(This is the seventh and final in a short series of posts)

After the service, we stand in a makeshift receiving line outside the church. JRA performs the social duties of widowhood, which seem not unlike those of being a bride, except unfathomably lonelier.

This is the way marriage is supposed to work, right? I think as I watch her, Only one of you comes out alive. But what do I know about Till Death Do Us Part – I’m the only one of us who has been divorced multiple times, which suddenly seems pretty lonely too.

In the receiving line, my first husband and his wife greet me warmly. He is wearing the cashmere scarf that I bought him for Christmas many years ago; I am wearing the necklace of rough-cut citrines he bought me in Shanghai. The trappings of our life together are still omnipresent and unavoidable. Even after all these years, I still recognise pieces of his wardrobe as things I bought him; I still know exactly who gave us what as a wedding gift. The one thing whose giver I could never identify was the sturdy mortar and pestle on my counter that I would use to grind spices and make guacamole. Then one day JRA noticed it and said I’m always so glad you always have that out, Pete and I were so worried when we gave you something that wasn’t on your registry.

I wonder, briefly, where people who haven’t had first marriages get their Stuff; and how, once divorced, they manage to cleanly untangle their necklaces and cashmere scarves, and separate their kitchen gear, and uncouple their iTunes libraries.

All the mourners are invited to Pete’s parents’ country club for a reception following the service, and we spend the better part of the afternoon reminiscing and eating miserable sandwiches. Eventually, I settle in and chat with Andrew’s wife. There is an easy intimacy between us because we are both members of the same strange sorority of being Mrs. L—.

The afternoon wears on and the club is closing, and we all head for the exits. Andrew and his wife and I are the only ones left waiting for our coats, and we leave together. I watch them get into my beloved, ageing Jaguar – the car Andrew is still driving, which is now covered in the accoutrements of family life: a badly placed ski rack; children’s car seats covered in toys.

It makes me laugh a little, and reminds me of a line from a song that had come on the radio as I was making soup the night Pete died:

And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

Towards the end of his life, Pete had stopped eating solid foods. Soup was always on the menu, and at our social gatherings, there was always a thermos of it; at restaurants, we always remembered to check the menu for drinkable dinners. He’d tired of the fact that soft foods were nearly always sweet – he was desperate for savoury; threatened to make a pizza smoothie, which caused endless eye-rolling from JRA.

That night he’d died, I’d sung along to Talking Heads in my kitchen, and served up chicken soup to a friend who came over for dinner. We’d had a lovely, quiet meal, but neither one of us had known that it was a beginning and an end when JRA had called later that night and said, Pete’s not doing so well.

And now, I stand in the golden February afternoon and watch as my first husband gets into my large automobile with his beautiful wife, and for one split second, I laugh in astonishment at myself as I wonder: How did I get here?

As I pull out of my spot in the overflow parking on the golf course, a flock of Canadian geese rise towards the sky.  It occurs to me that I shouldn’t be surprised at all; I have known all along exactly how I got here, which was that fifteen years ago, Andrew introduced me to JRA, who walked down the aisle as my bridesmaid when I married him, and JRA fell in love with Pete, who together created Lady H, who walked down the aisle as my flower girl when I married Paul, and Lady H danced that night with her dad, who is the one who brought us all full circle today.

Andrew and his wife pull away, I think that maybe hope is not the thing with feathers, love is.

(This is the sixth in a short series of posts)

We bury Pete on one of the coldest days of the year, which strikes me because we had buried Tommy, his younger brother, on one of the hottest. I once read an article in the New York Times about the importance of the rituals of death as part of the grieving process, and I wonder, as I drive to Long Island on the morning of Pete’s second and final memorial, if that is why my grief over my grandparents’ deaths has been so complicated. In their case, they had died a year and a day apart – necessitating two grim trips to Orlando during which I had inquired about formalities – and my mother had looked at me askance and asked: Why?

When Tommy died, back in July, Paul and I had been in Newport, because Andrew and I had always gone to Newport in summer and I never saw a reason to stop. After I’d taken JRA’s call about her brother-in-law, I’d come back to the table and motioned for the bartender to come refill my Sauvignon blanc, which she did, to the absolute brim, until the surface tension of the wine in the glass made a dome over the rolled lip of the sturdy barware, and we didn’t discuss the matter of the phone call further. But that night, I’d come down with my third case of shingles – this time an ophthalmic emergency – and I’d had to drive back to the city one-eyed the next morning.

Likewise, the day Pete died, I took to bed for a week with the flu and a 103F fever. When my therapist asked me, Perhaps we can deal with your feelings instead of letting everything become physical? I looked at her like she was crazy and told her, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

I arrive in Glen Cove and I stand with a clutch of family at the gravesite and then head into the now-familiar church with the carved wood walls, and the raised pulpit, which I remember so clearly from Tommy’s memorial in August like it was yesterday and not six months ago. I am meant to give a eulogy today so I sit near the front of the church – Dorota and Michael sit next to me. Once the sanctuary is fully packed, the traditional Episcopal service begins, and I listen to the other remembrances.

Then it is my turn to rise shakily and talk about my friend:

I first heard about Peter when he was a senior at Brown, and Jessica was describing the love of her life. I didn’t have a chance to meet Pete in person until a few months later at Campus Dance, when he rolled out of his fraternity house, laughing, and joking, and that kicked off what was to be a long friendship. And for years, I teased that I was the friend that stood out at Brown events – not Pete – because at many of those Brown parties and reunions, there was almost always more than one guy in a wheelchair, but there was only ever one painfully WASPy, conservative blonde. 

Pete had remarked, in his writing, and throughout our friendship, that visibility mattered to him. Being in a wheelchair, and eventually, having all of his equipment, he occasionally commented that people noticed the stuff long before they ever got to know him. But one of the things that made Peter a remarkable friend was the way that other people were so highly visible to him; the way he could make you feel like you were the only person in the room when he talked with you.  This was clear from how he was as a friend; obvious in how he was as a dad; I’m sure Jess will debate me on whether this is true about him as a husband, but I’m not sure there’s a wife who wouldn’t engage this debate. 

This quality came out in his professional life as a social worker – a profession that Pete seemed tailor-made for. Pete often ran groups – providing support for families of individuals with disabilities and for men with disabilities themselves. My favourite story of Pete’s was early in his career when he came up with the idea to run a group for men with social anxiety. He prepared the materials; set up for the group…and no one ever showed up. Being a social worker had a learning curve. 

Over the years, I had the good fortune of watching Jessica & Pete’s love grow – they loved each other fearlessly. They were always present to each other; visible to each other; kind to each other. Pete was an ordinary husband, who drove Jessica nuts in 1,000 perfect, loving, wonderful ways. To be presented with such significant challenges and still have such an ordinary love is one of the things I admire so much about Jessica, and one of the things I loved so much about Pete. 

I also got to watch Pete become a father. About a week before Helen was born, I had dinner with Jess & Pete in New Jersey; walking along the Hudson on the way to the restaurant. I remember watching Peter watch Jess; seeing her expectant reflection in the window of some building along the waterfront. The moment still sticks with me – Helen, Meatloaf – I know your daddy saw you before you even came along and loved you from before he even met you. There’s no swimming stroke you’re not going to be able to conquer, and there’s no bird or animal you won’t be able to identify – you got your dad’s perseverance and concentration. Seeing the way Pete SAW Helen – not just for being his daughter – but as a person herself, was something to behold.

Finally, as a friend, Pete never failed to be present. Whether it was for game night – where he was a wicked contender – or coming to the city to watch me run yet another ill-advised race, Pete was in.  In November, Pete came to watch me run my last marathon – knowing the significance of the feat of running on two reconstructed hips and a new knee. It took me longer than it’s ever taken me to run before, and I was so happy to see Pete, and Jess, and Helen at the end. 

I think it’s easy to forget to see people. You see them for what you want to see them as, or for the role they play in your life. You can see the contraptions they carry around with them, but you can fail to see the person sitting right there in front of you.  I’m so grateful to Peter for our years of friendship, and for helping me to see not just him, but myself, too. 

(These remarks have been condensed and lightly edited from the original).

(This is the fifth in a short series of posts)

I make phone calls all morning, and finally, I reach my first husband at his office.

Hello, darling, I say. He understands instantly why I have called.

Andrew and I always had a plan. We would stay up late at night in bed, laughing, devising ways to escape the city in the event of an attack by Godzilla or Mothra. We had our future mapped to the moment; we anticipated every contingency and had more insurance than any two young people should have had. And even now, as we talk, our voices betray that intimacy of a first marriage – where you have been young together, and loved each other in a way that you make up as you go along, and you have listened to each other throwing up in foreign hotel rooms, and have been so irrationally mad at each other that you once cancelled the other person’s credit card mid-business trip.

But my voice catches, and I cannot ask him: How did I get here? Tell me, darling, what comes next?

What comes next is that JRA plans and hosts an abbreviated shiva, but I cannot make a shiva call because I have out-of-town commitments that I must keep, and anyway I am struggling mightily with this new vocabulary of tangential Jewishness.

Arrangements are made, and dates are set, and time begins to move very fast indeed.

I drive to Scarsdale one Sunday to ride bikes with Lady H and she takes off down the Bronx River Trail like a bat out of hell, leading me and JRA on the ride in the cold, pale January afternoon. She struggles on the hills but conquers them, a far cry from a few months earlier, when even the slightest incline terrified her. As the day grows smaller, we head back down the trail, along the river, and a large, blue heron stands silently in the water, staring at me as I ride.

H! H! I holler to my budding ornithologist companion, What kind of bird is this? But she has ridden too far ahead to hear me.

JRA pulls her bike up beside me to look. It’s funny because the one person who would know isn’t here to identify it, she says with a small smile. Pete had been a lover of nature and an avid watcher of birds, and I feel a wide, dull ache in my chest flap brokenly.

The heron is still staring at me as we ride away.

The first of two services for Pete is planned for the end of January, and Andrew tells me that he and his wife will be there. He and I talk a few times before the day-of – about love, and life, and loss, and interfaith relationships. His wife is a professor of Jewish Studies, and he is a lapsed Catholic; they are raising their children Jewish. It all sounds very complex, and it reminds me of when I had to convert to Catholicism in order to marry Andrew – the Bishop came to a church in suburban Maryland to perform my confirmation – and Andrew’s parents had flown in from Connecticut in support, but to this day I believe it was to ensure that I actually went through with the whole thing.

On the day of the service at the JCC, we all drive out from the city to Westchester in a car filled with flowers and food and wine to remember and to celebrate Pete. JRA and I go to the JCC ahead of the crowd to begin setting up for the service, and for one brief moment, we are alone in a room, just the two of us – no parents, no friends, no Lady H. We have been in this sort of waiting room prior to events before but they have always been happy occasions – my weddings; her wedding; just before Lady H was born – and now, here we are, preparing to celebrate the end of the beginning.

Friends begin arriving, and the service begins, and it is beautiful. It is mostly people I haven’t seen since my first wedding, or since JRA’s. People tell stories and share memories, and Dorota reads the Horace ode in Latin that a friend read when JRA and Pete got married. And because Pete had been an avid singer before muscular dystrophy had restricted his voice, his college acapella group, the Pirates, sing a sea shanty.

As the Pirates launch into the Mingulay Boat Song, my eyes scan the crowd for Andrew, who is a few rows ahead of me, sitting with his wife. I think back to that October day, ten years earlier, when JRA and Pete were married in Boston, and she and I had shared the same wedding veil, and she had floated down the stairs wearing it as the Pirates serenaded them. I watch Andrew’s wife dab her eyes with his handkerchief, and I watch him put his arm around her and draw her close, just as he had done to me a decade before on the opposite occasion.

The next day, JRA sends me a photo taken from her front porch – it is of a murmuration of starlings; hundreds of them. They have inexplicably descended upon her street – swooping down upon her yard and doing loops over the wheelchair ramp on her lawn.

If I were the type of person who believed in signs, she says, trailing off.

And for the first time in many weeks, I feel the ache in my chest flutter a little, and start to grow wings.

(This is the fourth in a short series of posts)

I leave Argentina by way of Chile on a Tuesday night, and then fly from Santiago to New York. It is different this time than the last time I left Santiago, on a New Year’s Eve upon the finalisation of my first divorce, when I spotted a couple in evening clothes in the airport. They boarded my flight, and had danced in the aisles on the plane – getting up when the pilot had announced the New Year – looking less like a portrait of true romance than a Jack Vettriano painting, or a line from that Paul Simon song, Rene & Georgette Magritte with their Dog After the War.

I remember, years later, looking at another Jack Vettriano print in a Newport, RI hotel room, that I had read that Rene Magritte had hated and been long-estranged from his wife; that Paul Simon’s lyrics were more likely borne out of his own longing than any recollection of the Magrittes’ true tenderness for each other.

My friends want to go for dim sum on Saturday following my return, and I say I will go until the reality of having to leave my house in a blizzard sets in. I text my best friend Jade saying, I am having a very hard morning, maybe I should stay home, and she tells me to go eat dumplings anyway.

Our plan is to meet at Golden Unicorn, a restaurant that takes up several floors in a Chinatown office building. Upon arrival, we are seated at a large, round table on a dais, and the ladies come around pushing carts full of little bamboo baskets. JRA and Lady H join us a few minutes into the meal. We stuff ourselves with little doughy packets for hours, and to my surprise, my mood lightens considerably. I watch Lady H tell eee her secrets – they talk about boys, and clothes, and swimming – and Michael leans over to tease me about my recent trip, and for one moment I stop asking How did I get here? And for one moment, I think that we are all going to be Okay.

The meal ends when the carts stop coming around, and from Chinatown, JRA, Lady H and I trek uptown in the snow to visit Pete at Mt. Sinai. When we arrive, JRA goes into the belly of the ICU, and leaves me and Lady H in the waiting room where we talk with the other waiting families about the things that strangers talk about to break up the heaviness of silence between them.

Then JRA comes to take Lady H in to Daddy, and I walk the halls of the medical ICU alone.

In December, they’d had someone playing Christmas music at the piano in the hospital’s atrium. The pianist had played Christmas classics, but never Merry Christmas, Darling, which was probably because it wasn’t the sort of song that lent itself to being played on a lobby grand piano. And I remembered, back in December, that I had never really noticed Mt. Sinai before. I had run past it hundreds of times; most recently in November when I’d run my final, foolish marathon, but I’d never seen that it was right there; right on the Park.

I begin to wonder how many other obvious things I haven’t seen.

It is getting late, and the snow is still falling, and after they finish visiting Daddy, JRA and Lady H decide to stay in the city at my house that night. We manage to find a taxi to get from the hospital to my house, and on the way, at a stop light, a woman tries to commandeer the cab to take her sick child to Cornell’s ER. We graciously step out, but the cabbie screams that he cannot pick up passengers below E. 96th St. Just take the fare, I tell him. But he refuses, and speeds off, and we are left with a couple with a sick kid, and a shaken Lady H, standing in the middle of a snowdrift on the Upper East Side.

The next morning is sunny and the roads are clear, and JRA and Lady H take off early for the suburbs.

That evening, I make chicken noodle soup and a friend comes over for dinner, and it is a normal, quiet evening. But at the end of the night as my friend is putting his coat to leave, my home phone rings. It is JRA, who tells me that Pete has taken a turn for the worse. We brainstorm some logistics, but I do not expect anything to change, because time is moving so quickly and also so slow.

In the middle of the night, she messages me to call her first thing in the morning. I call her when I wake up to discover that Pete has died overnight after a month-long battle with respiratory illness, complicated by Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

I say that I am sorry because I am, and because I now know that the world looks different in the moments between when your friend is alive and dead; in the hours between when your friend was a wife and is a widow. Our call is quick, and I can hear JRA’s voice, but I am thinking about a WH Auden poem as she talks. I am transported back to a clear, cold afternoon in Dublin when Paul took me and eee to the cliffs of Howth; past a house W.B. Yeats lived in. My hips were hurting me then and I didn’t know why; I didn’t know then that my genes and my collagen were bad and there was nothing I could do. I felt helpless then, as I do now.

I am remembering that late May afternoon, when we walked in the brilliant blue, freezing sunshine, and we snapped photographs over the silent sea, and we ate 99s in the howling wind when we finished our walk. And even though I hated Flake bars, I still ate my ice cream but gave the chocolate away. I thought about poetry then, as I do now, and I thought about Yeats, and about the Auden tribute, which began:

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day…

(This is the third in a short series of posts)

I drink gin by myself on Christmas and Boxing Day in Brazil – touring Iguazu Falls and doing some yoga before heading back to Buenos Aires later in the week after Christmas. I am in the muggy, jungle-y part of Brazil, and each day, I dutifully slather myself head-to-toe in mosquito repellent, because the State Department’s website has warned of Zika in this part of the world, and I am notoriously sweet to insects.

You’re not family orientated, Paul’s words echo in my head like a mantra.

Each night, I sleep with a mosquito repellent band on each of my wrists and ankles, and one to tie my long, blonde hair up on my head.

You wrap your hair? Mr. A remarked when he came to blow it out on the morning of my company Christmas party.

Of course I do, I rolled my eyes and gestured down to the coil hair-tie on my wrist; pointed at the folded satin pillowcase set out to be put on the bed when the housekeeper changed the sheets later that day.

I don’t know any white girls who do that, he laughed.

You need to spend more time with Scandi girls, I said, Austrians; German-extraction types. Our Bottle-blonde hair breaks!

And here, in Brazil, I am sleeping in a haze of gin and DEET; desperately fending off a teratogenic virus for the benefit of an imaginary marriage-wrecking child; putting up my goldilocks with mosquito bands instead of invisibobble ties. In the mornings, I kayak in rapids with a tour guide who takes me too close to the belly of the Falls, and the spray soaks me; chokes me. It reminds me of being across the border in Chile – whitewater rafting in the rapids of the Maipo River when my first divorce was being finalised.

I got sucked under, then, and thought for one terrifying second that I would drown before I remembered how to put my feet out and float downstream until the guide could fish me out of the river with a lifeline. At the end of that journey, I’d crouched over our campfire, soaked and lonely, stinking of silty water and a fire made with wet wood that was too weak to dry me out.

I do not drown, and I do not get bit, and I will not let myself be sucked under again. I fly back from Brazil to Buenos Aires where I meet friends and I laugh like a woman unchained. We fly to Mendoza where we drink wine in burning hot vineyards where the sun glints off the snow in the Andes and everything looks like Southern California.

We hire a driver and drive the road between Argentina and Chile, hugging but not crossing the border, next to the narrow-gauge railroad where the tracks are rusting and the trains have not operated since the 1970s. We stop in the valley where Aconcagua rises in the distance, and I remember that my friend PG climbed that once, because I’m the sort of woman with friends Who Do That Kind of Thing.

Everything is deja vu, even here in the middle of the Andes.

I FaceTime my parents again on New Year’s Eve, and it’s a quick and sweet call because they are with my aunts and uncles at the lake. I tell them I am in Mendoza; they ask about Pete this time, because they have read between the lines about Paul. Pete is still in hospital, I say, and I give them specifics. My dad is worried about Lady H; JRA; Pete himself. They ask me what I am doing; they are curious about who I am with – who my friends are – but I say nothing more.

On New Year’s Day, I fly back to Buenos Aires, and take a taxi to our hotel where we are promptly robbed. I can’t even be mad about this – there’s a gentle buzz of chaos all around me – few streetlights or stoplights; seemingly no rhyme or reason at intersections; invisible lane lines on roads – and being robbed in a gentlemanly way through an alleyway park job, a switcheroo scam, and some money clearly printed on a laser printer, seems rather low-stakes in the overall scheme of things.

Everything’s fine. At this point, casual lawlessness seems almost comic relief after the rigidity of Dublin 4.

I spend a few days taking in the delights of Buenos Aires; basking in the gardens of the hotel. It looks like the set of Evita. I practice my godawful Spanish, which has improved since my trip to Chile in 2010, and all the other business and pleasure trips to Spain, but is still comically bad for someone whose heritage is largely Iberian.

Argentina is a joy. I feel like myself again for a few days; or at least, like my head is above water.

And then, on the last day, my flight back to New York is late, and checkout is mid-day so we decide to go to the spa to kill a few hours of time. I get a massage and I shower off the oils and it is only as I am putting on my leggings for the long flight back to JFK that I finally notice the first swellings of a single, massive mosquito bite on my upper thigh. It all comes back to me suddenly – the river, and the spray, and the choking feeling, and the loneliness, and the wet wood, and the longing, and the two divorces, and the monsters in my genetic code, and I remember that I am not family oriented, and I feel like the water is holding me down once again.

 

(This is the second in a short series of posts).

You’re not family orientated, Paul tells me, You don’t like babies; you don’t like kids.

I begin to question everything I think I know about myself.

Things move at a snail’s pace, and also, quickly.

Pete stabilises somewhat; is moved from White Plains to Mt. Sinai in the city. December drags on. I see a lot of Lady H; JRA. Christmas rolls around and I meet JRA at the hospital to drive back with her to Scarsdale for Christmas eve, only to have a car pick me up and take me to JFK from their house.

Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah are the same, so we eat fish that Papa cooks, and we light the menorah and we listen to Jewish acapella groups on YouTube singing catchy songs about the Macabees. Grandma and Lady H ask me what my favourite Hanukkah song is and I confess that I know zero Hanukkah songs.

You didn’t even learn any in school? they ask, incredulous.

No. I grew up in California, I say, as if that explains it. I know one song, about a dreidel, but I can’t remember any of the lyrics and of all the holiday songs I know, it is probably the one I like the least. Merry Christmas, Darling, is decidedly not an Hanukkah song.

I have so much to learn.

But then my car arrives, and I have to cut my Christmas Eve dinner with them short and head to the airport. I am not going to Ireland. I am going to Argentina; Brazil.

The Christmas Eve airport is surprisingly painless, and I board my flight quickly. As soon as we are airborne, I take a Benadryl and put in earplugs, and tune out the world until I land in Buenos Aires on Christmas Morning.

After nearly a decade of avoiding family Christmases, the last few years have been chilly family holidays in Dublin. Paul and I would fight, and the holiday always ended with me in bed, watching The Sound of Music on my iPad, after having pretended to have eaten dinner. He would be furious at me about needing to eat on a regular schedule; I would be jetlagged and cold – desperate for my days of spending untethered holiday seasons in sunnier climes.

I reach passport control in Argentina and I feel nothing but relief – no anger; no sadness – that my invitation to family Christmas has been revoked. I continue onward – across Buenos Aires to the domestic airport – and on to a flight to Iguazu Falls. I’ve hired a driver to meet me at the airport, and take me across the border to the Brazilian side.

I am happiest when I am free, I think. I am happiest when I am on an adventure. When Paul and I first started dating, I’d said: Let’s go to Japan! And we did, early in our relationship, on a whim. I thought that he was as free-spirited as I was – ready to tackle new countries and challenges – but it turned out that he loved adventure only to a point, which became clear when we got lost in Rappongi and couldn’t find the restaurant we were looking for, and no one spoke English, and everything was broken, and it was boiling hot outside even at 10pm, and we stood in the middle of a busy street screaming at each other. 

I realised a long time ago that he is so successful in his life because he sets goals; sticks to them; never deviates. Even his adventures have all been carefully orchestrated – by assistants, and travel agents, and tour companies – and he sticks steadfastly to his itineraries. Rappongi was an aberration, and Paul wasn’t Andrew – who could be counted on to quickly remake every plan on the fly, even when his remakes were as terrible as the situations themselves.

With Paul, I had had to become the logistics person. Which I did willingly until I began to resent it.

I realised, more specifically and to my dismay, that when we got married we were on a different kind of adventure – one that ended with me quitting my job, and becoming a mother, and with the world eventually becoming smaller and smaller – first London, then Dublin, and then a small subsection of North Dublin called Dublin 4, where his entire family lived within actual sight of each other. Success could only be measured by achieving Those Things, and failure was not an option.

I never wanted any of that – and I had always been transparent about it. My world was very big, and the thing I loved most about myself was my crazy ability to pick up and pop up somewhere weird; to cherish my family from a distance; to look stupid with someone. I wasn’t afraid of failure anymore.

I reach the hotel in Brazil and it is situated on the edge of Iguazu Falls. The mist makes a rainbow into the sunset, and it is stunning and I am happy.

I call my family and wish them a Merry Christmas. I tell them I love them; they ask about Paul. I lie. I have no idea what he is doing, so I make something up. I do not tell them that three days before Christmas he served me with a Notice of Separation Event under the terms of our prenuptial agreement. I don’t tell them that no one will ever love me because I’ve had two husbands, or that if I just felt less guilty about the monsters in my genes, maybe I could make this all go away.

I say nothing. I listen to them; I listen to the falls outside my window as the sun sets.

Water flowing underground. Same as it ever was.

(This is the first in a short series of posts)

No one is going to believe you that BOTH your husbands were crazy, Paul tells me, No one is going to want to be with a woman who has had two husbands.

I’m not suggesting you are crazy, I say quietly, for the five hundred, seventy-five thousandth time.

No one is going to believe you.

I am exhausted.

It is early December, and the night before, I have driven out to Westchester because my friend JRA has let me know that her husband, my friend Pete, is sick and has gone into hospital. Pete has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, so colds and flus sometimes quickly escalate to pneumonia. He has had a few bouts with respiratory illness over the years, and in the event that JRA is called to the hospital overnight, I go to her house for moral support and to stay with Lady H…just in case.

There is a Sameness and a Difference in the case of Pete’s illness this time. A Sameness because he has had pneumonia before. A Difference because this came on so suddenly and with such a high fever that it feels…not the same.

But everything is fine overnight, and I am driving back to the city before the sun so I can have my mane blown out before my company Christmas party. I am listening to Merry Christmas, Darling, on repeat in my Volkswagen Jetta – a far cry from the days when I was driving back from the burbs listening to Merry Christmas, Darling in my Jaguar.

Everything is different.

The ensuing day is long, and my hair looks good, and I am cautious not to drink too much at the party because I tell JRA, If anything changes, call me!

Before sunrise on Saturday morning, the phone rings, and I am on the road back to Westchester. Pete is critically ill, and has gone into cardiac arrest, and things Do Not Look good. I arrive at the hospital to take instruction and to take care of Lady H for the day. I pull out my ever-ready Moleskine and I jot down where I need to go and when.

Then we get into my Jetta and I drive JRA back to her house because in her hurry to get to Pete overnight, she has driven to the hospital without her glasses. I wonder, briefly, what it would be like to love someone so much that I would to drive to him without my glasses.

I never miss Andrew, my first husband, on a normal day. But this is not a normal day. And I think about how, many years ago as JRA and Pete were getting together, Andrew had clucked softly and mused about the Inevitability of It All. Later, I had laughed with JRA about how Andrew and I hadn’t made it, but my friendship with JRA had. Andrew and I had had a Plan for Being There For JRA when these sorts of inevitabilities arose – he was the planner, not me, Semper Paratus and all that bullshit – but now here I was and he was not.

The main thing today is getting Lady H from place to place – taking her to breakfast; her music lesson; maybe a playdate; a birthday party in the evening – and being home for the delivery of JRA’s Christmas Tree. Her parents are coming down from Boston but I am coordinating logistics until the family can arrive and take over. I am back and forth; up and down; over around and through.

As I drive around Scarsdale playing Christmas music, I think about calling Andrew, but I remember that I don’t know his phone number. We only call each other in the office and I can find his office number on the internet. I want to scream at him: Where are you? Why am I driving this Jetta and not my beloved Jaguar in that stupid red that you made us get that I got all those speeding tickets in? Remind me again of what the plan was: How did I get here?

But I don’t know how to reach him and everything feels broken.

I have been running errands and chauffeuring Lady H around all morning. At midday, I pick Lady H up from her music lesson and since it is too early to take her to a playdate, I take her to JRA at the hospital. JRA has her record a message for Daddy because his condition is very serious. I leave my car with them in it in the hospital’s front drive to give them a moment of privacy; I walk around the corner in the freezing December mid-day and I dry-heave. I don’t know how to cry, and I don’t know how to vomit, and I don’t know how to reach my first husband, and any one of those things seems like it might be good to know how to do today.

When they are finished, I take Lady H home, and Grandma and Papa, JRA’s parents, are arriving. We cannot find the Christmas tree stand in advance of the arrival of the family Christmas tree. Grandma and I go up to the third floor to search for it – but I am unfamiliar with the crannies of JRA’s large, old home. Empty handed, we come downstairs to sit and talk, and wait. The hardest work in these situations is the waiting. Later, we scour the basement for the tree stand because the waiting is unbearable.

Families, like old houses, are complex.

Later, I take one last sweep of the third floor for the tree stand before giving up. As I stand up from the crawl space, I hit my head on the low ceiling. I see stars. I crouch down to the ground while I try to regain my balance. It is then that I text RHJ, who has been asking all day how he can be helpful. I say: Could you take the train out to Scarsdale and drive my car home?

We take Lady H to a birthday party that evening, but neither the Christmas tree nor the tree stand ever materialises. RHJ arrives to drive me home in my car. My hair is still curled from the party the night before; my head is throbbing from the bump on the beam. I still do not know what happened to my Jaguar or to Andrew’s phone number or what I am supposed to be doing now.

And all I can think is that this is not my house. And not my car. And not my husband.

How did I get here?