Revelle rhymes with gazelle. Below is the first chapter of my self-published novel, about a spirited thirtysomething woman who yearns to be both a dancer and a mother, has constant setbacks in reaching those goals, and keeps persevering anyway. Find Amazon reviews here — 21 of them, with an average 4.2 stars out of 5.
Joyce H., a longtime reader of Diamond-Cut Life: “I loved loved loved your novel. I can’t wait for the next.” — An unsolicited comment. (Note: I don’t plan to write another book. It feels socially isolating to me, and takes me away from my blog. So, I encourage people to read Revelle, my one and only book!
You can find Revelle in many Oregon bookstores and libraries and also the King County Library system of the Seattle area. Libraries often will order a book if someone in their community requests it — you might consider asking your local library to carry Revelle. It’s also available to buy on Amazon.
Chapter 1: Fire
The day that my husband set my truck and possessions on fire I was stunned but dry-eyed. I had felt an explosion coming, but I hadn’t known which of the three of us would ignite it.
I had been dancing in my new home that Labor Day morning in 1993 when the doorbell rang. I was dancing barefoot on the hardwood floor to Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart”. Sunlight was streaming into Pilar and Ruben’s living room, its beams marked by little dust-motes because I was moving so much air around with my body and I remember the small Celtic cross on the silver chain around my neck bouncing against my collarbones as I whirled, kicked and undulated. My skirt was flying. I decided to use the whirl-kick-body wave sequence in the class I would be teaching in my studio on Wednesday:
She might need a lot of lovin’
But she don’t need you.
I was breathing hard. I was joyful in my skin. In that sun-drenched moment, the pain about my imploding marriage had been chased away.
The song ended and the doorbell rang. I turned the volume down before walking to the door. I remember appreciating the aroma of the morning’s coffee lingering in the air as I opened the door to find my husband, standing on the front porch of Ruben and Pilar’s house. His lean, ropy-muscled body was familiar. The expression on his face was strange, several degrees left of center, making my stomach re-clench into the anxiety that was all too familiar. I looked up at him, my five-three to his six-two. The height advantage was his, too.
I had left him five days ago, after a marriage of one year that had felt more like an affair. He had moved to Portland just three weeks earlier. Prior to then, he had lived in Anaheim as I lived in Portland, Oregon, he steadily promising to move up and live with me and just as steadily breaking his promises.
“I need some salve for my hand,” he announced.
“What? Why?” I was confused and off-balance, something I had felt about half the time in the two years I’d known him. The other half of the time I’d felt enchanted by his vitality, admiring his competency as a carpenter, and amused by his antics. I’d been hopelessly in love with him. Part of me maybe still was.
“I set your truck on fire with all your things in it. Now my hands are burned,” he reported. His tone implied I was the one responsible.
I looked at him more closely. His light brown eyelashes and eyebrows seemed to be partially missing. Were they singed?
“I don’t believe you,” I said after a pause. Not believing my husband had often turned out to be the path of reality. My heart was already racing. I knew he was furious, and he’d never been one to control himself.
“It’s over at the Lloyd Center,” he said in a trance. “I’ll show you.”
I put on my sandals and we walked four blocks west in the warm, hazy sunshine. I trailed behind him, not because I was afraid, but because I held him in contempt. I didn’t want to be seen with someone crazy enough to ask me for help, for salve, because he’d set my things, my own things, on fire.
When we’d met two years ago we couldn’t get enough of each other. He found me so beautiful, and I him. “You’re a heart stopper,” he would breathe in my ear during more than one sweaty, love-soaked moment. I had come to believe beauty was overrated, that it carried more liabilities than benefits. Beauty made a person into prey, a target, the way that an antelope that is colored or built differently than the rest of its herd draws the eye of the cheetah, capturing its laser focus, and triggering the deadly chase.
At the Lloyd cinema parking lot, I found that at least this morning, he was telling the truth. There was my red Toyota pickup truck, the entire back of the truck and camper shell a charred, steaming ruin. The firemen were already finished packing up their things. Their big, shiny red truck looked like an older, healthy, well-fed relative of my mutilated one. The white foam that came from the extinguishers was strewn about like semen, the fire having triggered their explosive release into the world.
“You can’t just leave me for another man and get away with it,” my husband said.
I repressed the scream rising in me. I had learned as a child to hide my pain. “It would have happened with or without the other man,” I said.
“Cheaters always say that. It’s bullshit. You don’t get off scot-free.”
I walked a little closer. The door of the camper shell was up. “I smell gasoline,” I said.
“That’s because I poured gasoline over all of it before I lit the match.”
The withered, caved-in shell of my guitar case lay smoldering beside the charred remains of my good down parka; the wedding dress I’d designed and made on my mother’s black Singer sewing machine. The hiking boots that had taken me through hundreds of miles of wildish back-country were melted like the shoes of a wicked witch. My favorite novels. Notebooks of dance sequences and choreography, textbooks on teaching I had kept from graduate school.
My husband watched me closely, craving a reaction, some outrage, or a screaming match. But I knew that coldness was what would hurt him, so that was what I gave him.
I turned away from the sickly sweet smell of the smoldering mess that was my old life. I refused -to make eye contact with my husband, who just a year ago had embodied my new life, but was now bonded by fire, like welded steel, to the old. I walked slowly back to the house, leaving Sonny in the parking lot with his singed eyelashes and hands that needed salve.
“My name rhymes with gazelle, but starts with an R-e-v,” I explained to the policeman an hour later back at the house. “Revelle Jones Champagne. Spelled like the drink. No hyphen.”
“That’s quite a name,” he said, smiling. He was probably trying to put me at ease. He needn’t have worried. All I would let him see was calm courtesy. I was dissociated, the part of me that was frightened and furious over the fire locked away into a box.
“I think the name will be changing,” I said softly. Pilar and Ruben, whose house we were in, smiled. Jones was my maiden name, Champagne my husband’s name. Pilar, my best friend, had taken Ruben’s last name of Lopez when they had married seven years ago, after much discussion and debate. “I’m still an independent person,” she had declared at the wedding reception, done in the style of the old Mexico of their grandparents. “Oh that is clear,” Ruben had said in his dry, understated way.
“So let me see if I have this right,” Officer Chilstrom said. He had arrived soon after Pilar called him, and looked to be about my age, thirty-two. “Your husband still lives in Southwest, near Gabriel Park. And you moved in here with your friends five days ago?”
I nodded. Ruben and Pilar were on the couch in their living room where I had been dancing as the fire had been lit. They sat, sides pressed together, faces grave. I was sitting cross-legged on a pillow on the floor, wearing the off-white hip-yoke skirt I used for ecstatic dance. My dusty-blue camisole had ‘Cowgirl’ scripted on the front and I felt self-conscious that the officer might read something unsavory into that. I felt unsavory.
“And this morning your husband drove himself all the way up here, parked, got into your truck, drove that vehicle back to, uh, your former shared home in southwest, and . . . filled it up with your personal possessions?”
“And then he drove all the way back up to the parking lot at the Lloyd Cinema and set it on fire?”
“He poured gasoline over all of it first,” Pilar said, helpful and angry at the same time.
“Gasoline,” Officer Chilstrom nodded, writing busily.
“I blame myself,” Ruben said. All eyes turned to him. “ I told Revelle earlier this week that we needed to go down to her old house and bring her clothes and everything up here. We . . . didn’t make it our highest priority.”
Ruben was being kind to me.
“I wouldn’t blame myself if I were you,” Officer Chilstrom said to Ruben. “If he couldn’t have attacked her clothes and other things, he might have attacked her, instead. That happens all the time. I hate to say it, but this could have been a lot worse.”
Ruben visibly relaxed and I realized that had been a brief man-to-man talk, one male protector to another. Ruben had felt that he had failed me. The policeman had assured him he hadn’t. I agreed with the policeman. My husband was a wild card.
“How soon can you arrest him?” Pilar said. The officer and I started talking at the same time.
“Go ahead,” he deferred to me.
“I’d like to think it over about pressing charges,” I said. “I haven’t had time to think yet.”
“OK,” the officer said. “I was going to ask if you think he’s running at this point, or sticking around in town.”
I shrugged. After a moment, Ruben offered, “He’s never been a real predictable guy.” The officer lowered his head and raised one hand in a gesture noting that was evident enough.
“What about a restraining order?” Pilar said. She was clearly the person in the room most in touch with her anger.
“I would never advise someone not to get a restraining order,” the policeman said, rubbing his chin. “But they don’t work like an electric fence. People walk through them all the time. Restraining orders tend to be more valuable after the fact. Are there any children in the picture here?”
I shook my head no, thinking that was a blessing now, despite my passionate desire for a child.
“If there had been children, and he broke the restraining order, you’d then be in a better position to get full custody of them.”
The three of us nodded, me thinking that my husband wasn’t someone to be inhibited by legal formalities. Pilar wouldn’t want to hear it, but a restraining order sounded useless to me, another lame attempt to control the sideways-tilted force of nature that I’d married in a time of weakness.
“Here’s my card,” he said. I took it and got up from the floor in the spiral motion I’d learned long ago, the one that starts with one foot crossing in front of the body. I could feel him noticing it. We all walked him to the front porch.
“Thank you so much, Officer Chilstrom,” I said, looking him full in the eye. “You’ve been really helpful.”
“If I were you, I’d press charges,” he offered. Pilar nodded vigorously. “The pattern with these domestic violence guys, is that they start with something small.”
Ruben nodded sadly. He had grown up in the Los Angeles barrios where domestic violence happened more publicly than in neighborhoods where higher incomes bought space and privacy.
“They get addicted to their own anger,” Officer Chilstrom went on. “Spending some time in jail can calm them down. But not always. Some people are crazy and nothing puts a dent in their violence.” I wrapped my arms around myself in spite of the heat of the day. All I could feel was the weight of gravity, physical and emotional. I missed Kyle, wanted him to hold me. We had made plans to go out of town together that afternoon, to my friends’ house near the coast. “I’m ready to arrest this guy as soon as you give word. The worst thing you could do though is press charges then drop them. That tells the perpetrator straight-up that you can be his ongoing prey.”
He looked at me in a direct, pointed way. I held his gaze a moment, sensing he was attracted to me, feeling him challenging me to not be a perpetrator’s prey, almost asking me to let him protect me. I looked down at the pistol in its black holster. I had never fired a gun. How did guns work at preventing fires from being set? They didn’t. Men tried so hard to be strong and right, often in the wrong direction.
“I don’t see a lot of victims like you,” the officer said suddenly, interrupting my thoughts. When I swung my eyes back to his, he raised an eyebrow asking for an explanation.
“I’ve got good friends,” I pointed out. I did not add that Pilar and Ruben and I were part of a small, tight-knit church, or that I thought friends and community afforded me more protection than any single man could, with or without a gun.
“I can see that,” he nodded. “Well, try to have a good day. You’ve got my phone number if you want to press charges. I can put him in jail in a heartbeat if that’s what you want.”
I stood on Pilar’s porch in the late summer heat, sweating through my blue camisole, wondering how one would possibly send to jail the person to whom you had sworn a holy covenant. Especially when you had already betrayed that covenant with someone else.
You might be thinking that I’m a certain kind of person, the kind of woman, for example, that these things happen to, or that you know what direction this story is heading. But my experience is that predators can be plagued by vulnerability, and their prey can be strangely strong, even aggressive. Victimization is not always what it seems. Neither is revenge, or forgiveness.
Mary, who performed my marriage, told me once that people always remember how things end, and that those endings then color all their experiences and memories, sometimes unfairly. She is right: I have always remembered how things ended with my husband. I have to work harder to remember that they began quite differently.
Chapter 2 Freefall
My friend and housemate Paul and I were talking at the kitchen table after dinner, remains of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup scattered around us. Gaylin, Paul’s six year old nephew and the son of my housemate Jenny, was watching a Sesame Street video in the next room. Paul and I were taking care of him for the weekend while Jenny was out of town.
“Why did you and Mike break up?” Paul asked me, his large, bearded, workmanlike face riveted to mine, his big belly pushed against the table as he leaned toward me. I smiled. Paul had been in A.A. for eight years and in a men’s group for four. He was the best listener I knew.
“The short answer? I loved Mike more than he loved me, basically.” My voice broke. This time though, I willed myself not to cry. I’d done that already with Marisol, my best friend since college.
“All that that tells me is that Revelle Jones’ heart is bigger than Mike Delaney’s heart. No surprise there,” Paul said, unimpressed. That set me back on my heels. I had thought he would sympathize with me. I’d never thought of unreciprocated love that way before. It was true that I loved easily. But loving Gaylin and Paul and Marisol was much less problematic than romantic love.
“Well, there’s more to it than that,” I countered. “I’d wanted to get married and have a child. In the foreseeable future. And Mike didn’t. He said he didn’t find marriage or children . . . compelling.” Tears formed in my eyes. At 32, I found those things quite compelling.
On the other hand, I hated self-pity.
“You know, in the bigger picture, this is nothing,” I said, straightening my sagging spine and stacking our dinner plates. “Compared to people exposing their newborn girls in China. Or Sam at church watching his lover die of AIDS. I shouldn’t be complaining.”
“Pain is pain,” Paul said, waving my comparisons away. “Other people’s pain doesn’t make yours feel any better. “
“OK,” I said, walking into his invitation like a guest to a downbeat party. “You’re right, their pain doesn’t help me. I feel like hell, except when I’m dancing. And the new principal disbanded the after-school dance troupe I was leading. He said our school has to focus on fundamentals. But he kept the fucking fencing club!” I whispered the last three words so Gaylin wouldn’t hear. I slapped my palms on the table then threw my hands into the air, wishing I could slap the new principal across his arrogant, thin-lipped, East Coast face.
“What a jerk,” Paul concurred mildly. He, Marisol and I were all teachers, and had all had our disagreements with principals. “I think that Mike and your new principal have something in common. They’re both sky-god men. They don’t resonate with you. They’re way up in their heads. Passion is too messy for them. You need a guy who’s more soulful. Someone who’d be willing to crawl through a muddy swamp to be with you.”
I started clearing the table for good this time, always more comfortable in motion than sitting still. Anyone who knew Mike – which of course Paul did, because we’d all gone out together – would have laughed at the idea of Mike in a muddy swamp. Mike was an M.D. in general practice, a take-charge, Type A guy, notably not hirsute, but clean-shaven and given to Brooks Brothers shirts and tasseled loafers. My parents would have liked him. My parents were a thousand miles away in Anaheim, California, where I’d grown up.
“Once Mike told me I was too wild for him,” I said, almost to myself. “It wasn’t on account of anything in particular I’d done. The context was more that . . . ” My voice trailed off. Mike had said that to me after one of the last times we had made love. My intensity had filled the room and had contrasted with Mike’s energy something like the way a cougar contrasts with a housecat.
“Well, wildness is sometimes a being-thing, not a doing-thing,” Paul said. “I think he was saying something similar to what I’m saying: you and he were serving two different gods. “
“Whichever gods were involved, I loved him,” I said softly.
Paul’s face fell. He turned away from me toward the wall, tossing the red napkin from his lap back onto the table. I sighed. I knew I should be asking Paul about himself, his own life, but my grief used up my energy like Gaylin’s drawings used up entire pads of paper. Paul was going through a divorce, a complicated situation involving a strong-willed Israeli woman, Lena, whom he loved. The problem was that her primary interest had always been permanent residency in the U.S. I respected the fact that he never denigrated his soon-to-be-ex. Paul had met Lena at the small, eclectic church community that he, Marisol and I were all part of.
The phone mounted on the wall across the room rang, making me jump. We both held still, reluctant to let a call break our mood. Finally I moved to answer it.
“Revelle, it’s Mom.” I tensed at the gravity of her voice, different from the breeziness of her usual keeping-in-touch calls.
“Mom, are you OK?” I already knew something was not OK.
“I’m OK. It’s your father.” She paused, and I could hear her working to keep her voice steady. “He’s been diagnosed with a cancerous growth in his right kidney.”
Paul was watching me alertly. “Dad has cancer in one of his kidneys,” I whispered, my stomach clenching with fear. “Oh my God,” I breathed into the phone, holding it in the air between us so Paul could hear. We leaned toward each other over the table, making an A-frame with our bodies. I had only seen my father ill, as in unable to work, once in my life, when I was 16 years old. The energetic way that he strode into rooms, the vigor with which he mowed the lawn and moved garbage cans from the backyard to the curb, made it hard to picture him being attacked by a cancerous growth.
“The doctor on the case wants to operate Wednesday morning,” Mom continued. “The idea is to remove the bad kidney and see if the cancer has spread to the other kidney or not.”
“God,” I said again. I struggled to stay grounded. “Paul is here with me, helping me take all this in. You met Paul at my graduation, remember?”
“Yes,” she said quickly, her tone warm with recognition. “I’ve learned that most people survive having a kidney removed but Dr. Gundell said we should be prepared for the possibility that the cancer in the left kidney has already traveled to the right kidney.”
“This is all so sudden,” I said, rotating my shoulders in forward circles since my neck was hurting.
“It’s very sudden,” she agreed. “He just noticed blood in his urine a week ago. I didn’t call you at that point, because there was no reason to worry you if it turned out to be nothing.”
Paul broke our A-frame but kept a close eye on me. He started walking softly in his stocking feet around the kitchen, stacking dinner plates in the sink gingerly to minimize the noise, putting Tabasco sauce, cheddar cheese and butter back into the refrigerator.
“Dad and I both have A-negative blood,” I said slowly. We all knew our types because donating blood to the Red Cross was a tradition in my family. “It’s possible I could give a kidney to Dad if the cancer has already gotten to both of his,” I said.
Paul’s head swung around toward me, eyebrows raised in alarm. I lifted a hand, palm facing up. Paul, like my older brother Rick, tended to be a little protective of me. I privately liked it, their care and concern feeling like a counterbalance to my habit of boldness, my attraction to a degree of risk.
“I’m thinking I should come down,” I said, already weighing the cost versus quickness between driving and flying. Driving was winning. Two days to get ready and two to drive.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Mom replied. She sounded relieved, and I realized my coming home had been the goal of her call. After we said good-bye, I went to Paul like a stunned sleepwalker and lifted my arms for a hug. He held me like a bear wrapping itself around a sapling, his hands coming all the way back around to meet his own body.
* * *
The next day, Saturday, I got organized for the road trip. After I’d checked the oil, water and tire pressure in my truck, I went upstairs to my bedroom and started packing my clothes, dance notebooks and some novels into duffel bags and boxes. Gaylin wandered in after awhile. His small, delicate-featured face was clouded with worry as he climbed onto my bed. I could see he wanted to talk, so I stopped packing and sat on the floor under the window. I reached my arms toward the sky, wrists crossed and palms together, since stretching always eased my tension, but he wouldn’t make eye contact with me.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked him. I thought he’d say he was unhappy about my upcoming departure. I was. I wanted to stay right there in the Northwest Lovejoy house with him, Jenny and Paul.
“I think you and Paul should get married,” Gaylin announced.
“Really?” I said, surprised. “Why do you think that?”
I loved Paul dearly, but didn’t feel attracted to him at all. In his own words, he was an overweight mess, struggling with the end of his stormy marriage, going to extra meetings to keep from breaking down and taking that first drink. He had started smoking cigarettes again, going out onto the front porch late at night, when I assumed he missed Lena the most.
“You and Paul get along really well, and you both live here with me,” Gaylin said.
“I get along pretty well with most people,” I pointed out. Owen, the new principal, was the exception to this rule. “And people can be housemates without getting married. Paul and I just want to be friends with each other.”
“I love you and I love Paul, so you should love each other and get married,” Gaylin insisted. His tone indicated that I was really rather dense. Jenny had adopted Gaylin as a single mother. Paul was her older brother. They were from a Catholic family of six children, some of whom were married with children of their own, giving Gaylin lots of extended family and our house lots of sociability.
“I’m worried that my mom might marry Tony,” Gaylin went on, twisting his hand anxiously into the hair above his forehead. “And make me move to Canada.”
I nodded, unable to reassure him that this wouldn’t happen. Jenny and Tony were in love, and she was visiting him right now in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“If you and Paul got married then I could maybe stay here with the two of you and not have to leave my friends and everything,” Gaylin said. His voice was beseeching. “Then everything could come together for me.” I was impressed by his initiative, his desire to chart the course of his life.
“Honey, it’s pretty rare for things to come together the way we want them to,” I offered in as warm a tone as possible. “To be honest, sometimes things come apart before they come back together again.”
“I hate that,” Gaylin scowled. I went to the bed and put my hand on his back, feeling his sharp shoulder blades and vertebrae like little sparrow bones through his brown T-shirt.
“Me, too,” I said. You have no idea, I thought, wanting to scream, but knowing that wouldn’t help either of us. Irrationally, from no place that made sense, I thought: I love my husband and I love my child. There was no husband and there was no child, objectively speaking. But they were already living in my heart, whoever they would turn out to be, and I yearned for them. I hugged Gaylin and he hugged me back, jumping into my lap and wrapping his bandy little legs around my waist like a monkey. It wouldn’t help anything for me to wish aloud that he were mine, so I said nothing. After awhile he let go of me, fetched some Dr. Seuss books from his room and read aloud, sprawled on his stomach on my bed, while I slogged on with my packing.
When I said my prayers that night in front of the little altar in my bedroom, quieted my mind and listened for God’s voice. Sometimes I could hear it like a whisper coming into my mind, things like ‘have faith’ or ‘let go.’ Occasionally a feeling would arrive, distinct as a human presence, like when I’d cried and prayed after my break-up with Mike, and I had gradually felt God’s love burning in the room, distinct as a campfire on a chilly spring night.
Tonight when I waited on God, I got a visual image of myself. I was in profile, holding a small child, with a community of people around me. There was no man with me, though. I kept watching the image, eyes tight shut, until a man from the group, burly and strong-looking, stepped forward and held me and my child from behind, cradling us, protecting us.
I shook my head and got up from the altar. I wasn’t going to have a child, and then find a man. The husband had to come first. I’d gotten that image from Jenny’s current life, not from my future. That’s what happened when you were close to people.
* * *
It was noon on Sunday before I reached for the phone to call my principal. I was nervous because I’d never had a conversation with him that had gone well. My church worshipped on Sunday evenings, with a group dinner beforehand. I was looking forward to it even more than usual today.
Owen’s brusque voice answered on the first ring. I felt like he had pounced on my call and would now find a way to tear apart what I would tell him, in his Type A, New Yorky way.
“Owen, this is Revelle Jones. I’m sorry to call you at home,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it. What’s happened?” he said. We both knew there was nothing normal about my call.
“It’s my father. He has cancer in at least one kidney,” I stated.
“I’m sorry,” he replied, sounding as if he meant it. He probably did. Disliking me didn’t mean he disliked my father.
“So I need to go be with him. In southern California,” I added, since he’d never asked me where I was from or anything else about myself.
“It’s possible I’ll be donating a kidney to him.”
“Ah,” he said, pausing before continuing. “So I need to find a substitute?”
“Yes. It’s hard to know for how long. It might even be ‘til the end of the school year. I’m sorry about this.” It felt crappy to be leaving my students and fellow teachers, practically in the middle of the night, like an outlaw or a fugitive. I lived so much of my life at the school, in constant human contact and conversation.
“It’s not your fault,” he replied.
“No, it’s not.” I walked to my little altar restlessly, wanting to end the conversation.
“I need to tell you something,” Owen said, in a different tone. “I’m sorry that the timing is what it is here.” I waited. “I will not be able to renew your contract for next year. “
I didn’t respond right away. I sat down on the blue-painted wood floor in front of my altar and touched the items on it: the half-burned sage stick, the deep lavender geode, the textured cross with the reddish-brown glaze, the one that fit perfectly into my palm, that Luke Kavanaugh from church had made for me. He and his wife Cat were potters.
“I see,” I said, holding the sage to my nose and inhaling its earthy scent. I wished that I were in the high desert of Central Oregon, near Bend, where it had come from. The concern at the top of my mind was that the smell of sage, which I loved, was going to become wedded in my memory to the moment I was fired from the job I loved.
“Enrollment is already down with the recession,” Owen said, all business now, as if a private school with a couple hundred students was some Fortune 500 company and I was part of his sales force. I sensed he was relieved that I wasn’t begging him to keep me on. But I would never have sacrificed my dignity like that. Silent self-control was my policy around people and situations I didn’t trust.
“I have to lay off at least two teachers, and my high school English classes have the lowest student-teacher ratio. And I’ve gotten more complaints about you than anyone else.”
“Two complaints,” I clarified. They were from parents who were best friends. He acted as if two angry parents defined my whole teaching career.
“From the families that are the best fundraisers,” he said flatly. Fundraising was central to a private school like Prentice.
“Good-bye,” I said, choking back my pain. I hung up, humiliated, hating him in a way that made me understand how people could commit crimes of passion. Rather than plotting how to kill him I put on my running shoes, made sure Paul would stay home with Gaylin, and climbed into my pick-up truck for the short drive up to the Thurman Street entrance to Forest Park.
I ran through the spring sunlight, up Leif Ericson Drive until the Wildwood Trail offered itself to me on the left. I ran and ran on its hard-packed earth, climbing mostly, my feet dancing over the rocks and exposed tree roots. My legs were as steady beneath me as muscled metronomes. Even though my heart was imploding like a black hole, my body could remain stable and hold my world together. My root system could be as deep as those of the towering Douglas fir trees that comprised the forest.
I berated myself for having chosen to teach at a private school instead of in the public school system, as Marisol and Paul had done. They were in unions and could not have lost their jobs for the reason I just had. Beyond that, there was a pressure-cooker aspect to a place like Prentice that I should have realized had implications for job security. Annual tuition was almost $11,000, and the parents’ agenda for their children was not just college, but the best college. I had once had a 16 year-old boy cry when I’d given him a B+ in my sophomore English class instead of an A- , sobbing between hiccups that his hopes of Harvard were now history. It took everything I had to refrain from suggesting that doing some service work at a soup kitchen might put his grades into a healthier perspective. I’d later told Paul and Marisol that some parents seemed to see their kids as extensions of themselves, their high performance child a status symbol as elegant and enviable as a Mercedes Benz.
When I’d sought and landed the job at Prentice, I’d felt that the higher academic standards, smaller classes and personal atmosphere made up for the lower pay. I felt less sure about that choice now, though. I was abruptly, jarringly, unemployed, and had large student loan payments. Despite years of buying my clothes at Goodwill, rarely eating out and vacationing only in campgrounds, I had less than $700 in my savings account.
The trail climbed, switched back and climbed some more. My breathing deepened. I imagined that the forest was absorbing my pain over Mike, my father’s cancer and being fired. It was big enough to hold all my emotions, even if I wasn’t.
When I got home almost two hours later my scalp, running bra and shorts were all sweat soaked. I climbed the stairs, still panting a little, needing to shower before Paul and I would head across the river to church. I found Jenny in her bedroom, back from visiting Tony in British Columbia. Her lean, tanned face was glowing with pleasure. We hugged. To her credit, Jenny never shied away from sweat. Then she told me, her eyes large and shining, that Tony had proposed to her and she had accepted.
“Congratulations,” I said, producing a smile. Part of me was happy for her, while another felt insanely jealous that she got to have a great kid like Gaylin, plus a man who found the family proposition compelling.
“Gaylin and I will be moving to British Columbia,” Jenny said. “I’ll be selling the house, but don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of time to find a new place to live.”
“I don’t think that’ll be an issue.” I caught her up on my father’s cancer, losing my job and the fact I was leaving for California tomorrow. I didn’t know when I’d be returning to Portland. Jenny’s facial features changed shape before my eyes.
“I’m so sorry, Revelle,” she said. Her voice was subdued. She pulled me into another hug that was nothing like our welcome-home embrace of a minute ago. It made me think of two horses I had once observed in a pasture that had wrapped their heads around each other’s necks, not tightly, but tenderly. They started by touching noses then moved side by side, and laid their chins across each other’s necks. They had stayed intertwined like that awhile, before gently turning from the embrace, resuming their grazing and moving slowly away from each other across the pasture.