Arrivals and Departures


Your email—WHY DON'T YOU LEAVE ME ALONE—was certainly blunt and direct, uncharacteristically so. But reading it more closely, I found it to be somewhat ambiguous. By altering the inflection slightly, it appears, even without a question mark added, as if you've unwittingly asked, or wondered at least, what impels me not to leave you alone. That, I think, is an issue worth exploring.


The most logical starting point is that time before you came to us, when Red and I, married four years, were still childless. Since Red's five siblings, all younger than him, had already produced 22 children, the big guessing game among Red's family was whether he and I would ever manage to accomplish what seemed so easy for the rest of his remarkably fecund family.


You have no idea what it was like for me to visit Red's family back then. I would have to brace myself, literally and figuratively, to absorb the big showy hugs from a welcoming committee that usually consisted of Red's three sisters, his two sisters-in-law, assorted nieces and nephews and last but not least, Ma Halloran herself.


Those hugs were not without a purpose. Though I pretended not to notice, the Halloran women always managed a quick but not quite surreptitious peek downwards towards my midsection, and one sister, Glenda, would even manage a discreet pat down. One of them must have sent a signal to Ma Halloran because when she stepped forward to give me her welcoming hug, she would invariably urge me to put more meat on my bones.


Ma's hearty but hectoring tone when she said that—and the way she ran her hands up and down my back, as if she was hoping to find some bit of excess flesh—always left me feeling as if she considered my slender frame to be the main reason why Red was the only Halloran to show up at family gatherings minus a brood of little Hallorans.


I was a good sport through it all, even acknowledged as such by the Hallorans, because I managed to look as if I truly enjoyed my visits with them. That took some effort on my part because I never could figure out some of their customs and folkways and was too embarrassed to ask. To this day, for instance, I've never understood why Halloran males tended to greet each other by getting into a boxer's crouch and trading a playful jab or two before they ended up shaking hands and laughingly exchanging manly hugs.


This boyish tussling among the Halloran males was puzzling but harmless. Not so the light-hearted exchanges among the females, who were always joking about the methods, including castration of their respective spouses, they might resort to in order to prolong the time between their pregnancies. After my second miscarriage, I demanded of Red—my slender frame quivering with rage—that he ask his sisters and sisters-in-law to curb their casual banter about how easy it was for them to "pop another one out," as they so often put it.


Red was able to mute his sisters and sisters-in-law, but Ma Halloran wasn't so easily contained. Nothing was going to stop her from taking me aside to deliver godawful motherly chats, the gist of which was that Red and I should never give up on trying to have a baby.


Ma was particularly incensed at the doctor who told me after my first miscarriage that I had less than a fifty-fifty chance of avoiding another. To show what she thought of the doctor's advice, Ma listed by name and age a half-dozen children, none of whom, she maintained, would have been born had their parents been foolish enough to listen to their doctors.


I was still recovering from my second miscarriage when Ma, all smiles, said she had good news for me. She was now praying to Saint Jude on my behalf.


"Good old Saint Jude," she said, putting one of her beefy forearms around my shoulders and giving me a squeeze. "He's the patron saint of lost causes. That means he takes on the jobs that are too tough for other saints to handle."


On the drive home that night, Red was as amused as I was when I told him that his mother had enlisted Saint Jude's help in resolving our childless state, but I was the one whose laughter ended in a crying spell. Red did his best to comfort me, assuring me over and over that his mother meant no harm, but since he was preoccupied with driving through heavy post Labor Day traffic and sheets of wind-driven rain that all but flooded the highway, he could barely take his eyes off the road, let alone offer me a consoling kiss or embrace.


Finally, as we exited the turnpike, and the rain let up, as did my crying, Red tried again to tell me why I shouldn't be offended by the advice his mother so willingly shared with me.


"The stuff Ma says may sound a bit old world," he said, "but her reliance on St. Jude notwithstanding, she probably knows as much as most doctors do about how babies are born."


My quick intake of breath didn't really cover my surprise at what Red had just said, but it may have helped prevent a resumption of tears. Then, because I felt Red had gone too far in trying to defend someone who thought of me as a "lost cause," I decided this was the perfect moment to announce, quietly and without fanfare, that I intended to begin the process of adopting a baby. Thus, the impulse from which your fate and mine and Red's became entwined. You might even say that this was your moment of conception, as it applied to Red and me.




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Red's response to my announcement—utter silence—was so unexpected that I asked him if I should repeat myself.


"No," he said, "I heard you the first time, but tell me this: Have you considered the pitfalls and unforeseen consequences of adopting someone else's child?"


"You don't seem to think I have," I said, "but I've given it enough thought to conclude that the benefits of adoption, both for those who adopt and those who are adopted, far outweigh its 'pitfalls and unforeseen consequences,' whatever they may be."


I anticipated a barrage of questions from Red, most of which he would then proceed to answer himself. Did you know that Red's students have a word for the verbal roughhousing for which he is so well known? 'We were Halloraned today,' they say, which means that Red first barks out a series of questions to his class and then proceeds to eviscerate their replies, thereby demonstrating to them the folly of advancing suppositions that fail to meet his criteria for a well-reasoned legal argument. But this time, maybe because he wasn't standing in front of a classroom of law students—or maybe because he was afraid that I might begin crying again—Red posed only one question, and that in an even tempered voice.


"Are you prepared," he said, "for the possibility of an adopted child's biological parents trying to reclaim him or her?"


I had never thought of such a thing, but before I could answer, Red was telling me about a couple he knew, the husband a high school friend of his, whose lives were made miserable by the mother of the little girl they had adopted. The biological mother had somehow discovered Red's friends were raising her daughter and that led to her stalking them. Then, one night, Red's friends discovered her crouched on the roof of their front porch, peeking in the window as they were putting their adopted daughter to bed. The adoptive parents obtained a restraining order that kept the mother from intruding on their property, but they were forever on the lookout, fearing that she might pop up again."


"I'm not sure your friends' experience is all that common," I said.


Red then posed two questions. "Are you aware that adopted children, when they reach adulthood, almost always try to reconnect with their birth parents? And do you realize what usually happens when adopted children get to meet their real parents?"?


Red had no intention, of course, of waiting for my reply. Instantly, he asserted that adopted children are quite successful these days in tracking down their birth parents and that once parents and child are reunited, the adopted children become more attached to their long-lost parents than the couples who raised them.


"I'd have to see some documentation on that before I believe it to be true," I said.


Silence settled over the car for a while after that, but as we arrived home and were getting out of our car, Red brought up a new topic, genetic disorders.


"Surely you know," he said, "that certain familial traits—schizophrenia being one—don't make themselves known until an individual reaches maturity. Have you thought about that? You haven't, have you? Then there's the adoptive parents' relationship with an adopted child. Do you really think it can be as close and meaningful as that of parents who are connected to a child by blood?"


At the start of our trip, Red had tried to comfort me, but I then made the mistake of proposing adoption without first clearing it with him. This was as offensive to Red as a legal argument that wasn't backed up by citations from court decisions extending back at least two centuries. So now, in our driveway, standing in a light rain, he was still trying to convince me that I hadn't given sufficient thought to the perils of adoption. At times like that Red has the look, somewhat impatient and a little bit exhausted, of a man who is burdened with the unpleasant task of having to save stupid people from themselves.




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I didn't allow Red's questions that night or in the following weeks to deter me from proceeding with the long and laborious process of adopting a baby. Red, too, I must say, was cooperative. He provided information when asked and otherwise indicated, when necessary, that he was a willing participant in our desire to adopt a child. All the while, however, he continued to warn me about the risk of raising a child whose genetic inheritance was unknown.


I tried at first to fend off Red's comments by accusing him of sounding like a lunatic eugenicist, but I also found myself thinking what, until then, had been unthinkable, the possibility that I might leave Red if he continued to object to adoption. Once, when Red accused me of being delusional for thinking of adoption as a substitute for what he called the real thing, I came close to issuing an ultimatum: Either he express his unstinting support for adoption or I would consider our marriage dissolved.


I drew back from that for two very practical reasons: One, I couldn't decide where I wanted to live after leaving Red, and two, I knew that divorce would complicate, and possibly end, my chance to adopt a baby. There were also moments, I must admit, when I felt some sympathy for Red. This was a man, after all, who had never in his life experienced failure of any kind.


Indeed, the friend who offered to introduce me to Red promised that I would be meeting a young law professor who was certain someday to become a Supreme Court justice. Red was 34 at the time, but at age 31, he had become the youngest faculty member ever to have been granted tenure at Boston College Law School.


The matchmaker then told me that Red's first book, a collection of legal essays, had been reviewed in the New York Times by a well-known Constitutional scholar, who complimented Red both on the originality of his thinking and his knowledge of the law. This was also the time when Red began to attract media attention, first locally and then nationally, because of his knack for producing sound bites that cut through the complexity of a Supreme Court ruling or any other thorny legal issue.


I had just turned 30 when the matchmaker put before me, as if it were a rare and precious jewel, this chance to meet Lawrence "Red" Halloran. I had moved to Boston that fall to begin my new job in admissions at Bramwell Academy (yes, I've been at Bramwell that long) and since I was new to the city, I welcomed the chance to make friends of either sex. I also knew enough by then to discount the hyperbole of well-meaning matchmakers, but this time, I confess, I couldn't wait to see if this legal wunderkind would live up to his advance billing.


In less than an hour after I met Red, I concluded that this country would be fortunate indeed the day Red took his place on the Supreme Court. Beyond that I could not explain why I was drawn to a man who dominated the conversation and who was not particularly attractive, not in a conventional sense at least.


I knew from a description given to me by my friend, and in my phone conversation with Red, that he was, as he himself told me, "tall and lanky and kind of geeky." All that was true, but while his component parts—the red bristly, wiry hair that rose up like a coxcomb, his long, lean face and deep-set eyes, as well as his a ski-jump shaped nose—were, each of them, somewhat unattractive, they blended together to give him a rough hewn look. Right from the start, I found it easy to picture Red, garbed in judicial robes, handing down legal decisions of monumental importance.


My initial phone conversation with Red didn't get much beyond what we might have said had we run into each other at a cocktail party. But once I met him, I was overwhelmed—I'm sorry, there is no other word for it—at the ease with which he could take something like his assessment of Bramwell Academy (generally favorable) and weave it into a lively account of the rise and fall of Boston's monied families, with additional observations about Boston's political culture. He continued on from there, without a discernible hitch, to recount some of the hijinks indulged in by his relatives and friends, a good number of whom seemed always to be running for office or working in the political campaigns of other relatives and friends.


I confess that I couldn't understand why I was transfixed by a suitor who might have said the same things to a cardboard cutout of someone who looked like me. Why, I kept asking myself, wasn't I more upset that Red barely allowed me to speak? I'm afraid that question remained unanswered—and after a while seemed not to matter—because I was content to sit and listen and occasionally break into applause, my hands clapping like a trained seal, when Red delivered a line that was particularly funny or insightful.


Another disclosure: When I met Red, I feared that if I didn't soon get married and begin having children, I might become one of those sad, desperate women you read about who snatch someone else's baby from an unattended stroller because they so badly want a child of their own. That may explain, in part, why, when it came to Red, I so easily put aside the maturity and judgment that accounted for my appointment, at a relatively young age, to the position of importance I held at Bramwell Academy.


By day, with a quiet yes or brusque no, I helped assemble a student body balanced between young women who were exceptionally bright but not particularly affluent and others who were less gifted academically but whose wealthy families were likely to make significant contributions to the school. By night, I was entranced with a man who seemed to be daring me to fall in love with him, and I, from the moment I met him, was more than willing to take him up on his dare.


My first evening with Red was encapsulated by his response when I told him that my friend had described him to me as a future Supreme Court justice. Having already had a couple of glasses of wine, I giggled when I said that, assuming that Red, too, might be as amused at the thought of a law professor still in his thirties being talked of as a possible appointee to the Supreme Court.


Not Red. Instead, he listed the ages of the current members of the Supreme Court while also giving a brief summation of the state of each justice's health, along with his guess about how long each of them might remain on the court. He followed that up with a quick overview of presidential politics and likely candidates for the presidency over the next decade or so, the chance each had of becoming President and the kind of person each was likely to put on the court. No, he conceded, a boyish grin on his face, he couldn't see himself, not for another two decades or so, being asked to join the Court.


Oh, that grin. Even after all these years, I'm still surprised at the transformation of Red's features when his bushy eyebrows rise up a notch and that crooked half smile comes over his face. Have you ever noticed, by the way, Red's consummate timing, that slight, almost imperceptible pause between the time he delivers a line and then, a split second later, flashes his grin?


Not even my solid, sober Main Line Philadelphia parents could resist falling in love with Red, although I think they initially wondered when they heard Red's name whether I intended to marry someone who was an IRA gunman.


You'll probably be surprised to learn that the same person I've called the Man of a Thousand Sound Bites found it difficult to utter a simple straightforward expression of love. That's why, when he finally told me, his voice lowered to a murmur, how much I meant to him and how he had never felt this way about anyone before, I placed my fingers over his mouth and made a shushing sound. I didn't want him to ruin the moment by framing his marriage proposal as a finely honed legal argument, no doubt with footnotes and citations attached.


Not that Red is lacking in the capacity to be quite loving. Yes, he's extremely busy, but even when he's running off in several directions at once, he can slow down enough to make me feel that I matter as much to him as his work. He was able to do just that when he convinced me, after my second miscarriage, that we owed it to ourselves to try once more to have a child. I went along with that, but only after Red agreed that we would continue at the same time with the application process for adoption. And for a time, 11 weeks to be exact, it appeared that I was about to prove wrong the doctor who doubted whether I could carry a baby to term. But after that miscarriage, my state of mind was such that Red didn't dare mention again any of his misgivings about adoption.




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Please don't take this personally, but I was also doubtful about adoption. The lengthy wait for you was frustrating and I wasn't sure that any child—again, no criticism intended—was going to erase the memory of my miscarriages, but any second thoughts I had during the long months of waiting for you vanished the moment we entered that nondescript hotel room in Beijing where you were handed over to us. You were only four months old, but it was obvious that the name, Lihua—which, I was told, meant beautiful and elegant—was a perfect fit.


And Red, why Red, that old curmudgeon, became more caught up in the novelty of having a baby in our house than I ever expected. That in itself, along with my appreciation for his support and understanding after my most recent miscarriage caused me to expunge, forever, I assumed, my brief flirtation with the idea of leaving him.


You, alas, did not care to join in the spirit of renewal that suffused our household. At first, I blamed myself for expecting too much from a child who found herself in the company of strangers, but that didn't wholly explain why I had to make faces and sing ditties and break into a little dance before your tiny interlocked lips would form a barely discernible smile.


I actually wondered if that solemn, buttoned-up expression on your face might mean you were trying to determine whether we were qualified to serve as your surrogate parents. That was absurd, of course. You were only an infant. Yet there were times when you looked as if you were a well-mannered house guest who was also compiling a list of her hosts' shortcomings.


Red did not share my concerns. In his view, it was his good fortune (emphasis on his) to have become the adoptive parent of a child so quiet that your tiny whimper was like the sound someone might make in trying to attract the notice of an inattentive store clerk. Red was so pleased that you didn't whine or fuss (or make undue demands on his time) that he often referred to you as his little grown- up.


I appreciated that you were an easy child to care for, but I felt the French word—sangfroid—was a more apt description for your strangely adult sense of decorum. I was grateful that your table manners, from an early age, were that of an honors graduate from a school of etiquette and that I never had to remind you to pick up your room since it was barely a mess to begin with. But your thank yous and excuse mes always struck me as being too automatic and it always rankled me that your method for giving a hug seemed more the product of careful thought than an authentic gesture of love and affection.


Whether you realized it or not—and personally, I've always thought that you did—there was a well-defined and predictable rhythm to the way you would place your arms around me or Red and hold them there for several seconds, almost as if you were indeed counting, one, two, three, four, before giving one quick squeeze and then abruptly letting go. Countless times, I tried to prolong your embrace, but limber and quick, you always managed to twist your way out of it.


Whenever you slithered away from me like that, I couldn't help but wonder if Red had been right when he talked of the unbridgeable gap between children and adults who were not connected to each other by blood. It didn't help matters any when you began, at age seven, to call us by our first names, which happened, interestingly enough, right after I had made such a mess of telling you that Red and I were not your parents.


I don't know how much you recall of that day, but in my defense, let me say that everything seemed to go awry after you greeted my announcement by simply staring at me and saying nothing, absolutely nothing. I expected that you might need a moment to absorb the news, but I became flustered when twenty, maybe thirty seconds, went by without a word from you or any change of expression on your tiny face.


Belated apologies, then, for my panicky behavior and my attempt to fill the awkward silence with my blather about China's size and its enormous population, as well as the remarkable cultural and technological contributions of its people. Thank heavens you broke your silence (and rescued me, in a sense) when you asked how Red and I had been able to find you in a place that was as far away as China and in a country that was so big.


You seemed satisfied when I said that Red and I had received help from friends of ours who lived in China, but I had to blink back tears when you then asked whether our friends had shipped you to us, as you put it, like a package.


After assuring you that Red and I had flown to China to meet you, I then exclaimed, perhaps a bit too loudly, that the day I held you in my arms was the most memorable day of my life. I think I expected you to respond with a big hug, which was why I wasn't entirely prepared when you asked if, when we were in China, we had met your parents.


I had no choice, then, but to come up with that explanation of how your parents were university students and that in China, the authorities would not sanction marriage between people who had yet to finish college. That's why, I said, sounding much too chipper, your parents decided that it would be best if they gave you to two people who promised to love you as much as they did. I'll be honest with you. The woman who ran the adoption agency suggested that we use the college-students-can't-marry story in answering any questions you had about your parents.


I knew from the way you stared back at me, your dark, luminous eyes never blinking, that you considered my explanation to be too neat and too well packaged. It was desperation, then, my need to forge some connection with you that caused me to clasp your hands in mine and tell you that your parents' only concern was your well-being.


Your quiet, soft-spoken response—that your parents sounded as if they were very sensible people—made me feel as if I had succeeded, more or less, in getting you to understand why you had been adopted. But seconds later you rendered your own verdict on what I had just told you by gently extricating your hands from mine. For years I've regretted that I didn't reach out right then and hug you and tell you how much I loved you, but I held back because I was fearful, quite frankly, that you might push me away.


As for this first-name business, I decided not to make an issue of it. Red was a bit more upset about it, but, at my request, he refrained from trying to correct you.


"Now it begins," he said. "This is her way of reminding us that we're not her parents."


"Well, we aren't her parents," I told him, "but no matter what she calls us, I love and cherish her as if she were my own child and I have no doubt that she loves and cherishes me, too."


It was never wise to engage in an argument with the William J. Leighton Professor of Constitutional Law at Boston College Law School when the only evidence at your disposal consisted of robotic hugs and polite thank-yous. I anticipated, then, that Red was about to pounce and to accuse me, at the least, of gross exaggeration, but rather than dispute me, he came out with the little giggle and snorting sound he makes when he's trying to contain his laughter.


The only response I could muster was to make light of the moment by playfully pummeling Red's chest with my balled-up fists. That concealed for the moment how upset I was with myself for lying about my perception of how you felt about me—and at you for having turned me into a liar.




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On the plus side, I treasure the moments when you made it possible for me to experience some of the simple joys of motherhood. I considered it a treat, for instance, after so many years, to be part of the conversation when my colleagues at Bramwell exchanged stories about their children. In that same way, visits to the Hallorans became more tolerable once you arrived because I didn't feel as much like an outsider (and freak of nature) when I joined the Halloran women as they swapped tips among themselves about the raising of children.


My fondest memory were those afternoons when I stood along the sidelines with other mothers at your soccer games, cheering and yelling encouragement and then performing our silly little dance when you or one of your teammates scored a goal.


Even then you could dampen such moments because, swift and surefooted as you were when the ball was in play, you never quite joined the heaving jumble of teammates who were jumping up and down and celebrating a victory. No, you were the girl who was content to remain on the outer fringe of their circle and to express your solidarity with your teammates by exchanging quick embraces and fleeting high fives.


I believed at the time, and continue to believe, that the way you distanced yourself from your teammates was consistent with how you continued to act as if you never seemed to become a full-fledged member of our family. You were still quite young when I decided that you considered your relationship with us as a transaction of sorts. That's not a complaint, by the way. I understand your thinking. You knew, having heard it directly from me, that your parents had abandoned you. But then swooping down out of the sky came this tall red-headed man and his slender, blonde wife who took you off to live in America.


Once that happened, what choice did you have—well-mannered as you are—but to repay us for this great act of kindness? And what better way to do that than to make yourself into a model child, one so diligent and well behaved that everyone who knew you—from teachers and parents of other children to soccer coaches and dance instructors and camp counselors—unhesitatingly used the word, perfect, to describe you??


I enjoyed hearing the praise lavished on you for being an A student and for being the only student who completed school assignments before they were due, and I wondered, along with your teachers, how you managed to keep your school blazer and white blouse and plaid skirt looking as crisp and fresh in June as it did in September. But I felt that you considered every A you earned as payments made on the debt you owed us.


Perhaps, then, it was the innate resentment of a debtor towards a creditor that accounted for your circumscribed affection towards Red and me. That also explained, I believe, the dance recitals at which you executed every step with perfection, or your flawless performance of flute solos at school concerts—all the while keeping any hint of spontaneity at bay. Duty called. Lihau responded.


Yes, I'm being picky. I should have realized that it was difficult for you, simply from an aesthetic point of view, to be anything but aloof. Your composure always made you seem older and more mature than your peers. Even your facial features, notably those prominent cheek bones and clearly defined jaw line, were those of a grown woman rather than a cute teen-age girl.


Red, who knows nothing of childhood development, had this notion that you might "break out," as he put it, once you became a teenager. He made it sound as if the onset of puberty would cause you to leave school and join a motorcycle gang. I'm no more an expert on child rearing than Red, but I argued otherwise. My best guess, which turned out to be far more accurate than Red's alarmist predictions, was that adolescence might cause a bit of slippage in your perfect child mask.


That slippage, as it turned out, occurred when you began dividing the world into people who were honest and those who were—to use your favorite word—phony. Your frequent mention of this issue seemed to coincide with your discovery that the well-mannered young boys who were so eager to date you didn't always behave in private as they did in public.


I tried to sympathize with you, but nothing I said stopped you from dramatizing this honesty issue with an act that verged on self-mutilation. Yes, I'm referring to that bizarre hairdo you copied from a model (an Asian one, as I recall) in a fashion magazine. There was little doubt that you would attract a lot of attention by having the hair on one side of your head cut above your ear, while allowing the hair on the other side to flow down past your collar bone. But do you still think more highly of the people who said they hated your hairdo, thereby passing your "honesty" test, rather than those individuals who were too well-mannered to tell you how ghastly you looked?


I want to remind you that I was quite forthright in telling you how much I disliked that hairdo. But you seemed to apply even more stringent standards for judging my level of honesty.


We come, then, to the day I was driving you home from soccer practice, and you were telling me about two more seemingly intelligent girls you knew who turned out to be remarkably stupid in their choice of the boys they dated. Given the topic you were discussing, it seemed reasonable for you to ask me how I knew, once I met Red, that he was the man I wanted to marry. I had never, until then, told you much about our courtship, but before I even began to say how impressed I was with Red from the moment I met him, you suddenly switched topics on me.


"When you decided to adopt" you asked, "did you specifically request an Asian, or were you willing to take whatever was available?"


I have no idea why but in answering your question I blundered into telling you about that period before you came to us, when I was trying to recover from my third miscarriage. Was I looking for sympathy and understanding? Did I think you would look more kindly on me if you knew of my pain and frustration? Alas, wrong person, wrong time, wrong setting, as was evidenced by your quick and snappy reply.


"Oh, I get it. No miscarriages, no Lihua."


There wasn't any need, you know, to punctuate your remark with a giggle.


You then returned to your original question about what made me decide to marry Red, but irked by what you had just said, I countered with my own question: Why did that matter to you, I asked. Your reply, a shrug of the shoulders, may have been age appropriate, but I found it to be unsatisfactory, so I asked you again. Was there some reason why you needed to know my reasons for marrying Red?


"Well, it's just that you're so independent," you said, sounding as if you didn't think people who were independent could also be married.


Ah, here was my opportunity to dispense maternal advice, and I did so by explaining that marriage didn't necessarily mean the end of anyone's independence. In fact, I said, respect for each other's independence was an essential ingredient for any successful marriage.


Oh, but this day nothing I said was going to satisfy you. Once again, you went off on a tangent, this time with that silly question about whether Red and I were madly in love when we got married.


You know something—out of the corner of my eye, I detected the tiny smile on your face when you asked that. Did you really think that you had me cornered and that I had no choice but to give you a quote-honest-unquote answer about how Red and I felt about each other?


I could have said that, yes, I was mad about Red, that I wanted more than anything else to spend my life with this dynamic and unabashedly brilliant man. And I might have said that you, too, if you were lucky, would someday know the beauty and wonder of falling in love in similar fashion. But I'll be damned if I was going to provide you with proof that Red and I were in love, madly or otherwise, when we decided to get married.


I chose instead to point out that anyone who equates love with madness is overstating the case. Quietly, patiently, I then explained that all married couples, besides being in love, must also learn to accommodate themselves to each other.


Red, of course, provided me all the material I needed to make that point. I talked of the long hours he puts into his work, preparing new lecture notes each semester, serving on any number of committees at BC, not to mention his writing and his many speaking engagements. Yet, never, I said, had I made demands on Red that hindered him in his work, nor had he, likewise, ever interfered with mine.


Admittedly, my word choice was clumsy when I then added, "Make of it what you will, but Red and I have tried very hard to make things convenient for each other."


I was the proverbial prize fighter who had just left myself wide open, and you were the opponent who wasn't about to let me get away with my misstep.


"So, is that what's meant by the term, a marriage of convenience?" you said.


I suppose I should be thankful that you refrained from adding a little giggle to your remark.




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Forgive me for replicating our conversation the day you wanted to know if Red and I were in love when we decided to get married, but I think there is a direct line connecting that little téte-á-téte to the argument we had about your choice of which college you wanted to attend. Look, I agreed that by attending a college on the west coast you would avoid New England's terrible winter weather. But you can't blame me for being skeptical when you tried to tell me, citing the views of three school friends and their older siblings, that leading colleges on the west coast were superior to those in the east because they were not bound by tradition and snobbery.


That California has warmer days in January and February than Boston I readily conceded. I also admitted that a number of colleges west of the Rockies are equal to, and maybe even superior, to some of the finest colleges in the east. But you were on shaky ground with me when it came to this snobbery business. Not only did I consider that to be shallow and stereotypical thinking—which is something I've never been able to abide—but I wanted you to know that it was blatant snobbery for a certain high school senior of my acquaintance to tell everyone that she considered Harvard and Yale to be her backup schools.


I must have hit my target with the latter remark because you were quite animated when you asked me if I doubted your honesty? Well, what was I supposed to think, that your quest for educational excellence was the only reason you wanted to attend colleges that happened to be located 3000 miles away from Red and me? But rather than prolong our dispute, I went halfway towards agreeing with you when I said that Harvard's snooty private clubs and Yale's secret societies were silly and outdated.


It may have been understandable for you, at age 17, to rely on the chit-chat of your peers in evaluating the strengths and deficiencies of various colleges and universities, but I was not as forgiving when a seasoned academic like Red became both your cheerleader and defender.


"What I see—and what you should see, too," Red told me, "is a kid who wants to go out there on her own, to test herself. We should congratulate ourselves on that. Not every kid her age, and an only child at that, has her sense of independence. And you know what's really great, a high school kid who's astute enough to realize that you can get a pretty good education at colleges that aren't necessarily located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or New Haven, Connecticut."


I liked the way Red seemed to insinuate himself into this feeling of pride "we" were supposed to feel for having inculcated in you a spirit of independence. This from the man whose attachment to you consisted for the most part of bending his tall frame forward so that you could drape your arms around him for one of your precisely choreographed embraces as he either entered or left the house.


I'll put aside how much (or whether) Red contributed to your growth and development, but I didn't take kindly to his chiding me for questioning why you wanted so badly to migrate to the west coast. I then told him you were free to attend a college on the other side of the world if that's what you wanted, but he should also realize that your little dispute with me had shown you were a rank amateur when it came to the fine art of telling a lie.


Soon after that you received your acceptance letter from Stanford. Your triumphant shout seemed to be one you had been saving for years and your leap into the air exceeded any move you ever made either in a dance recital or on the soccer field. Maybe you were entitled to your impromptu dance around the kitchen, but I'm not so sure about the tall, red-headed geeky guy who joined you in exchanging high fives and hip bumps.


I still feel the congratulatory hug I gave you was more appropriate than Red's showmanship since you knew that with your academic record and test scores you were going to be admitted to any college you wanted to attend. I also thought it unnecessary for you to proclaim, somewhat breathlessly, at the end of your dance, that this was the most memorable day of your life—and to stare directly at me when you said so.




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It became clear to me, once you left for Palo Alto, that you had pretty much settled your accounts with Red and me. Your phone calls, brief and sporadic, were laughable since you spent more time telling us you were too busy to call than you did in explaining what kept you so busy. Your emails, also brief and sporadic, were equally amusing. I gathered that somewhere among the dashes and sentence fragments and abbreviations, you seemed to be telling us, again, that you could barely find time to write us, but I confess that I could barely decode what you were trying to say, which may have been your intent all along.


Your best move, though, was getting that summer job as a research assistant to the busiest, most prolific member of the Stanford economics department and then to make yourself so indispensable to him (or so, you claimed) that your few visits home were always quite brief. And how clever, too, after graduation to parlay your student job into a similar position at that large bank in San Francisco. I've always wondered, however, if everyone in San Francisco who worked in banking put in 12 to 14 hours a day and rarely took time off.


All this would have been easier for me to accept if I were more like Red, whose relationship with you was not unlike that he has always had with his graduate assistants. He is genial and good natured with them, of course, but he knows that a day will come when they will be moving on. I didn't find it as easy to accept the notion that you "graduated" from us when you left for Stanford. I even came to feel that your move to the west coast as the grown-up version of your squirming away when I tried to give you a real and meaningful hug.


I've appreciated, nevertheless, the tidbits of news that you gave us about your life in San Francisco, although you made me feel as if I had strapped you to a lie detector the few times I dared ask whether the "friend" you attended a concert or play with was a male or female. I understand, as you have pointed out to me, how difficult it is to find an interesting, half-way attractive unmarried, heterosexual male. That's why I complied with your request to stop asking if you were dating anyone. But none of that was enough to satisfy you. No, you still felt the need, my little Garbo, for one grand gesture that would finally teach me to "leave you alone."


It began when you didn't call or write for three weeks because you were in the middle of preparing a presentation you were asked to make at a a banking conference. I assumed that you were likewise engaged when shortly after that another three weeks passed by without hearing from you. Then, because Red had a speaking engagement in San Francisco, and both of you got together for lunch, he was able to tell me that your presentation went so well you had received both a promotion and a raise.


It appeared, then, that you were engaged in a similar project when another two weeks passed by in which my phone calls and emails went unanswered. But that was before my chance meeting with Louise Bonham in the checkout line at Stop and Shop. Even though Louise was two lanes over from me, and even though it was 6 o'clock in the evening and the place was a madhouse, I had no trouble hearing her when she yelled over to me, asking me how you liked your new job.


I pretended for a moment to be distracted with taking some groceries from my cart, but I already felt the tingling along my scalp that presages a flushing of my face. Remarkably enough, however, I seemed quite in control of myself a few seconds later when I said, "Oh, I can't say just yet because she doesn't start until next week."


Then, continuing in that same vein, I said, "What's so extraordinary was that this firm, came courting her, and quite aggressively, too, from what I can gather. And that prompted a counteroffer from her current employer. Imagine that—at her age, having two employers fighting over you. Apparently they've discovered what the rest of us have known all along—Lihua is any employer's dream."?


"That she is," said Louise Bonham. "My congratulations to her—and to you and Red also."


How's that for quick thinking? Maybe Louise might have been able to disprove everything I had just said, but she had paid her bill by then and was already picking up her groceries, and since I had yet to have my goods tallied, she left the store before I did. That was fortunate since I don't know how I could have continued to discuss with her something about which I was totally ignorant.


An hour later, when I finally reached you, I wanted to give you some tips on how to fabricate a lie on the spot, as I had done with Louise. Such a lesson might have come in handy for someone like you because you were hardly convincing when you told me that you were too busy wrapping up things at your current job to tell us about your new position. It was good of you to admit, however, that you did find time to discuss your future plans with your friend from high school, Henry Bonham, who is as big a gossip monger as his mother.


I can understand that you were uncertain about whether you wanted to leave banking to join a management consultant firm. But did you really think I would believe you when you said that you hadn't yet told us about your new position because of your superstition that job offers and romances and future plans in general tend to fall apart if they become known prematurely?


My apologies, however, for my little outburst while you were still in the middle of trying to explain why you "forgot" to keep me up to date on what's happening in your life. It would have been wiser, too, I think, for me to delay calling you until I had a chance to talk with Red.


Well, not long after our less than satisfactory phone call, I did talk with Red. Of that conversation, I can only say that Red was not as understanding as I wanted him to be. He had been in Washington that day and didn't get back until almost ten o'clock that night, which was fortunate because I had calmed down enough by then to tell him, in dead-pan fashion, that you would be starting a new job and that you would be earning more money and have a better chance for advancement. I was not as composed when telling him that I heard about your new job from Louise Bonham.


I'm afraid I raised my voice when I said Louise's name, but I was trying to convey to Red what it was like to get news about you from a woman whose appetite for gossip reminds me of a puppy lingering under the dinner table, ready to pounce on any stray crumb.


"Think for a moment," I told Red, "what might have happened if I had said to Louise, 'What new job?'"


Can you imagine, I told him, the innuendo Louise would have squeezed out of that reply when she was telling the rest of Chestnut Hill how Julia Halloran had no idea what was going on in Lihua's career. No, I told Red, this incident with Louise was not an accident.


Red then gave me what I call his "befuddled academic" look, which meant he was not at all befuddled, but felt that he might sound more thoughtful if he waited a very long moment before he said anything. Or maybe he was truly absorbed in thumbing through that day's mail, consisting, as it usually did, of fund-raising appeals and sales catalogs, but then, after tossing the mail aside, he said it was a good thing for you to move into a more challenging postion.


"Didn't you hear what I just said?" I told him. "Don't you care that only a few hours ago I came close to being very embarrassed in a very public place?"?


"Yes, Lihua was tardy in letting us know about her new job," Red said, "but that isn't exactly a capital offense."?


Context, my friend, context, I told him. I then tried to make him understand that you were being much too clever, or maybe not clever enough, when you said you had put off telling us about your job offer because you were afraid that talking about it might cause it to fall through. Wasn't he as offended as I was, I asked, that you would resort to such a lame excuse in an attempt to mollify me? Rather than answer, Red went into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of wine.


When he returned, I asked him the question I had been waiting to pose since he had walked in the door. Had you told him anything about taking a new job when both of you had lunch together only a few weeks before?


"Not a word," he said, instantly raising his right hand, palm outward, as if he was ready to swear an oath. "Mostly, I urged her once again to go to grad school. Otherwise, I told her, she was always going to be the hard-working assistant who makes higher-ups look good. But she's convinced that she'll end up sitting in the CEO's chair because she works longer and harder than everyone else."


"You know what drives me batty?" I told him. "It's that little grin on the faces of our friends and neighbors when they ask about her. 'It's been so long since we've seen Lihau,' they say. Grin, grin. Why don't they just ask us why she all but disappeared once she went off to college?"


"I wouldn't worry about what our neighbors think," Red said. "Everyone knows that we gave Lihua a first-rate upbringing. But look, she's on her own now. She's under no obligation to keep us up to date on her daily activities or even to alert us before anyone else when she's about to take a new job."


"On her own, yes," I said, "but today was pure Lihua. First she keeps a vital piece of information from us. But then she doles it out to someone who's certain to broadcast the news before we learn about it ourselves. That, my friend, doesn't just happen, not with someone who is as attentive to detail as Lihua."


"You really believe that?"


"Until proven otherwise, yes."


Red's reply consisted of raised eyebrows and his announcement that he was too tired to dissuade me from thinking you had made a conscious attempt to embarrass me. A moment later, after finishing off his glass of wine, he said, "First thing tomorrow you should call Lihua and ask her for an apology. She owes you one. It's also a good idea, generally speaking, to air grievances rather than let them fester."


"Apologies you have to ask for aren't worth a damn," I said. By then I knew that I was too upset to fall asleep so I spent the next hour or so watching a mindless movie on television.


In the morning, after a breakfast in which neither of us said a word, Red, with much throat clearing, finally admitted that, yes, you had told him you were about to change jobs, but he got the impression that you might yet change your mind. That's why, he argued, he didn't think that he was hiding anything from me when you asked him to say nothing to me about your new job.


What is it they say about law school—that it's where you learn it isn't lying if you've found a clever way around telling the truth?




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About six months ago, it seemed for a brief time as if Red and I might be moving to the west coast. Red had begun talking to two law schools in California about spending a semester or two as a visiting professor. That would give us some idea, presumably, as to whether we could accommodate ourselves to year-round sunshine. But then the dean of the BC Law School announced his retirement and Red decided that it would be too unsettling to the school if he were to leave while it was going through a change in leadership.


Translation: Red didn't want to miss out on the chance to serve on the search committee choosing the next dean. Why Red cares so much about who sits in the dean's chair puzzles me since he's the one who more or less runs the place.


Further translation: It will take a nuclear explosion to dislodge Red from BC. Good God, moving might force him to sort through his papers and maybe discard some of the drafts of drafts he insists on saving. Did you know that Red wants all his papers—and by that, I mean, every last scrap of paper in his study, which now spreads through three rooms of this house, to be boxed up and sent off to the BC archives after he dies?


That reminds me. I've been meaning to tell you what this year's student handbook at BC had to say about Red. It read as follows: WARNING! Do not, if you value life and limb, ever stand between the esteemed William J. Leighton Professor of Constitutional Law, Lawrence "Red" Halloran, and a television camera. Professor Halloran has been known to exercise the same discretion and restraint of a male elephant in heat if he so much as sniffs the presence of a television camera (or radio microphone or news person with an open notebook) anywhere within a hundred yards of his presence.


Wasn't that a clever way of describing Red?


I could wait, of course, for Red to change his mind about a move westward, but I'm quite capable of making a decision without waiting for his say so. Better still, I rather enjoy thinking about the rumors and gossip I'm bound to stir up with my departure.


I expect that every Halloran, for instance, down to the last third cousin twice removed, will immediately declare Red to be a blameless victim. I'm guessing that other of Red's sympathizers will also begin whispering about certain changes they've noticed in my behavior recently. I anticipate some of these people will even talk of how I seem to have become unhinged and I can even imagine whispers about the onset of dementia.


All this puzzlement will undoubtedly lead to other questions about the real cause for my action. Then, somewhat haltingly, various half-baked hypotheses will be put forward and chewed over. How long, I wonder, before the first person will declare that he/she never did believe my upbeat disposition was genuine.


It is all but certain that this kind of jibber-jabber will reach a point where there is much speculation about the state of the Halloran marriage and then, inevitably, questions about alleged infidelity, either on my part or Red's. That would be unfortunate since I have every reason to think that Red has been as faithful to me as I've been to him. (Can anyone, by the way, really conceive of someone who barely find time to tend to one marriage, trying to squeeze an extramarital affair into his busy schedule?)


I'll miss the house I've always loved and the folkways—some charming, others maddening—so prevalent in leafy Chestnut Hill. I have even found myself stopping now and then to take in the view from our living room of that little wooded area at the end of our cul-de-sac. I've often amused myself by thinking of the half-dozen birch trees there as overdressed party guests who didn't realize that the event they were attending was being hosted by more staid, more suitably attired maple trees.


In the middle of packing, I decided to tuck in among my clothes certain keepsakes, mostly favorite photos or some piece of jewelry. I included a copy, not the framed original in the master bedroom, of Red and me on our wedding day. I also included that photo of you, 12 years old and in your Girl Scout uniform, carrying the American flag in a Memorial Day parade. That picture is a favorite of mine because you were so proud to have been chosen as the flag bearer for your troop that you had an enormous smile on your face.


The question that looms over my departure is somewhat similar to the one I struggled with when Red was being so pig-headed about adoption, namely, where do I want to live. My options, thankfully, are not much limited by financial considerations since the trustees at Bramwell are showing their appreciation for my many years of service by providing me with a generous retirement package.


I'm free, in short, to create a new life for myself, but I'm not sure how much newness I want. New Zealand was one option that came to mind, but that's farther away than I want to go and more cut off than I want to be. I'm not too keen, either, on putting myself in one of those retirement communities that make a fetish out of providing you with more activities and events on any given day than anyone has time for over the course of a month.


I toyed briefly with the idea of relocating to San Francisco, and more for amusement's sake than anything else, I looked into renting an apartment in the building where you live. Oh, wouldn't you be surprised if one day you opened your door to find that I was your new neighbor. But I passed on that idea out of my consideration for Louise Bonham. Her brain would have exploded if she learned that I had abandoned my comfortable house in Chestnut Hill to live in an apartment down the hall from you.


Since I've come to no decision, then, I may just do a lot of moving here and there until I find a locale and setting that appeals to me. Please understand, where I live has no bearing on the issue you raised in your one-line email to me. Hence, here for the record is my shorter reply to you: NO, I'M NOT INCLINED TO LEAVE YOU ALONE, NOT EVER, NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.


 End of Story