I touch down in New York on Monday morning. Because I was out of town for the job, I don’t have to go into the job that day. Good. I’m not going back either way. No fault of theirs. It’s just not me and I’ve decided to listen to the voices that ran naked in my head on the streets of St. Louis. I don’t think the company will ever correlate that sending me there had the opposite of the intended effect: rather than feeling more part of the team, I’m out. Not their fault. All good people. Doesn’t matter.
What does is Tracy and Ever. They’re back in the city. Tracy has an audition tomorrow and I want to see her today but she says let’s meet at Thin Cinema, a coffee shop close to her audition, tomorrow. That’s fine. Only I’m growing impatient. Hard to pinpoint exactly why. It’s the same feeling you have when a friend just got over being sick and you want to visit them, make sure they’re okay.
Check on them.
But Tracy has Ever and suddenly I need to figure out what to do with a day off, all my friends out of town. I try the usual things. I read. I walk. I send messages to those still out at the farm. Connie writes me back. We get into what I would call a weird exchange. This is why I need to see Tracy. Just to say hey, why is everybody acting so weird? And to see her, not acting weird. With Connie it went like this:
Me: You milking any cows yet?
Her: Actually, no. Actually, no animals on the farm.
Me: Morris doesn’t count?
She doesn’t respond to that one.
Me: I’m gonna look for a new gig. This one got too serious.
Her: Serious isn’t bad.
Me: You know what I mean. Too real.
Her: Real isn’t bad.
I roll my eyes. But I also reread her messages. I scroll up to exchanges we had prior to them heading out to Oliver’s farm. Every one of them is accompanied by an exclamation point, a smile. Connie and I have a silly game we play where we send each other intentionally bad photos. Framed so poorly it’s hard to tell what they’re pictures of.
I see some she’s sent before. One that looks like carpeting. One that is probably one of her eyes, way up close. I’m standing outside my apartment building when I see these and so I point the camera to the ground, click a bad picture of the sidewalk, and send it to her.
No response. Okay.
Me: What’s his house like? Send a pic.
She doesn’t send me a photo. But she sends a message.
Her: Now isn’t the best time.
It’s not that I feel put off by this, if it’s the wrong time it’s the wrong time, but I know Connie. I know her well enough to be surprised by the tone of her message. This may all sound petty and small on the surface, but after weeks of discussing the changes in Oliver, it all feels off.
Me: Okay. Also: Boo!
Me being dumb. Playful. Something. Just trying to get a rise out her. She does respond. But it’s the least Connie-like message I’ve ever received.
Her: I said now isn’t a good time. Please respect that.
It almost feels like my phone bit me. Hard to articulate. You think you know someone…
“Fuck it,” I say. Because what else am I going to say? I’ll see Tracy tomorrow. She’ll set me straight. For all I know Connie is going through something. We take turns. That’s what friends do. One is an absolute mess exactly when another succeeds. Then the reverse. Rare are the moments when you’re all riding a crest together.
Morris’s message. Connie’s texts. Tracy on the phone.
“They’re crazy,” I say. I start walking. Feeling more alone than I did in St. Louis.
Here I am, New York City, our personal playground, but all my friends feel cold, and suddenly I’m wishing I didn’t have the day off, wishing I was being forced to do some menial task if only to take my mind off the last message Connie sent.
Please respect that.
I realize this is a common phrase. It’s not like I’m offended, no. I get it. But you ever have someone you know talk like someone you don’t?
I have this momentary nightmare flare-vision of all my friends arriving to the farm, greeted by a man in an Oliver Carpenter mask. The others don’t realize it until he’s too close. Then he reaches out and stabs them, every one of them, murdering them in the middle of the road. I can see other people exiting his farmhouse, people I don’t know at all, men and women, walking to meet up with the man in the Oliver mask in the road. There, the killer hands each of them the faces of my friends. So that, for a second, and from a distance, you might mistake them for who they are not.