You ask, at last, why I won't leave you alone. It isn't clear, however, whether this is a question you want me to answer or if it's your way of declaring that you would like never again to hear from me. I could ask for clarification, but the possibility that you will give me an answer that's honest and direct is so remote I'm simply going to assume you want to know, after all these years, why I continue to care about you. Note, I said, care about you, not "leave you alone."
I imagine you're thinking that I, too, haven't always been as candid with you as I could have been. I'll plead guilty to that, but I think both of us share the blame for carefully tiptoeing around each other. We could continue our dreary little dance, or maybe once and for all bring it to a close. I so prefer the latter that I'm willing to go first, and I'll begin with the time before you came to us.
Red and I had been married only a few years, and while we were reasonably happy, I had grown to dread our visits to Red's family. Running the gauntlet was how I've always thought of those visits to the Hallorans. You know yourself about the noise and confusion stirred up by the Hallorans when they get together, but I will never forget how I was almost knocked off my feet by the big showy hugs of the welcoming committee, which consisted, at the least, of Red's two sisters, his three sister-in-law, assorted nieces and nephews and last but not least, Ma Halloran herself. I pretended not to notice (though, of course, I did) how the Halloran women, either before or after embracing me, also managed a quick, but not quite surreptitious peek downwards towards my midsection. I gather that one of them would then send a signal to Ma Halloran because when she stepped forward to give me her welcoming hug, she would invariably urge me to put more meat on my bones. Ma's hearty but hectoring tone when she said that—and the way she ran her hands up and down my back, as if she was hoping to find some bit of excess flesh—always left me feeling that she and all the other Hallorans thought my slender frame was the main reason why Red was the only Halloran to show up at family gatherings without a brood of little Hallorans following behind.
I liked to think that I did an otherwise commendable job of looking as if I enjoyed visiting with Red's family, even though I never could figure out some of their customs and folkways, particularly the odd habit some Halloran males had of greeting each other by getting into a boxer's crouch and trading a playful punch or two before they ended up shaking hands and laughingly exchanging manly hugs. I even came to admire how the Halloran women could carry on a conversation with another adult while wiping the nose of one child, quelling the crying fit of another and somehow resolving at the same time the dispute between two squalling brats over the use and ownership of a particular toy. But after my second miscarriage, I demanded of Red—my slender frame quivering with rage—that he stop his sisters and sisters-in-law from their casual banter about the methods, including castration, they might employ in order to prolong the time between their pregnancies.
Red was able to mute his sisters and sisters-in-law, but Ma Halloran wasn't so easily contained. Nothing was going to stop Ma from taking me aside to deliver godawful motherly chats, the gist of which was that Red and I should never give up on trying to have a baby. Ma was particularly incensed at the doctor who told me that I had less than a fifty-fifty chance of avoiding another miscarriage. To show what she thought of the doctor's advice, she listed by name and age a half-dozen children, none of whom, she maintained, would have been born had their parents been foolish enough to listen to their doctors. It was only three months after my second miscarriage when Ma reinforced her usual advice by informing me that she was now praying on my behalf to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.
"Good old St. Jude," Ma said, putting one of her beefy forearms around my shoulders and giving me a squeeze. "He takes on the jobs that are too tough for the other saints to handle."
On the drive home that night, Red was as amused as I was when I told him that his mother was asking for St. Jude's help in increasing yet again the size of the Halloran family, but I was the one whose laughter ended in a crying spell. Red did his best to comfort me, assuring me over and over that his mother meant no harm, but since he was preoccupied with driving through heavy post-Labor Day traffic and sheets of wind-driven rain that all but flooded the highway, he could barely take his eyes off the road, let alone offer a consoling kiss or embrace. Then, once we exited the turnpike, which was just about when the rain had let up and my crying had abated, Red tried again to tell me why I shouldn't be offended by his mother thinking of me as a "lost cause."
"I know the stuff Ma says sounds a bit old world," he said, "but her reliance on St. Jude notwithstanding, she probably knows as much as most doctors about how babies are born."
My quick intake of breath didn't really cover my surprise at what Red had just said, but it may have helped prevent a resumption of tears. Then because I felt Red had gone too far in trying to defend his mother—and because I wanted to get back at him for doing so—I announced, quietly and without fanfare, that I intended to begin the process for adopting a baby. Thus, the impulse from which your fate and mine (and Red's) became intertwined. You might even say, if you interpreted it broadly, that this was your moment of conception, as it applied to Red and me.
I wish I could say that Red was delighted at my announcement, but his response—utter silence—was so unexpected that I asked him if I should repeat myself.
"No," he said, "I heard you the first time, but I have a question for you: Have you taken into account the pitfalls and unforeseen consequences of taking on something like this?"
"From the way you've asked, you apparently don't think I have," I said. "Well, I think I have—and you know what? All my thinking has led me to conclude that the benefits of adoption, both for those who do the adopting and those who are adopted, far outweigh the 'pitfalls and unforeseen consequences,' whatever they may be."
I expected that my comment would result in a barrage of questions, most of which Red would then proceed to answer himself. Did you know that Red's law students even have a word for the verbal rough housing for which Red is so well known? "We were Halloraned today," they say, which means that Red first barked out a series of questions to his class and then proceeded to eviscerate their replies, thereby demonstrating to them the folly of advancing suppositions that failed to meet his criteria for a well-reasoned argument, including countless legal citations as supporting evidence. But this one time, maybe because he was not standing in front of a classroom of law students, or maybe because he was afraid I might begin crying again, Red posed only one question, and that in an even-tempered voice.
"Are you prepared," he said, "for the possibility of an adopted child's biological parents trying to reclaim their child?"
I had never thought of such a thing, but before I had a chance to say so Red was well into the tale of a couple he knew, the husband a high school friend of his, whose lives were made miserable by the birth mother of a little girl they had adopted. The biological mother had somehow discovered Red's friends were raising her daughter, and that led to her stalking them. Then, one night Red's friends discovered the biological mother crouched on the roof of their front porch, peeking in the window as they put their adopted daughter into bed. A restraining order helped the adoptive parents to keep the mother from impinging on their property, but they lived in constant fear that she would find some way to wrest their little girl away from them.
"I'm not sure your friends' experience is all that common," I said.
Red, sounding more like himself, responded by posing two questions. "Are you aware that adopted children, when they reach adulthood, almost always try to reconnect with their birth parents? And do you realize what usually happens when adopted children finally get to meet their real parents?"
Red paused a moment after that question, but again I didn't speak up fast enough for Red so he supplied the answer himself, asserting that adopted children invariably become more attached to their birth parents than the couples who had raised them.
"I'd have to see documentation on something like that before I believed it to be true," I said.
That exchange took place just as we arrived home, but as we were getting out of our car Red had moved onto a new topic, specifically, genetic disorders.
"Surely you know," he said, "that certain familial traits—schizophrenia being one—don't make themselves known until an individual begins to reach maturity. Have you thought about that? You haven't, have you? Then there's the big issue at the center of all this, the adoptive parents' relationship with an adopted child. Do you really think it can be as close and meaningful as that of parents who are connected to a child by blood?"
Please note. At the start of our trip home Red tried to comfort me, but I then made the mistake of proposing adoption without first clearing it with him. That is as offensive to Red as a legal argument not backed up by citations from court decisions extending back at least two centuries. So now, in our driveway, standing in the light rain that was still falling, Red still tried to convince me that I hadn't given sufficient thought to the perils inherent in adoption. At times like that Red has this look, somewhat impatient and a little bit exhausted, of a man who is burdened with the unpleasant task of having to save stupid people from themselves.
I made a point of ignoring Red's questions that night and I didn't let him deter me, either, in the following weeks from proceeding with the long and laborious process of adopting a baby. But while Red provided information when asked and otherwise indicated, when necessary, that he was a willing participant in our desire to adopt a child, he continued, privately, to oscillate between warning me about the risk of raising a child whose genetic inheritance was unknown and dim-witted observations in which he likened adoption to an adult version of the child's game, Let's Pretend.
I tried at first to fend off Red's comments by accusing him, only half-jokingly, of sounding like a lunatic eugenicist, but I occasionally found myself thinking what until then had been unthinkable, the possibility that I might leave Red if he continued to object to adoption. Once, when Red nearly succeeded in making me feel that I was delusional if I thought adoption could be a substitute for what he called the real thing, I came close to issuing an ultimatum: Either he express his unstinting support for adoption or I would consider our marriage dissolved.
But unable to decide where I might live after leaving Red—though New Zealand kept popping up as a possibility—I drew back from the ultimatum because I knew that divorce would complicate, and possibly end, my effort to adopt a baby. I also reminded myself that I was the one, not Red, who was most responsible for our childless state. I sympathized, too, with Red's plight as the only male in the notably fecund Halloran family (Red, at the time, had 30 first cousins and 21 nieces and nephews) who needed to resort to adoption in order to become a father. But more than anything else I sensed how disturbing it must have been for Red to experience, for the first time in his life, failure of any kind.
You should understand that the husband of a colleague who offered to introduce me to Red Halloran promised that I would be meeting a young law professor who was certain someday to become a justice on the U. S. Supreme Court. Red was 34 at the time, but at age 31, he had been granted tenure at Boston College Law School, the youngest faculty member to have received tenure in the history of the school. In case the tenure decision by BC didn't convey to me the full measure of Red's brilliance, the matchmaker went on at length about Red's first book, a collection of legal essays, that had been reviewed in the New York Times by a well-known Constitutional scholar, who complimented Red both on the originality of his thinking and his knowledge of the law.
This was a time when Red had also begun to attract the attention of the media, first locally and then nationally, because of his knack for producing sound bites that cut through the complexity of a Supreme Court ruling or any other thorny legal issue. I still remember how flabbergasted the matchmaker was when he heard that I had never seen Red during one of his appearances on television news broadcasts.
I had just turned 30 when the matchmaker put before me, as if it was a rare and precious jewel, this chance to meet Lawrence "Red" Halloran. That was the fall I had moved to Boston to begin my new job at Bramwell Academy. (Yes, I've been at Bramwell that long, though back then I worked only on admissions.) I was interested, therefore, in making new friends, male or female, but I also knew enough by then to discount the hyperbole of well-meaning matchmakers. This time, though, any wariness on my part was offset by my curiosity at seeing if this legal wunderkind could live up to his advance billing.
In less than an hour after I met Red, I had no doubt that he was likely someday to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Beyond that I could not explain to myself in a way that made sense why I was so strongly drawn to a man who dominated the conversation and who was not particularly attractive, not in a conventional sense at least.
I knew from a photo given me by the matchmaker, and in a phone conversation I had with Red, that he was, as he himself told me, "tall and lanky and with unmistakably red hair." All that was true, but while his component parts—the red hair that rose up like a coxcomb, his long, lean face and deep set eyes, as well as his beaky nose—were, each of them somewhat unattractive, they blended together to give him a rough hewn look. Red's posture was also in his favor because he's one tall person who has never preemptively stooped his shoulders just in case he suddenly found himself in a room filled with low-hanging light fixtures. Right from the start, in fact, I found it easy to picture Red, garbed in judicial robes, handing down legal decisions of monumental importance.
My initial phone conversation with Red had lasted 20 minutes or so and didn't get much beyond what we might have said had we run into each other at a cocktail party, but I could tell from the complete sentences and the thoughts neatly bundled into paragraphs why television news producers had come to depend on Red to be their legal expert. Nevertheless, I was unprepared, once I met Red, for the ease with which he could take something like his assessment of Bramwell Academy (generally favorable) and weave it into a lively account of the rise and fall of Boston's monied families, with additional observations about Boston's political culture. He continued on from there, without a discernible hitch, to recount some of the hijinks indulged in by his relatives and friends in Boston, all of whom were always running for office themselves or working in the campaigns of other relatives and friends.
To this day, I haven't been able to figure out how Red seems to make perfect sense, even while he leapfrogs from subject to subject. You've seen Red in action and may have become familiar, therefore, with his unique skill for spouting ideas and facts that have no connection to each other until he somehow molds them into a well-reasoned argument. But imagine what it was like for me the first time I saw him blend his suggestions for how the Red Sox should strengthen their pitching staff with the reasons why mandatory jail sentences are a terrible idea and then end up, by some trick of logic, with a convincing argument for law students spending more time studying Shakespeare's tragedies than the principles of contract law. Red's compulsion to share with everyone every insight and idea that's ever crossed his mind has always reminded me of Ma Halloran's insistence on overloading every plate with more food than any one person can possibly eat.
I was intrigued by Red's remarkable powers of explication, but I still recall how his hands, in constant motion, seemed not a distraction but a perfect complement to each point he made. But however impressed I was overall with Red, I did find bothersome the underlying grittiness of his otherwise resonant voice. Not long after I met him, I began to chide Red about his voice, accusing him of trying too hard to sound as if he was back on a street corner in South Boston talking to his boyhood friends. You can tell, since Red's voice is as gritty as ever, how much my criticism has mattered to him.
Red has likewise ignored my objections to another habit of his that has annoyed me from the time I met him, and that's the way he lets out a truncated bit of laughter once he has made a point. It's a verbal tic that has always sounded, at least to my ear, as if Red is expressing satisfaction at having once again demonstrated the nimbleness of his mind. I didn't know this when I met him, but it seems that producers of television news shows were attracted to Red as much for his unmistakable voice and that little hiccup laugh of his as his mastery of legal affairs.
But on that first date, and in the weeks that followed, I didn't allow myself to be distracted by Red's mannerisms or any other shortcomings. I was too preoccupied with trying to determine why I was transfixed by a suitor who seemed he might have said the same things, in the same way, whether he was sitting across from me or a cardboard cutout of someone who resembled me. Why, I kept asking myself, wasn't I more upset with the way Red barely allowed me to speak? I'm afraid that question remained unanswered—and after a while seemed not to matter that much—because I was content to sit and listen and even occasionally break into applause, my hands clapping like a trained seal, when Red delivered a line that was particularly funny or insightful.
I will reveal to you something I hadn't even admitted to myself at the time I met Red, and that was my growing fear, as I entered my thirties, that I might never marry or have a child. Maybe it was some hormonal disorder, but at age thirty I found myself wanting more than anything else to become a mother. Let me put it another way: My biological clock probably made me less judgmental about Red than I had been about the men I had dated when I was younger. That explained in part why, when it came to Red, I seemed to put aside the maturity and judgment that accounted for my appointment, at a relatively young age, to the position of importance I held at Bramwell Academy.
During the day with a quiet yes or a brusque no, I went about the task of helping Bramwell assemble a student body balanced between young women who were exceptionally bright but not particularly affluent—thereby safeguarding Bramwell's reputation for turning out graduates of great distinction—with others who were less gifted academically but whose families either had made, or were likely to make, significant contributions to the school's endowment. At night, however, I was entranced with this man who seemed to be daring me to fall in love with him, and I, from the moment I met him, was more than willing to take him up on his dare.
I've always felt that first evening with Red was encapsulated by his response when I told him how his friend had described him to me as a future Supreme Court justice. Having already had a couple glasses of wine, I giggled when I said that, assuming that Red might also be amused at hearing what his friend had said about him. I also expected Red might also sputter something about the absurdity of anyone predicting that a law school professor who had yet to celebrate his thirty-fifth birthday was destined for such an honor.
Not Red. Instead, half in earnest, half in jest, he listed the ages of the current members of the Supreme Court while also giving a brief summation of the state of each justice's health, along with an educated guess about how long each of them might continue to serve on the Court. He followed that up with a quick overview of presidential politics and likely candidates for the presidency over the next decade or so, the relative chances the various candidates had of becoming President and the kind of person they were likely to put on the Court. No, he conceded, a boyish grin on his face, he couldn't see himself, not for another two decades or so, as a possible appointee to the Court.
Oh, that grin. How could anyone resist it? Even after all these years, I'm still surprised at the transformation of Red's rough hewn features when his bushy eye brows rise up a notch and that crooked half smile comes over his face. Have you ever noticed, too, Red's consummate timing, that slight almost imperceptible pause between the time he delivers a line and then, a split second later when he flashes that grin? Even my solid, sober Main Line Philadelphia parents, couldn't help but be charmed by their new son-in-law, although initially I think they wondered, given Red's name, whether I had taken up with someone who was an IRA gunman.
I'm sure you will be interested to learn that the same person whose verbal facility caused me to refer to him as the Man of a Thousand Sound Bites seemed to have some difficulty in uttering a simple expression of his love. I half expected (and feared) that if and when Red did make such a declaration he might frame it as a finely honed legal argument. That's why, when he finally told me, his voice lowered to a murmur (and the grittiness not as evident), how much I meant to him and how he had never felt this way about anyone before, I placed my fingers over his mouth and made a shushing sound. I wanted to calm him before he decided to lay out, at length, a well-reasoned case for why he felt the way he did.
Yes, if it suits him, Red can be subdued and quite loving, which he clearly was, a year or so after my second miscarriage, when he convinced me, his voice lowered—and the grittiness suitably moderated—that we owed it to ourselves to try once more to have a child. I went along with Red's request, but only after he agreed that we would continue at the same time with the application process for adoption. And for a time, 11 weeks to be exact, it appeared that I was about to prove wrong the doctor who said I was unlikely to carry a baby to term. After that miscarriage, my state of mind was such that Red didn't dare mention again any of his misgivings about adoption.
Please don't take this personally, but I was as doubtful as Red about adoption. The lengthy wait for you was frustrating in itself, but I wasn't sure any child—again, no criticism intended—was going to erase completely the memory of my miscarriages or cancel out all those things, some quite nasty, that Red had said when he was still trying to persuade me it was a mistake to think we could raise someone else's child as if it were our own. (What gives you the right, he once asked, to borrow for your own purposes a child who doesn't really belong to you?) But any second thoughts I had during the long months of waiting for you and any recollection of Red's carping and sniping vanished the moment we entered that nondescript hotel room in Beijing where you were handed over to us. You were only four months old, but it was obvious that the name, Lihua—which, I was told, meant beautiful and elegant—was a perfect fit.
And Red, why Red, who had been such a curmudgeon about this adoption business, became more caught up in the novelty of having a baby in our house than I ever expected. That in itself, along with my appreciation for his support and understanding after my third miscarriage caused me to expunge—forever, I assumed—my brief flirtation with the idea of leaving him.
You, alas, did not care to join in the spirit of renewal that suffused our household. At first, I blamed myself for expecting too much from a child who suddenly found herself in the company of strangers. I then wondered if you sensed that you were on trial and felt compelled, therefore, to be on your best behavior lest you offend your hosts. But that didn't explain why I had to make faces and sing ditties and break into a little dance before you would finally allow your tiny interlocked lips to form a barely discernible smile.
I even began to think that the solemn, buttoned-up expression on your face might be an indication that you were trying to judge our suitability to serve as your surrogate parents. Such a thought was absurd, of course. You were only an infant. Yet I couldn't dispel the notion that you looked as if you were a house guest who was well mannered and polite but who was at the same time compiling a list of her host family's shortcomings.
Red did not share any of my concerns. In his view, it was his good fortune (emphasis on his) to have become the adoptive parent of a child who was so quiet that your crying, a whimpering really, was like the sound someone might make in trying to attract the notice of an inattentive store clerk. He was so pleased that you didn't whine or fuss (or make demands on his time) that he used to refer to you, with considerable pride, as his little grown-up.
I appreciated as much as Red did that you were an easy child to care for, but the French word—sangfroid—was a more apt description, I thought, of your strangely adult sense of decorum. I was grateful that from an early age your table manners were those of an honors graduate from a school of etiquette and that I didn't have to tell you to pick up your room because it was rarely a mess to begin with. But your thank-you's and excuse-me's always struck me as being too automatic and it has always rankled me that your method for giving a hug seemed more the product of careful thought than an authentic gesture of love and affection. Whether you realized it or not—-and personally, I've always thought you did—there was a well-defined and predictable rhythm in the way you would place your arms around me or Red and hold them there for several seconds, almost as if you were indeed counting, one, two, three, four, before giving one quick squeeze and then abruptly letting go. Countless times, I tried to prolong your embrace, but limber and quick, you always managed to twist your way out of it.
When you slithered away from me like that, I couldn't help but wonder if Red had been right when he talked of the unbridgeable gap between children and adults who were not connected by blood. But after a time I began to think that something—a sense of privacy perhaps, or an inborn reluctance to put your emotions on display—prevented you from bestowing unconditional hugs on anyone, no matter your relationship to the person you were hugging.
Perhaps if I had kept that in mind, I would have done a better job of disclosing to you that Red and I were not your parents. As it was, I was the one with sweaty palms and a hitch in my voice while you, at age seven, seemed to be perfectly composed, perhaps too much so, when I told you that you had been adopted. I had expected that you might need a moment to absorb the news, but I became flustered when 20, maybe 30 seconds, went by without you saying a word. And from the expression on your face, I wasn't sure if, or when, you were likely to respond.
It was panic, then, that caused me to pick up the atlas lying nearby and to begin prattling on like some half-crazed government propagandist about how large China was, how enormous its population and how remarkable the cultural contributions and technological achievements of its people. You appeared slowly but surely to show some interest in what I was saying, but still you said nothing. Then, just as I was silently cursing Red for deciding I was better suited than he was for informing you the circumstances of your birth, you asked that question about how Red and I had been able to find you in a place as far away as China and in a country that was so big.
You seemed satisfied when I said that Red and I received help from some friends of ours who lived in China, but a moment later, I had to blink back tears when you asked if we had gone to China to get you or if our friends in China had shipped you to us, as you put it, like a package.
I assured you that we had flown to China to get you, that we enjoyed our trip immensely and that it was a memorable day, indeed, when I first held you in my arms. I don't know what I was expecting from you at that point—a big hug and heart felt thanks?—but I should have been better prepared, nevertheless, for your question as to whether, when we were in China, we had met your parents.
No, I said, we hadn't, but we had been told that both of your parents were university students. In China, I explained, authorities did not sanction marriage between people in your parents situation, and thus your parents and the authorities both agreed that it was best if they gave you to two people who promised to love you as much as they did.
I could tell from the way you stared back at me, your dark, luminous eyes never blinking, that you considered my explanation to be too neat and well packaged. I suppose I should have left it at that instead of taking your hands in mine and asking you to understand that your parents only concern was your well-being. I may have been misguided, too, when I told you to remember always that your parents wanted to make sure you would have a better life than they could have given you.
Your quiet, soft-spoken remark—that your parents sounded as if they were very sensible people—made me feel better, but you rendered your own verdict on my performance when you firmly but gently extricated your hands from mine. I've always regretted not reaching out just then to pull you close and give you a big hug, but I held back, quite frankly, because I was fearful you might have pushed me away.
I assumed, as did Red, once I told him about how you had reacted, that you were not done with questions about your birth parents, but you must have felt that I was incapable of going beyond the explanation I had given you because you rarely brought up the subject again. I think you also understood better than a lot of adults ever have that certain events, no matter how you feel about them, simply cannot be undone.
Indeed, your account shortly after that of a playground squabble made us feel that you had accepted who you were and what your relationship was to Red and me. What composure you showed when your little friend, angry because you had beaten her at checkers, said that you were adopted and that you didn't even belong here. I remember how Red and I laughed when you told us that you calmly informed your bratty little friend that, of course, you were adopted since no little Chinese girl would have a father who was tall and had red hair and a mother who was blonde and had a pinkish complexion.
Neither of us was quite as amused when you began, soon after the incident with your playmate, to call us by our first names. I debated whether I should say anything about your decision to address us as Julia and Red, but I decided in the end that it was best not to make an issue of it. At my insistence, Red also refrained from commenting on this development, but not before letting me know how displeased he was to find himself on a first name basis with you.
"If she's trying to make a point," Red said, "and I have no doubt she is, she's driving it home with a sledgehammer."
Red said that with the conviction of a man who now had proof, or prima facie evidence, as he might have put it, to support all his warnings to me about the inherent risk of being stand-in parents.
Still trying to downplay the matter, I told Red that this was just a phase you were going through and that maybe you were simply trying to see how we would react.
Red then accused me of trying to deny something that was pretty obvious to him. But before Red could trot out any of his old arguments against adoption, I told him, "You're just dying to say I told you so, aren't you?"
No, he insisted, he simply wanted me to understand that each time you called us by our first names, you were reminding us that you didn't consider us to be your parents.
And what was so wrong about that, I asked. Furthermore, even if we wanted to, I said, it wasn't as though we could stop you from drawing a distinction between us and your birth parents. Therefore, I wasn't going to let this first name business bother me. As for me, I added, I loved and cherished you as if you were my own child and I had no doubt whatsoever that you loved and cherished me in return.
It was never wise to engage in an argument with the William J. Lawton Professor of Constitutional Law at Boston College Law School, but it was particularly foolhardy to do so when the only evidence at your disposal consisted of little more than robotic hugs and ever so polite (but heartless) thank-you's. I expected, therefore, that Red was about to pounce, accusing me, at the least, of gross exaggeration. But rather than dispute the point I had made, Red responded with that little giggle and snorting sound he made to stop himself from outright laughter. The only response I could muster was to make light of the moment by playfully pummeling Red's chest with my tiny fists. That concealed for the moment how upset I was with myself for having to lie about how you felt about me—and at you for having turned me into a liar.
On the plus side, there have been moments when you made it possible for me to experience the simple joy of motherhood—and for that I'm thankful. I considered it a treat, for instance, after so many years, to take part in the conversation when my work colleagues were exchanging stories about their children. In that same way, my visits to the Hallorans became more tolerable once you arrived because I felt less like an outsider (and freak of nature) when I found myself sitting among the other Halloran women, exchanging tips about the raising of our children. Better yet was the camaraderie and fellowship I shared with other mothers when we would stand along the sidelines at your soccer games, cheering and yelling encouragement and performing silly little dances if you or one of your teammates scored a goal.
But even then you could undermine such moments because, swift and surefooted as you were when the ball was in play, you tended to dawdle when it came to joining the heaving jumble of teammates who, with arms wrapped around each other, were jumping up and down in celebration of a victory. More often than not you were usually on the outer fringe of the circle, content to express solidarity with your teammates by exchanging quick embraces and fleeting high fives.
The way you distanced yourself from your teammates only reminded me of something I never admitted to Red, that you viewed your relationship with us as a type of a business transaction. That's not a criticism, by the way. I can well understand your thinking. You knew, having heard it directly from me, that your parents had abandoned you. But then, out of nowhere, swooping down out of the sky, in fact, Red and I arrived to rescue you. Once that happened, what choice did you have but to repay your rescuers for their great act of kindness? And what better way to do that than to make yourself into a model child, one so diligent and well behaved that everyone who knew you, from teachers and parents of other children to soccer coaches and dance instructors and camp counselors, unhesitatingly used the word, perfect, to describe you?
I had little choice, either, but to join in the praise lavished on you, first for being an A student and then for being the rare student who consistently completed school assignments before they were due and who also managed to keep your school uniform, that tan blazer and white blouse and green plaid skirt, looking as crisp and fresh in June as it did in September. But I always felt every A you earned—and all the compliments Red and I received because we were your parents—were your way of paying down the debt you owed us. And if that was so, perhaps it was the innate resentment of a debtor towards a creditor that accounted for the circumscribed affection you displayed both towards Red and me. That may have explained, too, your precisely calibrated hugs, as well as the dance recitals at which you executed every step with perfection or your flawless performance of flute solos at school concerts, all the while keeping any hint of spontaneity at bay. Duty called. Lihua responded.
Just once I would have liked to hear you break out into a fit of girlish giggling or to be as silly as your school friends when they tried for an entire week to converse only in their own highly stylized version of pig Latin. Just once you might have also varied your voice and manner of speaking, too. As it was, you seemed always, particularly in adolescence, to begin and end your sentences too abruptly, no matter the content of what you said. As a result, there seemed to be little difference in tone between your report of a classmate killed in a bicycle accident or your decision to write a term paper on the need for reform in the juvenile court system.
At the same time, it may not have made sense, simply from an aesthetic point of view, for you to be anything but aloof. Your composure by itself has always made you seem older and more mature than your peers. Even your facial features, notably those prominent cheek bones and your clearly defined jaw line, were those of a grown woman rather than that of an attractive teen-age girl and you have always moved with the easy grace of someone who benefited from all those years of dance lessons. No, the more I've thought about it, the more I can see that you were not intended by nature to be the kind of person who laughed uproariously at some classmate's goofy joke or threw herself into the riotous goings-on that took place when a soccer teammate scored a goal.
Red, who knows nothing of child development, was certain that you were bound to get caught up in the turmoil and angst of being a teenager. He could sound at times as if he really believed some hormonal surge would cause you to forsake your studies in order to join a motorcycle gang. I am no more of an expert than Red, but I argued otherwise. My best guess, which turned out to be far more accurate than Red's alarmist predictions, was that adolescence might cause some slight slippage in your perfect child mask.
That slippage, as I saw it, occurred when you developed an avid interest in trying to determine which of your friends and classmates were trustworthy and honest—the word you favored—and which of them were too easily drawn to trickery and deceit. I couldn't help but notice that your frequent mention of "honesty," and the importance you placed on it, seemed to coincide with your discovery that the well-mannered young men who were so eager to date you didn't always behave in private as they did in public.
If I had been a typical mother, I would have tried to learn more about why your encounters with these young men caused you to develop such distaste for teen-age courting rituals. And you, if you had been a typical daughter, would have most likely turned to me. But I held back, sensing that you might think I was being too intrusive, and you, in your own oblique way, let it be known that only teenagers of lesser intellect cared about who was taking whom to the prom. I believe that was a period of time when the word vacuous almost supplanted honesty (or lack of same) when you described certain of your peers.
Not that you lacked the ability to focus on this honesty issue in more dramatic fashion. Who can ever forget that bizarre hairdo you copied from a model (an Asian one, as I recall) in a fashion magazine? There was little doubt that having the hair on one side of your head cut above your ear while allowing the hair on the other side to flow down past your collar bone would attract a lot of attention. But do you still think more highly of the people who said they hated it, and were therefore considered by you to have passed your "honesty" test, than those of us who were too well mannered to tell you how dreadful your new hairdo looked?
More interesting to me at the time was how much more voluble you became once you adopted that freakish hairdo. You had just received your drivers license, but we were still too nervous about you driving by yourself so I had picked you up after soccer practice and on the way home you gave me two more examples of girls you knew who were otherwise intelligent but could be quite stupid when it came to dating.
Given the topic you were discussing, it seemed reasonable for you to ask how I knew, once I met Red, that he was the man I wanted to marry. Since you didn't know much at the time about how Red and I had become acquainted, I began telling you about the matchmaker who introduced me to Red. But before I got very far you suddenly switched topics on me. Now, you wanted to know whether Red and I, when we decided to adopt a baby, had asked specifically for an Asian child. Or, as you put it, "Was Chinese your first choice, or were you willing to accept whoever was available?"
Because I was uncertain about what you might be getting at, I blundered into revealing in greater detail than ever before my disappointment and heartbreak when my doctor told me, after my third miscarriage, that there was virtually no chance I would ever have a successful pregnancy. Why I was that frank with you I still don't know, except that I felt this was a good time, given your age—and the question you posed—to share with you the full story behind your adoption. Was I looking for sympathy? Did I think you would somehow feel more kindly towards me if you knew the pain and frustration I had experienced with my miscarriages? I don't know, but I was taken aback when you responded with "Oh, I get it. No miscarriages, no Lihau." There wasn't any need, you know, for you to punctuate that remark with a giggle.
I hadn't yet decided how I should respond to that when you appeared to provide me some relief by returning to your original question, but you varied it slightly, asking me what made me decide to marry Red.
This time I knew enough to ask why that was of interest to you, and while your reply, a shrug of the shoulders, may have been age appropriate, I found it to be unsatisfactory. Thus, I asked you again why you wanted to know my reasons for deciding to marry Red.
"Well, it's just that you're so independent," you said, sounding as if you didn't think that people who were independent could also be married. I couldn't pass up this opportunity to offer a bit of maternal advice. Thus, my sermonette about how marriage didn't necessarily mean the end of anyone's independence and how respect for each other's independence was an essential ingredient for any marriage that's halfway successful.
Ah, but on this day, nothing I said was going to hem you in. So, once again you went off on a tangent, with that silly question about whether Red and I were madly in love with each other when we got married. You know something? Out of the corner of my eye, I detected the tiny smile on your face when you said that. Did you really think that you had me cornered and that I had no choice now but to give you an honest answer about how Red and I felt about each other?
Under different circumstances, I might have said that I was not technically mad when I married Red but that once I met him, I wanted more than anything else in the world to spend my life with this dynamic, overwhelming, unabashedly brilliant man. Now, if that's madness, so be it. I might have also said that you, too, if you were lucky, would someday know the beauty and wonder of falling in love in similar fashion, but I'll be damned if I was going to provide you proof that Red and I were in love, madly or otherwise, when we decided to get married, not when you might greet what I said with a giggle.
But I didn't want to end our little exchange, so I tried once again to display motherly concern by telling you that falling in love was unlike anything you will ever experience, but that anyone who compares love to madness is overstating the case. Then, when you pointed out (wisely) that I hadn't really answered your question, I countered (unwisely) by telling you that all married couples eventually learn that, besides being in love, they must also try to accommodate themselves to each other.
Red, of course, provided me with all the material I needed to make that point. You know the long hours he puts into his work, but I don't think you knew until I told you that Red was, and is, the only member of the law school faculty at BC—and probably other law schools, as well—who throws away his lecture notes at the end of each school year. Oh Red, whatever else we might say about him, doesn't coast, particularly when you consider that, in addition to his teaching, there's his writing and speaking engagements and all the committees he serves on at BC. Yet, as I explained to you, I've never made demands on Red that hindered him in his work, and he, likewise, has never interfered with mine. My mistake was the clumsy wording I used when I said, "Make of that what you will, but Red and I have tried very hard to make things convenient for each other."
Still, you had no reason for the snippy little question you posed: "Is that what's meant by a marriage of convenience?" At least this time you didn't tag on a giggle or smile.
I argued, feebly, that mutual convenience was just another way for married couples to show they trust and respect each other, but you must have felt that you had apparently proven whatever point you had set out to prove since you allowed our discussion to end on that note.
I wished that I had asked you to explain why you wanted to know whether, and how much, Red and I loved each other. Since I don't think you had any reason to doubt whether Red and I were in love, I suspected that you were now focusing your adolescent fixation with honesty on Red and me. It was as if you, as our little Miss Perfect, were entitled to sit in judgment of whether the rest of us measured up to you standards of personal honesty. That so irked me that I decided I would do likewise with you. Hence, the foolish argument we never should have had about your choice of college.
Look, I agreed with you when you expressed your preference for attending a college on the West Coast because you wanted to escape New England's terrible winter weather. But you can't blame me for being skeptical—and for saying so—when you claimed, citing the view of three school friends and their older siblings, that leading colleges on the West Coast were superior to elite schools in the east because they were unburdened by tradition and snobbery.
That California has more warm days in January and February than Boston is a point I readily conceded, along with my admission that there were undoubtedly a number of colleges west of the Rockies equal to the finest colleges in the east. But you were on shaky ground with this snobbery business, sister. Not only did I consider that to be shallow and stereotypical thinking—which is something I've never been able to abide—but I wanted you to understand that it was snobbery of a sort for a certain high school senior I knew to tell everyone that she considered Harvard and Yale to be her backup schools.
I guess I hit my target with that latter remark because you were more animated than usual when you accused me of not believing the reasons you gave for wanting to attend Stanford or Berkeley rather than any Ivy League school. You meant, I suppose, that I seemed to doubt your "honesty." I did, of course, because I didn't think your quest for educational excellence was the only reason you wanted to attend only those colleges that happened to be located 3000 miles away from Red and me. But rather than prolong our dispute I more or less agreed that I, too, felt as if Harvard's snooty private clubs and Yale's secret societies were silly and outdated.
It may have been understandable for you, at age 17, to rely on the chit-chat of your peers in evaluating the strength and deficiencies of various colleges and universities, but I was not as forgiving when a seasoned academic like Red became both your defender and cheerleader.
"What I see—and what you should see too," Red told me, "is a kid who wants to get out there on her own, to test herself. We should congratulate ourselves on that. Not every kid her age, and an only child at that, is blessed with that sense of independence—or parents who encourage her to seek her own path. It's nice, too, to see a high school kid who's astute enough to realize that you can get a pretty good education in this country at colleges that aren't located either in Cambridge, Massachusetts or New Haven, Connecticut.
I liked the way Red seemed to insinuate himself into this feeling of pride "we" were supposed to feel for having inculcated in you a sense of independence. This, from the man whose attachment to you consisted for the most part of bending his tall frame forward so that you could dutifully drape your arms around him for one of your precisely timed embraces as he either entered or left the house. I'm convinced that embedded in Red's brain is a mechanism that allows him to calculate the precise point at which his concession to me on one big issue—the adoption of a child, say—absolved him of any responsibility to deal with a countervailing issue, the day to day care of that child, for instance.
It was too late, with you approaching high school graduation, for me to dispute Red on his right to claim any credit for your growth and development. So I told him you were free, as far as I was concerned, to attend a college on the other side of the world if that's what you wanted. But I was emphatic in telling him you hadn't been particularly artful in trying to explain why you wanted to put as much distance as possible between you and us.
Oh shoot, I might as well admit it. I told Red you were a rank amateur when it came to lying. Furthermore, I told him you should have had the gumption to say what you truly meant rather than hiding behind arguments that were highly suspect. We deserved that much, I maintained, for having put up with your indifference all those years.
Red granted me that last point, but he continued to maintain that you had the right to decide on your own where you wanted to go to college.
And so did I, I said, but I also told Red that all my years at Bramwell had made me quite familiar with the posturing of bright adolescent women.
This ability to see through such posturing was particularly useful to me the day you received your acceptance letter from Stanford. Your triumphant yell seemed to be one you had been saving for years and your leap into the air easily exceeded any similar move you had ever made either in a ballet recital or on the soccer field. Maybe you were entitled to your impromptu dance around the kitchen, but who was that gawky, red-headed guy who joined you in exchanging high fives and hip bumps?
I still feel the congratulatory hug I gave you was more appropriate than Red's histrionics since there was little doubt, given your academic record and test scores, that you were going to be accepted at any college you wanted to attend. I also thought it unnecessary for you to proclaim, somewhat breathlessly, at the end of your dance with Red, that this was the most memorable day of your life—and to stare directly at me when you said that.
Maybe your dancing and jumping around loosened something within you that made you seem more frantic once you got to Stanford. No doubt your studies and social life (never detailed to any extent) kept you as busy as you claimed, but I wished you hadn't devoted your brief and sporadic phone calls to telling us that you barely had time to talk. Your emails, also brief and sporadic, were such a jumble of dashes and sentence fragments and abbreviations that they left me feeling out of breath when I tried to decode them.
I must say it was clever of you to get that summer job as a research assistant to the busiest, most prolific member of the Stanford economics department and then to make yourself so indispensable to him (or so, you claimed) that you never could get back home for more than a few days at a time the entire four years you were in Palo Alto. And how clever, too, after graduation, to parlay your student job (and all the glowing references from half the economics department at Stanford) into a similar position at San Francisco's largest bank.
I've promised myself that some day I must find out if everyone in San Francisco who works in banking is required to work a l2 to l6 hour a day in order to accommodate themselves both to business hours on the east coast and in Asia. But in the meantime I'll assume that you and your colleagues agreed, as a condition of employment, to keep a work schedule that leaves hardly any time for family and friends.
All this would have been easier for me to accept if I had been more like Red, whose relationship with you was not unlike that he has with his teaching assistants, that is, he is genial and good natured towards these young people, but however close he is to them and however much he appreciates them, he knows that a day will come when they graduate. Red is so attuned to the academic calendar that maybe he considered your departure to be similar to that of his teaching assistants bidding him farewell. But unlike Red, I never accepted the notion that you could "graduate," from us, even if you wanted to. Going off to Stanford (and so rarely returning) may have been your adult version of squirming away when I tried to give you a real and meaningful hug, but this time I intend to hang on whether you want me to or not.
I like to think I've been civil and well-mannered and appreciative for the tidbits of news you've given me from time to time about your life in San Francisco, although you've also made me feel as if I strapped you to a lie detector the few times I dared ask whether the "friend" you attended a concert or play with was a male or female. I understood also, as you once pointed out to me, that finding a heterosexual male in San Francisco who is interesting, half way attractive or unmarried isn't easy. That's why I complied, even though it annoyed me, with your request to stop asking you outright whether you were dating.
But none of that was enough to satisfy you. No, you felt the need, my little Garbo, for one grand gesture that would finally teach me to mind my own business. You must acknowledge that I showed great patience the first time two weeks passed by without any response from you to my calls and emails. I even sympathized when you said that you had been busier than usual those two weeks because you were preparing a presentation you were asked to make at a banking convention. So I assumed you were likewise engaged when shortly after that another two weeks passed by without hearing from you. And that time, because Red had that speaking engagement in San Francisco, and both of you had got together for a quick lunch, he was able to tell me all about how your first presentation had earned you a promotion and raise.
I was not as concerned, therefore, by the growing duration between phone calls and emails from you this past month or so, but that was before my encounter last Friday night with Louise Bonham in the checkout line at Stop and Shop. It was 6:00 and the place was a madhouse, so much so that I hadn't noticed Louise until I heard her screechy voice calling to me from two aisles over, asking me how you liked your new job.
I pretended for a moment to be distracted with taking some groceries out of my cart, but I felt right away the tingling along my scalp that usually presages a flushing of my face. Remarkably enough, I seemed quite in control of myself a few seconds later when I said, "Oh, I can't say just yet because she doesn't start until next week."
Then, continuing in that same vein, I said, "What's so extraordinary was that this firm, out of nowhere, came courting her, and quite aggressively, too, from what I can gather. And that prompted a counteroffer from her current employer. Imagine that—at her age, with her limited experience, to have two firms fighting over you. Apparently everyone else has just discovered what the rest of us have always known—Lihua's any employer's dream."
"That she is," said Louise Bonham. "And my congratulations to her—and to you and Red also."
How's that for quick thinking on my part? Maybe Louise might have been able to disprove everything I had just said, but she had paid her bill by then and was already picking up her groceries, and my purchase had yet to be tallied, so she left the store before I did. That was fortunate for me since I don't know how I could have continued to discuss with her something of which I was totally ignorant.
An hour later, when I finally reached you, I wanted to begin by giving you some tips on how to fabricate a reply on the spot, as I had done with Louise. Such a lesson might have come in handy for someone like you because you were not particularly convincing when you told me that you were so busy wrapping up things up at your current job that you hadn't had a chance to call Red and me to tell us about your new position and what it entailed.
I'll accept the explanation you offered about the two weeks of negotiations between you and your new employer and the need (?) for secrecy while you were trying to decide whether you wanted to leave banking to join a management consultant firm. But what made you think you could foist on me that story about how you put off telling us about your new job because you have this superstition that jobs and romances and future plans in general tend to fall apart if they become known before every last detail has been worked out? If so, why, pray tell, doesn't the hex you fear apply as much to Louise Bonham as it does to Red and me? Which is just one reason why I think my run-in with Louise was not an accident. My apologies, however, for hanging up on you the way I did—and my little outburst before so abruptly ending our call—but I didn't feel I had anything more to say until I had a chance to talk with Red.
Of that talk with Red, I can only say he wasn't as understanding as I wanted him to be. He had been in Washington that day and didn't get back until almost ten o'clock, which was fortunate because I had calmed down enough by then to tell him, in a dead pan manner, that you would be starting a new job and that you would be earning more money and have a better chance for advancement, even if you were going to be spending a lot of time on airplanes flying around the country to advise your clients. I was not as composed in recounting to him my run in with Louise.
"Think for a moment," I told Red, "what might have happened if I had said to Louise, which I almost did, 'What new job?' "
I explained to Red that Louise lives for such moments, that she has always reminded me of a dog that hangs around under the dinner table, ready to pounce on any fallen crumb or piece of food. Only with Louise, of course, she's seeking some juicy bit of gossip she can share with the world. God only knows what innuendo she would have squeezed out of reporting to everyone that Lihua Halloran's mother didn't have the slightest idea what was going on in Lihua's career. I knew Red was going to think I was crazy when I said it, but I told him that I didn't feel the incident with Louise was simply a coincidence.
Red gave me what I liked to call his "befuddled academic" look, which means he was not at all befuddled, but had decided that his reply, when it came, might sound more thoughtful because he had waited a very long moment before saying anything. Or maybe he was truly absorbed in thumbing through the day's mail, consisting, as it usually did, of fund-raising appeals and sales catalogs. Then, when he finally spoke—having first tossed aside the mail that had held his attention—he said it was a good thing you were taking a job that would be more of a challenge to you.
"Didn't you hear what I just said?" I told him. "Or do you not care that less than three hours ago I came close to being humiliated in a very public place?"
"Yes, Lihua was tardy in letting us know about her new job," Red said, "but that isn't exactly a capital offense."
My reply to that was to tell him the explanation you offered, your so-called superstition about premature announcements, was utter nonsense. Wasn't he as offended, I asked, that you would use such a lame excuse to mollify us? Rather than answer me, Red went into the kitchen where I could hear him pouring himself a glass of wine.
When he returned, I asked him the question I had been waiting to ask since he walked in the door. Was there any chance that you might have told him anything about the possibility of changing jobs when the both of you had lunch together only a few weeks before?
"Not a word," he said, his right hand shooting up, palm outward, as if he was ready to swear an oath. "Mostly, during our lunch I was urging her, once again, to go to grad school. If she didn't, I told her, she was in danger of always being the bright, hard-working assistant who makes higher-ups look good. But she has this crazy notion that she's going to end up sitting in a CEO's chair someday because she works longer and harder than everyone else."
"You know what drives me batty," I said, conspicuously ignoring Red's denial of having conspired with you. "It's the little grin on the faces of friends and neighbors when they ask about her. 'It's been so long since we've seen Lihua,' they say. Why don't they come right out and ask why she practically disappeared once she went off to college?"
"I wouldn't worry that much about what neighbors think," Red said. "Everyone around here knows that we gave Lihua an absolutely first-rate upbringing. But here's an idea. Maybe it's time you and I take a trip out there, unannounced. You know, we just turn up, knock on her door, and when she answers, we say, 'Surprise! Hey, remember us?'"
Red was amused enough to come out with that little laugh of his, but I didn't think what he said was that funny.
"I'm sorry," I said, "but I don't see the humor in having to fly across the country in order to get someone's attention."
"Okay, I'll withdraw the laugh," he said, "but Lihua's on her own. She's under no obligation to keep us up to date on her daily activities or even to alert us when she's about to take a new job."
"On her own or not," I said, "today was pure Lihua—passive aggressive to the nth degree. First she makes sure to keep a vital piece of information to herself. But she also doles it out—how, I still don't know—to someone who will, in all likelihood, pass it on to other people before we learn about it ourselves. That, my friend, is not a coincidence. Not with someone who is attentive to detail as our little Lihua."
"You really believe that?" Red asked.
"Until proven otherwise, yes,"
Red's reply consisted of his raised eyebrows and his announcement that he was too tired to dissuade me from thinking you had made a conscious attempt to embarrass me. A moment later, after finishing off his glass of wine, he said, "You know, I'd say the best thing for you is to call Lihua tomorrow and ask her for an apology. She owes you. It's also a good idea, generally speaking, to air grievances rather than let them fester."
"Apologies you have to ask for aren't worth a damn," I said, and with that, I stalked out of the room and went up to bed.
In the morning, after a breakfast in which neither of us said a word, Red finally admitted that, yes, you had told him about the job offer you had received, but he had the impression that you were reluctant to leave banking. That's why, he argued, he didn't think he was hiding anything from me when you asked him to say nothing until you had made your decision. What is it they say about law school, that it's where you learn it isn't lying if you've found a clever way around telling the truth?
I thanked Red for confirming my suspicions, but I couldn't forget how the night before, with his right hand raised, he was prepared to swear that he knew nothing about your new job. It also took me a few more minutes before I got him to admit that you never said anything to him about your superstition concerning premature announcements. Later in the day, I received the email from you that was a model of succinctness on your end, but required a lengthy reply on my end.
And now, even more amplification. About six months ago, for a few weeks, it seemed as if Red and I might be moving out to the West Coast. After some prodding from me, Red had begun talking to two law schools in California about spending a semester or two as a visiting professor. That would give us some idea, presumably, as to whether we could accommodate ourselves to year-round sunshine. But then the dean of the BC Law School surprised everyone by announcing his retirement and Red decided it would be too unsettling for the school if he were to leave when it was going through a change in leadership. Translation: Red wasn't about to miss out on the chance of serving on the search committee that would choose the next dean, and even though he isn't on the committee I am sure that he has been able, through surrogates and other unholy alliances, to influence its deliberations.
I've concluded, therefore, that nothing short a of nuclear explosion is ever going to dislodge Red. Why, moving would force him to sort through his papers and maybe discard some of the drafts of drafts he insists on saving. That wouldn't do at all since Red has stipulated that after he dies all his papers—and by that he means literally every last scrap of paper in his study—be boxed up and sent off to the Boston College archives.
That reminds me. I've meant to tell you what this year's student handbook at BC had to say about Red. It came under a gigantic headline that said, Warning.
"Do not, if you value life and limb, ever stand between the esteemed William J. Lawton Professor of Constitutional Law, Lawrence "Red" Halloran, and a television camera. Professor Halloran has been known to exercise the same discretion and restraint as a male elephant in heat if he so much as sniffs the presence of a television camera (or radio microphone or news person with an open notebook) anywhere within a hundred yards of his presence."
Wasn't that a clever way of describing Red?
I could wait, of course, for Red to change his mind about our possible move westward, but I am quite capable, as with adoption, of taking action without first seeking his permission, or waiting for him to catch up with me.
Indeed, I rather enjoy imagining the rumors and gossip I'm bound to stir up with my departure. I expect that a number of Red's friends and the Hallorans (down to the last third cousin twice removed) will immediately declare him a blameless victim. Knowing the Hallorans as well as I do, I'm assuming they will also lavish gobs of sympathy on "their" Red and call down curses on my head.
I'm guessing that some of the people who side with Red will also whisper to each other about certain changes in my behavior that they've noticed recently, whether or not they have. Depending on the person who is spreading that story, I anticipate a good deal of talk about how I've become unhinged or may be suffering from the onset of dementia.
I know that nobody will leave it at that. Puzzlement will lead invariably to questions—discreetly posed no doubt—as to the real cause for my action. Then, somewhat haltingly, answers will be offered, consisting mostly of half-baked and tentative hypotheses. How long, I wonder, before the first person will then declare that he/she never did believe my upbeat disposition was genuine? And once that aspect of my personality is pried open, I'm betting that certain of my colleagues and friends will announce that they knew all along that all was not well with the Hallorans' marriage.
I can even name some of the people who will have the gall to claim that they long ago discerned a grimace beneath my bright smile. Others of that same ilk—oh, I know their names, too—will attest to having detected a note of hysteria underlying my ready laugh. So much, then, for all my efforts over the years to be accommodating and kind, even to pass on compliments whether or not they were deserved.
I don't mind all these people speculating wildly about me, but I hope that none of them try to spread some tale about suspected marital infidelity, either on my part or Red's. That would be most unfortunate because I have every reason to think that Red has been as faithful to me as I've been to him. (Can anyone, by the way, really conceive of Red, who barely found time to tend to one marriage, trying to squeeze into his busy schedule an extra-marital affair?)
Yes, I'll miss some of my friends and neighbors, the house I've always loved and the folkways—some charming, others maddening—so prevalent in leafy Chestnut Hill. I have even found myself stopping now and then to look out once more at the view from our living room of the little wooded area at the end of our cul-de-sac. I've often amused myself by thinking of the half-dozen birch trees in the middle of that small park as overdressed guests who haven't been told that the party they would be attending was being hosted by more staid, more conventionally attired maple trees.
Believe it or not, one of the more difficult tasks I've had is deciding which clothes I want to take with me and those I'm willing to leave behind. I've gone back and forth on a number of items, but when I've finally made a decision I take care to fold each piece of clothing just as I was taught the two summers I worked as a sales clerk at the old Wanamaker's Store in Philadelphia.
I was surprised, in the middle of packing, that I decided to tuck in among my clothes certain keepsakes, mostly favorite photos or books or some piece of jewelry. I included a photo, a copy, not the framed original in the master bedroom, of Red and me on our wedding day. I also included that photo of you, l2 years old, in your Girl Scout uniform, carrying the American flag in a Memorial Day parade. That picture is a favorite of mine because you were so proud to have been chosen as the flag bearer for your troop that you had an enormous smile on your face. I have no idea, however, what inexplicable bit of sentiment accounted for my decision to take with me a group photo taken by Red's brother-in-law, Jerry, during one of those Halloran family get-togethers I so disliked. Maybe I still marveled that Jerry, a bit tipsy as usual, had managed to fit some 20 people or so, including their pets, into the frame.
Don't think, by the way, that I've left you out of my imaginings. Only for you, I envision something like this. One morning you are leaving your apartment, more than likely hurrying off to the airport. You are pulling your wheeled suitcase behind you, you have your phone pressed against one ear, and then, suddenly out of nowhere, I open the door of the apartment that I've taken down the hall from you and wish you a pleasant good morning. You are caught off guard, of course, so much so that you momentarily fumble your phone, but catch it just before it falls from your hand. Then you pause for a moment and check your watch, trying to calculate, I suppose, if you can spare a moment for me. But you have that plane to catch, and an important meeting somewhere later that day, so you are torn (am I assuming too much?) between stopping to talk with me and continuing on your way.
At which point, I help you. "Please," I say, waving you on with my hand, "some other time. I can tell you're busy."
That seems, for the moment, to free you, although as you rush towards the elevator at the end of the corridor, you look back at me and say something about how you're already late for a flight to Dallas or Cleveland or some such place. The least I can do for you under these circumstances, then, is to offer you this assurance.
"Go, go," I say. "We'll have time to talk later. I'm not going anywhere."