Excerpt from Long Time No See
On an unseasonably warm Halloween night, while I was reading a snappy treatise on Wendell Willkie’s support of FDR’s war policies and handing out the occasional bag of M&M’s to a trick-or-treater, the fair-haired and dimpled Courtney Logan, age thirty-four, magna cum laude graduate of Princeton, erstwhile investment banker at Patton Giddings, wife of darkly handsome Greg, mother of five-year-old Morgan and eighteen-month-old Travis, canner of peach salsa, collector of vintage petit point, and ex-president of Citizens for a More Beautiful Shorehaven vanished from Long Island into thin air.
Odd. Upper-middle-class suburban women with Rolexes and biweekly lip-waxing appointments tend not to disappear. Though I had never met her, Courtney sounded especially solid. Less than a year before, there had been a page one feature in the local paper about her new business. StarBaby produced videos of baby’s first year. “I thought it would succeed because I knew in my heart of hearts there were thousands just like me!” Courtney was quoted as saying. “It all started when Greg and I were watching a video we’d made of Morgan, our oldest. Fifteen minutes of Morgan staring at the mobile in her crib! A beautiful, intelligent stare, but still… After that, another fifteen of her sucking her thumb! Not much else. Suddenly it hit me that we’d never taken out the videocam for Travis, our second, until he was six months old!” (I’ve never been able to understand this generation’s infatuation for using last names as first names. Admittedly it’s a certain kind of name: you don’t see little Greenberg Johnsons gadding about in sailor suits.) Anyhow, Courtney went on: “I was so sad. And guilty! Look what we’d missed! That’s when I thought, it would be so great if a professional filmmaker could have shown up once a month and made a movie starring my son!”
Though not unmindful of the Shorehaven Beacon’s aggressively perky style, I sensed Courtney Bryce Logan was responsible for at least half those exclamation points. Clearly, she was one of those incorrigibly upbeat women I have never been able to comprehend, much less be. She’d left a thrilling, high-powered job in Manhattan. She’d traded in her brainy and hip investment-banking colleagues for two tiny people bent on exploring the wonders inside their nostrils. And? Did even a single tear of regret slide down her cheek as she watched her children watching Sesame Street? Was there the slightest lump in her throat as the 8:11, packed with her Dana Buchman suited contemporaries, chugged off to the city? Nope. Apparently, for can-do dames like Courtney, being a full-time mom was full-time bliss. Ambivalence? Please! Retirement was merely a segue into a new career, motherhood, another chance to strut their stuff.
However, what I liked about her was that she spoke about Shorehaven not just with affection but with appreciation, with familiarity with its history. Well, all right, with its myths. She mentioned to the reporter that one of the scenic backgrounds StarBaby used was our town dock. She said: “Walt Whitman actually wrote his two-line poem ‘To You’ right there!” In truth, Courtney was just perpetuating a particularly dopey local folktale, but I felt grateful to her for having considered our town (and our Island-born poet) important.
I think I even said to myself, Gee, I should get to know her. Well, I’m a historian. I have inordinate warmth for anyone who invokes the past in public. My working hours are spent at St. Elizabeth’s College, mostly squandered in history department shriek-fests. I am an adjunct professor at this alleged institution of higher learning, a formerly all-female, formerly nun-run, formerly first-rate school across the county border in the New York City borough of Queens. Anyhow, for two and a half seconds I considered giving Courtney a call and saying hi. Or even Hi! My name is Judith Singer and let’s have lunch. But like most of those assertive notions, it was gone by the end of the next heartbeat.
Speaking of heartbeats … Before I get into Courtney Logan’s stunning disappearance and the criminal doings surrounding it, I suppose a few words about my situation wouldn’t hurt. I am what the French call une femme d’un certain age. In my case, the age is fifty-four, a fact that usually fills me with disbelief, to say nothing of outrage. Nonetheless, although I still have the smooth olive skin, dark hair, and almond-shaped eyes of a mature extra in a Fellini movie, my dewy days are over. My children are in their twenties. Kate is a lawyer, an associate in the corporate department of Johnson, Bonadies and Eagle, a Wall Street firm whose founding partners drafted the boilerplate of the restrictive covenants designed to keep my grandparents out of their neighborhoods. Joey works in the kitchen of an upscale Italian deli in Greenwich Village making overpriced mozzarella cheese; he is also film critic for a surprisingly intelligent, near-insolvent Web ‘zine called night.
As for me, I have been a widow for two years. My husband, Bob, the king of crudités, flat of belly and firm of thigh, a man given to barely suppressed sighs of disappointment whenever he saw me accepting a dessert menu from a waiter (which, okay, I admit I never declined), died at age fifty-five, one-half day after triumphantly finishing the New York Marathon in four hours and twelve minutes. One minute he was squeezing my hand in the emergency room, a reassuring pressure, but I could see the fear in his eyes. As I squeezed back, he slipped away. Just like that. Gone, before I could say, Don’t worry, Bob, you’ll be fine. Or, I love you, Bob.
Except when the love of your life actually isn’t the love of your life, the loss still winds up being devastating. Golden memories? No, only vague recollections of passionate graduate-school discussions and newlywed lovemaking fierce enough to pull the fitted sheet off the bed. Except those times had blurred in direct proportion to the length of the marriage, and after more than a quarter century together, Bob and I had wound up with sporadic pleasant chats and twice-a-month sex that fit neatly between the weather forecast and the opening credits of Nightline…