Bear, don’t think, run. Turn where you are and flee. Don’t utter your mother’s name. Forget the name of this town. Rochester is a black hole sucking you in, keeping you here. You have no job and your mother keeps $120 of your $140 weekly unemployment checks. You have a fiancée six hours away who’ll marry you as soon as you work up the courage to finally move.
We sit in the old aqueduct, which is now just a fancy-looking bridge, and cars are passing overhead and you are telling me how you’re leaving in December no matter what, no matter that you’re twenty-five and you could leave tonight if you wanted, no matter that you may or may not have enough money for the bus ticket by then, may drink it all up with me, like we are now, sipping the thirty pack of Genny we bought with your $20 take from this last unemployment check. We both know I’ll have to borrow my father’s ailing mini-van, pack it with your thousand DVDs, fifty percent of which are horror films, and your garbage bag full of clothes and your pair of dress shoes, which are your only shoes, and you wear them without socks because this is summer and you say your feet are hot even though I say it makes you stink.
We’ll pack the van and pretend we’re leaving like they would in one of your horror movies, zombies and all kinds of death and bad shit in our wake. These monsters we run from are less scary than the reasons we’re sitting here, splitting a thirty pack on a hot night, in a place we hid out when we were kids, where bums wait out the winter, where our names and the names of presidents and war criminals are spray painted on the concrete walls. That fear, running from Frankenstein and Dracula, is adrenaline pumping and women fawning and holy water and garlic and stakes through the heart. It’s nothing like the anxiety we feel about you moving away and me heading to college for my final year and then knowing—because I have a girlfriend there and maybe even a shitty, but sort of nice, teaching job lined up—that neither of us are coming back.
When you ask me if I’ll come visit, I want to say no, Bear. I want to tell you that this is about disconnecting, for your good and mine too, but you look at me, your eyes welling up, and I can’t say no because I won’t mean it. I want to convince myself that I can shut this place out, hole up in a room with my lover and never come back, can forget the myths and stories, the hideouts and safe places we went to drink and terrorize one another. I want to tell you everything I know about marriage and love and family and being prepared for the worst, but I learned most of it from my parents, who are divorced. Though you’d only been with this woman for four weeks before you proposed, and she is your first girlfriend and you are her first boyfriend, and I know I should tell you to slow down, consider it, I don’t because I am genuinely happy for you, happy you’ll finally shake this town.
I know what you mean when you say you’re not sure if you can handle taking care of this woman because none of us—our friends, that is, the boys who love and hate this city—are prepared to love in that way. I understand how it hurts you when your mother says things about your fiancée, about how she is ruined, damaged goods, how this woman will never love you the way your mother does. It is more than your money your mother is after. It is your support. Your father dead and she cannot raise your younger brother alone. You are her oldest. You have always been—even in your own failed way—a constant.
And there is, finally, distance to consider. The distance between you and your fiancée, the long distance phone calls we’ll make in order to remain friends, which travel across wire and state lines. It is a map folded over until holes are worn in the creases. It is scotch tape on those torn up places and the feeling that the map has seen more of the world than we have.
I make the occasional joke about your girlfriend and her buck teeth, and you call me “college boy,” threatening to beat me up, and of course we forever talk about monster movies, as if we were kids again, making potions from salad dressing and shampoo and our mothers' perfumes to ward them off, the monsters, the ghosts that have come to haunt us. And there we are hiding under the bed until our parents come home. Knowing only they can rescue us.