My name is Lilia Swallow, a name I love so well that when I married, I didn’t take my husband’s. I suspect this was just one of the things Graham’s parents, Ellen and Douglas Randolph, disliked about me. I’m not sure where it fell on their very long list of my faults.
Although I was born and raised in Hawaii, the name Swallow is usually associated with people who hail from Lincolnshire, in the east of England on the banks of the Swallow River. A British seafaring ancestor of my father’s jumped ship in Oahu generations ago and left our family his name and a love for the islands that through the centuries have nurtured people from many lands.
I love the islands, too, but unlike most of my close-knit family, deep down I am a Mainlander. The aunt, from whom I take my middle name, Alea, was a Mainlander before me. And on my first visit to her home in California, I knew I’d inherited more than her name. I’d inherited her heart.
Auntie Alea died too young, and no one was surprised when she left her beloved cottage, her “nest,” to me. My brothers and cousins all received bequests, but she knew that I was the one who would cherish and keep her little house forever.
Houses are important to me. In Kauai I grew up in a plantation style home that has been in our family for more than a century. Slowly the area surrounding us has been developed and populated, but our view of the Sleeping Giant, or Nounou Mountain, is intact, and we have family and friends nearby. Owning any property on this expensive little island is a gift.
Willow Glen, once a town, but now a neighborhood of San Jose, is crowded, too, but somehow, it’s kept its charm intact.
Graham, my husband, lived everywhere and nowhere, moving from home to home as his real estate developer father became more powerful. Both Ellen and Douglas traveled extensively, and sometimes the only familiar element in Graham’s little world was the household help. Certainly our nest in Willow Glen in no way compares to even the simplest of the Randolph homes. Maybe that’s why Graham was so happy to live here with me after we married.
I wish I could say that we found happiness in all things together. For years I thought we had. Maybe I didn’t note the signs that would have told me otherwise. Maybe we were both so busy building careers, me as an interior designer/blogger and Graham as the owner of a design-build firm, to see that where love should have been firmly planted, dissatisfaction was growing.
Sometimes it takes a crisis to see what a marriage is made of. Even then, even after Graham became seriously ill, I was still blind to the problems we lived with every day. Almost worse, I was blind to the flaws and dark needs of the man I had married.
Life can change in an instant. But which instant changed ours? Graham’s illness? Graham’s affair?
I will probably ask this question for years to come, even as I pick up the pieces of a marriage that shattered, and begin to reassemble my life and my tiny family, one jagged fragment at a time.