Hail Mary, Suicide Squeeze, a Little Christie Brinkley, Please
“Why do you need all of that, all of that?” he gestured angrily at her two suitcases and sputtered out the words. “We’re only going for a weekend.”
“I know,” she bit her tongue and calmly carried the heaviest suitcase down the long staircase out of their bedroom and then down the second one into the garage. She heaved it and loaded it into the trunk.
She came back into the house and up the two flights of stairs. “See, it’s not a problem,” and she picked up the other suitcase and loaded that into the trunk.
He hadn’t moved so she made her way back upstairs, again.
“I’m ready,” she said.
She wasn’t ready.
They both got into the car. He took his place behind the steering wheel and she on the passenger side as they had so many times before in so many other vehicles. He always drove. For 22 years, he always drove.
When they pulled out of the garage she understood that the next time that door opened, things would be different. Would she be coming back to her house or coming home?
It was a long drive and she knew she shouldn’t talk incessantly, but she also knew that if she didn’t initiate conversation, there would be none. So she waited for a long time – until they got to the end of their street. But it seemed like a long time.
“I can’t believe we will have the house to ourselves. We’ve never had their house to ourselves, before.”
She smiled and looked over at him. He smiled but it was hard to read. She decided to take it as a good sign that he was trying to be pleasant.
“Did you remember to pack a bathing suit?”
“Didn’t bring one,” he answered quickly.
She wanted to ask if it was because he was planning to skinny dip or skip swimming. She used restraint and did not ask why you wouldn’t bring a bathing suit with you to the beach. Restraint was not normally one of her strong suits.
But this was not a normal weekend.
She felt fortunate that her best friend had offered – wouldn’t take no for an answer – that the two of them use her empty East Hampton house for the weekend. Her friends had taken their boat on a trip to Martha’s Vineyard.
He started singing to the Credence Clearwater Revival song that was playing on the radio. He only ever listened to classic rock. Inexplicably, though he could never remember his age or what he did yesterday, he knew almost all of the words to any and every song that played on those radio stations. This was when people still listened to the radio.
A lifetime ago.
They used to like to sing together in the car on long road trips and on short road trips, too. She chimed in, “She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey…”
When she started singing, he stopped. Was it her voice? It was her voice. She did not have a good singing voice. You would think that she would because she played the piano by ear but unfortunately, that did not translate to singing.
She stopped singing knowing he would start back up again. And he did.
She said a silent thank you prayer because traffic was light and he got more relaxed. They actually began having a conversation that sort of, almost followed their old, natural rhythm. Kids, family, business, it was intermittent and only moderately awkward for the remaining two and a half hours.
She did not sing, she was smarter than that. Restraint.
When they arrived in East Hampton, the place that so many memories were made, she knew this weekend would be no exception.
“Hello white house on the corner, hello swans, hello windmill, hello The Palm…” It was her version of Goodnight Moon for the Hamptons. She often thought in rhyme. It was a curse.
He drove slowly through downtown.
“Do you want to stop for lunch now or go drop our bags at the house first?” she asked. Babette’s patio was calling her name.
“I don’t care,” he said.
“Exactly,” she said to no one.
They went straight to the house. They both loved that house. It was special because of the abundance of happy times spent there with their kids and friends. It was those memories that her friend was trying to spark and build on when she insisted that they come to the house, alone.
Much was riding on that bet. Too much.
“Are we sleeping in the guest room?”
“But there’s no TV in there.”
“We can watch in the den.” Really? This was a thing? With all that was at stake, really?
“So, would you like to go to Babette’s?”
“That’s fine, but first I have to make a phone call.” He walked outside with his phone.
After about 10 minutes, she went to find him. He saw her coming and abruptly hung up.
She loved Babette’s for several reasons – first, because it was good, second because it was a familiar, happy place and third, because it was downtown which gave them a chance to walk around together and window shop and people watch and walk around, together.
It was one of those beautiful, August Fridays that are nondescript but dreamt about in February.
After lunch, they did in fact walk around together – well technically, together. But he was anxious and walked ahead of her and each time she stopped to wander into a store, he didn’t follow her. She pretended not to notice or mind.
Later, they sat by the pool in the cloudless sunshine.
“I wish you’d brought a bathing suit, what are you going to wear to the beach?”
“Oh, we’re going to the beach?” He sounded genuinely surprised.
It was as if he was letting her drag him along in a charade that mimicked their old life. But it wasn’t their old life. They weren’t the same people anymore. It felt like Invasion of the Body Snatchers on a spectacular set. Someone had stolen her life.
She had promised her parents and her friend that she’d stay the entire weekend with him. She had promised she would do her very best but it wasn’t working. Nothing was working. She wanted to go home to her own bed and throw the covers over her head. And now, it was her own bed since she’d banned him from it after she found out.
This was the first and only time in her life that she ever wanted to leave the Hamptons – her most magical place where many of her happiest times happened. She used the words East Hampton as a silent, repetitive mantra when she was giving birth to her second child before they would give her an epidural. Now, it was emotionally excruciating trying to ascertain which fate was worse, raising her young children alone, or living in purgatory with the man who had been body snatched.
And he was on the phone again and had walked inside.
This time she didn’t follow him and she decided not to look at her watch to see how long he was gone. She guessed it was about fifteen minutes that felt like an hour.
“Do you want to go to the Artists & Writers game tomorrow?” They had always loved the game, it had become a tradition. She had brought the baseball cap she bought at a past game.
“I think Christie Brinkley is playing,” she lured.
What the hell was wrong with her? She wasn’t a 1950’s wife. She wanted to scream, and hit him and watch him fall down in pain. He needed to and deserved to suffer. A lot. Repeatedly. But instead, she caved to her parents’ unyielding admonishments against being that most dreaded thing, a single parent. Her mother was a 1950’s wife and had counseled her strongly. Her father had simply, verbally strong armed her. So here she was, acting like a Stepford Wife/cheerleader trying to save her marriage that she hadn’t wanted in the first place. Her kids, her two amazing kids – she was doing it for her babies.
But alas, Nick and Toni’s chicken, Main Beach’s everything, a thousand Christie Brinkley at bats weren’t going to save her.
It was the end of the world as she knew it. Her world. And it was foreshadowing of an even greater apocalypse. For in three weeks’ time, it would be 9/11. And he would leave three weeks after that.
But in that moment, he said, “Sure.”
And they went through the motions.
And they played ball.