One minute my parents were in love, traveling, teaching, throwing parties, and the next my father was dead and my mother on a slippery slope to quadriplegia. Although I had chosen to live thousands of miles away, they had always represented certainty, continuity. So when my boyfriend proposed to me that night as I was getting out of the shower, my answer was a foregone conclusion. Here was a chance to begin a new family, now that mine was disintegrating before my very eyes.
We had met through work. His sister was one of the designers in a fashion show I was producing, and he was managing part of her business. I noticed him because he was both shy and sexy. I flirted with him on the job, although I was living with someone at the time. One night we both attended some industry function, and the flirtation exploded. I still remember him ripping off my vintage brown-lace dress. I moved into a new apartment shortly thereafter and we fell madly in love. He was very smart and very gentle and seemed to understand my reckless spirit. His father was a Cuban immigrant who became a successful psychiatrist and died several years before we met. We ate in little Polish restaurants in the East Village, listened to bands, entertained friends, and began to plan for the future.
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My mother and sisters received the news of our engagement with pleasure but without a great deal of fanfare. There was so much else going on. At the funeral I sat next to my middle sister as she writhed in discomfort at the initial contractions of a protracted labor. We buried my father on Easter Sunday, and my nephew was born the following afternoon. It was like inhabiting an O. Henry story. My boyfriend bought me a little diamond at a store downtown, and a few days later I drove him to the airport in the gray Toyota that still smelled of my dad. The plan was for me to stay on with my mom through August, and he would come out and live with us while taking pre-med courses at UCSC summer school.
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I spent the days babying the lettuces I had planted in the back garden and moving like a bee from rosemary bush to lavender patch to fig tree. I did newfangled aerobics at the gym and watched PBS with my mother. I talked on the phone to friends in New York and tried to remember what it was like to have a job and ride the subway and worry about money. But mostly I worked hard to ignore the raw anger that sloshed around in my gut like battery acid.