Once defined by her career and independence, stay-at-home mom Samantha Friedman realizes her life has become a routine of errands, car pools and suburban gossip. She deals with a husband who shows up for dinner but is too preoccupied for conversation, an increasingly moody daughter who won't talk at all, and wonders, Is this it?
Since finding out she was adopted, seventeen-year-old Cammy Friedman has felt like an outsider. Unwilling to reach out to the parents she once adored, she shields herself behind black clothing and begins to drift into dangerous territory with questionable friends and risky behavior.
Mother and daughter indulge in their own respective escapism— for Sam, clandestine coffee dates with a handsome stranger, fueled by the desire to feel something; for Cammy, a furtive search for her birth mother punctuated by sex, pills and the need to feel absolutely nothing—until a pivotal moment in an otherwise average day alters their relationships forever.
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Elizabeth Flock is a former journalist who reported for Time and People magazines and worked as an on-air correspondent for CBS before becoming a full-time writer. The New York Times bestselling author of But Inside I’m Screaming, Everything Must Go and Me & Emma—a Book Sense Notable Title and Highlight Pick of the Year—lives in New York City. You can contact Elizabeth through her Web site at www.ElizabethFlock.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
We haven't had sex in eleven months. Just shy of a year. More time than it takes to grow a human being. I know it was eleven months ago for two reasons: one, it was on our wedding anniversary and on wedding anniversaries sex is a given and two, the next night was the incident with the family room light. I was reading a book about a missionary family in Africa I ordered after Oprah plugged it. I keep track of what I read on my calendar and plus I remember wishing it weren't our wedding anniversary because I was at the good part but instead I had to pretend I didn't know Bob was simply going through the motions required of husbands celebrating their wedding anniversaries.
So there we were the following night, in the second floor room that is, after the kitchen, the nerve center of our house. Bob was at the computer in the corner searching eBay for tennis rackets even though it'd end up costing more for one on eBay when you factor in the shipping and handling.
"Why don't you just go to Sportmart?" I'd asked earlier in the evening.
"I'm looking for the old wooden ones," he said without looking up. "The old Wilsons."
I shrugged and went back to my book. I became so engrossed I remember looking up and feeling shock that no, I wasn't in a civil war in the Congo, I was actually in my tidy three-story house on Chicago's North Side. I remember smiling and thinking I love it when that happens. When a book's so good you forget who and where you are.
I'd heard Bob sighing and pushing back from the family desk littered with half-finished homework, field-trip permission slips and school reminders on brightly colored paper. He crossed the room and flicked off the light as he left and it took me calling "hey" for him to come back, switch it back on with an "oh, sorry, I forgot you were there." The worst part was he wasn't doing it to prove some point. He truly forgot I was in the room with him. Which is exactly the point. We haven't had sex since.
I know it seems like a silly thing, the light incident. But everyone has that final straw, that moment of clarity when you can't put your finger on it, you just know there's been a shift, a ripple in the atmosphere. The little things have added up and finally you can't take it anymore. We've been quietly drifting into our own worlds for a while, Bob and I. I've just been ignoring it. Up until now. And I can't take it anymore.
Just last week I got buttermilk for the pancakes I decided to make for no real reason. A special treat. I felt like making an effort for once. I got the buttermilk because I know Bob likes it when the pancakes are richer. Swanky pancakes he used to say in a tone that thanked me for going the extra mile back when something like buttermilk was considered going the extra mile. Last week not only did he not notice we were having something other than cold cereal, but when I carefully slid a stack from the spatula onto a plate waved me off and he said, "None for me. There's that construction on Irving Park so we've gotta get going. C'mon, guys."
Our eight-year-old sons, Jamie and Andrew, were still chewing when they grabbed their shin guards and soccer cleats. Sometimes I wonder if they really are twins, they're so different in looks and personality. Jamie moves slowly and deliberately like he's thought out every step he takes. Before breakfast he lined up his guards and shoes neatly by the backdoor. He put out two bottles of water, just to the side. He remembers the second one because Andrew never does. Jamie has freckles across his nose. His skin is so milky white you can see blue veins through it. His delicate features I think will translate into a refined face later on. He is small for eight and many people assume he is younger than his brother. Andrew is solid and stocky with thick brownish-red hair and a Dennis the Menace cowlick. He is exactly what you think of when you think of an eight-year-old boy: messy, unkempt, fearless. If he falls down and cuts his lip he spits the blood out and keeps going. He's got a short attention span but he was tested for ADHD and came up clean. I've had to tell Jamie not to pick up after his brother, which he does on the sly because he can't bear to see his twin in trouble. In trouble Jamie looks wounded. Andrew just tips his head back to roll his eyes at the ceiling and sighs at the futility of parental warnings. Nothing gets through to Andrew; everything gets through to Jamie.
"You know which field it is, right?" I ask Bob.
"I know which field," he says, annoyed but pausing for a sneeze of a second while he considers double checking.
"I'm just saying. It's changed this season and you haven't been yet. Boys, you know which way to go, right? Take a right from the parking lot and go over the hill, remember? Show Dad the way, will you?"
"Bye, Mom!" Andrew calls out.
"Tie your shoes, Andrew. Bob, get him to tie them up before he gets out of the car. He'll trip."
"Yeah yeah yeah, tie your shoes," Bob says. "Let's go guys."
The soccer ball is wedged between his arm and ribs. He drops the keys and bends like a pregnant woman to pick them up, careful not to tip the plastic grocery-store platter of doughnuts I got for halftime.
"Don't forget the dry cleaning on the way back," I tell him. "Hey—you want steak for dinner? I'm going to the market."
"Yeah, fine, whatever. Jamie, get a move on, kiddo," he says from the door to the garage.
Our backdoor opens to a stone path Bob and I laid when we first moved in almost twenty years ago. We were house poor but thrilled to own in what was then an up-and-coming neighborhood. We'd brought a boom box out back and played the only radio station that came in. Jazz music. I lost steam halfway through the job that was supposed to take only a day but stretched out over two whole weekends because the pavers we'd chosen were mismatched. There were countless trips to and from the outdoor landscaping center. The second Saturday I lay back on the grass in the sun listening to Miles Davis and Bob whistling then cursing. I remember staring up at the clouds like a kid, smiling at life. We had a great house, there was a light breeze and I was lying on land we owned, my bare feet on our grass. I remember shading my eyes to watch Bob with a mathematician's concentration size up stone after stone over the shallow hole he had dug. His college T-shirt was new then. It was a Squeeze concert tee from when they played on campus. Our second or third date. Sophomore year. Boston College. 1981. After the concert we got drunk at a keg party at his friends' off-campus house.
I was all over him back then. I thought it was sweet that he wanted to take it slow. He said I was different. He said he didn't just want sex, he wanted to "go the distance." He said he didn't want to do anything to "mess us up." So we took it slow. We fooled around but nothing major. We slept squeezed into my single bed under my Marimekko comforter to the smell of ramen noodles and beer. I remember wishing he weren't so sloppy a kisser, but I figured it'd get better over time. It never did get better, but I figured there were more important things in life than having to wipe my mouth with the back of my hand after kissing him.
Our friends loved being with us because we weren't the kind to couple off and make the single ones feel worse for being single. We were the fun ones. We went to parties and split up to talk with this friend and that—we didn't need to be together every second. In fact, it was not uncommon for us to go a few days without seeing one another. Like during midterms. Still, we'd always know where the other one was. We had our schedules memorized. Sometimes I'd wait for him after his sports-medicine class and get coffee at the student center cafeteria filled with flyers with roommates, band members, used books, tutoring. We had so much in common there was very little learning curve. We were both from Chicago, we'd both gone to parochial high schools, we were both only children. My best friend—my freshman roommate, Lynn—became his best friend. We double-dated with Lynn and her various boyfriends. When she found herself in between boys Bob fixed her up with his friend Patel from Delhi, India, but she can be embarrassingly difficult if she doesn't like someone and she didn't like Patel and Bob swore he'd never fix her up again but he did because I begged him to and finally she clicked with Michael who she ended up marrying and Bob was best man and I was maid-of-honor and it was all perfect. Storybook. We got married when Lynn and Mike got back from their honeymoon. We laughed and said we were like Fred and Ethel and Lucy and Ricky. Then we'd argue about who got to be Lucy and Ricky and who had to be Fred and Ethel. I'd imagined we'd live in houses next door to one another. Lynn and I would quit our jobs to raise our kids together. We'd have coffee after carpool-ing. Bob would play weekly pickup games with Mike and they'd talk about how cool their wives were. I imagined Bob and me spooning every night like we'd done in my dorm room. I wanted the white-picket fence. I was sure we'd have children, but at the time, being so young, I felt indifferent about it.
But somewhere in there I had doubts. I began to worry on the honeymoon actually. We were happy in the Caribbean, Jet Skiing, parasailing, snorkeling, sunset booze cruises with other honeymooners, but I started to notice we were running out of things to talk about. Like we'd had a set amount of sentences in the bank and by the time the honeymoon rolled around that savings account was empty.
On the beach one afternoon, gloomy clouds turned day into night and dumped rain like they were punishing us. It happened so quickly we didn't have time to rush to the car, so we waited it out under our rented Heineken umbrella that was as useless at shielding us from the tropical shower as it was from the brutal white sun.
"Are you upset about something?" I asked him. "You've been so quiet."
He shrugged and stared out at the kidney clouds.
"What is it?" I asked him. "I'm freezing—will you pass me the extra towel in the bag?"
He was mechanical. His arm bent at the elbow, dipping into the bag on his right, clutching the towel, passing it across to me on his left like claw-a-stuffed-animal machines at supermarket entrances.
"It's just..." he said, fixing his eyes at the clouds rolling away to refill themselves. "This is it."
"Wait, what? What're you talking about? Are you freaking out? Do you wish we hadn't gotten married or something? Here, get under the towel." I pressed closer into him. "Aren't you cold?"
"I'm fine. Forget it. It's stopping. Want to go back to the hotel?"
"What does 'this is it' mean?"
He said, "Just forget it, okay? Forget it," with a rattlesnake's venom, so I backed off. I was young and figured it'd all work itself out. I thought it was a gloomy rainy day kind of mood.
I did wonder why we weren't in the bedroom more. Our room had a king-size bed with big fluffy pillows and equally soft robes in the closet. Turn-down service included rose petals sprinkled on the bed. The hotel catered to honeymooners. Lots of finger foods. Chocolate-covered strawberries. I chalked his mood up to being exhausted from the swirl of wedding planning. Bob's always been an active guy so I knew going in it wouldn't be a languid lie-on-the-hammock kind of trip. On the last night of the trip we went to a tiki-hut bar on the beach. We got a bucket of beer and listened to the steel-drum band, nodding to the beat, looking out at the ocean. Bob moved from beer to scotch. I'd only seen him drink scotch once when he was with his fraternity brothers at a homecoming party senior year. We watched the sunset. He jingled the ice cubes and drained the rest of his drink, holding up the glass to signal the waiter for another. I went to the bathroom, washed my hands, looked into the mirror and thought, I think I just made a huge mistake. There was no one to talk to about this but I worried. I worried and worried and worried myself into a thick inertia that kept me canceling plans with Lynn and Mike for nearly two weeks after we'd gotten home. I hadn't wanted Lynn reading my mind.
The stone path isn't a straight line. We thought it would be prettier winding to the garage like a miniature Yellow Brick Road. Now we all use the direct route across the grass. Lynn and Mike bought a house two streets over in our tree-lined neighborhood that feels like the suburbs but is just a few minutes from downtown Chicago. The two- and three-story houses on our street are similarly designed with small squares of grass, front porches, patios, decks and grass out back. Two-car garages that open to a long narrow alley that requires a tap on the horn and a wave to someone waiting politely to back out. Barbecues with large spatulas and tongs. Brick chimneys. Wreaths and roping in winter. American flags in summer. Indian corn in the fall. On any given week there can be three, four visits from Boy Scouts selling wrapping paper or magazine subscriptions, clipboards held by crunchy-granola college kids wanting to save the planet, a local guy down on his luck offering to clean up leaves with a flimsy rake he carries with him from house to house. In the winter he comes to shovel snow off our short walkways up from the sidewalk. He says we can pay him whatever we think it's worth.
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Book Description MIRA, 2009. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110778327345