BOUND BROOK, 1996
Right before we fell asleep, you would say, “Goodnight, Dolly.” It was like this every night, as we lay hip to hip in the front bedroom of our apartment on the second floor of the house in Bound Brook. Even on the nights we dropped into bed after working, studying or drinking too much; the rare nights we didn’t make love.
We were technically registered as students in the graduate program in Italian Literature at Rutgers University. Sometimes we studied; more often, we read Italian poetry to each other late into the night. You loved Montale: “Portami un girasole, impazzito di luce.” Bring me a sunflower, crazy with light. And I loved Leopardi, who wrote about l’infinito and the existence of possibilities beyond what we could see in front of us, especially since what was in front of us was New Jersey: brutally gray, especially in winter.
All day, walking down College Avenue, I moved with distraction from class to class. And while I worked the evening shift in Women’s Sportswear at Stern’s Department Store, I felt the ache of our separation: a dislocation. At night, my hipbone curved perfectly into yours: a kind of wholeness. And that was all that mattered, then. It was the kind of love that we knew was ephemeral, like the beauty of your dark curls and the soft skin on my cheek.
“It’s a sick world,” you would say as we drove in your red Jeep to the jobs we hated at the Woodbridge Mall, “and we’re stuck in it.” But once we ascended those narrow, carpeted stairs to our tiny second-floor apartment and closed the door, we didn’t feel stuck in it at all.
We sang too loudly to your Lucio Battisti tapes. I’m rather certain the landlady hated us. We spent weekends in bed or wandering around New York. There were parties at apartments or bars with friends, and friends of friends; we ate carciofi and spaghetti alle vongole at Luna in Little Italy, sometimes with too many complementary glasses of Sambuca that waiter we’d befriended kept bringing us.
On weeknights after work, we hung out near school at Teresa’s, sharing plates of pasta and making plans to be in Italy together, which was what we really wanted, instead of studying about Italy and living in Bound Brook, where the Raritan always flooded and frequently trapped us in the little town, the only redeeming quality of which was the old cinema where we saw Il Postino together that year.
That year, too, the Yankees won the World Series. We watched every game curled together like cats in the papasan chair that took up most of the living room. Our holy shrine, the framed photo of Joe DiMaggio surrounded by votive candles, you placed atop my old TV set with the turn dial and rabbit ears that sometimes needed a nudge from the coat hanger taped to the metal prongs in the back. We lit all the candles before each game and prayed the Prayer to Obtain Favors: “Hail and blessed be the hour…” A lapsed Catholic, I still believed in the power of fervent prayer; you believed in the Yankees. We didn’t yet understand the devastating blow of loss.
Our main two rooms—bedroom and living room– were artfully decorated with a mélange of furniture cast off by family members, like the couch from my grandmother. We assembled that brand-new two-person bar table in the tiny kitchen. We seldom cooked. Once, in the autumn of that year, though, we made baked apples on a whim, and you spilled the entire jar of molasses all over the kitchen. We had a big fight over that: I cried, “We’ll never be able to clean this mess!” When we moved out of the apartment the following summer, we found traces of sticky brown molasses that had seeped into tiny cracks in the tile floor and couldn’t be scrubbed away.
T Nicole Cirone is the author of Nine Nails: A Novel in Essays (Serving House Books, 2019). She serves as an editor at both The Night Heron Barks and Ran Off With the Star Bassoon. Her writing has been published in Pidgenholes, Ovunque Siamo, Serving House Journal, Philadelphia Stories, The Woman Inc., Hippocampus, Red River Review, the Philadelphia Stories “Best of” Anthology, Gateways: An Anthology, and Reaching Beyond the Saguaros: A Prosimetric Travelogue. A chapter of her novel is anthologized in Women Write Now: Women and Trauma. Instagram: @catmumu123.