This was the first essay that I wrote for the blog; it was originally published September 5, 2008. I have yet to set foot at the duck club, but there are new and fabulous mattresses in Colorado.
Out to dinner last Friday night we dined with the most delightful couple. Both ensconced in successful careers in New York, he declared he was a Missouri boy born and raised and longed for home. When asked if she fought the move she turns her head just slightly to the side and replies, “I loved New York, but I loved him more.” Delightful.
As we shared the minutiae of the week over gourmet burgers, Mr. Blandings extolled the beauty and serenity of his duck club. The bounty of her land and her ponds; the joy that the work that she requires is so satisfying. When our friends asked if I enjoyed it, too, his eyes sparkled as he said, “Four years and she’s never been there. Never put her foot on the property. Has not laid eyes on it.”
But beyond the curiosity is the fear that any, or all, of these things are true. The girlfriend who came right before me adored the outdoors. She and Mr. Blandings fished together and skied together and camped together. I’m sure she could pitch a tent and bait her own hook and clean her own fish. There was a gap between us, neither would perceive the other as competition, but I was always very much aware of what she had that I did not.
Mr. Blandings has declared from the first that he does not mind that I do not care to go outdoors. We are more the opposites-attract kind of couple than the separated-at-birth kind of couple. Sadly, I fear I have influenced him more than he has influenced me. I believe almost all of his traits to be more attractive than mine. Better. Purer. Not the least of which is enjoying being outside. I think people who long to be outside are superior to those, like myself, who do not. And yet. And yet, I enjoy my controlled environment. Briefly, in spring and fall, I like to have the windows open, but all of us have a touch of allergies and then there’s the dust and suddenly the sashes come down with a thunk.
Unfortunately, I’ve noticed Mr. Blanding has given up outside more than I have given up inside. Like our youngest son, he has a gift of making himself happy wherever he is. If I am inside, then he can make his way inside as well. Or could, until the purchase of his little slice of heaven about an hour and a half from here. I had been to a friend’s farm with him before. Newly married, we had a plan. He would fish; I would sit on the dock and read my book. Perfect, as both endeavors require quiet.
The dock, I noticed immediately, was dirty and a little splintery; care would be needed. Also, being by water it was buggy. I’m not sure you are aware, but spiders like bugs, so spiders, too. Deep breath, doing fine. “That spider is not going to bother you.” “I know, I know. I didn’t say a word.” Hot. A little hot. And, well, now sweaty. Fine, it can’t last forever. It certainly wouldn’t kill me to sweat a little. And then I saw the snake and announced, slightly strained but chipper, that I was going to wait in the car. “Take your time. I’ll be fine. Really. No rush.” That basically was our last outdoor outing together.
Even indoors in an outdoor environment can be dicey. Seven months pregnant with our first son, we vacationed in Mr. Blanding’s family home in Colorado. And when I say family, I mean family; my boys are the fifth generation to tread its floors. It will celebrate it’s centennial soon. And it showed the first time we went. Once charming and rustic, it was then mostly tired and scary, but my husband could see only the magic of his childhood summers.
Edgy and nervous at the isolation (the noises that I was hearing out my window were not the reassuring city kind of noises, but more like, say, critters) we dropped our bags and headed out to dinner. Upon returning home, weary from travel and my burgeoning belly, we decided to go to bed. The mattresses were brand new in 1945. Soft and sagging, with the added difficulty of my out-of-proportion middle, we slid to the center of the double bed again and again until we resigned ourselves to the spot.
Around two a.m., bladder full, I lay awake not wanting to get up but knowing I would never be able to get back to sleep until I took a quick trip to the bathroom. Scratch. Rustle, rustle. Cripes, what now? “Darling, do you hear that?” “Hmmm? What? No.” Which was reasonable because then there was nothing. Rustle, rustle, scratch. “That, did you hear that?” “Hmmm?” Incensed, I flipped on the light. A mouse the size of my fist dashed behind the basket of pinecones on the hearth of our room.
Clearly, he felt as indignant as I that territorial lines had been crossed. Each time he ventured from behind the basket, I screamed and he ran back. While Mr. Blandings begged me to go to sleep (unlikely as I had still not gone to the bathroom) I cowered in fear. Again, my refrain of “I’m sleeping in the car,” brought action. We moved to another room, towel stuffed firmly under the door, mattress as insufficient as before, touching from shoulder to ankle while I lay awake all night listening for the attack. In hindsight, I admit it might have been a chipmunk. Cuter, but a trauma just the same.
A lot of women perform bait and switch tactics between courting and marriage. I was not among those. I was clear from the beginning that my philosophy is “Inside is best.” How can I visit the duck club and watch the slight relax of his shoulders as he approaches her? How can I witness the poetry of his cast and know that there is no place for me in it? How can I go to meet her knowing that she holds an attraction for him with which even I, his beloved, cannot compete?
So I don’t go. “It’s for the boys.” I declare as they load up to visit my rival. But each day, during the late summer, I begin to take my coffee and my paper to the patio in the cool of the morning. I’m not ready for the duck club yet. I’m easing in. Besides, I hear the bathrooms are atrocious.