Budapest’s Chain Bridge—a marvel of engineering when it was built in 1849–spans a moss colored Danube River. Stone lions snarl at each end to remind the tourists coming to and from the Buda Castle Quarter to behave. Halfway across,a beggar woman knelt in the shadows, yellow cup in front of aged, folded hands, a stripe of sunshine falling across her back. When I turned to snap a photo, my heart twisted at how elegantly life expresses its inequalities.
When we arrived in Budapest, my illness had already begun spreading through our family. In a musty, shoebox sized room in Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia, Ado’s fever had crested the 105-degree mark. In the midnight hours I laid cool, wet towels over my child’s hot body, his purple- smudged eyes looking at me like I held the power of angels. “You’re the goodest mommy in the whole world,” he whispered, the towels warming too quickly. No, I’m not, I thought, smiling through tears. If I was the goodest mommy I would be home, with friends, family and St. Joseph’s emergency room close by. Traveling when you are sick is bad; traveling when your child is sick is bad, sad, and very scary. Panic was pushing its bony foot through the door.
“You need to take care of yourself,” my friend Krysia had urged via email earlier that day, one of many concerned voices. “Rest! Check into a 5 star or something. Seriously.” Yeah. Seriously. I might fuck around with my own health, but not my kids. And so we raced to Budapest, where the Four Seasons Gresham Palace had a house doctor and a room with a bathtub. It was time to spend some of our rainy day fund.
Outside our picture window sprawled nighttime Budapest, as showy as Times Square only more elegant. And framing the Chain Bridge as if by design, a perfect spider web shimmied in the breeze, its creator’s beady black eyes staring out from the middle.
If you believe in omens—glimpses of changes still swirling ahead on life’s existential turnpike—you might say this was a signal that our own web was about to get more tangled. And as I was shooting pictures of the little predator, swinging so ominously over the city, it did.
“We just got an offer on our house,” said Ethan, sitting on the bed checking email while the kids twitched in Advil-induced slumbers. I poked my head out from behind the hotel blackout curtains. “Our house isn’t even on the market,” I reminded him, wondering if he was joking. Or drunk. Or hallucinating. We had pulled it off in January when we decided to come back to Los Angeles for the 2011/2012 school year.
“I know that,” he responded, “but apparently our realtor has someone who is really interested.”
Sell our house? The world tilted like it had when I lost my job at CBS eighteen months ago; getting fired wasn’t so much a bad thing as a completely unexpected development that altered the trajectory of our lives. We were supposed to move back into that house again in ten days. The premonition that we were about to get shot out of a cannon again was strong.
“It’s a solid offer,” Ethan continued, the look on his face reflecting mine.
“What’s the best way to make God laugh?” This old joke came to mind as I turned back to my spider, which was now dining on some small unfortunate moth. “Make plans.”
When Adrian’s fever came down we rode Budapest’s funicular to the Palace complex that lords over the Danube.
We tried to do normal things in this former Soviet bloc city—like trying on Communist era hats and taking archery lessons from a bored Hungarian wearing medieval dress and Ray Bans. But when we finally sat down to eat goulash soup and discuss the latest fork to appear in our road, Griffin crawled into my lap, his forehead burning. It was not the time to make decisions.
Back over the Chain Bridge I walked, carrying my six year old sucking his thumb like a baby. I did not stop to give the beggar woman any money. I did not think about the future. Or spiders. Or omens. Life had narrowed down to the present, all-important task of nursing my family back to health. If the winds of change wanted to blow for us again, they would just have to wait.