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Independence Day

STORY: “Catherine and I had been together for seven years. It had been a hard relationship since the second-parent adoption and I was beginning to see, for my sake as well as our daughter’s that something needed to be done.”

It’s July 3rd, 2010. Just being in the same room as Isa fills my heart. She’s only three and a half and I am head over heels in love with this little being. I am dressing her in the coolest Ralph Lauren red vintage cowboy boots given to her by Daddy Quark, her birth father. I watch how her whole personality changes when she puts her boots on. She has this air of confidence and coolness about her. Almost badass. I giggle inside.

Isa looks at herself in the mirror when I put her jean jacket on. She flicks her little blond curls. Very cinema. I pick her up and immediately feel the weight of a tired child. Once she hears the hum of the car engine, she will be fast asleep.

Sag Harbor is bustling this Saturday morning with locals preparing for the Fourth of July parade. “Look pup, they’re setting up a bouncy house for tomorrow, do you want to go?” Radio silence. She’s out.

I make a right and head out off of Main Street. Sunlight is streaming through the northwest wooded trees. Shit. I really don’t want to go. I’m so anxious. Yesterday was traumatic for me. Music. I’ll play music to chill out. What’s in the CD player? KD Lang. Too heavy. I’m talking to myself. Crazy. I check to see if Isa can hear me, my head is so loud. She’s asleep in her car seat. I’d rather pull over and just watch her sleep than drive anywhere right now. Her big cheeks resting on her right shoulder. I wonder if she is as afraid as I am all the time now.

We pull up a long driveway that seems to never end. I think we’re in the right place and will eventually get to the house, or a house for that matter, whether it’s the right house or not, I’m still not sure. There are a few cars scattered along the dirt driveway. I see Catherine’s car and my breath stops. “Breathe, just breathe,” I think. I want to run. I turn the car engine off. Isa opens her eyes.

“We’re here, puppy,” Isa turns her head to look. “Are you ready for a playdate?”

Friends of Catherine’s are really never friends. More like colleagues. If they don’t have something to offer or there isn’t some underlying agenda from both parties, we wouldn’t be here. So, what’s on tonight’s agenda? The Hubberts are a lovely couple and I always appreciate a good dinner party.

I’m afraid Catherine knows. I’m afraid she found out. What if she knows? The cat’s out of the bag and it will be a shit storm if we have a confrontation here. Let’s just hope she doesn’t drink too much. Two glasses of wine would be too much. I’m not going to be the one to stop her.

Catherine is cold to me from the moment we enter the house. “Damn! She knows.” She says “Hi” to Isa and completely ignores me. I go numb. I think I’m having a panic attack. I stay in the kitchen with the help, while it passes. I’m comfortable here. I see Catherine holding court through the kitchen window. She’s having a glass of wine and belts out her forced, irritating belly laugh. It’s a familiar laugh like she’s discussing the details for my execution. I can’t bear the sound of it anymore. I go check on Isa in the other room.

Layla Hubbert brings me a beautiful glass of red wine that I smell and then sip before saying, “Thank you so much, it’s delicious. Wow, Noah is so grown up!”

Layla smiles at me, “Yes they are both getting so big,” and she walks out of the room.

So much for small talk. She knows too. Oh, this is awkward. I go back to my comfort zone, the kitchen.

Catherine walks in and stands next to me with a glass of wine in her hand. “Is Isa having fun?” she says, a little tipsy and trying to genuinely make conversation with me. I’m praying she stays here at this in-between stage. I am again in denial.

The guests are called to dinner and I sit between our host, Erik Hubbert, and Catherine. I have to entertain the host as usual and I’m not feeling like it tonight. No pressure. I feel like everyone already knows and there’s an elephant in the room. Isa and Noah are watching Sponge Bob in the other room with Noah’s babysitter. All is good with Isa, but I’m crawling out of my skin.

The meal is delicious—a perfect Hamptons meal of roasted chicken with fresh herbs and grilled summer asparagus in lemon and olive oil. Catherine is next to me, on her way to being completely hammered. She’s crossed over. She searches for her next victim. There’s always one in the crowd that she targets. Lawyers have a way of finding an argument. It’s simple. If it’s black, they’ll say it’s white, and then argue with you until you back down, because you don’t want to argue anymore. And quite frankly, arguing in a situation like a dinner party is inappropriate so you just let them win. Catherine’s tactic is more bullying and there is never a justifiable rationale. She spews venom at a sweet girl across the table from her for stating some factoid about Sag Harbor that was so widely incorrect, according to Catherine. Catherine’s tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth when she spoke. I smile. It’s embarrassing really.

The dinner is over. Catherine is hammered and most of the guests have gone. She says goodbye to Layla, who is also sloshed, and stoic Eric whose status I can never quite tell. I hugged them goodbye and Catherine picks up Isa. I watch. I wait. I’m prepared.

I follow them to Catherine’s Volkswagen. It’s a cute, robin’s egg blue convertible bug, but the whole picture is so disturbing. She is trying to put Isa in the back seat of the car but can’t quite get her buckled in. I want to scream. I quietly lean in and say, “Give me the keys. You‘re not driving home. Leave your car here.”

“I’m fine.” Catherine laughs at me in her drunken stupor.

Leave your car here,” I say again. “I’m driving you home and you can get your car in the morning,”

I reach around and take the keys out of her hand. I pick the baby up out of the back seat and hold her tight. The Hubbards are watching us from the porch. I yell over to them, “Catherine will get her car in the morning if that’s ok?” They smile and wave. Get me out of here.

There is silence in the car the whole way home. I wonder if Catherine had spoken to her mom. I wonder if her mother told her about my conversation with her, about how I needed help, that Catherine’s drinking had gotten out of control. I wonder if the whole family knew now, and was turning on me. Tonight, I’m sleeping in the second bedroom next to Isa with my eyes wide open.

I awake and it’s July 4, 2010, Independence Day, and I smell coffee in the kitchen. I dread the first cup, which means confronting Catherine in the kitchen. I’m not feeling much freedom.

“So you told my mother I have a drinking problem,” Catherine confronts me before I take a sip.

“I did and you do,” I admitted. I’d wanted to say that to her for many years. “You drink too much and slur your words in front of Isa. I’ve taken the car keys away from you two times this week after dinner parties.”

“Fuck you, I hate you,” she responds.

It was the beginning of the end But it was also independence day.


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