Tapping my foot with annoyance, I read the e-mail from John LeMay that said he was returning to California for yet another week-in-June vacation, and that he was looking forward to seeing my new paintings and what I had done with my garden. I was annoyed because I had heard of his vacation plans a month ago from Andersol, two weeks ago from my nephew Michel, and about a week earlier from his mother.
Andersol, when she called me with the news, suggested, "Sully, keep an open mind about John. Try not to blow off the chance of something good."
Michel referred to him as "Uncle John."
Mary asked if I could make a lasagna casserole, because John thought it was so wonderful. I hadn't even seen John yet and I was already sick of him.
Summer, winter, summer, winter -- each year I felt more and more pressured by friends and family to enter into some kind of romantic attachment. If John wasn't being tied about my neck like some kind of albatross, I was being paired with eligible businessmen or academics at dinners at the estate. When I mentioned this to Jesse, she coldly replied, "You were willing to attend these things when I wasn't here; now you can't help me out by attending them when I am here? And you sure as hell had no problem being at my husband's side, schmoozing right along with him. A lot of these people know you better than they know me and Bodie, and you know them all better than we do. Quit imagining suitors under all the end tables, for God's sake."
And while it was true that I did know a lot about the sycophants and investors and subsidy-seekers, I also knew that Jesse was throwing up a smoke screen, as I had five secret agents who listened at doors and under open windows and pretended to play in corners while certain adults discussed Aunt Sully's future prospects.
The children reported to me that I would be escorted to dinner by Mr. Richard Thorensen, because he owned a lot of agricultural acreage in the Port Laughton area. "Mama says he has a thing for redheads," said Oesha, her long brown eyelashes shading her eyes, "and she hopes you'll wear that green dress. She wants him to donate land to the University so the president will get off her back about it."
Yes, I had indeed attended many formal functions at the estate when Jesse was gone and her first husband was alive. But in those days, I wasn't used for bait.
Owen surprised me one day by saying, "Aunt Andersol said that Uncle John hasn't got a hope in hell unless you can ever forget about your ex-husband. He was our Uncle, too, wasn't he? Why don't we know anything about him?"
"He didn't want to share our family, Owen," I told him. "He was long gone before you were ever born, and I don't really know why even now. However, your Aunt Andersol should be watching her language, and you do not need to quote her bad language verbatim."
Watching him go back to his desk with a triumphant grin on his face, I concluded that he was less concerned about an unknown uncle or John's chances than he was delighted to have pulled off using the phrase "a hope in hell" without getting punished. Andersol, on the other hand, needed a hair-pulling as badly as any sister ever did.
Of course, she was right, John didn't have a hope in hell, because I had no intention of forgetting that I was married once and that remarriage was out of the question. Why was I the only one in the world who was comfortable with that? What was so freakish about being faithful, about living out promises I had made, promises I had never intended to be broken?
I think of Adam, and the words I use to describe him just don't account for how radiantly unreal his looks were. Every place we went, all the time, female heads would turn and double-take, and stare at him. I didn't really notice that before we were married, because all I could see in the world was him when we were together. After we were officially husband and wife, however, I became keenly aware of the attention he drew. The wedding pictures? Usually people will say something like, oh, what a lovely couple, oh, you both look so happy. With ours: My God, he's handsome! You are one lucky woman!
At the mall, if he went off to the sports stores by himself, you could track his progress from the upper story by watching the number of women running into other people or dropping packages. I am not lying, the reactions were ridiculous. In restaurants, after a while, I started counting the number of glasses of water waitresses spilled on our table as they gazed at him. If he looked at them and smiled, one or another of the glasses would fly. By the time the marriage was over, I'd counted seventy-eight spilled drinks. Cashiers who were girls invariably gave him the wrong change. On Easter and at Christmas, Adam would come to church with me, and after Mass, we would find ourselves greeted enthusiastically by Mrs. Loudensmith, Mrs. Trent, Mrs. Martinez, the Stouffer girls, giggling, women who couldn't have cared less that I was there the week before. But if he was there, they shook my hand or gave me a fakey church hug and then clung to Adam's hand, looking stunned into his appreciative eyes. Nothing like going to Mass and wanting to choke one's fellow worshippers on holidays!
And Adam loved the attention, just lapped it up. I tried to laugh it all off, but I found myself wondering, when yet another woman would look at him and forget not to stare, am I as pretty as she is? When he might respond with an appreciative grin, I would wonder, does he revel in my adoration the way he does hers? So many various women. She's taller, does that entice him? That one's more exotic, will he sparkle at me like that when I smile at him?
In the same way that too much wealth tends to corrupt people and turn them into greedy misers, in the same way that an easy life can turn people complacent and lazy, I think Adam's beauty affected me in adverse ways. I didn't want other women to stare at him. I didn't want him to be aroused by any femininity other than mine. I didn't want to share his attention.
I began to grow paranoid, overly sensitive and brittle. I tried not to be; I know I failed. I didn't scream at him or go through his pockets or his kit in his truck while he was asleep, nothing so obvious or theatrical, but of course I changed, lost a certain spark, a spontaneity with him. I was such a pathetic, silly, beleaguered girl!
I can say this condescendingly, as one who has grown wiser as well as older. Yet one Christmas season, not so very long ago, as I was shopping in a large department store in Modesto, where we used to live together, I saw a man who was somatotypically like Adam. He had blonde hair in a similar cut to what Adam preferred, (short so as not to curl in ringlets, but long enough to showcase the rich deep ripe wheat color), and the shoulders were as broad as Adam's, and the hipline was only a little bulkier ... I was paralyzed for a moment with fear at being seen, so much older and plumper. My heart burned with a cell-deep urge to go closer and peer at him to make sure the man wasn't Adam, yet with a strange permeation of desire, a stupid feeling that if only the man was Adam, if he saw me, and talked to me, that all breaches would be healed and we could weave together as one life again.
It wasn't him. After ages of hiding, blushing, tears in eyes of panic and longing, of hope and horror, I emerged from the small-appliances aisle and saw him face on, and the poor man had a face as commonplace as white ceramic bowls for breakfast cereal. The feeling of letdown was as great as if you saw a flaming asteroid falling through the sky, landing on the street in front of you, only to be revealed as a roll of toilet paper set on fire and flung through the neighborhood by local kid hoodlums.
That night I dreamed of wandering in a big empty building, cold and dank, with walls painted an ugly institutional green, and dark woodwork, and the ceiling stained with tobacco smoke residue. I entered a huge room, with three doors in the wall opposite me. My dream, I thought, and I can make things happen! I can bring what I want through those doors! And woke myself up, shouting Adam's name.
How can I go and annul my marriage to him, when I still find those feelings lumbering about in my heart? Every aspect of my life with him was now gone, the love, the house, the dreams. Should I pretend that there was never an eagerly awaited wedding? That the good times when we were happy with each other never happened? My days with Adam were gone forever. In the end, all I had left of him was that marriage, such as it was. Why should I throw that last little shred away? Just to forget it ever happened?
A voice in my head tells me that that my friends and relatives are right: I am a fool; I should just let it all go, toss the last memories out the window as I drive down the highway, let them catch on the branches of the trees and be gone. Be done. Make a new life, find a new love. Then a different part of me squints and whispers, Just like Adam did. You're just like him, after all. Say whatever you have to say to get away with it, just like Adam.
Maybe that's one thing I can't do to myself, however much a fool I am.