A few years ago I went to the annual Christmas party for a restaurant I’d worked at a few years before—a little regressive, maybe, but Christmas is all about trying to recapture something from the past or manipulate time with twinkling lights and tinsel, so I felt alright about it. I hadn’t seen or talked to many of my former co-workers in a while, but I knew some about their lives from following along on Facebook. I knew that Q had been living with a girl we’ll call M, in a house she owned, she a nurse and he a pizza delivery dude, and that to help with the rent they’d taken in F, part-time pizza dude, part-time a bunch of other things. A real worker. Q had wanted to marry M, and I don’t know all the details, but somehow, within the last couple months, that dream had become super unlikely as Q had moved back in with his parents and F had moved from the guestroom to the master bedroom. M didn’t go anywhere. Look, it sounds a little tawdry but I don’t get the sense it was, I don’t think F conspired to steal M away or anything. I think Q and M had troubles, he left, hooking up with F came later. Anyway, M and F have a bunch of very cute kids now. They’re one of those couples that seem like real soul mates, like in sixty years they’ll die within eight seconds of each other and race up to Heaven where they can keep on loving one another.
Somehow, towards the end of this party, I found myself sitting at a table with Q and F. The first time they’d seen each other since Q had been dumped and exiled. They were actually being pretty cool about it– you wouldn’t have even known, until for some reason I brought it up. No, not for some reason– specifically because I wanted to see what would happen.
Topic breached, Q asked after the house, and F told him he was thinking that in the spring he’d maybe build a little stone barrier around the flower garden in the front yard.
“I was thinking about that flower garden this morning,” Q said. “I was thinking, I planted that garden for her, and now I’ll never get to watch anything bloom in it.”
Dear reader, my heart grew two sizes. Maybe it sounds maudlin, but in the moment it was absolute poetry. Maybe you had to be there, maybe you had to hear the way he said it, like he was trying to recall a dream in the midst of it slipping away. Maybe you had to see the look in his eyes, two chunks of ice wedged in his face that he was straining to keep from melting by force of will.
Poetry to me, but obviously a little awkward for F. “Yeah,” he said, “we might cut down that big tree along the driveway, too, I think we’ll get a lot more light.”
“I used to park under the tree and the birds would crap all over my car,” Q said.
F said, “Yeah, I always park on the street.”
Q nodded. “Do me one favor,” he said. “Don’t cut down that tree in the backyard next to the deck, the one that hangs over. M and I used to make love under that tree in the summer, looking up at the stars between the branches and everything. It was so beautiful. We’d put down a blanket… we had a blanket just for that, the red blanket in the downstairs closet. Some of the best memories I’ll ever have are of making love to M under that tree.”
There have been a handful of times in my life when I’ve done or said something terrible and then caught myself and thought, You’re probably going to get punched for this, and you deserve it, so let it happen. You brought this on yourself and you have no right to fight back. Q was too lost in reverie, thinking about the branches and the stars and M’s naked body on a red blanket, to notice the color drain from F’s face. Here it comes, I thought. He deserves the first smack or two, but after that I’ll break it up. Unless the first shot draws blood, then I’ll break it up right away.
But F didn’t hit him. His face stayed white and drawn, but instead of lashing out he sipped his beer and nodded, said, “Don’t think we’ll cut down anything back there. No worries.”
A few minutes later Q got called away and F and I were alone and as soon as we were I told him I couldn’t believe what Q has said. “I mean, I get that he’s heartbroken, but come on, dude. I can’t believe…I was so sure you were about to smack the shit out of him.”
“It’s Christmas,” F said. “Sucks to be sad and alone at Christmas. People get a break at Christmas.”
“I guess so,” I said. “I can’t believe you’re being so cool right now.”
F shrugged. “I can’t believe he thinks that just because he moved out she stopped wanting to fuck under that tree.”