Home If you want to write The Good American Diary of a Naive Bo on the Fencepost Short Stories Various Info Memories of VMI
1, Diary of a Naive
By the time you read this, I will be in Venice.
There is no casserole in the oven. Smart as you are, I’m sure you can figure out how to cook dinner.
The ironing is not done—all your shirts are in a heap on the bed. Smart as you are and having two hands, I’m sure you can figure out how to iron your shirts.
The laundry isn’t done either, although I did mine before I packed my bags. I did the laundry for the kids to give them a head start. Considering that I did everything for them to perfection for the last near eighteen and sixteen years, respectively, I wanted to give them a bit of a break into what it means to do their own laundry. Since they also have two hands, I know it will not kill them to do their own wash and the mending and the ironing and the folding and the putting away neatly into drawers.
Nothing in the house has been dusted, wiped, washed down, straightened, or messed with in any way for a week now, because I was busy packing. I know you didn’t notice.
Prior to a week ago, the house always looked so lovely, which you never noticed either.
I’ll be gone three months, and when I come back, I’ll move into a small apartment somewhere. Just in case you wondered where I got the money, given that you always held me on so tight a leash: today, I took half of our savings out of our account—and no, I have no intention of paying you back—why should I?—and, for a good many months now, I have saved all the money I made from my job at the insurance company.
The house may seem a little emptier when you walk through, but maybe not. You never noticed me anyway or any of the things I did to make a lovely home. And the children will still be with you. I know you will take good care of them, since you seem to know everything better regarding them anyway, and since I never do anything right regarding them. Besides, they have not needed me in a long time, and so I don’t think they will miss me.
I’m sad, truly sad, that it’s come to this, because more than anything, I wanted someone to love me, wanted a home, wanted a loving husband, loving children. But you don’t want to know this right now. You would be appalled if I or anyone were to call you indifferent or callous or cruel. Such strong words that you, with all the superiority you feel, would not accept about yourself.
But you’ve made my life a living hell for so many years without ever laying a hand on me, and nothing would have ever changed had you not, one evening in April and inadvertently—oh, so inadvertently—given me the permission to write. I sat in the rocking chair, while you read the paper—remember?—never saying a word to me, just turning those pages, and turning those pages, and turning those pages. Who knows where it came from, but I sighed, “I so would like to write.”
If it is true that we have a reason for being in this world, your sole reason for being in this world was to fling this single, careless utterance into the room,
“Why don’t you then?”
….turning another page in your newspaper. Do you remember? Of course you don’t. But your indifferent, rhetorical question changed everything—the way I saw myself, the way I saw you, the children, my life. What a blessing this was. My life turned on the dime of this so carelessly flung utterance.
I carried this letter around with me for weeks, and every time I imagined putting it on his desk for him to find when he got home, I smiled. I saw my bags packed in the lobby, and I saw myself, casting a last victorious glance into the mirror that a spider had chosen as the starting point to create a perfect web from there to the corner of the dark foyer. But until the moment of my leaving, I would have to bide my time, save money, make delicious, secret plans that made me insanely happy.
Only a few months before, I would not have dreamed of writing such a letter, would have been too much of a wimp to even consider it. But on an ordinary day in April, everything changed, and it began with my having a rare but major meltdown.
Cleaning the kitchen after breakfast, I had looked out the window at my messy yard and wondered if I had enough time to rake it before heading off to the food bank where I volunteered once a week. The rambling Cape Cod outside Washington, D. C., where we lived at the time, stood in a densely forested neighborhood, and winter always managed to scatter broken timber all over the place. The small vegetable and flower garden I had dug up under a bit of open sky and had nurtured along all these many years was a mess as well, and if I had enough time, I might as well attack the dead cornstalks and the tomato vines and other assorted vegetable wrecks that had been there since the end of the summer before. I had left the sunflowers with their enormous heads standing throughout the winter for the birds to dig out every last morsel, but now that bounty hung empty and black, and it was time to cut the unsightly monstrosities down. Mulling it over, I realized that it would take me hours to do it all, and I had to be at the food bank at one.
Not to waste any of the precious time I did have, I figured that I could, at least, carry down the mountain of laundry I had washed these last two days, and fold and iron and mend whatever needed folding, ironing, and mending. Wasting time always made me feel guilty, and my guilts already came in immense shapes and sizes, and they used to rule me like a whip. I used to be a great believer in taking responsibility not only for my own life, but for everyone else’s as well. When a mudslide buried a village in Columbia a couple of weeks before, I was convinced that, if only I had joined the Peace Corps and gone down there and persuaded the people to move their village before the calamity struck, everyone would have been saved. After dwelling on this or on any of the other guilts that possessed me, sometimes for days, my guilts would mercifully shrink and crawl into that place in my anatomy marked Guilt, where they sat as quietly as an atomic bomb in some bunker hundreds of feet beneath the ground.
Dutifully, I therefore dragged the ironing board from my sewing room into the bedroom, heaved the two laundry baskets that were filled to overflowing onto the bed, and turned on the TV. The channel was tuned to a talk show featuring a young violinist who looked about seventeen, a year or so older than my Julie. I turned up the volume a little and began ironing. Just as I smoothed out the collar of one of Adam’s shirts and lowered the hot iron onto it, the little violinist said,
“I know exactly how I want to play a piece of music. I know exactly what I want it to sound like. I know exactly what I love to play. I know exactly what I want. My parents enrolled me in the Vivaldi School of Music when I was three. They could tell I loved music. My teachers were excellent and supported me in everything I wanted to do. I knew exactly which music I liked. I knew exactly where I wanted to go with my music. This is all I want to do with my life.”
Halfway through her speech, I stopped ironing and stared at the screen, dumbfounded at the words that marched so confidently and uppity out of this young woman’s mouth. I, Kate Hamilton, thirty-nine years old, a spirited, warm, compassionate, innovative woman, a wife and a mother of two, a woman who could do a hundred things admirably, had absolutely no idea just what exactly I wanted, much less what I wanted to do with my life. What I thought I wanted, because everyone had told me what I should want—get married and have children—had been so punishing a vocation, I had felt all these many years more and more miserable and desperate and unhappy and had been visited, for years, by such a fathomless sadness at times, it took all my willpower not to do something irrevocable.
I didn’t hear what else the little violinist said, because I, who didn’t even know her, suddenly and passionately hated her. I wanted to take that damn violin of hers and smash it to pieces. And when she put the instrument to her neck to give us all a sample of her excellence, I ripped the TV cord out of the socket. I adore classical music—violins especially always make me weep. But she was about to cram her bliss down my throat, and I wouldn't have it. The smell of something burning infuriated me even more. I lifted the iron and stared at the flawless, triangular, deep brown burn mark on Adam’s shirt, and suddenly I hated that shirt, and I hated the damn iron, and I hated the damn TV, and I hated myself even more. I ripped the shirt off the ironing board, threw it into a corner, ripped the cord of the iron out of the socket, plopped down on the bed, and permitted myself to do what I hadn’t ever permitted myself to do—to royally lose it by having a major sobbing session with myself.
No matter how often I had told myself that I had a good life, albeit busy, and a good husband, albeit indifferent and irritable a good deal of the time, and two good children, albeit disrespectful and contemptuous most of the time—other women would give their right arm for what I had—some years ago, and ever so gradually, this terrible unhappiness came and stayed, and no matter how often I brushed it aside and denied it and ignored it, it always came back. And with every irritable word Adam said and with all of his silences, and with every snide remark of the children, it dug itself deeper. But the little violinist I didn’t even know had topped it all—she reminded me that I had no life of my own. I should have something inside of me that was mine—something that made me feel passionate about being alive, something that only I could do, something that I couldn’t wait to get up for in the morning. But I had no such thing. Why, I sobbed, don’t I know what I want to do with my life? How come she knows, and I don’t? How come everybody else knows, and I don’t? What does it take?
I had done it all—the watercolor class, the scrapbook class, the pottery class, the photography class—but none had been able to fill the terribly empty hole inside of me that had been there, like, forever. There had to be something that I wanted to do more than anything, something that made me go to bed at night insanely happy, because I couldn't wait to get up in the morning to do whatever this thing was again.
A car door slammed close to the house and sobered me up instantly. I reminded myself that feeling sorry for oneself was against the law. Besides, what if this somebody, who just slammed the car door, rang the doorbell and here I sat, looking like hell? I wiped my eyes and snuck a peek out the window. Janice Reimer, my neighbor, was taking groceries out of the trunk. No visitors for me, and I was profoundly grateful. My look fell on the daffodils and tulips that framed my driveway. They had begun to bloom a few days before, which always made me feel ecstatic. I could have kissed them all. I looked up, and my eyes met the blue sky. The dense trees that made this house so dark and depressing in the summer had just begun to sprout billions of minute, pale green leaves that shimmered in the sunlight, and, coming back from the store a couple of days before, I had discovered pink and white dogwood in bloom in that jungle of wild foliage that made up this neighborhood. If it weren’t for the damn laundry, I’d be out there.
I turned to look at the mountains of shirts and sheets and assorted other items that spilled out of the baskets. I loathed these baskets. They were like an extension of me. As if, if I didn’t carry a basket down the stairs, filled to bursting with dirty clothes, or up the stairs, filled with clean ones, I had no right to use the stairs. But I was nothing if not conscientious, and shirking my duties wasn't even in my vocabulary. All these many years, I had lived and breathed a self-imposed schedule so brutal at times, a company executive had a cushy life in comparison. But if you have a husband, kids in school, run a household, work in an insurance company three days a week, and do volunteer work to boot, you better keep a schedule, or you don’t get it all done. And I prided myself in getting it all done, because I should be able to do it all and get it all done as all these other people did. I had never met anyone who did get it all done. Something always seemed to give with these folks—either the house, or the kids, or the husband, or the health, or the sanity. But all these phenomenally successful women I saw on television had convinced me that someone like this was out there. Not only did they have a job, they also did something similar to what I had done these last nineteen years:
In the morning, I’d see Adam off to work and the children off to school. Thereafter, I did what I had done for some six thousand or so days of my life. I washed the breakfast dishes, cleaned the kitchen, made the beds, scrubbed the bathrooms, put in a load of wash. On other days, I may have vacuumed the house, washed the floors, sewed on lost buttons, called the plumber, ran to the store, paid the bills, argued with the electric company over some error, planned that night’s dinner, ran to deliver something to school that the children forgot, or ran there to participate in some school function that we all were encouraged to volunteer for, ran back home to get dinner started, did the ironing, helped the kids with homework, answered the phone, argued with Adam because something had set him off, or argued with Julie that, no, at age ten, she was not permitted to use make-up, cleaned up the kitchen after dinner, folded laundry thereafter, and, finally, got my clothes ready for my job the next day.
Just how I was plunged, the moment I married, into the vocation of menial labor, I don’t know. In the beginning, I didn’t in the least perceive it as such. I felt, actually, wonderful, having my own little castle, even if it belonged to Adam’s parents. I worked my hands to the bone to keep everything as perfect as I possibly could. In the unconscious bargain I seem to have made the day I married, I was determined to keep my end of it. That such a bargain was wholly out of balance and wholly unfair didn’t occur to me until long after Adam gave me permission to write.
Staring at those baskets, I became more and more depressed. Was this my life? These baskets, this ironing board, the kitchen, the bathrooms, the floors, the windows? Somewhere outside a bird trilled a love song so yearning, it woke me from my gloom. I walked into the bathroom, washed my face, went back to the bedroom, picked up the shirt, plugged in the TV, and headed downstairs. I threw the shirt into the trash, got the keys out of my purse, put on my jacket, and walked out of the house.
The air was fresh and sweet and cool. I took a deep breath and set out walking fast, as always, determined to get to wherever I was going on the double. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t going anywhere and finally slowed down to a snail’s pace. It was hard. I wasn’t used to doing anything slow.
The sun beat down on me, and all those billions of tiny leaves glittered all around me. The longer I walked, the freer and happier I felt. The Judge in my head said, This isn’t a good idea. I know, I said, and kept walking, my body taking an even deeper breath all its own. I ended up at the pond that once had been the beginning of a park but had ended up with just a bit of grass around it and a couple of picnic tables. I sat down at one of them and let the sun fry me. The sky had fallen into the water, and a couple of cotton clouds swam in it to keep it company. The heat of the sun and the clouds sailing in the blue pond mesmerized me, and I surrendered to it all. I melted right into the sunlight and seeped into the water, and after awhile, there was no me left. If it hadn’t been for the sudden thunder boom of a sound barrier being broken in the ether somewhere high above me, I would have been altogether gone to the world.
But that brutal wake-up call reminded me that I was to be at the Food Bank at one. What time was it? I’d forgotten my watch and jumped up and raced back to the house. Now this, I thought, was really irresponsible. Taking off like this. Now when was I going to get the ironing done? I raced into the house. It was noon. I had about half an hour to think about what we would have for dinner. Sickeningly conscientious as I was way back then, I actually planned the meal for each day on a calendar to make sure I had everything in the house and wouldn’t waste time having to run to the store. Of course, I took whatever meat I was going to cook that evening out of the freezer before I left for work in the morning so it would be defrosted when I got home. The plan for that day was roasted chicken. Too late for that now. I’d forgotten to take out the chicken.
Frantically, I searched for something else and remembered that some days before, I had found a recipe in the paper for a casserole that could bake either at 250 degrees for five hours or at 350 for two hours and could be done with frozen meat and frozen vegetables. I raced to put some cubed beef into a deep dish, peeled eight potatoes, cut up six carrots, added two cups of frozen green beans and a small, chopped onion. I peppered and salted everything a little, poured a can of cream of mushroom soup and one of consommé all over it, mixed it all up, and stuck the concoction into the oven, at 250 degrees for five hours. I threw a salad together, put that into the refrigerator, and raced to the food bank.
When I signed up for this job, I had envisioned a kind of hands-on position—receiving food, sorting food, stacking food, and distributing food. Instead, they put me in the office, where stacks of donations that had come in the mail waited to be entered into ledgers. The work was boring, but I told myself that it was important. Which didn’t mean that my mind didn't wander now and then—to England, say, or to Italy, where, one of these days, way in the future, I would finally get to go. Imagining myself at Warwick Castle or in Venice, I invariably screwed up a ledger entry and had to head for the whiteout and start all over. Thank heaven, I didn't have to add up all these figures, or this food bank would have ended up bankrupt.
Opening envelope after envelope, I remembered the little violinist and felt profoundly guilty for having lost it. There were so many hungry people in the world, and what I was doing here was worthwhile. What I was doing here had a purpose. What I was doing here helped other people. What I was doing here was meaningful. But my telling myself so—as if I hadn’t done it a hundred times—didn’t fill that empty hole inside of me.
When I came home, I could smell the casserole when I walked in the door, and it smelled delicious. Adam was discussing something loudly with Adam Jr. in his office, and, in the living room, Julie, reclining comfortably on the couch, read a book.
“Hi there,” I said on my way to the kitchen. She didn’t answer, which I filed away with that she probably didn’t hear me.
Bent over the open oven door, my hands deep in the potholders and wrapped around the hot casserole dish, Adam’s voice boomed suddenly and startled me.
“Did you take my tuxedo to the tailors?”
I didn’t answer right away. The steaming dish suspended in midair, I was most concerned that moment of not dropping it on myself. Nearly dropping it onto the trivet, I said,
“What do you mean . . . no?”
“No,” I said again, moving the dish back a little so it wouldn’t be close to the edge, as if the kids weren’t near eighteen and sixteen, but toddlers who could reach up and pull it off and maim themselves for life. We had discussed the tuxedo the day before—he thought the coat should be a little tighter around the waist—and I had totally forgotten.
I took off my potholder gloves, slammed them into the drawer, and slammed the drawer shut. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Adam Jr. leaning in the door, eyebrows raised, waiting for what would happen next. Surely, it would be one of those interesting moments between his parents.
“Because I didn’t feel like it,” I said.
Adam grinned at our son. His face said: Whoa, whoa, whoa, isn’t the little lady a firecracker tonight?
Adam Jr. grinned back.
This so obvious disrespect so unsettled me, I turned to the sink and accidentally ran hot water over my hand, which shocked me instantly into normalcy.
“Julie,” I called to the living room, “would you set the table, please?”
“Why can’t you do it?” she hollered back and turned a page in her book.
Adam’s voice came like a blast. “Get up off that damn couch and set the table like your mother told you!”
I probably should have been grateful that he took my side that moment, which he rarely did. But why he had to do it, as most always when he spoke to the children, in that thunderous voice, I don’t know.
Julie got up off the couch like an invalid with a broken back and two broken legs and dragged herself into the dining room. She set a table so slovenly—the silverware askew, the napkins, rather than being folded, simply dropped onto the plate, the glasses every which way—a small, painful sigh escaped me when I carried the casserole into the dining room. It hurts me almost physically to have something that could have been so lovely so deliberately ruined.
“What?” she asked belligerently.
My small sigh had not escaped her. I know that child psychologists are very wise people. But so are mothers. This child, for a reason I would never know, was out to punish me for a crime I had committed in her eyes alone. As she had once said, “You embarrass me. Why don’t you get yourself a decent haircut and get yourself some decent clothes? You always look as if you had come straight from the thrift shop.”
“Hot dish,” I said, putting the casserole heavily onto the table. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like correcting her, or educating her, or admonishing her, or doing what parents are supposed to do if they want to rear decent citizens. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like being a parent at all. Suddenly, I had enough of trying, and arguing, and insisting on what some Judge in my head demanded of me. Suddenly, I just wanted to be a human being, and eat my dinner, and get it done and over with so I could finish the ironing.
I put a tape with Baroque music into the tape player on low as I usually did—which had garnered, more than once, Julie’s “Do we have to listen to this stuff?” and my answering firmly, “Yes!”—sat down and picked up my fork.
“What is this?” Julie said, looking at the food on her plate as if it were vomit.
Her voice startled me. My mind had galloped off to the little violinist the moment I picked up my fork. How come she knew, when she was three years old, what exactly she wanted to do with her life? I looked up, and I’m sure, right through Julie. I shrugged, raised my eyebrows, and continued eating.
I didn’t, thereafter, notice whether or not they ate. As if someone had put an invisible wall around me, I felt wholly calm and ate my dinner slowly and deliberately as if I were alone. It’s not as if I hadn’t poured over self-help books that told me that I was unique and that everyone had unique gifts and everyone could discover them. But every time I closed one of these books, I was right back to where I was before—nowhere. Besides, doing something just for me struck me as utterly selfish. And how could I get around the guilt of that? Though there should be something I could do, something that made me happy, in my spare time.
These books also talked about being worthwhile, just because one existed. Which didn’t help me in the least. I didn’t feel worthwhile, and what I was doing didn’t seem worthwhile either, because no one ever said a word and took everything I did wholly for granted. And sentences such as: You are here for a reason, meant nothing to me. Or rather, I thought there was a reason when Adam and I married. I believed with all my heart that he was the reason I was alive, and I was the reason he was alive. But as the years went by, it became harder and harder reminding myself of that reason.
No one said a word throughout dinner, and I had suddenly not the least interest in what the children had done that day, or what Adam had done that day. No one had ever asked what I had done that day or any other day, for that matter. I sensed more than I knew or could even voice: that what was going on in my house and at the dinner table that moment was greater than anything I could fix. It was something archetypal, I was convinced of it, and to uproot it, Carl Jung would have to be resurrected. It was, that moment at the dinner table, perfectly clear to me that it had been I who, prompted by some ardent desire to forge us into a warm and loving family that deeply cared for one another and had interesting dinner conversations, had kept up, all these years, a dinner ritual that was absolutely punishing. For me.
When we were first married, it was usually I who initiated a conversation at dinner, having visions of sharing and discussing fascinating subjects with Adam (yes, I did live in La-La-Land way back then), might that be politics, or science, or art, or literature, or just something that happened in the world. Adam would listen politely to my chatter, would nod now and then and grunt an approving grunt, or a disapproving one, which made me feel after a while as if I were an insatiable chatterbox and why didn’t I just shut up. Sometimes, just to get him to say something, I asked some dumb question about his new job at the up and coming computer company, and sometimes this worked. He would actually answer me and would talk at length about software and hardware and “these idiot engineers” he had to work with. I didn’t understand a thing, but at least it was something resembling a dinner conversation. Once he had exhausted his favorite subject, however, he rarely talked about anything else. When our dinners finally deteriorated into total silence, I felt awful. I'd wreck my brain trying to come up with something we could talk about, because it was, of course, my responsibility to keep us talking, but he had already taught me that, no matter what I said, it seemed to be too stupid to warrant a response.
Once the children came along, I always encouraged them to talk about what interested them, or what they had done during the day, or what fascinated them, or frightened them, or I brought up something interesting myself that I had read or seen or heard or thought. But even then, I felt self-conscious about my continuous chattering, even if it was born out of my ardent desire to mold us into a loving, caring family. Some fear seemed to have a hold of me, some desperate fear even that, if I didn't at least try, we would all go up in smoke.
Adam never did say much to the children, although sometimes, when he was in a good mood, he would begin talking all on his own, and, as if intoxicated by his voice, would talk on and on about something that, say, had been invented in the company. But these talk feasts didn't happen often. Most of the time, he was content to gulp down his food, push back his chair as soon as we all were done, and to go to the living room to read his mail or his trade magazines, all of which I cheerfully ignored as his right (after all, he had worked hard all day).
But that evening, it occurred to me that we all would have been much happier, if we had merely grabbed a plate and gone to eat wherever, or if we all had been reading at the dinner table. At least, we would have gotten something out of it. Instead, it had been I who, in spite of sullen answers or no answers at all, or answers full of contempt because I was, obviously, the dumbest human being on earth and why of all people was I their mother, had kept up the questions about school, or friends, or about anything else that was going on in my children’s lives, or in my husband’s, and the more I had done it, the more punishing it became. And something in me, that evening, didn’t feel like being punished.
I ate slowly, feeling wonderfully drained of all emotion. Just where that came from, I don’t know. But something had begun to unravel, and I wasn’t about to jeopardize it by opening my mouth and inviting negative comments. Or face no response at all as if I were not even there.
The children scattered as soon as we were done eating, and Adam, as always after dinner, and without a further word to me, took a glass of iced tea and went to the living room, where he plopped down on the couch. For the next hour or so, he would be wholly inaccessible, insisting on his right to relax after working his butt off, as he loved to say.
In the kitchen, my arms deep in dishwater, I steeled myself against the sound of his exaggeratedly exhausted drop, from a straight up standing position, onto the ancient fixture. For years, I had endured this same ritual every night without ever admitting to myself—and certainly never to him—how deeply it upset me. With my eyes closed and my body rigid as a plaster cast, I waited for the groan of the springs and for the bright ring of wood that, this time, surely, would splinter into a thousand pieces.
Whenever I remember the woman I was before Adam gave me permission to write, it never fails to amaze me how much emotional punishment I absorbed and denied. That’s why I didn’t run straight into the living room and hit him over the head with whatever pan I was currently washing. But such were the quirks of a warm, compassionate, decent, and not wholly unattractive woman who, at some point in her life, had turned herself into a doormat.
Adam Jr. scrambled down the stairs and hollered, “See ya later,” slamming the front door on his way out to his job in the bowling alley.
I rinsed the casserole dish, drained the water, dried my hands, started the dishwasher, and walked into the living room with a fresh cup of coffee. Way back then, I lived in a movie of my own making. In this movie is a scene where a husband and a wife, not having seen each other all day, have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine after dinner and talk lovingly, or bitch horribly, about the events of the day. In my movie, it was called togetherness and sharing, and I had lived my movie so persistently, I didn’t seem to be able to give it up, even when, after some years, Adam hardly said a word to me.
All I could see from him were his lap and his legs when I came in and sat down in the rocking chair. The rest was blocked by the newspaper, which he held up high as if to hide himself. But no. He was merely reading something at the bottom of the page. Presently, he dropped the paper to its normal reading level and turned the page.
I waited politely, rocking back and forth gently. I can't with certainty say whether I was taught or whether I made it up that it was outrageously rude to interrupt people when they were reading, but I never interrupted him when he was focused on something. Maybe my sitting there, patiently waiting, was a sort of tug of war for him. Maybe he wondered who could hold out the longest, me in my chair, or he ignoring me. And I don’t remember just why I went to sit in the living room instead of getting the ironing done.
Finally, I got up and turned on the stereo. Instantly, the room was blasted by a million empty oil drums being crushed by meteors. I fumbled for the volume button, my fingers fidgeting madly, unable to remember that moment just which of the buttons it was, as if I hadn’t done this a thousand times.
Throughout the ruckus, Adam stared, with a long-suffering look, at the opposite wall of the room as if he expected some kind of salvation to creep out of the wallpaper that would make me accomplish the task faster.
Half of an eternity later, I found the proper button, turned down the volume, and looked at him.
“Sorry,” I said, smiling abjectly. “Adam Jr. must've had some buddies in.”
He turned away from the wallpaper, raised his eyebrows, and continued reading. I was used to these contemptuous expressions, which I received not only from him but also from the children. Obviously, I had done something so stupid that no one else in the world would ever do. Everybody else was smart enough to check the volume before they turned on the stereo. But not I. And even though such expressions of contempt hurt deeply in some corner of my being, I couldn’t find within myself the resources to defend myself against them.
Quite by accident, I had turned into a station which, just that moment, began playing the overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. I smiled at the stereo. Such lovely, happy music. I sat back down, patiently waiting for him to put down the paper. Surely, there must be something we could talk about. The children. His day. My day. The weather. Spring. The recent downturn in the economy. Anything.
He turned a page and read it slowly. He turned the next page. And the next. Just why I didn’t tear that damn paper out of his hands and didn’t rip it into iddy-biddy pieces, I don’t know. Just why do so many bright, warm, intelligent, and even accomplished women, who are not exactly helpless and can do a thousand things admirably—including bearing children—permit their husbands to treat them so shabbily? It’s a good question to which I also didn’t find an answer until some time after he gave me permission to write.
I studied the books in the shelves that covered the wall behind Adam. I cocked my head sideways and read the backs of them as I had done a thousand times. These were the books I had read before Adam came along, and the children. Camus. Sartre. Nietzsche. Plato. The Odyssey. Greek Mythology. Chinese poetry. Dante. Frost. I played with the thought that Frost’s fork in the road had come to me early in life, and that I had promptly walked the road most traveled. In my mind’s eye, I saw this most traveled road so clearly—a dirt path actually that went through a deep wood and meandered, and where a bunch of people, myself among them, trotted sullenly along. We were all dressed in gray and black and brown. None of us Sullen Walkers would have dreamed of taking a dash into the darkness of the underbrush and running like maniacs to the path that was less traveled and where there wasn’t anybody. Except Mr. Frost, of course, whistling.
I shook my head to shake that vision away, glancing at Adam, wondering whether he had noticed. I had had such odd visions before, and they made me feel very uncomfortable. As if I were losing it.
Mozart’s happy overture sounded out, and just why I felt suddenly so sad, I didn’t know. I studied Adam for a moment and then studied my hands. For no reason whatsoever, there were tears in my eyes.
“I so would like to write,” I sighed out loud.
The sigh was so deep and heartrending, the moment I uttered it, I covered my mouth as if I had said something abominably rude.
Adam never even glanced in my direction.
“Why don’t you then?” he said and turned the page.
Chapter 2, Diary of a Naive
or: The Chapters
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