- Man, Man, Et Cetera
family, New York City, inner growth, mother, children, separation, marriage, relationships, wife, parenthood, holidays, second person, fiction
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You schedule the U-Haul for a weekend when your husband plans to be in the woods. You do not repeat your argument that camping isn't medication or therapy. That it cannot, in other words, fix him. You make him a sandwich for the drive to Mendocino. As his car pulls away, you know it's the last time you'll see him.
Choosing what to pack is much trickier than you thought. You decide against most of the wedding gifts. And while the coffee grinder seems important, and the toaster, you don't care. You bring your leather ottoman, but leave the chair. You peel the bedspread from your kingsize bed because you love it, and even though your next bed is just a futon in your sister's New York apartment, you toss it in a bag and take it out to the truck.
You work steadily, wrapping what's fragile, letting things go, moving room to room like housekeeping at a roadside motel. Once you've rounded up the stuff you want, it's almost dark. You think of your husband, among the fir trees, pitching his tent. Then you picture him home again, back from the wild, livid at finding you gone. You lock the front door and slip your house key into the mailbox.
You drive most of the night, until the U-Haul needs gas. A few hours' sleep at a rest stop in Southern Wyoming, then a plate of hash browns at a nearby Waffle House, hunched over your coffee like the cowboys at the counter. You drive on the rest of the day, and the next time you refuel you're in Nebraska.
At the pump across from yours is an oversized [End Page 106] blue pickup. There's a lawn chair in the bed, and a lady in the chair with her feet propped up on a plastic cooler. Her face is tilted to the sky, and her cheeks and bare shoulders are sunburned. She catches you staring and she grins. Then a man comes out of the mini-mart and hands her an iced tea before climbing into the driver's seat and starting up the truck. The lady swigs her tea and calls, Cheers! in your direction as the pickup speeds away.
It takes you another day and a half, but suddenly you're sitting in Manhattan traffic and turning onto your sister's block in the Lower East Side. You've visited once, before her carpenter boyfriend moved in, so you recognize the Flat Fix tire-shop sign on the ground floor of her building. When your sister comes down to let you in, her face is red and wet with tears. For a second you wonder if you might have it wrong, if you might actually be here for a crisis of hers, not for her to help you out of yours.
We're eating hot peppers, she says. It's competitive, she adds, laughing and wiping her eyes. She holds you in a long hug and then carries your duffel up four flights of stairs to her place. The carpenter, sweating from the peppers, stands to greet you. He shows you your room, which was formerly half of theirs before someone, likely him, put up a wall to make two smaller ones. Your sister has been using it as her studio.
Marcel? you ask, about the paintings all over the wall. They are portraits of your childhood dog, a French poodle with jet-black poofs of hair. In one he is scaling a rusty fence and has a roguish sneer. In another, he's dressed as Napoleon. Your sister nods and sweeps a playful arm past his incarnations. May he rest in peace, she says. She leaves the room to get bedsheets, returns with a Xanax and big glass of milk, and swears she'll call the police if your husband ever tries to find you here...