Friends

It was insane, utterly insane, to think we were expected to all go home this year. It wasn’t necessary – in fact, it was more dangerous this way. But the expectation held. We debated it, saying things like Should I cancel the flight? Then we flew.

We thought it; we did it; we were each lonelier for it.

Eve was allergic to her parents’ cat. For God’s sake, Mishka!
Don’t blame your mood on the animal, I tell her. You know how I feel about animals, she tells me.

Last night my mother said hold hands. Her only command.
I said May God save us all. My father said And may God save the Queen.  
We ate as if we had already eaten.
Except for my father, who ate as if he had never eaten before.
His head – only now, faintly losing its crop – close to his plate, below my mother’s and my eyes, which met, shining. 

I remembered T’s old menorah, caked with wax, and the shitty Hanukkah candles that burnt down
so quickly. They were manufactured that way, a safety intervention. You don’t actually want them burning all night. The wax – creamsicle, sacrilegious-Easter green – pooled onto the tablecloth, where it hardened.
We left it there for days, until T left for their mother’s. 
I knew little about their childhood; I knew it was a shoes-off household.
And that they spent a year in Israel, which is how T knew all the blessings. Except for some reason
we still got all the tunes wrong. We were always singing the Hanukkah tune on Shabbat.
This made Hanukkah easy.

Over the menorah: We would each be lonely, I said to Jules. It was a matter of with whom. She was staying behind. For her, alone in Providence in the snow that did not melt, alone in the three-bedroom apartment with the squirrels throwing a party in the walls (it was fine for the squirrels to live there, as long as they did not die there).

All last spring, I said, we had lived together with no one else, and I thought it should go differently.
I felt angry that it didn’t. I thought we should play games together, for instance. Or laugh,
or have joy.

Jules’ boyfriend would stay over, and he might even wear jeans.
I would find him more beautiful for that. You’ll be lonely here, I told her, thinking you should be with other people,
and I’ll be lonely surrounded by the people I’m meant to not be lonely with. Either way. We pretended
it was the same.

And I remembered the night T came to my bed with wet hair.
I made them listen to Louise Glück. I read the poem about nail polish. I sat back, satisfied.
They said, Okay, now I read. So you can have the experience of listening.
I did not tell T that saying that to another person is basically what it is like to be in love.

They read me the poem about nail polish. It was about life not looking the way you thought it ought to look.  
When Jules came in, it was my turn again. I read the poem about Earth. Then she read “Radium” aloud
crouched over the book, by my feet. A quiet took hold in the three-bedroom apartment. We all said goodnight.

A quiet took hold in my heart. The door closed while I wondered what any of us were to one another.