If You Lived Here: A Novel

If You Lived Here: A Novel

by Dana Sachs
If You Lived Here: A Novel

If You Lived Here: A Novel

by Dana Sachs


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Forty-two-year-old Shelley Marino's desperate yearning for a child has led her to one of the only doors still open to her: foreign adoption. It is a decision that strains and ultimately shatters her relationship with her husband, Martin—the veteran of an Asian war who cannot reconcile what Shelley wants with what he knows about the world. But it unites her with Mai, who emigrated from Vietnam decades ago and has now acquired the accoutrements of the American dream in an effort to dull the memory of the tragedy that drove her from her homeland. As a powerful friendship is forged, two women embark on a life-altering journey to the world Mai left behind—to confront the stark realities of a painful past and embrace the promise of the future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061130496
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 03/11/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Dana Sachs is the author of the novel If You Lived Here and two books of nonfiction, The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman in Vietnam and The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, she lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, with her husband and two sons.

Read an Excerpt

If You Lived Here

A Novel
By Dana Sachs

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Dana Sachs
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061130489

Chapter One


I'd guess that Marinos have been burying Rivenbarks for seventy years. I can't compare funeral customs here in Wilmington, North Carolina, with funeral customs anywhere else, but I can tell you that Rivenbarks usually ask for the minister from First Baptist, flowers from Will Rehder, and an open bar. Sometimes they read Psalm 23 and sometimes they read Psalm 121. It's hard to know what they'll request for a burial like this one, though, because there's nothing routine about the death of a child. This afternoon, on the first really beautiful day of spring, four-year-old Oscar Rivenbark fell from the third branch of the magnolia tree in his backyard. The ambulance managed to get him to the emergency room within about fifteen minutes, but he died before the paramedics could wheel him in.

My husband, Martin, and I run Marino and Sons, the biggest funeral home in the area. Between the two of us, we have over forty years of experience. Still, we struggle when a child dies. Outsiders probably imagine that my world is all catastrophe, but most of our cases come from heart attacks, hospice, and Brightmore, a retirement community a few miles away. It's not like there's a fatal car accident after every prom.

I get the news of the accident fromthe police blotter, so I'm prepared when the boy's aunt, Gracie Rivenbark, makes the first call to our office at about five. I click open the calendar on my desktop and ask, in a voice that sounds both competent and sympathetic, "When would Tara and Mark like to come in?" I try to get the parents involved as soon as possible. I'm here to help them with their grieving, and grieving starts at the moment of death.

Gracie says, "Hold on." Behind her, I hear the murmur of various voices, a volley of muffled questions, silence, then a few more moments of tortured debate. Sudden death produces a kind of bafflement in people. It confuses and startles them. They forget where they are, their name, the year. And then, five minutes later, they can become extremely lucid. In my dealings with the bereaved, I never rush them.

"Would tomorrow afternoon work?" Gracie asks. "Around two?"

"That's fine," I say. This case demands particular sensitivity, not just because the boy was young, but because his parents are young as well. Even Aunt Gracie seems to be conducting this business for the first time, ever. When you bury old people, you often deal with other old people, and they're likely to have organized a funeral before. As gently as possible, I tell her, "I'll need them to bring in a few things when they come."

Gracie says, "A few things?"

"An outfit. Something he might have worn to church, or even something he loved to play in." Gracie confers again with her relatives. The door to my office squeaks open and I look up to see my husband, Martin, slip inside. He's wet haired and red faced from the gym and he's holding today's mail. He doesn't know what's happened yet. When he looks at me, I squinch my eyes shut, then open them again, signaling, This is a bad one. I scrawl "Rivenbark—4 ys. old" on a notepad. After a lifetime in this business, Martin doesn't respond to news of death in any obvious way. His flinches are microscopic: a twitch at his mouth; an alteration in his breath; the slow, slow blink of his eyes. Cases like this one have always been hard on him, and they seem to have gotten harder lately. I dread the thought of what's ahead for us.

"Why do you need clothes?" Gracie asks.

"Well," I explain, "we'll need something for the burial." Martin sits down in the armchair, starts to go through the mail, then abandons it on his lap. Even the new issue of the Atlantic Monthly fails to interest him. He watches me. Martin's fifty-four this year, twelve years older than I am. His parents and grandparents were all morticians and he started going out on retrievals in his early teens. In comparison, I'm fairly new at it. I got my license a few years after I married him, so that's not even twenty years. I impress Martin, though, because the sadness never really gets me down. It came as a surprise to both of us, actually, that I could marry into this business and adapt so well. How could you know, when you're a kid, that you have the perfect personality to become a mortician?

Gracie Rivenbark says, "I'll go through the closet this evening."

"That'll be fine," I tell her. "And, we'll need a couple of pictures, too, in case the family wants to make a display for the service."

"A display," Gracie murmurs.

"And his Social Security number."

"Okay." Her voice sounds light and wispy. I've got to get the poor thing off the phone.

I make my final point. "And Tara and Mark should feel free to bring their other children to the meeting, too."

Gracie says, "I'll tell them."

And then, in the background, I hear sobbing. It is desperate, rhythmic, utterly bereft. I hold the phone in my hand, listening, staring into my husband's eyes.

At that moment, I forget myself. "Is that Tara?" I whisper.

Gracie says, "Yes."

Martin's head falls back against his chair. I close my eyes. It's been months since we have buried a child and in that time my own life has changed significantly. The sound of an anguished parent affects me more deeply now. I suppose that's because I'm about to become a mother myself.

Martin and I have tried for years to have a baby. At forty-two, it feels as if my chances of giving birth are about as likely as my chances of winning the U.S. Open. There comes a point in your life when your expectations about your future have to shift a little and . . .


Excerpted from If You Lived Here by Dana Sachs Copyright © 2007 by Dana Sachs. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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