Saturday, February 13, 2010

Yearn Admits You're Outside

Etienne appeared - POOF! - in a cloud of dust, tossing off flaming emails - IN NJ UNTIL TOMORROW COME AND FUCKING SEE ME. I laughed the whole six blocks Pete and I drove to his aunt and uncle's house, which was filled with cats and other people surprised to see me. Etienne squeezed the stuffing out of me and raced to the car, anxious to meet Pete, whom I'd described as "my shiny new husband." Pete managed to drive the car to the diner we call simply The Diner, though in this part of New Jersey, diners dot the landscape, while jet-lagged Etienne described his flight back from London where he served as his grandmother's sister's man Friday. Lunch conversation limped and loped along until Pete and I decided we had to get home and get ready for work at the family store, and somewhere about then, I remarked that I couldn't remember where Etienne's grandparents' house was. On our way back to Etienne's, we decided to find it.

Tata: Pete, turn left here, go to the second stop sign and make a right.
Etienne: At the light, make a right.
Pete: Make a left here?
Etienne: At the light -
Tata: Make a left at the light and we'll be in front of the grocery store and the family store.

Pete turned left. Etienne suddenly recognized where he was.

Etienne: Turn right.
Tata: Go up one block and turn left!

Pete made a straight.

Tata: Okay, turn left.

Pete made another straight.

Tata: Any time now, you can turn left and turn left a second time.
Pete: Was I actually supposed to turn or keep averaging out your directions?

Pete turned left and left again.

Tata: Etienne, what was the name of the street?
Etienne: Garner.
Tata: There it is. What number?
Etienne: Number 16. It's that one!

Etienne's grandfather designed the house and built it in the Modernist 1950s, and the family moved in in 1958. It is a study of small windows and odd angles. The enormous and yet graceful carport sits at a 45 degree angle to the front of the house and the front door was a honey color I remembered from distant childhood. We sat in the car, staring at the house for a long time. Then Etienne said, "Guess I better tell them I'm here," and bolted from the car. Pete and I sunk down in our seats and waited for the police to arrive, but Etienne, though buffeted by life in ways you and I wouldn't wish on our enemies, is special. We saw the door open and Etienne disappeared inside. A minute passed, then Etienne waved to us to park the car and come inside.

Pete: No, no, we can't go in there.
Tata: I'm going!

Pete beached the car in a snow bank. I stomped my feet clean of snow and Pete followed. We'd walked into a foyer with an observant Jewish family on the sabbath and they were smiling. I couldn't believe they let us in - I mean, would you? The foyer had been renovated to add windows and change the shape of the ceiling. Etienne could see that right away, but I recognized nothing until we came to the living room, which I remember filled floor to ceiling with Etienne's grandmother's paintings and sculptures, and the back window wall that overlooked a creek and what in summer looks like a small forest. We turned toward the kitchen and both Etienne and I became confused. The renovation had removed part of a wall, but once we were in the kitchen we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the cabinetry and the odd, odd angles. In the renovation, another wall at the side of the house had been removed and an addition had been added that was so respectful of the original design that at first my eye passed over it. Through a doorway, I could see the rest of the family still sitting at the lunch table, so I made a few excuses to leave, but the family was genuinely happy to walk Etienne around and show him one last treasure: a painting on the wall of the stairs to the basement. Etienne's grandmother's art was still in the house. We were overjoyed.

I laughed all the way back to Etienne's aunt and uncle's house.


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