Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 1 and 2)
I am packing for our move to San Diego. Richard has been prowling the house, shaking his head in disbelief, complaining at every opportunity about wasting his time.
“Babe,” he said the first packing Saturday in the kitchen wrapping our everyday plates in the clean newsprint provided by the movers, “the company is paying for everything.” He flapped paper for emphasis. “Everything, including the guys who’ll do this.”
“I don’t trust anyone with our things,” I said.”Besides, this way, I’ll know where things are. Otherwise I’ll be unpacking for a year, not you.”
He worked for a half-hour, until his BlackBerry rocked—aptly, Foreigner’s “Urgent.” He grunted and pantomimed for several seconds, though the sneaky smile peeking at me around the phone hinted the truth.
“Got to go,” he said, nearly in his car when he called the reason, “big fuck-up.”
Since that Saturday two weeks ago, I’ve been packing. Samantha helps in her small way. Emily creates work. Fortunately, my neighbor Carol volunteered to have her over to play with Seth, her son, afternoons when she’s back from pre-school.
But, really, my mind isn’t on Richard. It’s not on the packing or the girls. Angie, my best friend from high school, preoccupies me, and has since I learned the unimaginable happened to her. She married Bobby McFarlane, and then she died.
Preparing to leave has revealed to me how amazing our situation is.
We moved into a large house in Cranbury, New Jersey. Richard decided I should stay at home. The births of Samantha and Emily sealed my fate, though I admit to myself, never to Richard, I find home life satisfying. But before Samantha and Emily came, I hadn’t much to do and was restless.
Richard said, “Do what all women do.”
“What’s that?” I asked.”I’ve been a woman my entire life and I’m not familiar with what all women do.”
He disregarded the sarcasm. Richard is excellent at ignoring what he doesn’t want to hear, or what doesn’t agree with his notion of the proper world order.
“Shop,” he said.”Buy stuff for the house. The place needs stuff.”
He was right. The house was huge, much larger than the home I’d grown up in and bigger than Richard’s house. It surpassed the largest houses in Creek Falls, those that Angie and Rosemary lived in, houses I always regarded as mansions, the kind of houses I aspired to. So I shopped and shopped and crammed every room in our Cranbury house with furniture. When I finished with the furniture, I continued to buy. Pictures for the walls. Vases. Candlestick holders and candles. More towels and sheets than I could ever use. Seasonal decorations; our house mimicked the seasons inside and out. Everyday I bought a few new items, everything except electronics. Richard’s contributions to the buying spree were televisions for upstairs and downstairs, stereos, personal electronic devices for himself. When Samantha came along, there was more to buy—furnishings, clothing, and the like. Emily got her own gear, no hand-me-downs in our little family. I didn’t realize how much I’d bought, what a one-woman economy I represented, until I began to pack our hoard.
I pack in three-hour shifts, mostly because the periods correspond to the girls’ schedules: See Samantha off. Drive Emily to preschool. Three hours later, pick up Emily and make her lunch. Three hours later, meet Samantha at the bus stop; prepare a snack for her and Emily. Three hours after that I put dinner on the table. I usually manage a few minutes for myself between these frenzied episodes, a retreat from the havoc life has become since Richard announced his promotion and the move to California.
I’m brewing a cup of chamomile tea. I prefer mild, soothing blends, nothing too sharp or robust, for I have plenty of edge in my life at the moment and not nearly enough mellowness. I pour the boiling water into a special cup. During my accumulation days, I spied a delightful tea set in a Princeton antique shop. It was very fine porcelain Limoges, almost translucent, a delicate hand-painted arboreal design, though the royal blue, the result of time and wear, had faded to ceil. It wasn’t cheap by any means; the price had scared me off for two days. I reserved the tea set for my personal use. I didn’t mention my purchase to Richard, and I don’t use it in the presence of the girls, who would clamor for milk-white tea with me just to handle the cups and saucers.
I carry my tea into the living room, set it on the glass coffee table, and plop on the sofa. I have two sofas in the room facing each other, coffee table between them. My favorite is the sofa facing the floor to ceiling mullioned windows. From my sofa I am able to look out over our deep front lawn into the street and past it to the forested front yard of the house across the street. No one in the family uses the living room save me, so it is always tidy, a wonderful sanctum of solitude. I will miss the room and the view.
Richard flew me to San Diego twice to look for houses. We saw a decent house in Rancho Bernardo, but I wasn’t happy that the houses were one on the other, each exactly alike in design and color. Even more distressing was the landscape: brown, arid, rocky, green only where irrigated. Richard, I remember, was enthusiastic; he’s always upbeat about his ideas and his career, always ready to fend off my disgruntlement with his pocket phrase, But I’m doing it for us, Babe. I dampened his pleasure when he asked what I thought.”Brown,” I said.”Everything is brown.” He regarded me quizzically, clueless that I was revealing my displeasure.
I’m gazing on a spectacular winter day. It is pleasantly cold, a temperature that chills just enough to wake and energize me. It snowed a few inches a couple of days ago and, since, the cold and sun have baked a thin crust of ice on the surface. The yard twinkles in today’s sunlight and I idly wish for my sunglasses. I sip my tea. I lean back. I close my eyes and I promise myself not to doze, not to risk being late to fetch Emily.