The Woman Who Loved Rosemary Lane
Certain short stories haunt me. One that has never let me go is “The Man Who Loved Levittown” by W. D. Wetherill. When I first read this shooting star of a story, I appreciated its brilliance as a writer, but my heart remained untouched. I needed to live longer and experience the deep losses life brings to fully understand the main character, Tommy DiMaria.
Though the story has an astonishing and sad ending, it is suffused with humor. Tommy DiMaria, a WWII vet, who has lived in his house in Levitttown for 32 years, remembers his first visit to Long Island after the war. “Potato fields. French-fried heaven, not another car in sight.”
Like DiMaria, I recall driving down Rosemary Lane for the first time in the fall of 1978. Red, gold trees arching over the road dappled my Honda in sunlight and shadow. To my left I noticed a FOR SALE BY OWNER sign in front of a funny little gray cottage with burgundy shutters. Since there was no car in the gravel drive, I took down the phone number on the sign and called later after I told John about the house. We made arrangements with the owner, a woman, to see the place.
When we pulled into the driveway, the owner waved to us from the back yard. We walked to her and took in the forest behind the house. John, who had mostly lived in cities, appeared stunned. For several minutes, he stood with his face raised to the towering oaks. When finally he looked at me, I knew we were going to buy this house on Rosemary Lane.
What I didn’t know was that we would live here for 37 years. We would have the dinner before our wedding here. We would bring our baby back from the hospital here. Here we were parents and lovers and adversaries. We raised our son Jay here and thrilled at the fun places parenting took us. We made lifelong friends here. Within these walls we loved and yelled and cried.
With John’s blessing and encouragement, I went to graduate school, wrote, and saw my writing published. He wrote his book upstairs on a Lexitron, an early word-processor. I wrote my books here, often sitting in the backyard with my laptop. We packed and left from here to explore Europe. When we returned from Poland in the summer of 2010, John was ill. We returned here from a visit to his urologist in December 2010, having learned his diagnosis: metastatic cancer.
John had many good days here afterward. He loved watching the birds, deer, foxes, raccoons, and chipmunks of our backyard. We traveled to New York often and became members of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our funny little house on Rosemary Lane was where we sunk our compass point, and we traveled around it always glad to return.
In October 2015, John’s meds began to fail. His good times were fewer. He was in pain, but he continued to push himself and strive for normalcy. He went to the gym last Halloween.
On November 1, All Souls Day, he began to bleed. He was admitted to the ER on November 2, where he fought to stay alive. The hospital poked and prodded and did all they could to keep him here. On November 11, he was taken to hospice, where he died early the morning of November 14.
John did not want to die. He wanted to return to Rosemary Lane. And I wanted him to return. I had been preparing for his return. The morning he died, Jay and I were numb. We could not believe the war we had been fighting for the past five years was lost. Stunned, we came back to Rosemary Lane and sat at the table in the dining room that overlooks the back yard, comforted by its fall leaves in red, orange and gold.
Almost a year has passed since that day. I still love Rosemary Lane, but I cannot stay. Here more shadows than sunlight dapple me. Soon I will be moving to a new house not far away on a street less lovely than Rosemary Lane. Like John and Jay, I have loved the life we lived in this funny little gray cottage, but my story here has come to an end.