This is a piece from my upcoming book
Nurses’ sons are the new farmers’ daughters: totally uninterested in you, muses, long fingernails under which a lot of bullshit might get stuck.
That’s not really fair — the only bullshit was that the nurse’s son didn’t like me back.
Why did I wear all purple to go out with the nurse’s son the same week my mother died? I liked that outfit. Purple velvet pants and a v-neck short-sleeved lavender sweater. That night I was gonna party like it was 1999 (because it was).
Why did I go out with the nurse’s son the week my mother died? Lonely. Looking for true love.
Why did the nurse’s son go out with me the week my mother died? Curious? Obliged? Looking to show off his fingernails? Looking for true love? No, not that last one, to my dismay.
My mother had lovely home nurses when she was sick and one of them talked about her son with me fairly often over hand-washing and hand-wringing. I was working on my Master’s Degree, he had his Master’s Degree, we were both musicians, our moms kind of worked together (if you squinted your eyes and pretended his mom didn’t sponge-bathe my Mom). I knew random things about him like that he never felt quite as smart after he had spinal meningitis but was still very, very smart, his mother assured me.
He called and invited me out and we met at a bar in Ridgewood — the town where I was born! The town where my Mom died! The town where I kept looking for meaning! — and he talked to me about beautiful, sad folk singer Nick Drake and we discussed the genius of Jeff Buckley. He had long fingernails on his right hand for fingerpicking the guitar. He was wearing a black turtleneck, about which, I want to say, snarkily, “of course.” But whatever — I’m sure he was having quite the enriching experience taking a girl out whose mother just died. What a brave soul! He knew how to dress for the occasion. That’s more than most people could say. That’s more than I could say in my velvet pants.
We one-upped each other with our good taste on the jukebox (as much as that jukebox’s contents would indulge us) and drank a bunch of beers. It felt really good to be out with him. It felt like a spot of brightness at the frozen end of November to be doing something other than sitting in the house or going to the mall with my friend, Kendra, or trying to make out with my ex-boyfriend and crying.
Oh yeah — so the high school ex-boyfriend who threatened to drink the carpet shampoo actually showed up for me by coming to my Mom’s wake. He would also check in with me to make sure I was OK, which was what I really needed.
He peered around the funeral home, those sharp Argentine-via-Staten-Island eyes resting on my mother’s body and families of people with whom I went to high school.
“How are you?” he asked. “I would be hiding under the chairs right now.” And, naturally, that pang of familiarity where you feel like the only two people who understand each other made me want to make out with him. Which I did, driving to his apartment one of those nights that all started to bleed together. And he was wearing the Egyptian musk fragrance I always wore (“to smell like you”) and chewing cinnamon Trident like he always did and after a few reels around the fountain, if you will, it was too much and he agreed as I cried.
Why couldn’t I be one of those awesome film protagonists who, as Peaches says, fuck the pain away? In some bathroom or something to later regret and then later-later, when you’re much older, you don’t regret it at all? (You know, as long as you’re using protection and all that.) Oh right, I grew up Catholic. But why couldn’t I, then, be more like John Waters, who has said “Thank God I was raised Catholic, so sex will always be dirty”? That’s the stuff wet dreams are made of.
So back to the nurse’s son and my little grief-filled heart pinning my hopes and dreams on him in a bar in New Jersey.
“Maybe I’ll get the next love of my life out of this situation and losing my mother. Maybe that’s how dreams come true.” Beer talking, but God, I wanted the fantasy to be possible. I just wanted someone comfortable to lay my heart into.
“Let’s not try to turn this into anything other than what it is,” he said, our breath in clouds in the frosted Ridgewood night, hugging me and leaving me there. I’m still not quite sure what it was.
I went home and listened to a lot of Nick Drake — I got him out of this rendezvous and he aligned perfectly with the wet blanket pressed over everything. And even though I never saw him again I liked this nurse’s son because it gave me something to romantically focus on. They’ve done studies where they show how people who have their hand stuck in a bucket of ice water are able to endure it longer if they swear or think about sex — this guy was momentarily my similar point of focus while I had my hand in the ice water bucket of grief. He was also something to write really depressing songs about. And that moved me somewhere — at least into some creative expression. Muses sometimes come in unexpected boxes. Just not mine.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.