Biographies & Memoirs

Chapter 20

John mentions, as he’s packing for another overnight, that he and the kids are planning a weekend away in a place called Avoca, which sounds like someone tossed the word vacation in the air and let it reinvent itself in a new but strangely familiar order.

“We have a place there.” Nothing about John Tanner says second home. “We used to like to go quite a bit. We’d love for you to join us … if you like,” he says without looking at me.

“Oh, wow, that’s nice. Sounds great.”

John turns and smiles, and for a moment I feel good, like I’ve given him something he needed. But the very next moment? Hesitation. And the moment after that? Regret. What are John Tanner and I going to talk about for two days? I can’t even imagine the car ride.

“The kids will be happy you’re coming.”

“Even Milly?” I toss out, grinning, trying to convey an easy acceptance of my uneasy relations with his daughter.

“Has she— What do you mean?” He is genuinely puzzled.

“Oh, nothing, I’m just joking. I was just— She’s so funny—I just need to … get her sandwich right.”

What else hasn’t he noticed?

After John leaves, Martin finds me and asks if I want to draw with him.

“Sure. What should we draw? Wait, I know, let’s draw your house at the beach!”

“First do your house,” he says.

Our house was and still is a two-story four-bedroom traditional, which is to say a box built around a central staircase. I draw a rectangle with shuttered windows, a chimney, and a front door right in the middle.

“Now draw your house that you’re going to have when you get babies,” he prompts.

“When I grow up?”

He thinks this is very funny. “Keely, you are grown up!”

“Sort of. Okay, so it’ll probably be a lot like my parents’ house.” His smile sags. He was hoping for more. “But”—I add a large pond in the backyard—“with a place to swim in the summer and ice-skate in the winter.” He likes that. Isn’t that what we all want? A future that’s familiar but a little better than what we knew as children?

“My house is not a box,” Martin says, leaning over the paper, squeezing his pencil until his fingertips turn white. “It is like Legos.”

“It probably was a box, then your sister and you came along, and they added your room; then Pop moved in, and they added his space.” No one would design this layout from scratch. The awkward additions have made too many corners and dead ends, suited less for family time than for hide-and-seek.

“And Ev’s room!”

“Oh, right, there’s that, too.”

After I finish, Martin holds our two drawings up toward the light and layers them. “Look, I can see yours through mine.”

“That’s cool,” I say, looking at the outline of my childhood through the outline of his.

He wants to know where my room was and whether I shared with my brother like he shares his with Milly, and then he wants me to tell him a story. “About when you were five years old!”

“Oh, boy, let’s see …” What story do I have for him? Something he’ll relate to. “Hey, I have an idea! Let’s make model houses. I saw some Popsicle sticks in a drawer this morning—” I divert him because honest to God, right at this moment, I can’t think of one story that won’t bring us straight to my mother, which is the real difference between the outline of his childhood and the outline of mine.

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