Chapter 5: CRANBURY, NEW JERSEY (Part 1 and 2)
I am frantic. I am a mad woman. I am a basket case. I need a therapist. But I have no time for one. I am planning a christening party in our backyard to which we have invited one hundred guests, many business associates of Richard.
It’s not the party that has me frenzied. I’ve been disturbed, agitated, wild, and a few states I can’t label, since Samantha’s birth. And Richard hasn’t been much help. He’s regional manager for his pharmaceutical company and he’s rarely home. He travels frequently for business, not far, always in the Mid-Atlantic area, usually within a day of our home. Worse are the late hours. Early on when I bemoaned his absences, he informed me his workday extended into evening, what with reviewing the day’s sales calls with his representatives, or treating key accounts—not people, but ledger entries—to dinner. I’d hoped he’d cut back when I became pregnant, and when he did not I confronted him. He was contrite. He admitted he might be putting too much into his work and maybe he should cut back and lend me a bit more support … but business was too competitive, the raw recruits weren’t as sharp he required. He wanted to be with me. After all, he married me to be with me all the time. But business was demanding.
And business was what made our lifestyle possible … what made Samantha possible. Richard would repeat whenever I pleaded for more of his time, more of his help. Babe, you love the house? It was always the same type of question. I always admitted I loved the house, the extra car. You love the baby? I did and I didn’t need to answer. Well, Babe, we can’t keep the house. We couldn’t support Samantha. Sure, I could get another job. But it wouldn’t pay like my drug lord job. Sometimes, when it suits his purpose, he likes to joke about what he does. These hearings concluded in the same way, with Richard throwing up his hands to signal, case closed. He knew I couldn’t give up the house, couldn’t resist providing Samantha every opportunity at a wonderful, fulfilling life.
Of course, when I desperately need him, Richard is away. He will not return until the eve of the party. I am charging around furious at him. He knew the date of the party, knew how big an event it would be—huge entirely to satisfy him. Yet, he continued scheduling trips. When I began planning the party, I asked him to save time for me. He ignored me. After his first trip, when I was writing invitations, I begged him not to schedule travel within two weeks of the party, and certainly not within a few days of it; I would need him most then to run errands, pick up food, help with the tables.
Here it is three days before the party and he is off somewhere in the state; he couldn’t even reform his neglectful practice of failing to supply me with his itinerary.
I am in our kitchen, in the large eat-in area. Though the weather is blistering, summer temperatures in May, I’m downing a cup of hot tea. I am staring though mullion windows at our back yard, pondering the size of the tent, whether yellow and white striping is too brassy, how I will arrange the tables, and where I will have the caterer set up the buffet.
Samantha elects to wake from her nap as I am in the throes of questioning my choices. I swear under my breath. I have never been a vulgar person. I scarcely even thought vulgar words, until Samantha arrived. But my new approach to problems and crises isn’t her fault. It is Richard’s.
I go to Samantha, who is in her bedroom upstairs. I lift her from her crib, cradle her, and coo at her. Her face is red from exertion. I rock her and walk her around the room. Neither helps for long, for she resumes her vigorous crying. She’s dry; I assume she is hungry. I carry her downstairs, warm a bottle, and settle in with her at the table.
Samantha is the product of my union with Richard. I want to say she is the result of our love, and I really hate myself for even thinking she is a product. Richard classifies everything as products. Products are meant to be sold. And he is a seller. His conversations—his because I can’t be sure he is talking to me or simply at me, as if I am just another member of his sales crew—always revolve around products and selling. He seems to have no interests—except, hurtfully, one—beyond his work. I’ve tried often to discuss items I’ve read in the newspaper or seen on television. I’ve attempted bantering about our neighborhood and our neighbors. Nothing interests him but his work. I’ve suggested he lighten up a bit or he might burnout. Ridiculous, he’s said. He demands one hundred and twenty percent from his people—a reference that horrifies me, and reduces his employees to automatons—and one hundred and fifty percent from himself. I don’t appreciate that these expectations seem to exempt him from behaving like a human being.
Richard’s excessive drive to succeed distresses me. He professes to love Samantha and me. He claims sadness at having to be away from home as much as he is; he laments he will miss the formative years of Samantha’s life. I don’t believe him, not entirely. I recall the Rider library and the Howard Johnson’s, the anguish of betrayal, and then the counsel of Margaret Johnson. Worse his real mistress that boards with us: Success, measured by money and status, is what obsesses him.
The bottle soothes Samantha. She giggles through her nursing. I am delighted, but I also wonder if she enjoys her bottle too much. Will she enjoy solid food as much, or more, and in the future, when she is a young woman, will her infant appetite turn rebel on her and torment her, or, more truthfully, cause others to torment her? Everything seems to worry me, even things that have not happened, but might, but probably never will. I don’t feel in touch with myself, not like when I was a girl, before I married Richard.
Samantha is content and drifts into sleep. I examine her intently. Her skin is flushed. She squishes down her eyelids; unnaturally I fret, as if she may be having a nightmare. Her nostrils flare with each breath; the wings vibrate powerfully. Her lips part; they glisten. No, she’s sleeping peacefully. There’s nothing to be concerned about as I return her to her crib.
Richard is ambitious. In college, he promised he would be a great success and now he works mightily at fulfilling his pledge. We moved here to New Jersey because Richard took a job selling pharmaceuticals. It wasn’t long before he was top salesman. Richard is a star; he earned his promotions to district and regional manager within two years of joining his company.
Richard is not capable of modulating his life; extremes rule him. Shortly after becoming district manager, he decided I deserved a larger house. I told him I was happy with our small house in Trenton. We could easily have a child and still be comfortable in it. It was located in town and I could walk to a small market, the cleaners, and other shops. He would hear nothing of it. He insisted I was sacrificing for him and should be rewarded just as he was. Time passed. We did not contact a real estate agent and never searched for a new home. I assumed Richard forgot about the new house. But he hadn’t. He’d been busy looking with an agent. Suddenly, he surprised me by driving me to the new house—to our new home, as he called it. He said nothing during the drive, until we stood on the front walk of a lovely and large white colonial in Cranbury.
I was furious with him, astounded he went ahead without a word to me, against my wishes, and found a house. He immediately defended himself, exclaiming anybody else would be delighted with a new, beautiful, big home. His implication was clear: I lacked a domestic component that seemed to elevate others to perfection, or at least superior to me. His complaint raised guilt in me. The house was magnificent, larger and lovelier than I could have imagined. The town of Cranbury was charming. It boasted a delightful colonial inn, as picturesque as anything New England offered. I knew I couldn’t win with Richard. Besides, he hadn’t done something horrible. In fact, it was thoughtful and not a little touching. I apologized and acted grateful. I asked with a mix of awe and concern if we could afford the house. He laughed, restored to his old self. He said it should not be my worry. I should enjoy it, should turn it into our love nest and a home for our child. He toured me around the house. We finished in the master bedroom, where he embraced me and urged me to make love, and afterwards, dressing, proclaimed the house christened. Leaving the bedroom, I admit, I felt more like a dog who had marked its territory.
Two things resulted from his episode in the house I now roam, where my daughter sleeps: We conceived Samantha; I am sure of it. And I began to feel I might not love Richard, that I might despise him.