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|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)|
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Driving through the old fieldstone gatehouse onto the grounds of the hospital, I was transported back into another era. The winding lane was fragrant with blooming rhododendrons, and the rolling, peaceful hillsides gave no clue that behind the bucolic setting were personal horrors and internal demons struggling to be tamed. As I drove farther down the road and approached a cluster of late-nineteenth-century brick buildings surrounded by lush lawns and lawn chairs, I understood the meaning behind that original endowment for this institution, which was left in 1857: "Courteous treatment and comfort of all patients ... No one is to be confined below ground; all are to have privacy, sunlight, and fresh air."
Yes, this setting could make such a terrifying journey bearable. This was where I had come to do my postdoctoral training in inpatient, intensive, long-term psychotherapy. This hospital was one of the few places where this kind of treatment was still done. It was July 1, 1980. I was twenty-nine and excited about the opportunity. I planned to return to California after my training, although I hoped that I might meet someone with whom I could return there.
"Baltimore is a jewel," I said to my friend Donna, who sat beside me as we drove around the area, trying to decide where I would live. I was staying with her and her family in Washington until I found my own place. "I never imagined there were so many interesting neighborhoods. I've only seen the slums before."
"It's beautiful here," she said. "I'm so glad you moved back East."
We soon found ourselves meandering along narrow roads, in a neighborhood with rolling hills and old Victorian houses.
"This is so nice. I love it," I said softly. The sunlight made dappled patterns on the windshield, and I felt myself ready to be carried off into a dreamlike state.
Donna gasped as I started to drift into the curb. "I can tell by the look on your face that this is it ... but please, watch the road."
"I saw it, but you're right — this is where I want to live, and it's not too far from the hospital. Did you see the outdoor cafés and shops in the little village? It was so quaint. Let's drive around and see if we can find any rental signs."
It didn't take long — a couple of turns, up and down a few hills, majestic oaks and grand maples — and then it was there. Set back from the road, a lovingly restored, small painted lady stood serenely. On a post by the road, a sign read For Rent.
"Donna, write down the phone number and I'll call as soon as we get home. I have to live here." I felt as if the bay windows and wraparound porch were inviting me personally, so as to make my transition across the country easier, bringing me comfort from the sense of loss I felt about leaving my dearly loved Berkeley. Two weeks later, I moved in.
Charles and I met the next year. It was a blind date. He was thirty-eight, a psychiatrist, and was recently separated.
He called and said, "Can we get together on Thursday evening? There's a concert at Ladew Gardens."
"It sounds wonderful, but I have an audition for a play that evening that I really can't miss."
"So, you're both a psychologist and an actress?"
"Well, I'm not sure I would call myself an actress, although half of my high school class has my autograph, which says, 'Keep this. Someday it will be worth a lot of money.' I haven't done any acting in years, but someone told me about a production of Abelard and Héloïse by a local group. I was so excited to hear about it. Do you know the play?"
"No, other than that it's a tragic love story. I take it you want to be Héloïse?" I could hear the smile in his voice.
"Of course I do. I loved the play. Diana Rigg was wonderful as Héloïse. I have little free time, but if I can play Héloïse, I'll find a way. Why don't we get together another evening?"
"How about Friday? You can tell me if you got the part."
"That sounds great. I'm not expecting to get the part, but I can tell you all about the audition." We made our plans for Friday evening, and after I hung up I started studying the script I had gotten from the library. But while I studied the lines, my mind kept wandering back to Charles and to our conversation. Words came so easily with him that I found myself thinking of more and more things I wanted to tell him. There was something about his voice, its timbre and resonance, that made me smile and feel powerful anticipation about actually seeing him on Friday.
Other than the stage lights, the theater was dark when I walked onto the stage for the reading. Only Abelard was there: a tall, muscular man, with sandy-colored hair that swept across his forehead. His voice was deep and resonant. Another young woman stood in the wings, waiting for her turn to become Héloïse. But when I started reading, I knew I had it. There was an intense, breathless silence as everyone listened to the words Abelard and I exchanged.
Héloïse: "God knows I never sought anything in you except yourself. I wanted simply you, nothing of yours."
Abelard: "If I am remembered, it will be for this: that I was loved by Héloïse."
The next day, I got the call that I had indeed gotten the part, and I couldn't wait to tell Charles. Finally, at six thirty, the doorbell rang and I saw him standing on my white-painted porch. He was smiling through the large front window, tall, bearded, blue eyes twinkling, wearing a silly-looking red baseball cap with three gold rams' horns. He was looking at the two big brown eyes, the long dangling, pink tongue surrounded by a mass of white fur, and black nose pressed hard against the glass, staring up at him. My sheepdog, Winnie, was always ready to greet a guest.
I answered the door, saying, "Hi, I'm Diane, and this" — I laughed, trying to keep Winnie from knocking him over — "is Edward, Duke of Windsor, who answers to Winnie."
Charles laughed and didn't seem at all bothered by Winnie's enthusiasm. "Hey, guy, go get that ball." He pointed toward a ball lying under the window, and Winnie turned on all fours and went for it.
"Here, these are for you." He held out an earthenware bowl filled with blackberries. "I picked these from the bushes in my yard. My grandmother says that a man should always bring a lady a gift to make her smile when she opens the door."
For years, Charles continually surprised me with thoughtful gestures like this. Every time we went out for dinner, he put a beautiful bouquet of flowers on our table. We always laughed because I was always surprised.
When we met on that first evening, I told him all about the audition and getting the part. I told him about having seen the production of Abelard and Héloïse in London and then in New York, both on opening night and, some six weeks later, on closing night. I shared all these things with enthusiasm because I liked him and felt a powerful connection to him, though I can't remember now if he asked me directly about any of them.
After chatting in my living room for a while, we drove to Harbor Place. He turned to me, his long fingers around the steering wheel, and said, "Di, I feel as if I've known you forever."
I smiled and nodded, indicating I, too, felt as if I were reconnecting with someone who had always been a part of my life. Maybe it was talking about egg creams, or the movie The Little Fugitive, a haunting, low-budget 1940s film about a little boy who runs away to Coney Island, or our mutual Brooklyn, New York, roots, which seemed to give us an unspoken understanding of where we had both come from. Whatever it was, the link between us showed itself from the start in private and insightful laughter that we shared only with each other.
As we got out of the car, Charles was still wearing the red cap with gold horns. Is he actually going to wear that to dinner? I wondered.
"Oh, I think I'd better take this hat off." Charles laughed, tossing it back into the car. Relief swept over me, and we then enjoyed our evening at the harbor, discovering that we knew many of the same people and had similar interests, likes, and dislikes.
Over dinner, I learned that before Charles had gone to medical school, he had been an architect. By the time we left the restaurant, it was late and the waterfront was quiet. "I want to show you something," he said, as we strolled along the quiet walkways. "When I was an architect, I worked at an office in Boston. Long before Harbor Place was built, when it was only an idea, our firm was asked to render drawings of what the waterfront might look like."
We came to a reflecting pool with a marble wall, down which water fell softly. We sat down on the smooth stone of the pool, looking in. "Our firm didn't actually do the work on Harbor Place, but back then everyone in the office had to do drawings for it. My drawings were almost identical to this pool."
He told me all about his design of the pool; he had it in his drawings and promised to show them to me. Charles had so many stories to tell. He seemed to know so much.
Whether from the light of the moon or from the lamppost above us, as we looked into the water, our images merged. We both noticed it and smiled. So maybe it's understandable that I ignored a thought I had as Charles was driving me home. We had exited I-83 at Northern Parkway and were winding our way along the darkened, tree-lined streets of Mt. Washington, when I asked him, "So, what's your relationship with your parents like?"
In a somewhat detached but clearly disparaging and subtly contemptuous tone, he replied, "I really cannot tolerate being around them for too long. My mother is awful and a flake. I can't stand hearing her voice; it gives me a headache. And my father is a mean-spirited little man with no backbone at all."
I swallowed hard, wondering, Shouldn't he have worked through those feelings about his parents by now? But the thought passed quickly.
Later, we sat on my porch swing, glasses of wine in hand. Stars glistened in the blackness through the tall oak trees. A growing intensity punctuated my feeling of a calm space within an old friendship. Our eyes excited, our lips roused, Charles pulled me close and our mouths came together fully, when suddenly the screen door pushed open and Winnie bounded outside and jumped onto the porch swing between us, smashing the wine glasses, his big tongue ruining the mood.
We both laughed. Laughing at the absurdities of life seemed to be one of the things that drew Charles and me together.
I watched Charles drive off, too excited to go to bed. I made myself a cup of tea, put on a John Coltrane album, and, with his soulful sounds in the background, curled up in my favorite chair, replaying the events of the evening. Then, when sleep finally overtook me, I climbed into bed. It seemed like I had just closed my eyes when Winnie's barking startled me awake. He jumped on the bed, with more barking and licking, and then ran to the doorway, indicating I should follow him.
"What is it, Win? You hear something, or do you just want to go out?" I forced myself from the softness of my comforter and got out of bed.
I peered out the large glass window beside the door. "There's no one there, guy," I said, but then something lying on the porch caught my eye. Against the door frame lay a bouquet of colorful flowers. Their sweet fragrance, mixed with the early-morning air, wafted in as I opened the French door that led to the porch. A note card was attached, written in the most beautiful architectural writing:
Di, I just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed our evening together so much. I'm hoping that there will be many more. — Charles He really is sweet, I thought. As I placed the flowers in a cobalt-blue glass vase, the phone rang. It was Charles.
"I thought I'd call to say good morning. I just got to the hospital."
"Good morning to you, too. I just found the flowers; they're beautiful. Thank you. It was such a nice way to wake up. I had a wonderful time last night, too."
"Well, I'm glad about that. I'm wondering if you'd like to come out to my place Friday after work. I'll make dinner. You can bring Winnie so he can run free in the fields. I'm sure he'd enjoy that."
Without hesitation, I told him that we would love to come.
We spoke on the phone for hours each evening that week. I learned more about him and his childhood. As a boy, he spent hours riding his bike and doing daredevil tricks on the dangerous hillsides of Fort Tryon Park, overlooking the Hudson River. He also was very smart.
"When I was in the first grade," he told me, "I got a full scholarship to the Little Red Schoolhouse, but my father was too cheap to pay the hundred dollars it would have cost for bus transportation."
I just listened, but it was hard not to notice that long-held resentment he still had about that missed opportunity.
He shared stories about his mother's depression and the two times when she was hospitalized, once when he was five and then again when he was seven. The first hospitalization was right after his younger brother, Mark, was born.
I told him my stories, too. The things I didn't usually talk about.
My older brother, Paul, teased me mercilessly as a kid. It became more intense, meaner when he was an adolescent who, like many kids of the time, experimented with drugs. For Paul, though, it wasn't a passing phase. I laughed, as I always did when talking about painful things, and concluded, "I guess that's why I became a psychologist."
Friday came, and Winnie and I headed out of the city to see Charles. I hadn't been that far north during my first year in Baltimore, and I was surprised at how quickly the landscape changed. The city and soon suburbia gave way to rolling hillsides and spectacular vistas dotted with sparkling ponds and manicured horse farms. The serene views stirred thoughts of the conversations Charles and I had had during the week.
Despite his mother's depression, Charles's family life sounded quiescent compared with the discord of my adolescence. I recalled battles my brother had with my parents: his rages, screaming, kitchenware flying through the air, fruits and vegetables smashed and dripping from the walls. Amid the chaos, my parents tried their best to shield and protect me, and I didn't feel that I had a damaged childhood. I had protected myself by being an observer. I learned to see without emotion, without judgment. I laughed to myself as I thought, it's a good quality to have as a therapist, but what about in my personal life?
Charles, on the other hand, despite having experienced none of the emotional turbulence I had, sounded so disdainful of his parents, mostly his mother. With some discomfort, I registered it and then placed it on a shelf in a far corner of my mind.
As I drove, the sprawling pastures where the horses and their foals grazed, gradually turned to fields high with stands of waving corn. I soon realized I had driven to where Maryland pushed up against the Pennsylvania line. I made my way down the winding road, passing a beagle farm and a small sign marking the entrance to a vineyard.
A black kitten ran across the road, and I had to make a sudden stop. The kitten sparked a memory of one of the other things that Charles had shared as we'd spoken on the phone earlier in the week.
"I guess I was a mischievous little kid. When I was about three, I found a little black kitten. I put him down the sewer because I wanted to see if he could get out."
"What happened to him?" I asked.
"I don't know."
Didn't he think to get some help? I asked myself, feeling a fleeting twisting in my gut.
I rounded another bend, passed a red barn, and saw the 1890s fieldstone house that Charles had described. That unpleasant feeling in my gut gave way to excited anticipation and to readjusting my blinders as I saw Charles wave from the porch when I pulled into the drive. Winnie, also excited to see Charles, charged from the car, almost knocking him over once again.
"While it's still light, I'll show you around the farm. I'm renting it, but I feel like a landowner."
His eyes and smiling beard twinkled in the sun as he spoke in his resonant, sexy voice. He took my hand and, with Winnie close behind, led me beneath a lush grape arbor and past a hedge of blackberry bushes heavy with fruit. He pointed out the stone marker, just below the roofline of the house, dated 1898. Charming. I loved the exterior shutters that opened and closed, unlike modern constructed shutters, and the working well just outside the front door. Charles told me that when there were power outages, neighbors came by to get water because his was the only well that wasn't pump-operated. There were two large red barns, one that Charles used as a garage and the other as woodworking shop. The sweet smell of hay wafted from the loft up above. We climbed up into it and fell onto the slippery bales, laughing at Winnie, who was climbing and falling from the stacks. Then we left the barn and walked back out into the sunlight, breathing in the soft, sweet summer air. I was enthralled with it all. Charles had a story to go with everything he pointed out.
Excerpted from "Lost in the Reflecting Pool"
Copyright © 2017 Diane Pomerantz.
Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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