A commenter took exception to my last post.
You’re transparent. You hate the way he sits in a car? Please. You’re just going to do the exact same thing with somebody else. I’ve never met you, but your life-path is as obvious as an impending train-wreck.
So last summer I went to pick my ex-husband and the kids up to drive them to the airport, because he had asked me to, and because I (selfishly) figured it would accrue good airport-driving karma. If it’s too late or too early to impose on a friend, and if I am coming back from somewhere with the kids, it would be nice to be able to ask my ex-husband to pick us up or drop us off. Doing him a favor first would make it easier to ask for a favor, and I didn’t mind. So I got up before dawn on a Saturday and drove over to collect him and the kids.
When I got to his house, the cottage formerly known as Dream, the kids were outside. So were the suitcases. We loaded them into the back of the station wagon. The kids were giddy, happy to see me, happy to be going to California to visit their cousins and grandmother. We got into the car, leaving the front passenger seat vacant, and waited.
Eventually my ex-husband came out and got into the car.
It wasn’t just that we were in one of the marital cars, one we’d ridden in together a million times. It wasn’t just that he was six inches away from me in an enclosed space. It wasn’t just that the kids were there, and it wasn’t just that I was a tiny bit miffed (petty of me, I know) that he hadn’t come out to help us load the suitcases. It wasn’t just that he made us wait after telling me the time we needed to leave. It was the way he got right in and stared straight ahead without saying hello or thank you or good morning or anything at all. It was the way the kids chattered to me in the back seat–to us, really–and I was the only one who chattered back, as my ex-husband stared straight ahead through the windshield, not responding to anything, not speaking, not taking part. It was the way it felt totally familiar, because here we were, the four of us, in the car, and it was exactly like when we were still a family! But we weren’t, and I had come to realize that a family in which the father sits and stares and does not speak is not the kind of family I particularly want.
Driving next to my ex-husband, as he sat there like a bump on a log, made my skin crawl. I don’t care how amicable your divorce was (and ours was not particularly amicable)–sitting next to your ex in a tiny cocoon, a tiny cocoon you sat happily in while married, is bound to provoke distress. It is almost like climbing into bed together–chastely, mind you–and lying side by side, the way you used to without thinking, and then trying, in your new divorced state, to fall asleep.
Maybe the fault is entirely mine. Maybe when you leave someone you forfeit the right to feel that he is bugging the shit out of you as he sits there without even acknowledging your presence as you drive him to the airport in your car. Maybe you don’t deserve even to think, Huh, if I were the one getting driven, I would make a small effort towards cheerful conversation. And maybe you don’t get to think, But of course this is completely normal, this is how it always was, he doesn’t talk, he doesn’t make an effort unless he feels like it, he doesn’t see the point, this is just how he is…and it’s not at all normal, it’s rude and shitty and I can’t believe I put up with this sort of thing for so long. Look at the kids, chattering away. Look at how he doesn’t even seem to hear them. Look at how cute they’re being, and look at his blank stare, and look at how we’re here, at the terminal already, and he has not said a single thing or made eye contact. He has not held up his end of things, is what you think, and you realize you’ve made excuses for him for many, many years. At the same time you know you are being unfair, and that it’s obnoxious to read too much into this. It’s early. He’s tired. He’s not a morning person. And yet. You are presently involved with a man who would make the effort, who is chivalrous almost to a fault. You have gotten accustomed to something different, and your ex-husband’s general morning mien affects you like a slap to the face.
Maybe you don’t get to call your best friend the minute he and the children disappear through the terminal’s revolving door, the children waving and blowing kisses, your ex-husband glaring fiercely ahead, and tell her how excruciating the whole thing felt. Maybe you haven’t earned the right to tell her how much you fucking hate the way your ex-husband sits in your car.
But you do it anyway, and she knows exactly what you’re talking about. He didn’t say thank you, you say, and somehow he took up a hell of a lot of space. You can still smell him, still see his greasy hair, his profile, and you try to dissipate all the tension that lingers by making your best friend laugh and laugh as you describe him over the phone. You hang up feeling better. You drive the rest of the way home, and when you get there you realize it’s too late to go back to bed.
But it’s too early to get up. You make coffee, and drink cup after cup of it, and read the paper until it’s finally time for another day to begin.