I didn’t go on the trip.
It wasn’t my week.
It wasn’t my time.
Bad news comes in sixes. I could easily expound upon this massively unhappy reality, the giving tree of crappy luck which shed a ton of toxic leaves in my front yard.
Lousy events. Skin cancer, Crohn’s, a lawsuit or two.
A divorce about as acidic and excoriating as anyone else’s. Yale rejected me and I chose no safety school. My mother left me for an ashram in Coal Pit, Missouri.
This, in no order of chronological import.
Not the nicest things. But manageable. Some testing of my tolerance and gumption, sure, but nothing so jagged or lethal.
The what-doesn’t-kill-us bullshit.
The makes-us-stronger claptrap.
My husband, or I should say my former husband, Lars Drukker, was not a conventional mensch. Eye contact with other eyes was not his métier. Lars preferred lenses and viewfinders and big sexy Hasselblad cameras and generally chose objects over humans. Lars taught darkroom technique at two community colleges and curated for our dopey town’s shockingly world-class photography museum.
They held a Lars retrospective a year after the crash. Beautiful silver gelatin prints of chicken skin, large scale, the best things Lars ever did. Another series, less successful, of nipped cuticles and callus filings. He went trolling for skin at Vietnamese nail parlors. Carried a small dustpan and brush, baggies for his harvests. Lars never procured enough dead epidermis.
The work of Lars: everything beautifully lit, glowing, luxurious. And this obsession of his, nubbins of flesh, frequently waterlogged and juicy with ridges and pores, or dry as ash, this boundless topography of skin — a mountain range here, a slot canyon there, dunes of dead cells — made for a posthumous show of profound bad taste. In my opinion, and for obvious reasons. But no one asked me. One ex-wife does not next-of-kin make.
He did take wonderful portraits of Araminta, the child otherwise known as Minty, and of Max, whose given name, never used, was Maxine. Those, I gave permission for. What was I going to say, No? They’re mine and you’re not taking them? They took up a different wall, cattycorner from the skin. In a group with shots of their stepmother and their half sister, a baby, who was found intact.
Lars dumped me three years ago for Helen Smith. Helen Smith, Dentist Chick, that was my name for her and to this day, when I think of her, which is less and less often but still regular as forks in the silverware drawer, in the candle I light for her every anniversary with all the others, 78 candles blazing on my dining room table, she is still Helen Smith, Dentist Chick.
They met at the annual F-Stop Fundraiser. I’d been there, mopping up spilled Negroni, and when I knelt to dry the floor I smelled the Febreeze on my unwashed Spanx. Two little kids, a job, a house, a husband — I didn’t have time for my personal laundry.
Helen herself had been dumped previously. Despite this common ground of marital loss and humiliation, she and I never bonded. The second Mrs. Drukker.
Lars always called me the Reluctant Mrs. Drukker. I deferred our wedding for years. I don’t recall his proposal, actually. I just remember saying Not Yet. It was good for a while. Then it wasn’t. I knew he wasn’t happy with me, repelled and ensconced in what my therapist called Ick Factor, just as I did everything possible to avoid intimate contact with him. Anything to keep real conversation out of the room. As for body to body, eye to eye, palm to palm in the marital bed at 2AM, such touch was nonexistent.
I got my kindness elsewhere.
And of course, my kids. They kept me very, very busy. I playgrouped, crafted, volunteered, baked. Wholesome, organic, devoid of bad was every crumb of goodness. I was farm friendly before it was popular. Whipped up toddler-friendly Shepherd’s Pies in the muffin pan, bowlfuls of fresh Oobleck weekly for the eager plump hands of Max and Minty. I even made my own calendula soap. Tincture of goldenseal. A diaper rash unguent I’d beat to a froth at night in my kitchen alone, Lars asleep or clicking through jpgs of coeds in leotards. I didn’t really care what he did. That’s what I said. I kept things going. I had it no other way.