When I was a freshman in college, the RA called me into her office to have a private talk. I asked the RA what it was about. “Your stomach.”, she said.
I had been eating an awful lot of ice cream sandwiches in the dining hall. Maybe someone had noticed and had decided it was time somebody should say something.
The RA asked me if I wanted a cup of tea.
“Not really,” I said. She looked like she didn’t know where to start, so I tried to help her out. “What is the problem with my stomach?” She looked at me and took a deep breath. She raised her eyebrows. Finally, she said, “it is the weight gain.”
If I could have evaporated, I would have. Instead, I said, “I have been eating a lot of ice cream.”
“That can happen when you are pregnant,” she said. That took me by surprise.
“That’s not possible,” I said. “Are you sure?” she asked me. “I would have been there,” I said.
I told my mother. She got a kick out of the “are you sure” line, and she pulled it out as a regular, for years. Whatever I answered when she asked if I wanted more spaghetti or if I wanted to go into the Theater as a career, or if I knew where my sister was, she would drag it out.
Then she got bored of that and started to say, “I am nervous and my socks are too loose.”
She would say it out of nowhere, it needed no platform or opening statement. She could be reading the paper or ordering ice cream, and she would tilt her head back and let it rip. I thought maybe it was a synapse issue or the beginnings of decay, but as I was born with too much on my plate in terms of responsibility, I chose my battles and so I never asked. It was a few years before she died and we were sitting on the Adirondack chairs on the front porch of the Surf Hotel on Block Island and she said it again. I asked her what the connection was between being nervous and her socks being loose. She laughed at that.
“They are not my socks,” she said. “Well,” I asked her, whose socks are they?”
“They belong to a man on the Ballard Bus.” My mother loved confusion and would sow it like a kitchen garden. The Ballard Bus ran between the Ballard Motel on Old Harbor and the bars and boats on New Harbor. It didn’t cost anything to ride the Ballard Bus, but you were meant to be staying at Ballard’s. When I asked my mother about that, she said they never asked her for any kind of identification and if the door was open, why not take it? “What man on the Ballard Bus? Who was the man on the Ballard Bus, Mom?”
“I don’t know who he was,’ she said. ‘He was singing.”
“He was singing, ‘I am nervous and my socks are too loose?'”
For a longtime after that, I imagined that man on the bus as having been too long at the beach and too long at the bar and prone to connecting words like loose pieces of laundry on the clothesline that end up together with no rhyme or reason, ripe for the likes of my mother to pick. When the truth is, that man was not just sitting there spewing fodder for my mother.
He was singing a Van Halen song.
For dinner: have eaten illegal amounts of popcorn.