Our waiter brought my plate before anyone else’s. Slices of yellow and green tomatoes with some sort of bland white cheese between them, a sneeze of olive oil with some oregano. This is what the restaurants tries to pass off as a salad and I’m paying $18 for it. I say Yes when our waiter asks if I want fresh cracked pepper, so my food might actually taste like something. My girlfriend’s family knew I’m celiac but insisted on us getting together for lunch at Giorgio’s Ristorante.
Plates of pasta and bread for everyone else come when I’m nearly done my plate of tomato slices. I’m flanked by my girlfriend’s two sons who are hyped up on sugary Italian sodas. Listening to my girlfriend’s brother yammer on with my girlfriend’s dad about bocci ball, talking with their mouths full of Milanesa and Angelhair. His girlfriend and my girlfriend’s mother down a decanter of red wine each and go off in Italiano to each other. Soon the whole table is a blur of drunken slurs. My girlfriend’s boys sing along to some Calabria song my girlfriend’s dad starts butchering as he gets drunker and drunker. I stare off into space at the table and fondle my AA chip in my pants pocket.
My girlfriend asks if I’m ok, and I tell her I’m just going to step outside. In the parking lot there’s a short 20-something with black hair, wearing a filthy apron, lighting a cigarette off the butt of another. I bum a smoke off him. He tells me his name is Juan Carlos and says he saw me looking out of place at the table when he was dropping off the silverware at the front counter of the restaurant. I tell him Yes, they’re all drunk and I don’t speak a word of the language. That it’s going to be difficult when my girlfriend, her kids and I spend next summer in Rome. He tells me You’ll be following her around like a lost dog there. I didn’t know how to respond, but Juan Carlos is probably right. He offers me another cigarette and asks Why am I even with her if I feel so out of pace. I tell Juan Carlos that my girlfriend is young, fit, she keeps the house clean, there’s food on the table when I get home from work… He coughs on smoke and says So, she’s a good looking maid?
From behind me I hear my girlfriend’s brother say I didn’t know you smoked. And he takes out one of those ridiculous e-cigs from his pocket and jams it in his mouth. The back door of the restaurant flings open and someone in a chefs jacket points at Juan Carlos then points for him to come inside. He smacks Juan Carlos on the back of the head as he goes in the back door. My girlfriend’s brother asks Who’s your friend, what’re you guys talking about?
The next four days was just work, home, sleep. Work, home, sleep. I barely saw my girlfriend and just heard her kids getting up in the morning for school. Juan Carlos would cross my mind again and again. He made me question my situation, my relationship. Then rationality, or what I thought was rationality would kick my brain and I’d think What would someone like Juan Carlos know? He’s just a dishwasher in a tacky and overpriced restaurant. Still, I questioned if my girlfriend and I had any common interests or are we in this for convenience ?
My weekend was spent trying to catch up on office work at home while my girlfriend’s kids were running around the house like they were on fire. I hoped in my car to drove around the suburbs so I could actually hear myself think. At a red light I see Giorgio’s Ristorante and head in that direction without even thinking about it. In the parking lot behind the restaurant where Juan Carlos and I met. What was I doing here? If Juan Carlos even remembered talking to me, what would I have to say to him anyway? The back door of the restaurant opens and the server that brought me tomatoes before was taking a bag of garbage out to the dumpster. I rolled down my window and asked him if Juan Carlos was working. I don’t know why I asked. The server said Juan Carlos hasn’t shown up to work in a few days now, he just ditched us. It wasn’t working out here for him anyway. The server went back inside and I sat in the parking lot with the window down for I don’t how long.
How can I just not show up for my job as a boyfriend? Since it’s not working out for my girlfriend and I. How do I ditch out on going to Rome with her and her kids? How long can I follow her around like a lost dog for?