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All Fall Down(5)
Author: Jennifer Weiner

Dave and I had both grown up in decent-sized places in the suburbs, but the Haverford house had rooms upon rooms, some of which seemed to have no discernible function. There was a kitchen, and then beside it a smaller, second kitchen, with a sink and a granite island, that the Realtor ID’d as a butler’s pantry. “We don’t have a butler,” I told Dave. “And if we did, I wouldn’t give him his own pantry!” The main kitchen was big enough to eat in, with a dining room adjoining it, plus a living room, a den, and a home office with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Upstairs there were no fewer than five bedrooms and five full bathrooms. There was the master suite, and something called a “princess suite” that came with its own dressing room. The basement was partially finished, with space for a home gym, and out back a screened-in porch overlooked the gentle slope of the lawn.

“Can we afford this?” I’d asked. It turned out, between Dave’s advance and the embezzler’s desperation, that we could. We could buy it, but we couldn’t fill it. Every piece of furniture we owned, including the folding card table I’d used as a desk and the futon from Dave’s college dorm, barely filled a quarter of the space, and it all looked wrong. The table that had fit perfectly in our Philadelphia row house was dwarfed by the soaring ceilings and spaciousness of the Haverford dining room. The love seat where we’d snuggled in Center City became dollhouse-sized in the burbs. Our queen-sized bed looked like a crouton floating in a giant bowl of soup in the master bedroom, and our combined wardrobes barely filled a third of the shelves and hanging space in the spacious walk-in closet.

Overwhelmed, out of a job, and with a baby to care for, I’d wander the rooms, making lists of what we needed. I’d buy stacks of magazines, clip pictures, or browse Pinterest, making boards of sofas I loved, dining-room tables I thought could work, pretty wallpaper, and gorgeous rugs. I would go to the paint store and come home with strips of colors; I’d download computer programs that let me move furniture around imaginary rooms. But when it came time to actually buy something—the dining-room table we obviously needed, beds for the empty guest rooms, towels to stock the shelves in the guest bathrooms—I would go into vapor lock. I’d never considered myself indecisive or suffered from fear of commitment, but somehow the thought That bed you are buying will be your bed for the rest of your life would make me hang up the phone or close the laptop before I could even get the first digits of my card number out.

Four months after Dave had signed his advance, another book came out, this one based on a series that had run in one of the New York City papers, about a homeless little girl and the constellation of grown-ups—parents, teachers, caseworkers, politicians—who touched her life. The series had gotten over a million clicks, but the book failed to attract more than a thousand readers its first month on sale. Dave’s publisher had gotten nervous—if a book about the poor in New York City didn’t sell, what were the prospects for a book about the poor in Philadelphia? They’d exercised their option to kill the contract. Dave didn’t have to give back the money they’d paid him on signing, but there would be no more cash forthcoming. His agent had tried but had been unable to get another publisher to pick up the project. Poverty just wasn’t sexy. Not with so many readers struggling to manage their own finances and hang on to their own jobs.

Dave’s agent had encouraged him to capitalize on the momentum and come up with another idea—“They all love your voice!” she’d said—but, so far, Dave was holding on to the notion that he could find a way to get paid for the writing he’d already done, instead of having to start all over again. So he’d stayed at the paper, and when Sarah had approached me about publishing my blog on her website, saying yes was the obvious choice. Once I started working, I had no more time to fuss with furniture. Just finding clean clothes in the morning and something for us all to eat at night was challenge enough. So the house stayed empty, unfinished, with wires sticking out from walls because I hadn’t picked lighting fixtures, and three empty bedrooms with their walls painted an unassuming beige. In the absence of dressers and armoires, we kept our clothes in laundry baskets and Tupperware bins, and, in addition to the couch and the love seat, there were folding canvas camp chairs in the living room, a temporary measure that had now lasted more than two years—about as long as Dave’s bad mood.

I remembered the sulk that had followed the Examiner’s edict that every story run online with a button next to the byline so that readers could “Like” the reporter on Facebook.

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