MY FAVORITE MISTAKE
I would just
like to state for the record that I tried to say no. In
fact, I did say no. But my sister, as usual,
refused to hear it. And then she dragged my credit rating,
ten years of pent-up guilt and my ex-boyfriend into it, so
what was I to do?
This was late June in Florence and I was
holed up in a narrow-halled hotel near the Piazza del
Duomo. Skye and I were thirty minutes into a
inter-continental AT&T marathon. Between the crackling
overseas connection and her wet, honking noseblows,
details were sketchy. But all signs seemed to indicate
trouble on the marital front.
Mitzi! she shrieked.
Her name is fucking Mitzi!
brother-in-law had a long history of dallying with
poodle-named women. Before he married Skye, there had been
a Brandi, a Lulu, and even, if the rumors can be believed,
huh? I said. That cuts like a knife.
I did not point out
that since Bob, ruddy-cheeked and shifty-eyed, had left
his second wife for her after a few illicit trysts
in a pickup truck, this situation was not quite the
Stonehengian coincidence she was making it out to be.
My sigh stirred up a flurry of dust motes
on the windowsill. This was not new territory for us. I
turned back to the laptop perched on the hotel's
spindly-legged end table and put my Big Sister voice on
autopilot while I started to proofread my latest attempt
at a travel article. Sweetie, I know you're upset right
I think that there
should be laws against calling your children bad seventies
porn star names! she sobbed. The rule should be: What if
your daughter wants to grow up and be a senator? Who's
going to vote for Senator Mitzi?
am I going to do? Bob is the love of my life! How
could he dump me like this? No one ever dumps me.
She paused. Now I finally understand how you felt all
I held my breath,
counted to ten and tried to ignore the hot prickling in my
Faith? Are you even
listening? I'm totally serious. I'm killing myself!
This was my
it up, Skye. Come on, I barked like a sergeant demanding
six A.M. push-ups. This isn't the spirit that won the
West. You're not going to kill yourself over some chick
named Mitzi and your jackass husband. First of all, you
know you can do better. By your own admission, that guy
Lars or whoever has been panting after you for weeks.
Ragged breathing over
the line, but I thought I could hear a smile creep in.
Second of all, have
some dignity. My God. Don't give the whole town something
else to talk about. Our family has already provided enough
scandal for one generation, don't you think?
A feeble cough.
Third, this phone call
is costing you about a million dollars and if you kill
yourself, I'll have to pay for it. This was pretty much a
done deal, regardless. My family had always had amnesia in
matters of the heart and outstanding debt.
The note of hysteria in
her voice melted into playground pleading. But I need
down to the next page of the draft for my article on
Italian gelato. �Keep
your shirt on, dude. I just need to double-check a few
facts for this article, and then I'm flying back to
California to order ativan online. www.soeh.org/buy-ativan-online
Since I moved to Los
high school, I had noticed some
alarming changes in my diction. Along with a San Fernando
slide-whistle lilt, the word �dude� had crept into my
vocabulary, supplanting nouns, verbs, and exclamation
points. I realized that this cut my subjective I.Q. in
half, as effectively as snapping a wad of sugarless gum
all day would do. But it had displaced the earnest Midwest
intonations of my childhood, and I couldn't say that I was
broken up about it.
Faithie, I need you to come to back home for a few weeks.
I can't deal with this all by myself. I can't.
I made my stand. "I live in California now. If you need
me, you know you're always welcome there. But I am not
going back to Minnesota.
You haven't been home in years. I could hear Kleenex
rustling against the earpiece.
need you. I don't know where Bob went, and I think that
cough, cough the bar might be having a little bit of
I stopped proofreading.
If Skye was willing to admit financial glitches, I
knew we were looking at ten pounds of trouble in a
one-pound bag. Define trouble.
Um, I'm not really
Well, you better get
sure right now. What kind of trouble? Exactly how poor am
I going to be? I closed my eyes and once again cursed my
own weakness. Three years ago, Skye, in the throes of her
first divorce at the tender age of twenty-one, had
suckered me into handing over all my worldly assets to
help her buy and refurbish a ramshackle backwoods tavern,
which she dubbed The Roof Rat and immediately turned
over to Bob's management. That was back when I still
co-owned a juice bar in Santa Monica (long story), before
I gave it all up to travel the world and write Street
Food, a tiny little column in a tiny little food magazine
for which I earned a tiny little salary. I started out
writing about fresh produce and juice in California, then
progressed to hot dogs and pretzels in Manhattan and
beignets in New Orleans. Now we were into the European
fare gelato in Florence, crepes in Paris you get the idea.
Why, one might well
ask, would I give up regular income and stability for jet
lag and isolation?
Well. Family life and
stability had never been my strong point. Exhibit A: the
conversation currently in progress.
My life is falling
apart! Skye gasped. How can you complain about money at
a time like this?
I can complain about
money because I have to pay my rent, I said. That bar is
my only investment, and I'm not expecting to make untold
millions, but I warned you about Bob
Stop yelling! she
yelled. God. It's only been two months since I sent you
the last check.
This deal was your
idea, Skye you're supposed to send me $2,000 a month. The
last two months have netted me negative $4,000 and some
strongly-worded letters from Visa. I understand you're
going through a rough time right now, but again I ask you:
what has the bar done for me lately?
She whimpered. This
isn't my fault! Bob took a lot of cash with him.
Well I threw my
hands up and looked toward the ceiling, searching for
divine intervention or at least a modicum of patience. I
thought you guys were talking to a financial counselor.
What happened to that?
Bob said we couldn't
afford to pay someone else to manage our money.
I closed my eyes.
Jesus H. Christ on a Popsicle stick. Skye, I swear
Don't be like this,
Faith, I can�t take it. Bob always handled the money and
the vendors and everything, and now he�s gone. I don�t
know what to do about the bar. I�m in deep trouble.� She
started crying again, big heaving chokes.
I fought the urge to
remind her that I was not on the Academy Awards nomination
committee and gritted my teeth. �I�ll try to help you out
with the bar. But you know I am not going back to
I remembered the time
she�d worn her new red galoshes out to recess in first
grade. She�d waded into a puddle of mud and gotten stuck
in the thick brown sludge. Squirming and squalling, she�d
refused help from her teacher and the principal. Finally,
they�d had to call me out of a spelling test so I could
lift her out of her boots and carry her to the asphalt.
She�d wrapped her arms and legs around me like a koala
learning to scale a eucalyptus tree to buy adderall.
I thought about Skye as a ringletted
six-year-old. I thought about my credit rating.
But then I thought
about all the reasons I�d had to leave Minnesota in the
first place, and I held my ground. �Listen. We�ll work
something out, okay? Don�t go Lady of Shalott on me.�
mind. I�ll fix this when I get back to L.A.�
The broken wailing
resumed. �Everything�s falling apart, and I�m all alone,
and the memories, Faith, the memories��
I rolled my
eyes. �Listen. I head back to California next week. Send
me all the legal documents and financial accounts for the
bar, and we will take it from there.�
what do you think I
should do about Lars?�
I blinked. �Nothing.
Listen. Skye, are you listening to me?�
�I don�t care if it�s
raining men. Wait until we find Bob and get this whole
Mitzi situation sorted out before you get the next victim
lined up. I�m begging you.�
I dropped my head into
my hands. �Begging you.�
She paused. �Okay. But
I really think you should try to get out here, because��
�For a week!�
�Bye, now. Say hi to
Mom.� I hung up the phone, leaned back in my chair, and
tried not to drown in my sister�s anxiety and fatigue. She
was a grown woman. She had to learn to clean up her own
messes. I couldn�t just keep dropping everything to bail
her out every time she made a mistake. She knew she was
asking for too much this time. I was perfectly justified
in drawing the line at the Minnesota state line.
I shut down my
computer, rubbed my temples, and grabbed my hotel key off
the table. Maybe a walk and some gelato would clear my
head. And my conscience.
in the summer smells like a backwoods bar. If you close
your eyes and plug your ears against the mosquito whine of
motorini, you can smell the ripe melange of smoke
and sweat charged with emotion. So it was not surprising
that I spent much of my time there thinking about my
hometown, finding familiar pieces of my past in a language
and culture I didn�t understand.
I was wandering through
the Piazza della Republica, trying to stay out of
the tourists� photo ops, when my cell phone rang.
This was highly unususal�hardly anyone called my cell when
I was on the road, which I almost always was. I dug the
phone out of my leather tote bag and frowned at the
unfamiliar number blinking on the little blue display.
612? That was Minneapolis. No one in the 612 area code
ever called me. No one in that area code even had my
number�except all the legal and medical forms on which
Skye had listed me as the �person to contact in case of
Oh God. My shaking
fingers fumbled with the phone, and I had to swallow hard
before I said, �Hello?�
�Faith.� The male voice
on the other end of the line was tense and determined.
The deep timbre of that
voice resonated through my memory. This was not some
anonymous E.R. orderly. I closed my eyes, and through the
static connecting us all the way across the Atlantic, I
knew it was him. I still recognized his voice, but I
couldn�t say anything at all.
He cleared his throat.
�This is Patrick Flynn.�
I took a deep breath.
Ten years� worth of
silence stretched out between us, both of us thinking
things we would never give words to.
�Yeah, I�m here.� I
pressed the phone against my ear. �Well, I�m in Florence,
I mean, but��
�I know. I won�t keep
you.� He sounded neutral now. Brusque. �I just wanted to
let you know what�s going on with Skye.�
I frowned. �She told
�All of it?�
I sat down on a
wrought-iron bench and listened as hard as I could. �Well,
yeah, I guess. She told me about Bob and the bar, and she
wants me to come to Minnesota.�
�But you�re not
coming.� This was a statement, rather than a question.
�Um.� I winced. �No.�
�Why am I not
surprised?� Cold seeped into his voice.
It was pointless to try
to defend myself to him, so I just said, �There�s
nothing I can do there
that I can�t do from Los Angeles.�
�Is that where you�re
living these days?�
�Didn�t Skye tell you?�
�I didn�t ask.� He
shoots, he scores.
�Oh.� I desperately
wanted to ask why he�d finally tracked me down now, after
all this time, but at the same time I was afraid to know.
To know where he�d gone and who he�d become without me.
He cut me off before I
could finish saying his name. �Did she tell you about the
I jerked the phone
receiver away from my ear, stared at it, and then slapped
it back against my head. �The what?�
�Left that little
tidbit out, did she?� He gave me a second to absorb this,
then forged ahead. �Here�s the deal: she has no idea where
Bob is, she�s about to default on the bar mortgage, the
creditors are threatening legal action if she doesn�t pay
up in thirty days, and she�s pregnant.�
I wrapped my fingers
around the cool metal of the bench. �Are you sure?�
�I would never call you
unless it were a dire emergency.�
Touch�. �Okay, I get
it. Message received. You�re mad at me��
took her to get a blood test at the clinic. She�s
definitely pregnant. I can help her with the financial
aspects, but for the Bob situation and the pregnancy, she
�I don�t think I�m
really the right person to��
�She doesn�t have
anybody else. She�s too ashamed to tell you, but she needs
Actually, she did tell me, but I rolled my eyes and blew
watched the afternoon sunlight filtering through the plaza
and tried to discern the sound of his breathing. I heard
nothing but static. Slow, muted minutes stretched out
Finally, he spoke up.
�Don�t give up on her when she needs you most.�
I winced at the pointed
emphasis in his voice. �Listen, Flynn, there are a lot of
things I wanted to tell you.�
Both of us lapsed into
the silence again, and when I opened my mouth, nothing
spilled out except a soft sigh.
�Do what you want. I
have nothing else to say.� He clicked off the line.
I closed my eyes,
listening to the growling hum of passing traffic, and my
memory rewound to the days when we couldn�t say enough to
each other. To the day when I was just learning to drive
and ran head-on into a gnarled ash tree. After my father
had made and broken a year�s worth of promises to give me
lessons in his pick-up truck, Flynn agreed to supervise
me. That winter, my senior year of high school, we had
commandeered my parents� new Ford for parallel parking
practice and extended, window-fogging make-out sessions on
the vinyl bench seat that still smelled of the dealership.
weather had been mild, by Minnesota standards, so I had
not been expecting ice on the slushy back roads. The bare
trees were black against the heavy beige sky, but my
spirits were soaring�I came, I saw, I conquered the Ford
Ranger. Distracted by Flynn�s hand on my thigh and giddy
with my newfound prowess with the stick shift, I had
loosened my death grip on the steering wheel and turned to
give him a kiss on the cheek. At which point, of course,
all hell broke loose, in the form of a vast patch of ice
dusted lightly with snow and a cat streaking across the
In the grand tradition
of neophyte seventeen-year-old drivers, I hyperventilated,
stomped on the brakes, and spun off the road. We slammed
into a tree to the sound of screeching metal and a dull
clunk, which turned out to be the front bumper of my
father�s new truck wrenching off and hitting the ground.
I did the only thing I
could: I succumbed to hysterics. I started to cry, and
then Flynn started to laugh, and we fell into each other
until we calmed down, kissing and whispering under the
freezing, desolate twilight.
When we finally
returned to my house, Flynn insisted that he be the one to
face my parents� wrath, telling my father, �Well, Mike,
the bad news is that we messed up your new truck, but the
good news is that your bumper is the same color as the
duct tape we used to fix it.�
Now, staring down at
sun-bleached cobblestones half a world away, my throat
closed up. I hadn�t thought about that accident in years.
The snow and the wind screaming away outside the truck�s
cab. The damp heat inside next to Flynn. That must have
been about six months before our high school graduation;
the two teenagers curled up against each other in that
Ford didn�t know how bad things were about to get. How
hidden hazards could send you spinning even when the
summer sun was shining.
I knew now. I knew
because I had finally stopped spinning. I could feel,
really feel, the force of gravity pulling my body
to the ground. The faces-and-places kaleidoscope of the
last few years finally stopped churning.
I had to go home. I
wasn�t sure if I could help Skye any more than she could
help herself. I wasn�t sure that I wouldn�t make
everything ten times worse. But I had to try.
The time had come to
stick a toe back into the murky, shark-laden waters of the
Land of 10,000 Lakes. And, God help us, the next
installment of �Street Food� would feature fried cheese
curds and walleye-on-a-stick.