Life and Liquor

Brick Dust

Red Brick DustI tell him not to drill into the brick.

Jon’s new house has a living room with a long brick wall and a disabled fireplace.

He asks why not.

I don’t have a real answer.

“It’s nice brick,” is all I can say. My throat tightens in a knot, and I suspect that maybe there’s something not quite normal about feeling anxiety over another person’s home. I attempt to swallow the knot, but it just rolls over and back into place.

Jon just moved into a new home in Phoenix, an upgrade from the two bedroom condo in Mesa he had been living in since his divorce from his wife.

His two young daughters are still marveling at the new space. It’s a Sunday afternoon and it’s their first weekend in the new house. They slide in socks across hardwood floors and smooth tiles. Jon’s ex-wife will be coming to pick up the girls soon.

“Girl is gonna’ crack her head open,” I whistle. The knot twists.

Jon says if they hurt themselves he’ll fix it. He says that’s what dads do. His dimples beam when he talks about his daughters.

I like to joke that my father renovates his home one room at at a time, and by the time he’s finished, twenty years have passed and it’s time to start over.

The stars have to align for my father to break ground. He not only has to find the perfect materials, the perfect colors and textures and patterns, but he has to find them all on sale. Then, once the materials are obtained, there is a period of anywhere from a few weeks to a few years that the materials will sit, unused, somewhere in the house. A pile of tile in the corner of the family room, a stack of wood in my brother’s room, a stack of paint buckets in the garage. My childhood room has had the same unopened patio doors leaning against the wall for at least five years. This is the planning period, because everything has to be perfect.

It has to be perfect, it has to be perfect, it has to be perfect. Mistakes can’t be repaired.

This is how the brain I inherited works, and I’ve accepted it.

After the planning period of a few weeks to a few years, renovations begin. Dad will spend a few days laying tile or painting or whatever the project was. The old materials aren’t thrown away. This is the part where he finds a place to store them. The broken bricks and scrap wood and chipped tiles are piled into sheds, put on shelves in the basement, crammed into garage corners. They can’t be thrown away. There might be use for them.

For the renovation to be complete he has to take part in the final stage of analyzing the work, and convincing himself that he made the right decisions. The pattern of the tiles works, right? That was a good choice in door. Maybe a lighter shade of blue for that wall would have been better.

“It’s just brick,” Jon says. He wants to drill into the brick to hang up family pictures. He has walls and shelves that can hold family pictures. I don’t see why he needs to drill into this nice brick.

Jon and I have shared a mutual attraction since I met him over brunch with friends. Aspects of him that I should find attractive: his stable career, his beautiful home, his smart daughters, these don’t match with someone like me, someone who has considered leaving Phoenix since his arrival, someone who isn’t sure if a stable career is a thing that is ever going to exist for him. It doesn’t fit.

Jon asked me out during a group outing with friends. We were at a bar with go-go dancers, dance music, and cheap drinks. He was whimsically drunk. He said he wanted to go to this new restaurant in Arcadia. He said he liked that I was normal for someone my age, which seemed weird for someone barely six years older than me. I told him to think about it and ask me out sober the next day. I was stalling. The timing wasn’t right. The timing was never right.

The next day I received an invitation to go to a movie with him and the usual group of friends, no mention of his invitation from the night before.

Now we keep our distance through a series of warning shots.

“I don’t think I’ll be in Phoenix too long,” I’ll say at a local arts festival.

“You and my ex-wife would get along,” he’ll say during a hike up a desert mountain.

We leave a minefield of passive-aggressive comments and subtle innuendos, our poor friends left to navigate tone and subtext with no explanation.

Jon drills holes into the brick wall and I watch the red dust fall to the floor. The knot in my throat swells. I wish I had remembered that thing on Pinterest with the Post-It notes, the little trick to keep dust from getting everywhere while drilling. Now there’s a mess.

The doorbell rings and the girls run to greet their mother.

Their voices are filled with glee as they exchange greetings of “I missed you” and “Come see our rooms.”

“Mom, look!” they say with glee, their voices echoing off tiles and hardwood.

I hear the friction of socks on tile.

“Girls stop it!” I hear his ex-wife shout from the kitchen, “You’re going to get blood all over your father’s new floors.” I laugh.

“I love her already,” I say.

Introductions and small talk are made. Jon and his ex-wife talk about the girls’ schedules and behavior and the location of the Barbie DVD that keeps going missing.

As they focus on their parental duties, I take a hand-broom and dustpan and begin sweeping up the brick dust. It’s everywhere. It’s a mess. I should have laid paper down, or done something.

But before the knot in my throat can choke me, all the brick dust is collected, a red desert in the dustpan, harmless.

Goodbyes are said as Jon’s ex-wife and the girls leave.

I ask Jon if he wants to keep the brick dust for anything and he looks at me like I’m a crazy person, his eyebrows arched in skepticism.

“Why would I keep that?” he asks.

I shrug in a way that suggests I don’t even know why I asked.

I take the dustpan into the kitchen and hesitate.

“Are you sure?” I call. My voice echoes off granite counters and hollow walls.

A “yeah” echoes back. The “yeah” has a slight rise to it, as if its confused as to why I would even ask again.

I pour the red dust into the bin, and it makes the sound of an hourglass running too fast.

It’s taken years, but the knots in my throat visit less frequently now. I’ve found methods to keep them away. Now I can throw away clothes I don’t wear without worrying that I’ll need them back again. I can write in the notebooks that I was waiting to use for … whatever it was I was waiting for.

The fear of dismantling my life and making changes has subsided and changed into something new, to the point where I can pack a bag and fly to the other side of the world and figure it out from there. I didn’t stop fearing the renovations, the inevitable changes that come with existence, but I worked to add a few new feelings to make them more enjoyable. I’m more capable of keeping what I like and scrapping everything else. Some of the time. When the knot in my throat doesn’t find a way to sneak back in.

I stopped being afraid of the dust.

I see a picture online. It’s Jon and his boyfriend, his ex-wife and her boyfriend, and both of the girls. The girls are taller now. When did they get so tall? All six of them are covered in technicolor powder, the aftermath of a charity color run where participants sprint through a storm of bright clouds of pinks and yellows and blues. Their smiles gleam white.

For a moment I’m relieved that they aren’t afraid of the dust.

But Jon is the type of person who was never afraid of the dust.

Instead he runs right through it, knowing he can wash it off later.

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Life and Liquor

Deeper

A_small_cup_of_coffeeI knock on the door and immediately hear barking from the inside. Chris doesn’t have a dog, does he? Has it been so long that he got a pet without me realizing?

The door opens, and my eyes are immediately drawn to the terrier yapping around Chris’s ankles. Chris is wearing maroon sweatpants and a white tank-top

The cold must be getting to him. He usually goes shirtless.

“If the dog bites you it’s my sister’s fault,” he says. Those aren’t exactly what I thought would be his first words to me after almost a year, but they work, and I can’t help but smile. Chris uses his foot to push the dog away and pulls me into a hug.

I follow him inside. He leads me into the kitchen where there’s two steaming mugs on the table. He hands one to me.

“I don’t really do coffee, but I’ll give it a try,” I say.

“I know. It’s hot cocoa you five-year-old.”

“Twenty-five. Kill me.”

He grabs a bottle of peppermint liquor off the counter and pours a splash into both of our mugs.

We go into the living room and sit on the couch, swapping stories about the past year. He tells me about the series of guys he dated. One was an Abercrombie boy, one of the many that worked at the stores during college and moved into the headquarters after graduation. He dated a doctor in the hospital where he nurses. He went on half of a date with a guy who was obsessed with him because he was Japanese, and Chris had to explain that he was Chinese before kindly but firmly leaving his rude and creepy date alone at the restaurant.

I tell him about Australia. I tell him about the Navy boy, the surfer, the brilliant and witty science student, and the college lecturer. I tell him about odd jobs and music shows and my life-saving roommates.

Our drinks run dry and our mugs go cold. I hand my mug to Chris to set at the end table near his side. After he sets my mug down he runs his fingers over the beds of my fingernails.

“You’re picking at them again,” he says. The skin at the ends of my fingers is torn and dry.

“You say that as if I ever stopped.”

“How many meltdowns?”

“One and a half?” I say, as if I don’t even know the answer to the question.

“All right, sit down, I’ve got a year of tension to work out of you,” he says, and before I can make a crass joke he adds, “don’t I heard it as I said it.”

I sit on the floor in front of him and he sits on the couch behind me, digging his fingers into my shoulders. He makes a minimum of six gym visits a week, combined with six to eight shifts a week at the hospital. The muscular build mixed with his gentleness as a nurse allows him to dig into my shoulders without causing pain or discomfort. I always tell him he should have been a masseuse. But being a masseuse doesn’t provide people with dental benefits, so he’s a nurse.

“Does that feel all right?” he asks.

“Deeper.”

“Th-“

“Don’t,” I say as I smirk.

We spend some more time catching up before it’s time for me to depart and head home. He follows me to the door, the dog skittering about our feet. Chris pulls me into a deep hug and squeezes my shoulder.

“We need to do a better job of keeping in touch,” he says.

“I know, I know,” I say, “I’ve been flaking on everybody. I’ll figure something out.”

“You’re not listening,” he says, “I said ‘we,’ not ‘you.'”

“I know, I know,” I say. I rest my head on his chest. His hand massages my neck.

I laugh and mumble, “Deeper.”

And he digs.

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