away, but it’s close enough,” Courtney said, sighing. “It’s like somebody else always gets my ideas first.”
When they left the restaurant, Courtney was still in a good mood. Sandra drove carefully, hoping to avoid any bumps that might make her daughter-in-law nauseous. They got back to the apartment and David was there and happy to go on and on about how beautiful Courtney looked, from hair to eyes, from face to dress. He even mentioned her shoes, which, as Courtney pointed out, were the same brown Mary Janes she’d been wearing for months. David laughed and kissed Courtney’s hand. “Well,” he said, “apparently I’ve always loved those shoes.”
The couple ended up on the couch together: Courtney resting her head on Sandra’s bed pillow, David slouching on the other end, rubbing her feet. Sandra was sitting on a hard kitchen chair that she’d pulled into the living room. But she was feeling pretty good, seeing her son and his wife relaxing together and, best of all, watching TV. It was Courtney’s idea to turn it on, and even though they didn’t have cable, they got Murphy Brown , which was one of Sandra’s weekly shows.
Over time, the visits to David and Courtney would become one big clump—Sandra couldn’t remember if something happened in the winter or the spring, the sixth visit or the ninth, the flat-tire drive or the ice-storm drive, a weekend she called a “short vacation” or a midweek trip using her personal days—but she was positive that there were a lot of moments like this when everything seemed good. And when she added up all these positive times, she rested easier, convinced that her son’s new family would be all right.
Later, she couldn’t believe that she’d let herself forget what she’d learned in her marriage: it’s not the happy parts that will tell you what will happen next. No matter how much you want them to, the happy parts—as long as they’re only parts , and easy to recognize precisely because they’re not the normal state of things—can only give you heartache. Even the good memories they provide aren’t really good, because every one just reminds you of what you were too dumb to see at the time.
Sandra refused to believe that it was David’s fault, what Courtney did. But she had no problem blaming herself for not figuring out what was going to happen and stepping in to stop it. Courtney was a twenty-three-year-old kid. Her parents were always too busy to visit. So the only adult around was Sandra, and her failure to save her son’s first family would always be like a weight she carried on her back. And it literally aged her. She got arthritis by fifty, her hair turned gray, and her energy level dipped, never to come back.
Fifteen years later, she still hadn’t cut back her schedule as a geriatric nurse, though she felt older than some of her patients, and much older that her sixty-one years. Luckily, her eyes were fine and she had no problem negotiating the traffic as she made her way to the quaint little suburb where Courtney lived. She knew David was wrong to suspect Courtney of taking his son—because she knew Courtney. It was the only secret she’d kept from David, who had changed so much over the years, sometimes she barely recognized the boy he’d been in the man he’d become.
Sandra didn’t plan to deceive him, but someone had to take care of Courtney when she got out of the hospital. Her parents had essentially disowned her: what she’d done was a stain on their ordered life with their fancy friends. So Sandra found her an apartment in Philadelphia, nursed her back to something like sanity, and even helped her find a job as a technical writer. She saw her less often in the last few years, but they still kept in touch. Courtney never stopped being grateful for what Sandra had done, and for her forgiveness.
The row house where she lived had a heavy iron door knocker. Sandra picked it up and dropped it twice before she accepted that