Sunday, July 1, 2012

Chapter One of Americashire, my childfree origin story

Today's post is a preview of my memoir, Americashire: A field guide to a marriage.  It's the story of how I decided not to have children dressed up in rural idyll memoir.  It will be available in full as soon as I convince an agent to represent a non-celebrity written memoir or swallow my pride and get motivated enough to self-publish.  I hope you enjoy.

Chapter One: Pink Foil Strips

Spring in the Cotswolds happens very slowly and all at once. In exchange for a few cheerful daffodils, the British collectively suspend their disbelief and start to talk of it in March. But spring doesn’t really happens until mid-April on a particular day when the landscape is dun brown in the morning but by evening you find that green has tipped the balance. Soon lush shag piles of minty-green grass and weeds and shoots and blooms line the country lanes, rising into pea-soup hedgerows, then the brown latticework of trees still bare except for pinch-faced buds. Over the next two weeks, these unwind into a canopy of chartreuse lace, set off by a sprinkling of bluebells on the woodland floor. These are not blue, lavender, lilac, or violet. They are plain purple, the one you get in the Crayola eight-pack.

Rapeseed happens next. Nothing changes the landscape of the Cotswolds more drastically or quickly than the en masse bloom of this flower. It is the color of Ronald McDonald’s jumpsuit or the cheap mustard you get in a plastic packet with your corndog at the beach, a color that should not occur in nature, yet it does. It appears in swathes that render the hills a crude patchwork of yellow and green and drives half the population crazy with its hay-fever-provoking scent. Despite all this, I love it. I love everything about this brash landscape of unrepentant lime greens and artificial-food-coloring yellows, which is why I start to feel anxious about its demise almost as soon as I notice it’s happening. Soon May blossom whites and peachy cones of horse-chestnut blooms will be sneaking onto the perimeter, silently upstaging their raucous counterparts with understated elegance. The Cotswolds of Matisse will slip into the diffused light of the Cotswolds of Monet.

Amidst the ephemeral pleasures of spring in the countryside, there was something else to be anxious about. It was wrapped up in a rectangular pink foil strip with twenty-eight pills sealed inside. There were six of those strips to be exact, one for each month of the renewed birth control prescription I had just picked up from the village pharmacy. For the past few months, my husband, D., and I had studiously avoided speaking any further about the “big talk” we had given to my parents over Christmas in which we had announced I was going to try to get pregnant. To be fair, there was plenty to be distracted by in our new country life. But the truth was my ambivalence toward motherhood had not shifted, despite large quantities of fresh air.

The pink-foil-wrapped revelation of my ambivalence shook my husband. A long-held tenet of our relationship was that I was the decisive one, the one who could be counted on to just get on with it. I presided over the world of black and white, the left-brained, the rational. D. held court in the domain of the emotional, the intuitive, the creative. He cries in movies; I bring the tissues. He rearranges the furniture; I pay the mortgage on time. In short, my prescription refill was an act of war: I was invading his territory, and he was pissed.

But before I go any further let me explain how I, a then-thirty-six-year-old American, ended up contemplating motherhood in a Cotswold village with a population dwarfed by that of any single London street. The stock explanation is that we needed to get a good night’s sleep. Since moving to England from Los Angeles, my British husband and I had failed to find accommodation conducive to this simple aim. Our first flat was on a Bayswater side street filled with tall white stucco-fronted terraces that had once been grand single-family homes. They had long since been divided and subdivided again into a rabbit warren of hundreds of studio and one-bedroom flats. D. had secured ours online ahead of our arrival in London, and I’ll never forget the feeling of shock upon climbing the four narrow flights of stairs, my arms laden with bursting suitcases, and flinging open the door for the first time to behold how small three hundred ninety-six square feet really is. Despite its size and thanks to its Kensington Gardens-adjacent address, it cost more in rent each month than the mortgage payment on the Los Angeles home we had just left behind. As if that wasn’t enough, the pipes knocked all night long and a chorus of lunatics routinely serenaded us, their howls ricocheting off the urban canyon formed by the back-to-back mansion blocks.

More recently, we had been living in a stretch of West London that had failed to live up to the promise of gentrification implicit in its Notting Hill-adjacent location. This flat was on the first floor of a three-story brick Victorian terrace, which meant we had upstairs neighbors. Their day seemed to start when ours was finishing, and, other than the possibility they were hosting a midnight furniture-rearrangement league, I never came up with a better explanation for the frequent guests stomping up and down the stairs at odd hours than our neighbor was a drug dealer.

There were other compromises associated with living in central London if, as ours was, your housing budget was limited to a scant quarter million. You might need to live on a street where you occasionally see a man relieving himself behind the dumpsters on the corner or be neighbors with a house full of squatters on the premises of a former Conservative Club, sign and irony still intact. You might wonder what that lady in a miniskirt and a cropped fur coat is doing talking to that gentleman when you leave the house for an early morning jog, or, just once, be greeted by a large yellow sign asking if you know anything about the body dumped in the canal as you decide it’s best to upgrade your jog to a sprint along the tow path. And if you’re young enough, you can probably dismiss these kinds of things as quirky and colorful, the very fiber of your bohemian urban life. But we were old enough to realize that D’s recent modest inheritance—enough to give us some additional square-footage in our current London neighborhood, but not to deliver us into the genteel reaches of, say, Kensington and Chelsea—was well spent on a cottage in the country, if only for weekends. And the truth was we were both partial to the idea of a weekend house.

Weekend house. It had a certain ring to it that was pleasing to the pretensions of our middle-class ears. Nobody had a weekend home where I grew up in Florida, presumably because we all already lived near the beach. The only people I had ever heard of with weekend homes were New Yorkers fleeing to the Hamptons, which seemed suitably glamorous. D. grew up in Liverpool in a middle-class home turned working class by his father’s penchant for drinking his salary. In that universe, a weekend home in the country was beyond imagination. And so we chose it, a recently flooded, two-hundred-year-old cottage without central heating, ninety miles away from London where we worked and lived. There was lots of time to change our minds while the place was drying out, but just before Christmas that year we spent our first night in our very own rural idyll.

No comments:

Post a Comment