The house was an endless parade of people and crises. To one used to a crypt-like level of privacy and quiet, there was nothing like that here. This was the time when women were urged to pursue careers almost single-mindedly. It had the drive and the cachet of the breakthrough. We knew of almost no one who actually lived in the same city as their boyfriend or husband, except Meredith, and she was separated supposedly. Nobody stayed in the place where they were born or where they went to school; we all migrated toward the jobs, toward adventure. We no longer had the luxury of being failures in these areas with no questions asked. Which was good. On the whole, I think we all did pretty well on the career side, feeling our way, pushing against resistance toward what it was we wanted, and that was great; we’d never go back.
This was not so much the problem as the fact that we still wanted the other side as well—to have love in all its seduction, but it was not considered quite proper to speak about. Oh, of course people still spoke about it, talked about it all the time, obviously, but it was no longer part of the official cant. But we still wanted to be loved; we hated to let the romance go, even if it was fake—a quartet of eighties girls whose bright balloons of grand expectation got tangled up in the dark branches of their longings and desires.
We used to think this not quite right—a sign of weakness—so we pursued our beau ideals furtively, and secretly felt the others were either hypocrites or sneaks. We were comfortable at, did a good job of being rational, reasonable—why wouldn’t we?—but we wanted those sparks as well, and thought that this must be the reason we were inferior, or at least why men thought us so. Maybe we didn’t really believe men were capable of love on the same level as us; that gave them a leg up, but also left us thinking deep down we were the superior sex. Yet we still wanted them, that was our defect. But wanting both sides of the coin, the whole coin, was exactly the right thing, the natural thing, the human thing. To be able to see this and work toward some balance—it took a long time for some of us to realize this.
Upstairs in my room one evening, thinking of Michael, dreaming back, my mind hovered around how fond I’d been of him, how that could still pull at me, but how I never loved him without reservation, never loved him as he and everyone should be loved at least once; how it was wrong to go and right to leave, but sad, too; a gentle bittersweet sadness. Too tired to go to bed, not unpleasantly suspended in this weary melancholy, I was jarred out of it by an unearthly commotion downstairs–high-pitched frightened screaming splitting through the wistfulness. I sprang off the bed, and after a moment of panicked indecision, crept down the stairs with not a little trepidation.
Adam was outside on the front porch, on the other side of the front door in a drug-induced rage, his arm jammed through the narrow opening he had kicked open, only the thin door chain keeping him at bay, his hand around Meredith’s throat. That safety chain was the only thing keeping the demons outside and Meredith alive at the moment, and I watched the metal links strain and shudder as Adam kicked and threw his weight against the door, jerking his wife’s head forward with every attempt. He had had enough of the separation, of Meredith calling the shots, and after an evening of stoking his rage with chemicals and alcohol, had come to claim his.
Meredith was desperately trying to keep calm and talk him down from his hysterical raving, a hard stunt considering the breath was being choked out of her and he was on a plane beyond reason. Karen had already come into the front hallway and was standing a few feet behind her, arms crossed, frowning, appraising the situation like a coach talking her charge through a routine. “Do you want me to call the police?” she asked at one point in a tone one uses to ask guests if they want something to drink. I stood frozen on the stairs.
Meredith, head jammed against the wall, trying to pry Adam’s fingers off her neck, was adamant that she could handle this and begged us not to interfere, to leave them alone. She could do nothing but beg on all counts now. Mercifully unfamiliar with violence of this kind–this whole other alien world–I stood mesmerized not knowing what to do. Finally she got him to release her for a second—she would come outside if he would let go—and as he loosened his grip, she slipped out of his grasp, grabbed the door and slammed it repeatedly on his arm until the pain broke his blind anger, and she and Karen got it locked. The whole neighborhood could hear him wailing drunkenly and self-pityingly on the other side.
“Baby, baby, why are you doin’ this? What d’you fuckin’ want?”
I went back upstairs badly shaken. But I couldn’t sleep, and later when it seemed quiet, I snuck back down and saw the two of them sitting huddled out on the front stoop, talking; the front door, so possessed and terrifying earlier, decommissioned and standing mildly open, just the storm door between the safety of the house and all the swirling outside furies. I was really angry for having been subjected to that. They were from Maine; I didn’t think people from Maine acted like that.
The next day Meredith apologized to the two of us (Morgan swore she had slept through the entire thing)—her neck fingerprinted with red welts. I was still upset, but Karen appeared to mainly take it as a black mark against Meredith that she couldn’t control her men. We didn’t want to have to start dealing with that shit. Adam would no longer be allowed in the house, Meredith declared. And that was true, he never set foot in the house again as far as I knew. Whenever he came to pick her up, he stayed in the car parked outside. Meredith used to keep him waiting for up to an hour, and Adam sat sullenly behind the wheel like a dog waiting outside a store for its owner, silently taking the punishment; it was impossible to fathom whether he understood why what he did was so wrong. It became ridiculous after a while, to the point where, although I would never openly admit it, I began to feel sorry for him, sitting out there, permanently denied access to higher ground.