Hold That Thought
Robin tells me we never go on dates anymore, and I tell her that’s a lie. I tell her how we just went out last weekend, after Cassidy’s soccer game. Tell her how we waited for a table, outside IHOP in the hot sun for almost thirty minutes, kids screaming in my ear, Cassidy complaining every five minutes that almost made me smack her until Robin finally calmed me down.
Robin tells me that’s not a date.
I tell Robin about the other times. How we go out, to dinner, at night, and it’s just the two of us. The Italian place we like. She tells me that’s not what she means, I don’t understand.
This is all before we split. This is happening before I started to think that something was happening. Behind my back. With her shrink. She tells me I’m imagining things. Tells me I need to trust her more. I tell her how I trust her with my life. I tell her that it’s him I don’t know.
Robin tells me we’ve never been on a date, but I think everything’s okay. I think she’s complaining just to complain. Robin tells me how she’s not sure that’s she’s ever been in love.
I tell her remember how it was. She tells me I don’t understand.
Back before we split, I tell Robin that I’ll take her to Block Island for the weekend. Cassidy can take care of herself. She’s smarter than us both. Knows how to order pizza.
One night, I tell Robin. We’ll be back by Sunday. She says, “No.”
I’m trying hard, I tell her. She could try too. She tells me that she is trying too. She could try harder, I say. As far as sex. She tells me she doesn’t want to go to Block Island. Doesn’t want to leave Cassidy for the night.
I paid for the room already, I tell her. Finally, she says, “Okay.” Finally.
“Don’t look at me that way,” I say, practically the whole drive to the ferry at Judith Point.
Robin explains how we’ve never been on a real date. I tell her she lies. She gives me the stink-eye. She tells me how disappointed she is with her life, and she’s not sure that she’s ever really been in love. Not really. And how Cassidy is all she has.
I want to tell her that she’s wrong. I want to slam on the brakes to scare her. I want to turn the car around and go home to spite her. But think maybe that’s exactly what she wants.
I grip the wheel, knuckles flare.
I’m trying to understand, I tell her. I want to understand. I want to be a good husband.
Robin’s maiden name was Caputo, Italian. Her grandma spoke the language. Growing up, Robin had a bad time with her dad. It got physical. She lived partly with her grandma. In high school Italian class, where we met, Robin said she’d help me learn, but to this day, I can’t speak a word. Whenever it comes up, I remind her what a lousy teacher she turned out to be. It’s an old joke between us. But she never laughs. I should stop with that, I think.
Robin starts to cry. I put my hand on her thigh. During the drive, reach over, stroke her leg. Rest my hand. This is supposed to be romantic. She’s in the middle of telling me how she’s never been on a date, trying to explain. Then it’s all sobs.
She uses new words now, like “corrupted response to intimacy” and “trauma response patterns” like I’m supposed to know what they mean. She gets them from her shrink.
Again, this is happening before we split. Before I start to suspect.
Robin tells me now, how her father wrestled her, in the dark. Tells me how he growled.
“My body gets confused, Carl,” Robin says. “With what’s in my head. Like my body remembers and my brain won’t let it in. It makes it hard. To love myself.”
I reach for her leg again, but she flinches.
My hand falls on the gearshift. Robin tells me then, crying still, how she wants to be on her own. Away from me. I can tell she thinks I’m fat and old. She never wants me now. Probably never will again. I’m part of her past. She’s somewhere else. Already gone.
She doesn’t say these words, but that’s the gist. How it all sounds to. I palm the gearshift in my fist, feel it press into my skin.
Robin tells me how it’s not my fault. “It’s a coping mechanism,” Robin says. “Jon calls it damage control. Says I’m trying to regain control of my sexuality. Over myself. Jon says when I close off from you, it’s from my own arousal. And guilt. Feeling caged.”
I’m trying, I tell her. I want to understand.
My fist hurts on the gearshift. Robin goes on, about Jon. And on. Her shrink, Jon.
We step through the door and the whole place looks different than I remember. We stayed at this hotel when we were younger.
We’re back, now, older. Everything the same. But different.
Again, all this before we split.
Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows, the lobby music sings.
Ground control to Major Tom, your circuit’s dead there’s something wrong.
A line of people waiting to check in extends from the front desk to the entrance.
Still waiting. For dinner now.
Check-in takes forever. The hotel’s smaller than I remember.
The restaurant is packed. No tables. We go to the bar and wait some more.
Robin tells me to calm down.
She told me to book ahead. Told me to make a reservation. I thought we’d be okay. I didn’t know how popular this place had become.
Robin doesn’t say, “I told you so,” but I know she’s thinking, I told you, I warned you. I told you to book ahead. You never listen.
At the bar I get a little carried away, two highballs.
Robin tells me she’s not happy. Not by saying it out loud to me. But she tells me it with how she won’t look at me, how she keeps to herself, stays mostly in her own head, or keeps eyes at the window, onto the beach, wave after wave breaks, into nightfall.
“We don’t have to stay,” I say. “We can go back to the room.”
“You have to eat,” Robin says. “You too,” I say.
Still no table. “Drive-thru?” she says.
“They said soon,” I say. “Don’t get angry.” “I’m not.” “I’m tired.” “Me too.”
We play a game sometimes. This, before we split. We play it now. At the bar, table still not ready, still waiting. We call it “the Jimmy game.” It’s stupid. But it’s how we talk to each other sometimes. Jimmy was a character on Seinfeld. We watch that show all the time. Before we split. We watch it at night. Before we go to bed. After the 11 o’clock news. After I give up on asking for sex. Her telling me no, before I even ask. We watch Seinfeld again. We’ve seen every episode. Know all the jokes. Keep watching, and know what’s coming, every punchline.
The Jimmy episode is Robin’s favorite. It’s got Mel Tormé, but the joke with Jimmy is how he never says “I” when talking about himself. He says “Jimmy,” like he’s talking about somebody else. He doesn’t say, “I’m upset.” He says, “Jimmy’s upset.” He doesn’t say, “I’m eying you.” He says, “Jimmy’s eying you.” It confuses everyone. Who’s he talking about?
“Carl needs another gin and tonic,” I say. “Carl’s getting impatient.”
Robin smiles for the first time. “Robin knows,” she says.
“Who had the gin and tonic?” the bartender asks.
The guy next to Robin raises his hand. The bartender sets the drink down in front of him.
“That’s mine,” I say.
“E’ mio,” says the guy next to Robin.
The bartender looks at the man next to Robin and then at Robin and then at me. The guy next to Robin lifts the drink off its black napkin square, takes a sip.
“That’s mine,” I say it again.
“Carl,” Robin says.
The guy next to Robin says something that I don’t understand.
He wants to know if there’s a problem, Robin tells me, and I just stare at him.
The guy next to Robin says something else I don’t understand.
Robin listens, tells me that he’s speaking Italian and I tell her I know but I still don’t understand what the fuck he’s saying.
“Ho ordinate un gin tonic. Anche lui ha ordinate un gin tonic?”
Robin tells me he ordered gin and tonic and wants to know if I ordered the same. She tells him that I did, and I nod, like I understand what they’re saying, and they keep on talking.
I wait while the bartender makes me another gin and tonic.
I watch the guy next to Robin sip my gin and tonic.
Carl’s getting impatient.
“It’s not you,” she says.
This is in the car. On our way to Block Island, earlier that day, during the drive. We drive to Judith Point first. Where we take the ferry to Block Island.
We’re in the car, on the ferry now, crossing over to Block Island. We should be up on the top deck. Enjoying the view. But we’re down below, in the parking deck. Still in the car Robin’s telling me how she’s never been on a date. I try to understand but she makes no sense.
At the same time, we’re in the bar, now, waiting for a table, still. She’s talking to this Italian guy who stole my gin and tonic. The bartender gets me a new one. Finally.
And we’re still in the car. And at the bar. In my head, I’m both places. And Robin listens to this Italian guy. He looks youngish—one of those guys, shaved head, beard, trying to look older. Robin laughs at what he says, Greek to me, and I’m bored, and alone, back in the car, down below, in the parking deck, looking ahead to now, getting to where it will be better.
“Don’t be mad,” Robin tells Carl.
Carl’s upset. Still in the car, down below, not here yet.
“I’m not mad,” Carl tells Robin.
“It’s not you,” Robin tells Carl.
“It’s not your fault. But it’s not my fault either.”
Not Carl’s fault. Not Robin’s fault. Carl wants to fix things. Carl doesn’t know.
“Mi chiamo Valerio.”
“His name’s Valerio,” Robin tells me, still waiting for a table, in the bar. I nod, mostly to my reflection, in the mirror, behind the bartender.
“Robin,” she says and takes his hand in hers. Robin looks at me to do the same.
I nod again, but he and Robin keep staring at me until finally I give in, say, “Carl.”
“Piacere,” the Italian guy says, and extends an unsteady arm in my direction. The guy firm-handshakes me like this is some kind of job interview. I try to go back to my gin and tonic, but he throws more Italian toward my side of Robin.
“Vi trovate bene in questo albergo? Vi piace?”
“He’s asking if we like the hotel,” Robin tells me.
They both stare at me, waiting for a verdict.
I shrug. “Okay, I guess. Not worth the money if you ask me. Too crowded.”
Robin throws some words at him and the Italian guy nods. He gestures toward the hotel restaurant then tries to wave it away like a gnat.
I nod. “Right? Too much.” I sip my gin and tonic and try to wave away the restaurant, “Let me tell you, brother. Too much.”
“Too much,” Valerio says with a funny accent, which sounds more like, ‘do match.’
Robin smiles at this, her second smile of the trip. “We’re here on a date,” she says.
Valerio nods at this, like he already figured it out. He reaches out toward us with two hands and then joins them together.
He leans close to Robin, whispers in her ear. “Anch’io dovrei avere un appuntamento, ma lei non si è presentata. Bidonato.”
Carl’s not sure about this guy. Carl might need to get chesty with Valerio.
Robin leans toward me and passes the message like we’re schoolkids, back in Italian class. “He’s on a date too,” Robin says. “But she never showed. Stood him up.”
I laugh, too loud. Robin karate-chops me.
“Sorry,” I tell her. I say it again, “Sorry,” to him this time. “Tough luck, brother.”
He shrugs, holds up his gin and tonic to me, as if to say, “cheers.”
I do the same. We sip as one.
“If it makes you feel any better,” I tell him, “Our date could be going better.”
I look to Robin, waiting for her to pass the message. She won’t even look at me. She stares past me, at the door, on the far side of the bar, into the lobby.
Valerio looks down into his drink, giving us a minute.
“Hey, sorry,” I say to Robin. “I was talking about the wait. Not you.”
Robin stays fixed on the door, eyes glassy, almost in tears.
Carl feels bad. Carl’s so tired he can’t see straight. Carl doesn’t know anymore.
Valerio puts a hand on my forearm, pulls me toward him. He’s laughing now. “Ho una storia,” he says. He pats my forearm. “Divertente.”
He moves his arm across Robin’s back and the next thing I know, we’re all three in a huddle, drawing up a play.
“He wants to tell us about his date,” Robin tells me. “A date he went on. A bad date.” “Worse than getting stood up?” I point to the empty barstool on the other side of him.
“Molto peggio, veramente di fori.” Valerio finishes his gin and tonic and signals to the bartender for another one.
He looks to me, and I shrug, and ask for another.
Valerio and I both look to Robin.
She nods along, asking for one as well, her first of the night.
“Was it a first date?” I ask Robin.
“È stato un primo appuntamento?” Robin asks Valerio.
“Ovvio, sennò che gusto c’è?”
“Obviously,” Robin laughs. “Otherwise, where’s the… spiciness of it?”
“Spiciness,” I say.
The waiter sets down our drinks.
When I look up from my gin and tonic Valerio talks to me directly.
“L’ho conosciuta di vista in classe, all’università,” he says, bypassing Robin.
I nod. “Okay,” I say.
“Solamente qualche battuta, niente di piú.”
I nod again, like I know what these words mean.
“Il pub non mi ricordo il nome, ma era un tipico Irish pub.”
“Sure, gotcha,” I say.
“They met when he was taking a class,” Robin says. “They exchanged some ‘lines’ at first. I guess he means that they texted each other or something.”
“Either that or the white stuff,” I say.
Robin gives me the stink-eye. “They got together at a bar, like an English-style pub.”
I nod along, ask if the girl was cute.
Valerio barely waits for Robin to finish translating the question. “Era alta, castana, mi pare occhi chiari,” Valerio’s talking with his hands now, “Nome, mi pare Elisa, ma non ci metto la mano sul fuoco.”
“Her name was Lisa. Beautiful blue eyes, tall… dirty-blonde?”
“Stava andando tutto bene, quando,” Valerio’s still going on. “A un certo punto mi fa, devo dirti una cosa seria.”
“At first,” Robin breaks in, overlapping with Valerio, “things are going well. But then the girl was like, ‘I need to tell you something. About myself. I need to tell you something serious. About myself.’ And then Valerio says—”
“Puoi dirmi qualsiasi cosa—”
“My darling, you can tell me anything—”
“È un po` strano, ti avverto.”
“It’s crazy. She warns him, it might sound crazy.”
“What was it?”
“Non capisco cosa intendi.”
“Sono stato rapita dagli alieni.”
“No, lei. È stata rapita dagli alieni.”
“What’s going on?” I say, tired of following this back-and-forth.
Robin is laughing now. Laughing at what, I don’t know.
“What?” I say. “What’s going on? What’s so funny?”
Robin bites down on the black straw peeking up from her gin and tonic. She’s still laughing. Valerio is laughing too, his eyes on Robin, mouth stretched into a tight-lipped grin.
“What? What did she tell him?”
“She said she was abducted by aliens.”
Robin tries to stifle a snort that turns into a slurp of gin and tonic up her straw.
“That’s what he says… what she said. To him.”
Valerio’s still talking, telling her more, stoking her laughter now.
“What did he say?” I say to Robin.
“Sì, anch’io. Uguale.”
Robin answers, “He said, ‘Yeah, me too. Same.’”
Now I snort and some gin and tonic spills out of my mouth.
Robin and Valerio nod in unison, bump shoulders, their laughs collide.
“He thought she was kidding, but she told him that she meant it. Like, ‘no, seriously.’”
“Allora,” Valerio says, “Io ghiacciato, ovviamente, però a quell punto che ci sei cosa fai, glissi? No! Non io. E faccio, vabbè, allora dimmi un po’ com’è successo.”
“Tell me what he’s saying,” I tell Robin.
“You know,” Robin tells me, “Obviously I was like, frozen,” she says. “But at that point, what can you do? You’re already there, you know—what can you do? You change the subject, right? But no! Not me. I go, tell me more about it, tell me what happened to you?”
“In breve….” Valerio shakes his head as Robin hangs on his every word.
“The short version,” Robin says, as Valerio continues, “la sua teoria era che questi esseri rapissero non tutti, solo alcune persone,” and Robin says, “she told him that she believes the aliens only abduct certain people,” and Valerio’s says, “cioè quelli che, secondo lei, avevano quella cosa che puoi definire in termini umani come un'anima,” and then Robin says, “people with something special, basically people who have what we’d call a soul.”
Valerio suddenly changes his tone. “Che poi, in pratica,” he says, phony-serious now, as if the whole thing sounds perfectly logical, and Robin does the same, imitating him, “which as it turns out, practically speaking….”
Valerio adds, “l’anima viene usata come combustibile, come una fonte di energia,” and Robin says, “the extraterrestrials use for fuel, our souls, as an energy source.”
“Naturally,” I throw in.
“Naturalmente,” Valerio shrugs in agreement. "In breve, questi alieni rapiscono la gente che secondo loro ha quest'anima, in modo possano portargliela via e poi ricaarli—cagarli indietro.”
“E poi ricaarli, cagarli indietro?” Robin asks him, suddenly confused.
“Sì, ricaarli, cagarli indietro.”
“After the aliens abduct people and steal their soul for fuel, the aliens then just…” Robin hesitates, asking him for help, or if she’s got this part right, “poi merda indietro ovunque?”
“Sì,” Valerio insists, until Robin finally says, “The aliens shit them back on Earth. Like naked in the woods or something. He says, the aliens use them up and shit them out, according to the girl.”
“What about their soul?”
“Qui non ci metto la mano sul fuoco che vado a memoria un po’ vaga. Penso niente di che, a parte il trauma e il non avere più l’anima, che è una sorta di energia spiriuale extra.”
“He can’t recall all the details exactly,” Robin shrugs. “He says—he’s saying, it’s something like, ‘Don’t hold my hand to the fire.’ I think he means to say, like, ‘Don’t hold me to this part of it.’ Like he may be misremembering this part. But he says that after the aliens take their soul and shit them out, they’re just left soulless, and stuck with the trauma.”
“Yeah,” I nod. “Same.”
Valerio elbows me with a knowing laugh, “Sì, uguale.”
Valerio waves his hands over his drink now, sort of like a magician, like he’s trying to perform a trick, or to pluck the details out of the air in front of him.
“Lei combatté solo con la forza di volontà, niente spade laser, purtroppo,” he’s telling Robin. “Era tutta’na roba telepatica.”
“In her case,” Robin says, “the girl said that she was able to fight them off somehow. So, they didn’t actually steal her soul. She stopped them. She fought them with her mind, he says, ‘No lightsabers.’ And woke up in bed, with her soul intact.”
“And this girl was totally for real?”
Valerio goes on. “Io ho rimarcato che erano anche alieni al pezzo ad averla lasciata in camera sua, visto che di solito la gente si svegliava nuda nei boschi.”
Robin says, “I made a joke, and told her how nice and professional those aliens are, dropping her off in bed like that, instead of shitting her out naked into the woods.”
Valerio raises his voice now, arguing with the liquor bottles lined against the wall behind the bartender. “Dovetti mandare un messaggio ai coinquilini chiedendo di chiamarmi e inventarsi un’emergenza e scappai perché poi iniziò a dare di matto nel mezzo al pub.”
“Basically, she freaked out,” Robin says.
“Freaked out how?”
“Yelling at him, in the middle of the pub, making a scene.”
Robin turns to Valerio who picks up the thread, “Dé, piazzata nel mezzo al locale con frasi tipo,” Valerio raises his voice even louder, “’non mi credi io sono seria non scherzare su queste cose!’”
“You don’t believe me,” Robin raises her volume to match Valerio. “I’m trying to tell you something serious. Something terrible happened to me and you say stupid shit like you don’t believe what I’m telling you. You don’t joke about this!”
“Jesus,” I shake my head. “What a nut. What’d you do?”
“Io ho reagito tentando di calmarla mentre mandavo il messaggio di aiuto ai coinquillini, fortunatamente mai più sentito da parte sua, non so se poi è stata effetivamente rapita.”
“I tried to calm her down. Then I sent… a message of help, to the… coinquillini?”
Robin looks to Valerio for help of her own.
“Coinquillini,” she repeats. “His friends…? His boys.”
Valerio nods approval.
She continues, “I texted my friends and told them to call me right away so I could put them on speaker, to say they were locked out of the apartment, and needed my key.”
Valerio chimes in again, “Ha! Quegli stronzi mi hanno fatto aspettare 30 minuti prima di venire finalmente a salvarmi.”
“But those assholes made me wait thirty minutes before calling back!”
“And then you left?”
“Sì,” Valerio says with an aggressive nod. “Fisicamente la mia percezione di lei non è cambiata, era discreta, ma… ma…”
“I still thought she was cute, but…”
Valerio shifts into English now, his heavy accent punctuating each word, “You—uh— how you would say in English—don’t stick your dick in crazy.”
Valerio puffs out a deep breath from his nose, sips his gin and tonic, satisfied.
The three of us take a long, deep sigh.
Breaking the silence, Robin says, “Non far impazzire il tuo cazzo,”
Valerio laughs, “Sì.” Then he repeats, more thoughtfully, “Sì.”
I don’t ask what Robin said to him. I decide to let the moment linger. I plan on asking her later but forget. I don’t remember until the time is past, and then it’s too late, and I never get another chance.
Eventually I just say, “Crazy,” speaking mostly to myself.
Valerio’s date finally arrives right after we order another round of highballs. I can tell that Valerio’s good and loaded at this point, but his date doesn’t seem to mind. She’s from Livorno, same as Valerio. Somehow the two of them both ended up here in Rhode Island for the summer and got thrown together by one of those dating websites.
“Small world,” I say.
“E’ un pazzo, pazzo mondo,” Valerio says.
“Crazy world,” Robin says.
We all exchange awkward goodbyes. Robin and I watch Valerio exit with his date.
Carl is sorry to see Valerio go.
We sit back down at the bar, after our goodbyes, shoulder to shoulder, me and Robin. We finish our drinks in silence. Carl is afraid. Carl doesn’t know what to say. Carl hates words, how they come out wrong. Carl worries he’s a letdown.
After Valerio. And after the English pub in Italy. And how the girl who got taken by aliens held onto her soul and then made a scene when Valerio couldn’t believe her, the best I can do is blurt out, “I want to say something....”
Robin says she needs to use the Ladies room first. She steps away from the bar, brushes a lock of hair behind her ear, tells me, “Hold that thought.”
Carl waits for Robin to return.