What more romantic getaway could there be than New Haven in the fall? At least, by United States getaway standards, thought Milo to himself as he booked an Airbnb for him and his girlfriend of three and a half years, Maribel, who he usually called Mab due to his somewhat homo love of Romeo & Juliet. Milo’s motivation for planning the trip to New Haven was threefold: Mab’s birthday was coming up at the end of October, he had always wanted to take a pizza tour of the Big Four–Sally’s, Frank Pepe’s, Modern and BAR–and the palpable strain on Milo and Mab’s relationship was about to snap after Milo’s father had recently visited and stayed in their apartment. It was during his visit that all of the most unavoidable problems of their relationship came bubbling to the surface like a turd lodged in the recess of a toilette.
Mab was never what one would call a “family woman.” In point of fact, she despised the way so many planned their lives around family members–especially parents, the very people who ruined your life by bringing you into the world in the first place. For this alone, she couldn’t comprehend Milo’s strange devotion to his father, Clinton, an air traffic controller who had taken on a drinking problem back in ’88, when Milo’s mother, Denise, left him for a younger man, an act that was then far ahead of its time. With Milo left entirely in Clinton’s care, and as the only child, the father-son dynamic began to border on the incestuous, with the two of them acting more like a married couple than anything else. Veritably, being nearly inseparable from Clinton was normalized for Milo, who never learned the concept of individuation from one’s parents. But when Mab met him back in 2013, he had managed to put on a veneer that suggested complete functionality separate from his progenitors.
They encountered one another in a sort of Ernst Lubitsch way, in that they both reached for the same clothing item–a patterned scarf–one frigid January morning on their respective lunch breaks. Except instead of the encounter happening at a department store like it would have in the 50s, it happened at the Urban Outfitters on Fifth Avenue.
“You have adequate taste considering what’s being sold here,” commented Milo. Mab could understand that he was trying to flirt with her by talking down to her and decided to go with it.
“Thanks for the compliment…now can I have my scarf?”
“What makes you think I’d just give it to you? We both grabbed it at the same time.”
“Fine, take it. I’ll opt for this solid piss yellow color,” she said, snatching up the aforementioned accessory.
Milo laughed. “Now wait a minute. I don’t want you walking around draped in piss yellow. Just take this one. The last of its kind,” he iterated as he handed it to her. As she started to take it, however, he pulled it back. “I just need you to do one thing for me…”
Ten minutes later they were in the bathroom of Jimmy’s Busy Corner (not located on a corner) consummating their encounter in the dingy and disgusting bathroom. Mab hadn’t had sex with anyone in three months, hence her unwaxed vag and amenability to giving in to such a grotesque public act. When it was over, she put her tights and scarf back on and assumed she would never see Milo again, though both had exchanged numbers over one more drink before they each returned to their respective offices, he to MTV, she to Condé Nast.
About two weeks later, he texted her, an invitation to a performance at Lincoln Center. She wondered if he was bi, or just pretentious. Either way, she accepted his offer because, well, there weren’t any others. When her thankless work as an editorial assistant was done for the day, she scampered over to Sephora to pile more makeup onto her face.
He waited for her by the fountain, purposefully showcasing the fact that he had bought the piss yellow scarf by contrasting it against a black military jacket. When he saw her approaching, he walked toward her. “Hi.”
She beamed at his scarf. “So you had to resort to that in the end, huh?”
“I’m not vain enough to be embarrassed about it.”
“At least you’ve got one winsome quality.”
“Are you saying you don’t think my contortionist abilities in an airplane-sized bathroom are winsome?”
She shrugged. “Not bad.”
They made their way into the venue, and by the end of the night it was apparent they would continue to see one another, she often staying at his Upper West Side apartment because apparently graphic design jobs could afford one the luxury of having no roommates.
She didn’t start to notice the bizarre attachment Milo had to his father until about six months in, when she herself had become too emotionally affixed to him to turn back. The trouble began in late June, when Milo suddenly started resisting her desire to come over. When she finally demanded to know why, he freely admitted that it was because his father was in town and needed to stay with him–a logical enough reason for her, or so she thought. But when the date had lapsed that saw Clinton depart again for their hometown of Providence, Mab found his ignorings worrisome.
“Can we please meet tonight?” she texted him with an urgency she knew gave him the upper hand.
He responded hours later with a simple, “Sure.”
They arranged to meet at a restaurant near his apartment, some overpriced Mexican place that doesn’t exist there anymore. To Mab’s dismay, Milo was acting as though his behavior of late wasn’t strange, leading her to cut to the point somewhere around the time she ate two of her three tinga tacos.
“Why have you been ignoring me? And why didn’t you just tell me your dad was in town instead of being so secretive about it?”
Milo chewed his burrito bite slowly, as though putting off having to answer her questions. When he finally swallowed, he said, “I haven’t wanted to tell you the depth of my father’s importance in my life. Not until I told him I was seeing you.” He sighed. “And when I mentioned some things about you, he really didn’t seem to approve.”
Mab felt as though she might choke on the resin of rice and beans she had just consumed. Could it be possible that they had somehow gone back in time to seventeenth century Russia when a man needed his father’s consent to do anything? Or was this merely a hallucination brought on by some sort of food poisoning? Before she could answer herself, Milo added, “I don’t want to break up with you, but I just wanted you to be aware that things between us might get more complicated if we continue to see one another.”
Mab took a sip of her water. “And what, exactly, were these ‘things’ you mentioned about me that were so displeasing to Daddy?”
He stared at her without blinking. “Just that. Speaking to your sort of negative energy parading as witty sarcasm–which I love, but can be difficult to deal with sometimes.”
In that moment, Mab imagined herself to look like one of those cartoon characters with steam coming out of her ears to express unverbalizable anger. Who did Milo think he was? She should have known from the second he condescended to her about the scarf that this would be how it all played out. But just as she was about to rise from her chair and stiff him with the bill (going Dutch is the mark of all doomed relationships, she could see that now), he grabbed her by the wrist and insisted, “Don’t go. I don’t want you to go.”
That night, they slept together for the first time in three weeks, ergo confirming Mab’s mental appending all over again. The following morning, she moved in and their true renaissance began, with domestic-centric entities like FreshDirect and Netflix ruling over them for a period of banal bliss. The subject of Milo’s father was never addressed, with the latter keeping his relationship with Clinton separate from Mab at all times by either visiting him in Providence or staying in a hotel with him whenever he came to New York.
But by their third and a half year together, it was truly beginning to bother Mab, this whole arrangement of segregation, which made her feel like some sort of secret shame. She finally insisted upon hosting Clinton in their apartment the next time he came so as to get meeting him out of the way once and for all.
Though Milo was reluctant, he consented, knowing that it was now or never for this meeting to happen if he was going to continue to stay with Mab in the long-term.
Clinton arrived in mid-September and stayed with them for, to Mab, what felt like ten thousand years. Between his early rising to do yoga in their living room (it helped him balance out his unhealthier alcoholic predilections) and his liberal critiques of the way Mab “kept the apartment,” she wanted to tear her hair out and shove it down his throat as a gag. By the time he was due to leave, the stress his visit had put upon her and Milo was chasmic. Milo did his best to keep things “running smoothly” between Mab and Clinton by choosing not to address any of the uncomfortableness at all, and by constantly remaining among them so as to serve as a regular buffer.
Once he was out of the apartment, however, Milo dropped all facades of pleasantness, practically choking Mab with his passive aggressive silence. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later that he got over his anger long enough to make this New Haven trip.
They sat silently on the train for the first few minutes of its initial departure from Grand Central. Finally, Mab found the courage to say, “What’s going on between us?”
Milo bit his lip as the conductor came by to punch their tickets. As he walked away, Milo asserted, “You don’t like my dad. That’s a big issue for me. And I don’t know if we should waste our time anymore.”
Mab, for as nonplussed as she liked to act about the inevitable prospect of their breakup, could feel the sting of hot tears welling up from the ducts in each corner of her eyes. She didn’t fully comprehend how much she cared until this threat became vocal. Before Milo said it, she thought she could actually handle him saying it. But she was wrong. Still, she didn’t want Milo to look at her while she cried, so she pretended to stare out the window thoughtfully, while her body resisted the urge to shudder from this stifling of emotions.
Milo couldn’t help but pity her now, regret the harshness of his words. It was too late though; she was crying on a train to New Haven, a train that had become the hearse carrying the corpse of their relationship to its burial point.