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We Need to Talk About Beth
Sometimes when you don't know what to say, let the other person fill in the blanks for you.
Alexa, play the Yellowstone theme song so that I can feel the sweet drama of the American West.
My mom got Covid and ended up in the hospital at the start of last week. The one thing I don’t think I could have ever prepped for is what happens when someone you love gets sick and you’re far away. When do you go home? How much help can you be, you know? It feels like you can’t really know that the person you love is ok when you’re so many miles away. Complications turned into more complications, and then the call came: she had a stroke, right as a snow storm hit New York. So as soon as I could, I got on a flight and came home to be with her. Today has mostly been sitting with her and telling jokes. Making her laugh until she tells me to stop. Hovering as she does physical therapy. Sneaking in illegal food. I am nothing if not a slight inconvenience.
I haven’t been home much in the past couple years, thanks largely to Covid. But there’s also a part of me, the longer I’m away, that keeps me from running back. I get it in my mind that I’ve been gone too long. I’m afraid I won’t be able to connect with people, or that they won’t like me now that I’ve been out in a big city for a while. It’s a weird fear of mine, I guess.
And then you add a situation like this in, and I don’t know—it’s like you lose all sense of how you’re supposed to act. But as I left the hospital last night, I stopped to get a bottle of wine (leave me alone), and I ran into one of my favorite high school teachers at the liquor store. She asked me how I was doing and how New York is and how working at Esquire was. The guy at the counter overheard and said, “Are you the guy who interviewed the actors from Yellowstone?”
South Knoxville is both a part of a metropolitan area and also an impossibly small town. A small town where my dad talks a lot. More specifically about how I sometimes speak to people from his favorite show. I’ve been reporting on Yellowstone for a while, and I can attest—it has this bizarre pull in places like South Knoxville. I think it’s because it speaks to a fantasy, in a way. It removes you from the world you’re in and allows you to be the cowboy you just never quite became. As I put up my two bottles of nine dollar wine (again, leave me alone), the guy at the register said, “That’s crazy, man. I bet Cole Hauser is good guy. Do you know if he’s a good guy?” And I don’t know. He was nice enough when I spoke to him, but I don’t like ruining things for people, so I told the man, “The nicest.”
This morning on the way back to the hospital, I stopped in to my mom’s favorite gas station deli to pick her up a snack and the women working the grill were in the corner looking at me. One of them finally said, “Are you Wendell and Kathy’s boy?” and I replied, “Oh God, don’t tell anyone,” and they laughed and asked about mom. They knew about as much about her condition as I did, honestly. And when the conversation went quiet, one of them looked at me and said, “Did you really talk to Beth from Yellowstone?” Again, I replied yes, and she said, “What is she like? Is she mean like she is on the show? I heard a rumor that she’s British.” So while they cooked up something for me to take to mom, I told them about Kelly Reilly. They were shocked that she was nice and pleasant and British.
Interviews like that have become part of my day to day, to the point that I don’t think about it anymore. And I try not to bring them up because it feels trite. New York constantly feels like a dick measuring contest, and I think that’s annoying. But on a day like today, it’s a nice reprieve, and it’s one of those rare moments where it feels like my worlds converge so perfectly. I get to bring the fantasy a little closer to home, and for a minute—a quick one—I have my own fantasy because I forget why I’m here to begin with.
A couple things I’ve worked on recently: