All At Once chap. 1

LINDA LOMAN MAKES PANCAKES

The morning began as any other, like every other. Up until that inauspicious day, each one was an exercise in predictability. I’d wake, rise, use the toilet, and make my way to my treadmill in the spare room of my apartment to run my typical three miles. Then I’d shower and get dressed in my daily wardrobe of jeans and a t-shirt. Sometimes, I’d shake things up a bit by adding white Oxford shirt, or a navy blue button down with the sleeves rolled up, maybe a gray hoodie. Always the jeans though, I was a creature of habit.

I’d pad my way into the kitchen where I’d be greeted by my two children with hugs and kisses before they rushed off to get ready to leave for school. I’d also be greeted by my wife, which was always an interesting experience. She’s an actor. No, she’s a character actor, method. The person who greeted me each morning after my ritualistic wake/run/shower/dress was largely contingent upon which play she was performing in that month.

Living with an actor was never boring. It’s one of the things that attracted me to Victoria initially…her creativity and her passion. And her commitment to whatever role she was playing. She became her character.

One time she played Hester Prynne and after a singular, intense sex session the day she received the role, she wouldn’t sleep with me for the entire duration of the show. She was quiet and reserved and sometimes argumentative. Another time she was Daisy Buchanan. She spoke in a fake southern accent (and not a very good one) and drank everything from a martini glass (even milk). She was trite and needy and ignored our kids.

We were all quite happy when that off-off Broadway production was shut down after the first two weeks of rehearsal.

Last year she played Celia from As You Like It, at the American Shakespeare Theater. She spoke the Queen’s English (again poorly, she was never very good with accents) but she was loving to all of us around her, even though she was a bit moody. I couldn’t say whether the moodiness was from the character or her actual personality.

Despite the butchering of the accent, she received very good reviews for that role, which led to her biggest part yet in the Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman, her first Broadway show, where she played Linda Loman, the sad and loyal wife of Willy. Even though she was much younger than the character, she worked her ass off to make sure she got it right. I was proud of her and had no complaints about that role, since I’d been welcomed with a home-cooked meal every night during her rehearsals. If the acting thing didn’t work out, she would make and excellent caterer, I thought.

That morning, before the afternoon that changed everything, was rather typical. Linda Loman was standing before the sink washing the kids’ breakfast dishes. She dried her hands on her apron (apron!?) and poured me a cup of coffee before fixing me a plate of hot and fluffy pancakes and crisp bacon. She even warmed the syrup for me. I really liked Linda Loman.

“What are you doing today, dear?” she asked me, her smile outlined with bright red full lips.

After a sip of coffee I replied “Umm, working, I guess. I need to pick up the materials I need for the frames I’m going to make. My show is in just eight weeks and I have a lot of shit to do to get everything ready. The prints and stuff.”

“Language, Edward.” She corrected, nodding to our two children gathering their books and shoes and things by the front door.

Ahh Linda. She would have been mortified to hear my lovely wife call the Chinese food delivery guy a fucking retard just last week when he forgot the extra plum sauce she’d requested.

I looked over at my son, Luka and winked. He smiled and shrugged. His deep brown eyes and black hair reminded me of something else I needed to do that day, but I wasn’t ready to discuss it with anyone yet. Soon though. I was fairly certain that Linda would be much more likely to be agreeable to my plan than Tori. Sometimes this acting thing had its perks.

“Sorry,” I muttered while stuffing my face with a forkful of pancake.

“Well, you have a wonderful day dear, and be sure to eat a decent lunch.” She kissed me on the cheek after taking off her apron, folding it neatly and laying it on the counter. “I’ll be at the theater until 9 or 10 tonight, so Jessica will pick the kids up from school and stay here until you get home, but you’ll have to give them their dinner. There’s a pot roast prepared in the Frigidaire, you’ll just need to heat it up.”

She said all this in a flourish of gathering her bags, the kids and all their stuff before heading out the door.

“Have a lovely day, sweetheart,” she called out in Linda’s sing-songy voice before closing the door behind her.

“Bye” was all I could manage with a mouthful of food. I chewed and swallowed and took a deep breath, considering the day ahead of me.

Jessica. One thing I did not look forward to was seeing her face when I got home at the end of the day. She was nice enough, but her whiny voice drove me crazy while she drone on and on about whatever assignment she was currently working on at school. She was a college student and not my first choice for a babysitter, but she was great with the kids and flexible with our sometimes chaotic schedule, and at least I wouldn’t have to rush home when I had a busy day planned ahead.

I needed a list. I’ve always been completely unorganized, so at a very young age my father advised me to make lists of things that I needed to get done, and to prioritize them. It’s a practice I began just to help stay on top of homework, and it’s something that continued all through my adult life.

1. stop by frame shop for materials

I’ve been a photographer ever since high school and majored in photography at NYU. That’s where I met my Tori, at Tisch School of the Arts, where she was a theater major. I was busy preparing for my first ever solo show in one of New York’s most prestigious fine art galleries. I’d had shows before, but never of this caliber, and never solo. To say I was nervous was an understatement, but I was also excited. I’d been waiting for this moment my whole life, and I finally had a body of work with which I was immensely proud.

2. lunch with Dad

I’ve always been close with my father. Like many successful fathers, he had hopes that I would follow in his footsteps and pursue medicine. But I was more like my mother, and was much more interested in the Arts. It didn’t matter though, I was his only son, and he and I had a great relationship, something that I hoped to foster with my own son.

3. meet with private investigator

Ugh, I dreaded this one. It felt seedy and dirty and just…wrong. But I was left with no other choice. Tori and I had two children, Luka and Ryan. Ryan was six and in the first grade. She looked just like me, with the same green eyes, reddish brown hair and mischievous smile. Luka was nine and in the fourth grade. In addition to the deep brown eyes and black hair, he had a rich olive complexion, a sharp contrast to the pale white skin of our entire family. Luka was not my biological son.

Although we had been together through most of college, Tori and I broke up for about a year, during which she began a relationship with a guy from her hometown in New Jersey. The relationship ended after a few weeks, but she soon found out that she was pregnant. She had the baby and her parents helped her take care of him while she continued with school. The boy’s father never even acknowledged his son existed. When Luka was about a year old, Tori and I got back together and I’ve raised him as my own son ever since.

When we’d been married I wanted nothing more than to make Luka legally my own. I loved him as if he were my own son, I was the only father he ever knew, it only seemed right that I give him my name, that I adopt him and make him officially a Cullen.

But his biological father stood in the way. When Luka was born, Tori had his biological father’s name placed on his birth certificate. In order for me to adopt him, his natural father would have to legally relinquish all rights. The trouble was, no one had any clue where this asshole lived. Once he found out that he was going to be a father he took off. Neither my wife, nor his parents had heard from him in nearly ten years. At least, that’s what they always told me.

Luka’s paternal grandparents were in favor of me adopting their grandson, yet they were afraid to cross their only son, and offered no help in finding his whereabouts. For years we’d waited to see if the schmuck would just show up, make contact with a family member, or return home to his aging parents. But time was ticking and I was growing impatient. Luka was my son and I wanted him to have my name. I decided to take matters into my own hand and hire an investigator to find the prick.

4. go to my studio to work on project

My photography show was still two months away but I had a ton of work to do for it. I had the photos ready that I was going to use, but no prints made yet. I also had the grand idea of making my own frames, a task I was totally ill equipped for, but I was determined to finish.

It was a simple list of four things. I finished my coffee, rinsed my plate and placed it in the dishwasher. I grabbed my keys, messenger bag and phone, and headed out the door to start the day.

***

It was a beautiful autumn morning in New York, and I felt refreshed and energized to face the day as I exited my building on the Upper West Side. It was just after nine and the morning rush was beginning to dissipate. I made my way to the subway station down the block from my building and caught the train going downtown to my studio in West Village.

My studio was simply a small studio apartment that I used for a work space and to store all of my equipment. Actually it was my first apartment, but after Tori and I were married and bought our place uptown, I couldn’t let go of this little studio. I decided to keep it for “work”. I never saw clients there, but it was a good space for me, good light through the large windows, and it was where I felt like I could just exhale, when Real Life got too frenzied. Sometimes I needed to escape the Daisies and the Persephones, and the Helens of Troy.

The first thing I did when I arrived was power up my computer to retrieve my email, and I then listened to my voicemail. The first message was from Dad canceling lunch; he had a meeting of some sort. I crossed item #2 from the list.

The second was from my friend Jasper. He sounded a bit frantic and asked me to call him back right away, so I did. He picked up on the second ring.

“Hello?”

“Hey Jas, it’s Edward, I just got your message, what’s up?”

“Oh dude, I’m so glad you called. I’m at the hospital.”

“What? Is everything okay?”

“Yes! Oh my God, I can’t believe this, Alice is in labor,” he said in an excited rush.

“Holy shit, that’s great, I didn’t realize she was due already. Congratulations, man!”

I remember the night Ryan was born. I was a nervous wreck and nearly pulled out my hair.

“Thanks. Yeah I can’t believe this is happening! So the reason I called you is that I need a favor.”

“Absolutely, whatever you need.” I meant it. Jasper was a great friend, and I knew he’d do anything for me, as well.

“Well, you’re going to hate this, but I’m in a pinch. I need you to cover a corporate gig for me. The baby is actually three weeks early and I scheduled this job thinking I’d be in the clear. It was the last job I had planned to take until the baby was born.”

Jasper was a commercial photographer, specializing in advertising and print media, but he did some corporate work as well. He was incredibly talented and had a great reputation for being imaginative with an eye for detail. I hated corporate photography. The money was good, but I felt like it sucked all life and creativity out of me. In addition to my fine art work, I shot mostly editorial assignments for magazines and some newspapers.

“Ugh,” I replied with a smile, “I must really love you man, yeah I can do it. When is the gig?”

“Today, but I left the AD a message and told her she might have to reschedule for you. She’ll probably be contacting you this morning sometime.”

“You knew I’d do it, eh?”

“I owe you one, pal.”

I wished him and Alice luck and said good bye before hanging up the phone.

Sure enough, the third message was from the art director. I returned her call but got her assistant instead. We scheduled a meeting for the afternoon to go over the particulars of the project, with a plan to begin the next day. I wrote down the address to the office, added the meeting to my list, and left my studio to make my 10am appointment with the investigator. It wasn’t too far from my studio so I walked the nine blocks, grabbing coffee along the way.

I didn’t know what to expect once I reached the investigators office, but I was surprised nonetheless. He had no secretary, and his office was apparently also his apartment. I thought it was fair to assume that the “we” in his ad in the yellow pages actually meant him and his cat. At least I hoped there was a cat. I didn’t actually see one, but the room smelled like piss, and I really hoped that I wasn’t entrusting my son’s possible future in a guy who urinates on himself regularly.

His name was Richard Speck and he looked like a guy my age, maybe a bit older, definitely a drinker, a smoker, and a heavy eater judging by empty beer bottles, the ashtrays, and the size of his waistband. He offered me something to drink which I graciously declined. We spoke briefly about my situation and I gave him all the information I had regarding Luka’s biological father and his paternal grandparents. Speck didn’t offer much in terms of confidence, but he promised to do what he could, and honestly, it was all I could ask.

After leaving the meeting, I stepped out onto the street taking a deep breath, both to cleanse my lungs from the pissy air and to clear my head. Finding Luka’s father was one obstacle. Getting him to agree to sever all parental rights was another.

I stopped at the frame shop to get my wood and other materials, and grabbed a sandwich for lunch on the way back to my studio to kill time before meeting with the Art Director. After adequate Facebook and Gamefaq message board time, I finished my lunch and left for my meeting.

I sat in the reception area of the small office after giving the receptionist my name. She picked up the phone and dialed someone, the AD, I presumed, to let her know of my arrival, then busied herself with some papers on her desk.

A few moments later a petite woman with a wide smile and long, thick brown hair walked through the door with an extended hand, and stopped right in front of me.

“You must be Edward Cullen, I’m Bella Swan,” she said shaking my hand. “I’m so happy to meet you. Thanks so much for coming in at the last minute like this. Jasper had nothing but great things to say about you.”

This was the moment that changed everything, yet I had no idea at all.

There are certain events in life that we know, by their virtue, will be life-altering: getting a driver’s license, graduating from college, marriage, the birth if a child. These events are clear markers, indicators of the passage of time and a reminder of our humanity; they ground us or propel us into either a happiness, or unhappiness, that we may have never known before. These types of events are expected and anticipated. People say things to you like “things will never be the same” or “things are really going to change now”.

But then there are the quieter moments, the subversive ones, that don’t strike us as significant until much, much later. These are the turning points that we may look back upon and reflect that, if in retrospect, this moment changed everything. It could be as simple as a matter of choice, or a matter of chance that changes the course of our life as we knew it thus far. It’s these kinds of moments, that once we realize they’ve occurred, we will never forget them. And we almost always realize them when it’s far too late to change the course of events that follow.

Meeting Bella on that Tuesday afternoon was such a moment. It was monumental, yet quiet. Significant, yet mundane. There were no fireworks when she said my name, no jolt of electricity when our hands touched for the first time. No, this was just another ordinary moment in a succession of ordinary moments that made up my day in early September. But after that moment, that afternoon, my life would never be the same. Change was in the air that day, and I had absolutely no idea.

***

before ~ next

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One response to “All At Once chap. 1

  1. Pingback: All At Once chap. 2 « Confessions of a Grown Ass Woman

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