The time had come for some tough love. He would loaf around the house all afternoon, rummaging through our things while talking on the phone. He would show up sporadically and then we would not hear from him for weeks at a time. I worried. I fretted. I didn’t know where he was getting his money. But the real impetus for throwing him out happened when I pulled out my bottle of Gin.
“That is it! I was willing to overlook Hank’s general laziness and I truly supported him while he dabbled in real estate, but MY GIN? Oh no mister, this will not do. While I worked my ass off today Hank polished off my bottle of Sapphire. Look!” I said tearfully while shaking the bottle in Paul’s face.
As parents, we set the bar high for our children. But the bar for our realtor Hank was always open.
“Fine, but you get to tell him he’s fired.” Paul replied.
I did what any good client would do. I lied.
Thank you for all of the hard work you put into selling our home. It has been a tough market and we all hope that it will turn around soon. Blah, blah, blah, you’re fired, blah, blah, blah. We hope to see you soon showing our home to prospective buyers!”
We never heard from him again. One morning, two months later Paul placed some business cards in front of me.
“You didn’t like my choice of a realtor last time. This time you get to research and pick one.”
“I had to fire the last realtor and now I have to find a new one? Can I at least finish my coffee?” I whined.
“You typed an e-mail to Hank, that’s not exactly ‘heavy lifting’” Paul said.
I shot an accusatory look at him and absent mindedly flipped through the cards.
“This is the one! Look, she did an episode of HGTV’s House Hunters! Remember that episode? It was the dumpy couple from Boscawen, New Hampshire and those crappy homes! That blue room was hideous. Imagine how thrilled she’ll be when she casts us and our beautiful home.” I said proudly.
Paul stared at me silently. He considered his responses and then decided to speak frankly. “That’s your research? Sweetie, we’re selling a home, not filming a Lifetime movie, and remember it’s house hunters, not sellers.”
But I didn’t care, because eventually we would be hunting for a new house. We would be the beautiful model couple and it would be a Launchpad to my future success. The next morning we went on a “go see”, that’s model/actor speak for an interview, with our prospective realtor. While Paul concentrated on the minutia, things like commissions and association dues and other boring things, I zeroed in on the three most important details:
1. What was she wearing? A smart two piece tailored gray wool ensemble with a pair of sensible pumps.
2. Do you drink gin? “Um, no?”
3. Will you be doing another House Hunters episode? “Yes!”
Thank goodness Paul has me.
One month later our house was sold. In preparation for our appearance on House Hunters, I have been taking some modeling classes at night. At first, I was little embarrassed to admit that, but It’s not as easy as you think. For instance, I have learned that anyone can walk, but sometimes models have to make their own wind when they walk. I tried explaining this to Paul. He got up, walked past me and made his own wind.
“Sweetie! Did you hear that? There are little duckies in the room!”
Then he made his own wind again. “Oh that one sounds like a mean ducky!” he said as he scrunched up his face in a mock frown.
Honestly, I don’t even know why I try.
But I kept on explaining. I have learned that there are negative spaces and angles and when you strike a pose there are all kinds of pretty. There is an awkward pretty, a broken pretty, a pretty pretty and ironically, an ugly pretty. Who knew that Tyra was so smart? What? You thought I was paying for those modeling classes?
But Paul has come around and now he’ll test me. When we are sitting in the car or on the sofa he’ll point his finger at me and quickly spit out “Show me sad!” or “Show me angry” or “Show me wistful.” And just like that, I’ll strike a pose and my eyes will say sad or angry or wistful. I'll think that I have nailed it, but invariably Paul responds with “Oh! That just looks like you’re scared or constipated.” Next time there is a laxative commercial featuring a constipated actor being chased by zombies, I’m a shoe in for the part.
Last weekend we were packing up the house. We borrowed my brother-in-law’s green truck with the camouflage seat covers and McCain for president bumper sticker. Paul was wearing plaid shorts with white socks, brown loafers and a four day old beard. He popped open a lemonade can, poured half out and filled it with vodka. “Redneck lemonade” he said while handing the can to me. I saw my future. Not quite as glamorous as I expected.
We drove down the street in our old green pick up, with all of our worldly belongings piled high. A warm breeze blew through the open window and the sun flickered through the trees like an old time movie. I took a swig of the redneck lemonade, scooted next to Paul and gave him a kiss. He looked over at me, pointed his finger and said “Show me happy!”
I nailed it. But that is my signature look.
She is no longer a part of my life. After so much time together, it seems strange to have forgotten about her. In order to survive the divorce, I had to leave pieces of my life behind. But when my daughter Katherine sent me a text message last week “Maggie is so sick” I had to choke back tears. When you adopt a pet you make an investment in future sadness.
Like most families we had our share of pets. Some were short lived. When my daughters were young, we bought two hamsters. They would sip from their water bottle exposing their nasty yellow teeth, run on their squeaky stationary wheel and burrow into the same cedar shavings that they urinated in. There was very little interaction between the girls and the hamsters. Most of the interaction that occurred was between the two hamsters, so that six weeks after we bought them, we owned eight hamsters. It was very much like an episode of “16 and pregnant” because mother hamster, who we will call Ashley, was too young to raise a family and became a tragic role model for our young daughters. As angry parents do, we separated the two sex-obsessed teenage trouble makers.
One morning the girls came bounding down the stairs, excited to see Ashley and her babies. But Ashley crushed by the heavy responsibility of parenthood became cannibalistic. All that was left of the babies was one lifeless, headless body in the corner of the cage. While our daughters were in school that day, we set Ashley and her baby daddy free in the field behind our house.
After that experience my wife and I decided that a dog might make a better pet for our children. We reasoned that the girls could learn responsibility by feeding the dog and when the time came, they would learn an important lesson about death, hopefully more natural than being eaten alive.
Maggie was a pound puppy. My wife travelled up a winding mountain road in the hills of western Virginia after reading an advertisement in the paper for a free, sweetly tempered dog. Unfortunately Maggie was also prone to car sickness, so that when she travelled back down that winding mountain road, she vomited the entire way. She was timid when I met her. Her black and tan head cowering and her tail lowered. She stood about eye level with our daughters, who she would run from; scared silly by a six year old and four year old girl.
We fretted over our decision. Here was another poor pet choice, like the hamsters. It was clear that she had been mistreated by her previous owner and we wondered if she could ever recover. We decided to give her a week.
Each morning I would let her out of the back door and watch her run to the far corner of the yard. As the end of the week approached Maggie must have understood that her fate was close to being sealed. While I sat on the sofa watching TV in the evening, she placed a paw next to me on the seat cushion. I looked at her big brown eyes and patted the cushion next to me. Slowly, cautiously, she climbed onto the sofa, and then quite incredibly, she placed her head on my lap. “Such a good girl” I said while rubbing her soft head and just like that, we fell in love.
It makes me smile to think of Maggie panting and vomiting in the back seat of our car on our annual five hour trip to the beach; me taking curves gingerly so as not to upset her tender stomach. Each of us so in love with her that we could not bear to leave her in a kennel. She became a fixture in our lives and a symbol of that early happiness.
When we moved to Massachusetts, I often wondered what Maggie must have thought, jumping into the car just before we left and ending up in some foreign yard in another part of the country. Her adjustment was far easier than ours; the girls, now teenagers struggled with all of the changes, but Maggie's love was a constant. Our marriage was not.
Then one day, Maggie jumped into the car again and through my tears I watched her, the girls and my life pull away. In those early days after they left, I would reach for her head instinctively and call out “Maggie, I’m home!” when walking through the door, shocked by the silence.
There is a survival instinct that buries the emotional feelings with bitterness when you go through a divorce. When my cell phone rang last week, I looked at the display and saw my ex-wife’s number. She’s looking for money to pay the vet bills I thought angrily.
“Maggie can hardly walk and her eyes are twitching uncontrollably.” She said.
And that was all it took. I wrote a check to pay for Maggie’s final care. The investment in sadness matured, but the happy memories were strong enough to tear a hole through the bitterness. And just in time, because the bitterness was starting to eat me alive.
Walking through the lobby I quickly glance at my smart phone: three minutes. "Shit!" I throw open the door and run across the uneven brick sidewalk, the heels of my shoes making a quick click-clack sound. I spring up the cement steps two at a time and emerge from the alley onto Brattle Street. But my feet have responded before my brain, it will take more than three minutes to get through Harvard Square to the bus. As the resignation seeps into my bones, the scene around me solidifies.
The accordion player on the corner nods at me while he plays some unknown tune, infusing the square with a French laissez-faire atmosphere. Two women speaking to each other point to their destination, an Indian restaurant, while walking slowly past me. Tourists stop in the middle of the sidewalk to take pictures, oblivious to business people quickly re-adjusting their paths to avoid a collision. There is a remnant of daylight still left on this late February evening and in the air a promise of spring. Time pauses like a ball at the end of a string in the apex of it’s upward arc.
I Turn around and begin to walk down the stairs.
“You’re going the wrong way.” Two female co-workers cheerfully warn me as they walk into the square.
“No, no I’ve decided to take a different way home.” I respond smiling.
There is a sense of acceptance and relief as I begin my walk home. Passing by the restaurant next door, I notice a group of people on the other side of a window sitting at the bar. They are chatting animatedly while lifting bright colored drinks in martini glasses. I pause and stare for a moment too long. A couple inside the bar senses my gaze and glances at me. I look down at my feet and continue walking through the alley. I used to imagine being one of those people who stopped for a drink before heading home. When I move into the city I will do that, I thought. But even after moving into the city two years ago, I am still in a hurry to get home.
My path takes me across the JFK Bridge and the boat house. The sky over the Charles River is striped in bands of orange, gold and indigo as the light drains from the sky. Silently, a team of scullers in a racing shell slips through the dark water towards the horizon.
After I have left the buzz of Harvard Square I turn onto a residential street. Neat rows of houses with yards are illuminated by soft circles of light from the street lamps. As I pass, motion sensitive porch lights flicker on to greet me as if some electrical current is emanating from my body.
I used to live in a house with a yard and a driveway.
I used to own a car.
I used to be greeted by my daughters at the end of the day.
I follow the road and cross the pedestrian bridge over the Mass Pike and I am thrown into a cacophony of sound and smells and people that make up Harvard Avenue in the Allston neighborhood; life happening. Here a blend of Korean, Irish, Italian, Middle Eastern, soul food and Jewish cuisine exists in noisy harmony. The evening air is mixed with honking horns, Asian dialects and loud college students. Graffiti and murals dot the business fronts. This is urban life.
Six years ago, in the before, I would drive down this street. It was a necessary leg on the one hour journey from my home in the suburbs to a support group that met once a week in Coolidge Corner. When I would drive down this street, I marveled at the diversity of life. I marveled that there was some pivotal moment in my life that forced me to choose a different path.
I stop in front of a second hand store, filled with tables and lamps and odds and ends; pieces of another life. In the glass I catch a reflection of myself and in that same reflection a line of cars stopped at a traffic light. If time were to bend upon itself, the younger me would be in one of those cars nervously trying to figure out what he would be revealing at the support group tonight; worried about running late, worried about all of the changes. He would look through the car window and wonder if the older me was alone in this life.
I want to talk to the younger me and tell him not to worry; that the right thing to do in life is rarely the easiest. That even though the most trying times lay ahead of him he is travelling down the right road.
At the intersection of Harvard Ave and Comm Ave., I look down the road wondering if the T is near. But I can’t see beyond the bend so I continue to cross the intersection. Halfway across, the ding-ding of the bell rings in the distance and I hesitate. I turn around and run back in time to jump on the T, suddenly in a hurry, five stops and then home.
When I walk through the door, Paul hugs me and says “It took you a little longer to get home.”
Holding onto him, not wanting to let go I whisper.
“But I am home."
This is a collaborative piece that was passed on to me from Jayne at Suburban Soliliquy. She is a lovely writer, fellow New Englander and I look forward to her "Friday Night Frolics" weekly. Here is how it works:
Let's watch creativity happen right in front of our eyes! The first and final sentence of a short story have been provided, and the rest will be created by people in the blogosphere.
Each person nominated will write one sentence, and then pass the baton on to a different blogger. The 9th person will finally link back to Kid in the Front Row which is where this started and then we will have a complete story. I have chosen Becca at I'm Pretty Sure That , to write part 4, then she will nominate someone to do part 5, and so on, till we return to The Kid again!
1. Angela was convinced that her pencil was the friendliest pencil in the whole entire world.
2. His hue, alone, revealed his sunny disposition, and with his pink chapeau perched high on his head, the pencil gladly accommodated or cleaned up any missteps regardless of their intentions.
3. But Pencil could not be sure of Angela's intentions as she nervously held him while scratching a check mark in the "Yes" box on the note that Becky passed to her in Geometry class.
10. "That's why I'm the friendliest pencil in the world," screamed Pencil, the pencil.