"Oh, sweetie," she said, "I wasn't." She put her hand on my blazing cheek, and you could see the sweet sadness in her eyes, the pity for the thirty-year-old virgin I'd just been. I'd never seen a person's heart so overlarge and weak with real emotion, and so I asked, "Will you marry me?"
"Yes," Anne Marie said. There may have been pity behind her saying yes, but there was love, too: in my experience, you can't expect love to be unaffected by pity, nor would you want it to be.
Moving quickly now: We graduated. A few months later we were married, with the wedding at St. Mary's, the reception at the Red Rose in the South End. Anne Marie's family paid for it and was in attendance (more on them eventually), but my parents were not, mostly because I didn't tell them about it. When Anne Marie asked, "Why aren't you inviting your parents to our wedding?" I told her, "Because they died."
"How?" she wanted to know. "When?"
"Their house burned down," I said, "and they died in the fire," which just goes to show that every human being has a limited number of ideas, and which, as you'll see, ended up being pretty close to the truth. Anyway, my answer seemed to satisfy Anne Marie. But the truth was more complicated. The truth was, I could hear that voice in my head asking What else? What else? and I couldn't be sure if it was my voice or my parents'.
Anne Marie and I took our honeymoon in Quebec City, and since it was December and cold, we skated, which reminded me of my parents' applauding my skating on the golf course pond, so many years ago, and of how nice that was. It should also have reminded me of how badly my parents and I ended up, but I was me, and Anne Marie was Anne Marie, and we weren't my parents, and this wasn't any pond but the mighty Saint-Laurent (St. Lawrence) River, which was frozen over for the first time in who knows how long and everyone was speaking French and things were different enough to make me think that history does not necessarily repeat itself and that a man's character and not his gene pool is his fate. We talked it over that night in our room at the Château Frontenac and Anne Marie was game, and so we decided to make a baby.
We made one; it was a girl. We named her Katherine, after no one in particular. By the time she was born, I was already turning heads at Pioneer Packaging, helping to make antifreeze containers that were more translucent than previously thought possible. Katherine was a good baby: she cried, but only to let you know she hadn't stopped breathing, and it never bothered us much, and it didn't bother the people downstairs at the Student Prince, either. They would often bring up plates of cold schnitzel for her to gum when she was teething. During our first Christmas we strung blinking lights around our windows, and on Christmas Eve, Mr. and Mrs. Goerman, who'd owned the Student Prince for fifty years, brought up platters of creamed whitefish and several bottles of Rhine whine and we toasted the birthday of the baby Jesus, and all in all, this might have been our happiest time.
Then, two years later, we had another child, a boy named Christian, after Anne Marie's father, and suddenly the apartment we loved got too small, and suddenly the smells from down in the restaurant became too strong and we started eating potato pancakes in our dreams. One day Anne Marie came up to me looking like a less happy, more tired version of the woman I'd married just three years earlier and Christian was shrieking in the background like a winged dinosaur fighting extinction, and she said, "We need a bigger place."
She was right: we did. But where? We liked Springfield just fine, but the Puerto Ricans had moved in and Anne Marie's parents and the other Italians had moved out, to West Springfield and Ludlow and so on, and while we didn't want to live where they lived, we didn't want to live in Springfield, eithernot because of the Puerto Ricans who would be our neighbors, but because of what the Mirabellis would say about them when they came to visit. This was one of the things the College of Me preachedavoid heartache, even at the expense of principleand it was one of the few things it got right.
Excerpted from An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke © 2007 by Brock Clarke. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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