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The Great Escape

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After her own divorce, Edith Wharton wrote to one of her closest friends that she would “eat the world leaf by leaf.” There are mornings when my 3-year-old pads out, in her cherry pajamas, and climbs into bed with me, and puts her face right next to mine, and I open my eyes, and her eyes are one inch away from mine, and I get out of bed and lift her up, and carry her into the kitchen, and put her on the counter, and she presses the buttons on the coffee machine, and this feels like enough. (Others will be quick to point out—others have been quick to point out—that this kind of closeness is unhealthy, that she and I are too connected. And to that I offer only that if you take out the unhealthy closeness, the pathological intimacies, you will have taken out many of life’s wilder joys.)

One morning, my daughter and I go to look at our new house, which is a construction site. There is a layer of dust over everything, the honey-colored, wide-planked floors, the white-marble fireplaces. There are boards with nails coming out of them, paint flaking off the tin ceilings, and an old, rusted refrigerator sitting in the middle of the parlor. There is a hole in the wall between the windows where a mirror has been taken down. A house in this state looks exposed, vulnerable. From somewhere, our contractor has unearthed a tricycle. Before I am able to prevent it, my daughter is on the tricycle. She is careering through the rooms, which to her way of thinking should all be purple. What will happen in these rooms? Who will I sit with on my sofa drinking wine and talking about the day, the sky blackening outside the tall windows? My daughter rides over to me and is still for a minute. Outside I see a seagull perched on our front gate, en route, perhaps, from the Gowanus Canal to somewhere more promising.


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