It wasn't always like this. We used to have wonderful times. There were times when I felt as if I had won two prizes: my two children walking up the road with me. My girl. My boy. Living together in Maine.
There were times when our world seemed perfectly balanced. Later it's easy to remember, when you're mad at yourself and furious with how things came out, to remember only yelling in the kitchen on a winter night and feeling overwhelmed at the office. But I have to remember, too, the happy times when we were all tucked up in bed reading Mary Poppins on a winter evening. When we were at the beach with Cynthia and Bea and Sam in summer. When Augusta and I were looking at catalogues together on the green couch while Jack was building buildings in the dining room.
Those things are all true, too.
I raised the kids alone. Their dad and I divorced when they were little, split up when they were two and three and got divorced a year later. When people ask me why we got divorced I say I don't think you have to explain why people get divorced. I think you have to explain how people stay married. How people can stand each other day after day, year after year, rubbing against each other like two bad pennies. But actually I know the exact moment when I decided I had to get away from Ben.
We'd been in Boston at his parents' house for Christmas. We were driving home in the beat-up blue Ford my mother had given us when she got a new one. At least it ran, unlike the rest of the cars that Ben had parked in our driveway to work on when he got around to it. The old green SAAB that just needed some brake work. The red VW that suddenly one day just stopped working.
Of course, the driver's door of the Ford didn't open. You could either slide across from the passenger side or else crawl in through the driver's window. I was starting to mind things like that.
We'd been at his parents' house, which was not like my parents' house. Too many doilies on things. The TV on. Three cats. It was January. It was very cold. We were driving home with both kids in their car seats in the backseat. The car was a mess, full of our junk. Clothes. Blankets. The heat didn't work right so we had the kids bundled up. Juice boxes. Animal crackers. Chewed-on bagels. Christmas wrapping paper. Stuff.
We were coming over the bridge at Bucksport. Ben had to get to work. We were all tired, anxious to get home. He was driving too fast. There was a cop waiting at the Bucksport side and as we slid around the curve he flashed his lights."Oh great," Ben said, pulling over opposite the graveyard.
I didn't say anything.
"This is typical," he told me, rolling down his window, letting in the cold hard Bucksport air. "We weren't going any faster than anyone else. They always stop people like us."
That was the moment.
I wasn't people like us. Okies in a beat blue Ford. Full of junk and dirty-faced children. I wasn't like this. I'd grown up in Washington. I was meant for something. My children weren't people like us. If I could have, I would have taken both children, right then, one under each arm, out of that wreck of a car and marched down Route 1 tromp tromp tromp down the highway past the narrow houses up to that flat high place between Bucksport and Ellsworth where you can see so far.
It was a little more complicated than that, but eventually I did leave him. We both stayed in Maine and shared the raising of the children, but most of it fell to me.
I didn't know how I was going to manage. Pay the mortgage. Raise the children. Fix the house. Buy the shoes. And somehow create a life of my own where I would be the star I was meant to be. How all that? I took a job at my mother's radio stations. I worked part-time and then full-time and eventually took over the business. I bought another radio station and found myself going to radio conventions in places like New Orleans and Los Angeles. I always felt as if it were all happening by mistake, the accounting course I took at night so I could read the P&L, the suits and certain shoes I started wearing, learning to use a computer. Suddenly I was worried about ratings and margins and money and negotiating contracts and hiring people and firing people. I was sitting in my office, sitting behind a desk, being a boss, being a businesswoman.
And all this time I was raising my children, coming home at night, changing into soft clothes. Augusta sitting on my bed at night. "I need a private time with you, Mommy." I was fixing supper, washing all the dishes. And sometimes it seemed as if I were doing a wonderful balancing act, balancing it all on the tip of my nose.
Looking back, there were times when I thought I was doing a wonderful job. Being a mother that read to my children, being a mother that talked really talked to my children, finding cool baby-sitters for them like the girl from the College of the Atlantic who practiced Zen and shaved her head and took them to the early-morning ceremony where she became an official Buddhist. Or my dear old friend Marie, who was cozy and sweet and baked them cookies and read them Narnia and held them in her lap and loved them. Sometimes I saw my kids on a weekend morning...
Augusta, Gone: A True Story
- paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial
- ISBN-10: 0060014156
- ISBN-13: 9780060014155