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iveca’s wedding dress has a name: Gaia. It’s lovely. Layers of sea green silk chiffon, cap sleeves, an empire waist, an asymmetrical A- line skirt with the suggestion of a train. I forget the designer’s name; Ianni something. He’s someone Viveca knows from the Hellenic Fashion Designers Association. It arrived at the apartment from Athens yesterday, and Minnie has pressed it and hung it on the door of Viveca’s closet. Gaia: I Googled it yesterday after Viveca’s dress arrived and wrote down what it said on an index card. It’s on the bureau. I pick it up and read. After Chaos arose broad-breasted Gaia, the primordial goddess of the Earth and the everlasting foundation of the Olympian gods. She was first the mother of Uranus, the ancient Greek embodiment of heaven, and later his sexual mate. Among their children were the mountains, the seas, the Cyclopes, and the Hundred-Handed giants who aided Zeus in his successful battle against the Titans, whom Gaia had also birthed. Chaos, incest, monsters, warring siblings: it’s a strange name for a wedding dress. The three Vera Wang dresses Viveca had sent over for me to consider were delivered yesterday, too. (Vera is one of Viveca’s clients at the gallery.) There’s an ivory- colored dress, another that has a tinge of pink, a third that’s pearl gray. Minnie spread them across the bed in the guest bedroom, but after she went home, I carried them into our
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bedroom and hung them to the left of the Gaia. This morning when I woke up, they scared me. I thought for a split second that four women were standing over by the closet. Four brides—one in gorgeous green, three in off- white. Viveca is abroad still. She went to Athens a week ago for a fitting but then decided to stay several more days to visit with an elderly aunt (her father’s surviving sister) and to finalize the details for our wedding trip to Mykonos. She called me from there last night. “Sweetheart, it’s the land of enchantment here. Have you looked at the pictures I e-mailed you?” I said I hadn’t—that I’d been more in the studio than at the apartment for the last several days, which was a lie. “Well, do,” she said. “Not that photographs can really capture it. In daylight, the Aegean is just dazzling, and at sunset it turns a beautiful cobalt blue. And the villa I’ve rented? Anna, it’s to die for! It sits high on a hill above town and there’s a panoramic view of the harbor and some of the other islands in the archipelago. The floors are white marble from a quarry in Paros, and there’s an oval pool, an indoor fountain, a terrace that looks out on a grape arbor that’s unbelievably lush and lovely.” Why a pool if the sea is right there? I wonder. “The houses here are sun bleached to the most pristine white, Anna, and there are hibiscus growing along the south side of the villa that, against that whiteness, are the most intense red you could ever imagine. I just can’t wait to share it all with you. You’ll see. This place is an artist’s dream.” “I’ll bet it is,” I said. “For an artist who’s interested in capturing what’s pretty and picturesque. I’m not.” “I know that, Anna. It’s what drew me to your work from the start.” “It?” I said. “What’s ‘it’?” There was a long pause before she answered me. “Well, it’s like I was telling that couple that bought those two pieces from your Pandora series. Your work looks p eople in the eye. It comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable. But this will be a vacation, sweetheart. You work so hard. Mykonos is my gift to you, Anna. My gift to us. Four weeks surrounded by what’s lovely and life affirming at the start of our married life. Don’t we deserve that?” The room went blurry with my tears. “I miss you,” I said.
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“I miss you, too, Anna. I miss you, too.” It’s not that I don’t want to be with her in Mykonos. But four whole weeks? In all the years I’ve been at it, I’ve never been away from my work that long. Well, to be fair, she’ll be away from her work, too. “It’s not a very savvy business decision,” she said when she told me she’d rented the villa for the entire month of October. “People will have awakened from their Hamptons comas by then, reengaged with the city, and be ready to buy. But I said to myself, ‘Viveca, the hell with commerce for once! Seize the day!” I smiled and nodded when she said that, swallowing back my ambivalence instead of voicing it. You do that for someone you love, right? Keep your mouth shut instead of opening it. Bend on the things that are bendable. This wedding, for instance. It’s Viveca who wants to make our union “official.” And where we’ll be married: I’ve had to bend on that, too. Okay, fine. I get it. Connecticut has legalized gay marriage and New York hasn’t. But why not book a place in some pretty little Gold Coast town closer to the city? Cos Cob or Darien? Why the town where Orion and I raised our kids? She’d wanted to surprise me, she said. Well, she’d achieved her objective, but it’s . . . awkward. It’s uncomfortable. Okay then, Annie. If you have misgivings, why go through with it? Why not tell her you’ve had second thoughts? . . . I look up, look around our well- appointed apartment, and I see a part of the answer hanging on the wall in the hallway: the framed poster announcing the opening of my first show at viveca c. The headline, annie oh: a shock to the system!, and beneath it, the full- color photo of my sculpture Birthings: the row of headless mannequins, their bloody legs spread wide, their wombs expelling serial killers. Speck, Bundy, Gacy. Monsters all. My art comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable: she’d put it better than I ever could have. It’s one of the reasons why I love Viveca. The fact that she not only promotes my work and sells it at prices I couldn’t have imagined, but that she also gets it. And yes, her apartment is as lovely as she is, and our lovemaking feels satisfying and safe. But for me that may be the foundation of our intimacy: the fact that she understands what my work attempts to do.
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Orion never did. But then again, why would he have? I’d been so guarded all those years. A twenty-seven-year marriage of guardedness, based on nothing more than the fact that he was a man and, therefore, not to be trusted with the worst of my secrets. But come on, Annie. You haven’t told Viveca your secrets either. Why is that? Because you’re afraid she might change her mind? Stop taking care of you? Be honest. Your own mother dies in the flood that night. Then your father drinks himself out of your life. And your foster parents were just stop- gaps. They fed you, clothed you, but never loved you. You wanted the real thing. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Orion and Viveca are the same age? That both your ex- husband and your wife-to-be are seven years older than you? No, that’s irrelevant. . . . Or is it? Is that the real reason why you married him? Why you’re marrying her? Because Little Orphan Annie still needs someone to take care of her? I need to stop this. Stop being so hard on myself. I love Viveca. And I loved Orion, too. . . . But why? Because he had taken me under his wing? Because for the first time in my life, intimacy with a man was enjoyable? Safe? Maybe not as safe as it feels with Viveca, or as wild as it had been with Priscilla. But pleasurable enough. And very pleasurable for him. It made me a little envious, sometimes. The intensity of his . . . No. I wanted to give him pleasure. But his pleasure had a price. No, that’s not fair. It had been a joint decision. I had stopped using my diaphragm because we both wanted a child. But when my pregnancy became a fact instead of a desire, I was suddenly seized with fear. What if I wasn’t up to the job of motherhood? What if I miscarried again like I had that time when I was seventeen? I had never told Orion about my first pregnancy, and I held off for a week or more before I told him about this one. The night I finally did tell him, Orion promised me that he was going to be the best father he could— the opposite of his own absentee father. We cried together, and I let him assume that mine were happy tears, the same as his. They weren’t. But little by little my fear subsided, and I began to feel happy. Excited. Until I had that ultrasound. When I learned we were having twins,
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I got scared all over again. And when, in the delivery room, it looked like we might lose Andrew, I was terrified. . . . Still, I loved being a mother. Loved them both as soon as I laid eyes on them, and more and more in the weeks that followed. Until then, I hadn’t understood how profound love could be. Not that having two of them wasn’t challenging. Demanding of everything I had to give and then some. While Orion was away at work all day, I was home changing diapers, feeding them, grabbing ten- minute naps whenever— miraculously, rarely— their sleeping schedules coincided. And true to his word, Orion was a devoted father. When he’d get home from the college and see them, his face would light up. He’d bathe them, walk with one of them in each of his arms, rock them until they’d both gone down for the night. Part of the night, anyway. Andrew was a colicky baby, and it would drive me crazy when he’d cry and wake up his sister. And then Ariane would start crying, too. Our marriage suffered for that first year or so. Orion would come home tired from dealing with his patients and give whatever energy he had left to the twins. I resented that he didn’t have much left for me. But I didn’t have much left for him, either. Double the work, double the mess. Carting both of them to the pediatrician’s when one of them was sick. And then going back there the following week when Andrew came down with what Ariane was just getting over. Sitting in that waiting room with those other mothers—the ones with singletons who were always making lunch dates. Playdates. They’d ooh and ah over my two but never invite me to join them. Not that I even wanted to, but why hadn’t they ever asked? They always acted so confident, those moms. It was as if everyone but me had read some book about how to be a good mother. . . . But I had read the books. Consulted Dr. Spock so often that the binding cracked in half and the pages started falling out. But I had no mother of my own to rely on the way those other women did. Those grandmothers who could spell their daughters. Babysit for them, advise them. . . . But I could have had that kind of help. How many times had Orion’s mother volunteered to drive up from Pennsylvania and help out?
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