A Glass of Water
I know this woman who refuses to believe in tragedy. It must be awfully convenient for her. Five years ago her 8-year-old daughter died of cancer, and though she also has a 15-year-old son, last year she adopted a baby boy from Guatemala and always brought him to book club so that she could stick him on her breasts, which she had been earnestly pumping for weeks so that she could naturally nurse him as if she had just birthed him and not in fact some teenaged Guatemalan whose own mother had died three years before from TB. (Though I am making this last thing up, it very well could be.)
One afternoon she invites me to her house, and though at the time I harbored only a faint tinge of dislike for her neighborhood, which hides off the freeway in the forest by way of several hard-to-find winding roads overcome by trees, now I am prepared to declare that the reason I dislike it is because it tries to hide its overt ostentatiousness like a hypocrite hides hate, as if it weren’t simply another exclusive neighborhood full of large, expensive houses masquerading as earthy Hobbit domes under solar panels, massive gardens, compostable play structures, and eco-friendly furniture. I punch in the code she gave me for the gate, and drive down the long driveway. I park my old teal Honda next to her silver Mercedes GLK.
Even though I’ve just left the magnificence of a towering redwood forest, I’m immediately hit by the expansiveness of the entryway (a person could fit an entire dining table in here!), large enough to harbor a small bathroom to the side, a whole alcove for shoe racks, a table below a six-foot mirror upon which thrusts a tall bouquet of grasses and purple flowers next to a beautiful ceramic bowl full of keys and mail. There’s a wooden crucifix, rugged, splintering, opposite the mirror on the other wall of the entryway, something I remember her telling me her husband had bought somewhere far away on a business trip.
“Is that you? Come in, come in!” Her voice comes to me as if from a great distance.
She is nursing Julio, who is now almost 2, in the sun on the immense cream-colored stone patio that the white and stainless steel kitchen opens to from retractable glass walls. The patio cuts into a socially appropriate sliver of grass before giving way to an enormous garden being attended to by a middle-aged Hispanic man wearing a worn leather cowboy hat. Beyond the garden is a pool and embedded hot tub whose invisible current is making some floatie toys slowly spin and wander, come up against the opposite side and return and begin again. She is wearing a large white sunhat and breezy dye-free clothes. Her brown hair traces her spine in one single thick braid.
For lunch there is fresh kale salad (“from the garden!”) with roasted quinoa and feta cheese. There is pita bread with five different kinds of the most delicious hummus I’ve ever had. There are olives and a warm gluten-free pasta dish coated with just the faintest trace of some kind of light-green oil. “Take some wine,” she says, and of course I do, but she is nursing and sticks with her sparkling water though she is suspicious that it is giving Julio gas, unless it is the cantaloupe or dairy. “I have an appointment with the homeopath tomorrow,” she says, gazing lovingly at Julio who is only a mass of dark shiny hair. I can’t believe a baby can possibly have that much hair.
Well, it’s all so nice and I’ve probably had just a tad too much to drink, so I just come out with it. “He’s got Asperger’s and OCD,” and by “he” I mean my son, who is 10. “But Jack can’t take it,” and by “Jack” I mean my husband, “and he thinks our son’s just acting out, that his parents wouldn’t have stood for it, and that, well, I’ve created a monster.” I stop because I don’t want to seem too real, a downer; to descend into tears in front of her as I have been doing alone over the past weeks. Because at times, yes, he is a monster, pummeling me with his fists, screaming, taking the scissors to our books and blankets, and I had never had a word for it before, but I do now. “Can you believe it?” I take another sip of wine, pretending that I’ve just shared a bit of harmless gossip I’ve blown out like bubbles into the air, watching giddily as they rise and pop and disappear. What I really want, though, is the assurance of her eyes. I want a big, fat, reckless hug. But she has tossed her head back to drink in the sun.
“I’m sure he’s just fine,” she tells the inside of her lids. And then she turns to me and smiles and I notice for the first time just how blue her eyes are, my god!, and how radiant she is, effusing life and health and contentedness. “I think I’ll take some water now,” I say, and I put my hot hand around a tall, perfectly smooth cylindrical glass that itself effuses a kind of immortality and assuredness that I admit I want though I know that it really effuses only wealth and beauty and glass. I fill it right to the very top so that the water sits buoyantly and precariously just above the glass’s rounded lip, all those water particles hugging and gathering in toward each other so that not a single one of them will defy chemistry and disrupt the natural order, which is how everything must work, I know, but which also points out the greater truth of the opposite. The world isn’t ordered and polished. It wants disruption and chaos and trouble. I want to grab her sculpted shoulders, bare and tanned, warm from the sun. I want to shake her until her vertebrae explode.
But she is laughing. “You must be thirsty,” she says. And I say I am.
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