OK, so here’s a dilemma.
A few weeks ago I was in San Francisco to attend a conference. I stopped into a toy store in “Pleasant Valley,” as Laird calls the suburb where I grew up. While I was looking at Brio trains, I became aware of a guy standing next to me holding a chemistry set. I got the impression he was checking me out. For the longest time I stood there, unable to turn and face him — maybe because in my subconscious I already knew who he was. Finally I turned and, sure enough, recognized my brother.
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Here’s my memory of how it began.
I’m ten years old, sitting on the edge of a lake alone. The wind has died, leaving the air perfectly still and silent except the chirp of a small persistent bird. My bare foot dangles in the water. I watch the ripples as they travel across a surface otherwise as smooth as steel.
Then voices come to me, a great splash, laughter. I scramble up on the rough granite, slip my flip flops onto my feet and follow the fishing trail through the trees. In 30 or 40 yards, I catch glimpses of pink skin between the pine needles, and I stop in the trail, uncertain so long that ants whose trail I have interrupted begin climbing my toes.
I hear my mother’s voice and I think she has said my name. The sounds are coming from off the trail a bit, and twigs brush against my bare shins as I approach. Then I push aside a long branch and see them. Read more »
Something happened this morning that has distracted me from everything else I was talking about in this blog. Maybe I’m blowing it all out of proportion. But I’m scared, and I need advice.
I got up before the rest of my family to check lab results on one of my patients. The first warning sign was the half-full coffee mug on my desk. Read more »
I have listened to your advice. Yesterday I confronted Charlie.
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They haven’t met face to face, my husband and his pen pall.
An image came into my head as I wrote that: Charlie’s face and her face, the face of this other woman. I saw his thick silvering hair, the broad forehead wrinkling and brows rising as he smiled. And within inches, hers, constructed by my imagination: pert, oval, hair pulled back, lips pursed…
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Back in the Bay Area for a medical meeting, I drove to my mother’s house. I wanted to ask her about Fallen Lake and whether she remembered events in the way the book tells them — or the way I remember them.
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I slept at Mom’s house and then went over to Darby’s the next day. By the time I got out of the car I was already questioning the purpose of my visit. Darby and I had never had the kind of conversation I was planning to have with her. Read more »
I see now that I am in trouble — in trouble with Charlie and in trouble because I have no where to turn but this blog.
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This past month has been agony. I have been afraid even to post here for fear that Charlie will read it. But now, considering what’s happened, I guess it doesn’t matter if he does.
The night I smelled her, Charlie’s lover, in my bed I ripped the covers from my body and swung to my feet. So clumsy. So like a man not to think of changing the sheets. Didn’t he know I could smell her? Didn’t he know I could feel the impression she had left in my bed, my emotions, my life? I reached a hand to Charlie’s blind offending face, then stopped before it touched his cheek. I wouldn’t wake him, yet. No. If I’d been less certain, I would have wanted to sample his excuses, explanations, prevarications. As it was, I needed evidence, not to convince myself, but so that we could get past the denials. So we could deal with whatever lay beyond.
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My life has taken a weird course in the past few weeks, and it has felt crazy to write about it. But I thank you for being there and listening and offering so much advice:
The night Charlie denied his affair, he fell asleep next to me, but I got up and turned on our computer. I was afraid that the next time he logged on, he would delete all the evidence.
What I wanted most, what had kept me reading all this dreck, was to see what Charlie would say about me. Read more »
I am in a safe place now. I’ll explain later how I got here. But for now, let me try to catch you up on the madness of my recent life.
Shortly after I got Zulya’s address, I went to Boston for a business meeting. I’d told Charlie I was spending two nights there, but I found myself unable to focus and I ended up heading back the next day. As the train clacked back to New York, I refrained from calling to tell him about my change in plans. I made up all sorts of reasons — I didn’t want to disturb him. My cell phone was low on minutes. I might stop for food and couldn’t give a reliable ETA. Of course none of them was the real reason. But why should I have to make excuses to him? Wasn’t he the one who had to account for his behavior?
It was almost eleven when I opened the door to my apartment. The TV was on in the living room and in its glow, Lucia stirred from the bed she’d made on our couch. “Oh, Adrienne. I fell asleep!” She sat up, rubbing the side of her head. “Your meeting is cancelled?”
“I had to come back for something. Where’s Charlie?”
“He asked me to stay. Some customer needs him right away.”
“What time is he coming back?”
“He doesn’t know. Maybe not today.”
This was it then. The room began to pulsate.
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Still trying to catch this blog up to everything that has happened in the past few weeks…
Zulya stepped back in surprise, and I followed her. For a second I stood inhaling the baked apple odor in its native habitat, less cloying than in my house, rich with tobacco, wine and soap. Then I focused on Zulya. Up close, her skin looked weatherworn. Her hair, even at this hour, was tied back in a long pony tail. She tightened a silk bathrobe around her svelteness. “You have no right to force in here!”
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Lucia arrived not long after Dante woke up. She hustled the kids off to school.They were hardly out the door when the phone rang. I froze with my hand above the receiver. Two rings, three, four. Then I could hear Charlie’s baritone Read more »
My next couple of posts will get us caught up to where I am now. Back in New York, the morning after I confronted Zulya, a crash in the kitchen woke me. Dante, still wearing sweatpants over pajamas, was looking at a shattered peanut butter jar on the floor. A plate next to him on the counter held a slice of bread heaped with a half cup of jam. “I broke the peanut butter,” he said when I came in.
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Trying to keep my eyes on the road after I arrived in California last week, I groped in my handbag for my cell phone. With a thumb, I scrolled to the entry for Matt. A lot of people in Pleasant Valley go to sleep at ten or earlier, and I prayed as I listened to one, then two, then three rings, that Matt and his wife weren’t among them.
“Hello?” It was a woman’s voice.
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I woke up the day after I arrived here because Chloe, crosswise on the bed, had put her foot in my mouth. Daylight filtered through beakers and vases on the windowsills. I sat up.
“Good, you’re awake,” said Matt. Read more »
But I did not call Charlie that night. I still feel such rage toward him, I don’t think I could articulate an intelligible word if we got on the phone. Instead I called my father.
“Matt Wrightson!” Dad was speechless for a full five seconds. “Where…?”
Whenever I’m with my father or his wife, we pretend that Laura and her family never existed, that there never was a group marriage. Read more »
I offered to take Matt and Penny out for dinner the night after I arrived here, but the two of them adhere to the Dean Ornish diet; they had almost given up on restaurants because they usually just end up ordering salad anyway. Factoring in the kids’ predilections made it impossible. Instead, Penny made an inedible quinoa casserole. When I wasn’t picking up quinoa grains from the carpet, or restraining Dante from making a mast and sail with a broom and afghan, I watched my hosts with fascination. Read more »
I welcome my stepbrother, Matt, to this public discussion of our private business. I owe him thanks for the clarification of our conversation from the other day. I think I follow his argument, but I’m not completely persuaded. As he writes, behavior results from an interaction of genes and the environment. Our parents were a fundamental part of that environment when we were growing up. My point is not to blame them. They acted out of a kind of idealism when they got into their group marriage. But I don’t want other parents to take the same decision lightly. There’s a reason why our civilization stopped practice polygamy a thousand years ago.
I’d like to point out as well that none of the four children from that group marriage have not gone on to raise their own biological children with a partner. I don’t think that can be coincidence.
As a doctor, I’m trained to see bodies as machines. But as a parent of adopted kids, I know there’s something more than deoxyribonucleic acid involved in the cock-eyed way my daughter Chloe is looking at me as I type this. She knows this half-smile, her head tilted to one side, will draw me away from my keyboard, knows from all the experience of her thirty-five months of life that I can’t continue to ignore her when she plants little kisses on my shin… I’m signing off…
I’m at Ivor’s house. That’s Matt’s brother, for those of you who don’t know. And I’m still dealing with the revelation.
Have you ever had the experience of knowing someone intimately — perhaps even living with him — and not suspecting he is gay, then learning it later? It’s impossible not to keep looking back and reinterpreting your memories. Read more »
When I met Ivor in Califano Park, I didn’t know how to begin a conversation with him.
“Matt’s changed,” was what I finally came up with.
“Well, he’s married. For most people that would be ordinary. But there was a time he couldn’t connect with anyone. Now he doesn’t seem so… eccentric.”
“He doesn’t think he ever was.”
“Do you?” Read more »
Chubby and crew cut, with big glasses, Andy looked more like the Michelin man than the athlete I had pictured as Ivor’s companion. But the calm, gentle way he took my hand, made me like him right away. Read more »
“Not a commune.” Ivor looked embarrassed. “Okay, this is going to sound weird to you but I had this fantasy that Julie and the kids and Andy and I would all move into some kind of village somewhere that we could live in separate houses on the same block and the kids could play in between. One of those places where the whole neighborhood acts as the parents. Somewhere we could both see them every day without having to get a court order.”
“Does anyplace like that still exist?” Read more »
Hearing Charlie lecture me made me want even more to torture him with doubt. But I didn’t want Ivor or Matt or any of my family to have to deal with police officers. I dialed Charlie’s office number, figuring at one in the morning New York time, he wasn’t likely to be there. “Charlie,” I told his voice mail. “It’s me. Kidnapping? Bullshit. The kids are safe. You’ll see them when I’m ready.” I hung up. Read more »
My impulse was to duck out of view, but I rolled down the window.
“Oh my!” The familiar laugh rippled out or her. “Let me have a look at you!”
I stepped out of the car and she grabbed me. Read more »
About halfway through my second glass of iced tea, my beeper went off. It was a call from St. John’s, so I excused myself to use my cell phone. Afraid my voice would carry too loudly even from there, I took the stairs to the second floor. On the first landing, something caught my eye, an eight-by-ten photo framed an hung on the wall. By then, I was already on the phone, and it was a long conversation; one of my patients was scheduled for angioplasty and Naresh didn’t think it was necessary. It’s rare for me to forget the details of a case, but now I could hardly remember enough to make my argument. After I hung up with him, I figured I should check my messages, and as I half-hoped, half-feared, Charlie had called again. Read more »
In that moment, just hearing Charlie say he had broken up with Zulya wasn’t enough for me. As Anabelle suggested in her comments on my last post, I couldn’t trust him, at least not yet. I needed proof. And an apology.
As I put the phone back in my handbag, I finally took in the picture I’d been staring at. Sure enough, it was a photo of the famous four-person wedding: Dad, Mom, Laura and Leif stood on their dais, joyful but self-conscious. Leif is dressed incongruously in a tuxedo, Dad in a jacket and tie, Mom in a business suit and Laura in a green scoop-necked dress. I imagined that anyone who looked at this picture could tell, by the way their hands are linked, that these are more than friends.
As I absorbed the photograph, my breath shortened. Read more »
Read the previous post.
When Laura said she had more photos of the group marriage, I was surprised by the eagerness in my voice. “Can I see them?” Read more »
Read the previous post
Ivor’s ex-wife, Julia, lives in a brown-shingled house in the Oakland hills, tucked in a grove of live oaks and so obscured by camellias and rhododendrons you can barely make out the door. Ivor pulled the Explorer to a slow halt and sat idling for a moment as though having second thoughts before he cut the engine. He didn’t turn to face his kids and for a while there was silence in the truck. Read more »
Read the previous post.
Thanks for the comments about where I should go. I liked Annie’s idea. Apparently this place where Leif lives has a kind of open-door policy for anyone willing to put in the effort of finding it, somewhere in the North Carolina mountains. Read more »
Without asking me the kids had found the VCR in the living and were watching an old Bill Nye the Science Guy video, about the only video Ivor had in the house. I turned it off and knelt in front of them where they sat on the sofa. Read more »
The last couple of weeks have brought such incredible changes to my life, I hardly know how to begin describing them. It started with a trip back across the country to a place different from anywhere I’d ever been. Read more »
We followed Leif outside and into a second building, constructed with modern wallboard and wood planks. Half the roof was taken up by big black solar panels. “This is our common house,” Leif said. Inside was a kitchen equipped with a restaurant-sized refrigerator and gas range. A woman was washing lettuce. Her dress was a kind of shapeless beige shift, embroidered with a Greek key pattern. Something was bubbling in a huge kettle on the stove. “Corinne,” said Leif, “this is Adrienne, Dante and Chloe. They’ll be staying with us tonight.” Read more »
Maybe Leif sensed my nervousness about the commune. At the end of our tour, he stopped just outside the entrance of the common house. “Adrienne, I don’t know why you’ve come here.” Read more »
Dessert that first night in Selu turned out to be fresh strawberries with cream supplied by Christine, the community’s only cow. Dante and Chloe had relaxed a little by then. They were getting lots of attention from the Selu kids, who wanted to know what television shows they watched and whether they had Xboxes. Read more »
The trail headed upwards now, and my breath came shorter. I paused to shift Chloe from one arm to the other. “How much further?”
“Not far. You want me to take her?”
I hesitated for a moment. Chloe didn’t like being held by people she didn’t know, but my arms were about ready to give way. “Okay.” I took the bedding from him and he took Chloe from me.
“Want a ride?” Leif said. He held her up to show her his smile, then gently transferred her to his shoulders. She didn’t peep.
“Harmony House,” I said. “That’s where you lived after the breakup?”
“Yes. The den of iniquities where my sons were forbidden to go.” It was the first time his voice had edged away from equanimity since we had arrived in Selu.
“What happened to it?” Read more »
When I woke up it took me a second of staring at the sticks and mud of the ceiling to remember where I was.
Pale light from one small window illuminated the dimness. The fire had died and on the other side of it, Leif had disappeared, his bedding folded neatly. I found my watch and was amazed to see it was after nine; we’d slept for over twelve hours – the longest rest I’d had since… when? Maybe since I was a teenager.
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Another day passed and another after that. I hadn’t slept so much in my adult life – an early bed and then long afternoon naps. At first I worried that the kids wouldn’t have enough to keep them busy. Read more »
I stood. Corinne looked up at me with her placid brown eyes, expecting me to say something more. But at that moment Dante and Chloe appeared, led in by a tall man whose dreadlocks reeked of patchouli oil. I went to find them some food.
The corn harvest started after breakfast, and Chloe, Dante and I headed into the field with our burlap sacks along with everyone else. The work reminded me of my teenage days, planting the vineyard whose fruit I never tasted. I studied the kids for signs of the resentment I’d felt. But they loved the novelty of it, and anyway, all the other kids were working, too; they didn’t want to be left out. We were halfway down our first row, when Chloe asked me if we could invite her daddy and Lucia to come live with us in Selu.
“We’re not going to live here.” I dropped another ear into a burlap sack. “We’re going home in a few days.”
“I don’t want to go home,” Chloe said. Read more »
It was a hot day and the corn went on forever. By the afternoon I was sweating, my hands were chafed and my legs ached. Afterward, while the kids got lessons in how to make corn-husk dolls, I wandered off by myself into the shade along the creek. Read more »
The kids had indeed been fed, and hardly seemed to have missed me, though in few minutes Chloe rushed up to grab my knees with her applesauce-covered hands. I was just in time to get the last of the tomato and basil salad to go with my corn.
Leif had already slipped out by then. In fact, after our first night in Selu I hadn’t talked much to him. He showed up in his hut long enough to start the fire for us, then he left. It wasn’t hard to figure out he was sleeping with a woman – or women – elsewhere in the commune. Read more »