And I liked that he wore a silver earring in his left earlobe. Beyond the earring, the cleft, and the theory of relativity, we could not have been more different. Dean wanted the simple life, and I wanted the most beautiful KitchenAid mixer we could buy. This seems a minor thing, but once we had moved together to Manhattan, we spent entire dazed sunlit Saturday afternoons walking into every hardware store on Broadway and leaving empty-handed because we couldn't agree on a blender or a toaster, let alone a lifestyle. As the appliances broke down, one by one, so did the marriage. At the end, all we had accumulated between us was the desire to spare each other's feelings. Finally, one day Dean said, "I don't know, it's like a house of cards and the cards are just, well, tumbling down." As he said it, his hands fluttered in the air and fell to his sides. I thought of dance class as a child, when the teacher would say, "Think of your hands as the leaves, girls, leaves in the autumn, tumbling to the ground." And I thought, that's it. Dead leaves.
After the dead leaf gesture, Dean took off his wedding ring and it lay in the palm of his hand, a little lost craft. We both looked at it, for a moment, then he shoved it deep in the pocket of his jeans. He left a few days later, a duffel bag slung over his arm, like a kid catching the next bus back to college. I called my mother, who was living in Paris, to break the news. "I am completely undone by this," she said over the phone, the long-distance wires crackling. "I am the only woman I know who isn't a grandmother." To my unmarried sister she confided, "Now I'm back to square one with you girls. Jesus Christ." But things change. I like to think that. The next day she called back and invited me to visit her at her house on the beach at the tip of Long Island. "I think I better come on," she said. "Coming on" is what people did in my family in the case of emergencies. They hopped planes, dropped plans, they banded together. "You know I like to give you your 'space,' as you kids call it these days, but I've been brooding."
I could hear the exhale of her cigarette, as if the smoke were drifting lazily through the phone wires, obscuring all my determined boundaries. "Ma, I'm fine here," I said. "I'm doing just fine." But the voice didn't sound like mine. It was a thin eggshell of a voice saying no, I mean yes, I mean.... Oh, the maternal heart. Can I save Charlotte from being cool to a towheaded boy with bright blue eyes who loves to trail her at school? Can I save her when some boy in ten years doesn't return her love?
Okay, let's get this done and get this done fast," my mother said. We were in the attic of her house, a late Saturday morning. It was pouring outside. In a house by the sea, the reverberations of a rainstorm are boisterous and spooky, and as a child I loved being spooked, loved it the way you loved something loud, something forceful, something you could never control. The very drama of it put me in a world that was my own: the rain falling in mad sparks of sound against the roof, the echo of the surf, thunder like a rip through the sky. The attic was a ghostly theater when it rained.
We Hear You!