The next Saturday my 24-year-old daughter Megan and I drive to the U-Store Warehouse and fill a rented van with most of my share of the household goods. Somehow I have more than enough “stuff” to fill one of the larger storage units.
“Emptying this place will take most of the day,” I grunt as Megan and I lift a particularly large bookcase into the van.
“At least you have help at the other end,” she grunts back, “Right?”
We set the bookcase on the bed of the van and push it against the wall. “I might be feeling independent, but I'm not crazy!” I answer looking around for a tie-down.
"The question of craziness is a matter of opinion, but it's good to know it didn't overwhelm your good sense," Megan laughs as we head back into the storage unit.
The kids’ support makes the move feel like a real step forward, as my 22-year-old twins Kim and Ben also play some part in this move. Kim has already gone back to the house with a car full of things, and that morning Ben sent an enthusiastic text wishing well from the S.U.N.Y. University at Buffalo.
By the time Megan and I get back to the house with the van, my friends Mary and Donald Murphy and Stacey and Dan Bryant are waiting in the driveway. “The cavalry is ready!” shouts Mary as Dan helps me back up to the garage. Jane arrives just as Donald clambers into the truck to assess the best way to dismantle the pile.
“Where do you need us?” Jane calls, leading an incredibly muscular 30-year-old German body builder named Hans across the lawn. Where does she find these living stereotypes? Luckily she didn't bring a second guy named Franz with them.
Quickly everyone settles into action. While the crew starts the transfer of furniture and bric-a-brac into the house, someone puts my collection of Motown and 70’s pop music on my dated but beloved boom box. I’m directing people and attempting to limit the potential hide and seek session later. It’s almost a remake of The Big Chill but with less beautiful people.
“Hey Mom, you know I have to go by 3, right?” Kim calls through the noise as she lugs a box up the stairs to the room that’s going to be my office. “I have an evening shift at work, and I have to stop by my place first.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I call back. “You can leave whenever you need to.” At 5’ 8” Kim inherited her dad’s height and metabolism, but the striped purple and pink-red hair is all her own. Kim is my “advertiser” child – the one who has to make sure everyone knows what she’s doing at all times. She is also the most cheerful of my three kids and thrives on her jobs as a Friendly’s waitress and Boys and Girls Club program leader. She’s taking a break from college after finishing her junior year as an elementary education major, but she recently announced she might become a weather forecaster. For the time being, though, she happily works at her part-time jobs spending time with friends.
Right then Jane comes through the door carrying the headboard for my bed, with Hans shouldering the double mattress right behind. Of course Jane would make a point of bringing in my bed.
“Where’s your bedroom going to be?” Jane waggles her eyebrows suggestively at Hans.
“The large room on the right, across the living room and next to the bathroom.” I ignore the knowing look and I hope Jane hasn’t hidden any lederhosen lingerie under her tight t-shirt and jeans. The pair disappears around the corner and Donald and Dan follow, lugging the box spring.
“Keep an eye on Jane and Hans,” I tell Mary as she follows the guys carrying the full-length mirror for my closet.
“I’m not sure I want that job,” Mary says, laughing, “I'm not really in the mood for an NC-17 rated movie.”
“You think it'd only be NC-17?” Stacey calls out from the kitchen where she busily unpacks the pans, plates and glasses. At that moment, Megan comes by balancing my old desktop computer.
“Hey kiddo; you can take that upstairs,” I wave her towards the stairway. “Your sister should be up there, and maybe you two can decide on a good place for my desk.”
“K, Mom.” Megan’s my efficient one, my true first-born, and where her sister is taller with an athletic build, Megan has inherited my hour-glass shape, average height and curly hair. Kim’s live-in-the-moment life counters in nature yet copies in complexity Megan’s focused multi-tasking that involves getting her Ph.D. in mathematics at Syracuse University while successfully juggling a small business as a ceramicist.
I check Stacey’s progress in the kitchen. She's unpacking a particularly well-packed box. “Jackie, where do you want your good china?”
“Maybe in this cabinet off to the side. I don't think I'll be using it all that much.”
“Isn't this your wedding china?” Stacey carefully empties the dozen place settings of off-white porcelain with the gold edges. “Why didn't you throw it at John when he walked out?”
“I just couldn't bring myself to waste it despite being a wedding gift.” John and I had sat in our tiny apartment and unpacked place settings and serving dishes for what seemed hours the day after we returned from our honeymoon camping in the Smoky Mountains. That we had a full complement of china but no couch seemed highly ironic yet somehow frivolously romantic at the time. “Besides, I don't really want to get rid of all of those memories.”
“I know, I'm just kidding.” Stacey arranges the various teacups and bowls on the shelves.
“Of course, if I change my mind about preserving the past, I'll make sure you join me in breaking the plates,” I promise.
“I definitely want to do that," Stacey says over her shoulder. "Do you remember how disorganized we were that day? I can't believe we almost ran out of gas when we were running those last errands just before the rehearsal dinner.” Stacey was my maid of honor. She knows me better than anyone as we've been best friends since the sixth grade. We almost always know what each other's thinking and she was the first one I told about John walking out.
As much as we think alike, though, we are very different physically. In some ways, we are older physical versions of my daughters. Stacey is nearly five nine and athletically built. She has always worn her straight natural blond hair long and pulled back into a ponytail, and her green eyes magnetize men. On the other hand, I am five four and have my mom's hour-glass shape; I also have overly curly dark-brown-almost-black hair – now streaked with gray if I didn't dye it - and blue eyes always just a shade too dull to be really enchanting.
“I sometimes wonder if the chaos of our wedding was a preview of our marriage,” I half mutter putting away silverware. “I mean, it could be a reason why our marriage fell apart and yours, with the flawlessly run wedding, stayed together.”
“Oh Jackie, I don't think anything decides these things. They just happen with the way life plays out.” Stacey starts putting away the baking pans.
In high school, Stacey always had her pick of guys, finally choosing Dan our senior year before they both went off to college. In high school I had a series of random short-lived no account dates, all of which made John’s apparent devotion when we started to go out our junior year in college seem the more special. When Stacey and Dan moved to Binghamton a couple years after John and I came, the four of us quickly became a unit, and later added Mary and Donald.
Just then Donald and Dan come through the door lugging the table. “And where do you want this?” Donald asks. Mary follows them with a couple chairs.
“The dining room is over there,” I say, pointing to the only other room on the main floor inconveniently placed across the living room and on the other side of the house from the kitchen.
“Where are Jane and Hans?” I ask Mary, not sure I really want to know.
“They offered to put the bed frame together.” Mary winks as she passes. I picture an Alpine version of the bad camel incident. At least we'll know what’s happening when we hear yodeling from the back of the house.
Soon only the couch is left in the van, so Dan, Donald and the recently-found Hans begin maneuvering it into the house through the front door which turns out to be “that much” too small. The side door with the breezeway, though, is even narrower so there isn't another option.
As the men try to twist the couch hoping pure determination will do the job, three college boys stop while returning to the apartments next door. The taller one, with red hair falling across his forehead and that solid build one sees on twenty-something guys at the gym, calls out, “Need some help?” The other two, a bit shorter but equally handsome in that too-pretty-to-be-interesting-yet way, stand ready to display their muscular prowess at a moment’s notice.
“Sure!” Dan says, and he and Donald gladly step back to watch the two silent college guys take their places. Hans has no intention of giving up his end to this challenge of his role as most-fit guy. The tall red-head, evidently the leader of the college threesome, watches the young men vie with each other at unsuccessfully pushing the couch around the door frame. Finally he suggests,“How about taking the door off? And maybe the feet of the couch can come off too? It would give you a couple extra inches and might just do it.”
It’s a sign of how tired everyone is - and competitive the three strongmen are - that no one had thought of this obvious solution earlier. I luckily locate my toolbox in the chaotic mess, and I hand the screwdrivers to Director Red-Head. In short order, not only is the door off its hinges but the feet have been unscrewed from the couch and the whole thing slides in with only a slight hitch. Dan, watching Hans disappear into the door with the end of the sofa, nudges Donald and they decide to return the van, walking away with a definite air of relief. “We'll be back soon.”
"Bring back some cold beers and soda!" I call towards their retreating backs. Donald waves without looking back.
After the couch is together and the door re-hung, the two silent college guys continue on to the apartments. “Thanks for the help,” I say as Director Red-Head hands me my screwdrivers.
“No problem,” he says, standing a bit too close and looking down at me with deep brown eyes under thick red eyelashes that seem too long to be real. “I'm Ryan. If you need any more help, I live over in the apartments next door.”
“I guessed that … the apartment, not your name,” I say, flushing red.
Just then Kim comes out the door and interrupts the awkward moment. “Mom, I have to go. Do you need anything else in the next couple minutes?”
Ryan, looking up at Kim’s voice, nods his head in acknowledgement and follows the other two.
“Ryan Miller,” Kim says under her breath with a touch of disgust. “He thinks he’s God’s gift to womankind. I had a friend who dated him for a while. She said all he talked about was comparing the other women he had dated. She got so tired of his bragging that she finally just called it off, despite the fact they had great sex.” Kim shrugs and turns to go inside, “So Mom, anything?”
I realize I'm thinking about Kim's comment about sex. “Uh, no, Kim, I don't think I do. Have a good shift.” I follow Kim up the front stoop.
Posted by Jackie Connolly
Chapter 1, Part 3
Chapter 1, Part 3