Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe to Arizona

The next morning after a hearty breakfast, we set off without too much fanfare.  We said most of our goodbyes the previous evening. As we loaded up the car, I half expected Snow to jump into the car with us, but she stayed glued to Barbara’s thigh on the chaise lounge.  I ruffled the fur on her head and kissed her fuzzy face, promising to see her in a few weeks when we got back home. She wagged her tail and gave me a little yippy bark, which I assumed meant “See you later.”

Matt made sure we had plenty of water and snacks that don’t melt in the heat.  I assured him the Road Service provided by the car company was in working order.  He reminded me to start looking for a gas station as soon as my tank was down to half.  One last kiss for Matt and Barbara and we set off for Phoenix.

I drove the first leg of the journey.  It is my car, after all. Chris spent time looking over the owner’s manual on my phone.  He played with the satellite radio and found a jazz station he liked. He adjusted the passenger seat until it was what he called the “perfect comfy,” for him. He set the memory for his seat preference. He played with the AC vents, the windows, and the internet settings on the display between the seats.  Finally, he announced, “The only way this car could be any better is if it drove itself.”

“Well, it does.  It lets you know when you are straying out of your lane and it has that automatic system that slams on brakes if you get too close to an object in front of you.”

“Not to mention cruise control,” Chris added.

“All the toys are included,”  I reminded him.

Then, Chris asked,  “You want to take a side trip to the Grand Canyon?  I have never seen it.”

“Me, either.  Yes, let’s.” Chris entered the new information into the GPS. “So, it says 7 hours to the Canyon.  We’ll have to get a hotel. Let me see if we can get some reservations.”

While I drove, Chris searched the internet.  He made calls to four places before he finally announced, “Okay, we have reservations at the Grand Hotel which is about 6 miles from the state park entrance.  I guess you heard that I got us one room.”

“I heard,” I said and made no further comments.  I just agreed to spend tonight and every night for the rest of the trip with my husband.  I hoped it wasn’t a bad idea.

We stopped at the You-Are-Entering-Arizona sign to take the selfie.  For the first time, Chris and I did a proper selfie, heads close together, smiling with the Arizona sign behind us.  I emailed it to Mr. Cartwright, Lily, to my sister and to Barbara and Matt.

We stopped at fast food restaurant on the interstate and both of us got a salad for lunch.  We shared one hamburger and did not order fries. As we approached the car Chris said, “Can I drive?  Please, please, please.” He looked about fifteen years old, so I said, “Sure. It will give me a chance to play with all the gadgets on my car.”

“I really like the color, by the way,” Chris said.

“Thank you.  So do I.”

           In a repeat of Chris’s investigations, I played with the satellite radio, the AC vents, the GPS, the seat settings and anything else within reach.  I called the car’s concierge and a friendly lady answered the phone. “Hello, Mrs. Archer. My name is Amy. What can I help you with, today?”

“Amy, what is a good restaurant for dinner near the Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon?”

“Do you prefer casual dining or something more upscale?” Amy asked.

“Upscale.”

“I have two choices for you.  El Tovar is more upscale and the Coronado Room is a little less so.”  She gave me details on both and the asked if I wanted to make reservations at either.  I selected El Tovar and she asked me to hold. Within three minutes she came back and announced we had dinner reservations for 10:00 PM.  She asked if there was anything else she could do and I told her no.

“Oh, my gosh,”  I said to Chris.  “Unbelievable fun. Amy is like a personal assistant.”

Chris laughed at my enthusiasm.

We arrived at the Grand Canyon just before dusk and watched the sun go down over the distant horizon.  The stars popped out and gave us a view of the sky I had never seen before. A man standing next to us told his lady friend, “You don’t get a lot of light pollution, so you can see more stars.”  He kissed her and they walked away arm in arm.

My view of the canyon was limited and my imagination filled in a lot of the blanks.  I wondered if seeing it in the daylight would live up to my expectations.

Chris and I got back into the car and drove to the restaurant in silence.  I almost felt like I was leaving a part of me behind on the rim of the canyon.

We were seated immediately when we arrived at the restaurant and ate dinner in near silence, eat of us only talking when necessary.  

Back at the hotel, Chris went into the bathroom and got ready for bed.  I took my turn, putting on my pajamas, brushing my teeth and my hair. Chris waited for me, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“You were deep in thought at dinner,” Chris prompted.

I sat beside him on the bed.  “I thought about the canyon and how I felt very small, but still a significant part of the whole universe at the same time.  Humbling. Also, I desperately miss Lily and Snow. I didn’t really mind leaving Snow with Barbara, but it is almost like another part of my family is gone from me; like I have no one left.”

“You still have me,” Chris said, quietly.

Did I really?  How could I trust what he said.  He told me he broke up with Kathy and that is definitely a step in the right direction.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that his affair was my fault. Not because I was older or bigger, but because I neglected my husband.

“There is something else bothering you, isn’t there?”

“Yes,” I said.  “But I don’t want to tell you what it is, yet.”  I blew out a sigh. “Chris, I love your singing voice.”

Chris’s eyes grew wider. “I didn’t know you ever heard me sing.”

“You do, mostly when you think no one is listening.  You sing show tunes, like that one for South Pacific.”

“Lillian loved show tunes.  I was raised on Oscar and Hammerstein.”  He paused and said, “Anne, you have done a remarkable job of holding this family together.  I wasn’t there for you to share you grief over losing our son. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t stop to think that grief doesn’t end for you on the day of the funeral.  It didn’t stop for me, then. I guess I didn’t take time to consider that you would be feeling the same way.” He paused for several moments and I thought he was finished talking. But then, “Snow will be back with us when this trip is through and so will Lily.  We are still a family, even though a separation from all of them for a short time was necessary.” He ended with, “I love your cute curls.” To prove his point, he gathered a handful of my hair and kissed it.

I got up to walk around to the other side of the bed and Chris sang in his glorious baritone, “‘Once you have found her, never let her go.  Once you have found her, never… let… her… go.”

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Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe,The Next Day

Santa Fe The Next Day

The first stop of the morning was a bank where I collected a cashier’s check for the amount I was willing to spend on the car.

Chris, Matt and I arrived at the car dealership just as they opened.  Our young salesman waited for us at the entrance and he asked if I was ready to buy the car.  I told him only if we could agree on the money.

He started his salesman spiel just like I expected him to do. I cut him short and gave him the figure I would pay.

The kid acted flustered for a moment and then left us to collect the sales manager.  The sales manager asked if I wanted to test drive the car again and I told him, “No. I’ve seen the car. Are we going to deal or not?”

The sales manager started telling me about the cost of the car and overhead expenses.  I stopped him and showed him the cashier’s check. “This is what I will pay. Not a penny more.”

The sales manager looked at the check that was actually nearly $10,000 off of the list price and then told the salesman to write up the contract.

Two hours later, I drove off of the lot in my shiny new 2018 Octane Blue Metallic Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.  The dealership helped me to customize the mirror settings, the seat position, the GPS, the satellite radio, and a hundred other features.  I just hoped I remembered half of it. The owner’s manual looked like an unabridged dictionary, so I uploaded an app on my phone with all the instructions for operating my new car.

Noon and Matt treated us to lunch at a chain seafood restaurant that was next door to the dealership.  As we left the restaurant, Matt said to Chris, “Stay one more night and then you can hit the road in the morning.”

Chris replied, “I was hoping you would ask,” and then to me, “I’ll ride with Matt.” The two brothers walked toward Matt’s car obviously, they had more to talk about.  Whether it was Matt’s idea or Chris’s didn’t matter. Maybe in talking to his brother, Chris could get some of his issues sorted out.

I got into my new car.  I deeply inhaled the new car smell, ran my hands over the dashboard, the steering wheel and the seats. With the touch of a button, I started it up and verbally instructed the GPS to provide a map to Matt’s address in case I lost them in traffic.

By the time I arrived at the house, I had a better feel for the brakes and the steering. I totally enjoyed driving my new car and was well pleased with my purchase.

Before I could get out of the car, Charlotte ran out of the front door and said to me, “We’re going shopping.”  She climbed into the passenger side and told me to turn right out of the driveway. “Wow! I love this car. I can’t wait for Ernesto to see it.  I think we will get one, too.” She spent a few minutes investigating the dials, knobs, vanity mirror and glove box.

“Where are you going to live after you are married?”  I asked her.

“Ernesto and I have an apartment downtown.  He is living there full time and I will move in right after the honeymoon.”

“Where are you going on your honeymoon?”

“Nowhere special.  Disneyland for 3 days.  We would rather spend our money on buying furniture for the apartment.”

“Very wise.  My wedding was unbelievably lavish.  My mother spent so much money in order to impress her friends.  I don’t even remember having fun during the reception. There were mostly people there I didn’t know.  The decadence is embarrassing. It was the wedding my mother wanted for herself, I think. Anyway, I should have done what my sister did–a very small wedding and reception.  She and her husband paid for most of it themselves.”

“That is kind of what Ernesto me are doing. We only have about 60 people coming and most of them are his family. Dad paid for my dress, the cake, the flowers and the photographer.  Ernesto’s family is furnishing the food and the decorations for the reception.

“So where are we going and what are we buying?” I asked her.

“Mom thinks your clothes are deplorable, so she instructed me to get you some new ones.  She gave me her credit card.”

I frowned at my choice of clothes for the day. “I bought these yoga pants to travel in because they are comfy and I can wash them in the hotel shower.  I do have a couple pairs of of jeans with me, but I have gained a little from eating nothing but fast food and my jeans are tight enough to be uncomfortable.”

“We’ll fix that,”  Charlotte said.

“Look, I can pay for my own clothes, but I would certainly love some fashion advice and shopping company.”

“Mom insisted, to thank you for the afghan and the dog. Besides, we can give Dad and Uncle Chris a chance to talk.  Mom would have come with us if she were feeling better.”

We arrived at one of those outdoor malls and hit the shops, trying on clothes, drinking gourmet coffee, and buying plenty of treasures.  I bought two new pairs of designer jeans, a variety of colorful tops, sandals, a straw hat, turquoise jewelry and three shirts for Chris.

By the time we got back to Matt’s house, the guys had dinner waiting–A cool pasta salad and fresh fruit.  I just had time to visit the bathroom before joining the others at the table. The dinner featured a domestic setting and light conversation.  A perfect final evening in Santa Fe.

We played Trivial Pursuit after dinner with Ernesto the clear winner.  

We said a tearful goodbye to him because he would not be here to see us off in the morning.  “I will see you in November, for the wedding,” he said. He kissed Charlotte and aimed for the front door.

Julia left us to go to her room to finish the paper she had due the following morning.

Charlotte went to bed because she had to work tomorrow.  That left Chris, Matt, Barbara and me in the living room.

As usual, Matt took the lead.  “I am going to be sorry to see you go, but I think the two of you need more time to get things worked out.  I want you both to promise me something.”

“Anything,” Chris said.  

I wasn’t as ready to jump into a promise that I may not want to keep, so I hesitated.  Matt directed his stare at me. “Well?”

“What is the promise?”  I asked.

“Nothing you will find a hardship.”

I was wary, but I nodded my head.  Matt said, “Before you two go to bed at night, spend fifteen minutes talking to each other.  Really talking and listening. No fighting. No arguing. No judging. Tell each other how you feel.  What you feel. And you are required to tell each other one thing you love about the other.”

“What do you mean?”  Chris asked.

“Find something about Anne that you love and tell her what it is.  Like, uh, I don’t know. Maybe ‘Anne, I love the way your nose wrinkles when you sneeze.’ Or, ‘Chris, I love your pinky toe on your right foot.’  Everyone has something lovable about them. Find it in each other. And you are required to tell each other that you love them as the last thing you say before going to sleep.  See, not too hard.” Matt stood and held his hand down to Barbara who grasped it and rose from the chaise.

“See you in the morning,” Barbara said.  

I stood up to go to our bedroom and Chris followed me.  “No time like the present,” Chris said. He sat on the bed.  “Anne, I love the way your nose wrinkles when you sneeze,” he said to me.

I must have looked at him like he had suddenly grown two heads because he said, “What?”  A deep frown crossed his face.

I took a deep breath and then said, “Okay, we have to start somewhere.  Chris, I love your right pinky toe.”

We both laughed and Chris said,  “That really didn’t hurt too bad.”  He paused and then said, “Anne Archer, really, I love your eyes.  Your eyes are the most beautiful I have ever seen.”

I looked at him in wonderment.  “I never knew you felt that way.” He shrugged a shoulder and gave me a crooked grin. “Chris Archer, I love how you stand up so straight.  You have amazing posture.”

“Lillian would love to hear that.  She told me ten thousand times to always hold my shoulders back and my head up.  I guess her parenting worked.” I smiled at him, imagining Lillian’s voice in my head telling him to straighten up.

“The other part of the promise is to talk about how we really feel,”  Chris prompted.

I nodded and sat on the bed beside him.  “Okay. Barbara said something to me that I just didn’t realize.  She said I should ask you to join me when I am cooking, going to the grocery store, picking Lily up from school.  Whatever. I thought it was easier to do all those things by myself. I prided myself on my independence and self-reliance.  We probably shouldn’t do that when we are married.”

Chris said, “That’s what Matt told me.  We are on the same team. We can be self-reliant, but still include our spouse in everything.  He said to not just do things with each other, but for each other. Like him looking up information about what to cook for a person on chemo.  Like him reducing his work hours so he can be here to help Barbara.”

“We both screwed up this marriage,”  I said.

“Yeah, we did.”  He replied. “It’ll take both of us to fix it.”

“I know,”  I stood up and Matt grabbed my hand.  

“Anne, I love you.”

“Chris, I love you.”  I walked to the other side of the bed and slipped in between the sheets.  

That night, I spooned Chris from behind like always.

Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe, Second Night

Once again, Chris and I slept together in the same bed.  Right before I fell asleep, I realized I had not thought about being angry with Chris all day.  We spent the whole day together, eating, laughing, cooking, talking and buying cars. No harsh words or rancorous barbs tossed about.

I rose from the bed after I heard Chris snoring to beat the band.  I slipped out of the bedroom and made my way to the patio. I needed time to process all that transpired.

I sat in a chair and pulled my knees up to my chin. The night was chilly, so I pulled my knees closer to my chest for warmth.  A breeze tugged my hair and blew the sand around. Plants rustled with a dry sound. No wildlife sounds. No bugs, no frogs, no coyotes.  I could hear traffic from the nearby city and a plane made its way across the sky. Quiet and peaceful.

When the patio door whispered open, I turned to see Chris standing in his pajama pants and a white t-shirt.

“I missed you,” he said.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,”  I replied.

He said in a chair beside mine and asked, “Contemplating the night?”

“Not really.  More like soul searching.”

Silence fell sharply between us.

“We sure are getting a good look at the sky tonight,”  Chris commented.

I nodded and regarded the sky with him.

“Anne, do you want to marry me?”  Chris asked suddenly after several minutes.

I turned to watch his face in the moonlight.  I saw expectation, fear, and vulnerability. It was so tempting to simply melt into his arms, but I hesitated.  

“I am not ready, Chris.  The anger is too deep.” I whispered.

“Do you want to divorce me?”  he whispered back, like a little boy who is as afraid of the question as he is of the answer.

“I am not ready for that, either.”

“Anne, I emailed Kathy and told her to move on because it was finished between us.  I emailed Dan to tell him that I would fire her as soon as I got back and why, and he told me she turned in a resignation and walked out of the office.  Her parting shot was asking Dan to tell me to screw myself. In so many words.”

I watched the desert for long minutes and then I asked Chris, “When did you email her?”

“Somewhere between Tallahassee and Mobile.”  

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“You wouldn’t have listened or you would have thought it was a game of some kind.”

“You’re probably right. Chris, I am glad you did that, but it still doesn’t fix everything.”

“I didn’t think it would,” he said.  “It was just the first step in fixing me. She has texted several times and emailed.  I have deleted all her texts and blocked her number from my phone. I blocked her email address, too.”  He gazed intently at the night, not facing me. “Can you ever forgive me?” he whispered.

“I don’t know,”  I told him, truthfully.  I rose from my chair and returned to the quiet house.  I padded softly to the bathroom and then returned to the bed.

Chris returned in about fifteen minutes and I pretended to be asleep, keeping my breaths deep and even and my eyes forced shut. I felt his eyes on my for long minutes.  Finally, he sighed and got under the blanket.

Sometime in the tiny hours of the morning, we fell asleep back to back instead of spooning.
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Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe Morning (continued)

Soon after the breakfast dishes were done, Matt, Chris, Charlotte and me piled into the Cayenne to find another car.  

Julia stayed behind with Barbara and promised to have my laundry washed and dried by the time we returned.

The dealership looked like many others I had seen, all white and chrome.  A young man met us at the door and asked how he could help after introducing himself.  I told him I wanted to see the 2018 Eclipse Cross and they had one in the showroom. The salesman went over all the features of the car and I felt like I would need a degree in engineering just to drive the thing.

The five of us got into the car, my family plus the salesman, and went for a test drive.  It handled much easier than the Cayenne and I said as much to Chris. He took over the test drive and agreed.

Back in the showroom, we started negotiating for the best price.  Lillian gave us enough money to buy the car four times over, but there was no need to be frivolous.

The salesman gave us a price, ran back and forth to the manager and we still didn’t get much of a deal.  Finally, I told him that we would be back the next morning and we walked out of the dealership with the salesman looking like he had just lost the sale.

“Why did you do that?”  Chris demanded once we were back in the Cayenne.

“The guy was been a hard ass and wouldn’t deal.  Now, because he thinks he has lost the sale, he will be more reasonable the next time we come in,”  I said.

“Really?  We won’t have to start the negotiations over?”

“No, we won’t.  You never take the first offer or the second.  I went back three times before I bought my CRV.  I ended up with over $7,500 off the MSRP.”

“You can negotiate for my next car, then,” Matt said.

I told him, “Your next car is the Cayenne.  Now, what will you give me for it?”

“No way I am negotiating with you,”  Matt said. “I will end up giving you all my money plus the deed to my house for a car I have inherited.”  We all laughed.

Back at the house, we ate sandwiches for lunch and then I helped Julia fold my laundry.

She was thrilled we were staying one more night.  In fact, I would have loved to stay for a lifetime.  Maybe Santa Fe would be a good place for Chris and me to retire.  Ernesto arrived in time to help Matt and Chris make dinner. Charlotte, Julia, Barbara and I looked over the wedding plans.  Charlotte had a wedding book with pictures of everything she wanted for the wedding.

Her cake looked like it was covered in paper Mexican flowers in bright blue, pink, yellow, orange, and purple. The fondant was exquisite.

The reception area beside the chapel where the wedding was, would be lavishly decorated with bright Mexican flowers and two bridesmaids were going to wear cotton fiesta skirts with lace trimmed peasant blouses and sandals.  Traditional Mexican food was on the menu and Sangria and tequila would freely flow.

Ernesto intended wear a black suit with silver conchos down the sides of the pant legs, a jacket trimmed in silver conchos, a bright blue sash and bright blue bow around his neck.  He would wear a black sombrero and white guayabera shirt trimmed in white lace.

After seeing her wedding plans, I looked forward to the fiesta more than ever.

Charlotte’s eyes danced as she described the wedding. “You and Uncle Chris have to wear Mexican clothes.  I can give you the name of my dressmaker and she can make a shirt for Uncle Chris and a dress for you. It will be fabulous fun.”

We gathered at the table for dinner, adding an additional chair for Julia.  We ate quesadillas and enchiladas, and Matt produced a flan for dessert. After dinner, we played what Matt called Monopoly-To-The-Death followed by lively charades after Matt soundly beat all of us.

This was not a family to gather around a TV set and just watch.  We talked, interacted, had fun. Even Chris joined the fun and played charades like a champ. At midnight, we all headed for bed.

Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe Morning

Santa Fe Morning

When I awoke the next morning, the sun streamed into the bedroom and already the blanket was too warm on top of me.  I wiggled my hand out of Chris’s grip and looked at my watch. It was 7:30 already.

I slid out of the bed and made my way to the bathroom.  After brushing teeth and hair, I went back into the bedroom to find Chris stretching like a lazy cat.  “Is the bathroom empty?” he asked.

“Yes,”  I told him while I removed my suitcase from the closet.

He rose to his feet and exited while I found a pair of jeans and a blue tank top.  The jeans felt a little sung, so I peeled them off and put on my black traveling pants.  More work was needed to get rid of my fast food belly. I put on sneakers and went to find Snow, sure she would be ready for a walk.  She spent the night with Barbara and I was happy she found Barbara such good company.

Matt sat at the dining room table with a mug of coffee in front of him and the newspaper spread across the top.  “Coffee’s in the pot. No maids in this house.” He didn’t look up from the paper.

I grabbed a mug from the cabinet and filled my cup.  

“Any good news?”  I asked him when I returned to the dining room.

“No new countries invaded and no schools shot to shit.  I’ll settle for that. How did you sleep?”

“Quite well, actually.  And did Snow bother you?  Where is she, by the way.”

“I let her out this morning and she did her business in the sand.  She dined bountifully and then got into the bed with Barbara. We have a king size, so there was plenty of room for me and Snow.”

“It’s amazing how she has taken to Barbara.”

“Do you want to leave her here while you and Chris continue your voyage?”

I had not occurred to me to leave her behind, but when Matt mentioned it, I immediately warmed to the idea.  Leaving Snow would make it easier to get hotel rooms and to eat in restaurants.

“Leave who here?”  Chris asked when he joined us at the dining table, steaming coffee in his hand.

“Snow,”  I said. “She has become quite infatuated with Barbara.”

“Make things easier for us, if we did.  You really don’t mind do you, Matt? I mean, having a pet is a big responsibility.”  Chris grinned.

Matt looked at Chris over the top of his reading glasses. “Yes, Mother, I know. Snow is very welcome to stay, if you want to leave her.  We can ship her back to you once you two get back home. Maybe Barbara will be well enough for a road trip and we can drive her to Virginia.”

“Done,”  Chris said. Then, “Now, about the Cayenne.  We are supposed to leave it with you. We have the signed title.  Anne and I can go car shopping today. I think I would like a smaller car to the one we have been driving.  What do you think, Anne?”

“Sure.  Maybe an Audi Q2 or maybe a Mitsubishi Eclipse.  The Eclipse has better horsepower and is heavier than the Q2, but it runs on plain old regular gas and is cheaper to buy.”  I said.

Both men stared at me like I had just grown two heads.  “How do you know that?” Chris asked me.

“What do you think I have been doing in all those hotel rooms?”

“I would have guessed watching pay-per-view porn,”  Matt said, laughing. “Not researching cars.”

“I like the Eclipse, too,”  Chris said. “I haven’t been watching porn, either.”

“That settles it, then,”  Matt said. “Mitsubishi after breakfast.  Julia should be here any minute. I need help in the kitchen with breakfast.  You,” he said as he pointed at me, “Go visit with Barbara. She’s awake and sipping tea. Chris, you came help me in the kitchen.  You’ll be ready for an episode of America’s Top Chef before you leave here.”

“Just don’t make me do the dishes,” Chris complained as he followed Matt into the kitchen.

I rose from my chair, and headed to Barbara’s bedroom.  She looked small on the huge king size bed. She wore a frilly pink bed jacket and had a cup on tea on a bed tray beside her.  Her reading glasses rode far down her nose and her paperback book rested on a pillow she put over her thighs.

“Snow is a great bed companion,”  Barbara said. “Does she sleep with you?”

“No.  At home, she normally sleeps beside the bed.  I think we are going to leave her here with you while we finish our journey.”

“Great idea!  I haven’t had a house pet since I was a child.  I’d forgotten how nice it is to have a cuddly animal around.  Really, she was no trouble at all.”

My phone whistled at me and I looked at the text from Lily:  Hi, Mom.  How’s Aunt Barbara and Uncle Matt?  The party at the end of classes was great.  Posted pics on Facebook. Tell them I said, Hi!

I told Barbara, “It’s from Lily.  She is out of classes for the summer, so she’ll be able to help Carolyn with the boys.  She says, hi.”

“Hi, back at her,” Barbara said.

I typed, “Barbara says, Hi.

Lily’s next message said,  Austin broke his wrist last night when Ham ran over him with a bicycle.  They will never get off the time-out step.

Me:  Oh, my goodness!  Is he in a cast?

Lily:  No.  Just a splint.  Aunt Carolyn says he can still make his bed and help around the house one-handed.

Me:  Carolyn has more stamina that I do.

Lily:  Those little guys keep us busy.  I taught Jackson how to do a spit-take.  Just like Grandma Lillian taught me. Uncle Louis got pissed at both of us.  We were in the yard and didn’t make a mess. He made me sit on the time-out step.  For an hour! He gave me a book to read, so it was all good.

I laughed and told Barbara what Lily said.  

“What is a spit-take?”  she asked.

“When a comedian takes a drink of water just as someone else says something funny and they spit water out of their mouth and spray it everywhere.”

“Oh, yeah.  I know what you mean.”

I typed, Well, I think it’s pretty funny.

Lily:  Uncle Louis told me later he thought it was cool.  He had to act mad so Jackson wouldn’t spit all over everyone. Then, he asked me to show him how to do it.

I laughed. Then,  Your Dad and I are going to buy a new car today.  I will send you a pic. I love you. TTL.

Matt stuck his head in the bedroom and asked, “Barb, are you eating in here or are you breakfasting at the table?”

“Table.  Just give me about five minutes and I’ll be there.”  Barbara slowly got out of the bed and headed toward the bathroom that was part of the master suite.  

“Do you need help?”  I asked her.

“Nope.  Just going to pee.  Be right out.”

I waited for her and grabbed her elbow to escort her to the table in the dining room.  She sat, just as the front door burst open. Julia ran into the dining room and said, “French toast!  I smelled it from the street.” She placed a huge basket of laundry on the floor beside the back door.  She pulled me into a giant hug and then, Chris.

Julia closely resembled Charlotte in appearance and both displayed an unbridled exuberance for life.

“I see you brought your laundry,”  Matt said to her. “They have washers at the dorms.”

“Yeah, and you have to guard your clothes with an AK47 or someone will steal them or dump the on the floor in the middle of a cycle.  No, thank you. I prefer to waste your water and electricity, Daddy.” She kissed his cheek and hugged him tightly.

“How can I say no?”  He kissed the top of her head.  “Studying hard?”

“Hardly studying,”  she replied. “I have a paper due on Monday, so I have to finish it up while my clothes wash.”

Charlotte came into the dining room and said, “You all are making a racket.  How’s a body supposed to sleep in?”

“You wouldn’t have to sleep in if you didn’t stay out all hours with Ernie,”  Matt said to her. He pulled her into quick hug and said, “Good morning, kitten.”

“You, he calls ‘Kitten,’” Julia said.  “Me, he calls Fool.”

“He’s just in a good mood because Uncle Chris is here,” Charlotte said.  Then, to us. “Most of the time Matt Archer has three daughters, Moron, Retard and Fool.”  She pronounced them Moe-ron, Re-tard and Fool.

“No respect from my offspring.  Breakfast is ready,” he said.

During the meal, I heard about Julia’s classes, Charlotte’s date with Ernesto and Matt’s detailed explanation about the proper way to make French Toast.  For the first time since leaving Virginia, I felt like I was on vacation.

Road of Change, Writing

Road of Change: Santa Fe at Night

Santa Fe at Night

The moment I had been dreading arrived.  Barbara retired early. Ernesto and Charlotte went out together and Matt spent some time chatting with Chris and me.  Finally, Matt asked if we needed anything and I told him no. He said, “That’s me off, then. You two sleep well. French toast for breakfast.  No special time to get up. Sleep as long as you like.” He disappeared into the room he shared with Barbara.

“Do you think you can stand to spend one night with me?”  Chris asked.

I didn’t trust myself to speak, so I merely nodded and headed toward the bedroom.  I grabbed my pajamas out of my suitcase and told Chris I would be back in a few minutes.

I went into the bathroom and closed the door.  I sat on the closed lid of the toilet and buried my face in my pajamas. So many thoughts swirled in my head.  Earlier, no time presented itself for me to ponder the things Barbara said to me. I felt properly chastised for ignoring my husband.  Chris said it to me when he told me I didn’t spend time with him. Because of my anger, I didn’t pay attention to what he said. He told me what he wanted; me wanted me to pay attention to him.

All day, every day.  Big things don’t destroy a marriage.  Little things do. My husband and I needed to spend every single moment possible together to get over the hump.  Kathy was not the problem in my marriage.

Chris was on the right side of the bed when I entered the bedroom, bedecked in my pajamas.  He always slept on the right side of the bed. The lamp on his side was on, so I didn’t bother with the one on my side of the bed.

“This bed is pretty comfortable,” he said to me.

I pulled up the blanket and slid in next to him.  The bed was a full size and we slept in a queen size at home.  I felt the warmth of his leg beside mine.

“I was kinda dreading this,”  he told me.

“Me, too,”  I confessed.

“Matt gave it to me with both barrels,”  Chris said.

“Barbara did the same thing to me.”

“Matt told me if I wanted you to come with me somewhere, I should just ask instead of waiting for you to invite yourself.”

“Barbara told me I should get you involved in projects like getting you to help me make dinner.”

“Please don’t make me do the dishes,” he said.  My first knee jerk reaction was to get angry with him until I saw the smile on his face.

“You don’t load the dishwasher correctly, anyway,”  I told him.

He was silent for a few moments, then said, carefully,  “Is it really that important how the dishes go into the dishwasher?”

I looked at him for long moments before I said,  “No, not really.”

“Maybe we should listen to Matt and Barbara.  Maybe,” he said, “We need to get to know each other, all over again.”

I held my hand out to him and said, “Hi, my name is Anne.”

“Chris Archer,” he said as he shook my hand.  He held onto it and didn’t let go. “It’s very nice to meet you, Anne,” he whispered.  He kissed my lips, slowly and softly. Then, as I felt the panic rise in me again, Chris said,  “Sleep well, Anne Archer.” He released my hand, reached up to turn off the light and turned onto his side.  Just like he always slept. How odd to be so familiar with him and to feel like I was in bed with a total stranger.  Of its own accord, my hand snaked over his belly as I spooned him from behind. Just like it always did. Habit. Chris grabbed onto it.  Out of habit. Soon, he snored. Just like always.

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Photo by Jorge Mülchi Cossio on Unsplash
Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe (cont…)

“Tell me about your proposal to Anne,”  Charlotte said to Chris. For a moment, I thought Chris would decline, but he nodded and said,  “I bought the ring about two months before I actually asked her. I had been thinking about marrying her almost from the first time I saw her.  We met in a bar, believe it or not. She was there with a couple of her friends and I was there with some of my fraternity brothers. I caught her eye.  She was the prettiest girl in the bar. I had a couple drinks, so I had enough courage to talk to her.

“Anyway, about six months later, I bought the ring and waited until the perfect time to ask her to marry me.  We went to a Fourth of July celebration in Virginia Beach, walking up and down the boardwalk, looking at the water and the tourists.  I had the ring in my pocket and almost asked her at least twenty times that day. Finally, during the fireworks, Anne said she loved to watch them, because they were exciting and beautiful.  I said, “Just like you are.” I actually got to one knee beside her and pulled the ring out of my pocket. She didn’t notice at first because she was watching the fireworks. Anne turned to say something to me and saw me beside her.  I couldn’t speak because I was afraid I would start crying or something.

“She looked at me, at the ring, and then she said, “Are you asking me to marry you?”  All I could was to nod. She didn’t say anything for a couple of minutes and I thought she was going to turn me down.”

I laughed.  “I was waiting for Chris to actually ask.”

He smiled at me and said, “I finally figured out what she was doing.  Then I said, “Will you be my wife?”

Charlotte said, “That is a lot more romantic than Ernesto.  We were at an art show and looking at a painting by some local guy that looked like that painting by Klimt, called The Kiss.  The artist told us it was called The Proposal.  Then, Ernesto said to me, “I don’t suppose you want to marry me, do you?”

Ernesto blushed and then said, “She said to me,  “That’s the way you propose marriage to a woman? Where’s the ring?”  Then, the artist guy says, “I would have sprung for the ring if it was me.”  I told them both, “I have the ring. I just didn’t bring it with me.”

Charlotte said,  “Then, the artist guy says, “You have that ring,” and pointed to Ernesto’s class ring.  Ernesto said, “I’m asking her to marry me, not to go steady.” The artist guy says, “It’s temporary until you can give her the real ring.”  Then, Ernesto looks at his class ring and says, “I like that ring.” Then, I told him, “You ask a girl to marry you, you should offer her a ring of engagement.”  Ernesto says, “It’s a class ring. It’s stupid.” Then he said. “Wait right here. Don’t move an inch,” and he ran away from me. He was gone almost an hour, then he finally came back and took the engagement ring out of his pocket and asked the artist guy, “Will this work?”  The artist guy says, “That’s a much better ring than the class ring.” Then, Ernesto turns to me and says, “Do you like it?” And I said to him, “Yes, I like the ring. Can I have it?” And Ernesto said, “Of course you can have it, you daft woman.”

We all laughed and I found myself wiping tears from face, again.  “That is the most romantic story I think I have ever heard,” I said.  Then I raised my Margarita glass and said, “To Charlotte and Ernesto.”

My family replied with, “Slainte.”

Matt said, “To Lillian,” and we said Slainte again.  Ernesto said, “Arriba.”  

Matt rose to his feet, picked up Lillian’s urn and walked out to the desert behind the house.  We followed, one at a time. He stopped about 100 yards from the house and we lined up, shoulder to shoulder.  Chris stood to one side of Matt and Charlotte was on the other. She held Barbara up on one side and Ernesto held her on the other.  I stood beside Chris.

The evening was chilly, as evenings in the desert tend to be.  Barbara visibly trembled even with my afghan wrapped around her.  Stars peeked out from behind the high clouds and the half moon sailed across the sky.

Matt stared at the urn a long time and then said to it,  “Mom, I am so sorry I didn’t make it to Virginia before you died.  I feel like I should have been there just like you were always there for me.  You listened patiently when I called you on the phone. You never pulled any punches when you told me where I was screwing up.  You always told me what I needed to hear, even when I didn’t want to hear it. I will always love you, Lillian Archer, my beloved mother.”

Chris stood beside Matt and took the urn from Matt’s hand.  “Mom, I am so sorry I wasn’t a better son to you. I resented you telling me what to do.  Many times I thought you were nothing but a certifiable old woman who had no clue about my life or about living in a modern society. I laughed at your attempts to use an iPhone and a VCR. But, you always told me what I needed to hear, even if I didn’t like it.  Even if resented it and got pissed at you for weeks afterward. Now, I just want to hear you tell me anything, good or bad. Now, you are gone and I cannot tell you to your living face that I love you and I will miss you more than you can know.”

Toward the end of his soliloquy, Chris had tears streaming down his cheeks and his voice broke and cracked.  That was all it took for me. I started crying, myself.

Chris opened the urn and up-ended it.  Lillian Archer floated away on the cool evening breeze.

Chris pulled me into a warm hug and we held onto each other as we cried together.  

Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe

Matt and Chris returned to the house after spending nearly two hours at Starbucks.  Matt held a bag full of food he got from a local grocery store. “No need to worry about dinner, ladies,”  he said. “I have taken care everything and the punk and I will cook. You two keep on gossiping.” He kissed Barbara’s head without spilling any of the food out of the bag when he leaned over and then disappeared into the kitchen.

A few minutes later, he came back into the living room, this time wearing a frilly apron that I was certain belonged to Barbara.  “Just to let you know, we are going to have a little ceremony for Lillian after dinner. A final farewell.”

“What are you making?”  Barbara asked.

“Nachos.  With everything.  But first, do you ladies want a margarita?”

“Tea for me,” Barbara said.

“Yes,” I told him.  “Light on the tequila.”  

“Coming right up,”  Matt said and he vanished back into the kitchen.

“Cooking is something Matt has started in the past couple of years.  He only works two or three days a week now, so he spends his time trying to make things that I can eat.  He researches recipes and has joined a couple of online groups for caretakers of cancer patients to get ideas for food and fun.”

“That is so thoughtful of him,” I said, wondering if Chris would ever do anything like that for me.

Matt brought the beverages to us and said, “I need to get back to the kitchen.  Chris is chopping up some tomatoes and making a mess of it.”

I laughed.  I could well image the mess he would make.  Chris never showed any interest in anything happening in the kitchen.  I said as much to Barbara.

“Have you ever corralled him, like Matt did?  A cooking project? Something the two of you could do together?”

I hung my head and shook it slowly from side to side.  “Not really. The only major project we ever worked on together was learning the tango for our wedding.”

“Working together is important.  Maybe that is something that subtly pushed Chris away.”

Could Barbara be right?  Is that why Chris and I drifted apart?  We lived in the same house, but we lead different lives.

Barbara continued,  “When a marriage starts to falter, both people are at fault, at least to some degree.  Marriage is not easy and it takes a lot of hard work. Every single day.”

As if I weren’t beating myself up enough already.  But, maybe Barbara had a point. It wasn’t because I am not twenty, or not a size 2 or 4 or 6.  It wasn’t because my hair was cut short and practical instead of long and flowing. All of those things are totally superficial.  Maybe the break-up started a long time ago. It was easier for me to just make dinner rather than including Chris in the project. It was easier for me to do the laundry, to take Lily to her dance class, to do the grocery shopping than it was to include Chris.  He likely would have gone along with me, after the obligatory protest. But, I didn’t insist. If he wanted to do with me to the grocery store, I felt like he could just get in the car with me and go.

Life with Chris isn’t that simple.  He was likely waiting to be invited rather than offering.   

“Now, you and Chris are involved in a major project together,”  Barbara said. “You are driving all over the United States in order to get something you both want–Lillian’s house.  That is a huge start.”

Any further conversation was interrupted when Charlotte bounded into the front door.  “Aunt Anne!” she said and she pulled me into a hug. “I was so excited when Mom told me you were coming to visit.”  

A man followed her into the living room and Charlotte said, “This is Ernesto. My future husband…”

“Husband in training,”  he said to me. “Ernesto Ontiveros.  I’ve heard alot about you. Especially lately.”  I shook his hand. “Anne Archer,” I said by way of introduction.

From the kitchen, Matt shouted, “Ernie, get in here.  We need some help!”

“Duty calls,”  he said, with a smile and vanished from the room.

“How are the wedding plans going,” I asked Charlotte.

“Come see my dress,”  she said as she grasped my hand and pulled me to her bedroom.  

In her room, decorated like the one Chris and I were assigned to, Charlotte my beautiful niece pulled open her closet door to remove as very pretty wedding gown of white flowing chiffon.  “Oh, Charlotte, it is beautiful,” I told her.

“You are coming to the wedding, right?”

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

Matt’s voice echoed from the kitchen.  “Come and get it, while the getting is good.”

Charlotte and I returned to the living room and Barbara moved from the chaise after gently moving Snow’s head from her thigh.  Snow followed us to the kitchen where Matt, Ernesto and Chris spread all the ingredients for nachos. Matt handed me a plate and said, “Pile on what you want and I’ll pop it in the oven to melt the cheese.”

I put some taco meat, and cheese on a bed of chips and Matt put the plate under the broiler for a couple of minutes to melt the cheddar jack cheese.  I added lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, guacamole, and sour cream and took my plate to the table.

The six of us sat at the tile covered table in boy-girl-boy-girl order. We ate and chatted and it was the first meal I truly enjoyed since we left Virginia.  

To begin the evening with Lillian, Matt said, “Tell me about Lillian’s wake.”

“She had lots of friends in attendance.  We toasted her life with telling stories of our favorite memories of her,” I said.

“What is your favorite memory?”  Matt asked me.

“There are so many… Let me see… Lillian invited me to lunch at her house about three months after Chris and I married.  It was the first time I had ever seen inside the house. Bits of Lillian’s life were everywhere–photos, figurines, doilies.  A beautiful hand-crocheted doily was on a round coffee table in front of the green sofa. I asked her about it and she told me she made when she was caring for Mr. Archer before he died…”

“I remember her working on it,”  Matt said. “She was pregnant as a pelican with Chris and she crocheted with thread to make the doily.  I think it was a way for her to keep her mind off of things.”

“Like being pregnant at her age,”  Barbara said.

“Anyway, we instantly formed a bond because of our shared love of needlearts. Lillian and I went to craft shows and yarn stores pretty frequently.  When I opened my store, Lillian was a regular shopper. She would keep us fascinated with her tales of learning to sail a boat, building a dresser, and weaving rugs.  Lillian lived a very full life.”

Barbara said,  “When I first met her, she told me, “I’ve never had a daughter until now.”  That is the way she always treated me.”

Charlotte said, “She came her to Santa Fe to visit us when I was a kid and she taught me how to ride a horse.  I fell in love with horses after that. I pestered Dad to buy me one and he finally did.”

“I blame Lillian for that,” Matt said.  “She was a very accomplished horsewoman.  I remember one time she bought a new horse and we went to the stables to visit the beast.  She was big and white and gorgeous. But, she had a mean streak. Lillian named her Jezebel.  The first time Lillian saddled her up, she fell off of her. The horse exhaled and the saddle slid around until Lillian fell of and landed flat of her back on the ground, gasping for air.  The horse turned her head and looked at Lillian like she was laughing at her. Lillian said to her, “You are an evil woman, Jezebel,” and the name stuck.”

“I wish I had met her,”  Ernesto said.

I picked up the urn with Lillian’s ashed and handed it to Ernesto.  “This is Lillian Archer. Lillian, your grandson-in-law, Ernesto Ontiveros.”

“”Nice to meet you, Lillian,” he said and he kissed the urn.

“Chris, you tell us a story about Mom that you love,”  Matt said.

Chris looked like Matt just kicked him in the stomach.  Matt said, “SHe’s your mother. You surely have a good memory of her.”

Chris nodded and said,  “Right after she met Anne, Lillian told me that I would be a stupid person if I didn’t marry her on the spot.  We weren’t even engaged at that time.”

9

Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe, New Mexico

The border to New Mexico meant we were only a few hours from Matt and Barbara. There was no question.  We would stay with them for a day or two.

The road to Sante Fe seemed endless, when we would actually arrive shortly after lunch.  Rather than taking a more scenic route, we followed I 25, opting to arrive sooner to Matt’s house.  We broke our own rule and grabbed a quick burger and fry lunch before jumping back into the Cayenne.  Both of us were very eager to see Matt and Barbara.

Chris and I visited a few times since our marriage and the house looked very much the same as I remembered–a sand colored stucco house with a bright blue door and blue window frames.  Matt had rocks for his yard and flowers growing in huge clay pots. The walkway up to the front door was glazed ceramic tiles of blue and white.

Matt opened the door for us before we got out of the car and met us in the driveway.  He pulled me into a tight bear hug and kissed my hair. He hugged Chris, who endured the torture for a few moments.

Matt and Chris were cut from the same mould.  Both had blue eyes, a narrow nose and firm chin.  However, Matt’s hair was totally gray and Chris only had a few wisps of gray at the temple.

“It is so good to see you,”  I said, then, “How is Barbara?  Is she inside?”

“Yep.  She is waiting for you,”  Matt said. “You go. I’ll help Chris with the luggage.”

I left Chris and Matt to catch up and I went inside to find Barbara with Snow at my heels.

Barbara lounged on chaise in her living room right off the tiled foyer.  

Snow ran past me and jumped onto the chaise with Barbara.

“Snow!”  I called sharply.  She turned her head and looked at me, but didn’t come to me.

Barbara laughed and said, “She is welcome!  What a beauty she is. Snow, don’t you listen to Anne.  You just have a seat and you and I will become good friends.”  Snow licked her hand and settled onto the chaise beside Barbara.

My sister-in-law looked frail and drawn.  She had lost at least forty pounds since I saw her last and she was never a huge woman to begin with.  Her head was covered in a colorful scarf and I suspected she was bald underneath. Even with the sickness that pervaded her body, she gave me a huge smile.

“Anne, you look well, considering all you have endured the past couple of months.”

I sat in the chair beside her, feeling the tears sliding down my cheeks.

“Now, what’s all this?”  she asked me. “You are not crying for me.”

“Not at all,”  I told her. “I am crying for me and for Lillian.”

“How about making us some tea.  You know where the kitchen is. The tea is in the cabinet beside the refrigerator and the kettle is on the stove.  Cups in the cabinet on the right side of the sink. I want Earl Gray.”

I nodded and rose to me feet.  I gave her a gentle hug and said, “I am so happy to be here.  Can we stay for a day or two?”

“Only if you let Snow stay with me.  I get so cold and she is incredibly warm.”

The day was far from chilly and Matt had the windows open.  I bit my lower lip and nodded. I went to the kitchen before I started crying in earnest.  The sight of Barbara in her infirmity was shocking so I cried for her along with crying for Lillian, and myself.

Matt found me in the kitchen.  “The lady of the house sent you off to make tea for her?  Such a cruel taskmaster she is.”

“Tea for you?”  I asked.

“Hell, no.  Tea is nothing but slightly flavored water.  I drink coffee. Black and thick.” He paused and assessed me with an up and down look.  “None the worse for wear, I see. And the punk is still alive. Progress, I would say.”

Matt looked fifteen years older than the last time I had seen him.  His hair was longer than I remembered and his face a lacework of wrinkles.  The stress of caring for Barbara had not gone well for him.

“Do you have help with her?”  I asked quietly.

“Yes.  A nurse comes in every day for about four hours.”

“Good.  She looks… sick.”

“I think she will weather this storm.  Only one more treatment and then she is done.  She will get better after that.”

Matt reached up with gentle fingers and wiped the tears from my cheeks, then busied himself with making a fresh pot of coffee.

Chris came into the kitchen before the brew cycle was done.  “I put our bags in the spare room,” he announced.

I looked at Matt.  “Only one spare room?”

“Yes.  Charlotte is here until she gets married and Julia is here on weekends when she comes home from college.  You two get Ann’s room because she is away at Northwestern for Med School and won’t be back until her winter break.  Julia will be here tomorrow morning.”

I turned away from the two brothers and made myself busy with the tea.  I took the two mugs back into the living room and gave one to Barbara. She sipped and said, “This is wonderful. Very warming.”

“I have an afghan I crocheted for you in my luggage.  It is made from alpaca and is very soft.”

“Thank you, so much,”  Barbara said. “I just can’t seem to get warm, even in 90 degree heat.”

“I’ll get it for you.  First, I need to walk Snow.”

“Take her out the back door.  Nothing in the backyard but sand.”

I called to Snow and she jumped down from the chaise to follow me outside. A huge glass door opened to a covered patio and a sand trap beyond.  The air was comparatively cool under the ceiling fan right outside the door, but it felt like a blast furnace when I stepped onto the sand. Even through the soles of my shoes, I could feel the heat.

Snow squatted, peed quickly, and trotted back to the door to be let back in.  Chris had put her water bowl and her her bowl of food by the back door, so Snow paused long enough to slurp several mouthfuls of water. She trotted back to the chaise and hopped up with Barbara once again.  She lay her head on Barbara’s thigh.

I asked Barbara where my room was and she gave me brief directions.  My bedroom had a queen sized bed covered in a brightly colored Native American blanket.  The plastered walls gleamed with white-wash and the red tiles had two fuzzy rugs covering part.

A girl’s room.  My niece, Ann, gave us her space without ever knowing it.  I opened an empty closet and saw the suitcases in there. I pulled mine out and put it on the bed.  The afghan was kept carefully clean by a plastic bag. I removed it and put the suitcase back into the closet.  

Out of the window I looked at the mountains in the distance and the swathe of scrub between them and me.  The scene was shockingly peaceful and beautiful. Such a contrast to my life.

Moments wasted while I considered what it would mean for Chris and me to be trapped in the same bedroom.  If I had to, I would slip out and sleep on the couch in the living room. I sighed, picked up the afghan and returned to Barbara.

I crocheted the afghan from lightweight alpaca wool in earth tone shades I remembered from times I visited Matt and Barbara.  Rows of taupe, sand, blush pink, beige and white were interspersed with sky blue. The blanket was soft and lightweight enough to ward of the chill of sickness without being too heavy for the desert summers.

I handed the blanket to her and she buried her face in the soft folds.  “It is just gorgeous. Thank you, so much, Anne.”

“Where are Matt and Chris?” I asked her.

“They went to gas up the car and Matt told me that he and Chris are going to Starbucks for coffee and a stern talking to.”

“Maybe it will help.  He still texts her and talks to her on the phone whenever he thinks I cannot hear.  He talks to me a little bit, but…” I let the sentence trail away. Barbara had enough to worry about without me burdening her with my troubles.

“Do you think you can reconcile your differences?”  Barbara asked.

“I just don’t know.  I am so angry at him.  I feel completely betrayed and completely alone.  Worse, I keep thinking this is all my fault. You know, if I had been a better wife, a better housekeeper, a better cook, was 60 pounds lighter, 20 years younger.”

“Stop that, right now,” she admonished, her voice suddenly stronger.  “Chris is the one who is having an affair. Not you. Blaming yourself for this is pointless and debilitating.  Blaming him is proper.”

“I get the feeling that I can’t get over this, ever.”

“Maybe you can’t.  You two may end up separating.  Then, you may end up together, forever.  I understand what you feeling. I did, too, when Matt had an affair years ago. Betrayal.  Breach of trust. Breach of promise. All of that. Plus, like you, I felt like it was my fault.  Finally, one night, I was so angry, I hit him in the head with a wooden spoon and told him to get out of my house.  He only made it to the front door before he came back and apologized. He promised to never to have an affair, again.  I asked him, “How can I believe you?” He said, “Only time will tell.” That was twenty years ago, and sometimes I still feel the hurt and the betrayal. Sometimes, I wonder if he is seeing someone, especially, if he is late coming home or has to go out of town for a medical conference.”

I felt the tears, again.  First, I never knew Matt had an affair.  Second, I never knew Barbara had to deal with the same things I am dealing with.

“So, you are saying, this will never go away?”  I asked around a sob.

“It may not.  You have to decide if you can live with the pain and the doubt or you have to cut your losses.”

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Road of Change

Road of Change: Kansas to Colorado

Lunch in Wichita, in which we got salads at a fast food restaurant.  The pernicious odor of burgers and fries overwhelmed, so I took my meal out to the car to avoid temptation.  Chris followed a few steps later.

“I had to get out of there.  I was one step away from ordering a bucket of fries,” Chris said to me.

I nodded my agreement because I had a mouthful of lettuce.  Then, I said, “The lounge entertainer, Joey Bishop, who was a favorite of Mom’s, said once that he lost weight by cutting everything in half and eating only half what the restaurants served him while he was on the road. Something to think about.  Mom even met him when she was younger.”

“Did she meet any of the others in the Rat Pack?” Chris asked.

“Most of them, from time to time.  She spent her summers in the Hamptons and celebrities were always available for parties.”

“Who had the money in your family?  Lilith or Andrew?” Chris asked. He had never seemed particularly interested before, so I readily answered his questions.

“It was Mom’s money.  Dad is a good investor, so he took advantage of Mom’s inheritance and more than quadrupled her fortunes.  My grandfather on Mom’s side was a second generation railroad magnate.”

“What was it like, growing up in a mansion, having everything you ever wanted?”

“Money isn’t everything Chris.  Mom and Dad were always someplace else anytime I needed a parent.  I was raised by nannies and servants. I saw my parents a couple of weeks in the summer and sometimes during the Christmas holidays. Once in a while, a nanny would take Carolyn, Ian and me to meet them in some far-flung exotic location for a few days, then back to New York we three kids went.”

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother on Dad’s side.  She was a kind little lady who taught me the art of crochet. She could talk for hours on the topic of yarn and yarn making. The first project I crocheted was a sampler afghan in which every 5 inch by 8 inch square had a different crochet stitch. I spent a lot of time pulling out stitches that were done incorrectly or too tight or too loose.  Grandma had a keen eye and could spot an error from across the room. I was determined that she not find even one.

She lived in the house with us, so I always had a parental figure around.  I adored Grandma and always wanted to please her.

My siblings and I seemed to get along very well without Lilith and Andrew.  If they didn’t show up for Christmas or birthdays, they always sent lavish gifts.  I think they checked with the nannies or maybe the nannies made the purchases and just sent the bills to Dad.  Grandma always made sure we had a birthday party or a Christmas tree. She ran the house I lived in until my marriage at the age of 20.

I don’t recall being lonely, but I didn’t feel loved by my parents.  I wasn’t lonely because I had Carolyn as a companion, a little brother to terrorize, and Justice, the butler, who became my father figure. Between Justice and Grandma, I always had the discipline I needed to grow.  I brushed my teeth, did my homework, studied for tests, cleaned my room and generally behaved.

Carolyn was the rebel who was always jumping off of the porch roof, after climbing up the rose arbor to get on the roof to begin with.  She snuck out of the house as a teenager, was caught smoking by Justice who grounded her for a month, was caught drinking by Hannah, the chef, and again she was grounded.  She didn’t study, she never turned in homework, never followed the rules.

Carolyn went to a local community college to study nursing-a subject in which she excelled-much to the disappointment of Lilith. Carolyn refused to go to an Ivy League school to study medicine where Lilith wanted her to go.

She met Louis who was studying HVAC at the same school during her final year.  They got married a year later, after enduring Lilith’s insults for the entire time they dated.  Lilith finally cut her off, completely, if she agreed to go ahead with her marriage to Louis, but Carolyn was undeterred.  She and Louis got married in a small chapel with just me and a friend of Louis’s, and Louis’s mother and father and his brothers and sisters in attendance. Mom refused to attend. Carolyn wore a simple white wedding gown that belonged to Louis’s mom and Louis wore his one and only suit.  They went to Olive Garden for their wedding supper and stayed at Louis’s parents’ house for their honeymoon.

It seemed her boys acted exactly the way she acted when she was a child. That same spirit pervaded their bones and they would probably grow up as happy as Carolyn is. She has no money, but she had a ton of love from Louis’s family, her boys and from Louis, himself.  A lot to envy, there.

Chris smiled at me and said, “It can’t have been terrible to not have Lilith around on the holidays.”

“She generally ignored her children either way.  If she was home, she would throw a huge Christmas party to impress her wealthy friends and I was never invited.  The nannies or Grandma would have a party for Carolyn, Ian and me in the nursery wing if Mom and Dad had one of their soirees.”

“The nursery wing?”  Chris asked.

“Yes.  It had five bedrooms, a living room, a playroom, a classroom, four bathrooms, a pool, a kitchen and dining room.  It was the wing in the back of the house. I think Lilith uses it for a guest house, now.”

“I was never in that wing,” Chris said.  “In fact, Lilith barely allowed me in the front door.”

“You didn’t miss much,”  I told him. “The house was huge and cold.  It didn’t feel like a home. It felt like someplace I slept as a kid.”

“I am surprised you didn’t grow up as snooty as Lilith,” Chris said.

“I wasn’t raised by her or I may have.  I was raised by my Grandma and Justice.”

“What was it like for you when your Grandma died?”  Chris asked, he voice carefully neutral.

“It felt like a gunshot wound to my heart.  You know, I haven’t been back to that house in New York since Grandma died.”

Then, Chris said something that surprised me addressing his mother in the urn in the back of the Cayenne.  “Lillian, I know just Anne feels. A gunshot to the heart. That’s what happened to me when you died.”

We pushed on toward Colorado.  From Wichita to the Colorado Border was 8 hours and we decided to spend the night in Colorado.  We didn’t quite make it and stopped at a small hotel 20 miles from the Colorado border. We ate fruit for breakfast and bought coffee at the Colorado welcome station. The selfie I took to send to Mr. Cartwright showed Chris and me, neutral faced and facing more of our adventure with mixed feelings.

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