After their meeting one Sunday she goes to the Westside Diner for lunch with her bud and his kid and four of the kid’s friends. One of them is maybe twenty-seven, but the rest are all twenty-one or under. They get a big table, it’s not round, like the one that was always reserved for them at the old Cosmic in Columbus Circle, back when they were newly sober, but it’s in a similar spot in the front corner window and it’s hard not to feel that connection. The waiter takes their order and makes a joke about how many kids they have.
I know! And doesn’t my wife look good? her bud says, gesturing in her direction. Everyone at the table cracks up. The fact is, she is plenty old enough to be the mother of the twenty-seven-year-old as well as everyone else at the table and maybe even the thirty-eight-year-old at the table behind them, if it had gone a different way when she was in college. Her bud is joking, but when you’re thirty years older than almost everyone at the table, you may find yourself contemplating how you got there.
You got there with time, which passed until you were old enough to be someone’s parent whether you actually were or not.
There is much laughter at the table, much of the usual storytelling by her bud, much talk of the old days when they were the young sober kids at a diner. They have old days now. Bush Sr. was president when they met. Alanis and P.M. Dawn were on repeat. And when you’re old enough to have old days, and happen to find yourself around people having new days that look like your old days, connecting as you did back then, having the fun you did, holding each other up like you did, though these kids are fully their own, unique set of characters (as you have been, as you are still), you know, you feel the stupid circle of life or whatever, a melancholic mix of how fast it all goes, as well as an infusion of needed energy and youthful enthusiasm.
There’s already been too much talk of gifts here, but she and the bud know how far they’ve come and they also know that not all of them made it. The conversation turns to what happens when you stay sober long enough.
You get married, you have kids, you get divorced, but because you have so many friends, such a strong support system, when you get divorced, people give you gifts!
They really don’t, her bud says. That is very specifically about you. You got gifts.
The wife laughs hard, keeps talking. An elderly woman with a walker slowly approaches the table, says something the wife doesn’t hear. The far end of the table busts out laughing.
One of the kids relays what the woman said. That lady with the glasses is the loudest!
Her jaw drops for a second before she laughs; it’s not only hilariously rude, but the only other person who ever thought she was even occasionally too loud in public was her husband, who, in her opinion, needed to relax about that.
No no no, but it was like this, her bud says, she’s like, creeping by with her walker with this whole pitiful old-lady act, and then slows her roll even more to drop her bomb: That lady with the glasses is the loudest! But then once she makes her pronouncement, suddenly she speeds out the door like she’s on roller skates!
Another one of the kids, a rapper, says She heard you say the word “divorce” and she was like “Yo, you think you know what divorce is? I’ve been divorced five times! Divorce gifts. Get back to me four marriages from now. Pfff.” That lady was mad jealous that you were only divorced once.
The entire table starts riffing on the battle of divorces between the wife and the old lady. They are now all laughing very loudly like their gang did back when they were young in a diner. The wife is not the loudest, not if her bud is at the table, anyway. She wasn’t loud at all back in their day, at their table. Their friends were, every one of them, larger-than-life personalities. You had to be loud to be heard in that group, and she used to sometimes wonder how she landed among them. She knew how much she loved them, and how much they loved her. She was never a mouse, she just sometimes felt like she was different. She knows now that she wasn’t.