1. What happened next?
With the kid, you mean? At bedtime? Jesus, how do you expect me to remember? It was months ago.
2. It’s your fault. You’re the one who disappeared, leaving us hanging.
Oh. Yeah. Sorry about that.
I don’t mean to sound flippant. I really AM sorry. You’re all admirably loyal and patient.
4. Flattery will get you nowhere. Anyway, quick, before you run off again for six months. What the hell happened?
He wanted to talk. He was all little and clingy. In his oblique eleven-year-old way, he managed to say that he was worried about a lot of things–his father moving to a different house, the new stepmother, his brother going to college…
5. Wait, his father moved? Again?
Oh, I forgot to tell you about that! Yes, the ink was hardly dry on the marital-house-selling contract when my ex-husband bought a new house, roughly twice as far away from mine as the one he rented last year, the one I’d complained bitterly was too far away. What could I say? I’d said it all before, and it made no difference. I did manage to talk him out of buying a house even farther away by suggesting we change our custody plan if he did so–since the custody plan, with its twice-weekly switchovers, was designed to suit a family where both divorced parents live in the same town. He said, no, no, he didn’t want to change the plan (neither, for the record, did I) and settled for a house forty-five minutes away from mine. School, happily, is between the two of us, which makes it marginally less annoying for my son, I hope.
This makes four houses my ex has lived in since the divorce, but now I think he’ll stay put. And though the drive is horrible, I do like not having him in my town. It’s very restful.
6. But then he went to sleep, right? Your son?
Yeah. And was very sweet and affectionate. And then the big one wanted me to sit with him and chat a bit, too. He still loooooves the bedtime ritual, even though he’s eighteen years old, for crying out loud.
By the time they both fell asleep I was so exhausted that I did too. And then, the next morning, I woke up feeling very peculiar indeed.
I got up and fixed myself a cup of coffee and retrieved the paper and sat outside, wrapped in a blanket, on the wicker chaise on my front porch. Something was not quite right. I watched the steam curl from my coffee cup, and stared into space. It was going to be a gorgeous day once it warmed up. The kids were still sleeping. I thought about calling consoling-windows friend, but somehow I didn’t feel like talking to anyone.
7. You were sad, you idiot. You were feeling all sad and weird because your ex-husband was getting remarried.
I know. It took me forever to figure it out, and then I couldn’t quite believe it. But I was actually sad.
8. You do know that you have no right whatsoever to be sad?
Yes, I most certainly do.
I gave myself shit about it all day. I eventually did call a couple of people–consoling windows friend, and my lovely divorced friend in California–and confessed that I was feeling a mite wistful. In my head, I paged through several whole volumes of Unpardonable Post-Marital Emotions, trying to diagnose my moral failings. I catechized myself, but it wasn’t terribly productive.
Was I jealous? No, not at all. I don’t want to be married, and I certainly don’t want to be married to my ex-husband.
Was I worried that the new stepmother would somehow usurp my kids’ affection? No, hardly. I have a stepmother whom I like very much, and I know there’s just no comparison with one’s own mother. The more people my kids love, the better life will be for them. And my childhood was wonderfully enriched and expanded by all my various step-relatives. So, no.
Was I mad because I am a controlling bitch, and because my ex-husband’s remarriage will diminish my control over him? Not really. I am indeed a controlling bitch, but I have plenty of other outlets. And controlling my ex-husband, or trying to (see above re: moving far away) makes me nuts. I’m happy to let someone else take over that particular project.
Well, then, what was my problem, exactly? I don’t know! I still don’t quite know.
I thought and thought, while feeling unsettled and vaguely bereft, all day long. I couldn’t figure it out. It felt an awful lot like grief–the same grief I felt during the end of the marriage. But the grief felt purer now, somehow–no longer muddied with anger and guilt. I kept dwelling on sappy thoughts, kept returning to familiar sadnesses. The love I’d once had for my ex-husband–the love we had for each other–was gone, I kept thinking. What happened to those two young people who loved each other and married and had babies and puppies and houses together? Where did all that love go?
It felt like I was mourning the end of the marriage all over again. Actually, it felt in some incomprehensible way like I was mourning the end of the divorce. Though why would I mourn the end of the divorce? Oh, god, I thought–is this just the way middle age works? From now on, will everything be marked only by new lows: the end of this, the death of that, the loss of something I hadn’t even realized I was clinging to? Am I all fucked up? Am I incapable of joy?
And then I woke up the next morning totally back to normal. Whatever that little blip of wistfulness was, it passed quickly. I’m glad to know I can still feel a pang of something in relation to my ex-husband, actually. It reminded me that once upon a time, I really did love him, really did think we’d stay together until one of us died. And he loved me, too. And now he loves someone else, and so do I, and life goes on.
9. Enough about you. What about the kids?
The big one was fine. He had other things on his mind–his first girlfriend, the school play, senior project, college. The little one stayed close to me for the next several days. He seemed vulnerable, a bit undone. I babied him in unobtrusive ways, which he liked.
When they went to their dad’s midweek, I missed them in a way I hadn’t missed them in a long time. I put this off to my own neediness, my dumb emotional state of fragility. I was in the car driving the two hours to my boyfriend’s apartment when my phone buzzed–a missed call, a voicemail from my ex. He’s probably calling to say he’s at my house with the kids, getting something they forgot, I thought. It was the first baseball game of the season for my younger son, and I’d skipped town right after dropping him off at the game with his brother…
10. Why didn’t you go to the first baseball game of the season? Seems kind of cold.
Honestly, I don’t remember. It does seem cold, doesn’t it? I think it was just because there are a billion baseball games between April and August, and I wanted to get to New York before I fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the turnpike to explode in a fireball of death. It was a weeknight. I don’t go to every single baseball or soccer game my kids play. If I did I’d never do anything else.
I wish I’d gone, though.
11. Go on.
I didn’t listen to the voicemail. I called back, which I usually don’t until I’m off the road, because I had a funny feeling. My ex picked up right away. “So, we’re still at the ER, and they’re putting a splint on it,” he said.
My heart dropped into my stomach. I babbled something incoherent about how I hadn’t yet listened to his message, and my ex, instead of answering, handed the phone to my son. “Mom? I broke my wrist,” he said, and burst into tears.
He had tripped over his own feet playing shortstop in the first inning, and come down hard on his right hand. It was a nasty break. There would be surgery, a pin in the bone, then a huge cast almost to his shoulder, and finally a smaller cast, and then a year of watching and X-raying every two months or so to make sure the growth plate wasn’t affected. Baseball was out, obviously. While he had the huge cast he couldn’t shower or cut his meat or tie his shoes or put his socks on or his contacts in, but he managed very well in most things, and he was admirably brave. I have to say, I felt very tender toward him as I helped him bathe and dress and so forth. His little upturned face in the tub, eyes squeezed shut as I poured cupful after cupful of water over his hair to rinse it, brought me right back to his toddler days.
So it was kind of an intense spring, as far as the kids went. A few days after the small cast came off the little one, the big one graduated from high school. Family descended on me from all four corners of the earth, and after they left I got shingles on my face and ear again. My acupuncturist bled me, and I was completely better in two days. No lie. All hail Eastern/medieval medical practices, I guess.
12. But what about your ex’s wedding?
For a long time, nobody knew anything. The kids didn’t know when or where it was occurring. They weren’t sure if their stepmother-to-be intended to quit her teaching job five hours away and move in. This, I felt, was something their father should probably discuss with them, but an evil combination of pride and pissiness prohibited me from bringing it up.
Well, officially I didn’t even know he was getting married at all, remember? He never even bothered to tell me! He made the kids do it, like a coward! And the emotional stress of it all made my poor innocent baby shatter his precious, perfect little wrist!
14. Oh, honestly. Calm down.
I’m calm, damn it. Eventually I sent the fiancée a message on Facebook.
15. Jesus. Is this what we’ve come to, these days?
Evidently. It was a very nice message, if I do say so myself. I said that I just wanted to tell her how thrilled the kids were that she was going to be a permanent part of their lives, and that I, too, was delighted that she and my ex were getting married, and I wished them both the very best. Two seconds later she wrote back.
16. Didn’t you realize none of this was really your business? Who do you think you are, going around blessing their union like some kind of weirdo fairy ex-godmother?
Luckily, the fiancée is a truly lovely individual, unlike some people around here. She thanked me for writing, she gushed a little about the kids, and she immediately spilled all the essential beans–she was quitting her job and moving in with my ex, she was nervous about the job part but thrilled about everything else. “Sometimes life gives you a second chance at happiness,” she wrote.
She’s divorced, too, and has had some real hardships in her life.
17. This would all be very touching if it weren’t taking place via Facebook.
It does lower the tone, doesn’t it?
I called the kids downstairs and showed them our exchange. They were both quite interested to learn she was moving in, et cetera. I reminded them that they could, of course, simply ask their father what his marriage would mean to them.
I can’t figure out quite what the father/son relationship dynamic consists of, now that I’m not around to act in my preferred/former role (see under: Controlling Bitch). My older son frequently jokes about his father’s failure to communicate. My younger son is harder to read. As the wedding drew nigh, the mysteries multiplied. Where was the ceremony going to take place? When? What were the kids supposed to wear? Could they invite a friend, maybe? Were they expected to prepare little speeches, or do anything during the wedding–carry the rings (were there to be rings?) or read a poem (were there to be poems?) or stand up next to their dad (was there to be standing?)
I congratulated my ex-husband on his impending nuptials once I’d broken the ice with the fiancée, but I drew the line at grilling him about the particulars of the ceremony. Besides, I was going away.
To a four week long writing residency. I know! Unprecedented.
19. So you just abandoned your poor, sweet children, and went off selfishly for four whole weeks? During this important transitional period in their young lives?
I did. I actually did. It was great. I should have been a selfish asshole all my life. Selfish assholes get a lot more done.
The wedding, it seems, went off beautifully despite my failure to micromanage it from a distance, and the kids didn’t die of starvation or grief. They wrote me actual letters, and I wrote them actual letters, and we spoke on the phone a few times, but only a few times. They were fine.
20. But it was the last month your older son would be living at home before college!
It was, indeed. I came home at the end of August, then drove him to school the next day.
He couldn’t be happier at school. He hangs out with my boyfriend’s older daughter a lot–I did tell you that they decided to apply to the same school, didn’t I? Both of them are thriving. I suspect I will have more to say about this at some point.
Meanwhile, my younger son and I are settling into a peaceful routine. I suspect I will have more to say about that, as well. I will try to be better about updating this website, truly I will. “Shorter and more frequent!” is my new mantra. I chant it every day.
I hope you all had wonderful summers. Did you? Please, tell.