“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”
To Kill a Mockingbird
My mother killed my marriage. Stomped all over it with her
Pepto-Bismol pink pumps and ground it to divorce dust.
Okay, maybe that’s not entirely fair. Mom wasn’t solely
responsible for the destruction of my marriage. Like many
couples, Eric and I had some problems. But the biggest one was
my mother. I turned the page in my wedding album on what
would have been our five-year anniversary to a close-up of the
two of us — happy, bright, shining, and in love. So in love. But
that was then and this is now.
My fingers moved up the glossy page to the cleft in Eric’s
jaw. I loved that Kirk Douglas cleft and had spent many happy
hours kissing it. And the delicious lips above it. Now someone
else was kissing them.
I slapped the album shut. And as I shoved it back into
the closet, the phone rang. I walked over to the nightstand to
check the caller ID. Probably a telemarketer.
As the phone continued to ring, I squinted at the name.
Now where’d I put my reading glasses? By the time I finally
found them, the answering machine had clicked on.
“Paige?” My mother’s querulous voice filled the air. “Are
you there? Or are you out again? Seems like you’re never
home anymore.” She released a loud sigh. “I was hoping you
could come over for just a minute and pull down my other quilt
from the top of the linen closet. This one’s getting too hot and
heavy.” She lobbed one of her famous guilt grenades. “Oh well,
guess I’ll just have to make do. Talk to you soon.”
My turn to expel a loud sigh.
Mom’s “for just a minute” was never that. Every time
I went over to her house — several times a week since Dad
died — she found “one other little thing” for me to do. “Since
you’re here, would you mind bringing the new bag of cat litter
in from the garage? It’s too heavy for me.”
Translation: Clean out the dirty litter box and refill it.
“Could you look up the number to Animal Control? I think
I’ve got raccoons or possums under the house.”
Translation: Call the County and take care of it.
“Would you run up to the store and pick up some chicken?
Breasts are on sale. Oh, and could you pick up a couple
Other things for me too?”
Translation: Do all my grocery shopping.
Since Dad died nearly three years ago, I’d become the
go-to girl for anything and everything my mother needed.
Mom was of the old school, accustomed to having my father
handle everything, from balancing the checkbook to pumping
gas, and had never really learned to do things on her own, or
establish any kind of independence. And at her age, I didn’t see
She also had the mind-set that family should do everything
for one another, and considered it an imposition to ask
for help from people who didn’t share her same blood. Which
meant everything fell on me.
My brother Patrick and sister Isabel had seen the writing
on the wall and gotten out of our Sacramento hometown years
ago. Patrick, the youngest, was a free spirit, going his own way
and dabbling in different things. Last we’d heard, he was living
on an ashram somewhere in India. Staying in touch wasn’t
exactly his thing.
As for Isabel, after getting her MBA from Berkeley, she’d
moved to Chicago to join an investment firm. There she’d
steadily risen up the ranks to the executive level where she was
now a corporate muckety-muck in a high-rise office overlooking
Michigan Avenue. Isabel, who’s two years older than me, is
married to David, another executive who shares her same career
drive and Dom Perignon tastes. They work hard and play hard,
flying all over the world to exotic vacation spots — beginning
with their elopement to Barbados two years ago.
Mom still hasn’t forgiven her for that. “How could your
sister go and get married without any of her family there?”
she’d asked me. “A wedding is a celebration for the whole
family — not just the two of them.” She released one of her
signature sighs. “But then your sister’s always been selfish.
I’m glad I have at least one daughter who puts others before
herself. I can always count on you, honey.”
No pressure there.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my mom. And I always try to
honor her as the Bible says. But what about that Scripture that
says “do not exasperate your children”?
A siren split the air. Mom’s ringtone.
I knew if I answered my cell, she’d wheedle me into stopping
by and I’d be late to book club. I’m thirty-five years old
and I haven’t learned how to say no to my mother. Grabbing
my phone, I set it to vibrate and tossed it in my purse. Then
I headed out the door, eager to meet the girls on our latest
Last year, at the start of our book club season, Becca, the
founder of the club, had suggested that rather than just sitting
around discussing the books we read, we start to live out some
of the adventures in the books instead. And boy had we ever.
We’d gone sailing, camping, hiking, blind dating, even rafting
down the river — courtesy of Huck Finn — but our biggest
adventure came when we traveled to Paris to take cooking lessons
after reading French Women Don’t Get Fat.
Ah, Paris. J’adore. We’d all fallen head over heels for the
beautiful, cosmopolitan city, but Chloe, my karaoke-singing
pal who used to not have a daring bone in her body, had taken
a sabbatical from work to return to the City of Light for an
extended stay. She was there even now, painting and living out
her French adventure.
Not that I’m jealous or anything. C’est la vie.
Last month for our April book club adventure, in honor
of Kidnapped, where young David Balfour goes on the run
through the Scottish Highlands, I took the girls to the annual
Scottish Games and Gathering in a nearby town. I’d have preferred
Scotland — especially since I’m part Scottish — but two trips to Europe in one year wasn’t in anyone’s budget.
We settled for Woodland.
There we had a blast watching the Highland dancers and
pipers, tasting Scottish delicacies, and watching different athletic
competitions including the hammer throw and haggis hurling. But our favorite event was checking out all the men in kilts.
Shades of Mel Gibson. Talk about freedom.
Today we were enjoying the freedom of a hike in the foothills
north of Sacramento.
“This hill’s too high,” Kailyn whined.
“You think that’s high — just wait’ll we get to Yosemite,”
Becca said. “This is great practice for our Into Thin Air climb
in a couple weeks.”
Annette, who’d been steadily puffing alongside me for the
past hour, sat down abruptly. “I need to rest, y’all. Isn’t it about
time for our picnic, anyway?”
“Works for me. Hey guys,” I called to the rest of the group
as I sank to the ground beside Annette, “time to eat.” Kailyn
hotfooted it over to us but stopped short. She looked at her
new white shorts and then down at the ground with a dubious
Annette removed the denim overshirt she’d tied around
her waist and spread it out on the grass beside her à la Sir
Walter Raleigh. “There you go, Queen Elizabeth. Now your
royal designer shorts won’t get ruined.”
“Thanks, Mom. You rock.”
“That I do,” Annette said. “Madonna has nothin’ on me.
Well, except money, rock-hard abs, and an estate in England.
Although . . . I used to live in England too.”
“On an estate?”
“Nah. In an Air Force dorm when I was stationed there
in the seventies. My roommates and I formed a girl band and
played at weddings and bar mitzvahs. We really rocked those
receptions.” She hummed a little “Bohemian Rhapsody” as she
began removing food items from her backpack and setting
them on a small tablecloth.
“Bunch of wusses,” Becca grumbled as she and Jenna
joined us. “I don’t know how you ever expect to scale a mountain
when you can’t even make it up a little foothill.”
“I don’t expect to scale any mountains,” Annette said. “I’ll
just watch you.”
“Ditto.” I smiled up at Becca.
“Aw c’mon, that’s not fair. The point of these adventures is
for all of us to do them together.”
“Then you need to pick adventures that all of us are physically
capable of doing.”
“You tell her, Mom.” Kailyn stuck out her tongue at her
“If we all trained together, we could get in shape to climb,”
Jenna said. “We could work out together every morning. I
could probably even get us a group rate at the gym.”
“No thanks,” Annette said. “I already do a morning workout
every day with my husband.”
“Every day?” Becca’s eyes gleamed beneath her dark spiky
bangs. “Who says the sex drive wanes as you get older?”
“Eww!” Kailyn gave Becca a playful shove. “That’s my
parents you’re talking about.”
“And this parent was talking about walking, not nookie.”
I faced Becca. “Can’t we compromise on the mountain
climbing? You’ve got a mixed group of women here and not
all of us are in as great shape as you and Jenna.”
“I know!” Kailyn’s blonde ponytail bobbed as she jumped
up. “We could go to one of those indoor rock-climbing walls
instead, with those rubber thingies where you put your feet.
That doesn’t look too hard, plus we’d be protected from the
“I’m sure that’s just what Sir Edmund Hillary said when
he was climbing Everest. ‘Gee, let’s stay inside so we’re protected
from the elements,’ ” Becca said.
“Shut up, nature girl.”
I clapped my hands the way I used to when my siblings
fought. “Time out. Hey, Jenna, aren’t there less extreme mountains at Yosemite we could climb instead? Say with some pretty waterfalls or something?”
“Well, there’s Vernal Falls. Technically, it’s at the top of a
“Yeah, with steps,” Becca said dismissively.
“Narrow steep steps cut into the cliff.”
“Annette, didn’t you, Tess, and Chloe go up a bunch of narrow
steps to look at the gargoyles in Notre Dame?”
“Well, you can certainly do these steps then,” I said. “And
so can I. Tess will too. Where is Tess today, anyway?”
“She had a date with James. They were going to an exhibit at the DeYoung.”
“Nice. Blowing us off for a guy and art,” cynical Becca said.
Works for me.
“Not just any guy,” Annette said with a small, secret smile.
“This is love.”
“Mawwiage is what bwings us togevver today.” The Princess
Bride is one of my favorite romantic movies.
“Does anyone else think it’s ironic that Tess’s last name is
the same as his first name?”
“No. I think it’s a God-thing,” Kailyn said.
“Yeah, right.” Becca snorted. “It’s just a coincidence.”
“A God-incidence,” Annette corrected her.
Becca rolled her eyes. “Here we go with the God-stuff again.”
Jenna and Becca were the two non-churchgoers in our
group. Jenna never seemed bothered by our occasional God-mentions,
but Becca was. I think it was something to do with her upbringing, but she’d erected a clear No Trespassing sign on that part of her life.