While I’m Falling
WHILE I’M FALLING
. Copyright © 2009 Laura Moriarty. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Hyperion e-books.
Adobe Digital Edition June 2009 ISBN 978-1-4013-9452-3
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The Center of Everything
The Rest of Her Life
ON A VERY COLD DAY during my sophomore year of…
I DID NOT ALWAYS want to be a doctor. I…
HAYLIE BUTTERFIELD WAS THE only person in the dorm I…
HER DAUGHTER HAD CALLED her crazy. Or told her she…
ON THE WAY TO THE AIRPORT, Jimmy blasted electronica from…
IT COST FOUR MORE QUARTERS to leave a message on…
“GOOD MORNING.” The words were said sweetly, and very softly.
GRETCHEN GAVE ME A RIDE back to Jimmy’s. She felt…
THIRD FLOOR CLYDE was waiting outside my door.
SHE WAS TOO TIRED to get into the whole story.
SHE GOT UP EARLY to take Bowzer out. She did…
“THIS PERSON HAS MY PHONE? Why does he have my…
NATALIE WOKE IN DARKNESS, forgetting, for a moment, where she…
I KNEW, EVEN AS I TOOK the test, that I…
MY MOTHER SAID THAT Pamela O’Toole, formerly Pamela Butterfield, was…
FOR MY NEPHEW’S first Christmas, I knit him a hat.
I would like to thank the women and men at Children’s Learning Center in Lawrence, Kansas, for taking such great care of my daughter during the weekdays while I wrote this book.
I am very much indebted to Lucia Orth, Mary Wharff, Mary O’Connell, and Judy Bauer for their thoughtful responses to drafts. I feel fortunate to have met fellow writers whom I can learn from and also call friends. And thank you to Ben Eggleston for being such a positive presence in my life as well as Vivian’s. It must be good for my head, and therefore my work, to spend time with someone I admire so much.
I am also grateful for the honesty and intelligence of my excellent agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh. Ellen Archer’s kindness and support have been constant. My editor at Hyperion, Leslie Wells, is a discerning reader and a thoughtful advisor, and her enthusiasm has been so encouraging.
There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.
—J. K. Rowling, Harvard Commencement, 2008
N A VERY COLD DAY
during my sophomore year of college, when I was living just an hour away from home in a dorm, my father returned from a two-day seminar on financial planning to find what he initially thought was a stranger asleep in his bed. Even after he turned on the overhead light, he didn’t recognize the bearded face of the man sleeping openmouthed on one of the firm, supportive pillows he always missed so much while away. In those first confusing moments, my father later told me, he simply didn’t comprehend the situation. He would soon forgive himself this slowness—his experience as a trial lawyer had taught him that people often cannot comprehend the unexpected; the human brain can fail to register what seems impossible. “Blinded by naiveté” was how he explained it to me, in one of his more vulnerable—or perhaps more calculating—moments. Even after he turned on the light, he said, it took him several seconds to recognize the blond hair and pleasant face of one of the men who had worked on our roof the previous summer. Naiveté aside, I’m surprised he recognized the man at all. My father worked long hours, and so the repair of the roof, like everything that had to do with the house, had fallen to my mother’s domain.
The roofer’s tanned shoulders were visible over the top of the duvet. He did not wake when my father turned on the overhead light. Bowzer, our dog, was curled up at the foot of the bed, his silver chin resting on a lump that appeared to be the man’s right foot. When my father kicked the bed, the roofer turned and sighed, resting one pale arm over his eyes. He seemed to be groping for something—or someone—with his other hand, but still my father allegedly remained clueless. Our house was on a cul-de-sac in a suburb of Kansas City that is known for its safety, excellent public schools, and complete lack of public transportation; still, my father said that for far too long, he truly perceived the man as some kind of confused, unshaven transient who had broken in to take a mid-morning nap.
“I was exhausted,” he explained to me later. “Okay? Veronica? You understand? I’d been on a plane all day. All I wanted was to come home, change clothes—maybe even, God forbid, have someone make dinner for me—and I walk into
He said the situation only started to make sense after he spotted the note. It was creased in half so it sat like a little tent on top of the roofer’s work boots, which were on the floor next to the bed, wool socks still nestled inside. Before my father even picked up the note, he recognized the lined yellow paper, a pad of which my mother kept in the drawer of her bedside table for copying down interesting passages in books, and gift ideas from the catalogues that she also read while in bed.
“O CLOUD-PALE eyelids, dream-dimmed eyes…”
You look so beautiful asleep I can’t bring myself to wake you. But make sure you are gone by three. (And take this note with you!) I will call you. And I promise you, all day long, I will think about being brave.
The note was not signed, but my father of course recognized my mother’s handwriting, the careful cursive, the neat and even loops. He looked at her bedside table. There was the Philip Roth book she’d been reading before he left. Stri Vectin hand cream. A tube of the raspberry lip balm she had, for years—and in his opinion, very irritatingly—woken to put on in the middle of the night. His brain was able to register what was clear, but he was so surprised, he said, that his legs literally gave way, and he had to sit on the edge of the bed. Because of my father’s occasional back problems, my parents slept on an expensive mattress, the kind made out of the material that has something to do with astronauts—and apparently, it really could withstand the weight of a grown man sitting on the edge of it without disturbing a sleeping man, or even an elderly dog, lying in the middle. So my father had several seconds to look at the roofer’s slackened face, and to notice—to his even further surprise—just how young the interloper was. When I first heard the story from my bewildered and disgusted older sister, the roofer was reported to be about thirty years old. That may have been an exaggeration—to this day, my mother maintains he was closer to forty.
But we can all agree that my father—once he collected his wits—responded to the crisis with characteristic forethought and logic. I wouldn’t put all of this on his training as a lawyer. He is a huge fan of true crime—in his spare time, what little there is of it, he watches cop and private detective shows,
etc. He dropped the note where he’d found it, stood up, and took a large step away from the bed. His phone had a camera on it. He took it out of his pocket and took a picture of the sleeping man. He found the man’s flannel shirt lying on the floor, and he used it—as he had seen so many television detectives use latex gloves—to pick up my mother’s note. He slipped both articles behind her big oak dresser for safekeeping, and then crept over to his dresser, where he kept the small handgun he had purchased three years earlier after a house several streets away was burglarized—though it was a much nicer house, and the owners had been away at the time, skiing in Aspen.
“He bought that gun so he could tell everyone he bought it,” my mother had said. “He bought it to make me insane.”
And truly, on the snowy afternoon that the discovery of the sleeping roofer gave my father some reason to finally load the gun, he didn’t load it. He wasn’t looking for vengeance, he told me, just the upper hand.
“He could have just asked him to leave,” my mother pointed out later. “Mr. Drama. You know what? He probably could have just cleared his throat.”
But my father did use the gun, the tip of the barrel, to nudge the roofer awake. “Get the hell out of my house,” he said, very calmly, or at least that’s how he told us he said it, with all the quiet bravado of someone who has watched several Clint Eastwood movies in the course of his life. My father does have a trial lawyer’s flair for drama—he tells stories well, and he has a good memory for dialogue. But neither my sister nor I was ever completely convinced that his actual delivery was so tranquil—our father is a very excitable person. He screams when he loses his car keys. He wails when he stubs his toe. In any case, the roofer woke up quickly and found whatever my father said, however he said it, sufficiently clear, and the gun sufficiently motivating. He raised his palms in surrender. He asked permission to stand. To my father’s surprise, the roofer was wearing jeans, his leather belt still buckled. And he wasn’t that physically impressive, now that he was standing up. He was several inches shorter than my father, and though his arms were broad and muscular, he was a little soft in the middle. “Cloud-pale eyelids?” my father asked me later. “
The roofer, his eyelids now invisible above his wide-awake eyes, asked permission to put on his boots, almost every word, according to my father, followed by an “uhhh” or a “duhhhh” that strongly hinted he was not just temporarily terrified, but also permanently stupid. Of course, my father’s impersonation may not have been accurate or fair. Long after the roofer—his name, I later learned, was Greg Liddiard—returned to Alaska to marry his pregnant girlfriend, and my mother had little reason to defend him, she told my older sister and me that there were many different kinds of intelligence and stupidity, and that Greg Liddiard—her former boyfriend, poetry pal, whatever he was—hardly had the market cornered on any of them.
My father, by his own admission, felt pretty stupid himself. He wanted both me and Elise to understand he’d been blindsided. You think you know a person, he said. You think you have a good idea of what’s going on in your own home. Once he understood the real story, he said, he was all done playing the dupe. Less than two minutes after Greg Liddiard ran shirtless out the door and down our long, icy driveway to his van, which was still parked in the curb of the cul-de-sac, my father used his cell phone to call my mother on hers.