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Adventures in Dissociation
By Jane Meredith Adams

This was the era of the exploding Ford Pinto and it made sense to me that one minute you were driving a cute little Pinto and the next you were sitting in a death trap. The person Nancy replaced me with wasn't a girl, which was lucky because I would have had to kill her, slowly. My replacement was a grown man named Mr. Ramsey, our high school math teacher and the coach of the girls' basketball team. I hadn't paid attention to a bald, thirty-four-year-old man driving a large green Pontiac and wearing black nerd glasses. He was so old it never occurred to me that he was a living person who might be looking for a date after basketball practice.

"I went to his house," Nancy said as she drove me home one day. I was the only one who knew, a privilege. I scooched my feet up on the dashboard.

"His house?" I asked. "Why would you go to his house?"

"He made dinner for me," she said.

Did her father know about this? At least I was age appropriate.

"He wants me to give him a full-body massage," Nancy said. I left my body entirely.

College weekends brought the three of us together again. On Saturdays, Mr. Ramsey and Nancy walked the leafy paths that criss-crossed the campus, looking like a cordial father and adorable daughter, while I watched them from my dorm window like a sniper. When Nancy complained to Mr. Ramsey that I'd called her, crying, he sent me a letter in an envelope sealed with a sticker from the magazine Psychology Today. Meaning what? "Friendships change," he wrote in a neat, prissy script. "To everything there is a season."

She married him. About ten years after high school, my mother spotted the write-up in the Darien News. I felt like one of those women who discover that her husband has three different families around the world. This is not the person I knew. Nancy had been subjected to Mr. Ramsey's green Pontiac and platitudes for so long I didn't rule out Stockholm Syndrome. Eight months later, my mother phoned with another item from the News: Mr. Ramsey was dead from cancer. This I could understand. The guy was a thousand years old. The wedding had been a mercy marriage, a gesture of pity.

It ought to be difficult to get in touch with someone from high school after twenty-nine years. It ought to involve a screening device with a recording that says, Have a piece of chocolate and lie down until the urge passes. I had a lot to ask her. Was she a lesbian? What did her father say that made her break up with me? Did she ever have to drive Mr. Ramsey's green Pontiac?

I was living in California by then and she was a doctor in Massachusetts, but just like that, her voice was in my ear. "Wow," she said. "How are you?" My heart leapt: she still cared.

When I told her I had two kids, she said, "Wow" again, and asked if they played field hockey. We'll always have field hockey, I thought. Maybe we could all get together.

"I'm getting ready for work," she said. At eleven o'clock in the morning? She clanged pots around, making lunch. In a distant part of my brain, I noted that she hadn't asked for details about my kids or my job or my life. I hadn't told her about my girlfriend or the kids' dad or everything I'd been thinking and feeling about her for twenty-nine years. "Let me get your number," she said. "I'll call you back."

"How's your mom?" I asked.

Nancy's mom was a Darien Katherine Hepburn, all cheekbones and brisk heartiness, carrying a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies across the grass to the field hockey game.

"She can't get out of bed," Nancy said. "She can't feed herself. I moved her up from Connecticut and she's living with me."

I loved the sound of her voice.

She paused. "That's what I'm doing," she said. The statement didn't invite questions.

After a week, I stopped jumping when the phone rang. She was busy, what with all the doctoring and the bed-ridden mom in the back room. After a month, I thought, it's not her, it's me. I'm an idiot.

Crime solving is a business of hunches. You make one guess and then another, until you have a theory and the mystery unravels. You can't get anywhere unless you pay attention to the clues. As it turns out, it's possible to devote an inordinate amount of brain capacity to ignoring the evidence. The mugger wasn't going to hurt me, my mother wasn't capable of taking the cat -- my cat -- to the pound without talking to me about it, my girlfriend wasn't too scared to tell her father to bug off.

Because they're smarter than Inspector Clouseau, my eight-year-old twins love to watch The Pink Panther. They see trouble coming, the moment when the detective is about to slip off the grass and fall into the lake. I see a detective who's as bad as I am; a fool, stumbling, shambling, toward the truth.

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