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Authors: Luanne Rice

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BOOK: How We Started
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He continued, saying I had demeaned his art and his family background, and that Anne wished to sever ties with me and wanted me to know that our relationship was
over
.

For a second I thought it had to be a joke. Ha, ha, I tried. But his voice was glacial as he repeated what he'd just said, and I turned livid. Here was a man I'd met a handful of times telling me how it was between Anne and me. Did he have any idea who we were, what we'd been through together, what we meant to each other? I was drunk on the mulled wine and my blood shot to the boiling point.

“Fuck you, asshole!” I told him to put Anne on the phone.

He hung up on me.

It took me years to understand that Frederik had laid down the law, and, even more horrifying, Anne had signed on to obey it. When I called her the next day, she yelled at me and hung up. That became a pattern. She declined every invitation, even from our mother, for dinner, holidays, mother-daughter days at the Met or MoMA, a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

After a while, the tide changed. We stopped pursuing her, and my mother and I began getting hang-ups. Sarah did, too. We'd answer and hear Anne breathing, but she wouldn't say anything. “I know it's you,” I'd say. Sometimes the silence would stretch on for a minute or two before she broke the connection.

Finally, after weeks of this, she called and we spoke.

“I'm pregnant,” she said.

“Oh, my god. Anne! I'm so happy for you. A baby!”

“I know. It's blissful. We are over the moon.”

I wanted to ask why she'd been calling and hanging up, but forced myself not to. Our connection felt so tenuous, and the fragility in her voice scared me.

“A new baby in the family—oh, Anne. Nothing could be more wonderful. How are you feeling? What's it like?”

“I throw up constantly, but I've never been happier.”

“When are you due?”

A long silence. “We're not giving out any details yet,” she said, her voice suddenly tight and stressed.

“Oh. Okay,” I said. I felt Frederik enter the conversation as surely as if he'd picked up the extension phone. “Whenever you're ready, I want to hear everything. I can't wait to be an aunt.”

“Aunty Clare,” she said.

I loved that. Her words warmed me, and I wished she were there in the room with me, so we could hug, celebrate, and plan, and she could tell me her dreams, like the color she hoped to paint the nursery.

“I have an idea,” I said. “Let's have tea—the way we used to, with Mom and Sarah. We'll go to the Met and look at Renoir's paintings of mothers and children, to celebrate you and the baby—”

“You don't even mention Frederik,” she said.

“Well, of course, Frederik, too. But I thought of tea as more of a girls' thing. You know—mothers and sisters and aunts.”

“I don't think getting together is a good idea. After the way you've treated him.”

“I'd treat him fine if I ever got the chance to see you.”

“He says you're obsessed with our lives instead of your own.”

That stopped me cold. “Because I care about you? That's so warped, Anne—why can't you see it?”

“He said you'd deny it and turn it back on him. You so clearly have it in for him.”

Her voice caught on a sob, and she hung up on me. All I wanted was to call her back, start from scratch, figure out a way to keep her on the line. My hands were shaking, I couldn't dial the number, but worst of all, I couldn't figure out anything to say that would fix the icy distance between us. Because the issue, it had become clear, was Frederik.

I thought back to the very beginning of their time together. One week before their wedding, Paul and I had dinner with them in the back garden of Chelsea Commons, our favorite neighborhood haunt. We'd been so excited about meeting this guy Anne loved so much.

“How did you get into glassblowing?” Paul asked.

He chuckled. “That's such a funny way to put it. I'm not sure one gets ‘into' glassblowing.”

“Well, I meant, what sparked your initial interest?”

Frederik sipped wine and leaned into Anne, shoulders touching.

“It's good of you to be so interested,” Frederik said. “I just don't want to bore you.”

“Come on, I really want to know,” Paul said. “It's art, but I'm also interested in the science. The way you work with sand and fire.”

“It's very strange,” Frederik said. “A type of, how do I put it, spiritual madness? I literally have to do it.”

“I can understand that,” Paul said. “The way work becomes an obsession, when you really love the work to begin with.”

“Tell him, Frederik,” Anne said. “It's so fascinating, the way—”

“There's nothing fascinating,” Frederik said. “It's hard to explain art.”

“Well, how about from the scientific perspective?” Paul asked. “The method you use, and the materials; what temperature do you have to reach in order to make glass?”

“I use a high heat, 1040 degrees Celsius,” Frederik said. He smiled and dropped the subject. Paul seemed not to notice, but my stomach flipped, feeling Frederik's condescension, as if he thought speaking to an Urban Park Ranger was just an amusing waste of time.

I wanted to tell Frederik if he desired art, obsession, or spiritual madness, he should try Central Park. Paul is one of the great sky watchers. By night he guided star walks, taking people into the darkness of the park and watching the Perseid and Leonid meteor showers, the transits of Mars and Venus, phases of the moon, constellations bright enough to be seen through the city's ambient light.

Some days Paul incorporated bird walks with “skying”—a term he'd picked up from a note by John Constable, the nineteenth-century British artist and possibly the greatest cloud painter ever to live. Paul could identify every cloud in the sky—cirrus, stratus, nimbus, cumulonimbus, nimbostratus, cumulus—feel the wind speed and direction, and predict the weather.

Paul knew every tree by its bark and leaves, every flower in the Shakespeare garden and the plays and lines in which they were referenced. We were in love, but we were also partners in nature and the city. How could Frederik think that was anything less than passionate obsession, gazing at the sky but with our feet on the earth we loved?

Anne had quit her job as a researcher in the NYU Biology Lab when she'd married him—giving her scientist boss three days' notice.

“How can you just give up your work and screw your chances of any kind of recommendation?”

“Frederik wants to take care of me.”

“That's a weird way to put it.”

“Why? I've always wanted that.”

“Love is one thing, but why do you need him to take care of you?”

“Because no one ever has.”

The words stung. Hadn't we looked after each other our entire lives?

“Be happy for me,” she continued. “Frederik says we're
fremstillet i himlen
. Made in heaven.”

“I am happy for you,” I said, and I meant it, but I already felt worried. Turns out, I had reason to be. Frederik's heaven meant separating Anne from our family. He'd controlled her the best he could, and I'd never returned to their house until I showed up today.

Gilly, five, colored pictures for me as I held three-year-old Grit and read her
Owl Moon
, one of the books I'd brought. I wanted Anne to remember our own owl story, to remind her of how close we'd been. Grit clutched my hand, excited to find the hidden creatures in each illustration. I stroked my niece's dark curly hair, thinking of how much it was like Anne's when we were little.

We drew pictures. Trees, owls, clouds. I sketched the three cats, telling Grit and Gilly about each of them, how they liked to sleep on the bed just as if they were people, but how they stalked at night, chasing shadows and moonlight.

Through it all I kept watch on Anne. I saw bruises on her wrists and cheek.

“Did he do that?” I asked.

The kids were listening. She hesitated.

“Daddy hurts her,” Gilly piped up, throwing his arms around her neck.

“Come with me,” I said. “Pack some things, and let's go.”

“Where would we stay? The three of us—”

“In the apartment, in your old room! Come on,” I said, driven by Gilly's words and the fact that she hadn't denied them. “Anne, we can figure out everything later. Let's just leave.”

“Where are we going?” Gilly asked.

“To New York,” his mother said. “To your aunt's house.”

She rose, stood looking around the room as if saying good-bye, or deciding what to take, or perfectly stunned by what she had just decided to do. Or maybe she had heard the front door lock click. Frederik stepped inside, a mild smile on his face.

“If I hadn't come home for lunch, would you have left me?” he asked, shining that frightening half-smile on Anne.

“Daddy,” Gilly said.

“You're not going anywhere,” Frederik said, knocking Gilly aside to grab Anne by the throat.

I slapped and scratched Frederik, tried to pry his hands from Anne's neck. The kids screamed, and so did I. I reached into the fire and grabbed the charred end of the burning log. I swung it like a baseball bat, straight into his face. It smashed his cheekbone with a loud crack, and he let go of my sister. That's all I cared about.

The cops don't believe my version of what happened.

After being booked I called Paul and asked him to have my lawyer meet me. She never made it to the station house and hasn't yet arrived here at the jail.

Now I'm in a cell. No window, no natural light, but there are brash greenish-white overhead fluorescent tubes over which I have no control. There's a half sink/half toilet, stainless steel with no seat. Just the bare frame like the kind you see at arenas.

The cell is cinder block with a drain in the middle of the concrete floor, and a narrow bed attached to the wall. I'm alone. They're not granting me privacy out of kindness; they consider me dangerous to others and myself. It's a fact, and I'm not denying it, that I bashed my sister's husband in the face with that burning log.

I hear my sister choking, the children shrieking, and see myself dive at the fireplace and come out swinging. The smell of my burned flesh makes me throw up. Or maybe it's the sensation in my wrists, bones reverberating with the violence, the impact of the log breaking Frederik's nose.

I'm on suicide watch. When the sheriffs turned me over to the prison staff, a female guard strip-searched me. I looked at her nametag: Officer Fincher. She is tall, stocky, and muscular. She's built like marble. I had expected depersonalization, but her eyes met mine. I saw a woman-to-woman flicker, almost as if she was sorry for me.

She told me to strip, and I did. Everything off—underwear included. My gauze-wrapped hands are like paddles, so she helped me unclasp my bra. Clothes went into a pile. Then she slipped on a pair of latex gloves and had me stand tall, spread my arms and legs.

“Open your mouth,” she said, and looked inside with a flashlight. She checked my ears, up my nose. She examined my armpits, navel, and the hair on my pubic bone.

“Hands on the wall, bend over,” she said, shining her light at my buttocks.

She gave me cotton underwear and an orange jumpsuit, a pair of sneakers with Velcro closures. No belt, no laces.

“Your lawyer coming?” Officer Fincher asked.

“My boyfriend called her,” I said.

“What's her name?”

“Mary McLaughlin,” I said.

“I know her,” Officer Fincher said. “I know most of the defense attorneys.” I waited for her to make a comment about Mary McLaughlin being smart, or good, one of the best, but by then our eye-to-eye, woman-to-woman moment had passed.

Finally Officer Fincher left, and I was alone.

I lay down on the bed and closed my eyes. I couldn't stand looking at those scrubbed mint green walls terrorizing me with the idea I might be here forever. I kept hearing the panic and disbelief in Paul's voice when I called him at our apartment. I wondered if I'd ever get to return to Chelsea, to Paul, our cats, our friends, and my work at the institute for Avian Studies.

I thought of Anne. She must have gone to the hospital with Frederik. I wondered how badly I had injured him—not because I care about him, but because I'm worried about my sister and what he'll do to her and the children if he recovers. He doesn't deserve her lying for him.

On my way into jail, I passed through two sets of locked metal doors. The sound of them clanging shut has lodged deep in my brain. Guards were stationed at desks behind bulletproof glass, with just a slit at the bottom, through which one sheriff's deputy handed my papers. A radio was playing, and between the first set of doors I heard the sung phrase
“We stole some clothes, but I wanted love; I know that my sister did too . . .”
And by the time the sheriff's deputies, one on each side of me and my heart skittering up my throat, rushed me through the second set of steel doors, my mind called up the next part of the song:
“. . . Lilly Pulitzer gave up her ghosts; we wore pink, but inside we were blue . . .”
I can't be sure whether I actually heard that second phrase or only imagined it. But it didn't matter because suddenly I was not only hearing “Crime Spree”—a song from long ago—but singing along with Anne, years before she'd met Frederik, one summer day in Central Park, lying on our blanket in the Sheep Meadow, tanning in bikinis and listening to WABC. We were fifteen and sixteen. Blue sky, sun, the park, being together.

The Sheep Meadow was packed with sunbathers, but we found a clear spot without too many little kids around, within easy sight of three Collegiate School boys we knew from the Gold and Silvers, the Christmas dance at the Plaza, who were playing Frisbee.

We sprayed Sun-in on strategic face-framing strands of our black-brown hair—blond was one dream that would never come true. My hair was long and straight, Anne's short and wavy; I wanted hers, and she wanted mine.

BOOK: How We Started
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