The next day, I get a text message from my sister Denise: “OMG, do you have a bf??? It says on Facebook you do!”
I don’t answer.
It was too much to hope for that I could enjoy my relationship with Brody without interference from my family. I haven’t seen my mother in months, and I haven’t seen or spoken to Denise or Camille in at least a year. The last time my mother called, I conveniently didn’t mention Brody and let her prattle on about the newest diet.
But now I’ve outed myself via Facebook. It’s my own damn fault.
After the text from Denise, I know it’s only a matter of time before Mom gets wind of my relationship. Sure enough, a few days later, I get the call from my mother. It’s pretty much as bad as I thought it would be.
“Denise says you’re seeing someone?” Mom asks me. There’s an equal mix of suspiciousness and hopefulness in her voice.
“Yes,” I say after a long hesitation. There’s no point in hiding it.
“That’s wonderful, Emily!” Now my mother has switched to full on patronizing mode. “That’s so exciting!”
“Yeah,” I mumble.
“So what’s his name?” she asks.
“Brody,” she repeats thoughtfully. “What’s he like?”
“He’s really nice,” I say. “He works in computers too.”
“How lovely,” Mom says. She’s probably picturing a big fat computer nerd. If only.
I hesitate, knowing that there’s only one detail about Brody that really matters. I want her to think I’m dating some perfect guy, but she’s never going to think that anyway. I may as well tell her. “He uses a wheelchair,” I admit.
“What?” Mom sounds completely baffled.
“He can’t walk,” I clarify.
“Oh my God,” Mom gasps. “Is that really true?”
“Yeah,” I say. “It’s not, like, a big deal. He’s fine. He’s really nice.”
“What’s wrong with him, for God’s sake?” Mom asks. “Is he… very old?”
Oh my God, does she think I’m dating some decrepit old man? Jesus. “He’s Camille’s age,” I say. “And he’s a quadriplegic.”
“A quadriplegic?” Mom repeats, sounding absolutely horrified. “You mean he can’t move his arms or legs?”
“Well,” I say. “He can move his arms a little.”
I can’t even imagine what my mother is picturing right now. I’m sure she isn’t impressed with my ability to find a boyfriend, that’s for sure. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” Mom finally says. “I mean, dating a guy like that?”
“He’s really nice,” I say for what feels like the hundredth time.
“Do you have to feed him?” she asks.
“No!” I say, as if that’s too ridiculous for words. Even though I had worried about the same thing myself. “He can feed himself. He’s pretty independent, actually. And…” I want to say how cute he is, but the words sort of stick in my throat. Brody is cute. But I know if my mother met him, she wouldn’t think so. Because all she’d see would be his disability.
“Emily,” Mom sighs. “How on earth did you get involved with this?”
I feel my cheeks growing warm. “Involved with what?”
“You know what’s going on here, I’m sure,” Mom says. I do? “His family is probably hoping you’ll take him off their hands. They probably tricked you into this. They saw you as a target because of your… weight issues.”
Wow. This may be the most insulting conversation I’ve ever had. And there’s some stiff competition.
“Mom,” I say patiently. “I haven’t even met his family yet, so I really don’t think they’re engineering some trick to get me to take care of him.”
“You’d be surprised,” Mom says.
“He’s pretty independent,” I tell her. “I mean, he doesn’t need my help. He does pretty much everything by himself.”
“Fine, then let me meet him,” Mom says. “I’ll tell you in two minutes what he’s up to.”
It actually wouldn’t be all that hard for my mother to meet Brody. His parents live out in Queens, so presumably it’s a trip he takes with some regularity. His parents have that van, so they could probably drive him over and drop him off. Except I really don’t want my mother to meet Brody. I’m actually kind of terrified of what she’ll think of him.
“I knew it,” Mom says. “You’re too scared to introduce him to me.”
“You’re just going to have to trust me that he’s a nice guy,” I say.
“Just whatever you do,” Mom says, “don’t give him any money.”
She doesn’t have to worry about that. Brody would sooner jump up and dance a jig than let me pay for anything.
Making friends after college is hard.
It’s not like I was ever any sort of social butterfly. That is definitely not a term anyone would use to describe me. But at the same time, I’ve always had friends. There’s always been some other person around who looked at me and apparently said to herself, “Okay, I’ll hang out with that girl.”
At Wellesley, I had two really close friends: Lisa and Amelia. It goes without saying that neither of them were Miss Popularity, which was part of the reason we all ended up at a girls’ college. Lisa was overweight like I was, and she was always losing and gaining back the same twenty pounds. Amelia was skinny, but she had a hook nose and frizzy brown hair that was always everywhere. Of course, I didn’t care what either of them looked like. I loved them both to pieces, and the fact that we weren’t the most gorgeous trio in the world kept us bound together.
Then during the summer before senior year, Lisa managed to lose and keep off those twenty pounds. (Meanwhile, I think I put on twenty that summer.) Amelia discovered this “amazing” hair-straightening gel, and somehow her impossible hair turned shiny and beautiful. Early in senior year, Lisa and Amelia started dragging me to parties at BU or Harvard, where I got to watch the two of them hook up while I sat in a corner, stuffing my face with whatever snacks they had at the party.
Lisa got married this past June and moved to some suburb in Connecticut. Amelia is living with some guy in Boston. I know Lisa and Amelia still talk a lot to each other, but much like my sisters, they’ve pushed me out of our trio. Whenever I talked to Lisa, she tried to give me diet tips. And Amelia’s first question for me was always, “Have you met any guys, Emily?”
It took about a year for me to stop answering their phone calls. And eventually, they both stopped calling.
I don’t know how to make friends when there aren’t tons of people my age also looking for friends. Most of my work colleagues are men, and many of them are at least ten years older than me. And it feels like I don’t have much in common with most women either. Maybe I’m just a socially inept person who’s not meant to have friends?
That’s a depressing thought.
Of course, there’s Abby. Abby has literally joined every club and group imaginable, but still doesn’t have many friends. I know she’s desperate to be friends with me. And I wouldn’t mind having her as a friend—but I don’t think she’s capable of laying off the cheerleading act long enough for us to actually connect.
Brody doesn’t exactly have a jumping social life either, but he has two good friends that he talks about from time to time that he met in college: Max and Ford. Neither are married, although Max has a serious girlfriend, and it seems like they all get together about once a week.
“Do you want to go to a music festival this weekend at Washington Square Park?” Brody asks me as our class is ending one day. I wonder how many students in the class have realized that Brody and I are an item. I’ve noticed that Patricia has never sat next to me or even made eye contact after that day we talked.
“Sure,” I say.
“It’s mostly jazz music,” he says. “And Max and Ford will be there. I want them to meet you, okay?”
“Okay,” I say, although my stomach clenches up. “Um, are they nice?”
Brody raises his eyebrows at me. “They’re my friends. Of course they’re nice.”
Of course, his brother wasn’t nice. But I’m not going to mention that. Anyway, I don’t have much of a choice.
It turns out I shouldn’t have worried though. Max and Ford are absolutely nothing like Sean Nolan—they are two of the least intimidating people ever. Max is short with a big round face and a pronounced lisp. Ford has a big bushy beard and shows up wearing, much to my amusement, a little red bowtie.
But I actually get a little girl crush on Max’s girlfriend Jess. The second I lay eyes on her, I know this is the kind of girl I could be friends with. Like, really good friends. She has this fresh-faced healthy look, with her clean brown hair tied back in little purple barrettes, and at least an extra fifty pounds on her.
“It’s so nice to meet you!” Jess says when we convene at the park. She looks like she’s going to hug me, but instead she just clasps my hands in two of hers. I’m glad—I hate hugs from strangers. “Brody told us all about you!”
“Really?” I look at him in surprise. He shrugs, but his cheeks grow pink.
“Don’t you love boys with fair skin?” Jess giggles. “You can see them blushing a mile away.”
Jess links arms with me and we walk together as the boys walk several paces ahead of us. She tells me about how she met Max at a party a few years ago, and they had just moved in together six months earlier. “It’s really fun living together,” Jess says. “Although Ford is pissed off at me because he and Max used to be roommates. He says I stole him.”
“What about Brody?” I ask.
“I think Brody likes having his own space,” Jess says. She shakes her head. “Not to say he’s a loner or anything. He’s actually super nice, which I’m sure you know. Really, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.”
“Yeah,” I mumble.
“The wheelchair thing, it’s like you don’t even notice it after a while,” Jess says. “One time, Brody was hanging out with me and Max, and we just started going into this building with a ton of stairs because we’d, like, totally forgotten he couldn’t walk.”
Maybe she’s right. Maybe someday I’ll be totally used to Brody’s disability. But I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
“Are things pretty serious between you two?” Jess asks.
“Getting there,” I say, and this time I’m the one who blushes.
“That is so great,” Jess sighs. “Honestly, Brody is so crazy about you, Emily. He really wouldn’t shut up about you.”
It’s hard to believe, but I don’t think Jess is making it up. Maybe Brody really is crazy about me.
The concert is no small event. There’s a large roped-off area with rows and rows of folding chairs set up for the audience. Big problem: the area around the seats is very narrow. Narrow enough that I’m worried about knocking down the poles that hold up the ropes, and narrow enough that Brody’s (sort of) large power chair isn’t going to fit in the aisle.
“We didn’t have a problem last year,” Brody says, biting his lip.
“Don’t worry about it, Brody,” Jess assures him. “They’ll figure it out for you. We always work it out.”
The five of us wave furiously to get the attention of a staff member, but it’s so busy that nobody pays attention. A staff member walking by us nearly blows us off, then he notices Brody and comes to an abrupt halt. “What seems to be the problem, sir?” the staff member asks Brody. The ID badge hanging by a lanyard around his neck reads Chris in bright yellow lettering.
“My wheelchair won’t fit in the aisle,” Brody explains. “How come it’s so narrow? Last year it was fine.”
Chris nods. “We had a lot more interest this year and we decided to put down extra seats. We can’t allow any wheelchair or strollers in the aisles due to lack of room.”
“That’s bullshit!” Jess cries. “You’re required to have wheelchair access!”
Chris’s face colors. “Sir, I can allow you to park your wheelchair up in front. That’s the designated area for disabled patrons. Alternately, we can store the wheelchair for you while you occupy one of our regular seats.” He adds, “We can keep it right up front where it will be safe.”
Brody just stares at the guy—I can see in his eyes that he just wants to leave. But Max puts his hand on Brody’s shoulder. “Ford and I can help you in and out of the chair,” he says. “Come on--we’ve done it before. It will be fine. I don’t want you to miss out.”
Brody eyes the folding chair. “I just… I don’t know if I’m going to feel secure in that seat.”
I don’t blame him at all. All they have are these tiny metal folding chairs that are balanced on the uneven grass. It’s a pretty flimsy chair, and I know Brody’s balance isn’t great. I wouldn’t want to be in a chair like that if I didn’t have any muscles in my torso. Honestly, I don’t want to be in that chair even without being a quadriplegic.
“As I said, you’re welcome to sit up front,” Chris offers. “Unfortunately, the chairs aren’t set up over there, so you won’t be able to be next to your friends, but you’ll still be able to enjoy the show.” Chris smiles, although it looks very forced. “It’s supposed to be very good.”
“Fine,” Brody mutters.
Brody goes all the way to the front, and we find seats a few rows from the front. We’re within waving distance of Brody. I wave to him, and he waves back. It’s a fairly unenthusiastic exchange.
I have to say, these are the worst folding chairs of all time. Not that I’m a fan of any folding chairs, but these ones are especially flimsy. And they’re so narrow that my ass doesn’t even come close to fitting. It’s a slight comfort that Jess’s ass seems to spill over a little bit too, but I feel like I practically need a second chair to contain me.
I’ve been sitting in the chair for about sixty seconds when I hear it groan in protest. I know that sound and I have a terrible feeling. I think I need to get out of this chair. Like, now. But what will I say? I just met Brody’s friends, and I don’t want to be running off like a crazy person.
Of course, another sixty seconds later, the decision is made for me. I hear a loud crack, and before I know it, I’m on the ground.
Okay, let’s be real here. It’s happened to me before. I’ve broken chairs before—more than once, for that matter. And there’s never a great time for it to happen. It’s always mortifying. But I would venture that when you’re meeting your boyfriend’s best friends for the first time is one of the worst times for it to happen.
Naturally, a small crowd quickly surrounds me. Now I’m a spectacle. Great. I hear Jess’s voice: “Oh my God, Emily! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I mumble, trying to get back to my feet. I see two arms reaching out to help me. One belongs to Ford, so I take it and get back up. I can see Brody trying to get to me, but of course, the aisle is too narrow for his wheelchair to fit. He couldn’t have helped me up anyway.
“These chairs are so cheap!” Jess hisses in my ear. “Honestly, I was scared the same thing would happen to me, Emily.”
I smile gratefully at Jess. Maybe there’s still a chance for the two of us to be friends.
“I’m so sorry, Miss!” It’s that staff member again, Chris, the same one who relegated Brody to the front of the audience. “I’ll go see if we could find another chair for you.”
There is no way in hell that I’m sitting in another of these stupid chairs. Breaking a chair once is embarrassing. Breaking a second chair in the span of ten minutes will make me a story on the evening news.
“I’m going to go talk to Brody,” I tell the others. “Just… excuse me a minute.”
I squeeze past the crowd over to where Brody is sitting. His brows are all scrunched together. “Emily, are you all right?”
“Yes,” I say. “Listen, do you think we could… get out of here?”
Brody looks incredibly relieved. “Yeah, definitely. I was dreading sitting up here through the whole concert.”
“I could tell.”
He grins crookedly at me. “Guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
We make our apologies to Brody’s friends and spend the rest of the time hanging out in the park together. We can still hear the music distantly in the background while we kiss.
To be continued....