Elizabeth knew it would come again.
There would be another conversation with Susan. And Susan would be prepared this time. Elizabeth would give the same answers to the same questions: it was an emotional decision, finally, to buy the old house, but not a sentimental one. It was not just nostalgia. Nostalgia was a longing for something you once had and lost – or at least you believed you once had it. This emotion of hers was not that. She knew good and well she had never had the thing she was now longing for and she knew as well that that thing, whatever it was, might not exist and if it did it might never be called into being by a habitation of this old mansion. She was also ready for the questions about the practical consequences of such a decision. She was not denying them. Not denying that this allocation of her substantial but not unlimited resources would limit her choices for the rest of her life. Her winters would not – would likely never – be spent in Florida or the Caribbean. She would drive the same, old car she was driving now for years. Maybe for the rest of her life. But Susan would not let it rest, she knew. Susan had made her own mistakes and had paid and was continuing to pay for them and she would not stop at polite distance from the hard questions.
The time came only days later. Elizabeth knew going in what was up. Susan was test-driving a new car and asked her to come along. The dealer had permitted Susan to bring the car – a new crossover – home with her for the day and night. And so the two of them were back on the road, up and down the blocks and the miles that they had driven together, time and time again, from high-school days, through Susan’s divorce and, last of all, during the months after Elizabeth lost her mother.
Twenty minutes in, Elizabeth started the small talk. She liked the car. Liked how it felt; how it seemed to handle.
You should get yourself one like it, Susan said. Makes it easier in the snow.
I know, Elizabeth said. I know.
They drove on, past the old river beach where both of them had gone in the springs and summers of their early twenties. This is where they had spent the important time with the men they would marry. Neither woman could look at the low beach across the pooled river without emotion. Without, to tell the truth, those thoughts that lie too deep for tears. It was not that they missed the men. They missed who they were back then, when they walked with such confidence and hope. Because of all that, and because each knew the other’s mind. Had to know; just no question that the other had to feel the same; neither of them spoke a word of it. Neither of them allowed themselves to even look long at the old beach, now covered with a soggy blanket of autumn leaves, as they went on.
When they topped the hill at the falls of the river and turned off of the river road and onto the state highway, it was Susan who spoke first.
Liz, I think I know.
There was little traffic on this stretch of road, miles from town, and soon they were riding through the first shades of winter twilight and across the long shadows the hills cast over the valleys and roadway. Susan never looked away from the road. She gave Elizabeth time to respond and when no response was forthcoming she spoke again.
I mean, I think I understand.
About the house? About buying the house?
Yeah. I’m not saying I agree with it, but I understand.
Well. I’m glad about that. I’m not sure I understand it myself sometimes. Not completely. And I will say that I do understand why you object to it. I do understand that completely.
I’d feel a lot better about it if there was – if I saw – some way to cushion your landing if it doesn’t work out. I do know about things not working out, you know, and there are costs, real costs. This day and time everybody acts like there aren’t. That you can just make a decision – any decision – and just go on about your way unharmed. That’s a good way to act, I guess. You certainly don’t want to mope and drag everything around you down. But when you see a friend – when I see you – on the verge of a momentous life decision like this, it’s time to take the mask off and say it. Decisions matter and sometimes they can’t be undone. I think about my divorce, of course, and wonder how things might have gone if we’d have gone another way. Looked for another counselor. Tried to forgive and forget. Look at the long view of things. I’m not saying that the decision finally was the wrong decision; I’m just saying that it has consequences that I probably didn’t foresee the depth of. There are consequences every day. Nobody else can see them, but there are. I think about my divorce and then I think about the decisions that led up to it. Not all of them mine, some of them his. But they were decisions to let things go; to not back down; to never let him see me sweat. You go so far on that road and then you’re stuck. You can’t go back. You can’t undo. At least it didn’t seem that we could’ve.
Elizabeth had been Susan’s closest confidante through the entire divorce process. She knew of Edward’s infidelity and of Susan’s retaliatory infidelity. She knew the fights between them so well she could have recounted some of the big ones word for word, but she had never heard Susan speak like this – to admit regret, even current regret, and to admit continuing injury.
This isn’t really like that, Susan. It’s just a house. Just a purchase.
I know. I know it’s not. But there are consequences that will continue, maybe for the rest of your life. You’re limiting your choices. Limiting your freedom. You need to think about what you could have otherwise. The kind of life you could have.
I’ve thought about it. I know it could be nice. A lot of fun, really. But it wouldn’t be an adventure. It would be lots and lots of little consolations. Good dinners. Nights on the beach. Tickets to great shows. But it would never be one big thing. It would never be a triumph. It would entertain me, but never fulfill me.
Alright. I think I understand. But tell me, word for word, how sinking your entire fortune into this old wreck of a house can fulfill you.
It may not. I understand that. But what I feel right now is that I am called to do this very thing and no other. This unique, almost nonsensical thing. It may not be what I was born to do at first, but it’s what is for me now. Me and nobody else. To tell you the truth, Susan, there isn’t much I see in what our friends do – even the ones who are successful and comfortable and who chronicle their lives ever so carefully on Facebook. Their travels – the hotels and restaurants at the beaches; their achieving children and charming grandchildren; their newfound religion; their certainties about politics.
But what can that house do? What can it possibly be?
That house is a forgotten dream. It is a thoroughbred stallion that has been left in a wilderness. It’s a picture not of the past but of what the past thought about the future. It’s an embodiment – could be an embodiment – of what the world has forgotten; what the world has left out of the recipe for a hundred years now. It has the possibility to be enchanted; beautiful.