What Would Tami Do?
“Friday Night Lights: “Black Eyes and Broken Hearts”
Eric Taylor, the Panthers’ football coach, walks into his wife’s office. Tami is the guidance counselor at Dillon High. Eric has a dilemma. “I need to talk to the guidance counselor,” he says. She gives him guidance counselor advice. “Now I need to talk to my wife,” he says, “is she here?” Tami gives him her wifely opinion on the issue. “Is there anyone else I can talk to? I need to talk to someone else.” “Your friend,” she says. After she shares her view on the topic, he gets up to leave. “The three of you scare me,” Eric says.
When we arrived home from the doctor’s appointment where I got the news about the cancer in my left breast, the kids, thankfully, were not back from school yet. I stood in the kitchen, a happy yellow room, and was overcome by the March sun shining in the windows, sparkling off the chrome faucet, and dappling over the basket of bananas where a drowsy housefly circled. It was all so beautiful because I kept it so; what would happen if I weren’t here? The bananas would turn brown—my family only ate bananas one day on either side of ripe—and no one would throw them out.
“I think I need to cry,” I said, and walked upstairs, my hand on the railing in case I felt unsteady. I heard Will slap at the fly with a rolled-up newspaper.
I lay down on our bed and prepared myself for a huge wave of tears. The pillowcase smelled of Bounce. I felt like when you kneel by the toilet waiting to throw up and nothing comes. That morning I’d changed all of the sheets on all of the beds and refolded every last towel, sheet, and pillowcase in the linen closet, waiting. Will was upstairs now; I think he peeked in the room. Was he opening the linen closet in the hall?
I bolted off the bed. “What are you doing?” He stood with a roll of toilet paper in his hand.
He looked like he was caught red-handed. “We’re out. In the downstairs bathroom.”
“I just cleaned the whole closet!”
“I’m just grabbing this,” he gestured with the hand holding the toilet paper. “I won’t touch anything else.”
“But you need to know where things are! Do you even know where things are in that closet?” I blazed at him.
He padded slowly toward me, his sock-covered feet quiet on the carpet. “You’re not going anywhere. It’s going to be all right.”
“But maybe I don’t want to be the keeper of all the information anymore!”
And then it came, fast, like throwing up.
After that wave passed—with Will spooning me, his breath hot on my neck—I was exhausted.
“Can we watch TV?” I asked.
“We can do whatever you want.”
“But is it okay to watch TV at—” I moved the pillow so I could see the clock, though my eyes felt like tomatoes, “—2:30 on a Thursday afternoon?”
“Anything you want.”
“Let’s watch Friday Night Lights.” I reached for the clicker next to the box of tissues. All 74 episodes from all 5 seasons were on Netflix. We were almost done with Season 1. When the opening music started and the camera panned over the pastoral and gritty Dillon, Texas, there was an image of Tami, the coach’s wife, dancing in her kitchen. She looks back over her shoulder, past her long blonde hair, at someone, and then she spins, arms over head: liquid, sexy, totally unselfconscious.
Friday Night Lights: “Are You Ready for Friday Night?“
Eric and Tami’s oldest daughter, Julie, is staying out late, being disrespectful, and taking out her anger and insecurities on her mother. After a particularly ugly fight between Julie and Tami, Tami yells, “I am your mother. And you’re not grown yet. And you’re not rid of me yet!” Julie cries back, “Go to hell!” and Tami slaps her, to the horror of both.
Sarah lay on her bed, hands behind her head, big feet with purple-painted toenails crossed, looking out the window. Music—the Black Eyed Peas?—thumped from the mini speakers on top of her dresser. Her camp duffel bag bulged on the floor.
“Can I help you zip?” I asked.
“I’m not done packing,” she said, as if it were obvious.
“Nothing else will fit in that bag,” I said.
“I still haven’t put in any sheets or anything.”
“I’ll get you another bag,” I said, sitting on the edge of her bed. I wanted to pat her leg but she was particular lately about how and when I touched her. “Are you excited about camp?”
“Okay. Okay. It’s just that you look a little . . . pensive.” I put one finger on her shin.
“Remember the summer I came back from camp to find out you and Dad had put Roberto down?” She said this indignantly, as if I had forgotten about the cat.
“You know I’m okay, don’t you, sweetie?” I dared to put my whole hand on her smoothly shaved shin.
“What are you talking about, Mom?”
I decided not to be swayed by her bullshit. “The cat was dying. I am not dying.”
When the doctor told me I had cancer, I’d asked, how much? It was like when Tami found out she was pregnant. The nurse said, “How pregnant do you want to be?” Tami was crying because she had a 16-year-old daughter. “We didn’t think it was in God’s plans.” The nurse said, “Looks like God changed his mind.” I got a sharp pain deep in my stomach thinking about what God might have planned for me.
When I tried to meet Sarah’s eyes, she flopped over on her stomach and pulled her pillow over her head. I took this as an invitation to rub her back, like she used to love. But she yanked her quilt up over her shoulders.
I closed my eyes and pictured her gone, and Jared gone—building trails in the Rocky Mountains for a month already—the house empty.
Friday Night Lights: “Back in the Saddle“
Tami just gave birth to a baby, Gracie. She and Eric are not back in the saddle, so to speak. A fellow coach tells Eric, “You know what I did? I gave her a night out with the girls. She has a drink or two. She comes home. Boom. Back in the saddle again.” Eric says, “Do me a favor. I don’t now nor ever again want to hear about you and your wife riding.” But when he gets home, he offers Tami a night out with the girls. When Tami gets home, she is giggly, a little flirty. When Eric moves in to kiss her she squeals, “I need to pump! G’night honey!” and she disappears.
It was seven weeks after the surgery and finally full summer; the phlox on the south side of the house were about to erupt in a magenta riot. It’s time to get back in the saddle. I watched the closing credits on Friday Night Lights Season 4, Episode 10, and turned off the TV. In the bathroom, I put on the pretty, sexy pajamas Will had given me so I would feel pretty and sexy. “Girls,” I said, looking down at my breasts, the one God gave me and the one the surgeon gave me, “let’s get this over with.” I took a long drink from the bottle of wine I’d brought into the bathroom.
Cross-legged on the bed, I let Will unbutton my pajama top; I watched his fingers on the buttons.
I closed my eyes and I wanted to grab Will’s wrist, but instead I twisted the sheets in my hands.
Will’s hand stopped moving. It felt like even the soft air coming in the window stilled for a moment, too, as if it were not just Will and me holding our breath.
Don’t disappear. Don’t disappear.
“I’m so sad,” I finally said. I heard myself say these words, like they were a line of dialogue Tami might deliver. She didn’t make her husband guess how she felt.
Friday Night Lights: “Texas Whatever“
“I have been a coach’s wife for 18 years,“ Tami says. She later adds, “I don’t see why we can’t look at something else beyond football.“ At another point later in the episode, she just looks at Eric and says, “Eighteen years.”
The children had been gone for two weeks. I had finished watching all 74 episodes of Friday Night Lights and was planning on starting over. But today I woke up with my first surge of energy since my surgery and the desire to declutter. The kids had deep cave-like closets which they had never agreed to cleaning or letting me help them clean. I brought up empty boxes and trash bags from the basement.
From Jared’s closet, I threw out a three-ring binder with science handouts from fourth grade; a map of North America made with beans, chips of glue flaking off in my hands; a pair of sneakers missing soles and laces; and a sweatshirt five years too small with a stuck zipper. I bagged to give away two button-down shirts and dress pants from years ago, a box of Legos, the whole Hardy Boys series, and countless T-shirts. I put in a box to keep Jared’s casts from both times he broke his arms. I could barely remember when his arms were smaller than mine. I also kept a rolled-up poster that he’d created in first grade, “My Family Tree”—a picture of the four of us in the middle. It had been Mother’s Day, and the children wanted to hike down into the gorge but not back up. Sarah had dropped her first cone “by accident on purpose” because she wasn’t a fan of banana ice cream. I remembered a moment of pure contentment when both children had nodded off in the car on the way home, and Will had taken us the long way, just because the quiet was so nice.
I flashed back to making love when the children were babies; my skin still like a too-big dress, my insides all tender, my heart—banging on my ribs—so open it hurt. When everything painful—birth, love—was painful because it was all tangled with joy.
In Sarah’s closet, I boxed one-third of her stuffed animals to give away, hoping she wouldn’t notice. I gathered worn-once party dresses, two pairs of Uggs, and countless sweaters and T-shirts to donate. I trashed Candy Land with the pieces missing, tights with holes, and a pair of sneakers that, at the time, Sarah had wanted to keep because they were dribbled with blood from a bloody nose she got while playing a wild game of Ghost in the Graveyard. And I think that was the night the neighbor boy she’d had a crush on gave her a little kiss in the dark. Tucked in the back of the closet was a little sampler my mother had cross-stitched, with Sarah’s birth date and weight. I remembered Sarah’s head against my voluminous breasts. Everything my breasts had ever been to me—astonishing, embarrassing, annoying, erotic, nourishing, surprising, boring—came back to me now.
I rearranged the furniture in the living room, moving the couch from in front of the living room window to facing the fireplace. I moved the two armchairs, which had been facing the windows, to the spot where the couch had been. I put the small cherry coffee table between the chairs. Then I went to the mailbox to see if Jared had written us from the Rocky Mountains or Sarah from the lake in New Hampshire. There were two white envelopes tucked in amongst the junk mail. They both must have written the moment they got to their destinations. That thought made me feel sad.
I stood in the kitchen looking at all the pictures of the kids on the refrigerator and wondered if 4:00 p.m. was too early for wine. I have been a mother for 18 years, I thought, looking at the baby pictures.
“Hey there,” Will said, from behind me. “What’s up?”
“Oh.” Pause. I could smell his unique scent: a mix of Axe Dark Temptation deodorant, cinnamon Altoids, and the Purell he kept in his car to clean his hands after he filled the tank or checked the oil.
“Eighteen years,” I said, turning into him.
I wanted to feel my heart pounding in my chest like it did at firsts—the first sight of Will, the first kiss, the first silly fumble with buttons—when everything was a beginning, a leap into some better unknown.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, unloosening his tie.
What was wrong with Will? Eric knew immediately what Tami meant—you could see it in the dark cloud that passed over his face.
“Babe, could you get me a glass of wine?” I asked.
This cheered him up immediately.
Friday Night Lights: “Best Laid Plans“
Eric has been offered a job at TMU in Austin and takes it without consulting his wife. Then Tami tells him that she wants to stay in Dillon, and she will join him later in Austin. Eric doesn’t want to separate the family. Tami tells him, “Our relationship is strong and mature and we can handle it.” They’re fighting. It’s the night of a banquet to honor the coach and the team, and Tami is called to come up and give a speech about her husband. You know she’s angry. But she says some funny things and then she says, “Eric Taylor is a kind and decent man.”
Will came home and told me that his college friend, Gus, had invited him to go fishing for landlocked salmon on the West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine in August. “What?” I said. “The kids will have barely gotten home. Weren’t we going to have family weekend?” I put down my glass of wine (in the night-time scenes at the Taylor house in FNL, Tami always has a big glass of wine). Will looked blank. He really didn’t remember this?
For a minute, I thought I would fly off the handle, or get quiet and then take it out on him in other ways. I pulled out one story of our marriage—he doesn’t remember things because he doesn’t care! But the last year and so many other times, he had been so caring, I knew immediately that my story was a crock, though I couldn’t help myself.
I remembered Tami and stood up so Will and I were almost eye to eye. “I think that’s great you have that opportunity to go, but you can’t.” I always like how Tami just tells it to her husband straight; no games.
“You can’t tell me I can’t.” Will said, “You can ask me to change my plans, but you can’t tell me I can’t,” he said, indignantly. It was the first time in months that he’d gotten mad at me.
It turned out that this was the only weekend that Gus could get away and one of only a few weekends all year when fishing for landlocked salmon would be good. I told him, “Go if you have to. Our marriage is strong enough and can handle this,” even though I was mad at him and felt abandoned, which was crazy.
Friday Night Lights: “Black Eyes and Broken Hearts“
Julie, underage, is at a strip club with a couple friends. They get busted and hauled down to the police station. Eric and Tami sit outside the police station in their car, before going in. Eric says, “How long are we going to sit out here?” Tami replies, “A little bit longer.” “All of the other parents have picked up their perps, why can’t we pick up ours?” Eric asks. “Because I’d like our perp to sit in there a little longer and think about what she’s doing sitting in there.”
Mid-August and the kids were back home from their adventures. They saw that I was still alive. “Who left the back door open?” I said. “The dirty glasses next to the couch? The bag of chips where the dog could get it? Who forgot to fill the ice tray? Who didn’t give me the phone message from the visiting nurse? Who left the lid off the mayonnaise? Why did you leave the seat up?”
So, once again I turned—hands on hips (they’ve imitated me before)—from Jared to Sarah and back and forth.
He did it. She did it. He didn’t do it. She didn’t do it.
When Will got home, I said, “We’ve got a problem.”
“Let me handle it,” he said. His fishing gear was ready to go in the back of the car; he’s leaving in the morning. “We’ll sit down and have a family meeting. Let’s ignore the little things and get right to the big stuff,” he suggested, eating a dill pickle from the jar, dripping pickle juice on the floor.
Sometimes it is the little things that drive you crazy, but I didn’t want to say anything, so I got a paper towel instead and handed it him. “Good idea. But if that doesn’t work, I have another idea.”
Will left for his fishing trip in the morning when the phoebes started singing and the light was just sliding in under the curtains. When the kids woke up, I handed them a broom and a dust pan and pointed to the vacuum, bucket, and cleaning rags. “You will not come out of the basement until it is organized and clean and meets my approval. “I didn’t add, While you perps think about why you’re down there.
“I’ll go first,” offered Jared, reaching out his large 18-year-old hand for the broom.
“No. You will do it together. That’s the point.”
They both shot me exasperated glances, complete with disgusted sighs and shoulder slumps. They rolled their eyes and dragged off, down the basement stairs, the vacuum trailing behind them.
I unloaded the dishwasher and shined up the kitchen sink, and was about to pick up where I left off with Friday Night Lights, when the phone rang. It was Will, calling from a truck stop somewhere off I-95 near Portland. I heard rain hammering the metal roof of the car. In the basement, the kids had been banging about, angry, not talking, but now I could hear their music.
I said, “Listen.”
The music was getting louder and I swayed my hips to the rhythm like I was an actress in the opening credits of my own show. I held the phone up so Will could listen with me, to the children, cleaning and singing in unison, Boom Boom Pow.