Belong to Me
A NovelAuthor: Marisa de los Santos
Featured in the June, 2008 magazine
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My fall from suburban grace, or, more accurately, my failure to achieve
the merest molehill of suburban grace from which to fall, began with a dinner party and a
perfectly innocent, modestly clever, and only faintly quirky remark about Armand Assante.
Armand Assante, the actor. If you didn’t know that Armand Assante was an actor, don’t be
alarmed. Had I not caught, years ago, the second part of the two-part small-screen adaptation of
Homer’s Odyssey, I might not have known, either, but whether or not you are familiar with the
work of Armand Assante, you are right to wonder how he could have had a hand in anyone’s fall
from grace, suburban or otherwise. I wondered myself, and, even now, I don’t have a clear or
satisfying explanation for either of us.
What I know is that I was doing my best. I had lit out for the suburbs in the manner of pioneers
and pilgrims, not so bravely and with fewer sweeping historical consequences, but with that same
combination of discouragement and hope, that simultaneous running-away and running-toward. I
was a woman ready for a new life. I was trying to make friends, to adapt to my new environment,
and for reasons that felt entirely out of my control, I was failing.
* * *
People like to say that cities are impersonal, that there’s nothing like a big city to make a person
feel small. And, sure, when viewed from the top of a twenty-story building, I’m an ant, you’re an
ant, every-one’s an ant.
Trust me. I know what it means to be small. I’m five feet tall and weigh about as much as your
average sack of groceries, but for years, every time I walked down a city street, I could have
sworn I expanded. I lost track of where I ended and the city began, and after a few blocks, I’d
have stretched to include the flower stand, the guy selling “designer” handbags on the corner, the
skyscrapers’ shining geometry, the scent of roasting nuts, the café with its bowl of green apples in
the window, and the two gorgeous shopgirls on break, flamingolike and sucking on cigarettes
outside their fancy boutique, eyes closed, rapturous, as though to smoke were very heaven.
I loved the noise, opening my window to let a confetti of sound fly in. I loved how leaving my
apartment, in pursuit of newspapers or bags of apricots or bagels so perfect they were not so
much bagels as odes to gloss and chewiness, never just felt like going out, but like setting out,
adrenaline singing in my veins, the unexpected glancing off storefronts, simmering in grates and
ledges, pooling in stairwells, awaiting me around every corner, down every alleyway.
Imagine an enormous strutting peacock with the whole jeweled city for a tail.
But my peacock days didn’t last. They went on for years and years, first in Philadelphia then in
New York, before skidding to as abrupt a halt as anything ever skidded, so that by the time my
husband, Teo, and I took a left turn onto Willow Street, those days had been over for months, and
as we drove through as quiet a neighborhood as I had ever seen, I could not shake the feeling that
we were home. I wanted and did not want to feel this way. My heart sank even as my spirits
lightened and rose toward the canopy of sycamore leaves, the sleepy blue sky.
What you need to understand is that I had not planned to become this person. I had planned to
remain an adventurous urbanite, to court energy and unpredictability, and to remain open to blasts
of strangeness, ugliness, and edgy beauty for the rest of my life. Instead, as Teo drove ten miles
an hour down street after street, it came from everywhere, from the red flags of the mailboxes and
the swaths of green lawn, from the orderly flower beds and the oxidized copper of the drainpipes:
the sound of this sedate, unsurprising place calling me home.
“It looks like home,” Teo said, and after a mild double take (very mild, since the man reads my
mind with unnerving regularity), I realized that he didn’t mean “home” the way I’d been thinking
it, or not quite. He meant the place where we’d been kids together and where all four of our
parents still lived.
My husband and I had grown up, not in a suburb exactly, but in a cozy little Virginia college
town, in the same kind of neighborhood we drove through now, beautiful, with houses dating
from the early twentieth century, trees dating from before that, not a McMansion in sight. A place
where late spring meant hardwoods in full, emerald green leaf, fat bumblebees tumbling into
flowers, and a Memorial Day lawn party replete with croquet, badminton, barbecue, and at least
five kinds of pie. And although we were years and miles away from that place, that childhood,
although it was late morning and Memorial Day had come and gone two weeks ago, I could
almost see the children we had been darting through the dusk, could almost smell the rich
perfume of grilling meat.
I know how syrupy this sounds, how dull, provincial, and possibly whitewashed, but what can I
do? Happy childhoods happen. Ours happened. What came back to me, with lightning-crack
vividness, as I looked out the car window, were the clusters of women, at birthday parties,
cookouts, standing in yards and kitchens, the air warm with their talking, and how oddly
interchangeable we all were, women and children both. The woman who picked us up when we
fell down or wiped our faces or fed us lunch or yelled us down from treetops or out of mud (all of
it so casually, with barely a break in the conversation or an extra breath) may have been our
mother but could just as easily have been someone else’s. We hardly noticed. The women merged
into a kind of laughing, chatting, benevolent blur, a network of distracted love and safekeeping.
“You’re right,” I told Teo. A stinging pang of longing shot through me and I found myself on
the verge of tears. I wondered if that’s what I was up to (because leaving the city had been my
idea), if I were doing what so many others have done, upstarts who head off to adventure in the
big city only to choose the life their parents had chosen, moving onward and backward at the
As soon as we pulled into the driveway, before the sunny-faced real estate agent had so much
as unlocked the door of the house, I knew we would take it.
The truth is that cities are not for the faint of heart, and I had become the faint of heart. I spent
my last days in New York as I had spent the preceding nine months, feeling shaky and so small I
was afraid I might disappear altogether. I had lived in cities for over ten years. I had wanted to
stay forever. And the day came when I couldn’t pack boxes fast enough.
Teo and I had lived in our new house for two weeks, and the dinner party was in our honor. Teo
is an oncologist, had just started his new job at a hospital in Philadelphia, and another doctor had
thrown the party, although his wife had given me her stage-whispered assurance that it wouldn’t
be an all-doctor party.
“I’ve invited a nice mix of people,” Megan had said when we’d arrived at her house, “so the
evening won’t turn into everyone raging against managed care. You know how that is!”
I didn’t, actually. Teo and I had been married less than two and a half years, and while we
hadn’t spent all of that time lovebirding our way around New York City—he’d been working; I’d
been taking art history courses at NYU; we’d hit a few bumps in the road (at least one of which
was as bone rattling as bumps come)—we had lovebirded as much as we could, which I suppose
kept discussions of managed care to a minimum.
“Thanks!” I stage-whispered back, giving Megan a conspiratorial smile.
Megan smiled, too, then stepped back and eyed me appraisingly. “Such a cute dress,” she said,
which was a perfectly fine thing to say despite the fact that, perhaps because it’s applied to me
and other small women so liberally, I’m decidedly un-wild about the adjective “cute.” But there
was something about the way Megan paid me this compliment—a certain glint in her eye or note
in her voice—that caused a tiny red flag in my head to start inching its way up its tiny flagpole.
A word or two in defense of the dress. I called it a slip dress, but before you start picturing
Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I should tell you that its only truly sliplike quality was
spaghetti straps. It was fluid and loose, a cross between a late-1950s sack and a shift, and, yes, it
was above the knee, but only just, and, no, I wasn’t wearing a bra with it, but, as everyone knows,
one of the few privileges of an almost complete lack of curves is forgoing the welt-leaving
architecture of the strapless bra. In other words, the dress was entirely appropriate. Worn with
high-heeled, barely-there sandals as I was wearing it, it was the perfect dress for a late-summer
dinner party. Everything in my life up to that moment had taught me that.
But as soon as Megan led me into the living room where four other couples stood talking, I
understood that the dress was all wrong. In fact, as far as I could tell, any dress would’ve been all
wrong because Megan and every single other woman in the room was wearing pants. Linen pants.
Linen pants with sleeveless silk blouses or cotton sweaters. It was a pastel-colored prairie of linen
pants and sleeveless tops, stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see. I stood on its
edge and felt myself in my dress turn-ing—subtly, like an early-autumn leaf or a days-old open
bottle of red wine—from easy and elegant to overreaching and tarty.
But I realize I’m making this sound very important, like a major humiliation, and it wasn’t. It
wasn’t even a minor humiliation, but it did set me a bit off balance. Still, clothes are only clothes,
and even in the suburbs, modern America isn’t an Edith Wharton novel, right? You don’t appear
in public with a skirt an inch above regulation length or with the wrong color fan and get thrown
out of the social galaxy, for Pete’s sake.
So after a pause and a fortifying wink from Teo, I strode into the living room, smile bright,
hand extended. The off-balance sensation never quite went away, but I was fine. For a full ten
minutes I chatted with a lovely young woman who turned out to be one of the evening’s two hired
servers, but other than that, I negotiated the cocktail portion of the evening quite nimbly, if I do
say so myself.
And then, at dinner, the one-two punch: first, Piper; then, Armand.
Piper was my neighbor. She lived directly across the street, and prior to the dinner party, I had
endured two separate encounters with her, two and a half if you count the time I waved at her as
her car pulled out of her driveway and she failed, ostentatiously (our eyes meeting for at least
three seconds before she slid her sunglasses from the top of her head to the bridge of her nose), to
I met her two days after we’d moved into our house. I was sitting on my front steps in my
junior high gym shorts, grimy and glazed with sweat, gulping bottled water as fast as I could
gulp, and feeling sorry for myself the way anyone who’s ever unpacked boxes in the middle of
August feels sorry for herself, when Piper appeared before me.
In trying my very hardest to describe Piper without exaggerating or editorializing, what I come
up with is this: trim, tan, and long waisted, a white polo shirt with matching teeth and nail tips,
blue gingham Capri pants with matching blue eyes and espadrilles, and the kind of bobbed,
butter-blond flawlessness that proliferates among newscasters and sorority women of the Atlantic
Coast Conference. In fact, after one glance, I’d have bet money she’d attended college
somewhere in the top half of the state of North Carolina.
Piper’s smile started out as dazzling, but quickly developed a pasted-on quality as she surveyed
me, her gaze coming to rest and lingering for a few beats too long on my cropped head of hair.
Later, I would identify the look on her face as one I hadn’t seen in a very long time, since high
school or maybe before, that of a person disliking me on sight. But at the time I didn’t recognize
the look. In fact, it almost didn’t register with me. Instead, I thought, It’s beginning, my heart
giving a hopeful hop, the community of women, the safety net.
“Hello there!” she’d said, crisply. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
I stood up, eagerly, rubbing my hopelessly filthy hand on my hopelessly filthy shorts, but she
made no move to shake it, for which I couldn’t really blame her.
“Hi,” I said, “I’m Cornelia Brown, and I’m usually much cleaner than this.”
I smiled. She didn’t. She cocked her head to one side, reflecting.
“Cornelia. Now, that’s a different name!”
Different from what? Hephzibah? is what popped into my head, but I didn’t say it. I sighed a
self-deprecating sigh and said, “Believe me, I know.”
“We’re the Truitts,” she said, although there was no one else with her, “from across the street.
Piper. Not the undifferentest name in the world. Not quite the pot calling the kettle black, but
“I’ve come on a reconnaissance mission.” Her eyes gleamed with artificial mischief.
“How exciting. Reconnoiter away.”
“The Paxtons, who lived here before you, were a professional couple, no kids.” Piper
pronounced the word “professional” as though it were another word altogether, something more
“I met them when we closed on the house,” I said. “They seemed lovely.”
Piper smiled a tight smile. “I wouldn’t know. But all of us have been hoping that whoever
bought this house would be a real family.”
Wondering whom she meant by “us,” and even though I didn’t really see at all, I said, “I see.”
“So, do you?” Piper raised her eyebrows, waiting.
“Do I what?”
“Do you and your husband—at least I assume the man I saw move in with you is your
husband”— Piper gave a teasing laugh— “have any kids?”
The question sent a lightning flash of pain zigzagging through my stomach. After asking it,
Piper glanced around the yard, as though she suspected I’d hidden my children behind a bush or
inside a planter.
“No,” I said, “it’s just me and my husband, Teo.” I thought about adding a breezy “For now!”
but decided to leave it, fearing that breeziness might be more than I could manage.
“Huh,” said Piper, “just the two of you.” And that’s when she cocked her head again and gave
me a small, puzzled, pitying, faintly disapproving frown, the kind of look one might give a stain
on one’s blouse or a bearded lady at the circus.
“Shoot,” she said, snapping her fingers. “And this is such a great neighborhood for families.”
Stunned, I took a short, reeling step backward, and almost tumbled into a defunct-looking
hydrangea. The comment, along with the face Piper had made, struck me as exactly the kind of
comment and look you do not, under any circumstances, give to a woman whose acquaintance
you have made seconds ago and about whose personal history you know next to nothing.
There was a small silence, during which Piper appeared to further consider, mournfully, my
childless state and during which I suppressed, barely, my battling urges to blurt out either “I’m
sorry” or “Go to hell.”
“Well, anyway,” Piper said finally, “welcome to the neighborhood!”
“It was nice to meet you,” I said, with all the sweetness I could muster, “Pepper.”
“Likewise,” she said, flashing her teeth at me. Then she turned on her raffia-covered heel, her
bob bobbing, and sang, “And it’s PI-per!” over her shoulder as she trotted across the street and
into her house.
That evening, over mediocre pizza, I described Piper to Teo, including the newscaster/ACC
sorority-girl part, the head cocking, and blinding teeth.
“I don’t think she liked me,” I said.
“I like you,” said Teo, smiling, and putting down his pizza.
I didn’t tell him what she’d actually said, the part about “real family,” the face she’d made
when I’d told her we had no children. Teo and I had been in various stages of “trying” since we’d
gotten married (full disclosure: since before we got married, but not much before). Why worry
him? He had worried enough, we both had, and in the terrain of peaks and valleys Teo and I had
been treading for the past three years, Piper’s face wasn’t even a pothole.
That was Piper encounter number one.
Encounter number two took place a few days later, when I opened my front door to find Piper
and a plate of cookies. Piper was smiling. The round faces of the cookies, peeking up at me
through the Saran wrap, seemed to be smiling, too. Despite my best efforts to hang on to my
wariness, I found it slipping out of my head as the women of my childhood (Mrs. Sandoval, Mrs.
Wang, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Egan, Mrs. Romanov, Mrs. McVey, Mrs. Brown) slipped in, with their
firm voices and gentle hands.
“How nice of you, Piper,” I said, taking the cookies. “Please come in.”
Piper’s glance swiped the inside of my house, taking in the heaps of moving boxes, the
discarded bubble wrap and newspapers.
“No, thanks,” she said. “Actually, I was wondering if you might come out.”
I set the cookies on the nearest box and walked outside.
“What’s up?” I asked.
Piper put her hands on her hips and said, “I was just noticing what the moving truck did to your
She walked over to the front corner of our yard and pointed, shaking her head. I followed her.
A deep, tire-track-shaped muddy rut cut across one corner of the yard. It was only about three and
a half feet long, but the expression on Piper’s face suggested that the rut was a horror, an
abomination, that the rut cut across our yard and across the corner of Piper’s soul as well.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, vaguely. What else was there to say?
She reached into her pocket, pulled out a business card, and handed it to me. “Our landscaper is
excellent,” she said, “just top-notch. A little sod, maybe?”
I took the card and stared at it.
“And that bush.” Piper pointed to a bush, wrinkling her nose. “A hydrangea. It’s never done
“No?” God, who did this woman think she was?
“No. My guy’ll yank that puppy right out of there before you can say boo.”
Piper wasn’t talking about a real puppy, of course. She was talking about a bush, just a bush,
and one even I had to admit looked half dead, but the bush was it, the final straw. Sparks began to
fly behind my eyes, and a smothering cloud of outrage surrounded me.
Before I’d regained my powers of speech, Piper said, brightly, “Anyway. Enjoy the cookies!”
Then, smile, bobbing bob, and Piper was gone, crossing the street and slinking back into her lair.
I threw the business card after her, an ineffectual missile, naturally. It fluttered into the center
of the muddy rut.
“Loathsome toad,” I growled aloud.
“Loathsome toad,” I growled to Teo as soon as he’d returned home from his third trip to Home
Depot in forty-eight hours. “Loathsome Jane Pauley Tarheel toad.”
“You went to an ACC school,” Teo said. “You know that, right?” He grinned his curlycornered
grin at me.
“Whose side are you on?” I demanded, although of course I knew the answer. Always, and in
every way that mattered, mine. And, when I took the long view, I understood that Teo’s serene
core, his failure to go ape-shit crazy over all that made me ape-shit crazy was a quality I
treasured. But sometimes I take the short view. Right then, I wanted Teo to cut the “core of
serenity” crap and call Piper some names.
He leaned in to kiss me, but I turned away. “Traitor.”
“How can I prove my loyalty?” Teo asked, leaning in again. “Buy you a garden troll?”
“Gnome.” I gave him a push. “And I am not overreacting.”
“A set of plastic flamingos?”
“I’m serious,” I said.
By way of accounting for the depth of my indignation, I considered telling Teo about my first
conversation with Piper, but decided not to. It was easier if he thought I was only furious about
insolence and insulted shrubbery.
“Plastic flamingos would give old Pepper a seizure disorder, don’t you think?” said Teo.
“Teo, it’s our lawn!” In all my life, it had never occurred to me to want a lawn. In fact, it had
occurred to me to not, under any circumstances, want a lawn. But now that I had one, I’d defend
every last blade of grass in it. “It’s our grass,” I told Teo.
I had a thought. “Listen, Teo. Walt Whitman said, ‘I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the
journeywork of the stars.’” Although the line’s relevance to the situation at hand was elusive,
even to me, I felt a surge of triumph.
“Oh.” Teo nodded contemplatively. “Wow. So we’ll make it two garden trolls.”
I held Teo at arm’s length and eyed him, his flushed face and clear green eyes, his mouth. One
of the many salient facts about my husband is that he has the most perfect upper lip ever invented.
I felt myself giving way.
“Gnomes,” I said, faintly.
“Hell,” he said, “let’s go all the way. Three. Three trolls.” I could feel the shape of his shoulder
through his shirt. “Would that show you whose side I’m on?”
I sighed. I shrugged.
“Forty-five minutes of sex among the boxes ought to do it,” I said.
And it did, but the fact that I was thus diverted from my self-righteous indignation didn’t mean
I wasn’t still indignant. And the fact that my indignation was self-righteous didn’t mean it wasn’t
also righteous. Right?
Thus, you can imagine my chagrin when, just as a bowl of cool gazpacho was being placed
before me, Piper herself came scuttling into the dining room with a man I presumed to be the
unlucky Mr. Truitt in tow.
“Hello, all! Here at last!” cried Piper. “Megan, we let ourselves in. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Get me out of here,” I whispered into the shining red depths of my soup.
Apparently, Megan didn’t mind that they’d let themselves in. In fact, the expression on
Megan’s face bespoke pure, near-frantic delight as she flew out of her chair and across the room
to embrace Piper.
“I’m so sorry to be late,” said Piper, settling herself down in the chair Megan’s husband pulled
out for her. “We dragged ourselves away from the Lowerys’ cocktail hour just as quickly as we
The woman seated next to me, whose name was Kate, tilted her head toward mine and said,
“The Lowery, Lowery, and Lerner Lowerys,” to which there was no possible reply.
“I’d love to see the inside of that house,” exclaimed Kate. “Was it fabulous?”
“I guess it was,” said Piper, shrugging. “The party was so boring, I barely noticed.”
“Now, Piper,” said Piper’s husband. “It wasn’t that bad.”
“It was dreadful,” asserted Piper, shooting her husband a disparaging glare.
“Only you would call the Lowerys boring, Piper,” remarked Megan affectionately, looking a
bit surprised afterward, sheepish, as though she hadn’t known she’d had it in her to say such a
I glanced at Megan’s face as she gazed at Piper and then I glanced at the faces of the other
women at the table. Ah, I thought, Queen Bee. Figures.
“Piper, Kyle,” said Megan’s husband, Glen, “this is Mateo Sandoval, a new colleague of mine,
and his wife, Cornelia.”
Piper turned to Teo, and I set down my soupspoon and leaned in to watch for the inevitable
shift, the unconscious softening of expression that happens to women’s faces when they meet my
husband. Teo’s mother is Swedish and his father’s Filipino, which is apparently some recipe for
genetic alchemy because Teo is this combination of about ten different shades of golden brown
that almost no one can help but notice.
And there it was. The slight parting of the lips. The hand reaching up to touch the pendant on
her necklace. The almost-purr in Piper’s voice as she said, “Hello, Mateo.”
Since I might sound like a jealous wife and since there are few roles more humiliating, I should
tell you right now that I’m not. I’m used to seeing people see Teo. The first time I noticed it, at
one of those Memorial Day picnics I mentioned earlier, I was all of five years old.
All the neighborhood kids were playing what I still avow was the longest and best game of
freeze tag ever played anywhere, and Teo was it. As he was running, one of the mothers caught
him by the shoulder, stopping him cold, stared at his face, and said, “Mateo Sandoval, you are the
handsomest child I have ever seen.” And while we all stood around panting, slumped with
waiting, Teo blushed, ducked his head, gave the mother a polite, upward smile, then took off
running as though he’d never stopped. It was a scenario that would repeat itself pretty regularly
over the nearly three decades since. Teo looking like Teo; people noticing; then, if Teo even
notices their noticing: blush-duck-smile-move along like it never happened.
Really, it hardly registered with me anymore except as a source of amusement at Teo’s
discomfort. And forget jealous. When I saw Piper’s face change, I wanted to hoot “Hallelujah!”
and enwrap Kate in a celebratory hug, but I settled for high-fiving myself under the table. If Piper
had to be my neighbor, it was good to know she might be human after all.
“I saw Armand Assante in a Starbucks,” I said.
We were talking about New York City.
Megan had seen Richard Gere. Glen had seen the guy in An Officer and a Gentleman who
wasn’t Richard Gere, a coincidence that, for about two seconds, sent everyone into a breathless
state of cosmic awe. Piper had seen Uma Thurman (“huge feet, no makeup, and dark roots, and I
do mean dark”). Kate’s husband, Jeffrey, had seen Jill Hennessy from Law & Order, but then
had, as he was falling asleep that night, suddenly remembered that Jill Hennessy had an unfamous
identical twin, and was kept awake by the possibility that the woman he’d seen in a leather jacket
walking her dog might not have been Jill Hennessy at all, a story that somehow made me like the
guy. Kate had seen “that gymnast, oh, what’s her name, the really short one.” I had seen Armand
Assante in a Starbucks.
“I saw Armand Assante in a Starbucks,” I said.
Silence. The kind of silence that thickens the air in the room to the consistency of gravy. For a
mad couple of seconds, I wondered if I only thought I’d said, “I saw Armand Assante in a
Starbucks,” and instead had barked like a seal.
Then, finally, Kate: “The tennis player who used to be married to Brooke Shields?”
Everyone ignored this, although I saw Teo’s lips twitch.
Then Piper said, coolly, “I don’t think I’d know Armand Assante if I saw him.”
“Oh, but you would!” I began.
“I don’t think so,” interrupted Piper, firmly. “I don’t think I’d know him if I saw him. I don’t
think I know who Armand Assante is.”
“But that’s the beauty of Armand Assante,” I said. “Even if you’d never seen any of his
movies, even if you’d never heard the name before, you would look at him and instantly say,
‘That’s Armand Assante.’ He just is Armand Assante.”
Everyone looked at me. Everyone except my husband, who grinned into his glass of wine.
“What does that mean?” asked Piper, masking, or pretending to mask, her derision with a tight
“Oh, you know what I mean,” I said, laughingly.
“No,” said Piper, unlaughingly, “I don’t.” The corners of Piper’s modestly lipsticked, petal
pink smile were actually turning white. She’s furious, I thought. Holy hell.
“I just mean . . .” I groaned. Not aloud, but inside, every cell of my body was groaning at the
top of its lungs. “Well, he had this slicked-back hair, and gold rings, and this suit, and those very
European shoes, pointy . . .”
Henry David Thoreau said, “City life is millions of people being lonesome together,” and, yes,
there came a time when I agreed. But I was beginning to wonder if, when it came to isolation, the
city had nothing on this new place, this would-be haven. I wondered if I’d jumped out of the
frying pan and into the fire because, for my money, there are few experiences more isolating in
the world than picking up a joke that’s fallen flat, brushing it off, and then choking the life out of
it by explaining it to a roomful of strangers who will never, not in a million years, get it.
“I’m good at dinner parties!” I wanted to shout. “Dinner parties are my natural habitat! I am
appropriately dressed and good at dinner parties!”
As far as soul-bruising events go, this one, when taken alone, was relatively minor. Not even in
the same soul-bruising-event universe as the time I’d stood on the top riser at the school
Christmas concert and thrown up on half of the third grade, midway through “White Christmas.”
Maybe just a little worse than the time I’d walked into a salon and day spa and said, in a moment
of distraction, “I’d like to make an appointment for a pedophile.” And compared to my deeper,
more recent contusions, it was almost nothing: thumbprint-sized and pale, barely there.
Except. Except I had the sneaking feeling that this wouldn’t be an isolated event. That this
lonely moment was the first of many lonely moments, so many that if you were to string them all
together and look at them from a certain angle, they’d make up not a lonely life, I wasn’t feeling
that gloomy, but at least a lonely epoch in an otherwise unlonely life. The person I’d been for
most of that life wouldn’t have minded a stint of loneliness, at least not minded much, but I
hadn’t been that person for a while.
I sat there, with the dinner party droning and burgeoning around me. You chose this, I
reminded myself. This is where you live now. These people are your people.
I closed my eyes. When I opened them, I was still there.
An extract from Marisa de los Santos’ BELONG TO ME: A NOVEL. First
published in 2008 by HarperCollinsPublishers Australia. Copyright © 2008 by
Marisa de los Santos.