Authors: Taylor Jenkins Reid
“I know,” Charlie says.
“So listen to us when we say that marriage is not to be taken lightly.”
“Once again, no one cares about my opinion!” Rachel says bitterly. How quickly we all regress when we’re in the same room.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Rachel,” my mom says, losing her temper. “So you don’t have a boyfriend. Big deal. No one’s treating you like a leper.”
“When every conversation is about someone’s boyfriend or husband, then I do think—” Rachel shuts herself up. “Whatever. It’s not about me. Sorry.”
My mom puts her arm around her and squeezes her into the crook of her body. Rachel resigns into it. My mom keeps going, looking directly at Charlie. “You don’t have to marry Natalie to prove you’re not your father. Do you get that? You couldn’t be your father in a million years.”
Charlie doesn’t say anything. He looks at the floor. It must be so different being a boy without a dad instead of a girl without a dad. I should stop assuming they are the same thing.
“You have a lot of options,” Mom says. “And all we want you to do is think about them.”
“Fine,” Charlie says.
“Are you going to think about them?” she asks him.
“Already have,” he says. “I’ve made up my mind. I want to marry Natalie.”
“Do you love her?” Rachel asks.
“I know I will,” Charlie says. “I know I want to.”
His tone makes it clear that we have reached the end of the conversation. A part of me feels like saying,
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink
, and the other part of me thinks that if anyone can out-stubborn marriage, it’s Charlie. If anyone can trip and fall into a happy marriage, it’s my baby brother. And also, in the deepest part of my heart, I think he’s right. I may be married, but I don’t know a damn thing about marriage. So who’s to say Charlie’s way is any worse than anyone else’s?
“July it is, then,” my mom says, smiling. She gestures for Charlie and me to come toward her and Rachel. Charlie looks at me, and I cock my head to say, “Come on, a hug won’t kill you.”
The four of us bear-hug. “The rest of them out there, they’re fine and all. But this . . .” My mom squeezes the three of us tight. It’s more of a metaphorical gesture now; we’re too old to fit anymore. “This is my family. You guys are my meaning of life.”
We’re so squished together that now I’m having trouble breathing. I figure Charlie will be the first one to break the huddle, but he doesn’t.
“I love you guys,” he says.
From deep inside the belly of the pack comes Rachel’s muffled voice, “We love you, too, Charlie.”
When it gets late and Grandma starts complaining that she’s tired, we all start packing our things. I gather my own pile of new sweaters and socks. Rachel grabs her new slow cooker. We throw all the wrapping paper away. Charlie and Natalie start saying good-bye to everyone.
“Welcome to the family,” my mom says to Natalie, as they make their way to the front door. She hugs her. “We couldn’t be happier to have you.” She hugs Charlie for a long time, holding him tight. “So you’re flying out tomorrow?” she asks. “And then when do we have you back for good?”
“I’m packing up my stuff over the next few weeks, and then I should be moved into Natalie’s place by mid-January.”
My mom laughs. “Oh, Natalie, I think you’re going to be my favorite kid. You’re giving me a grandchild and bringing my son home!” She puts her hand on her heart and frowns the way people do when they are really, really happy.
They head to their car. I know they are going to talk about us. I know Natalie is going to ask how things went. I know Charlie is going to tell her that everyone loved her. He’s not going to tell her what we said, but she’s going to know the gist of it anyway. I know at some point, Natalie is going to ask Charlie if Grandma really has cancer. And Charlie is going to have to explain how all of this works.
When Rachel and I start to head out, I offer to drive. Rachel hands me the keys, and when she does, Grandma asks us for a ride. “Oh,” I say. “I thought you were staying here.”
“No, dear. I’m staying at the Standard.”
Rachel starts laughing.
“Again?” I say.
“They have a lady who sits in a glass box behind the check-in desk. It’s a riot!” Grandma says.
Rachel, Grandma, and I give Mom a kiss good-bye amid cheers of “Merry Christmas!” and “Thanks for the socks.” We leave the house to her and Bill. From the look on Bill’s face, I get the distinct impression he’s got some weird Santa sex costume waiting for her or something. Gross.
We get into the car, and before I even turn on the ignition, Grandma starts in. “What do we think about this Bill guy?” she says.
Rachel turns her head and then her shoulders toward Grandma in the backseat. “I like him,” she says. “You don’t like him?”
“I’m just asking what you think,” Grandma says diplomatically.
I keep my eyes on the road, but I join the conversation. “I think he seems really taken with Mom. I think that’s nice.”
“You two are a far cry from when you were little. You used to hate every man she dated.”
“No, we didn’t,” Rachel says.
“We didn’t even meet that many of them,” I say.
“She stopped introducing you,” Grandma says. “Because you used to get so upset.”
I don’t remember any of this.
“Are you sure? You’re not thinking of Charlie or something?” Rachel asks.
“Honey, I remember it like it was yesterday. You hated every man who walked in that house. Both of you did. I remember she used to call me up and say, ‘Mom, what do I do? They can’t stand any of them.’ ”
“And what did you say?” I ask.
“I said, ‘Stop introducing them, then.’”
“Huh,” Rachel says, turning forward.
“Sweetheart, don’t take Sunset,” my grandmother says when I get over the hill into the city.
“Grandma, you don’t even live here!” Rachel says.
“Yeah, but I pay attention to the way your mother goes. Take Fountain, and then cut up Sweetzer. It’s better.”
spend late Christmas night with Thumper, reading a mystery about a family murdered in a small Irish town. The detective is on the outs with the department and really has to solve this one to prove he’s got what it takes. With Thumper next to me, his head resting on my stomach, I admit, this is a great way to end a holiday.
My phone rings around eleven. It’s David.
“Hi,” he says. His voice is soft and shy.
“Hi,” I say. I can feel myself smiling wide. “How was your Christmas?”
“It was nice,” he says. “I spent the day with my brother and his wife and kids.”
“That sounds fun,” I say.
“It was fun,” he says. “His kids are four and two, so it’s cute to see them open a playhouse and get all excited.”
“And then you spent the rest of the day trying to put it together for them,” I offer.
David laughs. “I’ll tell you, those instruction booklets are torture. But it’s nice to be able to do that.”
“I’m going to be an aunt myself, actually,” I say. “So I’m looking forward to all of that stuff.”
“Oh, wow, congrats!” he says.
I thank him, and there is a long pause.
“Well, yeah,” David says. “I don’t know why I called, I guess. I just wanted to see how your Christmas went. I was thinking about you. And . . . you know . . . holidays can be lonely, so I just . . . wanted to see how you were . . . faring.”
Sometimes you want to forget the fact that you’re alone, and instead, you want to relish the feeling that someone understands you, someone is fighting the same battle that you are. Also, you know, sometimes you just want to feel wanted and desired. Sometimes you want to feel what it feels like with someone new. Sometimes you forget about whether you’re
to do something, and you just let yourself
“David,” I say warmly. “Would you like to come over?
There is a brief pause. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, I would.”
• • •
“Oh, my God!” I am yelling. Or maybe I’m not. I don’t know. “Oh, my God!” Oh, my God. Oh, my God.
Oh. God. Oh God. Oh God. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
And then I fall on top of him.
And he thanks me as he catches his breath. And he says, “I needed that.”
And I say, “Me, too.”
• • •
The next morning, I wake up to hear Thumper scratching at the door. He’s not usually shut out of the bedroom.
I open the door and let him in. He jumps on David, smelling him, investigating. He’s wary. David wakes up to Thumper’s snout in his armpit.
“Excuse me, Thumper,” David says groggily. Then he turns and looks at me. “Good morning.” He smiles.
“Good morning.” I smile back.
He rubs his eyes. He looks vulnerable without his glasses, as if I’m seeing the real him that not everyone gets to see. He squints at me.
“Do you need your glasses?” I laugh.
“That would be great. I just can’t . . . well, I can’t see them anywhere. Because I can’t see without them,” he says, as he feels for them.
I pick them up off the nightstand on his side. In doing so, I lean over him, my body brushing his. I can feel how warm he is to the touch.
“Sorry,” I say. “Here you go.”
He kisses me before he takes them out of my hand. The kiss is deep and passionate. I forget who I am, who he is, for a second.
He takes his glasses out of my hand, but he doesn’t put them on. He puts them back on the nightstand. And he kisses me again, pulling me down on top of him. I guess the weirdest part about all of this is how it doesn’t feel weird at all.
“Mmm,” he says. “You feel good.”
My hips fall onto his hips. My legs fall to the side. He moves his pelvis, pushing and pulling us tighter.
“Thumper,” he says, looking right at me. “Get out of here, would you?”
Thumper ignores him. I laugh.
“Thumper,” I say, “Go!”
And Thumper goes.
I melt into him.
At first, I am doing the things I know I should do. I am arching my back, I am grinding my hips, but somewhere along the way, I forget to do the things you’re supposed to do.
I just move.
When I’m naked and underneath him, when I’m moaning because he’s doing all the right things, he breathes into my ear. “Tell me what you want.”
“Hm?” I manage to get out. I don’t know what he means, what he wants me to say.
“Tell me what to do to you. What do you like?”
I don’t even know how to answer him. “I’m not sure,” I say. “Give me some options.”
He laughs and lifts my hips off the bed, running his hands down the length of me.
“Yes,” I say. “That.”
• • •
After David leaves, I go to my computer and open an e-mail draft. For the first time in a long time, I have something to say.
How come you never asked me what I wanted? How come you never cared about what I needed in bed? You used to pay attention, you know? You used to spend hours touching me, finding things that made me tingle. When did you stop?
Why did it become easier for me to just satisfy you and then move on to something else? Why didn’t you stop me and say that it was my turn? Why didn’t you offer more of yourself to me? You never asked me what I liked. You never asked me my wildest fantasies.
David asked me last night what I wanted, and I didn’t know how to answer him. I don’t even know what I want. I don’t know what I like.
But I can tell you that I’m going to figure it out. And I’m going to learn to ask for it.
If you come home, if we make this work, sex has to be about me, too. It has to. Because I remember what it’s like, now, to be touched as if your pleasure is the only thing that matters. And I’m not going to let anyone make me forget again.
y grandmother calls me from her hotel room later that day.
I pick up the phone. “Hey, Grams,” I say. “What’s up?”
“I had a thought.”
“About your problem, you and Ryan.”
“OK . . .”
“Have you ever read Ask Allie?”
“What is that?” Good Lord, is she about to recommend an advice column?
“It’s an advice column.” Yep, she is.
“Oh, OK,” I say. “Not sure about that.”
“It’s a really good one! This woman has the best advice. Last week, a lady wrote in about how she doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that her son wants to become a Mormon.”
“Uh-huh,” I say.
“And Allie said that it’s not about what religion he chooses but that the lady should be proud of having a son who thinks for himself and takes an active role in his spirituality. But she just said it so beautifully! Oh, it was beautiful.”
“It sounds like it,” I say. I don’t know. I guess it sounds like it.
“Well, I think you should write to her!”
“Oh, no, no, no. Sorry, Grandma. I don’t think that’s for me.”
“Are you kidding? I’m sure Allie would have something to say about it.”
“Well, yeah, but—”
“Don’t decide now. I’ll send you some of her columns. You’ll see.”
“I can just Google it.”
“No, I’ll send them.”
“OK, sounds good.”
“You are going to be impressed with her, though. And maybe she could really shed some light on what you guys are going through. You might even be able to help people going through the same thing. I’m sure there are plenty of people your age dealing with the same challenges.” She pauses for a moment. “I guess what I’m saying is that maybe she could offer some insight.”
“Thanks, Grandma,” I say to her. There is a small lump in my throat, but I swallow it down.
“Of course, sweetheart,” she says. “Of course.” She sounds as if she might be swallowing the lump in her throat, too.
think we should throw Natalie a baby shower,” Rachel says as we’re hiking through Runyon Canyon the next Saturday morning. Thumper is, as always, leading the charge.
“Yeah, that would be nice,” I say. “We should do everything we can to make sure she feels welcome. We sort of botched it the other day.”
“Right,” Rachel says. “We blew that one. But I do really like her. She seems awesome.”
“I hope their baby has her skin tone. Can you imagine? What a gorgeous baby that will be.”
Thumper has stopped to smell something, and Rachel and I stop with him. We’re standing off to the side waiting for him as we talk.
“You knew, right?” Rachel says. “He told you ahead of time?”
I can’t look directly at Rachel until I decide what I’m going to say. I pretend to look at whatever Thumper is smelling, and in pretending, I actually notice that he’s about to step in mud. I yank his collar, but he steps right in it anyway. Now both his front paws are covered in it. I should just come clean.
“Yeah,” I say. “I did. He told me a bit before.” I really feel like shit about this. Our family always spills the beans about everything, and this time, I kept the beans.
I watch as Rachel’s face starts to lose resolve. She doesn’t look me in the eye for a few moments. She stares at the gravel path beneath our feet.
“You OK?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says, her voice cracking and her eyes looking forward. She starts walking ahead, and so I follow her, dragging Thumper along.
“You don’t sound OK,” I say.
“Why didn’t he tell me?” she asks. “Did he say why he didn’t want me to know ahead of time?”
What do I do? Do I tell her the truth and possibly hurt her feelings? Or do I keep yet another secret from her? I opt to split the difference. “I think he was afraid that you wouldn’t take the news well.”
“But why? I love Charlie! I’m always happy for Charlie. I’m always happy for everybody.”
“I think sometimes we worry that you can’t handle some of the love talk. We all have some sort of love life to discuss, for better or worse, in my case.” I shrug. “But you know, you haven’t been able to find a relationship, and I think . . . maybe . . . it’s hard to . . .”
“I seem bitter,” Rachel says.
“Yeah, a little.”
“You know, it’s funny. I swear, I don’t even think about being single that much.”
I look at Rachel as if she’s trying to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge.
“No, I’m serious!” she says. “I really like my life. I have a perfectly fine job. I can afford to live on my own. I have the best sister in the world.” She vaguely gestures to me, but it’s clear she’s not saying it to flatter me. She’s saying it because she thinks it’s true, and it’s one of the things in her life that she’s happy about. Ironically, that’s even more flattering. “My mom is doing well. I get to spend my nights and weekends with people I love. I have plenty of friends. And the best part of my week is every Sunday morning when I wake up around seven thirty, go into the kitchen, and bake something completely new from scratch while listening to
This American Life
“I didn’t know you did that,” I say. We have stopped moving again. Our feet just sort of gave up on moving forward and instead planted themselves firmly in their places.
“Yeah,” she says. “And to be honest, I don’t really feel like anything is missing.”
“Well, isn’t that—” I start to say, but Rachel isn’t done.
“But that’s not how the rest of you all live,” she says.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, Mom always has someone. Even if we don’t meet him and it’s not as serious as she’s been with Bill, she’s always talking about meeting some guy.”
“Right,” I say.
“And Charlie is always dating someone. Or impregnating them, as the case may be.”
“Right,” I say, laughing.
“And you,” she says. She doesn’t need to extrapolate further. I know what she means.
“That was part of why I was so excited for you to have time away from Ryan, you know?”
“It just seemed like maybe you could have my kind of life, too.”
“Living alone and being on your own and finding your Sunday morning hobby. I was excited about the idea that I’d have someone to talk to and it wasn’t always about boyfriends or husbands or girlfriends.”
“Right.” Even separated from my husband, I am still preoccupied with the opposite sex. Maybe not all the time. But still. On some level, my love life is a defining factor in my life. I’ve never been a person who had a career passion, really. I like my job at Occidental in part because it affords me a life outside of work that I really enjoy. I make enough money to have the things I need and want. I have time to spend with my family and, in the past, with Ryan. Love is a big part of who I am. Is that OK? I wonder. Is it supposed to be that way?
Rachel is quiet for a moment. “I just . . . I don’t feel like I’m missing out on love, really.”
“No,” she says. “Honestly, the problem is that I just feel like I don’t fit in.”
I never thought about it that way. Rachel just always seemed as if she was jealous or unhappy being single. I didn’t realize that perhaps it was the way the rest of us considered her singleness that really bothered her.
“I want to meet someone,” Rachel says. “Don’t get me wrong.”
“But if that doesn’t happen until I’m forty or fifty, I think I’m OK with that. I have other things I’m interested in.”
“And if you don’t have kids?”
“I don’t want to have kids,” Rachel says. “That’s the other thing.” She’s never said this before. We don’t talk about it that often, I guess. And I suppose I never asked her. I just assumed that she did. How hetero-normative of me. “I love kids. I’m excited for Charlie’s kid. I’m excited for when you have kids. But you know? I just haven’t ever felt that longing to have my own. I look at new moms sometimes, and I immediately feel stressed out for them. I saw this family the other day at the mall. It was these two parents and then these two kids. The boy was a teenager, the girl was maybe ten, and I just . . . I felt this very clear sense of ‘I don’t want that.’ ”
“Well, you might,” I say. In my head, I’m thinking that she’ll feel it once she meets someone, and then I realize, Jesus Christ, it’s so ingrained in me that I can’t get it out of my brain, even when I’m consciously trying to get it out of my brain. Marriage and kids. Marriage and kids. Marriage and kids.
“Sure,” she says. “I might. But listen, you and Charlie, you want that normal family life so bad. You wanted it so bad you met someone at nineteen and never looked back. Charlie wants it so bad that he’s going to marry a woman he barely knows.” She shrugs. “I don’t need it.”
My sister and I are alike in so many ways, and it is that similarity where I have always found comfort. But the truth is, we are two distinct women, with two distinct sets of wants and needs. This basic difference between us was always there. I just never saw it, because I was never looking.
“I’m really glad this came up, actually,” I say. “I’m happy you said all of this.”
“Thanks,” she says. “I think it’s been on my mind for a while.”
“I forget sometimes that you’re not me,” I say. “You seem so much like me that I just assume you think all the same things I do.”
“We’re still pretty similar,” she says. “You know me better than I know myself sometimes.”
“Yeah,” she says, nodding. “I have an appointment with a bank on Tuesday.”
“I’m looking into a small-business loan.”
“For the bakery idea?”
She smiles, embarrassed. “Yeah.”
I high-five her. “Oh, my God! This is such great news!”
“You don’t think it’s a disaster waiting to happen?”
“I really don’t. I swear. I really think you would be so good at it.”
“I was thinking of doing a line of sugar-free stuff, too, seeing as how the sugar cookies went over so well.”
I laugh. “Finally, Grandma’s cancer does us a favor.”
Rachel nods and laughs. “I knew it would be good for something!”
We move on to talk about other things, but on the car ride home, one thing just keeps playing over and over in my mind.
You want that normal family life so bad. You wanted it so bad you met someone at nineteen and never looked back.
I couldn’t see it until she said it, and yet now it seems so blazingly clear that it’s all I can see. It’s amazing the things that have been written across your forehead for so long that even when you’re looking in the mirror, you don’t see them.
At home, there’s an envelope waiting in my mailbox from one Mrs. Lois Spencer of San Jose, California.
Here they are, sweetheart. A few of Ask Allie’s columns. Think about it. Love, Grandma.
She printed them out from the Internet and mailed them to me. I laugh to myself as I look them over and then stick them in a box of miscellaneous stuff. I tell myself that I’ll sit down and read them soon. Then David calls asking if he can come over, and I say yes. I jump into the shower.
By the time I’m dressed and dry, I’ve already forgotten where I put the Ask Allie articles. They simply aren’t on my mind. I’m not thinking about what advice I need to fix my marriage. I’m not reflecting on what my grandmother thinks of what I’m doing.
I’m not reflecting at all, really.
I’m starting to just live.