Intention

A bit of a running joke has emerged in the era of modern dating. A text message reading, “you have a quick second to chat?” more often than not is meant to reveal a nugget of hard or bad truth. Plenty of times, that truth uncovered is the existence of a sexually transmitted infection.

Such a revelation has three forms of reactions: one of acceptance, understanding and an appreciation for being told the truth so proper medical care can be attained; one of disdain, revulsion and heightened annoyance that he or she was put in such a position; and, more rare, one of fetish for being infected.

When Jonah received a text from Dev to call him quickly, he had a feeling that was the reason. Fun fact: turns out he was right. But it wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard before. Get the meds. Everything always turned out fine.

However, in a not so fun role reversal just under a week later, Jonah had to place the same text to Dev. Jonah, though, didn’t want to talk during work hours, asking if Dev could give him a ring that night.

Jonah didn’t know why he even felt so sure he had to tell Dev what was going on. In reality, they’d only been on one date despite having seen each other multiple times out at bars over a few weeks. But they talked too often and too comfortably for Jonah to keep such a large secret from someone he respected and cared about.

It’s not even a secret, Jonah thought to himself as he crawled onto his bed, fidgeting with his dog tag. I’m making this into too big a deal.

But as was his modus operandi of late, Jonah stopped thinking too hard and pressed on Dev’s contact number.

A ringing. Half a ring –

“Hey there.” Dev’s voice was cheery, albeit definitely a tired cheer.

“Hiya. How was your day?”

Interesting enough small talk ensued for a few minutes before Jonah realized Dev wasn’t pressing him what he was calling about. He was always slightly peeved by people who didn’t do some of the heavy conversation lifting, but he calmed knowing he was the one who asked to talk. Sometimes though, just sometimes he wished someone would put in as much effort as he did.

“So…um, I just wanted to tell you something. It’s not a big deal for you, don’t worry, but it’s just something that if I didn’t tell you I’d feel like I was lying. Especially since I appreciated you calling me last week.”

“It’s okay. You can tell me.”

“The other day I found out…that…my mom’s sick again.”

“Oh. Jonah, I’m so sorry – “

“Yeah so I uh just wanted to tell you. In case I act weird or different. It’s probably the reason.”

“You don’t have to explain anything to me. Unless you want to. You can talk or you can not talk. Whatever feels okay to you. Or I can just keep on filling silence with my own voice.”

In some shape or form, Jonah had hoped that to be what his ears heard. Instead, Dev played fifty questions, asking about all details and feelings, leaving no trivia unanswered. While Dev was right to be curious since Jonah had shared something so personal, he felt as if he was tapped for intel for the sake of having intel. As if for gossip. He didn’t like to think Dev was that person, but he didn’t know why the door had to be flung open when it only needed a crack.

On the other hand, Jonah had a feeling, a hope even, that this admission from him could help them form a stronger bond. They hadn’t been talking very long, but he thought it would be nice to have someone outside his immediate social circle know his circumstances. An objective participant in his life. Who happened to kiss really well.

Not for long. Slowly but surely, Jonah took the thought back in small increments as intimate moments with Dev became less passionate. He always made sure to ask how Jonah’s mom was doing, but there was a level of chore Jonah began to feel in the inquiries. As if there was nothing better to talk about. Than dying.

Wasn’t the point of getting to know someone to, well, get to know more about someone?

This almost became a non-issue as Jonah realized he was making far more of an effort in his own difficult time than Dev was. And he was far too old to put up with that.

While winding down a weekend at Taco Bell, a meal resulting from drunken irritation with his situation, Jonah found his fingers forming a text to the enigma he wanted defined.

Hey. I don’t really know the best way to say this but I’ve been getting mixed signals for a while now, and I don’t really think you’ve been interested in continuing whatever we’re doing. If true, I hope you know I’ve really liked getting to know you, but I wish you’d been honest with me. If not true, I’m sorry for the dramatics but I don’t know what you’re thinking.

Fifteen minutes and a Crunch Wrap Supreme later, a reply came in.

That was a very well written text.

And I know.

Basically I don’t know what I want and don’t think it’s cool to keep talking to you while I figure it out. I didn’t want to do this over text. There’s a lot I’m not saying. Can we meet in person. Not tonight but soon.

With the key word being “almost,” Jonah almost laughed reading those words. His mind was simultaneously shaking with anger. The situation was so cliche and typical, wedging directly in his darkest nightmare. There wasn’t anything else to do but lose control and laugh.

Not only was Jonah having to contend with the eventual slow burn deterioration of his mother’s health, he was battling severe insomnia and attempting to use an unnatural amount of wine to cure it. Throw in feelings for a guy who can’t man up and articulate his own feelings despite having honesty handed to him every moment he asked for it. The combination was going to make Jonah crack. He felt it coming. Mental seams were bursting.

But Dev’s reply did something Jonah didn’t think it would. It almost made him laugh, not at this idiot but himself. Dev had asked to talk further. Jonah didn’t need to. Here he was, stressed about so much without realizing he only had to step out of the equation.

If Dev wasn’t mature enough to vocalize his thoughts on his own, knowing what Jonah was enduring, there wasn’t a point in giving him a platform to now. If Dev wasn’t mature enough to realize earlier that Jonah’s focus should be on his family, not on Dev’s wavering feelings, there wasn’t a point in giving him a platform to now. If Dev wasn’t mature enough to see how selfish he was behaving, trying to remain the good guy, there wasn’t a point in giving him a platform to now.

At the very least, that’s what he should have thought in that moment. Jonah would only have those thoughts months later as he flew home to see his mother.

Jonah left Taco Bell that night, full, exhausted, and annoyed. He sent one more text.

We can talk. Tuesday. My place.

72 Hours

Ava opened her eyes and sighed. The room was already bright this morning. She always forgot to pull the shades down before climbing into bed, but so did her sister. They were sharing the same room during their stay at home. The same bed, too. Their parents had turned their mid-life projects towards renovating the space where their children used to have nightmares, last minute homework struggles, and Harry Potter reading marathons.

She rolled over to look at her phone and find nothing new of note on social media. Not that anything in anyone else’s life was of much importance to her these days.

It was fifteen before nine in morning. Woke up just in time to see her sister off back to her life in Vermont for a week or two before she returned here in Massachusetts for the holidays. Ava slid her legs over the side of the bed, wiping crusties from her eyes. With the other half of the bed empty and hurriedly made, Laura must already have been out in the living room.

Ava stood up, taking a moment to stand and stare out the window at her childhood backyard. A land filled with more memories than she’d ever comprehensively remember.

The bedroom door opened as Laura pushed in, looking a bit startled.

“Hi – “

“I think you’re going to have to move your flight to today.” Laura’s voice cracked in an unmistakably sad form.

Ava’s heart sank as she quickly processed what exactly Laura said to her. Her flight to Los Angeles was tomorrow. But she had to go back today. Come back tomorrow.

Tears filled both their eyes as they struggled to find a way to communicate something, anything to each other. Instead, they stood at opposite ends of the bed, looking just past each other.

~~~

Having successfully moved her flight out of JFK to later that night, Ava found herself being driven to the train station not long after she said goodbye to her sister. Her mother had been mostly silent on the drive, until:

“You and your sister have had the best father. He really was the greatest man.”

They spent the next hour sharing stories. Ava began to realize there were so many questions she hadn’t even thought to ask. She asked them. Where her parents met. Who pursued who. If their parents had liked them together. She felt power in the information, as if that power was an antibiotic to calm for the whirlwind journey she was putting herself through.

When finally parked at the station, Ava hugged her mom for several minutes until she knew she needed to get to the platform or her journey would be for naught.

“I love you, mom. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Ava closed the car door, weekend bag slung over her shoulder. As she walked away from her mother’s car and put her Bluetooth headphones in, she began to tremble. All the information in the world wouldn’t be able to cure it.

~~~

Ava opened her eyes and sighed. As the train pulled into Grand Central Terminal, she slowly tilted her head left and right to check her surroundings, realizing she was still living the unfortunate events she lived all of two hours prior.

Disembarking onto the platform, Ava adjusted her headphones to fit securely in her ear. A slow synthline began to pulse as a new song began to play from her phone. A vocoderized vocal gently hummed lyrics underneath the pulses, almost matching the steps Ava took towards the main hall of the terminal.

Stepping into the vastness of the hall, swarmed by travelers of local and foreign destinations, Ava found her feet holding their place on the floor. Her gaze traveled toward the mural of the celestial ceiling as the vocoder raised an octave. Though she knew she should’ve been starting her journey toward the subway to make it to the airport in time for departure, she found herself pausing to take in what was one of her first New York memories with her father as a little girl. Her father forever marveled at the wonders of the terminal. Its beauty within the architecture. The technological wonders of its many moving pieces, both human and railroad as one. She took a deep breath, vaguely comprehending the permanent fact that her father would never set foot in Grand Central ever again.

The synth dropped out behind the vocal in Ava’s ear, leaving an airy hum to accompany her as she left the terminal for the unknowing crowds of the sidewalk.

~~~

The sun was far past setting when Ava settled into her seat on the airplane. She was proud to beat her goal of traversing the city for the airport in just forty-seven minutes. A small victory in a period of life where she didn’t feel in control of anything.

After quietly popping two sleeping pills, Ava found herself asleep for the next six hours until landing in Los Angeles at the prime time of midnight. She slipped out the aircraft with nary a word to the smiling flight attendants who had not a clue her need for a lack of smiles.

One quick walk brought her to her car service at the airport drop off. Her driver may have introduced herself, but Ava resigned her human contact to just herself, staring out the window at the cold, brightly lit buildings that lined the 405. An melodic acoustic sound flowed from her headphones, a cover of a song she once heard in a television show. There was something in the strumming of the familiar song that Ava felt differently in her soul tonight than when she first heard it.

A warm tear quickly fell down her face as she set foot out of the vehicle at her apartment. From the outside, it almost looked like a foreign place. No longer home. Her heart was elsewhere.

Her phone buzzed as she unlocked the door. Settling down on her extraordinarily comfortable couch, she brought her phone in sight. Sighing that its clock read one in the morning. One eye open, she saw the vibration was for a dating app notification.

The last things ever to be currently on her mind were the flaky panderings of Angelino men. A need to know the unknown compelled, though, and she slid open the notification to see who had messaged her: a handsome guy, just a few years older, whom she had spoken with a couple weeks prior.

“Hey Ava. Location says you’re close. Back in town I assume?”

“I am. Just eight hours. Back to the airport in the morning.”

“It is the morning. Things good with you?”

“Don’t make me answer that question.”

“I don’t want to make you. But I’m a stranger with open ears if you need them.”

Perhaps it was her nocturnal delirium, but something about this digital chat in the online moonlight came across very intimately. Despite the intense pressure on her eyelids to slip closed, the idea of talking to someone not related to her own personal tragedy was highly tempting. She wanted to feel close to someone instead of feeling like floating matter in the empty universe of her apartment. She wanted anything to make her feel remotely at ease.

Ava was about to close out of the app, when she clicked back on her nighttime suitor.

“My dad is about to pass away, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

She closed the application, turned off her phone, and closed her eyes for an empty slumber. When she woke up, she was no longer on the couch but in her bed.

~~~

Moments after Ava’s mother picked her up from the train station, she found herself passed out in the passenger seat. The rumble of the car as it caressed the hospital’s driveway woke her, and she immediately felt guilty for not sharing conversation with more world-weary mother.

The two walked hand-in-hand into the building, up the elevator, down the hall toward her father’s room. Ava gently placed her bag of belongings on the floor and sat on the edge of her father’s bed.

Her father, at the slight movement of Ava’s body on the bed, opened his eyes. “Hi Dad. I’m finally back, don’t you worry. Laura will be here again soon, too. We’re all going to be here.”

“Hi ladybug.” He gave her a faint smile before surrendering to his slumber-inducing medication.

Ava, for the briefest of half-seconds, met her mother’s eyes before looking away, both at capacity. The weight of Ava’s journey descended upon her in a heavy haze. Her eyes burned as tears brimmed at the edge. She held them back, unsure how to keep her world spinning within the world at large.

Yeah

Parents of an older generation aren’t necessarily known for their superior texting capabilities. They might not even know how to return a text message in the first place, only knowing basic functions to unlock their phones in order to place a call; even then, “how do I find my contacts?”

Nothing is more predictable, though, than a child of any age rolling their eyes when they receive that parental text, a simple “call me” meaning old traditions of communicating with one another through vocal cord vibrations had to be used instead of mindlessly writing vague words sent into the ether. An actual conversation using mouths was expected from the elders, hashing out a dialogue one party believes could’ve been had in three text bubbles as opposed to twenty minutes of catching up.

I received that text, a simple “call me,” during work one summer Tuesday. I knew it would rub around in the back barriers of my mind if I didn’t just get over it and see what technological issues with Apple TV my parents were having that they needed so desperately to call me. Alas, I ducked out into a quiet part of the hallway, thinking it’d be a good spot to dramatically hiss instructions on how to type a password when the moment arose.

A ringing. More ringing. A click, followed by a loud crinkle suggesting the phone on the other end of the country had been dropped on the floor.

“Hi Dad.”

“Hey Lucas, sorry about that. My, uh, stupid fingers. I couldn’t feel them.”

“The neuropathy still strong?”

“Yeah…” A pause, as if there was something more he wanted to say. Except he repeated, quieter, “Yeah.” There was a tiny hint of frustration in his voice, almost like he felt fault letting the numbness affect him more than he wanted.

I glanced around the hallway I was standing in. Still no sounds around me, just from the elevator doors opening and closing at the opposite end.

“So, what’s up? Did you ever find your dad’s camera you wanted to show me?”

“No, I haven’t had a chance to look in the basement. I know I have it somewhere. Are you busy? Do you have a second to FaceTime with your mother?”

I knew then. I didn’t know what I knew, but I knew. No one point blank asks to group chat as if there wasn’t really a shot to say no.

“Yeah sure, I’ll hang up and give you a ring.”

I sighed, knowing that connecting over FaceTime was always an issue and now would be an even bigger connectivity issue as my parents’ shaky wifi made this impending difficult conversation even more difficult. But that’s what you do as the child. You wait patiently and do the best you can.

A ringing. More ringing. Even more ringing. Couldn’t someone have chosen a more pleasurable ring sound?

Blurry faces appeared on my cracked screen, both trying to cram in the mere inches a phone’s screen provides. It wasn’t worth explaining to hold the camera further back. When else was I supposed to take advantage of my parents by screenshotting their pixelated, smooshed faces?

“Hi guys.”

“Hi Luc. How’s it going?” my mother asked. The glare of the large window behind her washed out the details of her face, though I could see her small eyes looking towards the floor beneath her.

“Oh you know, things are dandy. Counting down the minutes until I can sleep. Been a long week.”

“You can say that again.”

A small silence. A bit deafening combined with the heated sensation I felt on my back.

“How was your appointment, Dad?”

Mom was looking sad, a few of her fingertips covering her lips. Dad looked straight through the screen to lock eyes with me. His face too, washed out. Almost erased.

He sighed. “Mmm, not too great, Lucas. Not too great. Kind of got some bad news.”

I didn’t miss a beat. Actually, I surprised myself with how I just blurted it out, considering how badly I reacted the first time. “It’s back, isn’t it?”

The word “yeah” in print doesn’t accurately depict any depth of the sadness my father’s voice evoked. It doesn’t illustrate the tired tears in my mother’s eyes. It doesn’t paint in the shallow breaths I had to force myself to take in order to fully process what information was just given to me. The word “yeah,” when written, doesn’t do justice to the powerful moment that changed the course of three family members’ lives. However, that’s what was said, and it said everything I needed to know about what was ahead.

The word “yeah” in a text message wouldn’t have given me any of that. So, when I finished with my parents, I took a deeper breath and called my brother.