Meg found it hard to believe that at this time only last year, she was happily married to pharmaceutical giant Stephen Altman, living the blissful Greenwich, Connecticut, life in her palatial suburban home, lunching with various neighbors, and going back-to-school-shopping with her daughter, Sarah.
Of course, living in Manhattan would mean doing all these things, in time, but in an entirely different way.
And while life in suburban Connecticut was in many ways idyllic, Meg was looking forward to getting away. She needed to get away. She craved a fresh start. She was starting to resent the pitying looks of women acquaintances who knew her situation, but not nearly as much as she resented the venomous revenge fantasies of the other recently jilted middle-aged housewives, whose husbands had left for greener pastures, or for women whose breasts didn't yet understand gravity. While she appreciated their support, after a while it just became exhausting to be expected to rehash the events of the breakup every time she saw these friends.
It wasn't as if Stephen had always been a bad man. In fact, he was the last person she had ever expected would run out on her -- and take up with a twenty-something supermodel. Steve had always been the type to prefer the mousy, bookworm type, which is exactly the type Meg had been when they met in college.
She was busy poring over art history books in the library, cramming for her Masters of the Renaissance midterm, when he bounded in with a few of his fraternity brothers. She hated the type, and only looked up for a moment to shoot the boisterous group a look fit to kill. She hadn't even noticed him. But he noticed her. And for the next three months, he pursued her relentlessly until she finally gave in and agreed to a date. He was immediately smitten; she warmed up to him over the course of a couple of years. And a year after graduation, she married him. She still wasn't convinced that she had done the right thing, even as she stood at the altar prepared to say "I do," but he was a good man. Dedicated to her. Devoted to making the relationship work. And like anything else that Meg did, she threw everything she had into this life. She would make it work. She was determined to make it the best marriage that had ever existed.
For the next twelve years, she put her career on hold to help him further his; devoted herself to her marriage and to raising the best product of it, their daughter Sarah. She had wanted more children, but he was satisfied with "his two girls." Was this a clue that she had somehow managed to miss? As she mulled over the failure of their marriage, she wondered if his not wanting a second child was a sign that he had already begun to cool on their relationship.
And now she was moving to Manhattan, a place she had never dreamed she would live, mostly because of her deep-seated fear of confined, enclosed spaces. She much preferred the wide expanses of yards and spread-apart houses where there was enough air for everyone to breathe. But Manhattan, with its tall buildings and congestion, people within inches of each other, cars and noise everywhere, frightened her. Every time she thought of leaving Greenwich her stomach knotted with terror. But she had decided it was time to quash the fear that always governed her every action and to take her life back.
A large part of the reconstruction of Meg Altman involved getting a Master's degree in Art History. She had applied to Columbia nine months earlier on a whim, before she was aware that her life with Stephen was about to end. But when she was accepted, she took it as a sign that she had instinctively made the right move, that graduate school was ordained. It was high time to do something for herself for once.
Sarah wasn't happy with the move. She wanted to stay with her friends, at her school, and even though she accepted that it was her father's fault that things were changing, at ten she had already begun to question her mother and all that she stood for. She had begun to cast a critical eye on everything her mother said and did and was not shy about expressing herself. She was turning from girl to woman far too early. Meg tried to accept the changes in Sarah with grace and a measure of patience; she had always known her daughter to be years ahead of her actual age. She was never a baby; the cute doll phase simply passed her by. She talked in full sentences before her first birthday. She already knew things a ten-year-old could not possibly know. Meg wanted to blame it on the generation -- on TV and movies and the various messages these media fed young minds. But she knew better. Sarah was Sarah, and if she never watched even one hour of TV, she would still be the insightful, perceptive, and wise-before-her time child her mother could not possibly live without. And for these qualities, Meg not only loved her daughter but truly admired her.
Meg was still very much the mother, though. She was still in charge and she was primed and ready for a change. One thing she knew for certain: she needed to be around a different class of women -- women who didn't define themselves by their homes and their children's accomplishments, and their husbands' achievements. She wanted to be around women who made it happen for themselves: women not afraid of plain speech and power.
That was what had attracted her to the realtor she was working with in the agonizingly slow process of finding a new home. She had called around and interviewed many agents. But when she got Lydia Truman on the phone with her sassy, take-no-prisoners attitude, Meg knew that this was a woman who was going to help her take the first step in making her life happen.
Lydia had made a great career for herself selling real estate in New York City. Married and divorced twice, she was not one to define herself through the successes and failures of her husband. Her identity was all her own, and to make sure this was understood by family, friends, and professional acquaintances she had insisted on keeping her surname. Lydia had a boundless energy and a zest for living that Meg so desperately craved at this point in her life, though she knew that spending too much time with Lydia would exhaust all possible energy reserves -- both emotionally and physically. Like right now.
Lydia vaulted ahead of Meg and Sarah, on a clear and cloudless day in early September, taking wide, determined strides and talking in a husky, tobacco-laced voice as she read from a Post-it note stuck to her right index finger.
"Forty-two hundred square feet, four floors -- absolutely ideal. Listen to this: courtyard in back, south-facing garden. Perfect. This is absolutely -- "
Meg, struggling to stay abreast, yelled to Sarah, who was gliding down the sidewalk on a Razor scooter, one of Stephen's many recent guilt gifts to his daughter. His largesse was just another way to make Meg crazy and feel completely alone and inadequate in child-raising. "Honey, don't you go near that curb, you hear me?"
"Yeah, yeah. Loud and clear, Ma."
Sarah weaved in and out between the two women and was doing loops right to the edge of the curb. She flashed her mother a wide smile, composed in equal parts of mischief and keen intelligence. She was tall and skinny, and her energy could barely be contained.
Meg said to the real estate agent, "Why don't we grab a cab? We've got ten blocks to go and we're late."
"No, no. We'll be sitting in traffic forever. And I know those people from Douglas Elliman. One minute late, they swoop down and it's off the market."
"You're just trying to scare me, Lydia," Meg said with a grin. "My new life philosophy is, if it's gone, it's gone. Things have a way of working out. Life happens -- you can't force it. Can I at least see the listing sheet?"
Ignoring Meg's last question and sneaking