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NEW FICTION : The Easterners

July 01, 1990|Alice Adams

A long time ago, in the distant, postwar late Forties, my then-husband and I, an uneasily matched, generally strained and anxious couple, moved west, from Cambridge to California, specifically from Harvard to Stanford, in hopes both of California happiness and of a doctorate in philosophy for Kevin. I wanted to be an actress, but I planned in the meantime to get a job, any job, that would supplement Kevin's stipend from the GI Bill (this was a standard arrangement between young husbands and wives at that time, not entailing any unusual self-sacrifice on my part). I had mild hopes of something developing in the Department of Speech and Drama, maybe a small part in some play.

Kevin, though young, about twenty-five, had thick gray hair and rough reddish Irish skin; I, Darcy, was really young, about twenty, and had very long, straight black hair--an unfashionable look then, but striking, I thought. We were neither of us tall and were both quite thin; we shared an air of great intensity. To most of the Californians we met, we must have seemed perfectly suited to each other: Easterners who talked all the time and who liked to argue over politics, literature, ideas. Harvard versus Stanford. Almost anything.

In an ironic metaphor of which we then and later made a great deal, we ended up renting a converted chicken coop, at the start of our California quest, up in the smooth blond hills south of Stanford. A man known only to us as Mr. Wilson had created a small apartment complex on his acre of hillside land out of what had been the chickens' quarters (more than a hint of their smell remained). Mr. Wilson lived in the largest apartment, to the rear, and the smallest, down below, he rented to us; by that time we had been looking for a couple of weeks and were grateful for the fifty-dollar rent. (Housing was desperate at that place, at that time; greedy locals "fixed up" a couple of rooms by putting in a shower and buying a hot plate and asked exorbitant rents. Mr. Wilson was no worse and a little less greedy than most.) The middle apartment, off to one side and facing a garden, was occupied by another graduate-student couple, the Joneses. Nancy and Cory Jones.

Without remarking on it explicitly, Kevin and I both saw the Joneses as diametric opposites of ourselves. For starters, they were so very Californian: tall blond people, with blue eyes and year-round tans, long legs, even white teeth and ready smiles. Slow soft voices. Only after seeing them several times did we realize that the smiles were both vague and a little wary, shy; they were somewhat preoccupied and not all that eager for instant new friends. Whereas Kevin and I, as a couple, had a curious combination of what probably came across as great friendliness--and an edgy malice; unlike the Joneses we specialized in new and total best friends. (One of my reasons for being glad that I have never used my name from that marriage is my very wish to erase the mean-spirited, small-minded person that within the marriage I thought I was; I wish there to be no more Darcy Driscoll, in anyone's mind or memory. As Darcy Finn, my maiden name, I write for TV, not quite what I set out to do, but it has been mostly fun, and rewarding.)

Introduced to the Joneses by Mr. Wilson in the thinly graveled parking area, we could hardly wait to go inside and snicker about them. "The Bobbsey Twins at Stanford," we chortled, not very funnily. "Do you think it could be called incest? Did you ever see such totally blank blue eyes? Ah, California!"

Actually Nancy and Cory did not look all that much alike. They could have been distant cousins, possibly, but their body types were quite dissimilar, Cory being tall and scrawny, whereas tall Nancy was heavy, voluptuous. And Nancy's face was stronger and bolder than Cory's was; her nose was long, his small. And Nancy looked open, with wide clear eyes; there was always a concealed, almost furtive look about Cory. Kevin and I, despite differences in hair, probably looked more alike than they did, small pinched Irish Easterners, both of us, from South Boston.

I should probably at this point say that once shed of me, or rather of our marriage, Kevin took on a new persona; shortly after our divorce he married an adoring, athletic, intellectually non-competitive California woman ("ironically enough," he wrote, during our brief post-divorce period of spurious friendliness). He is now a professor of education (he was switching fields at the time of our divorce) at some midwestern university. We seem to have lost touch. And I too have married happily. Twice.

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