The first time I tried getting sober I met Derek at, like, my sixth meeting and Derek said, after I’d asked him to be my sponsor and as we were driving around in his yellow jeep through Bushwick in the late summer, “No one cares what you think.” It was August or September in my first year in New York and Derek was some vaguely handsome and grizzled 40-something dude with a permanent five o’clock shadow and a leather jacket who, well, drove a jeep and had a big stupid dog that drooled a lot, and y’know Derek was fucking some hot AA chick who seemed like she’d probably be wild in the sack in that way some women just have that look about them — and really, if you’d asked me at the time whether sobriety seemed cool, I would have said, unconditionally, that it did. Because AA in New York was cool, and I was desperately looking for a way to find some sort of social life after a woman had left me, and before I’d met Sian, and before Sian and I would go on to have our own little on again off again for pretty much my entire time in New York, and really, goodness, that’s just its whole own thing that I’ll probably never be able to process or that I’ll just spend years talking about in some not-quite-ever-done way, and whatever. Whatever because, as Derek said, no one cares what you think. Or no one cares what I think. It’s all the same thing anyway.
I saw Sian over the summer in Baltimore and she looked like a million bucks and we ate Italian food that I expensed and we walked around the city and got ice cream and sat on a bench and Sian said, “You know I kind of figured at one point that I’d just hear through the grapevine that you drank yourself to death.” And I looked at the sky and back at Sian and back at the sky and back at Sian and took a deep breath and sighed kind of self-consciously and said, “Yeah I think I was living some sort of narcissistic death wish thing, and then I figured out that I didn’t really want to die.” And Sian smiled in that sad way that says “I am trying to understand, and I heard you and I am trying to understand, and I am a good person so I will try to convey to you that I am trying to understand.” And I didn’t really get that at the time so I just changed the subject I think, or maybe that was when the kind of crazy lady bummed a cigarette off me and proceeded to sit down and invite herself to chat for fifteen minutes before we finally excused ourselves and walked around in the muggy Baltimore twilight just long enough to feel okay about saying goodbye for maybe ever.
I sat with weird heartache for a couple of days about Sian and thought about doing stupid shit because I am hopelessly romantic about things that never happened but should have happened if only I hadn’t fucked them up when I had an honest-to-goodness shot at it. And then I did practically nothing and let the weird needless pain subside and allowed myself to feel my way through it and forgave myself and accepted that it’ll just be one of those things I’m gonna have to carry until we all die or the worms start eating my brain, which will hopefully only happen after I’m good and planted.
Franny was always kind of bothered by Sian and I don’t know why because I was head-over-heels for Franny in that “this is the woman I’m definitely going to marry” way that you get maybe two or three times in your life if you’re lucky. I mean, Christ, you’re lucky to get it once, right, and then — and here’s the crucial part that I’ve never been able to really execute on — you should marry that person! I guess I’ve had it with two people — just women I’ve been desperately in love with — and Franny was number two (Emma was number one, not Sian). Anyway Franny was kind of bothered by Sian because I told her about Sian and Franny didn’t know that she, Franny, was the woman I was definitely going to marry. So then I was like, “Franny, we should get married,” and she was like, “Duh,” and it was good, really, for a little while. And by the time it wasn’t it was unsalvageable, and by the time I realized what I’d done it was way too late but I tried anyway and you know that feeling when you’re trying just so you can say that you tried but you know it’s already over so you’re half-hearting it and you know that by half-hearting it you’re going to regret that you didn’t do it all the way with the trying and now you’re sabotaging everything and you’re really destroying it all right now right here this very moment why can’t you stop doing this just stop get it together get your shit together you’re fucking this up please.
It was like that for a while at the end there, too.
A few years ago, Franny and I saw each other in New York before she left for London and we had this very cinematic “let’s get day drunk and talk about the past” thing where I got way day-drunker than she did because I’d brought a pint of bourbon and snuck swigs off of it in the bathroom. We smoked cigarettes and kind of hashed things out and then when we said goodbye on the subway we kissed and walked, like, the opposite way away from each other to separate trains and, man. Man, oh man, oh man. That was the goodbye, the really excellent and perfect thing to wrap up our fucked up relationship thing that dangles just enough of a question mark for the audience to wonder if maybe there could be a sequel. “What if Franny and Tom weren’t so cruel to one another? What if Tom weren’t such a fucking boozebag?”
It’d probably be a Richard Linklater movie, is what I’m saying.
We do this thing in AA sometimes where we get sober and by the time we’ve given ourselves a little bit of time to get our shit together we remember that we’re really actually alive now. At least, this is what I think I’ve done. When you’re alive, I’ve come to realize, no one really cares what you think, but they might care about what you do. And when you’re alive, I guess, you get this tremendous opportunity to take those unsalvageable trainwrecks and heartaches and the attendant cruelty and pain and awfulness and look at all of that and say, “Hey, about all of that awfulness, if there’s anything I can do to make it better, let me know.”
Franny and I met up at Devocion on Sunday and the weather was awful and very November rain in New York and I got there a few minutes before she did and these two young women left their table just in time for me to hover over like a vulture and snatch it up, and when Franny arrived she was smiling and looking like ten million bucks and I was like, “Franny!” And she was like “Tom!” And we hugged and she got a latte and I pretended to look at my phone and I was like, “Oh christ, this is going to fuck me up real good,” and also like, “No one cares what you think. Just do the fucking things that are the right things to do and it’ll be –” and then Franny was back with her latte and smiling again and I remembered how I’ve always kind of loved her slightly imperfect bottom teeth and that tiny snag in one of her canines because they made me feel less self-conscious about the gap in my front teeth, like we were two people with regular not perfect teeth and that helped make us work — and just like that I was back to projecting all sorts of who knows what onto the thing and none of it mattered because no one cares what I think people care what I do so do the things.
Somewhere relatively early on when we were kind of leading into the conversation about our past I said, kind of flustered, “Do you mind if I do an AA thing?” And she said no. I don’t know why I introduced it like that. Maybe because I’m imperfect or because I wanted to hedge, or because I wanted to make sure that if it came out weird that I didn’t seem like an idiot, or something. It came out fine. It was always going to come out fine and I had nothing to worry about.
We left an hour later and I walked Franny to the subway. It was puddles and wind tunnels and gray and gray and gray, and the sort of stilted conversation you’d expect from two people who are walking to a subway station that only one of them is entering. We said that it would be nice to hang out again the next time were were in each others’ neck of the woods — and who knows if that’s true or if it’s something we’re just supposed to say to people we may never see again. We hugged goodbye and I looked at Franny and I thought man, it would be nice to kiss this woman and to wake up to this woman and to tell this woman all of the things I really think about and dream about for her and me right now in this brief moment while we’re imagining things that could have maybe been once upon a time and which have now been forever rendered impossible. I thought maybe she thought it would be nice to kiss me, too, just from the glint in her eye that I’ve seen before because I know this woman or at least I did know this woman and maybe I also don’t know her at all anymore. And really and truly, I know that no one cares what I think, so I hugged Francesca and said goodbye we both turned around and walked away.