You Lost Me There
By Rosecrans Baldwin
Hardcover, 304 pages
List price: $25.95
“The point is,” Lucy said, pacing beside my whiteboard while she dug her fingertips into her arms, “what are we looking at? Too many holes. Gaps and flaws. If you make a mistake, just let somebody know. Copy me on the e-mail. Put up a red flag. We’re gathering an enormous data dump here, of course slips occur. But if Dr. Aaron and I aren’t warned to catch them, we’ll have big trouble downstream.”
Recently we’d experienced quality-control problems. Crammed around my office, sitting on folding chairs or perched on the radiator, our team of fourteen was more than half composed of recent additions, many to leave in the next year or two for other labs, med school, further training. Listening to Lucy, I tried to concentrate on the milestones rather than the headaches. I knew too many re searchers who’d been undone by the pressure to publish, raise more money, swim faster. And what was lost was the satisfaction of knowing truth: the thrill of discovering an answer to the question each experiment posed.
Each airtight, flawless, beautiful experiment.
Half an hour later, I thanked everyone, proposed a revised schedule for incorporating new data, and called it a day. Five minutes later, Lucy was back in my doorway. She said calmly, “Tell me, why do we have to go through this every time?”
“Just the way it goes.”
“We hire too many gunners, is what it is, not enough plain-Jane control freaks. But why?”
“Do this,” said Lucy. Her features and shoulders sagged. “All of this.”
“Listen, I’m late picking up a friend.”
Lucy stretched her forearms on the doorframe. “You should see yourself. You look like three bucks.”
“I’ll take it that’s not a compliment.”
“What I would give, Victor,” she said, turning away, “for the NIH people simply to magically appear and say, Yes yes, take the money, have fun.”
Ten minutes later, I was stuck in a line of cars. I nearly slammed on the horn several times out of frustration. A few years earlier, they’d built a Walmart in Ellsworth, and now it caused traffic jams for miles along the one-road concourse off the island. I stared at the wipers, wondering if Regina was burlesquing somewhere miles behind me.
Years in the past, someone thought my wife was a knockout, one night long ago in a restaurant. A night I didn’t remember.
Since Wednesday I’d kept some of Sara’s index cards in my shirt pocket, her notes about how we met, how I’d neglected her apparently just when Broadway called. I’d stayed up nights rereading them. One night I tossed them in the kitchen trash with the tangerine peels and coffee grounds, only to run down to retrieve them the next morning. Having them on me meant I could avoid going back to Sara’s office to read the rest.
And she was right: in some cases, I didn’t agree with how Sara remembered things. I remembered celebrating her success in our little living room by the fireplace with champagne. I remembered lovemaking, late-night conversations, snuggling in bed. Our unspoken signals: the hand-squeezes to silently say I love you. Me playing the bleary-eyed bulwark when Sara was overcome with anxiety and couldn’t sleep. I remembered her nerves, and how I took care of her. How I went to the drugstore at two a.m. because she’d broken out in hives, worrying about that play. And if I had been neglectful, balanced against Sara’s enormous need for attention, for regular, escalating affirmations, then surely there was a good reason we both were forgetting: a grant, a paper, something at the lab.
But about that dinner she described, I drew a blank. Which didn’t necessarily mean much. We probably had dinner with Russell a hundred times in New York. But for this one night to have mattered so much to Sara that she chose it as a point when our marriage turned a corner, and yet to figure so lightly in my own recollections?
There was a moment in New York that she hadn’t mentioned, a night we had a terrible row. I was home late from work and Sara confronted me in the front hallway with a simple question: “Why do you ignore me?” She’d been crying. It was midnight, she was wearing an old Chicago sweatshirt of mine with rips in the underarms. It had been a terrible, arresting shock. She walked away and I stood in the hall fiddling with some mail in the key basket, wondering a storm of thoughts. It took me a few weeks to recover and then grasp how I needed to change, which seemed pathetic now in retrospect, but I’d dedicated myself afterward to a plan of evolution: engaging, listening, spending more time at home; being better about leaving work behind when I locked up at school; worrying fewer nights away in the lab or on the phone from home, and stopping weekend work altogether; being a better husband.
But it must have been around the time that Sara started writing Woman Hits Forty. Because just when I changed to be more of a home-body, it seemed as though she didn’t want a husband at all. I thought I’d simply read her wrong. How else to explain the short temper, her lack of interest in sex or conversation? And then the play took off, Sara rocketed up to Broadway, and soon it was she who wasn’t coming home after work, leaving messages saying I should order take-out.
A change of direction for me, not for her.
Excerpted from You Lost Me There by Rosecrans Baldwin. Copyright 2010 by Rosecrans Baldwin. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead.