A YOUNG WOMAN is breezing through the kitchen on the way to the refrigerator. Wearing tennis shorts, a T-shirt, her long red hair in a ponytail, she’s bare-foot, 22 years old, and the phone rings. I can do this with this scene—make it third-person—the way we can at any of those moments just before life takes a tilt; that old where were you when thing.
And just like anyone else, I can make two lists: On one side, what I knew before the tilt and, on the other side, what spills into those things I thought were true and changes them forever. At this age, the sum total of what I knew about my mother could be pretty much tallied up on two hands: She had been my best friend, my sailing crew, my tennis partner; she was unhappily married to my father, who I also adored. That my sister hated her was something I had known when Margaret moved out the first chance she got and had never looked back.
I had a lot to learn.
And the phone rings.
A friend of my mother’s simply said, “You should know that,” and then she said a name I knew well, “has just been killed. Call your mother.”
A dutiful young woman, I called my mother at work and had to wait a long time while they found her, got her off the playground at the preschool where she taught, and nowhere in that time did I think about what I was doing, or that it was anything more than what it appeared: that this young man, brother of my oldest friend, middle son of our family’s closest couple-friends, had just been killed. I stood there in my bare feet with not very much on my mind.
My mother came to the phone and I told her the news.
“How long have you known?” was her reply.
“About two minutes,” I said, thinking her question odd.
“No.” She said. “How long have you known.”
“Oh,” I said, as the facts of twenty-two years recombined into a new narrative.
“About thirty seconds,” I said as I hung up and dialed Margaret.
“I think Mommy’s having an affair.”
“How long have you known?” The question of the day.
“How long have you known?” I asked my sister.
“Since I was nine,” said Margaret.
Next week: Margaret’s version of this story.
See a typo, a grammar flub, my (ever-present) overuse of commas? Point it out, and I’ll throw you in the pool for a monthly free book giveaway. Which book? One of mine – your choice – all of which were professionally copy edited, thank goodness.