“This is perfect,” Carl said. “A door closes and God opens a window.”
“So,” JJ said. “She’s serious this time.” They spoke of Anne, Carl’s lukewarm wife.
“Who knows, who knows? She’s seriously fed up. The usual shit. No ambition, no money, look what those people have, why can’t we have that. Same old shit. It’ll blow over.”
They were in JJ’s farm house, in the midst of camping gear strewn all over the living room and kitchen. Tents, sleeping bags, pots and pans, spatula, propane, clothes, boots, lantern, flashlight, batteries, rope, Cracker Jacks, toilet paper…
“Well, you can stay here until we get back. Or she takes you back.”
“I could come with you,” Carl said. “I mean, can I come?”
“Can I meet you somewhere? Like for a weekend?”
JJ thought of the three of them, Carl, JJ, and Lila, all in a tent together, and disgust rose in his gut, unlatching an old trap door to a cellar in his mind. Cobwebs of jealousy and resentment. He suspected Carl and Lila had been together once or twice. In fact, he knew it. It didn’t bother him day-to-day, but still, it was there like a blemish on an otherwise jolly photo of three amigos. The eye was drawn to that blemish and it could never not be seen. “I don’t think so,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Carl took that in. “Y’know, I know a few things about life. I wouldn’t be a friend if I didn’t bring this up.”
There was a hardening in JJ’s chest, familiar and automatic since his parents or teachers called him out on something. Stealing his sister’s babysitting money or breaking a school window with a thrown apple, it didn’t matter if it was justified or not. His jaw tightened. You’re not the boss of me.
“It seems to me like you’re running from something,” Carl started. “You can’t escape yourself. You can’t outrun yourself. Wherever you go, you’ll be sure to find yourself there. You can run all your life, but not go anywhere…”
Carl droned on. Deep down, under the growing layers of resistance and resentment, the swamp of guilt bubbled. Down there, JJ knew Carl was trying to help him, that maybe he was right. But, this was Carl, kicked out by his wife, still an overnight bagel baker. Carl, the fucking philosopher. Nobody tells me what to do.
“Enough!” JJ said, louder than he intended. “Just, enough.”
“All right, all right.”
“I’m sorry, but just stop with all that. I’m not some invalid. I need to live.”
“I’m just worried about you, man. You’re like my brother.”
The guilt swamp bubbled and the anger was swallowed in the morass. How can you hate and love someone in the same moment? JJ sighed. “I know, me too. I feel the same way. But, I have to move, man. I have to get moving.”
“But, that restlessness. It’s not a good thing. That’s all I’m saying.”
Why wouldn’t he just let it go?
You think you’re better than me?
“Thanks, I guess,” JJ said through clenched teeth. “But I’m going away with Lila. You can’t come. But, you’re welcome to stay here while your marriage is broken.”
“And that’s that?”