“Al and I are going up to the Catskills for the night, okay?”
“That’s great!” Gabby, my wife of nearly 30 years replied. “You need to relax,” she continued. “When do you leave?”
“Oh…okay. Did you tell your parents?”(My parents live with us. They don’t speak much English and although my wife is conversational in Turkish, it just makes life easier if I mediate.)
“Yes, they know.”
“Good. Well, have a great time, my love. Relax!” She said, kissing me goodnight before turning out the light.
I felt a little guilty. I wasn’t really going camping. I was taking part in an experiment. Our son, Denny, a material science engineer, had been working on some kind of nano cell-displacing ray that diffuses human cells in such a way that one becomes invisible to the human eye (and inaudible to the human ear) for a limited period of time. Over the last year, he had tested it on various frat buddies with varying degrees of success: floating hands, noses, eyes were not quite marketable. On the upside, everyone reappeared in one piece. After a lot of tweaking, last month he tested it on himself and, accidentally, on his dog, Max. Max chose the moment Denny nano-rayed himself to jump up and lick his face. Overall, it wasn’t a bad thing except that even though they were both invisible, they were not invisible together. When they reappeared, Max was clearly a little traumatized by the whole experience.
Yesterday, Denny asked if I would try it out for him. He has a huge presentation for the NSA next Monday and he wants to be sure his claim that complete invisibility will last for twenty-four hours - no more, no less - is true. We didn’t tell his mom because, well, she would find a reason to say it wasn’t a good idea. That’s just how she is. Smart lady and the sweetest, kindest woman you will ever meet, but she worries about everything. Capital E. Case in point: She won’t move to California even though she loves it because, well, it might fall off in an earthquake. No joke. That’s how she thinks. So, if she knew I was about to be nano-rayed, she would immediately start listing every single thing that could possibly go wrong. We love her dearly, but she is the president-elect of the worrywart-piss-on-my-parade-party-pooper club.
In the middle of the night, I slipped out of the bed, got dressed, packed a little bag and left. I had packed my car with the camping gear – in case she checked the garage – so I was ready for my adventure. I drove to my son’s house. The lights were on even though it was barely 4:30 am. The door was open before I got out of the car.
“Baba, what’s up, man!” Denny said, when I got to the door.
“Me,” I said, laughing.
“Haha, pops, funny, not funny. You ready to do this?”
“Sure, I’m excited. But how will I communicate with you after you make me invisible? I want you to take me home so I can be home while I’m invisible.”
He looked at me. “Spying on mom?”
“No, nothing like that,” I denied. “I just don’t want to be wandering around or sitting in your house with Max while you are at work. I can’t open doors or anything, right?”
“No. And you won’t feel hunger or have to use the bathroom. I peed a lake when I reappeared though. It was almost funny. Especially when it appears Max had to and did poop.” He laughed a little, but clearly distracted by his own thoughts. “The nano-ray cell diffuser must react differently somehow on animals, because by the way he was sitting right next to me when we reappeared, he clearly knew where I was even though I didn’t know where he was. Interesting.”
I interrupted his tangent before he could veer way off into science-speak. “So, if you shoot me at 6am, I should reappear tomorrow at 6am, right?”
“Right. Here’s what we can do: I’ll shoot you in the car on the way home. I’ll open the door as if I’m looking for something in the passenger seat and you get out and do your thing. You’ll have follow me into the house. Then…good luck! I had to wait on Matt [his housemate] to come in and go out when I was invisible which was really annoying. I’m really not sure how useful this will be for NSA, but they are VERY interested.”
“Six figures interested?”
“I patented it already, and I will be leasing not selling. I’m offering five years, with first dibs on the second and third generation versions. Seven figures.”
“Shhhhhhiiiiiiitt? What? That’s my boy!!” I said, whacking him on the back.
“If they like what I’m selling. We’ll see. They will have me use it on their test subjects before they make a final decision. I should know by next Friday.”
“Unreal. I’m so proud of you, Denny!” I pulled him in for a hug. He let me before he pulled away.
“Thanks, Baba. Okay, let’s do this. How about we grab some breakfast at Dunkin and get you home?”
“Denny! What a great surprise!” Gabby said, hugging our son.
“Hey, Mom. Whatssuuuuuup?” he said, briefly hugging her before stepping back and walking into the kitchen. He used the half bath to pee. I will never understand his lack of need for privacy. He left the door open as he talked to his mother.
“What brings you here so early in the morning? I was about to run, but I can make you breakfast. What would you like? An omelet, pancakes, muffins?”
“Nah, I just wanted to surprise you. I knew Baba was going camping with Uncle Al, so…” He washed his hands at the kitchen sink then opened the fridge, grabbed a jar of strawberry preserves and a spoon. He ate a few spoonfuls then put it away, and grabbed a bottle of water.
“You knew? I’m always the last to know everything,” she said, looking a little annoyed. I do always seem to forget to tell her things…or I assume I’ve told her because I’ve told my parents at dinner…which is usually in Turkish.
“Haha, yeah, well, I’m going biking at Bear Mountain before work, so, just wanted to say hi. Catch ya later, Mom!”
“Oh, okay, sweetie, but, you should go say hi to your grandparents. I’m sure they’re awake despite the early hour. They always love to see you.”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine.” The eye rolling surprised me. Slamming the door to the basement open in frustration? What? I followed him downstairs.
“Yakışıklım! Nasilsin? İyi misin? Aisha, gel! Denny burada!” My father said, all smiles, as he smacked my son on the arm and called for my mother to come to their living room.
“Dedooooo!” My son said. ‘Dede,’ means grandfather. He made it his own with ‘Dedo.’ He was all cheer, no sass, thank goodness. My parents are 80. They deserve better than rolling eyes and slamming doors. “What’s up, man?”
“Denny! Çok özledim! Gel! Yakışıklım! Maşallah!” My mother said, wobbling into the room as quickly as she could after four back surgeries, knee surgery and more than a little overweight. She pulled Denny into a tight hug kissing him all over his face.
“Babaannnoooo!” ‘Babaanne means grandmother (literally father’s mother). Once again, he’d made it his own with ‘Babaanno.’ “How you doing? How’s your back?”
“Good. Good to see you guys. Take care. Gotta go. Have a great day!” he said hurrying back up the stairs as they watched him, smiling. I watched the smiles fade. Without a word, my mother went back to her room. My dad went to his room and closed the door.
Upstairs, Denny was already pulling out of the driveway by the time I got there. I was surprised he didn’t stay longer with Gabby. Then again, he knew I was there so… I watched Gabby standing on the porch, waving goodbye and blowing kisses. She always does that whenever anyone is leaving the house. It’s her way of making sure that if something horrible happens (she is always thinking the worst) the last memory we have of each other will be a pleasant one. Sweet and macabre at the same time.
When the car was out of sight, she stopped waving. When she came in the house, I saw that she was crying. What?
“What a sillyit I am,” she said to herself. “He’s a man. Of course he doesn’t want to hang out with his mom. That’s what you want as a parent. To raise, happy, healthy independent humans. At least he stopped by.” She wiped her eyes. “And he calls.” She blew her nose. “And he lets me edit his writing.” She laughed, put on her sneakers and headed to the garage to run on our treadmill. I followed her.
I watched as she set up her iPad to read, put her towel on the side and started up the machine. I peeked – 10-minute-mile pace. Nice. I used to be faster than her. Not so much anymore. I looked to see what she was reading. I read a few lines and my eyes started bulging for sure because my sweet little conservative wife was reading smut. What? I looked at her and she was clearly caught up in it. I started laughing and then read some more. Maybe I could get some ideas…
After her run, she stretched and did some physical therapy exercises for her back, made a pot of coffee then showered. She sings in the shower. She has a beautiful voice. Suddenly she stopped and I could hear wracking sobs from behind the shower curtain.
“I have to stop this,” she said to herself. “Life is good. I have no right to feel sad.”
Sad? She’s the happiest person I know.
She got out of the shower and her eyes were puffy from crying. She dried off and looked in the mirror. “Now see what you’ve done? Ugly, ugly, ugly!” She started crying again. “Old and ugly!” she started crying more. Ugly? Old? I felt like I was in the twilight zone. People think my son and my wife are a couple, that’s how young she looks. I keep wanting her to let her hair go gray just so she looks more like me. Not a wrinkle on her. She is beautiful – inside and out! What is wrong with her?
She sobbed some more then washed her face in cold water, weighed herself, grimaced, did her hair, put on some make-up and smiled a thousand different ways at herself in the mirror. I smiled back at her, shaking my head. Then she started taking pictures of herself. Full body nude pictures of herself. I stopped smiling. My wife does not believe in taking nude pictures. I’ve tried. She sat on the toilet and I stood behind her. She was sending the pictures in an email. I am very interested in your film. As long as it is very brief nudity, I would welcome the opportunity. I look forward to hearing from you.
I’m choking on spit. My wife left a 25-year career three years ago when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. She had a milestone birthday that year as well, so was probably also in the throes of a mid-life crisis. With a great deal of encouragement from me and my son, she started pursuing her passions – painting, singing, writing and acting. Acting is the only paying one albeit very sporadically. She’s still working on getting the big break. Our agreement is no kissing. I didn’t think I had to specify no nudity. I wondered if this was the first time. I wondered what else she wasn’t telling me.
She got dressed and went downstairs. She growled a bit as she wiped bread crumbs off the table and counter and cleaned the panini machine she never uses since she doesn’t eat bread. “Fuck,” she mumbled. “I don’t get it. Every single goddam morning they leave shit on the table, shit on the counters, shit in the sink. They don’t have to fucking do anything else. Can’t they at least clean the fuck up after themselves? Fuck!”
My mouth fell to the floor. My wife doesn’t curse.
I stood in the corner by the window listening, watching as she cleaned up the crumbs, swept the floor, emptied the dishwasher (slamming the cabinet doors as she did so). Then she poured a cup of coffee and went to the breezeway to drink it while she painted. She put on Rachmaninoff. Aha. Definitely a bad mood day.
After a couple of hours, and another cup of coffee, she washed her brushes and grabbed her pocketbook and some shopping bags. I couldn’t figure out how to get in the car with her so I just waited for her to get back. I didn’t need to watch her food shopping although I was pretty sure it would be different than I expected. The whole day had been so far.
While she was gone I sat in the living room until I heard my parents come upstairs.
“O gitti. Gel, duş yapıyoruz şimdi.”
Huh? They waited for my wife to leave to use the shower. We only have one full bath in the house, so I get it, but I thought it was kind of weird that they waited for her to leave. I didn’t follow them. No desire to see my parents naked. As they walked up the stairs, I heard my father tell my mom to be careful. He worries that, with her back, she’ll hurt herself on the stairs. She has two more months of healing and therapy before they can visit Turkey. He is dying to go. The only reason they are not there is because of her health issues. He has drowned his sorrows more than one night in whiskey. That, I know.
“Kapa çeneni, Cemal.”
Shut up, Cemal. My mom has grown increasingly cantankerous since the last surgery. She is only nice to my wife. Which makes sense. My wife is the hand that feeds us…and she is always smiling and happy. I think about the day so far and think, at least, in front of us she is.
I sit in the living room for at least two hours before my wife gets back. She makes various trips from the car to the kitchen with all her groceries. She puts on Eminem (another sign she is not in the best mood, perhaps – his music is so angry) while she unpacks and puts away the food. She brings a couple of treats downstairs to my parents and I hear them exclaiming and thanking her. She comes back upstairs and starts making dinner.
And I realize she never ate breakfast. It’s way past lunch time at this point. She’s just drinking water.
She spends hours in the kitchen cooking, periodically checking her phone for casting notices and texts that will not come from me. Denny calls and chats with her, telling her some jokes he made up (or found on the internet) that make her laugh. After they hang up, she calls her mom to tell her about me and Denny and listen to whatever stories her mom has for her today. They talk every day.
While she talks, she makes chicken soup (my mother requested it at dinner last night), köfte (little flavorful hamburgers) in tomato sauce with fried potatoes, tomato pilaf (because my parents like rice and bread with every meal even if there is pasta or potatoes on the menu), and shepherd’s salad. Then she makes a tuna salad which I know is what she will eat for her dinner since she does that often when she’s made a meat main dish. She sends a text and I look and see she is texting me to take my medicine.
And I wonder what I will be like when I reappear. Twenty-four hours. No meds. I don’t feel anything and haven’t since Denny zapped me. And I start to wonder if the zap might have a positive effect on me. And I start to hope. It’s a bad habit I’ve gotten into since I got sick. Hoping for miracles.
At 5:00 she makes herself a (very strong) gin and tonic and reads for a little while (I still can’t believe my wife reads smut). At 5:30, she makes herself another (very strong) gin and tonic. She practically gulps it down and makes a third.
I remember she still has not eaten today.
At 6:00 she calls down to my parents to tell them dinner is ready.
Dinner is interesting? Excruciating? My dad tries to make conversation and my wife does, too. A mixture of Turkish and English. He asks if she’s heard from me. No. It was nice to see Denny. Yes. How’s your back? She asks my mother. My mother goes into a long explanation in Turkish and clearly has lost my wife whose eyes are a little glassy and whose smile is a little too bright.
I’m wondering if she drinks like this every day or if it’s just because I’ve left her alone with my parents.
After dinner, they say goodnight and go back downstairs. My wife clears the dishes, washes pots, puts food in containers for my lunch the next day, cleans the table, the stove, the sink and then turns out the light.
She sits in her chair in the living room and reads for a while. Then she pulls out her computer and starts writing. I look over her shoulder and see it’s a poem. And I see that she is crying as she writes. And then I am crying invisible tears (as nonexistent as her tears and sadness have been to me till today) because her poem is to me. To us. It is a celebration of love. It isn’t a sad poem. And yet it is.
I’m tired of this day. I go upstairs and lay on our bed. I can’t wait till this is over.
She comes to bed early. She is asleep almost instantly. The gin, I suspect. And I think, she always falls asleep quickly lately.
And I think, we need to talk.
And I wonder what she will say when she finds out about my day as her invisible shadow.
On a positive note, the nano-ray worked. Twenty-four hour invisibility is a real thing. Denny has a shot at a lucrative contract with the NSA.
As I lay there, tremor-less, I cannot help but hope that his invention has an unexpected side effect.