The Ugly Familiar 5: Down Comes the Night

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 3.1 (except it’s less of a part and more of an interlude)
Part 4
However, maybe you didn’t read those, and maybe you want to read one post and not 5. Fair enough. Here’s what you need to know: Robert was my first husband. We married in May of 1993 and our son Jacob was born in December of that same year. We were both very young and our relationship was always chaotic and difficult.

Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise
Run in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies.

January 2, 1994

When Robert and I married, we moved into a house with an adorable green-and-white tiled kitchen. I rented it, hell-and-gone though it was from the part of Albuquerque in which we had always lived, because it was not an apartment, a word Robert said as if it tasted like curdled milk. It wasn’t a house, either. Not precisely. I suppose it could have been called a row house if you stretched the definition.

For Robert, what we lived in was far more important than where we lived, and where we lived was damn scary. In the three years we lived in that neighborhood (first in the row house, then in an actual house a few blocks away), we were robbed 3 times, our house was set on fire, and someone threw a large rock through a bedroom window and into the baby crib just minutes after I had gotten Jacob out of it. Once, as I pushed the stroller into the house, I heard POP POP POP and the squeal of tires. The drive-by shooting killed one boy and seriously injured another. My babies had smiled and waved at those boys when we walked past them less than 90 seconds earlier.

But all of that was in the future on the second day of 1994. The world was a haze of milk and dampishness and overzealous hormones. I knew that having a baby would be an emotional experience; that I would be exhausted, weepy, and maybe even depressed. I knew that I would love my baby. What I could not have comprehended was how deeply I would feel all of those things. I could not have imagined that falling in love with Jacob would be my first real encounter with divinity.

Over everything, there was a veil. I was me, but not quite me. More instinctual; more animal. Some kind of hormonal magic made me feel as if I was one step removed from everything and everyone except Jacob. He and I were learning to dance together, moving to primal rhythms in our slow, warm bubble.

On that Sunday evening that was the second day of 1994, Jacob was asleep in his bassinet and I was drying off after a shower. The derelict water heater provided hot water for approximately 4 minutes, or tepid water for about 6, so in the winter I finished every shower shivering since I could never manage to get the conditioner entirely rinsed out of my hair before the water ran cold. I stepped out, towel wrapped around my head, intent on dashing to the bed and huddling there under the blankets until I was warm, but Robert was standing in the bathroom door.

“Jackie called,” he said. I recognized the name of his high school girlfriend. “She was calling to talk to me about my son. I have a seven year old son.”

“You told me Jackie had a miscarriage.” I wasn’t shivering anymore. I felt like a dead tree, rooted in place but lifeless.

“I guess she lied. Jackie’s crazy.”

“What’s his name?”

Robert looked around the bathroom as if someone may have written his son’s name there somewhere. “I don’t know.”

A few days later, an envelope full of pictures arrived in our mailbox. They left me with no doubt that the child in the pictures was Robert’s son.

His name is Anthony.

And if you don’t love me now, you will never love me again
I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain.

May 9, 2011

I was at Robert’s apartment, chatting with Abbie while we waited for Jacob to come home so the three of us could go shopping, when I saw a picture on the wall of a girl about Abbie’s age who l I didn’t know but who was, somehow, familiar.

“Who’s that?”

Abbie shrugged. “Casey. I guess she’s my sister.”

I recoiled and caught myself. Trying not to let anything but curiosity show on my face I said, “She looks about the same age as you. Have you met her?”

“Oh, that’s an old picture. She’s 20, I think. Or maybe 21. She doesn’t want to talk to us. Dad just found out about her last summer.”

“Do you want to meet her? Are you curious?”

“Nah. I don’t care, really.”

Robert and Jacob got home. “Abbie told me that’s your daughter.” I gestured toward the photo. “She’s Amy’s, right? You always said that wasn’t your baby.” I remembered Amy, a wisp of a girl with a blond baby on her hip, from the early years of my relationship with Robert. We ran in loosely-connected social circles but none of my friends was close with Amy.

“Yeah, whatever. Amy’s crazy. Neither of them will talk to me.”

“Have you talked to Anthony lately?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “but hey, do you know his last name? Maybe I can find him on Facebook.”

Listen to the wind blow, down comes the night
Run in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies
Break the silence – damn the dark, damn the light.

Part 6

Follow That Rabbit

I wrote part five of The Transcendent Familiar (No idea what I’m talking about? Here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). Really, I did. As it turns out, though, what I thought was part 5 is actually part 6 (I think, though who knows? Maybe it’s part 7, or 12, or 34.).

I think that, if I was writing a book, it would go just like this, with the back-and-forthing, the rearranging, the jumping-in-and-out of memories, the expanding-and-contracting timeline. The weird/wonderful thing about blogging is that the process is on display as much as the story and you get the story as I go along, instead of after everything has been all cleaned up and neatly arranged.

Or maybe not. I don’t know about writing books. I haven’t written a book since I was ten and my friend Sarah and I wrote the definitive sourcebook on endangered species.

In any case, I wrote a story about something that happened when Jacob was a year old, but then I realized I had to tell a story about something that happened when Jacob was a newborn first. I wrote it, and I’ll post it soon, but I’m treading deep into the land of Other People’s Stories, so it seems wise to go slow and let the words settle a bit before I release them into the world.

Also, I’m fascinated by memory and can’t stop turning it over and around, playing with it and following the rabbit into all his strange little holes. Over the weekend, while I was writing stories from 1993 and 1994, I was overwhelmed with a desire to listen to Fleetwood Mac, like a food craving. I dug through stacks and stacks of CDs (Almost all Brian’s; he is possessed by a need to own every sound ever recorded by The Grateful Dead or any portion thereof.) until I found a “best of” Fleetwood Mac album and loaded it onto my computer.

I haven’t listened to Fleetwood Mac beyond the occasional song that’s come on the car radio in over a decade, but in the early 1990s, they were a musical staple. The memories of that time rang a Fleetwood Mac chime in my brain and I was compelled to respond. Thankfully, Little Lies is as awesome as ever.

In other news, we’re moving! Not just moving, but moving into the The Ugliest House in Albuquerque.

I’ll forgive you for assuming that I’m speaking hyperbolically because I so often do, but this time? Not a chance. Now, I haven’t seen all the houses in Albuquerque, so I can’t be positive that ours is the absolutely, positively, for sure ugliest, but it’s easily the ugliest one I’ve ever seen so we’re going with The Ugliest House in Albuquerque as the title of the new estate.

Behold, the kitchen:

Did I tell you? Oh, and before you ask me WHY in the world we would want such an ugly house, it’s because the location and the floor plan are perfect. What are orange countertops compared to having all the walls in the right places?

Oh, my friends, we are going to have some fun. You know how Brian and I are somewhat directionally challenged? You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen us get our DIY on. The Ugliest House in Albuquerque has no idea what’s coming.