If half of all marriages end in divorce, how long does the average marriage last? This isn't a math problem; I'd really like to know. I bet it's less than nine and a half years. That's how long the Saving Graces have been going strong, and we're not even getting restless. We still talk, still notice things about each other, weight loss, haircuts, new boots. As far as I know, nobody's looking around for a younger, firmer member.
Truthfully, I never thought we'd last this long. I only joined because Rudy made me. The other three, Lee, Isabel, and--Joan? Joanne? She didn't last; moved to Detroit with her urologist boyfriend, and we didn't keep up--the other three didn't strike me at that first meeting as bosom buddy material, frankly. I thought Lee was bossy and Isabel was old--thirty-nine. Well, I'll be forty next year, enough said there, and Lee is bossy, but she can't help it because she's always right. She really is, and it's a tribute to her exceptional nature that we don't all loathe her for it.
The first meeting went badly. We had it at Isabel's house--this was back when she was still married to Gary. God, these people are straight, I remember thinking. Straight and rich, that's what really got me--but I'd just moved into a dank little basement apartment in Georgetown for eleven hundred a month because of the address, so I was a little touchy about money. Lee looked as if she'd just come from spa day at Neiman's. Plus she was single, still in graduate school, and teaching special ed. part-time--you know how much money there is in that--and yet she lived around the block from Isabel in snooty Chevy Chase, in a house she wasn't renting but owned. Naturally I had it in for these people.
All the way home I explained to Rudy, with much wit and sarcasm and disdain, what was wrong with everybody, and why I couldn't possibly join a women's group whose members owned electric hedge trimmers, wore Ellen Tracy, remembered Eisenhower, dated urologists. "But they're nice," Rudy insisted. Which, of course, missed the point. Lots of people are nice, but you don't want to have dinner with them every other Thursday and exchange secrets.
The other thing was jealousy. I was small enough to mind that Rudy had a good friend other than me. One night a week she and Lee volunteered to teach reading to inner-city illiterates, and had gotten to know each other during the training. I never worried, then or now, that they would become best friends; I mean, if ever there were two people with nothing in common, it's Lee and Rudy. But I was my old insecure self (then and now), and too neurotic to recognize the potential beauty of the Saving Graces even when it was staring me in the face.
We weren't the Saving Graces yet, of course. Even now, we don't go around calling ourselves that in public. It's corny; it sounds like a TV sitcom. Doesn't it? "The Saving Graces," starring Valerie Bertinelli, Susan Dey, and Cybill Shepherd. Notice these are all attractive, smart, funny women who happen to be a little long in the tooth. Anyway, the genesis of our name is a private matter. Not for any particular reason--it's kind of funny, and it reflects well on us all. But we just don't talk about it. It's personal.
We were driving back from dinner at a restaurant in Great Falls (we eat out when the person whose turn it is doesn't feel like cooking), taking the long way because Rudy missed the Beltway turnoff. We'd been a group for about a year by then; we'd just lost Joan/Joanne but hadn't yet acquired Marsha, transient member number two, so it was just the four of us. I was sitting in the back seat. Rudy turned around to catch my impersonation of the waitress, who we all thought looked and sounded just like Emma Thompson. Isabel yelled, "Look out!" and a split second later we hit the dog.
I can still see the expression on that yellow mutt face in the instant before the fender caught her on the shoulder and flipped her over the hood of Rudy's Saab--quizzical, curious, just mildly concerned. As if she were thinking, "Well, hm, isn't this interesting."
Copyright Patricia Gaffney 1999. Published with the permission of the publisher, Harper Collins. No part of this excerpt can be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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