Jeff, who knew a bit about Peter (though I believe I spared him the foot notes), invented his own nonsensical scenario for the break-up, as he emailed to me:
Act II, Scene 1: A rejuvenated Jeff leaps up from the hospital bed, throws away his crutches, rips out the IV needles, and hollers: “Where is my woman!” The terrified nurse whimpers, “She’s…she’s at the movies with somebody named Peter.”
Cut to Scene 2: A little multi-screen horror in the West Village. Accompanied by pestilential Yugoslavian babble on the screen, a fellow in the audience is sniffling. Ann is rubbing her eyes, and all our playgoers can plainly see she is thinking: “I can’t deal with this!” We leave her on the trembling brink of trying to decide to give this guy one last tumble, compassionate person that she is.
Scene 3: In front of the theater after the movie. Peter is clutching Ann’s sleeve and she is giving him ambiguous sidelong glances, which could be interpreted as murderous annoyance, pity, or nostalgia. She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B. Suddenly a tall craggy fellow appears from out of the night, wearing a ten-gallon hat. “Unhand her, you fiend!” he hisses, then mutters, “Whoops—wrong play. I mean, Reach for the sky, you ornery polecat.”
“Christ,” mutters Peter. “He does look like Gary Cooper.” But by this time, Ann has caught a taxi and moved to Philadelphia.
Of course, the split did not happen like that at all. Back in New York, I called Peter and calmly announced, “I am breaking up with you. We can do this one of three ways: discuss it over the phone, go out to dinner, or meet up at your place.” He wanted to have a last dinner at his apartment, and I have no memory of what he cooked, but it was probably accompanied by copious amounts of wine. I told him all about Jeff, I told him about my plans to move to Vashon Island. He did not seem all that surprised, given my frequent absence both emotional and physical during the last few months. But he cried copious tears (and I reminded myself firmly, Oh, come on, he’s an actor!) and we did have “compassionate” break-up sex. He wanted us not to be like other busted couples, who abruptly cut off all communication; he wanted to keep in touch. When I got my latest issue of New York magazine, I happened to notice that he’d wasted no time posting another personals ad, with the same wording as his original three years earlier.
From what I recall of our email exchanges, he found a lovely woman, adopted two cats, and as of Facebook in 2013 (his last posts), was still acting, and still with Susan. Good for him!
Finding a house on Vashon was accomplished with equal ease. After looking at several rentals, we settled on an oversized waterfront cottage of an indeterminate architectural style, sort of a mash-up of New England cape and two-story colonial. It was a crookedly appealing place, painted a weathered gray on the outside with dark-red shutters and door frames. There were three bedrooms upstairs and a large master bedroom, with views of the water, on the ground floor. Most of the rooms were painted different colors, and the carpeting was mismatched throughout, with even the kitchen floor carpeted in a pattern resembling fake geometric tiles. I supplied all the financials—the credit information and security and one month’s rent on a one-year lease at about $1200 a month, which seemed obscenely cheap to a New Yorker. And then I returned to Manhattan to pack up all my worldly goods, including the cat, and say good-bye to a few friends. Who probably thought I was out of my mind. And possibly I was—brimming with love, floating on hope.
Jeff was thoroughly agreeable in letting me take over the interior décor, even accompanying me to a local upholstery store to have a pair of wingback chairs slipcovered in a beige and cream checked fabric. I took the ferry to Tacoma, where I bought a cream-colored sofa for the living room and furniture and bedding for the girls’ room. From Restoration Hardware in Seattle, I acquired a Mission-style wood and leather recliner for Jeff, who joked: “It’s a shame a woman reaches her sexual peak at just about the time a man discovers he has a favorite chair.” I was in a frenzy of Martha Stewart domesticity, plunking down plastic with wild abandon, barking orders at home for how to position the furniture.
At night we slept in my king-size bed, nestled in a dark-green duvet, and wakened to the waters of the Puget Sound sparkling beyond. The only note of discord in those first few days was some friction between Sherman and Sam, with the cat claiming the safety of the bedroom at night and the dog whimpering beyond the closed door.
We settled easily into domesticity, Jeff taking on the “boy jobs,” while I took charge of cooking, picture hanging, and window treatments. I remember watching him as he expertly pieced together a TV armoire, screws between pursed lips, studying the directions as if they were lost documents from another civilization. I remember the way he tenderly watched Sherman navigate a ripe-smelling spot around a madrona tree in the yard—“I just wanted to see how he would respond to vegetation in the Northwest,” said Jeff. We smooched and bantered and boffed in broad daylight. My heart was so full I did believe it could explode from the weight of unaccustomed happiness.
Somehow in this period, November and December of 1997, I drove back and forth to Portland in a rental car to do the radio show, parts of which now included my discovery of a gay male decorator trapped inside the body of a middle-aged woman. Possibly politically incorrect, but to us screamingly funny. We also invented a new character, Dr. Truth, who was available to offer equally un-pc therapeutic advice.
The girls, when they first visited, seemed overjoyed at the room I had fixed up for them. The carpeting was a strange cough-syrup red, but I covered the beds in quilted off-white spreads and hung lacy curtains at the window, which overlooked a neighbor’s apple orchard and would be a riot of blossoms in the spring. That first night, en famille, presented a few awkward moments. Katie, the younger one, immediately dived onto the brand-new couch to wrestle with Sam, who had already been firmly dissuaded from occupying any of the furniture. Kim disdained my offer of a cardigan to wear in the chilly house (she preferred one of Jeff’s moth-eaten pullovers). And both turned up their noses at my cooking, which I seem to recall was a Moroccan chicken stew, probably not the best choice for teenage appetites.
Then, that night, they thundered up and down the upstairs hallway till around two in the morning, giggling and shrieking, as Jeff snored peacefully and I lay rigid with terror. In the morning, their room was a mess of empty Diet Coke cans and candy wrappers. So no wonder they were overcaffeinated little fiends from hell.
It was their first night with us. Surely they would calm down. And we would all be one big happy ever-so-slightly dysfunctional family.
Top: I’m guessing that Thomas Gainsborough’s daughters, whom he painted in 1760, were better behaved than Kim and Katie. At least they could sit still for portraits.