Chapter 30 – Alice

Hello Beautiful

ovember 2008

Durı G her workdays, alıce’s pho e buzzed in her pocket every few hours. The texts were from her mother. Julia had sent her

at least twenty texts since their dinner in the Greek restaurant. The texts, no matter what they said, made Alice feel tired. But she liked how they were stacking up inside her phone as a kind of documentation of her mother losing her mind. Initially, the texts were incoherent apologies or explanations.

Im sorry, but I had reasons.

Can we just meet for a few minutes to talk?

I love you I love you I love you. I thought not telling you was the best thing for both of us.

I was afraid that you would want to go to your father if you knew he was alive. I convinced myself that if you went to Chicago to see him, you would choose to live with him and Sylvie. They would have given you a normal family, with a mother and a father. I know this sounds crazy, but I was a little crazy at the time.

You must have questions, which I can try to answer. I miss your voice.

Alice did have questions, but she wasn’t going to ask her mother or grandmother for answers. Her mother had manipulated her with silences for her entire life. Closed-off conversations, deflected questions. She’d left Alice to guess and strategize without any of the necessary facts. They’d both lied to her—Rose perhaps by omission

—and weren’t trustworthy sources of information.

When Alice had left the Greek restaurant and her mother that night, she’d walked all the way from the Upper West Side to the Brooklyn apartment she shared with Carrie. It was a one-bedroom, with a pullout couch in the living room. The official arrangement was that the two women alternated weeks in the bedroom. There was some flexibility to this if Carrie was sleeping at a date’s apartment, or if one of them was too tired to pull out the couch, they would sleep together in the double bed. When Alice walked in, Carrie was already in her pajamas, writing in a journal on the couch bed; it was her week there. She looked like the grown version of the little girl Alice had befriended in kindergarten: petite, with large blue eyes and a brown pixie haircut. Alice, because of how she had stretched and grown over the years, no longer resembled her kindergarten self at all.

Carrie took Alice in from head to toe and said, “Clearly something enormous has happened.” She stood and, as if she were preparing to boil water and gather towels, asked, “What do you need?”

Alice stood by the door until she’d told Carrie everything. Then she dropped her backpack and coat on the floor, tugged off her low boots, and curled up on the sofa bed. She hugged her knees to her chest, and Carrie rubbed her back.

“You have a dad,” Carrie said, with wonder in her voice.

“Kind of? He isn’t my father legally. He didn’t want me.” Alice’s hair was over her face; she spoke into a light-colored curtain.

“Only your mother could keep a secret like this for twenty-five years.” Carrie told strangers intimate details of her life minutes after meeting them and had always found Julia’s composure baffling.

Once, when they were teenagers and Carrie was sleeping over at their apartment, Carrie had asked Julia when she’d lost her virginity. Alice and Carrie had watched something happen inside Julia that made her face turn a light shade of purple, and then she’d said she needed to make a work call—at nine o’clock on a Friday evening— and left the room.

“She could have kept this secret forever.” Alice looked at Carrie. “I think she was trying to hurt me with it. She looked…I don’t know, a little excited.”

“About what it might do to you?” Carrie said.

Alice nodded. She felt tears pressing the backs of her eyes. “I don’t see why how I choose to live my life, which doesn’t hurt anyone, bothers her so much.”

“Oh, Alice,” Carrie said.

“I like having a simple life.” Alice could feel all the stray threads inside her; the tiny scissors had cut through every one. “I don’t like to…feel so much.”

“I know.” Carrie was quiet for a minute, then said, “I’ve been keeping my mouth shut about you and your mom, as much as I could, forever. You know that.”

Alice nodded, already resigned to whatever was coming. “Go ahead,” she said. “Say whatever you want.”

Carrie set her face; she took this permission, this opportunity, seriously. “Okay, here’s what I think happened. From my vantage point, you sealed yourself up, probably right after your mom told you that your dad died. The only people you loved before that news— that lie, as it turns out—are still the only people you love with all your heart. The only people you let yourself love. Me, your mom, and your grandmother. I feel like when we were kids, sometimes you almost opened yourself up. Remember you had a crush on that boy with the spiky hair when we were in middle school? But then you closed down completely. You have the best heart, and you don’t use it. Your mom is responsible for that. It’s like she raised you to be a Navy

SEAL or something, with a completely unusual skill set. Julia’s even more responsible than I thought, since she freaking lied to you for your whole life. She’s obviously realizing that now and wants to try to undo her mistakes.”

“I don’t need to be undone.” Alice felt her own stubbornness, like a bump in the carpet, but didn’t care. “I wish she hadn’t told me.”

Carrie leaned over and kissed Alice’s cheek. She looked brighter, like a cleaned lantern, after being allowed to deliver the speech she’d been suppressing for years. “Julia did tell you, though, and this is exciting too, you know? Your dad is alive. You can go meet him and ask him why he did what he did. You have all his genes, after all. You can go meet this tall man.”

“I have to figure out the timeline before I can consider that,” Alice said. “I have to find out what happened in Chicago. I don’t know anything, Carrie.”

Carrie eyed her. She knew how Alice worked. The two friends were opposites in many ways, but they both were deliberate about how they lived, wouldn’t tolerate assholes, and always had each other’s back. “How can I help?” she said.

“You can sit with me while I Google him,” Alice said. “And give me time to process everything. There’s no rush.”

The two young women stayed up until four o’clock in the morning on the sofa bed. It was difficult work, because there was a ringing noise in Alice’s ears, she had a hard time reading the sentences on the computer screen, and the images were overwhelming. Her father was the head physio for the Chicago Bulls, so there were numerous photos of him online. There were a few pictures of him in conversation with basketball players, presumably about injuries. He was in staff photos too, with thirty other men wearing identical polo shirts. There was only one photo from earlier in his life, from Northwestern University. It was a shot of the college basketball team, and he was standing at the end of a row wearing a jersey but normal pants, and he was on crutches.

“He’s super cute in this photo,” Carrie said. In the more-recent photos, he looked not only older but worn, like a rock on the beach. She peered closer. “It’s from 1982. So, the year before you were born.”

Alice nodded. She felt slightly drunk, even though she’d had nothing to drink except a few gallons of water at the restaurant. She and Carrie both fell asleep at some point, and since the next day was a Saturday, no alarms went off, and they didn’t wake until late morning. Alice had a headache, but she also felt relieved, as if a burden had been lifted from her. It wasn’t until she was eating breakfast that it occurred to her that she’d muffled her questions and avoided looking for answers her entire life, in deference to her mother. She no longer had to do that. She could ask anyone anything she wanted. This made her smile so widely she felt it in her cheeks, and Carrie looked up from her bowl of cereal and smiled in return.

Alice wondered what this might mean. What were her questions? What did she want to know? What did she want to say? She’d never considered these possibilities before; it felt like she’d been wearing blinders and they’d been removed. The horizon was endless, in every direction. There was a knock at their door; it was Rhoan.

“Carrie filled me in.” He sat down at the kitchen table, as if joining a meeting already in progress. “Alice—this makes so much sense. I always felt like you were waiting for something, like you had your ear to the ground and didn’t want to move in case you missed it. I thought you were waiting for some dude, but this is much cooler.”

“Exactly,” Carrie said.

“I’m going to put my almost-PhD to use. I’m a world-class researcher, you know. We’re going to help you find every scrap of information there is about these people.”

Alice started to object, but Rhoan waved a large hand. “Do you know how happy we are to have the chance to help you? You never

let us help you. You always say you’re fine. You have no drama queen in you, Alice Padavano, but this is a goddamn drama.

“I don’t like drama,” Alice said, to her plate.

“We know. But having the chance to help you makes me so happy I could cry.”

“I am crying,” Carrie said, and she was.

“I know this is hard,” Rhoan said. “But let us take care of you, okay?”

Alice put her hands to her face and laughed. With all the threads cut inside her, there was no way for her to resist. She could feel her friends’ love pushing past her skin, into her body, and she cried too.

“This table,” she said, as something occurred to her. “This was our kitchen table when I was growing up. When I was five, we were sitting at this table when my mom told me that my father was dead.”

“Whoa,” Carrie said.

“There’s history everywhere,” Rhoan said. “I fucking love that.”

He worked in a research library, and a week later he handed her a folder of photos and biographical data on William Waters and the three other Padavano sisters. He’d found better, less-blurred photos of her father, and Alice’s resemblance to him was remarkable. Thin, tall, same colorless hair, same eyes. There was a newspaper notice about William and Julia’s wedding. Julia was described as a future homemaker in the piece, and William was in graduate school to become a history professor. The photo was a close-up from their wedding day: Julia was beautiful, in a shimmering white gown. William wore a fancy suit, and his smile looked obedient beside Julia’s radiant one. Alice studied the photograph, amazed at how happy her mother looked; there was no evidence of whatever misery would drive her out of the marriage and then out of Chicago sixteen months later.

There was information on William’s college degree, his single year of a graduate program in history, a completed master’s degree in sports physiology, and his job history. The notes detailed two

hospitalizations, once for knee surgery during college, and then again in 1983—when Alice would have been a baby—in a psychiatric hospital. His mental illness was presumably why her parents had divorced and why her father had given her up. She and her mother had arrived in New York City right around when William Waters was in the hospital.

While she was leafing through the folder, her mother texted her: Can you tell me what it means in literature when a person loses their shadow? I feel like I remember Peter Pan stealing Wendys shadow?

She showed the text to Carrie. Carrie said, “Things are definitely

getting interesting in your mother’s head. Are you going to answer?” “No. Check this out: I have a cousin who’s less than a year older

than me. Isabella. Cecelia had a daughter. She looks like all the Padavanos except me.”

They were at the kitchen table. They’d just eaten spaghetti, one of the only meals Alice was able to prepare that tasted good. This was her go-to meal to cook; Carrie’s was a salad into which she put everything she could find, with mixed results.

“Did you finish copyediting that sad novel?” “The Little Women one? Yes.”

“Then it’s time to go to Chicago,” Carrie said. “You can take some days off work. And you have all the information there is in that folder.”

“There might be more,” Alice said. Her body felt heavy, as though it were rooted to the chair. She searched the room for a distraction, but none appeared. All she could see was hand-me-down furniture and a sink full of dishes that needed to be cleaned. She said, “Carrie, he doesn’t want to meet me. He never wanted anything to do with me.”

Carrie looked at her with her wide eyes. “Don’t cry,” Alice said, in warning.

“I won’t. Listen. He made that decision a long time ago, when he was in a terrible emotional place. He might feel entirely differently

now. He might have spent the last twenty-five years regretting giving you up. Or Julia might be lying to you about some part of this story. Hell, Julia might have paid your dad to stay away. Rhoan can’t find those kinds of answers in old newspapers. You have to go there and ask him.”

Go there, Alice thought. She had done very little traveling in her life. She was familiar with the four-hour drive to Boston. And she’d visited Rose in Florida. But she’d turned down the option to study abroad and had never understood why people left New York City. This was her home, and surely nowhere else could compete.

“You’re a grown-up,” Carrie said. “You’re twenty-five years old. You don’t need a dad. You just have to meet him and ask him what’s what, so you can move on with your own life.”

Alice listened to her friend talk and tried to take the words in, but the ideas of going to Chicago to meet her father and moving on with her life were at odds. She was in her life now; simply boarding that plane would detonate the safe, careful, calm young woman she’d been constructing since she was a child.

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