| by Melanie Gideon
Local author Melanie Gideon, author of the 2009 best-selling memoir, The Slippery Year: A Meditation on Happily Ever After, as well as three young adult novels, is a writer to watch. A rising star in the literary world—she appeared in O magazine this summer—she just published Wife 22, her first novel for adults. Born and raised in Rhode Island, Gideon lives in the Oakland hills with her husband and son. Set in the East Bay (readers will recognize restaurants and other favorite spots), the book explores how social media brings people together—and pushes them apart. Here, an excerpt from Chapter 9.
”Alice!” William yells from the kitchen. “Alice!” I hear his footsteps coming down the hall.
I quickly close the Netherfield Center questionnaire window and log on to a celebrity gossip website.
“Here you are,” he says.
He’s dressed for work: khakis and a pale purple dress shirt. I bought him that shirt, knowing how good he’d look in that color with his dark hair and eyes. When I brought it home he’d protested, of course.
“Men don’t wear lavender,” he told me.
“Yes, but men wear thistle,” I said.
Sometimes all you need to do to get men to agree with you is call things by another name.
“Nice shirt,” I say.
His eyes dart over to my laptop. “Gwen Stefani and the Sisterhood of the Terrible Pants?”
“What do you need?” I ask.
“Oh, those are terrible. She looks like Oliver Twist. Yes, I need something but I forgot what.”
This is a typical response—one I’m used to. Both of us frequently wander into a room bewildered and ask the other if he or she has any idea what we’re doing there.
“What’s up with you?” he asks.
My eyes fall on the bill for the motorcycle insurance. “Well. I wish you’d make a decision about the motorcycle. It’s been sitting in the driveway forever. You never take it out.”
The motorcycle takes up precious space in our small driveway. More than once I’ve accidentally tapped it while pulling in.
“One of these days I’ll start driving it again.”
“You’ve been saying that for years. And every year we keep on paying the excise tax and the insurance.”
“Yes, but I mean it now. Soon,” he says.
“Soon I’ll be driving it,” he repeats. “More than I have been.”
“Mm-hmm,” I say, distracted, going back to my computer.
“Wait. That’s all you want to talk about? The motorcycle?”
“William, you came looking for me, remember?”
And no, the motorcycle is not all I want to talk about. I want to have a conversation with my husband that goes deeper than insurance policies and taxes and what time will you be home and did you call the guy about the gutters, but we seem to be stuck here floating around on the surface of our lives like kids in a pool propped up on those Styrofoam noodles.
“And there’s plenty of things we can talk about,” I say.
Now is my chance to tell him about the marriage study—oh, you wouldn’t believe the ridiculous thing I signed up for and they ask the craziest questions but it’s for the good of science because you know there is a science to marriage, you may not believe it but it’s true—but I don’t. Instead I say, “Like how I’m trying, completely unsuccessfully mind you, to convince the third-grade parents that the geese are the most important roles in the school play, even though the geese don’t have any lines. Or we could talk about our son, Peter, I mean, Pedro, being gay. Or I could ask you about KKM. Still working on semiconductors?”
“Poor baby. Are you stuck on Band-Aids?” I sing that line. I can’t help myself.
“We don’t know if Peter is gay,” says William, sighing. We’ve had this conversation many times before.
“He may be.”
“Twelve is not too early to know. I just have a feeling. A sense. A mother knows these sorts of things. I read this article about all these tweens coming out in middle school. It’s happening earlier and earlier. I bookmarked it. I’ll email it to you.”
“No, thank you.”
“William, we should educate ourselves. Prepare.”
“For the fact that our son might be gay.”
“I don’t get it, Alice. Why are you so invested in Peter’s sexuality? Are you saying you want him to be gay?”
“I want him to know we support him no matter what his sexual orientation. No matter who he is.”
“Right. Okay. Well, I have a theory. You think if Peter’s gay you’ll never lose him. There’ll be no competition. You’ll always be the most important woman in his life.”
William shakes his head. “It would be a harder life for him.”
“You sound like a homophobe.”
“I’m not a homophobe, I’m a realist.”
“Look at Nedra and Kate. They’re one of the happiest couples we know. No one discriminates against them and you love Nedra and Kate.”
“Love has nothing to do with not wanting your children to be discriminated against unnecessarily. And Nedra and Kate wouldn’t be happy if they didn’t live in the Bay Area. The Bay Area is not the real world.”
“And being gay is not a choice. Hey, he could be bisexual. I never thought of that. What if he’s bisexual?”
“Great idea. Let’s shoot for that,” says William, leaving my office.
I log on to Facebook once he’s gone and check my news feed, scrolling through the status update chaff.
2 minutes ago
Tita De La Reyes
IKEEEEAAAAA!!!! Hell—somebody ran over my foot with their shopping cart.
5 minutes ago
Tita De La Reyes
IKEEEEAAAAA!!!! Heaven—Swedish meatballs and lingonberries for $3.99.
11 minutes ago
Fall, falling . . .
1 hour ago
Wait, what? William has a new post and he’s not quoting Winston Churchill or the Dalai Lama? Poor William is one of those Facebook posters who has a hard time thinking of anything original to say. Facebook gives him stage fright. But this post has an undeniably ominous ring to it. Is that what he came to talk to me about? I have to go ask him what he meant, but first I’ll send out a quick post of my own.
Alice Buckle is educating herself.
Alice Buckle is stuck on Band-Aids.
Alice Buckle blames her chickens.
Suddenly my Facebook chat pops up.
Phil Archer What did the poor chickens do?
It’s my father.
Honey, Alice. R u there?
Hi Dad. I’m in a hurry. Have to go find W before he leaves for work. Can we talk tomorrow?
You have a date?? With who?
I’ll let you know who if there’s a second date.
Oh. Okay. Well, have a great time!
U not worried about me? STD’s 80% increase in people over 70.
Dad prefer not discuss yr sex life.
WHO ELSE DISCUSS SEX LIFE?
Caps means shouting.
WELL AWARE OF THAT. Thank u for check. It arrived early this month. Gd thing. Property taxes overdue. Stay. Talk 2 me.
Next month I can send more $. This month tight. Zoe lost retainer. Again. Did u change to energy efficient bulbs like I told u?
Will today. Promise. What’s new with u?
Peter may b gay.
Zoe embarrassed by me.
Not new either.
Endless to-do list. Can’t keep up.
One day u look back & realize this is the best part of life. Going going going. Always something to do. Someone expecting you to walk in the door.
Oh, Dad. Yr right. I’m sorry.
I’ll call tmr. B careful out there.
The smell of toast drifts into my office. I shut off my computer and walk into the kitchen in search of William, but everybody’s gone. The only sign of my family is a stack of dishes piled high in the sink. Fall, falling will have to wait for later.
Excerpted from Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon. Copyright © 2012 by Melanie Gideon. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.