later on, I headed out by myself to the John Updike reading. It was dark, and I wasn't driving very well. I passed a booth at which I was supposed to stop and pay for parking, but I drove right on through and headed for the parking lot. When I got there, a lady stopped me and told her I owed over sixty-one dollars to the parking people. I said I'd write a check later.
I headed inside the building. I didn't have a ticket, so I was supposed to go to the overflow room. I caught up with my dad, who was standing uncomfortably in the lobby. I also saw my two best friends from middle school, Melanie and Linnea, heading into the "main" room where John Updike was going to speak.
"You guys!" I shouted. They turned to see me. "Can I have one of your tickets? John Updike is my favorite living writer! I'm writing a thesis on him! Please?"
Melanie agreed that I could have her ticket. I told my dad I'd be in the main room, and I headed inside. Melanie's assigned seat was in a yellow lounge chair. I lay down on it.
John Updike entered the room then, and I was the first to stand up and start clapping. He sat down on a stool in the middle of the room and said he would sign all of our books before he did anything else. I realized I had forgotten my hardback copy of Licks of Love that I wanted him to sign. Now I'd never get to actually talk to him, I figured.
By the time Updike started reading one of his short stories, everyone in the room was really tired. He had a surprisingly monotonous voice, and people kept leaving because they were being put to sleep. I eventually got up and left, too. I was mainly disappointed that I hadn't gotten to talk to him.
Back at the house, I finally realized what Chris had meant by "sleep with" the girl, and I tried to avoid him as much as possible. We stood in the kitchen together to make grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, until he suddenly explained that he didn't like grilled cheese sandwiches and left the room.
Later that night, I awoke to hear a commotion in the kitchen. I walked down the hall from my bedroom to see what was going on.
John Updike was standing in my kitchen with my parents.
"Laurie," said my dad, "meet John Updike."
My mouth hung open stupidly.
"Your dad tells me you're writing a thesis on my Rabbit books," Updike said.
I nodded. Finally, I got over my shock and started talking to him. I sat down at the kitchen table and started eating a grilled cheese sandwich while Updike signed my book and answered my questions. I kept meaning to ask him if he was ever going to make a movie of the Rabbit books, but I never got around to it. After a few minutes, Updike disappeared in a poof of air, leaving behind my signed copy of Licks of Love on the kitchen table.
Chris left the next morning without saying much. I think my parents took him to the airport. I figured he was looking forward to seeing all the people from the photo album again, and it felt like he had come to see me against his will.
After he left, the only thing that gave me comfort was riding a tricycle back and forth across my living room in time to the Corrs' "Breathless." My mom walked in and caught me doing this, and I stood up, embarrassed, and explained that it was therapy.
"I heard the same song and a lot of bumping around in your sister's room as well," my mom said. "I guess she's doing the same thing."
I went back to my tricycle. As I was riding back and forth, I kept thinking about loss. I realized I felt very empty, though I couldn't quite pinpoint what the emptiness was from.
My completely nonsensical thought process from my tricycle ride:
I wonder if it's about John Denver. Wait, I mean John Updike. Maybe I'm depressed because he's not here anymore. Or maybe it really IS about John Denver. Maybe I'm sad that he died a couple years ago. Maybe I'm still sad about the breakup. I have all the James Bond movies, but it's just not the same.
What James Bond had to do with Chris, I'll never know.
My mom said my tricycle riding was bothering the others in the house. Only at that point did I remember that my parents boarded online journallers in our house. Most of them were women in their late twenties who had gone through bad relationships and were trying to get back on their feet. I ran into one of the women in the kitchen and tried to compliment her on her latest entry.
"I see that you're really going through a lot right now, and writing that entry was a brave thing to do." I was crawling on the kitchen stove at the time.
"What entry?" the journaller said, sounding insulted. "I've only been writing happy entries lately."
I shut my mouth and continued to crawl around on the stove.