Authors: Melanie Marchande
“I know you’re going to be reasonable about it,” she said, going over to a rack in the corner. “Which helps. Some women, you know, they get angry, and they don’t want to accept that their body is changing even though they’re
it’s changing. But you’re not insane, so I’m more than happy to work with you.”
“That’s very nice to hear,” I said. “Thanks. I always try to be…sane.”
She was making thoughtful little noises as she circled me. “Yeah, it’s like I thought. You’re not really officially in maternity yet, but you’re going to need more room around the waist. I got a few things that are in more forgiving styles. Eventually, your bust is going to get bigger too, so we’ll need to deal with that.”
“Yes,” I said, eyeing the full-length mirror in front of me. “Yes, we will.”
“A lot of women don’t realize,” she said, taking one of the dresses of its hanger, “that you’ll often still ‘look pregnant’ for while a while after the baby comes. All they see are these Hollywood pregnancies where they’re back with a personal trainer in a week and don’t allow themselves to be seen until everything’s back in order. But that’s not realistic. Your entire body’s shifting around, inside and out.”
“Yeah,” I said, feeling slightly queasy at the idea.
“Sorry,” said Emily. “I don’t mean to lecture you.”
“No, it’s fine. First pregnancy and all.” I smiled. “The amount of information out there is…pretty overwhelming. I still feel like I don’t know anything, and I’ve spent hours researching.”
“It’s a lot to swallow,” said Emily, zipping me up. “There, what do you think of this one?”
It actually had a similar style to the dress I’d picked for the women’s heart disease event. I could understand now why people thought I was pregnant. It was much more sleek and modern, though, and I couldn’t really complain.
“That looks pretty good,” I said. “Feels pretty comfortable, too.”
I tried on a few others, but I didn’t like any of them as much. The options were much more limited than I’d been expecting, but this was a pretty awkward time - not yet in maternity clothes, but still beginning to show.
We had to attend another event, this time at Columbia, where Daniel was receiving an honorary degree. He insisted that I didn’t have to go, but I told him I was
feeling up to it. Privately I wasn’t so sure, but I knew he needed me there. I couldn’t start begging off things just a few months into my pregnancy.
I smoothed my new dress over my now-actually-there baby bump, and hoped for the best.
Daniel stopped in the middle of chewing. I knew that either meant he had a great idea, or a horrifying thought.
“What?” I prompted, after a moment of silence.
“I have to invite him,” he said, grimly. “Don’t I?”
“Well,” I said. “It would be a nice gesture.”
“God.” He rested his head on his hands. “Why can’t I just have a normal family?”
“Nobody has a normal family,” I said. “And I’ll invite your dad, if you don’t want to.”
“No, absolutely not. That would be even more of a slap in the face than not inviting him.” He still hadn’t lifted his head. “He’s going to find a way to be negative about this, no matter how nice I am about it.”
“Well, you just need to call him out when he gets like that.”
“What, and make him more bitter and defensive?” He looked up, finally. “No thank you.”
“Well if you just keep letting him do it, you’re sending the message that it’s acceptable behavior.” I shrugged. “So I guess it depends on how much you want him to stop.”
I tried to imagine how I’d feel, if one of my kids didn’t invite me to an honorary degree ceremony at Columbia. I’d been doing a lot of trying to put myself in Walter’s shoes lately, and it was becoming easier and easier. I was starting to understand how much of his behavior was rooted in fear and insecurity. Some part of him knew he’d had many failures as a father, but at the same time, he was afraid of facing up to the fact. He’d rather be quietly guilty and defensive about it, guarding the “secret” of his shortcomings that wasn’t really a secret at all.
We met again, a few days later, for another interview. I hadn’t gotten a single thing written for the autobiography, except for a few pages of scattered notes. I thought we might as well drop the pretense, but I was afraid if we did, he’d stop talking to me altogether.
“Daniel called me last night,” was the first thing he said to me after taking off his jacket. “He invited me to see the ceremony at Columbia.”
“Oh, that’s very nice,” I said. “He told me he was going to invite you.”
“He didn’t want to,” said Walter, very matter-of-factly. “I could tell.”
“He wanted to,” I replied. “He was just…”
“Go on,” said Walter.
“He doesn’t like initiating conversations with you, because he feels that your reactions are generally more negative than they are positive.” I was trying to keep my language clinical and neutral, as if that would somehow remove the sting. “This is an important accomplishment, and he didn’t want to hear anything you might say that would tarnish it, in his mind.”
Walter scoffed quietly, but he didn’t have a response.
I decided to keep prodding, as long as I had an audience. “Remember that thing you said, the day I passed out? About how you didn’t know how not to be an asshole?”
He looked at me. “I don’t think those were my exact words.”
“It’s very simple,” I said. “All you have to do is just stop, before you say something. Stop and ask yourself how you’d feel if someone said it to you.”
Walter shook his head. “I’m not going to start tiptoeing around people’s feelings,” he said. “I’m too old for that. If they can’t handle me…”
“Listen,” I said. The sharpness of my own voice surprised me. “I know you think I don’t get it. I know that. I’m too young, or too childless, or whatever. So if you want to ignore me, feel free. But I want the same thing you do. I want you and Daniel and Lindsey to be a family again, even if things aren’t always perfect. I want you guys to be able to talk. But that’s not going to happen unless all of you take some steps forward. And yeah, Walter, I’m sorry to say it, but you need to take a few more steps than they do.”
He was just listening, quietly. Somehow this unnerved me more than if he’d started yelling.
“You really hurt them. On more than one occasion. Many, many times. You made Daniel feel stupid, and you made him doubt himself. You made Lindsey feel unappreciated. I know that’s not what you meant. I know you just wanted them to have a happy life, and you were worried they were making the wrong choices. I get it. I do. But they’re adults and they want you to treat them like adults.” I took a deep breath. “That’s all it is.”
He sat there in complete silence for long enough to completely unnerve me. When he finally spoke again, his voice was very quiet.
“You’re right about one thing,” he said. “I never meant to hurt them.”
I had no idea, really, if I’d gotten through to him at all. Or if anything I could say ever really would. But I had to give it a shot. I couldn’t stand being caught in the middle anymore, hearing the opposing sides of the story, always with the underlying implication: take my side, take my side, take my side. I was sick of taking sides. Walter was absolutely insufferable, but then again, Daniel could be too, sometimes. Neither one of them was willing to consider the possibility of true reconciliation.
“Making some mistakes doesn’t make you a failure,” I said, gently. “It’s refusing to acknowledge or learn from them.”
Walter looked at me, slightly dumbfounded. I couldn’t tell if that was a good sign, or a bad one.
“I understand the conflict,” I said. “I didn’t want to take art classes when I was a kid, because that would mean admitting I wasn’t perfect. The funny thing was, I knew I was far from perfect. I knew all my flaws. But somehow, I couldn’t face the possibility of someone else pointing them out to me, because that would make it ‘real.’ That would mean I was a failure forever. It took me a long time - too long - to learn that it’s not like that. The only way to ever get better at anything is to admit your mistakes and learn from them.” I hesitated. “I’m not saying raising a kid is like drawing a picture, but I think you still have a chance to make things better. It’s not too late.”
Walter was nodding his head in a way that didn’t quite indicate agreement.
“It’s all so easy, isn’t it,” he said. “It’s so easy when you’re on the outside looking in.”
“I know it’s not easy,” I said, quietly. “Once again, and for the millionth time, all I want is for you and Daniel to be happy.”
“But if you had to choose,” said Walter. “I know whose side you’re on.”
“There are no sides. There’s just you, and your son. And if you don’t do something soon, you’re going to lose him forever.”
Walter sat there silently for a long time. Then, without another word, he stood up, turned around, and walked out of the apartment.
I sagged in my chair, feeling tears of frustrating gathering behind my eyes. I couldn’t deal with this man anymore. I couldn’t deal with either of them. Their stubbornness. Their constant, silent battle with each other. Their unwillingness to give an inch.
It was true, what I’d said, and I hadn’t realized it until the words came out. If something didn’t change, Daniel was going to shut off to Walter forever. Walter would never meet his grandchildren, and Daniel and I would spend the rest of our lives trying not to talk about what had happened. Wondering where he was, but not wanting to admit it.
And Walter? What would happen to
I waited for a few days to see if Walter would call me, even though I knew he wouldn’t. On the morning of the degree ceremony, I finally addressed it with Daniel.
“I don’t think your father’s coming tonight,” I said, quietly, over breakfast.
He just shrugged.
Slipping into my new dress and a pair of earrings I couldn’t remember getting, I tried to forget everything. There was a sick knot of guilt in my stomach and I knew that it really wasn’t my fault, but maybe it
, maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut.
Maybe I should have just let things be.
John kept glancing at me in the rearview while we drove, probably wondering if I was going to be sick. Daniel stroked my arm. I leaned my head against the tinted window, still trying to forget.
More speculative photos had surfaced, but we’d decided I was going to officially announce my pregnancy tonight to the first person who bothered to ask. It seemed awfully informal to me, but Daniel assured me that short of getting a Twitter account, this was really the best way to handle things these days.
It was chilly when we arrived at the hall, you couldn’t quite see your breath in the air, not yet, but almost. I held onto Daniel’s arm as we walked into the giant, cathedral-like building.
We were quickly escorted to a door around the back, where Daniel and I could get inside without being hassled by college students. The average charity even was one thing - they usually mobbed the actors or singers more than anyone. But in this crowd, Daniel was basically Elvis.
I giggled at the thought, but refused to answer when he asked me what was so funny.
After a few minutes, someone escorted me to a reserved seat on the side of the auditorium, far away from the crowd. I felt many eyes on me, some of them probably recognizing me even in the low lighting, and others trying to figure out who I was.
Daniel had been preparing his speech for weeks, with one of the kids from creative who had a knack for pulling that kind of thing together. He’d never performed it in front of me, but by now, I was confident he knew how to deliver a solid keynote address.
I cleared my throat and shifted in my seat. I hated feeling like I was under a microscope, but there was really no avoiding it in this kind of crowd. Most of them, by now, had probably either guessed who I was or Googled me. I made a valiant attempt to suck in my stomach, even as I realized it would make absolutely no difference.
The most awkward part of this would be listening to the dean or the university’s president introducing Daniel. When he’d given the keynote at the graduation for a tiny tech school upstate, the president of the college came out and gave a listing of Daniel’s virtues and accomplishments that was so flowery
felt embarrassed. I couldn’t imagine how much his ears must burn as he waited off-stage.
Suddenly, I felt someone slide into the seat next to me. At first I thought it must be my chaperone from backstage, keeping me company, but I didn’t want to turn and look to avoid seeming rude.
“Did I miss anything?” Walter’s voice surprised me.
I stared at him.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry,” said my chaperone, from a few feet away. “He just - he just came in, just now.”
“Thanks for saving me a spot,” he said, leaning back.
“I didn’t think you were coming,” I muttered, under my breath.
“Well,” said Walter. “I didn’t want to miss this. Considering I’ve missed almost everything else for the last few years.”
“That’s nice thought,” I said.
Walter nodded, staring at the foot of the stage in front of us.
“You’re very opinionated,” he said, at last.
“Thank you,” I replied.
,” he said, a smile creeping across his face. “‘Thank you.’ That’s why Danny likes you. I figured it out, didn’t I?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “You’d have to ask him.”
“There’s one thing I won’t argue with you about,” he said. “About losing my son. You said I still have time, but it’s running out. I thought about it, and I can see you’re right.”
I nodded, seeing the curtain rustle off to the side of the stage.
“There’s a lot of things I could have done differently,” he said. “Looking back, I wish I’d thought about things more carefully, sometimes. I realized, after what you said - this is one of those times.” He was chewing on his bottom lip, a gesture I knew very well. “If I don’t play my cards right, I’m going to lose my chance with him.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I said, softly, as a middle-aged man in a mortar board walked out in stage. He came up to the lectern, introduced himself as the president of the school, and quickly launched into what I
was going to be the most cringe-inducing part of my night.