Louisa has a false front tooth, to replace one knocked out when she fell off of a swing as a young girl, and it doesn't glow with the rest of her teeth under a black light, a cause of slight embarrassment to her at dance clubs. She left home at fifteen, came back at nineteen. Came back again at twenty-one, last year.
Janet had her tubes tied after Louisa was born, a decision Edward stewed over for a long time after he had ostensibly admitted that it was hers to make. The idea of having the operation first came to her during her pregnancy, but it wasn't the rigors of pregnancy or childbirth that decided it for her; it was something else.
They were at lunch, at a café Janet favored. “We need to catch up,” she’d said.
Louisa was trying to explain. “So, yeah, after Boston we moved to New Orleans. Chad just basically moved us. He started the move without telling me.”
The line between Janet’s eyebrows deepened. “I don’t see how somebody could just move you without even telling you.”
Louisa assumed this meant that Janet refused to understand how Chad could morally do what he did, and decided to deflect the question. “Duh. Come on, Mom. It’s not like he actually moved me without me finding out about it. Like in a box with air holes. But like, he got us a place through his friend, turned on the electricity and the phone, et cetera, and then he told me at the last minute, like, basically, we’re moving. Like, I really want to move and it’s all set up. Anyway, the landlord knew and there was supposedly somebody moving in after us.”
Louisa was visibly cross. But in fact, Janet had not been questioning the ethicality of how Chad had moved the two of them. She just didn’t see how her daughter could be moved
without knowing about it. There were tactical difficulties, a level of secrecy that would be difficult to maintain between two people who lived together in what sounded like a very cramped studio
apartment. The fact that, though Louisa and Chad had lived in a number of small rooms all over the country, Janet had never seen any of them, was discomforting to contemplate.
“This was the landlord in Boston, who knew,” she verified.
“So everybody knew about this but you.”
“He tells you, pack your bags.”
“He’d packed them. We were leaving that minute.”
“And you hit the roof.”
“No. I mean, basically not.” Louisa opted not to attempt further explanation. Things between her and Chad seemed inexpressible and too private to sketch out in a casual conversation with her mom; perhaps also embarrassing: she hadn’t merely fallen in love with him, but rather funneled all her emotional and bodily passion into blind idealization of his every part. And by now that had more or less worn off. She suspected the whole thing looked a little tragicomical to her mother, and she wasn’t sure herself how much of her life till then had really been as aching and authentic as poetry written in blood, and how much had just been sophomoric rutting. The girl she’d been in Boston had lived and loved with both hands off the handlebars. It had felt perfectly right for Chad to plunge them into an unknown city in search of music and everything. Or, looked at from the opposite angle, nothing would have been worse than for him to have meticulously planned the move together with her, in full democratic spirit like a couple of old ladies drawing a map to the state fair before settling into their station wagon. He’d shown he loved her by disregarding her opinion entirely, by presuming that she wanted what he wanted.
Janet actually probably would have understood what Louisa felt, had she been privy to her daughter’s thoughts. She already had a fair idea of it. Janet’s early love for Edward
had been similarly torrid. Their shared obsession hadn’t been music or anything bohemian, just movies and necking, lots of necking, leading to lots of sex. Lots and lots. Janet decided not to
bring this up with Louisa, mainly because her daughter could not have tolerated hearing herself compared to her mother.
Edward had been a one-sock-taller-than-the-other kind of dresser, not a slob but always a little careless of his appearance. His cool-burning intelligence occasionally awed her, when with a pithy remark about current affairs or human nature he revealed that he’d out-thought her quite neatly; and yet he couldn’t remember a birthday or manage to shut off the light when he left the bathroom. He also never passed up an opportunity to make a criticizing joke at her expense. This had been his way of expressing affection at first; but the habit had probably made his eventual slide into hostility toward her easier.
When she came home, Louisa had been glad to find her step-father and mother were living separately. She had never liked Frank, which wasn’t a surprise, as she liked next to nobody and anyway he wasn’t her real dad. However badly she’d done in school, and in life, she had always possessed a remarkable perspicacity, and in Frank she saw a man living a fearful life. It was as though he made lists of jokes and stories to get himself through potentially dangerous social interactions: job interviews, dinner parties, visiting Janet’s side of the family, company picnics—situations where all sides are careful not to accidentally get sincere. His habit of starting sentences with “Don’t you think that…?” seemed sanctimonious to her, and his overuse of “For crying out loud!” made him sound like he was too timid to really fucking swear. (But he did once, in a rare access of actual anger, refer to Chad as a ‘chink’, for which Louisa in an odd way admired him.)
Janet refrained from defending Frank to Louisa, but inwardly she sometimes smarted at Louisa’s dismissals of him. Frank had been born in Illinois. He’d worked on a farm one summer in his youth and hated it, but later on would talk about “growing up on the farm” to impress the fact of his hardy youth on Louisa. Janet was aware of the deception but let it go. He was vain, kept his clothes immaculate, even practiced poise before a mirror. Difficult to offend, easy to alienate; he was an amateur photographer but rarely showed his work to anyone; he often revealed more than he needed to: he once confided to Janet that he felt his stupidest moment had been a time he’d insulted a woman he liked very much to impress the guys, and the woman had been hurt, and rather than admit he’d done wrong he taught himself to dislike her, and took a long time to realize that’s what he’d done, and regretted it still despite being married to Janet now, and on and on, yada yada yada. He was full of flaws, and the miracle of love was that Janet was fond even of these flaws.
(This was a story that I started a long time ago and never finished. Email me if you can think of an ending.)