Sunday, October 20, 2019


I was sitting on the toilet in the bathroom of a café, thinking. I was thinking about my mother. I realized that ever since I had gotten into a big fight with her in January, she has not said “I love you” to me at the end of our phone calls like she always had. I thought that and then I thought about how strange the thoughts we have in the bathroom are. I also thought that when I got out of the bathroom, I wanted to share this thought about my mom with Martina, who was sitting at a table in the café, waiting for me to return.

When I got back to the table, I noticed that in my absence Martina had ordered another latte macchiato with oat milk. Before going to the bathroom, I had said something to her like, “We should probably order another latte macchiato.” I had taken one too many sips of hers after finishing my espresso and I had thought it’d be a good thing to do. In response, she had said, “Yeah, it’s OK,” a sort of non-committal statement, I had thought, but now to my delight there was a brand-new latte macchiato on the table for both of us to enjoy.

“Wow, cool,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s OK, don’t worry.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“No, it’s no problem,” Martina said. “I just thought it would be nice if we had another ‘Hafer’--uh, oat milk latte.” She had corrected herself because “Hafer” means “oat” in German, and I had long ago taught her the English word “oat.”

“You know what’s crazy?” I said, just after taking a sip of the latte. “Remember how I told you how I got into a big fight with my mom last January, the one where I said, ‘What is it then? Are you in love with me, am I your boyfriend?’ and all that crazy Freudian stuff?”

“No,” Martina said. “I don’t remember that; you didn’t tell me that.”

“Yeah, Martina, I told you. I said all those crazy Freudian things to my mom.”

“Oh, yes, yes,” she said. And I saw by the look in her eyes that she really did remember, so I continued.

“Yeah, since that fight, my mom hasn’t said ‘I love you’ to me when we get off the phone.”

“Really? Aww . . . ”

“Crazy, right?”

“Yes, I think that’s hard.”

“Yeah,” I continued, “it’s like, wow. I mean, I know we got into a fight, but that was a year ago, or almost a year ago, and since then she hasn’t said ‘I love you’ to me. I don’t know whether she wants me to say it first or what, but . . . ”

There was a small pause. Martina looked like she was considering something. Then she said: “I think it’s hard for your mom. I think the whole situation is hard because you can’t see your mom. When you see people, you can see in their expression that they love you, or they can touch you or give you a hug, and you can know that they love you.”

“Yeah . . . ” I said. 

“But I think in the case of your mom, it’s hard for her sometimes. I think, from what you have told me, your mother is a person who is very hard on the outside, but very soft and very gentle on the inside. When was the last time you went home?”

“2015,” I said.

“2015? OK . . . Oh . . . 2015?”

I knew that after telling Martina the year I was last home it would take a moment to register. After all, it has been four years, and often after I tell people the year of my last visit home, they need a moment to compute how many years have elapsed since that last visit and then another moment to consider what the implications of such a gap are. With Martina, it was no different.

“Oh, wow,” she said. “That’s a long time.”

“Yeah, it is. . . ”

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