by Jeff Schroeck
Nancy and Renee and I were like sisters growing up. We’d roam unsupervised around town as kids, later trading that for more dangerous activities, like drinking at night in the woods behind the school or sitting on the billboard next to the highway, throwing rocks at cars. One time we got so drunk we dragged our friend Bridget face down from the woods all the way home and left her on the doorstep. When we told her about it the next day she thought it was as funny as we did. None of us wanted anything other than to feel like it was summer all the time.
Nancy and I each had a kid by the time we left high school, but we still hung out. I would go to her mother’s house, where Nancy was still living in her cramped bedroom with her husband and daughter. We would sit out on the back patio, smoking cigarettes and drinking out of glasses at a table like adults. When my son and her daughter started walking they would be running around the yard, rolling and throwing dirt. This was before they put in the pool that took up too much room in the yard.
Renee waited to have kids. She met John the summer after graduation; after that we didn’t see her so much. She would come by once every two or three months, John with her only half the time. When he did come, he and Nancy’s husband would sneak off to watch baseball. He never drank, saying “Thank you, no” every time we offered. We waited a few times before Nancy finally said to Renee, “Is he sick?”
Renee said, “No. Why?”
“I’ve never seen him drink.”
“He just doesn’t like it,” Renee said.
The next time Renee came over she didn’t have a drink either. She sat morosely nursing an orange soda while Nancy and I laughed at everything each other said. She left earlier than usual that day.
Half a year later, on the same patio, I said to Nancy, “I wonder what’s up with Renee. She’s hasn’t even called. I mean, do you think she’s doing okay?” I watched my son, now three, try to kiss Nancy’s daughter. She pushed him down and ran inside. He came over to me and sat down on a chair I pulled next to mine.
“I’ve seen her,” Nancy said.
“Yeah. Dan and John started hanging out. We’ve been down there a few times.”
“Where are they living now?” I asked.
“They’re in Jackson,” Nancy said. “We do stuff at the church there. You should come down one of these days. They do a barbeque every Sunday until November.”
I laughed. “Church?” The only time any of us ever mentioned church was when we were complaining about our mothers forcing us to go to CCD.
“Yeah,” she said. “We go down there every few weeks.”
My son heard barbeque and clapped. He told me he would have two hot dogs but not ribs because they are too messy.
“We’ll try to go to the next one,” I said.
When we got in the car my son said, “Today is Saturday.”
“Yes it is,” I said.
“Tomorrow is Sunday,” he said. “Are we gonna go to the barbeque? It’s the next one.”
“We’re not going to church. I can make you a hot dog.”
“I can make you two hot dogs.”
“Okay,” he said. When we got home, my son ran into the house and jumped on his sleeping father yelling “HOT DOG HOT DOG HOT DOG!”
Nancy cancelled our next get-together. Since I had a free day I did a few big projects around the house while my husband, who worked thirty hours a week at best, slept into the late afternoon. The next Saturday she cancelled again.
When I asked why she said she had to take her mom for a drive somewhere. With another free day I tried to relax. I made myself a cocktail, watched TV, read magazines, and tried to take my son to the park.
We passed Nancy’s house on our walk to the park. Her mom was outside watering the plants. “Hi, Mrs. H,” I said. “Is Nancy around?”
“No,” she said. “They all went down to Renee’s for church.”
“Oh,” I said. “Nancy was saying you were all taking a drive somewhere today.” I picked my son up. “Can you tell her I stopped by, please?”
“Sure thing,” she said. We were already walking back home as she said, “They could just go to our church. I don’t know why she has to go all the way down there.”
My son leaned his body in the direction of the park but we kept walking the other way. “No park today, bud. I’m not feeling well.”
I called Nancy on Monday. “What happened the other day?”
“We had to go somewhere,” Nancy said.
“Didn’t your mom tell you I stopped by?”
“No,” she said. “Why were you talking to my mom?”
“We were on our way to the park. She said you were down at Renee’s church. Were you there last Saturday, too?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Sorry. They asked Dan if he could help with the Saturday services.”
“Really?” I said, laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“You’re not church people,” I said. “I’ve known you my whole life you’ve never talked about church once!”
“I know,” she said, “but this one’s different. You should come with us one of these weekends.”
“No, thanks,” I said. “I’m good.”
“It’s really helped me and Dan,” she said. “It’s given us something to do.”
“I have plenty to do,” I said.
“I mean doing something more,” she said. “You have to start thinking bigger eventually.”
“I think plenty big,” I said. I paced as I talked. My son plucked at the cord as it stretched. “Listen, are we getting together Saturday?”
“No, sorry,” she said. “Dan’s helping out again. He might even get up and do some preaching!”
I hung up the phone, then picked up the receiver again just to slam it back down on to the cradle.
I didn’t see any of them for a few years. Nancy and Dan had another kid and moved down by Renee and John. My husband and I split up, and he moved up to Massachusetts with his sister. Me and my son got a small apartment near my parents’ house. I reconnected with some old high school friends and would sometimes hang out with them, but I spent most of my time at work or at home.
I began taking my son to CCD on Tuesdays after school. “I thought you hate church,” he said.
“I do,” I said, “but Grandma will be upset if she doesn’t get to see you make your Communion.”
“Does Grandma know you don’t like church?”
“We don’t talk about it.”
My son’s Communion ceremony a couple years later was precious and brief. My ex-husband came down from Massachusetts for the ceremony and wore the same thin, tight, cheap suit he always did. My father shook hand with all the local business people and my mom, after congratulating her grandson, chatted with the neighborhood moms who never saw each other now that their kids had grown up.
She talked to Nancy’s mom for a long time. I was trying to avoid watching them by talking to my ex and my brother, but they wouldn’t stop talking about baseball. My son was out of his little suit jacket and running around the parking lot.
“She said that Nancy and Dan are doing good,” Mom said after rejoining our group.
“Oh yeah?” I said.
“She says she’s wondering when you’re gonna call or go see them.”
“I was waiting for her to call,” I said.
“Sounds like she’s waiting for you,” Mom said.
“I’m still mad at her.”
“We had a big fight a few years ago,” I said. “She told me I’m not doing anything with my life.” Mom clicked her tongue. “I’m still waiting for an apology,” I said.
“Why don’t you call her instead of waiting around? Youse two were like sisters. Someone’s gotta make the first move.”
“You’re right, Ma.” I wrangled my son, said bye to everyone, and went back home.
Mrs. H had told my mother that Nancy, Dan, and the kids would be at her house the next weekend. I call her that Thursday. “Hey, Nancy. It’s been a long time. Wanna get together?”
We set a time to meet up so that Dan could take the kids to the park and we could have an hour or two just to ourselves. I went over and we sat on her mother’s back patio, though we weren’t drinking or laughing as much as we used to.
I thought I’d break the ice. “Did you hear who got their Communion?”
“My mom told me,” she said. “That’s so great for him.”
“You should’ve seen him in his little suit.” Mrs. H brought us out some coffee. It was hot but I took a long sip anyway.
“I hope I can be around for his Confirmation,” she said. “I hate that I had to miss this one.”
“I’m not making him get his Confirmation.”
“Oh, but you have to!” she said. “He can’t get married in a church if he’s not confirmed.”
“Why would you think I care about that?” I said. “When he’s old enough he can choose to do it himself.”
“But what if he decides not to, though? You have to think about these things, as a parent.”
“If he decides not to, he decides not to.”
“You can’t leave these things up to chance,” she said. “What if something happens? You need to make sure he’s taken care of in the eyes of—“
“He is taken care of!” I said. I ground my half-smoked cigarette into the ashtray. “I need to go.”
“Oh, no” she said, “you gotta stay. I’m sorry.”
“I can’t.” I got up and so did she. She started to cry, and so did I. She tried to give me a hug. “I can’t do this right now,” I said.
I grabbed my pocketbook and ran to my car. I drove through tears to the park. I yelled out to Dan from the car window to tell my son that it was time to go. He hugged his friends and high-fived Dan, then ran to the car. He got in and began to tell me how much fun he had and that their daughter was now his girlfriend, but he saw my red eyes and asked what was wrong. I drove away from the park and said, “We’re not gonna see them for a while.”
“Oh,” he said, looking out the window and thinking. “I’ll see them again though, right? Just not for a while?”
“Of course,” I said.
“When’s that gonna be?”
“I don’t know,” I said. When you’re older, if you want. You pick your friends then.”
Jeff Schroeck is a writer/musician (The Ergs!, Black Wine, Character Actor) living in Englishtown, NJ. He works in machine parts manufacturing. His writing has appeared in Cabildo Quarterly, Razorcake, and at mojackpod.com.