Love and Worry

She was much younger than I was, with light green eyes precisely lined in black, and curly red hair that looked wind-whipped and whimsical. The word “Waterproof” was tattooed on her wrist in purple. She walked up the ten steps to the Blue-Sky Bar minutes after I did and stood next to me, talking on her phone. Her voice reminded me of an eager child’s—lilting, soft but lively.

I immediately decided to marry her.

She ended her call and I rolled my eyes. “This rain,” I said. She rolled her eyes too, glanced at me, and smiled.

(Remarking about the weather in Seattle is the dumbest thing you can do, but it’s also the thing that usually works well enough to get you to the next topic of So, do you work for Amazon?)

“Are you coming from work?”

“Amazon,” she said, nodding. “Waiting for friends. I’m Allison.” She ran one hand over her curls, willing them to obey.

My mother’s name was Allison. It’s my favorite. My dad loves it too.

I nodded back. “Allison. I’m James. I like your tattoo.”

Her friends arrived, then mine, but before we went in, I asked for Allison’s number. She laughed, grabbed my phone, and did everything for me. “Text me,” she said, as they flowed away.

I watched her go, wondering if we should have one child or two. My heart ached. I wished my mother could meet her: Allison, meet Allison.

We had lattes together one morning, then a long lunch three days later. I bought us front-row seats to a Tegan and Sara show, and Allison held my hand the entire time.

I told my dad about her. “She’s twenty-seven,” I mumbled, then added, “But she’s fun, like Mom was.”

“That’s young. Don’t know what your mother will think about that,” he said. “We won’t say anything for now.”

“Mom’s dead, remember?”

“I won’t be alive forever, you know,” he replied, with a hoarse and hard voice.


After two months of dating, I wanted to firm up my relationship status with Allison, to move things along to whatever her generation called it when you wake up next to someone knowing they won’t rush you out the door without first offering to make coffee and toast.

I wasn’t desperate, but life felt compressed, attenuated.

Allison told me her older sister Jules thought our relationship was disturbing. “You were watching Reading Rainbow when he was applying to college,” Jules said. I decided I had to win over the sister. If Jules loved me, so would Allison.

“You want Jules to come to dinner and a movie with us,” Allison said—not a question, more a curious remark.


“Because . . .?”

“Because maybe she will get over our age difference if she gets to know me, sees my good qualities—like my impeccable manners.”

“She isn’t going to say, ‘Allison’s boyfriend is such a catch: he’s soooo polite.’”

“Just ask her to join us. Wait—am I your boyfriend?”

She pulled her phone out.

Taptaptap. Pause. Taptaptap. Pause.

“Jules says dinner, no movie.”

“Great. She can choose where we eat. I’ll pay.”

Taptaptap. Pause. Taptaptap. Pause.

“She says, ‘Rococo’s up on Pine, and of course you’re paying.’ Hey, that’s perfect. They have this amazing purple Peruvian potato salad, but the last pic I took of it was awful—I looked so pale.”

“If it was a picture of a purple Peruvian potato salad, why would you be in it?”

She looked at me like I needed medical attention, which is the same look I gave my father last year when he reminded me to call my dead mother on her birthday.

Taptaptap. Pause. Taptaptap. Pause.

“Get an Uber. She’s already left.”

Our driver hurried us over the eight blocks from my place to Pine Street. Hurried may be too generous an adjective to use here because Seattle has been under construction all day, every day, for years. Amazon had the nerve to be unbelievably successful and the city exploded alongside it.

Looking out the car window, I said, “Seattle in 2019 must feel like Seattle did in 1898.” Allison’s tilted head meant what? so I explained my historical Gold Rush reference, and then she explained TikTok to me.

Next, we argued about Mick Jagger, because she wouldn’t believe he’s still alive—even after I showed her his Wikipedia page, which said he is not dead, but left her curious why I distrust BuzzFeed but take Wikipedia as gospel. We pulled up to the curb, so I let it go.

“Hey,” Jules said, waving at Allison.

“Hi Jules,” I said. She gave me a limp smile and a steely stare.

When the drinks came, Jules and I started arguing about the causes of Seattle’s homeless problem—I said it’s drugs and mental illness, she said it’s greedy rich people—and the more I talked, the more she dug in. Then we argued about who served the best sushi in town and if climate change was real. During dessert, I said Trump wasn’t that bad. Jules slapped her hands on the table, turned to Allison, and slowly shook her head.

Allison quietly watched Jules and I play this vicious verbal ping-pong, but toward the end I heard her make several deep, sustained sighs.

After I paid, Jules fled. Outside, Allison quickly kissed me on the cheek, said her sister might need more time, and then turned to walk alone the few blocks to her apartment, even as a light rain started.


Two days later, I was in my kitchen finishing my food-truck Mexican lunch when the text came in. There were “insurmountable obstacles” to our relationship, Allison wrote, and she wanted someone more compatible with her family.

Greasy carne asada taco wrappers and used napkins needed tossing. An Eddie Bauer catalogue, doctors’ bills, requests for donations from several political groups and the University of Washington, all sat unsorted. I should walk back to work. There were things to do, but I sat quietly, watching a growing shadow spread like spilled oil across my apartment’s floor. A sudden downpour pounded the windows. Drenched pedestrians shrieked; harsh, calamitous lightening cracked overhead. I wondered if Allison was inside, safe.

My phone rang. “Staying dry?” my dad asked. I heard the weather news loudly playing in the background.

“In my kitchen,” I said. “Dry as Mom’s Thanksgiving turkey.”

“I enjoy your mother’s cooking,” he said flatly.

“Enjoyed,” I said, “and I was joking.”

He asked about Allison, and I told him the relationship ended.

“You’re not getting any younger,” he barked.

I was quiet.

“Sorry,” he said. “Your mother worries, that’s all. When you were a baby, she worried so much she never slept. Now you’re an adult and her worry is you’ll never find someone to settle down with, to take care of you. Your whole life, every day, worry . . . I know it is irrational, but we can’t help it.” ­

I heard my father’s strained, shallow breathing. I understood his hands were clenched.

After a pause, I asked if it was raining there, twenty minutes south of me, and were his windows and doors all shut? He said no, no rain yet, but he could see the front on its way. We talked sports for a few minutes, how the Seahawks were doing.

“You should stay inside a bit longer,” he finally said. “Let the storm pass.”

It was painless really, how I replied:

“I will,” I said quietly. “Just so Mom won’t worry.”