Whitman’s ex-wife, Evelyn, hadn’t talked to him for eight years, not since their divorce. Whenever he called the children and Evie answered, there was silence. He might have been in Tacoma or Modesto or San Antonio—Whitman sold medical equipment—but Evie always handed off the phone to Lucia or Zack. Lucia was fourteen and Zack nine when the divorce was final, and since then Whitman had paid for dental work, school field trips, and a new cello for Lucia, as well as on-time child support, but Evie never gave him any news about the children’s achievements, no grade reports (he finally had these sent from their school), not a written or spoken communication of any kind.
Sometimes when Whitman called, Evie’s husband, Jeff, picked up. Jeff was a semi-rich, half-smart tugboat captain who ran a string of polo ponies, a Republican if there ever was one. Whitman tried to be upbeat and friendly—“How’s the horse business?” “What’s the weather down there?” “Played any golf lately?” Jeff, in reply, said the children were fine, no trouble, really, as good as kids could be.
After the divorce, Evie had moved from Denver back to her hometown, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, across the Cooper River from Charleston. Over the years that Whitman visited the children, he got the same treatment—the children’s bags were on the screened porch, and Evie was not around. Whitman yelled, “Hello, Evie,” into the house, but there was no answer.
Whitman dated a little—he wasn’t a fool or a saint—but never met anyone he cared about until five years into the freeze-out, when he met Clarisse on a Sierra Club hike up Mount Bierstadt. Clarisse was the opposite of Evie—relaxed, sophisticated, calm—and the summer became a whirlwind of fourteener treks, dinner conversations, and crazed sex. She was an associate professor at cu, and Vanderbilt had offered her a tenure-track position. Did Whitman want to go to Nashville? [End Page 22]
“Is that a proposal?” he asked.
“Why not? You said Universal Medical had offices all over the globe.”
“Not a problem,” Whitman said. “I’ll transfer to Nashville.”
But in Nashville, married, Clarisse’s terms of engagement weren’t so simple. Their social life revolved around her academic colleagues, strange coddled eggs with sweet dispositions and massive egos. Whitman was gone a lot, serving his territory, which was a blessing and a curse—he escaped the professors, but couldn’t keep tabs on Clarisse. “When you’re not around, I do my thing,” Clarisse said.
“Can you be more specific?”
“Meanwhile, you have two separate lives, one here, one there.”
“I have a few of the same clients I’ve always had,” Whitman said. “But I’ve developed contacts here, too. In my two lives, I’m the same person.”
“This isn’t working for me,” Clarisse said. “I want you to move out.”
So Whitman was stunned and twice divorced. He asked to be relocated to Atlanta to be closer to Lucia and Zack and took a condo in a wooded neighborhood in Sandy Springs. On his days off, he played tennis, took long walks along the river, and pondered the lives of his children. Right up through her teens, Lucia had been as smart as live coals, animated, and manipulative. She had a way of squealing words, letting her inflection stress certain ideas—she was so glad her daddy had taken time from his busy schedule to think about li’l ol’ her. She charmed people or conned them, depending on what her advantage was. At seventeen she’d taken early-decision at Wesleyan, and now she was about to graduate, which presented Whitman with logistical challenges. Since Evie wouldn’t communicate, he had to negotiate with Zack about how they might drive to Connecticut together, with a possible detour to the Outer Banks so Zack could see the Wright Brothers National Memorial. He’d always loved planes.
Zack was subdued, maybe clinically depressed. He’d grown up with a sister who harassed him and a mother who hovered, and he didn’t...