It wasn’t until ten years after we broke up that I finally understood what an asshole my first boyfriend was.
Dancing is fun. Why don’t I dance? I used to dance all the time, but then I forgot how good it feels.
I want another look at Paris. The last time I was there, I was 18 years old and I had no idea what I was seeing.
I didn’t understand my mother until I had kids myself.
And now, at the final part of the final chapter, I finally, finally understand what my novel is about.
Now I can go back to the beginning and do it right.
Fiction is great like that.
(And thank you dear readers for helping me see the light!)
When Drew met the Liliens at the airport, she hugged Tom like they were old friends. Katherine, looking very New York and out-of-place in dark wool, endured her enthusiastic handshake. In person, Katherine looked even younger than Drew expected, perhaps even younger than Drew herself. She helped them fit their bags into the newly-mended trunk of their BMW and handed the keys over to Tom with a twinge of sadness. She would miss that sexy car.
Tom drove and Katherine sat in the passenger seat, with Drew in back. When they pulled onto the highway, Katherine cleared her throat: “Please forgive me. Tom doesn’t always fill me in on all the details. What did you say your name was, and how do you two know each other?”
“I’m Drew Andrew. My mother is an old friend of Tom’s. They dated in high school.” Katherine glanced at Tom, who was busy trying to change lanes. “It was so nice of you guys to let me take care of your place and I hope I left everything exactly as you left it. Orchids are tricky, aren’t they?”
Katherine stared straight out the windshield. “Did you really, Tom?”
“Did I what?”
“Date Drew’s mother? I’d love to hear all about it.”
“Oh.” He cleared his throat thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t say dated. We went on a date once forty years ago. You can’t really call that dating.”
The highway glinted under the bright Los Angeles sun. Inside the cocoon of BMW, the air conditioner blew hard. “What is your mother doing these days?” asked Katherine.
“She’s dead,” said Drew. The simple finality of the word on her tongue was almost pleasant. Ever since she started seeing Dr. Robinson, life seemed so much more manageable. And because it was nice to have something to give back to the Liliens, a little story to tell, she told the whole story.
Katherine’s features had shifted to accommodate the new information. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Drew shrugged. “Like my friend Mae Beacon once said as a toast, here’s to mothers: For giving birth to artists and then leaving them to give birth to themselves.”
“What a sad story.” Katherine’s mouth pulled down but her eyes lit up. “You could write a book.”
Tom agreed. “With a few more plot points it could make an excellent screenplay.”
“I’m done writing screenplays. Maybe I’ll try a memoir.”
“Autobiography is very hot these days, especially if you know somebody.” Katherine turned to look at Drew. “So how do you know Mae Beacon?”
At their house, they didn’t invite her in. They just waved as she backed her VW Rabbit down the driveway. But Drew didn’t cry. She popped a Lexapro instead.
At the stop sign she paused, the car thrumming around her like a giant metal insect. She decided to turn left and swing by Mae’s house one last time. It’s been almost a year since the premiere. They had a couple of brief and awkward chats on the phone but nothing more.
Wayne is her writer now. They met at the after party. The last time she saw him was when he stopped by to grab something from his apartment. He had seemed happy, strutting down the hallway with a Gene Kelly hop in his step and some nice new duds. He almost sounded chipper when he told her that someone had broken into his Aunt Bea’s house in San Francisco and taken everything. He said that losing his identity to that kid Victor had been the best thing that had ever happened to him.
“Can’t you stay for awhile?” Drew had begged. “I’ll take you to lunch.”
“I have to get back. The baby’s going to wake up soon and I said I’d watch him this afternoon.” That’s when Drew noticed the spit-up on the shoulder of his shirt. “You should see him. He’s the cutest little guy.”
Before he left again, she stopped him at the door. “I won’t be mad, I just have to know,” she said, with her hand on his shoulder and her eyes on his neat leather loafers. “Are you sleeping with her?”
Wayne had laughed. It wasn’t unkind laughter, but it had an edge. “You just don’t get it at all, do you, Drew?” He said. “I guess that’s part of your charm.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek before he left.
But mostly, Drew remembers the smile: the smile that explained everything, the smile that needs no words. Drew carries it in her mind’s eye: everything else seems to waver and slip like heat waves on the horizon, but when she closes her eyes the smile is there, a steady ray of hope.
She’s been thinking that happiness is a slippery thing, wet as a newborn. As soon as it takes shape, it separates from you, so you have to hold on with both hands. Sometimes it sleeps softly in your arms but one day it will wriggle away. You have to fix it in your mind and feel it with all your strength so later, the memory will suffice.
Memory does suffice. For the first time, it is enough to just be in the dim glow of her ancient computer monitor, enough to simply exist within the four walls of her tiny apartment with her dusty books and stingy little bathtub and her plaster Madonna, her reflection in the mirror encircled by the photographs of people she loves and admires most. It is enough.
She takes a deep breath and lets it out. She is learning to be like water, formless and shapeless, moving with gravity, bending to the shape of the present moment, flowing in real time towards the deepest parts. Her fingertips fall on the keyboard like drops of rain.
She’s here and she’s happy. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t it enough that she is happy?