(Continued from Chapter 16.2 – Chic; to start book, scroll to “Chapters” in right side bar.) “Idiot!” Veronica shouts to herself, sitting in the bumper-to-bumper traffic clogging the Hudson River Parkway. She bangs the steering wheel until her fists ache and lets tears stream down her cheeks, safe in the isolation of her car.
Lunch ended abruptly, with Terry checking her watch and announcing that she had a meeting to race off to. She gave Veronica a circumspect peck on the cheek and then clicked away on her pointy heels. Veronica stared at her until she was gone, numb with the certainty that she’d never see Terry again.
Why should she? she bristles silently. They have nothing obvious in common. They no longer share a college dorm room, a major, or a need to commiserate about thwarted expectations and muse about glamorous dreams. Terry has no husband—she still careens from one date to the next, disgusted with the shortcomings of every man she meets—and has no children. The two can’t compare stories of pregnancy and breastfeeding, of managing temper tantrums and picky eaters. Nor can Veronica relate to the latest tactics in schmoozing or how the Internet is changing the press.
Yet when a chance arose to bridge these gaps, she chose to let it slip away. She said just enough to give the impression that she’s put her art on hold to raise her kids, but, like a coward, presented only half the truth. Confiding in Terry about the mess she’s in—the rocky state of her marriage, the dead end her mind skids into whenever she tries to think about solutions and the future—would have shed light on the profoundly human things that the two do share: frustration, conflicting desires, loneliness, and disappointment. The bittersweet legacy of having moved forward yet having left a big part of themselves behind. Instead of hurrying back to their separate lives, they might have reveled in a lengthy, bonding heart-to-heart.
Of course, opening the floodgates to her heart would have been as terrifying as trying to sell a painting. Veronica hasn’t even peeked behind those gates yet. When she does, she might drown.
Traffic inches forward. A dented blue van to the right turns into Veronica’s lane without signaling, cutting her off. She slams on the breaks and bangs the steering wheel again, jerking her hand back at the startling blare of her horn. A driver to the left—a ruddy-faced man in a greasy undershirt—gives her the finger, shoving it high into the air. Yeah, she thinks. Insult me. I’ve had it coming all along. Did she honestly believe that by delivering only the sunny side of her story she could somehow make the dark side go away? Or that she could mask it without sounding shallow and insincere? How exasperating Terry must have found her. How dull.
Back in Aix, did she really think that she could hide herself from the playgroup moms? She always scurried off from their get-togethers after barely an hour, abuzz with excuses about the twins’ nap time, their mealtime, or someplace else she had to be. Could they sense that, in fact, despite her desire for kinship, the strain of looking chipper while carefully selecting just a few good things to say left her feeling drained? At the mere thought of Abigail, Lorena, and Trish, who might have otherwise become the dearest friends she’s ever had, she convulses with sobs. They’ve continued copying her on e-mails about playgroup meetings and coffee dates at Le Grillon. A real pro at ignoring messages in her inbox that she doesn’t want to read, like Didier’s, she’s never answered them. She never told them she was gone.
Up ahead, dense lines of vehicles snake toward the George Washington Bridge. Its arched silver beams stretch upward like the gates to heaven, pulling her forward. But where do they lead? Beyond them, in Tenafly, Shirley will greet her with a pert account of the books she read to Luc and Céleste, the hot dogs and Tater Tots they shared at lunchtime, the songs they sang together, and how the twins sat as still as angels in the bath while she washed their hair. She’ll list Luc’s new vocabulary words and the number of times Céleste used the potty. She won’t mention any of the nettlesome details: meltdowns, time-outs, or new chocolate stains on the white living room sofas. And this will make Veronica’s blood boil. It’s boiling now. Because, come to think of it, what irks her about Shirley’s glossy outlook on everything, including the shit she cleans up, is that it rings as idiotically hollow as the half truths she fed Terry today.
Shirley always shines a great big spotlight on everything she wants to see, wants to show, leaving the rest to languish in the shadows. Yet who knows what toxic mass of emotions lurks, undetected, in those shadows? Embedded in a mind and heart, such a mass can sprawl and rot, corrode the health. And her father: surely his acidic grouchiness has a source. But Rich, who loathes risk and confrontation, would never dare reveal it, perhaps not even to himself.
Shame rages through Veronica’s neck, burns her ears. She has bought into the illusion, hook, line, and sinker. Worse yet, she has tried to mimic it. Could she really marry a man who lives in France? Of course! He’s a doctor—a surgeon! Besides, no town in the world is more beautiful than Aix-en-Provence. When the kids ask her these days about Didier—when they’ll see him, when they’re going home—she says, “Aren’t you having loads of fun right here?” No wonder Didier, who digs down so deeply into every moment he experiences, felt unable to confide his innermost hopes to her, his fragile ambitions and plans. Perhaps he wanted to. Perhaps he tried. And while his confidence in another woman remains a painful enigma, Veronica understands, suddenly, that by questioning her choices and desires he was simply attempting to reach into her soul and grab onto something substantive, something he could hold.
NEXT INSTALLMENT, BEGINNING OF CHAPTER 17, COMING IN A WEEK. MEANWHILE, MORE BACKSTORY BLOG ON THE WAY