A Note to My Successorby Kathi Hansen
I sit at my dressing table aware that it won’t be my dressing table for long. You may decide to keep it, and really you should. I’d hang on to it myself, were I not so afraid of the memories. It’s an antique that Rick and I picked up from a clever little shop in the Paris flea market. The spidery cracks in the veneer have become darker, more noticeable over the years, but so have those in my face. That Rick is trading me in for you does not bode well for the table, I suppose, but before you donate it to Goodwill you should really give it some time. Sit at it like I do every evening, and notice how perfectly suited the drawer is for hairbrushes, a string of pearls, your wedding ring. Gently rub your finger across the tiny cracks and maybe you’ll appreciate the texture they supply, sense the history in this beautiful piece and allow your imagination to see the others who’ve sat here before you. But maybe you’re not one to care much about those who have been before you.
I’m nearly finished packing my clothes, which didn’t take all that long since I’ve never been much of a clotheshorse, and quite a few things are just a tad too small anymore anyway. The walk-in closet was pretty much wasted on me, but as you’ll discover, Rick loves it. This is the first house we’ve owned that has such space and since he’s never been big on giving up his possessions even when he’s outgrown them (I’m the exception to that rule I suppose), Rick’s things take up way more than half of it. I’ve noticed that he’s started to dress a little younger lately, so you may have more luck getting him to toss his dated things than I did. Some of those ties are so old even the kids wouldn’t consider them for their Halloween costumes – or for the school play when the drama teacher asked the entire class to bring in some of their dad’s ties.
He’ll never miss it, but I’m taking the blue linen button down with me. I had it custom made for him for our daughter’s wedding and even though I’d just learned about you the previous day, it nearly took my breath away when I saw him walking Hailey down the aisle in it. It was fairly easy for me to convince everyone that those were tears of joy that day, but I sensed that Rick’s were full of nostalgia and more than a little regret. Maybe I was reading more into it than I should have, and I’ve since wondered whether he regretted that things had gone down the way they had, or whether he was sorry that I’d found out the day before the wedding. In a way it was better that I found out then. I had no choice but to stay focused on the wedding, and on making sure that Hailey’s day was perfect, which, if you haven’t heard, it was. I pat myself on the back for that. I’ve been sleeping in that shirt and you can’t believe how comfortable a man’s linen shirt can be. Or maybe you do.
While we’re on the subject of shirts I may as well give you a little tip: Rick prefers that his dress shirts be professionally laundered with light starch and hangers. I spent the first five years of our marriage painstakingly washing, drying, ironing, starching and folding his shirts before he worked up the gumption to tell me he didn’t like them that way. I guess he hadn’t wanted to hurt my feelings. He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t much like to hurt people’s feelings. But you probably know that already. It may be silly of me to think you’re the kind of gal that would hand launder and iron her husband’s dress shirts anyway. Nothing personal – I don’t think many women do those sorts of things these days. It’s not so much that younger women think they’re above it (which most did back when I was doing it, though I thought the gesture rather romantic), but from what I’ve seen of Hailey and her friends, women nowadays believe that they should devote themselves to their children and their relationships and that in the prioritizing of things there’s simply no time for things like hand laundering. It’s probably a good thing that women no longer labor under the impression that they can do it all.
One thing that I won’t miss about this house is the Goddamned doorbell. Rick thought it funny to program it to play La Cucaracha for the Mexican Fiesta party we hosted a few years back and never got around to re-programming it. More than the odd doorbell chimes linger from that bash. Lena Higgins, the young widow from across the street (I’m sure you’ll get to know her and hear all about her husband’s tragic accident), decided to go skinny-dipping after she’d had a few too many margaritas. Not that the rest of us hadn’t had plenty ourselves, but I can tell you that none of the other women from the neighborhood were all too pleased. The men, though, to this day will say that it set a new standard for neighborhood gatherings. One of the backlashes (that most of the neighborhood men – and the local plastic surgeon – surely appreciate) was that several of the neighborhood women have had boob jobs after seeing Lena’s up close and personal that night. I haven’t, of course, but given my present circumstances, I’m not going to say it’s totally out of the question. I’m not sure why Rick never reprogrammed that damn doorbell, but maybe you’ll take it up with him.
It’s my neighbor Sheila at the door. I’m a little surprised that she’s here (even though it’s time for our daily “happy hour” – we’ve been meeting for a glass of wine on the deck this time of day for years), since I told her yesterday that I’d be busy packing today. Our kids are exactly the same age and we’ve been through a lot together, though lucky for her divorce isn’t something she can say “been there, done that” to. Sheila and Mark are solid. You can see by the way he looks at her that he’s just as smitten with her now as he was when they first met. Sheila says they still have a fantastic sex life and that she’ll be the one to call the doctor to ask for little blue pills at the first sign that something’s amiss. I love that about her – her complete lack of self-consciousness and her ability to blurt out whatever it is that she’s thinking. Even though she’s had her fair share of opinions about you (well, not precisely about you – she’s never met you – more about the idea of you), she’s the sort of person that is quick to forgive (not that she has anything to forgive you for), and I’m sure she’ll be friendly and open to you. You should probably consider her the “go to” person for things like the proverbial cup of sugar.
Turns out Sheila was just checking in to see if I need any help packing, or more importantly (she said) moral support. Neither, is what I told her (though in a nice way, of course) and even though it may sound funny, it’s true. I’m nearly done packing and I’m pretty sure that I’ve come to grips with this whole “situation.” I think there may actually be something to that old worn out cliché about life not throwing you more than you can handle. There were plenty of opportunities for me to have face-planted along the way, and here I am, still upright. No one escapes hardship and heartbreak entirely; it’s just that sometimes it feels like a blood-gushing mortal wound and at others a slow bleed. If you don’t know it already (and I hope you don’t take offense at my suggesting it), it’s just a matter of time. Life’s an equal opportunity employer that way. I’m not saying that the meltdown of my marriage is not sad and bad and heartbreaking, I’m just saying that when you put it in perspective it could be worse. One of the kids could have been killed in a car accident, say, like what happened to Adam’s best friend a few years ago (that’s a hard thing to watch your kid go through!), or have a devastating illness like my sister’s daughter did. The poor thing was the picture of health one minute, an adorable eighteen-month old running around like they do, and then dying in the pediatric intensive care unit the next. I was sure that my sister would never get over it, but bless her heart, she picked herself up, scraped herself off and moved forward. She had another baby the very next year and any day now will be a grandmother. When I think about wallowing in self-pity I try to remind myself about things other folks have been through and my problems seem small in comparison. It’s the comparison that puts things in perspective.
Speaking of perspective, you may want to consider that as you get to know the kids. Adam’s been okay with all of this, so far, but he’s never been one for outward displays of emotion, and I really think these things don’t affect boys (well, at twenty-six I suppose I shouldn’t call him a boy anymore) as much as they do girls. Hailey’s another story altogether, though. If you can put yourself in her shoes, I think maybe you’ll have a better chance of getting on with her. You should try to remember that she’s always been Daddy’s Little Girl and while that status is rarely threatened by the mother . . . well, you get the picture. Just yesterday she stopped by here nearly inconsolable. Now that she and Rob are trying to have a baby she’s worried about the humiliation of you and her being pregnant at the same time (or worse – you having a baby after she does, so that her dad has a child younger than his grandchild). I was tempted to calm her by telling her that I’m positive Rick doesn’t want another child, but it didn’t seem my place. For me to reassure her by mentioning that he’d had a vasectomy shortly after insisting I get an abortion (not all that long after Adam was born), just didn’t seem right. Why burden her with the image of what her little sister Molly would look and act and be like now. (I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I always knew she was a girl; and this I’ve never told a soul: I named her after my grandmother, who I adored.) Bad enough that those images never quite leave my own head. Some burdens you have to bear alone.
Now that I’ve taken the last of the family pictures off the walls I can see all sorts of gaps that you’re going to want to fill, especially on the wall at the top of the stairs. It looks so bare now. Rick and I’d created a giant collage of pictures of the kids and us over the years. I hadn’t realized how vast it had grown until just now (funny how you don’t notice changes that spool out gradually over time) – those pictures fill two moving boxes. It’s hard to remember the kids that little – or Rick and me so young. My favorite is probably the one of Adam running down the hallway in his little monkey pj’s – with a bright blue helium balloon trailing behind him. You can see by the look in his eyes that it was the first time he’d experienced anything so magical. I can hear his giggles as I look at it now. Or maybe the best is of Hailey standing next to the big poster (bigger than her!) she’d made of Ireland, an ancestry project assigned in third grade. She’s standing in a little leprechaun suit and pride just beams off her face. The funny thing is that Rick and I (and even more so the kids) are pretty much of Heinz 57 ancestry – Hailey had picked Ireland because she liked green, not because we have any real connection there.
I’ve been dreaming about the kids a lot lately. I don’t think I ever really see Rick in my dreams, but I sense his presence, like he’s just a little bit out of the frame. The kids morph back and forth quickly – in one scene they’re toddlers, ripping away at presents under the Christmas tree or fighting over who gets to ride shotgun in the car and in the next they’re the age they are now, looking at me with eyes full of concern, worried about me. I don’t recall ever having such vivid dreams, and the way the time warps always gives me a jolt that I just can’t quite shake when I wake up. It’s those dreams that I look forward to at the end of every day, though. I get to go back and savor some of the moments I didn’t bother to the first go round. And even though there’s really no reason for the kids to worry about me, there is some small comfort in knowing that, at least in my dreams, they do.
I’ll leave this picture of Rick for you. It was taken the day Rob asked him for Hailey’s hand in marriage. I hear that kids are doing that again these days – skipping back a generation or two and trying on old-fashioned traditions. I guess when you think about it that’s what’s going on with a lot of young families today – stay-at-home moms, family dinners, and such. Things that were important in my parents’ time – stuff that we thought silly or overrated – is valued by our kids these days. We didn’t realize we were doing it all wrong. When you look at this picture you can see by the twinkle in Rick’s eyes that he’d had some fun with Rob that day, asking him in a tone of utter incredulity if he was serious about marrying our daughter, then with a low whistle spelling out a list of Hailey-traits sufficient to convince any sane man to run for the hills. They’d both laughed when Rob caught on, but Rick says he’ll never forget the look on Rob’s face before he did. Maybe he’s told you this already. As I look at it this picture now I wonder if there was another reason for that twinkle. No matter. I’ll bet if you get it reframed this will look lovely on the dressing table.