Susan's Blog

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Another Excerpt

Remember, Eric is the estranged husband, Emmy is the main character (nee Natalie). BTW, the scene I posted the other day, with Henry and the joint, is going to be much later in the book. –sls

Eric could not concentrate on his work. Software was always his first love, but sometimes, it just didn’t cut it. There had only been one thing that had ever replaced his obsession with computers, and that is what was commanding his attention now: Emmy. Now, always, Emmy. Goddamn her. From the moment he saw her, with her wild hair and her green eyes, at a party during grad school, surrounded by like six other guys, he knew he wanted her, and only her. He’d hardly ever dated before Em. But once they became friends, it was only a matter of time.
They were inseparable; total opposites who had somehow found each other appealing. Emmy was getting her MBA but she was a total humanities type; she’d majored in English, after all. The MBA was to earn a living, she had said. But of course, in the end, she hadn’t done anything with it; the closest she’d come to business was being a second-rate realtor.

Eric felt guilty for that thought, but he also knew it was true. It was his business sense that had gotten them the house in Belleville, the vacations in the Bahamas, and her expensive wardrobe. Emmy was a high-maintenance chick who appeared low-maintenance at first. He was totally taken in by her lazy half-smile and her unkempt hair. Little did he know at the time how hard she worked on that mane of hers, just to get it to that windswept state it was always in.

But it wasn’t any of that that had finally made him leave.
He stood up, walked to the bookcase, and pulled down the photo album. A piece of paper fell out; looked like a receipt. He didn’t even know what it’s significance was anymore. Maybe none. He leafed through the funny grad school shots, so odd and poignant with their out-of-style hair and clothes. Even a geek like him could tell that these pics were like twenty years old.
There was Emmy in her wedding dress, and him in that monkey suit, looking really thin and scared. And happy. He remembered feeling like he’d won the jackpot. He kept thinking that people weren’t supposed to be this lucky. Why had she picked him? Why were they together? Why did she love him?
He kept asking himself until he got too busy. First with work, and then the boys.
Then, autism. Everything was autism. Em nearly lost her mind with Nick back then. His mind flashed to that day in that doctor’s office. That stupid, clueless man. “He’ll probably never marry, never go to college. He may be mentally retarded.” Em – that firebrand – had looked him in the eye and said, “No. Autism, maybe. All the other stuff – over my dead body.” She had picked up Nick, her pocketbook, and walked out, slamming the door. It wasn’t until they were in the car that she’d lost it. She had cried all the way home, and for days after, it seemed. She’d been a zombie. Just barely functioning, taking Nick to the playground and letting him sit in the sandbox, eating sand while she just stared. Her playgroup dumped her. They stopped telling her where they were meeting and she’d run into them by accident. Her parents didn’t seem to get it, either, acting like the doctor was all wrong. Emmy could think of nothing else, talk about nothing else except what was wrong with Nick, what should they do, then, where should he go to school, were they doing enough? And once in a while, she’d pay attention to Henry.
Well, that wasn’t fair. She paid a lot of attention to Henry, because he was normal, and a knock-out baby. He made them laugh again, after so much crying.
Their whole life, though, had really become autism. Their vacations became few and far between, and extremely difficult. Then Dan came along, and they were both so worried that he’d be autistic, too. When it turned out he wasn’t, Emmy couldn’t get enough of him. She kind of spoiled him, Eric thought. She became the total earth mother that she’d always threatened to be, completely absorbed in her children and her garden. Nothing else mattered. Certainly not him. He was like part of the furniture. The breadwinner, the babysitter for her increasingly frequent trips to Gretta Kelly. At first he would pick fights with her to get her to notice him. Or be really nice, really thoughtful. Nothing worked. Nothing. She was too far gone into the kids. Suffering over Nick, in love with Henry and Dan. He felt the same, but it was like there was no room for him and how he felt. So when she asked him to leave, at last, he was only too willing.

He put back the photo album, not really sure what he had hoped to accomplish by looking at painful pictures. He sat back down at his computer, determined to write some tasty code that would bring him back to life again.

The phone rang before he could start. It was Emmy. Creepy, because he’d just been thinking about her. “Hey,” he said. He never bothered pretending he didn’t have Caller I.D. What was the point?
“Eric. I wanted to tell you something good for a change.”
Eric smiled just hearing her happy voice. “Okay,” he said. “I wasn’t really working anyway.”
Emmy laughed as if he were joking. “It’s Nick. He’s doing really well!”
Eric felt something light and airy in his middle. “Oh?” he asked carefully.
“Well, I mean, it’s just really nice. Sweet. He’s started painting.”
“Painting?” This was the big fucking newsflash?
“Don’t sound like that! It’s really good. He is very into it. And he’s good at it, too.”
“Good at it? As in, he might have a savant skill as an artist, or as in, he painted a few circles with a fat brush dipped in tempera?”
“Jesus, you piece of shit,” Emmy whispered.
“Emmy, wait! I’m – “
Emmy slammed the phone down.
“Sorry,” he said to the receiver.

The next morning, probably because of the wine, she was running late. She snapped at the kids several times trying to get them going. “You mean you haven’t showered yet?” she yelled at Henry, who seemed to be daydreaming in his bed. Daydreaming! At 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday! She stormed downstairs, where Dan was supposed to be getting the cereal out. He was sitting in front of a full bowl of Kocoa Krispies, reading the back of the box. “Mom, can you find all the hidden ‘Kocoa’s’ in this picture? I got ten.”
“Dan, where’s your milk? Why aren’t you eating?”
“Can you get it?”
“Honey, why do I have to get it every day? What’s with that?”
Dan sighed and looked at her sadly. “Okay, I’ll get it.” He started to slide off the chair.
“Oh, never mind, I’ll get it!” She bent to the low refrigerator shelf and pulled out the gallon, already halfway down. She slammed the milk onto the table. Then she looked for the telltale signs of Nick: crumbs, scattered bits of cereal, empty cereal box with paper lining upended on table. Nothing. “Nick!”
A muffled, “Yes, okay, yes,” came from upstairs.
“What, did everyone forget that it is a school day?”
“Why are you mad?”
She looked at Dan and her heart twisted. “Argh, I’m sorry. I don’t know, I just am. It’s not you.”
“Is it Dad?”
She sighed. “I don’t know, Dan.”
“That means yes.”
“Dan, no, it means I don’t know.”
“Can you get me juice, too?”
Henry slunk in, wet stringy hair clinging to his emerging man’s face. Would she ever get used to that strong chin, those all-seeing eyes, that bit of mustache? He said, “Is there any more OJ?”
“Oh, I don’t know, did you check downstairs?”
He shuffled off to the basement. She knew there was probably either no OJ or just one more. She’d have to go shopping today. Her least favorite way to spend a morning.
“There isn’t any,” he said tone
lessly.
“I’m sorry, Honey, I’ll get some today. There’s apple.”
“No thanks.”
“Mom! You said you’d get me juice,” yelled Dan.
“Coming,” she said, tired already, at 7:37 a.m.

5 comments

What’s “Gretta Kelly”?

I like the way you are shifting to each character’s point of view. That is tough to pull off and you are doing it well. I am enjoying the excerpts. Thanks for sharing,

Elaine

— added by Elaine on Tuesday, May 2, 2006 at 8:06 pm

Your observations of how a husband and wife can lose track of each other, even when they love each other, are insightful and well-put. Even when autism is not an issue in the family, a marriage can be challenged in ways similar to what you describe.

— added by Patricia on Wednesday, May 3, 2006 at 12:08 pm

Hi Susan,

I feel out of touch with blogs lately, but am up and enjoyed reading this. I agree with Patricia. Marriage is an utter mystery. This part struck me as well, the complications between the couple, the kids…the frenzy of life.

— added by Estee Klar-Wolfond on Wednesday, May 3, 2006 at 10:47 pm

You are of course, one of the best writers I know!

But, I am just wondering why the family has to mirror yours so much, kwim? Since you already have MPWA, maybe the family shouldn’t be so similiar to yours? For instance, maybe the youngest child could be a girl?

— added by Mary-Ellen on Thursday, May 4, 2006 at 7:36 am

Hi all –
1) Gretta Kelly is a spa Em goes to. These are just excerpts, so there’s bound to be confusion, sorry!
2) The reason the family mirrors mine so closely is that, even though I wrote MPWA, there is still so much I am trying to understand. This book gives me a new way to get inside my boys’ heads. By making them characters in a book, I have to understand their motiviations, rather than reporting, which is what I did in MPWA. That being said, I have changed many things. Obviously, I am not estranged from my husband. I am not a realtor. Max, thank God, knock wood, doesn’t smoke pot. Etc., etc.
In the end, I will probably alter things even more to preserve boundaries; this is just my first draft. Thank you for all the comments/suggestions!

— added by Susan Senator on Thursday, May 4, 2006 at 7:46 am

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