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  • Exuberance Is Beauty is the first novel in a 5 Book epic series of one family's story of trauma and obsession. 

Original Novel - Chapter 1

June 1945


The car ride was somber. What else could it be? The world seemed large and I was drifting away from it. As much as I feared and grieved, I wondered how it was that I'd never before considered the fact that I could just leave. I must have seemed pleasingly simple to Jeff Lambert, living my life in Sellwood without a thought of any other way. Jeff. He had once told me about a poet, William Blake, and his songs of innocence and experience. "Ignorant Bliss," he had explained "It's naiveté, a little prison of complacency. Experience is much more painful," he'd told me, "but it's authentic."

It seemed most of the trip was through thick forests. Harry's car bumped along every mile encouraging the worst kind of morning sickness. The four-hour ride was interminable. At least there was Carmen, gossiping and joking. She couldn't have known that it hurt me to hear. I would no longer be in that orbit. I would no longer roll my eyes at Kitty's insinuations about some poor, unsuspecting soul. Even my memories of Nick were boxed up, in the trunk of the car. Despite my will, my thoughts of Jeff Lambert were ever present. I'd shoo them away and they'd return and linger. These were not the dreams of love, that ignorant bliss I had for those months. Instead, these were thoughts of truth, seeping in. His eyes on that last day. "All right then, I'll let you go. I can see you have things to do." No emotion. No apology.

"Here have something to eat darling, it will help your morning sickness." Carmen offered a small cookie. She looked into my eyes. I'd known her all my life and as I reached over the seat for the cookie I examined her in a new way. I knew all of her, her bright emerald eyes, her red painted nails. I was loosing her too. My eyes welled up.

"Oh sweetheart, don't cry. This is only temporary. Tell her she'll be back, Harry."

In his usual manner Harry nodded but kept his eyes on the road.

"Oh Harry, come on that's hardly assurance!"

Harry's eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. "You'll be all right Evie."

I put the cookie on my lap and put my face in my hands and started crying.

"Eve, you're going to get chocolate chips on your dress." I looked up at her, picked up the treat and put it on the seat beside me.

"Harry pull over. I'm going in back with Evie."

Harry pulled the car to the side of the road. When Carmen opened the door, there was a pungent earthy smell. The weather was drizzly and wet. It was cold, as it can be in Portland early summer. Carmen got out of the car and maneuvered herself into the back. She picked up the cookie I'd left beside me.

"Here Harry, put this in the bag." She handed it to him and moved closer to me. She put her arm around me and I placed my head on her shoulder and cried. Harry started up the car and we were on our way again. Carmen remained close beside me. What would I have done without her?

She whispered to me, "This could turn out to be wonderful for you Eve."

I dried my tears, "I don't think so."

"You told me yourself you were a little excited about the baby. Harry's sister is wonderful. I wouldn't say that if it weren't true."

"I believe you."

"I know it seems as though you've given up everything, but really you haven't. You just have to have the baby."

We sat quietly for a time and I moved closer to the window and watched the miles pass. The muted colors made me think of Jeff's paintings. All of those pictures of my garden. Of me. Even the one's he had never displayed, the nudes of me. Naked with impressionistic colors swirling around me. The Gardener. He'd sworn he'd never show those to anyone. I remembered his hands on my body and I could even recall what I'd thought back then. In the beginning, I'd told myself, "I deserve this. I deserve a love affair after all I've been through." That selfish thought might have been the opening line to some book. Some story about the wages of deception, selfishness. Once I'd let him in, he moved around my home --my life-- as if he were entitled to whatever he wanted.

As we drove on and passed little country stores here and there, my mind returned to so many of those moments. Just as we neared Bend, my thoughts got stuck in one point in time. The art museum. The day I told him I was pregnant. How could a man who'd professed so much love for me, be so full of hatred? Carmen had said no, "not hatred. Fear. He's afraid of losing his job, his family." But she was wrong. I didn't believe he ever thought he would lose. He seemed full of revenge over the idea that I would challenge him. All those times, he'd asked me to confess that I belonged to him. To me it was love. Of course, one belongs to someone they love. But, looking back I didn't think that was what he meant. He'd said that because I was his muse and had been a source of inspiration. I had to remain that girl. The one who was so sad. The one who was so vulnerable. But things changed. I became pregnant I was different. I believed he hated me after that. Even that very morning we left for Bend, why would he have passed by my house? Why was he walking down my street? He added further insult to stop and try to small talk. He knew I was leaving. I was preparing my garden for my departure. A futile task, more of a ritual than anything else. I loved my gardens and I thought I could prune the roses, fertilize, tie back the jasmine. Somehow it would all be protected while I was away. I cried as the shears sliced through the hardening bark and then the tender flesh of the vines. I'd looked up to see him there. Why? He had already boldly proclaimed he wanted nothing to do with the baby or me. After all the things he'd said to me, why would he come by to make small talk just hours before I left Sellwood for good? Only a few sentences between us.

"I heard you were moving. I wanted to say goodbye."

"Goodbye." Had I even looked up at him, or just continued to prune as if he were a menacing insect, nothing more?

The familiar softness in his voice "Eve, I want you to be happy. Honestly."

Then, I did look at him; the sun bleaching out his features. To me he was a silhouette of a professor, the brim of his hat shadowing his face so I couldn't make out his expression. "Are you happy?" I'd asked. I didn't whisper or defer to him as he might have expected. No. Instead, I'd held his gaze. I was sure it had never crossed his mind that we were equal. That I had a life and a human substance with just as much value as his. I was sure it hadn't occurred to him that I had resources both financially and psychologically. I wasn't what he said I was. Although, if I'd been honest with myself, I'd have admitted that I pretended to be who he'd wanted. For before I really knew him, his attention was addictive. I had been insatiable. All I'd wanted was him. His tender voice, his promises and adorations flowing into me, infecting my blood. And, his touch. His artist's fingers on my flesh. All of that ended the day in the museum.

Outside my house that last morning in Sellwood, he hadn't answered when I'd asked him if he was happy. Of course, he was happy. Or perhaps, satisfied was the better way to describe it. Content in the belief that he'd taken all of my life. It wasn't enough that he'd possessed me, that I'd surrendered to him. I'd let myself belong to him, but that wasn't enough. I believed he wasn't satisfied until he saw to it that I'd lost everything --my home, all of my friends-- to leave and have his baby. I would spend my life alone while his would uninterrupted. He'd walk freely through the neighborhood, keep his home and family. After I left, he could close the book on our story; place me up on his shelf. Or, at least that's what I'd believed. What else was there for him to take from me?

Perhaps I should have left it at "Are you happy?" Let him shake his head disdainfully and continue on his stroll. But I couldn't. So I called back to him, "Jeff?"

He'd stopped and in that same conciliatory tone, the one he used when I had begged him to stay with me, to take care of me, "Yes Eve. What is it?" Darling. My love. The perfect girl.

That time I wasn't begging. I was cold. I was cutting any remaining tether to him. I was calling him for who he was. It had been a way of diminishing his authority over me. So I delivered the blow, "I was wondering...Have you found a new garden for your sketches?"

His blue eyes flashed a look upon me. I recognized it. Hatred.

When I'd retold it to Carmen's she assumed a look of worry. "Don't be silly darling. He's a coward not a criminal." She was asking me how I could jump to such conclusions.

I awakened to the bumping of the car as it navigated the dirt road to Mary and Frank's house. It seemed as if we were driving deep into the woods, but it was just the slow pace and the starts and stops of the unpaved rocky terrain beneath us. Carmen's arm was still around me. When I woke she pulled away a bit and I sat up.

"I'm glad you got a little rest. Look at how pretty it is here."

"Yes" I smiled. I had to be grateful. If not for Carmen and Harry what would I have done? That Harry would have a sister who would take in a pregnant woman spoke so much about the type of people they were. Carmen had arranged all of it and I'd have done the same for her. We were sisters in everyway except blood.

Harry finally spoke, "they're just up ahead. See the place, Evie?"

I leaned up towards the front and peered out the windshield. "Yes, I see it. It's very pretty." Perhaps pretty wasn't the right word, but I didn't know how to describe it. It was homey but it was hard to take in because a sinking feeling descended upon me. Fear mostly, I also felt relief because the place had a feeling of welcome and it was comforting. The white two-story house sat back on an enormous farm. I could see the cornfields full of bright green stalks. In front of the house were chickens and a good-sized vegetable garden. There were orchards for quite a ways. I began to feel a safety. A place to heal. Perhaps, start a new life. Just as Carmen had said.

"They're good people, Evie." Carmen said. "In fact, I'm a little jealous that you and Mary will have so much time together. It won't take you two but a minute to become best friends. I love her almost as much as I love you!" Carmen's eyes twinkled and I could tell she was telling the truth about her sister in law. "Of course, Frank is like Harry. Doesn't say much, but when he does its-"

"Brilliant. It's just brilliant," Harry interrupted. Their humorous banter only made me cry, this time not hiding the tears with my face in my hands. I wasn't able to control my grief. They were the only family I had left. Carmen's arms were around me again. We pulled into the long dirt drive way and Harry turned the car off.

"Evie, look at me." Harry said softly.

I pulled away from Carmen and she wiped my tears with her small handkerchief. I looked at Harry.

"Do you understand we love you?"

"Of course," I whispered.

"You have my word that I'm going to protect you if it ever comes to that. I am a brother to you. You are part of our family. I'm not going to let anything happen to you. Neither is Carmen."

"That's right, darling." Carmen said.

The inside of the house was just as warm and inviting as the farm. The rooms were light and a slight breeze caught the lace curtains. The way the fabric swayed cast pretty shadows over the furnishings. The inside was clean, with glistening wood floors and woven rugs. As soon as we walked through the front door Mary ran to Carmen and they embraced, laughing the minute they saw each other. Mary's hair was salty brown. She was a pretty woman, even in her early 50's. She must have been stunning when she was younger. She said Frank was out in the fields working but would join us shortly.

"He's working." Mary said rolling her eyes. To me, the farm seemed like it would have been a lot of work, but I would come to know that it was just Mary's way. I'd learn that she was always affectionately teasing Frank, while it was obvious she loved him dearly.

After she'd finished her hello to Carmen, she moved to Harry. She gave him a hug too.

"I missed you Mary," He said.

"Well we're not so far from one another. What's wrong with us? Let's not let a whole year pass again."

I felt insecure and out of place. Why had I decided to come to their home? In my condition? I had some savings, even more than that. I could have gone anywhere, lived on my own. I felt so self-conscious but, not a moment after teasing Harry, Mary walked over to me. She stood in front of me and her gentle green eyes examined me. "You must be Eve. Hello darling. Thank you for trusting us during such an important time in your life. We are so happy you're here."

"Thank you," I said softly. "I feel as if I'm a terrible imposition."

"You do, do you?" she teased. Then she put her arm around my shoulder and started leading us to the kitchen, "I suppose Carmen didn't tell you I'm in desperate need of a close friend. All I have is Frank and a meddling gaggle of girlfriends-sweet and well intentioned-but no one I can really talk to."

We entered the kitchen and she ushered us around the table and had us sit. She insisted on making us lunch. Sandwiches, canned fruit and lemonade. The kitchen was even more wonderful than what I'd seen of the house so far. It was the homiest place I'd ever been and it brought tears to my eyes. Not tears over losing my own home, the house I I'd grown up in. I held back crying because of the lifetime I'd missed because my mother had died so young and left me alone. My father had always traveled after that. Long stays managing timber production. I had been practically raised by Carmen's parents. Despite how much they loved me, I was an outsider in her boisterous clan. I was secretly lonely as a young girl, even surrounded by such a large family. I was sad that my house had never felt like a home, despite how beautiful it was. After Nick and I were married it seemed for a time that the house finally had a life. We had so much joy there. I also had my gardens. Although I had such sweet memories out in the garden with my mother when I was a child, it was after Nick and I married that I became inspired. Everything was fertile and came to life. I learned all about the flowers and plants; I suppose I'd surpassed my mother's efforts. My gardens had been featured so many times in the Bee. I was asked to chair the garden club and of course, that's what led me to my small business designing floral arrangements. Well, honestly it wasn't such a small business after a while. I had more orders than I could fill.

My house in Sellwood became a tomb again after Nick was killed in the war. It felt like there was no longer any point in trying to go on as things had been. Nick was the only person other than Carmen who had known me almost my whole life; and Nick was the only one in the world to love me in the way that a family does. When I lost him, it sealed the tomb. I crawled inside after the news that he was killed. I'd hardly kept myself alive.

So, I'd only had a family two brief periods in my life. But, Mary and Frank's house-perhaps it was the pregnancy too-it was so filled with a feeling of home. In those first few moments, I could see that it was a place I would want to stay, not just during my pregnancy. I felt I would always be truly welcome.

Their old farmhouse gave the impression that children had worn the wood floors running in and out of the house over the years. I imagined little ones rushing into the kitchen for ice pops or out to the yard, spraying each other with the water hose. That had not been the case. Carmen had told me Mary and Frank never had children. They always missed it. They just couldn't for some reason. It was a shame because their home and the love of Mary were meant for lots and lots of children.

Mary sat across the table from me. Her green eyes grew serious. She was watching at me. She could see I was about to cry.

"Eve, would you like to rest for a while? Or just us girls could go for a walk through the woods?"

"My room would be wonderful. I'm so tired."

"I'm sure you are. Why don't I take you up, you can rest and I'll bring you some supper later? You can meet Frank tomorrow. He'll be so glad you've arrived." She stood up and smiled. "I'm so glad you're here too."

Mine was a nice sized room on the second floor. The lace curtains were open and the breeze blew through them. I could see the orchards through the window, through wavy panes of glass. The rows of trees seemed to go on for miles. I walked over and stared out. "Do you sell the fruit?"

"From the orchards?" Mary asked.

"Yes. Do you harvest it for sale?" I turned to her.

"Of Course. We're farmers. That's how we make a living. We'll harvest the pears and apples in a couple of months. You'll love it; it's a fun time. And in the spring-"

"I imagine spring's beautiful in the orchards. I had a few fruit trees in my garden in Portland. In the spring it was like snowfall, the delicate petals-"

"That's exactly how I describe it too. Isn't that something? It's so peaceful, I think. To walk through the trees when the petals fall. We'll walk together with the baby. Maybe in the mornings?"

I smiled at her. It was hard to believe in a less than six months I'd be a mother. "That sounds perfect. Thank you. Mary."

"So, will this room do?"

It was then that I looked around and noticed the beautiful furnishings. There was an iron bed and quilts covering the mattress, a wooden armoire on one wall. There was a caned rocking chair. I looked to another corner of the room, and there against the wall was a crib. This time, the tears came.

Mary walked over and said softly, "for the baby."

"Of course. Thank you."

"Eve, you and the baby are welcome here. I never had a daughter and certainly no grandchildren. I don't want to impose, but I want you to know that we want you for as long as you want to stay. You'll give as much to us as we give to you. I can promise you that. Please accept this as your home as long as you want or need."

I ran my hands over the wooden crib. "Its beautiful."

"Frank made it for you."

I dried my eyes. "Thank you for being so kind to me."

Mary gently patted me on the back and started for the door. "I'll see you at supper time." She stopped in the doorway and smiled at me. "Eve, Harry and Carmen told us what a wonderful person you are. And, even if they hadn't I'd have realized it the minute I met you."

I smiled at her and turned back towards the window.

"In a little while should I bring something to eat up?"

"Yes, if you wouldn't mind. I would appreciate it. I'd like to rest and stay up here for the night."

Mary left and closed the door. I sat on the bed, afraid to move. Afraid to do anything because I knew when I did, that new life would be permanent. My old one would be over. As kind as Mary was, everything I had was gone. It wasn't regret. How could I regret having a child? I was almost twenty-four, a widow. It was likely I wouldn't have another chance if not then. As I sat on the bed not sure how to feel, the baby moved inside of me. He was like a little snake slithering against the inside of my skin. I loved feeling him. I had a sense in that moment I was going to have a boy. Somehow I knew he was going to be my little Charlie. As afraid as I was, I was selfish too. The more I came to know this person inside of me, the happier I was that Jeff had rejected me so harshly. That wasn't something I would have said two months before. Back in Sellwood, standing in my room, crying, reaching for him, begging him to forgive me for being jealous of his wife. I no longer recognized the girl who would have done that. I had never been that way before Jeff. I vowed never to be that weak and desperate again. I knew I'd always remember his blue eyes, the way they inspected me as I cried. I'd never forget my own pathetic words. "Please Jeff, don't leave me. I don't want anyone else to leave me. I love you. Please. Please stay with me."

He'd always seemed to devour my pleas; they empowered him. On that particular afternoon, he stood buttoning his shirt. "That's not a good idea. Control your emotions."

Carmen always asked me how I could have done what I'd done. She had hated Jeff from the minute she came to my house without notice and found us in the garden. It was one of our first days together. Earlier Jeff had been walking by my house. I had been out in the front yard pruning a large azalea bush. He didn't live far and he stopped to talk when he saw me. He asked me if he could see the gardens he'd heard so much about. At that time he was working on a series of botanical sketches. I had led him back and he asked me questions about the plantings and how I was able to create so many magical rooms, what I loved about being out there so much. In our small Oregon town, he was like a movie star. To me he was so handsome and sophisticated. We talked for a short time. His attention on me was so solitary and intense and I basked in it. At one point we'd stopped and for a moment there wasn't a word between us. It was awkward and I'd felt suddenly conspicuous in my attraction to him. Then he asked if I would do something for him. He said it wouldn't take long. He wanted me to sit on the stone bench under the grape arbor. "Why?" I had asked. I couldn't read his manner. His eyes examined me before he asked, "May I do a quick sketch of you here in your gardens?"

Instead of speaking, I had simply nodded. I walked under the grape arbor and sat.

He was gentle. "Could you remain like that for just a moment?"

The grape canes were still bare. All tangled together they created a canopy that filtered the sunlight. The spring flowers had just come up. Crocuses-daffodils. The scent of narcissus was in the air. It was as if all of my senses were heightened. I remembered feeling both afraid and yearning for his attention. He'd asked me to sit on the bench just for a moment. I remembered feeling naked in the weighted silence he'd created. His eyes had examined me. He was serious, almost stern. At that time we were strangers, having only met a few days before. He watched me as I nervously try to sit still, feeling so self-conscious, waiting to see what he would do next. That was when he had asked me if he could sketch a picture of me. He'd said I was so beautiful and I inspired him. He uttered it just like that. Matter-of-factly. "You're so beautiful Eve. I want to draw you in your garden." Then he asked, "May I do that Eve?" My eyes had met his. I must have looked so frightened. "May I?" He repeated. I nodded and waited. He pulled the small sketchpad and pencil from his pocket, looked at me for a long moment. Then he walked over to me put the paper and the pencil on the bench beside me. He stood above me and looked into my eyes. I'd felt as if he was going to take my hands and raise me up to him. I thought he'd take me in his arms and kiss me. I was breathless and felt I had no will power. But, he didn't take my hands. Instead, he reached slowly towards my hair.

"May I?" he'd whispered.

I didn't speak; I just watched him.

"Eve you have to tell me."

"What is it?"

"You have to tell me what I'm doing is all right."


"Say the words."

"Yes, you can touch me. It's all right."

"May I arrange your hair for my drawing?"

The blood drained out of me. That was the first time I'd become lost in a maze with Jeff Lambert. In that moment I'd felt certain he was making an advance towards me, but afterwards I'd found myself struck with the feeling that I'd imagined an innuendo or even that I'd been the one initiating it. I'd convinced myself that I'd colored the story with my own desire. Maybe it was because throughout his seduction, he'd ask me confess my desire each step along the way. I'd been complicit. I could have said no.

I'd never been the kind of girl to seek out that sort of situation. It was him. I didn't know then, but by the time I was pregnant I realized it was all his fault. He'd been doing it on purpose. That day in the garden with his hands carefully placing my hair around my shoulders, softly grazing my neck. Standing above me, then backing away and looking serious. Examining me as if I were an object that he was slowly taking as his own. When he'd finished sketching that day, he was abrupt, not unkind just unfamiliar again. It had caused me such unease. I couldn't sleep most nights for the month between the day in the garden and when he returned. By then the next time I saw him, I had already surrendered myself to him. When he pulled away, I pleaded with him to stay.

Carmen had always said he could tell how grief-stricken and sad I was back then. She said everyone could see it. I knew it was true. I had hardly been myself. Just a ghost that year after Nick died. Jeff must have recognized it too. Unlike Carmen, I didn't care why a married man would seduce a woman in such a lonely and desperate state. The result was what I needed at the time. He'd brought me back to life. Before Jeff, I had left the house only a few times following Nick's death. I was dying too.

Just before I'd met him, for whatever reason, I had forced myself back to work, designing floral arrangements. He had commissioned me to arrange the flowers for his mother's funeral. We'd met at the funeral home, to talk about it. Just as everyone said, Jeff Lambert was breathtaking. He was tall and handsome. Carmen had once commented that he looked like Gary Cooper. He did. It wasn't just his appearance; his way was so powerful. From the start, he used the words I wanted to hear. I transformed myself into the woman he wanted me to be. I thought I was so happy and I kept the knowledge of his wife and child out of my mind. I left them marooned somewhere else. He and I were on an island together, meeting at my house, in my garden. From the start he treated me as if I had always been his lover. No, as if I was meant to be his lover. He wasn't afraid to touch me. Carmen couldn't understand, but in the beginning I had been so lonely and having this man's attention brought me back. I can't say it was back to myself. I suppose I became someone entirely different.

Moving into Mary and Frank's, that was because of Jeff too. My old life was destroyed. Starting over, as a new person was something I'd never had the opportunity to do before. As I grew accustomed to my new life in Bend, a secret began forming. I didn't know it until the baby, but I'd always wanted to be free of all of my past. The memories, the house, the "Evie" everyone knew. I had a path carved out for me. I could move in only one direction. I had been on it since I was a girl. I was the smart child, the virtuous teenager. I was obedient and did everything as I was supposed to. While Carmen would sneak off and smoke cigarettes, drink beer with Harry, I'd sit quietly next to Nick, holding hands. My cashmere sweater unruffled, my pearl necklace never disturbed. It wasn't that things went wrong with Nick. I would have married him all over again if I could have. Nick and I were real friends and lovers. He cherished me, but still we were blindly following the same path as everyone else in our little circle of friends.

After he was killed I could no longer be what everyone expected of me; the strong, pious widow, returning to life with a patriotic fervor. I was dead. The war had killed me too. Living in that house, in Sellwood, as an impostor was torture. I resented the other women and grew to loath the provincial values. But what woman could admit that? Who would I have told that to? It wasn't my place to question the life that was handed to me. For all intents and purposes, the beautiful home, the inheritance, my standing in the community -- I should have been grateful not dissatisfied. I should have gotten dressed up, gone to parties, and married some old pal of Nicks. I should have started the whole thing over and gotten myself back on the right track. A housewife. A gardener. A school volunteer. It was true, I didn't know it but deep inside, I'd wanted to escape for some time but I was too afraid to even acknowledge it to myself. Really, I hadn't ever known that there was a way out. Jeff Lambert was a train going towards a brick wall. I could destroy that life by having an affair with him. I hadn't been thinking that, of course. I hadn't thought that I was wagering everything; but, perhaps, that's why a part of me had felt so relieved when I arrived at Mary and Frank's. For as much as Carmen said we'd rent my house in Sellwood to boarders and then I'd move back when the baby was old enough, I knew in my heart it was just a matter of time before I returned not to move back but to sell it to another family. They could pick the story up where I'd left off. A husband, wife and rambunctious children. The woman could tend the garden, serve lemonade and cookies. She could watch her little ones make mud pies. That was not going to be my life anymore.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I ran his name over and over in my mind. My child's father. This baby's father. I was so glad he'd left us to ourselves. I was glad we escaped all of it. I told myself not to feel guilty about him. At one time I really believed we loved each other. He was the one who'd made me move forward in my life. If not for Jeff's rejection, I'd never have done anything so important all on my own. The more things changed, the more I knew that I didn't want his help.