After two decades of service, the six-foot-high, 10-foot-wide mirror covering our living room wall started falling down on Thanksgiving Day. It came with the house, a colonial in Whitestone, Queens, which my parents bought when I was born. I was 23 and about to drive to LaGuardia Airport to pick up Tim, my soldier boyfriend of two years. He was spending the holiday with me after being stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, for the past three months.
I was in my attic bedroom putting on my “Welcome Home” outfit — black stockings, boots, a checkered skirt, and a fitted black sweater — when I heard Mom scream. I took the steps two at a time to find her and my 18-year-old brother holding the mirror up, their four hands, strained faces, and bodies looking longer in their slanted reflections.
“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I have to go to the airport!”
“Call Jay!” Mom said.
Jay was our neighbor who we phoned to do father-like duties. My dad died when I was 6 and, thus, missed out on tending to collapsing wall structures and other domestic disasters.
Jay rushed over with a hammer to break the mirror into pieces to keep it from shattering on its own. “I’m leaving,” I said, swallowing my guilt. “Try to fix this before I get back.”
Something usually happened on the holidays to cause my family equal parts guilt and distress, like the Easter my brother and I left our vomiting mother home so Grandma’s manicotti wouldn’t go to waste. But this Thanksgiving I wanted everything to run smoothly. I was nervous that my long-distance relationship with Tim was unraveling. Our phone conversations had boiled down to updates on the hours since we last chatted. In between long silences I’d learn what he ate that day and sometimes what he planned to eat later. I’d hoped seeing each other after this long stretch of time would help us regain what we’d lost.
It was raining just enough to fog my Honda Accord’s windows on my 15-minute ride to LaGuardia. The airport was crowded with cars and police directing traffic. I was early, so I thought I’d wait in the parking lot. I crept toward a green light where an officer stood, motioning for cars to pass. When I approached, I thought he waved me forward. I tapped the gas and then – whack – I hit him.
“Hey! Pull over!” The middle-aged man staggered back, regained his balance, and barreled toward me.
“Oh my God, I just side-swiped a cop,” I said to the pink rosary beads dangling from my rearview mirror.
“License and registration, now!”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, rolling down the window. “I thought you told me to move forward …”
“Give me your license! Why are you in such a hurr … ?” He looked at me and scanned my body with his eyes, starting at my cleavage, and stopping at the skirt that had sneaked up my thighs.
“I’m very sorry.” I handed him my identification. “I’m picking up my boyfriend. He’s in the army,” I said, thinking the “fighting for our country” bit would set me free.
The officer took my ID in his hand. He curled the right corner of his mouth into a half smile and brought his other hand to my window. He tapped his fingers. Pressing his big belly against my door, he leaned in for a closer look.
“So,” he said, licking his cracked lips. “Your boyfriend’s in the army? I bet you’re going to have a lot of sex tonight.”
I was silent. Looking around, I saw no one watching and realized how innocent this scene looked to passersby.
“I bet you send him naked pictures of yourself all the time,” he said.
“No … ”
“I know what kind of underwear you’re wearing,” he said, “a black lace bra with black lace panties. Am I right?”
I stared at my steering wheel, afraid to look in his direction. I was trapped inside a car I’d used to hit a cop. I let a tear fall.
“Come on. Show me the pictures you send him. I am imagining you having phone sex … wow.”
He talked more about my underwear and what he would do to me if he were my boyfriend. I retorted only with a few “Umms.”
He continued his verbal abuse until he was satisfied and handed back my license and registration.
“Happy Holidays, and drive safely!” he said, grinning as he waved me forward.
I inched toward the parking lot to wait for Tim. Questions clouded my mind: What just happened? Why didn’t I stop it? How could I not even get his badge number? Did I think I deserved that for hitting him? Would Tim try to defend me?
My cell phone rang, interrupting my thoughts. It was Tim saying he was walking toward the lot.
As my boyfriend’s big shoulders approached my window, I felt energized, eager to tell him the story, knowing he’d have to look after me. For the moment we’d be excited again, protective and protected.
He opened the door.
“Hey,” he said, leaning in to kiss me.
“Hi,” I smiled. “How was your trip?”
“I slept,” he said.
“Yeah, I was tired,” he said.
As I heard our flat sentences die in the air, I realized that, like the outfit I’d chosen, his rescuing me could only be a temporary fix for our defeated relationship. It wouldn’t repair us, nor would it change what had just happened. Listening to him talk about his flight, I abandoned the idea of telling him and hugged my long coat around my body, wanting to hide the clothes that felt like they turned on me.
Back at my house, my family welcomed Tim, and I looked at the wall for my reflection out of habit. Instead, my eyes fell on a surface I’d never seen before, dirtied with glue and bits of paper from the back of the mirror. Staring down, I saw my image in the shards of glass on the floor, and I knew it would take some time to put things back together.