"But you're my only real friend!" Mattie wept, and Angela had cried too. They had been talking in different kitchens for years now, ever since the night they met over a stranger's stove during a party for Nicky, when the College of Marin made him an assistant professor of literature. Minutes after meeting, the two women broke off entirely from the others. They sat on the kitchen floor and talked like teenagers about their mothers and their bodies and God, to whom they were both devoted, and their pets, to whom they were also devoted, and Nicky, about whom they were both ambivalent. Angela worked with him at the college, where she read and graded papers for the entire English department, and while she enjoyed his sense of humor, she disliked his elitism. He liked to discuss books and politics; he had no patience for stories of real people trying to get through the day. Angela and Mattie started getting together several times a week, to hike or cook or help each other around the house. Nicky accused Mattie of being in love, of going gay. At the same time, he had dropped hints that he didn't think Angela was a real lesbian: she just hadn't met the right man yet, it was a phase, and would pass. And a few years ago, Angela noticed that Nicky had taken off after classes with of one of his students, a beautiful twenty-two-year-old black woman. Mattie was six months pregnant with Ella at the time. Several years before, he had had an affair that nearly ended the marriage, although he had never given Mattie further cause to doubt his fidelity. But one day after she and Mattie had become inseparable friends, Angela followed Nicky and the young woman to the Tamalpais Motel, and then she told Mattie. Mattie confronted Nicky, and he broke off the affair, and while Mattie eventually forgave him, without forgetting, Nicky never forgave Angela, and Angela never forgave Nicky.
Angela sometimes wore her short honey-colored hair in two vertical tufts, like velvet giraffe horns. Her wide eyes were steel-blue. She was Jewish, expansive and yeasty and uncontained, as if she had a birthright for outrageousness. She knew things. Mattie couldn't live without her.
The smell of wet soil, blossoms, and grass wafted through the kitchen window as Mattie heard Angela's news. "But you're not going to have to live without me," Angela said, crying. "We'll talk every day, and I'll come up every chance I can."
Mattie went back into therapy to deal with the devastation of losing Angela. The therapist pointed out gently that some of her grief must be related to her deteriorating marriage. In some ways, losing Angela was harder. It was like the death some years before of Mattie's old cat, who had loved her the way her parents were supposed to have loved her: purely, without conditions. In any case, for a few months Mattie didn't have the strength to bear both her friend's departure and the end of her marriage. And then one day, she did.
When the leaves began to blaze and the days grew shorter, she brought her children and their things to the house she had grown up in. She brought some furniture, their dog, two cats, a couple of porno movies stolen from Nicky, and his bottle of Valium. He did not ask her about them. It was assumed that the children would live with her, and visit him on the weekends. He adored them but would not have been willing or able to share custody, even if Mattie had been willing. As it was, he took them most weekends, often late Saturday morning, then dropped them off Sunday nights with an air of weary heroism, like a firefighter returning the engine to the firehouse after a particularly difficult outing. The children were grief-stricken that he did not live with them anymore. Mattie prayed with them every night, then prayed separately for their hearts to heal, even prayed for Nicky's happiness and half meant it. After a month of weekend visits with Nicky, the children's distress lessened.
From Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott, Copyright © October 2002, Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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