We live together in the red house through that winter, but relationships begin to sour quick. As soon as Karl gets a chance to catch his breath and look around, he’s now part of the household, my old man, he finds that he disapproves of us. He is contemptuous of Peter and Stephen for their dishonesty and laziness and critical of me too, he doesn’t think I should be collecting welfare and not working. For his part Peter sneers at Karl every chance he gets because Karl is competition, and Stephen just hates him venomously, if looks could kill.
I guess I don’t do a very good job keeping the peace. One day, Karl tells me that he has enough and is leaving. He needs time to think things over, he will hitchhike to Florida to visit his grandfather in Kissimmee. Goodbye he says to me.
This time I am heartbroken. This time, I stand in the middle of the road sobbing as Karl walks toward the highway. This time, I cry real tears and beg him not to leave.
He leaves anyway. I run to the landlord’s big brick house down the road, they moved in a few weeks before and have a telephone. We don’t own one. I call my mother.
You have to understand how distraught I am, I never tell my troubles to my mother, she only gets the rosy side of life. That’s because it is easier to deal with trouble myself than to share it with her. If you tell her something bad, she takes it personally. But this time, I call and cry on the phone anyway.
Our landlord, Pat, is very kind. When her family moves up from New Jersey and she realizes that the red house is rented to a motley group of hippies and animals, she never says a cross word. We amuse her. She says to me, he will come back, I know it.
Pat has a husband and four children, lots of dogs, a big black Labrador and other mongrelly hounds, some cats too, walls of books, overstuffed furniture covered in animal hair and toys. The cats sit on my lap as I cry. The dog follows me home and licks my hand.
About two weeks after Karl vanishes over the horizon, he calls from Kissimmee and Pat drives to the red house to get me. He says I love you and I want to come back but things have to change. I ask what do you mean, change. It took me a long time to get things just like they are. Karl says, we can’t stay at the red house, we have to find a place of our own. But it’s nice, I protest. This way, Caitlin gets to be with Peter and has lots of adults to love her. Karl says I don’t care, I can’t stand all the insanity.
So Karl comes back and we move out in the face of loud and angry recriminations. We take Caitlin. We take a puppy. We take a cat who had wandered into the red house after stopping for a few days next door. We take the geese. We move into a shack-like house on the edge of a pond, the next town over. It is so scenic you can look at the view through the cracks in the walls.
It is hard, I’m not used to working. I haven’t held a job since I was fired by Goddard and teaching feels like something I did in a previous incarnation. I am not used to being possessed by love, I have not cared about Peter for a long time, and was tepid about everyone else. I am out of practice taking care of Caitlin by myself, a benefit of communal living was having lots of babysitters. Mostly I do not know how to be a regular person again, mostly I don’t want to be one.