Family

“Not a curtain to my name,” or “Pass the Glue”

Peripatetic Polar Bear wrote about a shower curtain rod, and it reminded me of this:

It happened on a Wednesday morning in the fall of 1997. The children were at school, even the Very Little Princess, who had just started at Montessori. It was the 14th anniversary of my marriage to their father, the first anniversary after the divorce. It was a day I had been dreading. I wasn’t quite finished recuperating from the dangerous postpartum depression that had landed me in the hospital the year before. I was going to try and study that morning for the one class that I was taking, but before I got started, the phone rang. It was my brother calling from Pennsylvania to say that our father, in Virginia, had gone to the hospital.

Ever since our mother died in 1993, Daddy had been, shall we say, not so good at taking care of himself. He didn’t like to go to the doctor. There had been a couple of trips to the ER, one when he was so excited about going out to dinner with his new lady friend that he couldn’t remember whether he had taken his little red blood pressure pill before he showered, and so he took another one, and had a cocktail, and ended up at the hospital with the lowest blood pressure he’d had since before World War II!!

I knew better than to get upset about a trip to the hospital. Probably it was nothing. Every time I had gotten excited before, it had been nothing.

But that day it was something, an aneurysm. And in Portsmouth, Virginia, where I grew up, getting an aneurysm repaired meant an ambulance ride through the tunnel to Norfolk. They never could get him stable enough for the trip.

It was only a few hours after the first call that I got the word that they couldn’t do anything for him, that it was only a matter of time, and I called his law firm to ask for the person who would have his living will. And the receptionist said, “I’m sorry. He died.”

I don’t think I’ve ever felt the same way since then about the accents I grew up listening to, the vowel sounds that were once my vowel sounds. For me that Tidewater drawl will always be associated with that moment.

Oh, God, I think back to my childhood friend whose father died when we were in college, after playing an hour of basketball at lunch, he just dropped dead, and I think how people were sent to get her and her sisters, to tell them in person and to bring them home, to be the hands and arms that would catch them if they fell.

That day there was no one to catch me. The receptionist just blurted it out. And her tone, her diction, everything that ever resembles them–gentle Southern readers, I hesitate to say it–everything that ever resembles them sounds cold and cruel and stupid to me.

Those words, spewed over the telephone line, shattered me. The person I had counted on to help me heal was gone, and no one was there to catch me. A few minutes later, I had to find the strength to do that for my children, as they arrived home from school. We sat on the kitchen floor and cried together and held each other.

I didn’t always follow my father’s counsel and advice. He really wanted me to pack up the children and bring them to live at his house. Had we done that, we would have been together just a few months, and then what? No, that wasn’t to be. He hired the divorce lawyer and assured the landlord I would be able to pay the rent and encouraged me to go back to school and understood when I said I needed more time to just heal a little more.

When we sat down with the lawyer the week after the funeral, my brother and I, both brother and lawyer wanted me to buy a house. I remember thinking they were the crazy ones! Buy a house?

I was a vase broken into pieces, held together with glue that was none-too-super. There were some days I hardly knew how to fix dinner. Buy a house?

But that’s what they told me to do, and they weren’t like my dad. They needed to see me settled, because that looked like a good repair to them, and they expected me to stay in one piece and make it happen.

And so in June of 1998, I moved into this house, after six weeks of overseeing carpenters, painters, floor sanders and plumbers, after taking on a crazy project of cleaning up the last bad house on a very nice street. It was Friday, the night the kids were to spend with their dad. They were 12, and 7 and almost 3, and we moved things all day in the midst of a thunderstorm, and I took them to their dad’s apartment, and by the time I got “home” he was calling to say he didn’t have diapers or pull-ups or whatever it was the Very Little Princess needed (a common theme in those days), and I dragged out to the store on the humid night that wasn’t helped by the rain, and delivered what was needed and came “home” again.

All I wanted was a shower.

It was about 11 p.m. I found a towel, but there was no soap. I had a renovated bathroom, but no curtains at the window. I had a bathtub with a shower, both brand new, but no shower curtain rod, much less a shower curtain. I had a window pointed directly at the neighbors.

I ran a cool bath and sank into it in a darkened bathroom, moonlit from the window.

It seemed maybe, just maybe, the glue might hold.

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