“At least you act like an adult,” I said, although I knew myself this wasn’t always true. “He can’t even dress himself.”
“But,” she went on, ignoring this, “the love we have for each other is bigger than these small differences. And that’s the key. It’s like a big pie chart, and the love in a relationship has to be the biggest piece. Love can make up for a lot, Remy.”
“Love is a sham,” I said, sliding the saltshaker in a circle.
“Oh, honey, no!” She reached over and took my hand, squeezing my fingers. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
I shrugged. “I have yet to be convinced otherwise.”
“Oh, Remy.” She picked up my hand, folding her fingers around mine. Hers were smaller, cooler, the nails bright pink. “How can you say that?”
I just looked at her. One, two, three seconds. And then she was with me.
“Oh, now,” she said, letting my hand go, “just because a few marriages didn’t last doesn’t make it a total wash. I had many good years with your father, Remy, and the best part was that I got Chris and you out of it. The four years I was with Harold were wonderful, until the very end. And even with Martin and Win, I was happy for most of the time.”
“But they did end, all of them,” I said. “They failed.”
“Maybe some people would say so.” She folded her hands in her lap and thought for a second. “But I think, personally, that it would be worse to have been alone all that time. Sure, maybe I would have protected my heart from some things, but would that really have been better? To hold myself apart because I was too scared that something might not be forever?”
“Maybe,” I said, picking at the edge of the table. “Because at least then you’re safe. The fate of your heart is your choice, and no one else gets a vote.”
She considered this, really thinking about it, then said, “Well, it’s true that I have been hurt in my life. Quite a bit. But it’s also true that I have loved, and been loved. And that carries a weight of its own. A greater weight, in my opinion. It’s like that pie chart we talked about earlier. In the end, I’ll look back on my life and see that the greatest piece of it was love. The problems, the divorces, the sadness… those will be there too, but just smaller slivers, tiny pieces.”
“I just think that you have to protect yourself,” I said. “You can’t just give yourself away.”
“No,” she said solemnly. “You can’t. But holding people away from you, and denying yourself love, that doesn’t make you strong. If anything, it makes you weaker. Because you’re doing it out of fear.”
“Fear of what?” I said.
“Of taking that chance,” she said simply. “Of letting go and giving into it, and that’s what makes us what we are. Risks. That’s living, Remy. Being too scared to even try it-that’s just a waste. I can say I made a lot of mistakes, but I don’t regret things. Because at least I didn’t spend a life standing outside, wondering what living would be like.”
I sat there, not even sure what to say next. I realized I’d felt sorry for my mother for nothing. All these years I’d pitied her all her marriages, saw the very fact that she kept trying as her greatest weakness, not understanding that to her, it was the complete opposite. In her mind, me sending Dexter away made me weaker than him, not stronger.
“Barbara, we’ve got to be there in ten minutes so let’s-” Don appeared in the kitchen doorway, tie crooked, his jacket folded over one arm. He stopped when he saw me. “Oh. Remy. Hello.”
“Hi,” I said.
“Oh, look at your tie,” my mother said, standing up. She walked over to him, smoothing her hands down the front of his shirt, and straightened it, tightening the knot. “There. All fixed.”
“We should go.” Don kissed her on the forehead and she stepped back from him. “Gianni hates having to wait.”
“Oh, well, then let’s get going,” my mother said. “Remy, honey, have a wonderful time. Okay? And think about what I said.”
“I will,” I told her. “Have fun.”
Don headed out to the car, keys in hand-which I noticed, of course-but my mother came over to me as I stood up, putting her hands on my shoulders. “Don’t let your mother’s history make you a cynic, Remy,” she said softly. “Okay?”
Too late, I thought as she kissed me. Then I watched as she walked out to the car, where Don was waiting. He put a hand against the small of her back, guiding her into her seat, and in that one moment I began to think I just might understand what she was talking about. Maybe a marriage, like a life, isn’t only about the Big Moments, whether they be bad or good. Maybe it’s all the small things-like being guided slowly forward, surely, day after day-that stretch out to strengthen even the most tenuous bond.
My luck was continuing. Paul was actually not a bad setup.
I’d been a little wary when he’d picked me up, but was surprised when, actually, we’d immediately fallen into talking about college. Apparently one of his best friends from high school was at Stanford, and he’d been there over Christmas to visit.
“Great campus,” he was saying as the mariachi band, a La Brea staple, started up yet another rendition of “Happy Birthday” across the restaurant. “Plus the ratio in the classes of professors to students is really good. You’re not just dealing with a TA, you know?”
I nodded. “I hear it’s pretty rigorous academically.”
He smiled. “Oh, come on. I know how smart you have to be to get in there. I doubt you’ll have a problem. You probably, like, aced the SATs, right?”
“Wrong,” I said, shaking my head.
“I, however,” he said grandly, taking a sip of his water, “scored in the moron category. Which is why I’ll still be at my fine state school pulling the gentleman’s C, while you head off to lead the free world. You can send me a postcard. Or, better yet, come see me at my postgraduate job, where I’ll be happy to Supersize your order because, you know, we’re friends and all.”
I smiled. Paul was a charmer, and a rich boy, but I liked him. He was the kind of guy where talking comes easily because he has something in common with everyone. Already, other than Stanford we’d discussed waterskiing (he was terrible, but addicted), the fact that he was bilingual (Spanish-his grandmother was Venezuelan), and the fact that once summer was over, he’d head back to school, where he was a brother at Sigma Nu, majored in psychology, and managed what he described as the “all heart, no skills” men’s basketball team. He wasn’t goofy or uproariously hilarious, but then again, he wasn’t clumsy either, and both his shoes were tied. Before I knew it, our food had come, we’d eaten, and we were still sitting there talking, even as they cleared every plate from around us in a subtle hint that we were lingering too long.