January 2009

My friend J. asked me, after I wrote the letter Monday, if I was going to be able to “move on” now, if K.’s given or having given a response to it would help me to do that.

“Not really,” I said. “I mean, obviously I’m dealing with the reality of my life. Just as obviously, I’m not going to magically go to a place of being done with this when to do so is entirely contrary to what I want to do and believe should happen.”

But that’s sort of what did happen. On Tuesday we had a counseling appointment. Much talk was had about K.’s parenting and my concerns about it. The counselor suggested that, when I observe K. parenting negatively by repeatedly yelling at Thing One instead of actively redirecting him, I step in and hold Thing One as a way of both disciplining and comforting him.

“I can do that,” I said. “It seems like a way for me to take the burden of parenting from K. What do you think of that, K.?”

And lo! Out of a shadowy place I had not been aware of came his response: “Well, it all goes back to you telling me to leave.”

(Implication: it’s your own fault if you have the burden because you brought this on yourself? Sounds like it to me.)

This is very interesting because, as may be obvious, I have never told K. to leave. On Dec. 5 he told me, “Baby, I want to get a divorce.” On Dec. 7 we had a meeting about “praciticalities” (my instigation), which he opened by saying, “I guess I’ll start looking for an apartment.” On Dec. 9 he and Thing One had an incident that disturbed me, one that involved Thing One crying that he wanted a different Daddy and K., when I tried to comfort Thing One and asked K. to reassure him, saying bitterly, “I have nothing to say. Right now I just want to leave.” Still on Dec. 9, I took Thing One to school, much disturbed by the emotional damage that had been done, came home, and asked K. if he wanted to “take a break” from the domestic situation by staying somewhere else for a couple of weeks. “If you need space,” I said, after he had agreed with me that parenting was going badly for him and that the incident with Thing One left much to be desired and was damaging their relationship. I made it clear that I hoped for K. to just get some space if he wanted it and then to come back and deal with our family. Maybe that was naive, I don’t know. But I do know that he didn’t have any comment except to agree that he was not interacting well with Thing One and didn’t take any action except to get online with Jezebel and immediately arrange to go stay in her apartment.

He moved out on the night of Dec. 10. I called his parents to let them know and ended up crying to them for several hours. His mother later told me that, when she’d finally talked to him several days later, he’d said he felt “kicked out.”

When he left, he told me, “I’m sorry. This is the worst thing I’ve ever done.”

I told him, “You can come back. I know you don’t think you will, but you can come back. We love you. And it’s not perfect here, and maybe it needs a lot of work, but it’s better with you. You can come back.”

He left. And thus began the last almost-two months of my saying all the things I said on Monday, in different times and different ways and finally all at once and on paper.

We talked about the letter in counseling on Tuesday. His comment was, “I’m breaking those promises.” We also talked about alcohol consumption, in the context of his having said he’d agreed to lunch with a family friend who’s a naturopath (at his mom’s instigation) to talk about dealing with his moods better. I asked him to discuss his alcohol consumption with said friend because it’s well-known that alcohol is a mood destabilizer and depressant. His response: “There’s no point in talking about this because I’m not going to stop drinking. I’m a moderate drinker.”

Moderate? Eye of the beholder, etc. I’m sure there are days when he has only a drink or two. But then again, this is also the guy who told me excitedly (after he’d moved out) about how he’d found a bar that served triples of whiskey for $8 and liked to stop there after work, around one a.m., on his way ‘home.’ The guy who has emptied the vodka and single-malt and Courvoisier bottles from our liquor collection and who, I noticed when I got home that night, has also nearly-emptied the nearly-full bottle of Calvados. All this in the few nights (max average one per week) that he’s been here past mid-afternoon since he started coming over again around the solstice. Hmmm.

Anyway, the counselor said I was “acting like a wife” and K. was “acting like an ex” during this conversation. The implication seemed to me that I was out of touch with reality.

Is it reality to just accept it when a person you love, who is and has been suffering from various mood disorders, whose current behavior is at odds with his professed values, who has become a person who calls his three-year-old an “asshole” and that “I’m leaving because I don’t like the way you’re acting” (Dec. 14, following a two-hour visit), who had always said “Divorce is not an option” and is now saying “divorce is the only option,” who had told you he loved you and desired you and was faithful only two weeks before and who sent a text message from another woman’s bed to her saying “I found Salinger nestled amongst the pillows. I wish I’d found you.” (night of Dec. 13/14)? Is it “realistic” to just say, when he says, “Baby, I want to get a divorce,” “Okay, honey, if you say so?”

It would have been easier, maybe.  But I’m not convinced it would have been more real. And maybe I’m just being paranoid. Maybe the counselor was just trying to “mirror” or “reflect” or whatever other stupid pop-psych visual metaphor is working for the counseling crowd these days.

“I’m breaking those promises.”

That is another reality.

I talked about my parents’ divorce and how they couldn’t be friends after because of how quick and unequivocal the rupture. “We’re not like your parents,” he said.

“No,” I replied. “I can fake it better. But it is faking it. We are not friends anymore. This is ending far more than a marriage. This is ending a friendship, a family, a support, all those other obvious things. We are not friends. We will not be friends. And that is why I have been so sad all week; because it was not just that I couldn’t share my tenure vote with my husband; it was that I couldn’t share it with the one friend who could share that with me in a way that mattered.”

There was a time — there was nearly four years’ worth of time — when that would have mattered to him. But now is now. Now it has been nearly two months since he told me it was over. Now I have sat through several weeks’ worth of trying to find a place to stand that doesn’t involve breaking up our family and losing my best friend and not having to have the lyrics “you cause as much sorrow dead/as you did alive” run through my head every time I think of the man to whom I committed my life.

Now I have failed to do that.

Now the only person I ever truly gave myself to has slammed that door shut, and there is not even a shred of solidarity or friendship or family affection left in the room where I’m standing.

I took off my wedding ring on Wednesday. I did not put it into the car ashtray. I put it on my right hand, where it rests atop a nearly identical ring that my mother wore during her marriage to my father. History repeats itself.

The ring is still a promise. It is still a reminder. A reminder of something different now that I don’t have that husband or lover or friend, but a reminder nonetheless, of that family and those promises that I made and which I still refuse to betray, insofar as it is  possible not to.

“I’m not going to agree,” I said. “I’m not going to endorse this. I don’t believe it is right.” I didn’t mean I’m going to drag him to court to divorce me. I meant I’m not going to say, ‘Okay, fine, great, you say we’re getting divorced so let’s do it! And be happy! And let bygones be bygones! Rad!’


“I’m already gone,” he said.


“Aren’t you sorry that you have to do this?”


Intelligible, and cute as Cupid

I got a little zealous this morning. Not overzealous, I don’t think. But I decided that I should write down what I was going to say in a letter, and I went to where K. is staying to deliver it. I didn’t throw rocks at the windows or bang on the door. I just called a bunch of times, had a frantic and hectic session at Kinko’s printing it out, then, when I was done running around like a chicken with its head cut off, left it on the seat of his (our) car, to which I have a key.

I debated putting it up here or not. But this is, I guess, my space to write letters to the world, and you, dear reader, can be the judge of whether you should be privy.

Today is the fourth anniversary of the day you and I stood before a marriage officiant in San Francisco. I don’t have a poem in me yet, but I do have something to say. So here is this letter.

She said, “Marriage is a full-time job,” and we were married. Christoph and Kevin took pictures of us kissing in the tree-lined square in front of City Hall. We went to dim sum, where I think you enjoyed shocking Mona. We contemplating buying rings on Market St. We had tapas, we went back to Stacy’s, we went to bed.

I know that you’re aware of how much we joked about that line. “Marriage is a full-time job,” we laughed. And we also, I think, felt a bit proud: proud that we knew that, that we knew what it meant. Proud that we had a sense of purpose in what we were doing.

“I’m so excited about our happiness.” You told me. In many ways, I think we were both aware of what a bold and unusual and unlikely move that was, the choice to get married, for different reasons for each of us. And, too, aware that it represented a great challenge and a great opportunity. That the possibility for happiness was now greater. And that in some way, the possibility for strife, work, conflict, and drudgery was also greater.

I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

I know that you are not feeling that way now. You have articulated, clearly, that it’s over for you. That you can’t go back there. That you don’t want to be with me. That this is not about the kids or the family; it is about us and it is about you. And that you are not going to do that.

You are very stubborn. You know that. It is a gift and a curse.

Since this started on Dec. 5, and before, I have tried to be compassionate. I want to offer you the space you need. I want to support you.

I want to support you because I love you. And because I am aware of the commitment we created together. Not the commitment that society expects of us or the one that the law mandates. The commitment that you, of your own volition and moral code, and I of mine, articulated.

We articulated that marriage is a full-time job. We articulated that divorce was not an option. (I know you said that you didn’t understand that as I did, that it was a kind of joke. But as you are fond of saying, all jokes are half true.) We articulated that we were not like those couples that gave up easily, quickly, unilaterally, or of their own whim; that we would not be like our friends who didn’t go into marriage with eyes open and who left with eyes equally not open, or open to only some of the concerns.
We articulated, explicitly and at length, that we chose not to be like my parents and give up drastically and quickly and damagingly. We articulated that we chose not to be like your parents and live in unhappiness without doing some concerted work to change it. Together.
We articulated that our family was the greatest value, that our love was the greatest value, that we had the will and the obligation and the commitment to see that through.

We made the promise. We made it for life.

We have made mistakes. We have both, in small and not-so-small ways, failed to do all that we could or should. But the promise does not disappear because it is neglected.

The promise is still binding. For life.

I have a responsibility to you. You have a responsibility to me. We have responsibilities to our family, to our love, to each other, to ourselves. The core of that responsibility is that we are not allowed to bail. We are not allowed to give up. We are not allowed to brush our feelings under the rug, to shift our values, or to take a quick road out.

It is easy to do that. It is particularly easy now, when the motion seems to be pushing us in that direction. But it is not okay. It is not consistent with your values. The ones you articulated. Your moral commitment to yourself, to me, to our children.
It is not consistent with mine.

We have an obligation to try to deal. With each other and in each other and in our family and with our family. First and for as long as it takes. We have an obligation that is forever. Like that promise.

However out of love you feel, however angry and disillusioned I feel, however hard it has been, it has not been consistent with the values and promises we establish. The commitments that we made to each other and to our children. That we expressed explicitly and verbally to our son. It is no wonder we react so angrily and so coldly. It is no wonder he does.

The promise remains. We are allowed to feel the way we feel. We are allowed to want what we want. We are allowed to work together, within our family, within our marriage, to get those things. There are many improvements and compromises that can be made. Many, too, that would not even be hard to make. That are already being made.

But we are not allowed to change the rules we made. In doing so, we destroy each other. We destroy our family. We destroy our love. And love is more than a feeling. It is a way of acting. It is a signpost, a guideline, a compass. Love is more than desire and satisfaction and want, more even than frustration and hopelessness and disillusionment.

You made the rules. We made the rules together. They are not being imposed on us. We have imposed them. If, at long last, we come to a place where we must relinquish them, together and mutually, then we can do that, though not without great cost to all involved.
We cannot change them individually. We do not get to jump this ship.

And having already jumped ship does not justify continuing. Having already betrayed that promise does not justify perpetuating. The promise remains. I hold you to it. You hold me to it. Our family, our love, and our children hold us to it. If we had better friends, friends who truly understood the importance of each of us honoring the code and the commitments and the expectations we set out, we lived by, they would hold us to it as well. Perhaps they do.

Today is our fourth anniversary.

Things are looking bleak. We may feel the line has been crossed. We may feel there’s no going back and nowhere to go with this.
But the promise is bigger than us individually. It is not about either one of us. It is bigger, and it is binding. It is the promise of a life. Of one life, two lives, four lives.

You are my husband. I am your wife. The ring is an apt symbol of that. It encloses us. Even when we take it off, it is unchanged. It does not need our permission or our agreement to exist.

The promise remains. We are bound by it. And we must begin.

Happy anniversary, Big. I love you.

I don’t expect that it will change things for him, though I do think it needed to be said. (Of course, I hope it will. But what does Emily Dickinson say about hope?) This is not about what you can get away with. This is about his promises, ultimately, to himself, which are binding. And about the truth I need to say, even if it falls on deaf ears.

Because, as Stephen Merritt implies, free fall isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Today I am angry.

I am angry because I lost my contact in the bathroom and Thing Two was weepy and clawing to get in but I had to shut her out while I frantically passed my hands over the tiles looking for it.

I am angry because Thing One emptied out the fridge and took a tub of cookie dough under the kitchen table to eat while this was happening.

I am angry because Thing One is unhappy and fragile and uncertain and combative.

I am angry because Thing Two is weepy and insecure and snot-nosed and prone to burst into tears.

I am angry because I wanted to “lay down the law” with K. last night during our meeting; not my law, but the law of what is real and what he has committed to, and I didn’t get to do that because he was so tired and crabby and sick (cold) that I felt it would be too disastrous.

I am angry because he opened our meeting by asking for next Sunday, his only long day with the kids, off so that he could watch the Superbowl, and when it became apparent (to me) that this would not work because of other plans the kids and I have, the fact that that’s the only day he doesn’t work starting at four, etc., and I said, “I don’t think that’s going to work out,” he seemed pissy and complained, “I was hoping for a little flexibility.”

I am angry because WHAT THE FUCK kind of mentality is it when you want to give up your one day that you really see your son and tuck your kids in to watch a football game. Especially when you don’t even follow football.

I am angry because I am angry and I yelled at Thing One when he did the cookie dough thing. I am angry because I am impatient. I am angry because things are just wrong right now. I am angry because I am miserable. I am angry because I am worried. I am angry because something is happening that is very, very wrong, and that something is that my husband refuses to honor the marriage that he committed his life to, and in my book — and in his, until Dec. 5 — you do not get to make that decision.

I am angry because I am having trouble existing without inflicting damage on those around me right now. I dropped Thing Two off with my mother and declined to talk or eat or stay or take my shoes off in deference to her rules (which I hate when people don’t do at my house). I said, “I cannot do any of this right now. I just need you to take her and I need to go.”

I am angry because I trusted.

I am angry because on some level I still trust.

Today is my fourth wedding anniversary.

Happy anniversary, K. I love you.

The title of this post is a lyric from the Wonder Stuff song “Size of a Cow.” Back in 1995, when I was living in France and my best friend, Nanette, was studying calligraphy at Roehampton, in south London, she had this boyfriend called Steve. Steve was a lad. A blond-haired, wide-shouldered lad who lived in a third floor apartment on a sunny, curving street somewhere near Putney Bridge. Apparently, they met when Nanette was walking to the bus and heard the Wonder Stuff blasting out of his French windows, so she stopped in midstride and looked demurely up through her long eyelashes, which was enough to send Steve scurrying down with the jewel box.

Such was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Not for those two, but for Nanette and me and the Wonder Stuff. It wasn’t her usual style; she listened to BBC1 and Afropop Worldwide, plus had a habit of doing things like putting Carmen on and living to nonstop Bizet for three days. And I was a little more college radio in my tastes. But we spent a lot of time afterwards rollicking around to all of the songs on Never Loved Elvis. That CD made it to Columbia County, Oregon and the Mendocino coast. It has — particularly in songs like “Size of a Cow,” “Mission Drive,” and “Caught in My Shadow” — an appealingly incongruous combination of lyrical pessimism, strongly conventional pop/rock sensibility, and a propensity for cheesy musical flourishes (many involving keyboard riffs that take on a grandiosity reminiscent of the self-indulgent guitar solo, violins, or what appear to be electric banjos), that makes it irresistible to slightly nerdy American girls with car stereos. Also, check out the Royal Stewart plaid three-piece suit with ruffled tuxedo shirt. Wow.

(Another thing that occurs to me is that for Nanette, half-English Britophile that she was — she used to shamelessly fake a straight London accent with taxi drivers in order not to ‘stand out’ — the Wonder Stuff locates a pop sensibility and experience in English ritual: tea, binge drinking, self-reflective loathing, etc.)

Steve was a flash in the pan. My one memory of him is when, on one of my frequent visits to London (this was pre-Chunnel but not pre-cheap Channel flights; I never traveled by sea) was of smoking pot in his apartment. He got the munchies and went to make an enormous tray of buttered toast in the oven. How charmingly old-fashioned and basic, I thought. In the U.S. of A., we have snack mixes sprayed uniformly with dried cheese expressly for this purpose. Nanette got paranoid and freaked out that he was angry with us, so we left Steve high and dry with a piece of toast halfway to his lips, and I never saw him again.

But lately I’ve been thinking of that song. Because it hearkens back to a time when I didn’t have such pressing and weighty matters. Because it expressed, even then, an acknowledgment of the sorrow and dissatisfaction we all feel. Because, clearly, life is not what I thought it was.

Yesterday we had our first counseling appointment in two weeks. The last one, you may remember, we missed to go to a movie, a move I thought was perhaps indicative of our ability to have fun together and which probably was just a way of taking a break. Maybe it’s OK to take a break. But that movie experience isn’t leading to some kind of repair in our relationship, as I’d hoped it would, but rather underscoring that K. is willing to tolerate me for casual amusements but not willing to explore what there is of real relationship there.

The first half of the appointment was taken up by talking about parenting strategies. I raised my concerns about K.’s roughness, Thing One’s complaints that “Daddy was pulling me. I cry when he pulls me. I’m bad and then he scares me. He doesn’t pull you because you’re nice.” This is just one in a long litany of comments that seem to indicate that Thing One is not entirely comfortable or safe with K., and I’ve seen plenty of things that give me pause. I’ve seen K. pull by one wrist, all the force of Thing One’s weight pulling in the opposite direction, and I’ve said, “I think you’re hurting him,” and K. has said, “What else am I supposed to do?” I’ve heard K. express that Thing One just needs to be punished; his view seems to be that if Thing One, at age three, does something K. doesn’t like, K. should, as his parent, crush that behavior with lightning swiftness by a) yelling “Don’t do that! Stop that right now! STOP IT. NOW!” and/or b) punishing (which used to be spanking, but has become, per my insistence, removal of privileges and/or being sent or dragged to his room). Obviously, these behaviors are extremely problematic in my view: they create an expectation that a) grown-ups get to yell, spank, yank, or otherwise demonstrate verbal and physical violence when angry; b) children do not get respect or forbearance even when engaged in behaviors that they do not necessarily view as ‘misbehaving’, and c) a vicious circle of attention-getting misbehavior is created by the presiding parent’s refusal to take responsibility for redirecting the activity. Basically, I think it’s terrible. Punishment, as a concept, is terrible, and as someone who had parents who conceived of it as a necessary evil, I can say that I still grew up an ungovernable slob who only learned to clean up after myself and respect other people when I started having to deal with the natural consequences of living on my own in the world. I’d like my children to start dealing with those natural consequences before age sixteen.

The second half of the appointment involved talking about our relationship. I asked K. to talk about Sunday night. After much hemming and hawing, he informed the counselor that I had first given him a litany of reasons why he was fucking up our children forever (they were examples cited from Wallerstein’s book Second Chances) and then (even more hemming and hawing) given him a ‘lover’s list.’ He said that he was unsettled by hearing that. He said that all he could say was that he hadn’t known. He said that Jezebel called him that night, so he went and met her and her friends at a bar. To distract himself, he admitted.

I talked a lot. K. didn’t have much to say, and the counselor asked what we needed from each other. So I told him, with reference to our Tuesday conversation, that I needed him to be present in this. That I had lost our friendship as well as our marriage. That I was reminded of my mother’s acknowledgment that severing the bonds of her marriage so abruptly was one of the most painful things she’d ever done and that she had a lot of regrets. That I could work around to us agreeing that it would not work out to be married, but that in the absence of that, in this situation where K. is unilaterally leaving the marriage and, in many ways, the family, I could not accept that. That this was an unresolved loss, and that I was not whole, and that I would not be whole.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I can move on and heal and have another relationship and do all these things. Bullshit. You don’t commit your life to someone and have them abruptly disappear and get over it. You learn to live with it. There is a difference.

I am not whole, I said. I will not be whole. And when I said that in ten years you would wake up and regret, I meant that I don’t think you don’t care. We cannot end a marriage this way, we cannot do so great a disservice to each other and our children, so violently, without suffering great personal consequences. Perhaps in ten years you will wake up and feel that loss. And I will too. But I will have been feeling it every day for that time. I will not be whole.

We left the counselor. I came home. I drank some water to replace the tears.

This is what I think:

This isn’t about a failed relationship or a broken family — even though it is. It’s about the promises we made to each other that we have to keep. You can be released from a promise. You break it at your own peril. And the peril of the person who shared it.

And I think of that moment in Office Space when he says, “Every day is worse than the last. So every day you see me is the worst day of my life.”

“So today is the worst day of your life?”



It’s like that.

I got a call from a single mom friend last night. She said, “For the first time, I’m really realizing how hard it is to be a single mom. And how lonely. And how much it just…sucks. And I don’t hope that for you.”

Funny, I’d been thinking the same thing. I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about practicalities; how to keep the kids safe from K.’s “episodes” where the anger spews and the verbal abuse/bad parenting tactics abound, how to encourage them to feel secure and loved by him as well as me, but discourage them from putting up with bad treatment, how to deal with logistics. I had a counseling appointment with a new counselor, who is supposed to be my space to just deal with my feelings, after work. She asked me to start telling her the story of how I met K., and it seemed, as it always does, fairly random in the hearing. It was happenstance, it was hormones, it was on the rebound. How do you explain, even to yourself, that the person whom you may not have chosen to be with in a mythical state of total sense and objectivity has become your family, that you miss him, that you shudder to think of a future of negotiating relationships with people who are not your children’s father, and, at times, forcing your children to negotiate them when they shouldn’t have to? How do you explain how angry you are at his leaving and his dallying and his refusal to consider coming back while at the same time you have compassion for how difficult it is, and has been, and you understand that if you hadn’t had an unexpectedly large circle of support running to catch hold of the edges of your emergency blanket, as well as the unexpected realization that your coat could be used as a parachute, you might be taking that line as well? How do you explain to yourself that there are still benefits to trying when you know you’re trying alone?

Yesterday afternoon, we had a playdate with a mom from Thing One’s prior playschool, a mom who had always seemed content, and she asked me about how it was working with K. coming over to visit and the time and the finances. Then she said to me, “I really don’t think Rob and I are going to stay together.”

I was floored. Not that it makes sense for me to be; surely I am not the only person in the world whose marriage is giving indications of ending. But I was floored, because it does feel like that, because you don’t see past other people’s exteriors into the messes in their basements and bathrooms, because her baby daughter, who is nearly one, was swinging in the swing and Thing Two was standing at my feet contemplating wood chips and Thing One and her son, both dressed in appropriately manly kelly green-and-navy combos like two cutouts from the Appropriate Gender Identity Factory, were chasing each other around the play structure, climbing camellias, and shrieking with glee.

She seemed so calm.

“Is it going badly?” I asked. “Has this been happening for a while?”

She told me yes, that she and Rob were basically just living together because they couldn’t afford to live apart, that they had spoken recently about how they would manage doing so, that they had spent an hour together the other day and it had been…bad.

Just bad.

Now, insofar as I know him, I like Rob. But I’ve been him hanging out at coffee shops around town a fair amount, and I never see Jolie hanging around anywhere. She’s on with the kids 24/7. She takes them everywhere she goes, including to do email at the library. She doesn’t work, and it has always seemed to me that it would impossible for her to work because Rob is never home, and parents perhaps five hours a week.

“Is Rob a grown-up?” I asked.

“Not really,” she answered. We talked about how, when you go from being a young couple to having kids, you change your priorities and expect your partner to change his as well. And how often it doesn’t quite happen, and one partner, usually the man, doesn’t quite get it, doesn’t realize the weight of this work the two of you have been given, and continues as before. Whereas, to the primary parent, the one enmeshed in the day-to-day, the one who checks the sleeping babies before bed (and after dinner, after going to the bathroom, before Grey’s Anatomy, and upon returning from smoking) just to make sure they are breathing and unentangled and in safe stasis, nothing is as before.

One thing that K. and I talked about on Tuesday night, the night of the angry episode and declaration that to stay with me would be mercenary, was the work of parenting. We talked about how he’d let me do the heavy lifting. I described a conversation we had, when Thing Two was tiny, in which I was so tired and defeated and desperate that I said to him, “You have to take this baby. Now. Or I will drop her!”

He didn’t take her. He told me I could handle it and that he’d help out later. And I didn’t drop her. But later we talked, and I said that when I was clearly articulating that I was at the end of my rope and I needed him to step in right then, he needed to do so. This seemed intuitive to me. If the bus driver is having a seizure, you don’t just let him keep driving the bus.

He said, “Can’t it wait an hour or two?”

When we talked about that on Tuesday, I was not recriminating. I was trying to explain how difficult it had been for us because we had so few resources, I was so tired and postpartum whatevered and he was depressed and hypersomniac and unable to help. How lonely it had been to be that person, saying, “PLEASE HELP ME. I AM SCREAMING FOR HELP RIGHT NOW! THIS IS THE VERBAL EQUIVALENT OF EVISCERATING ONESELF AND SPELLING OUT S.O.S. WITH ONE’S OWN ENTRAILS!”

He said he didn’t remember.

“How much is your apartment?” I asked Jolie. She told me. I told her that for that same amount, she could have a better two-bedroom, of similar size and vintage, in the building our friends live in seven blocks away AND Rob could get an apartment share for some $300 a month. I was contemplating proposing she move into the apartment that K.’s sister is vacating, but I need to get the highest rent I can for that so I can keep paying all the bills. We strategized a little.

Thing Two got weepy. Jolie’s daughter sat on the ground and threatened to eat cigarette butts, which Jolie scooped out of the way. Thing One wanted to hide behind trees with Jolie’s son. At some point, we all ended up on the empty basketball court, Thing One and his friend using great big branches to rake the wet leaves into piles, Thing Two walking in purposeful zigzags in the waning sunlight and occasionally trying to exit the park so she could catch a bus.

“I worry about that,” she said. “I worry about how Rob would take care of the kids. He doesn’t really know how. He thinks he spends a lot of time with them, but he doesn’t really.”

“You can’t worry about that,” I said. “You have to assume it will make him rise to the occasion. Maybe he’ll actually start parenting them if you’re not around to help out. But as long as he’s not dropping them on train tracks, you have to let him do it.”

I know, she said.

Now I know I’m not alone. For Jolie it is different: she has been dealing with the slow burn of disappointment and resignation, whereas mine was more a blitzkrieg of destruction and refusal. And she sees the future of being a single parent as probably less work, whereas I see it as the shattering of something that has become the center of my world.

On the bookshelf in the living room is a Navajo wedding vase, a wedding gift from K.’s parents. It is essentially a representation of the myth of Baucis and Philmelon: the bottom of the vase is one, but two stems grow out of that to put flowers in.

(The irony grows in that K.’s middle name is the name of one of those types of trees. But I am not the other. I am a small, scrubby, fragrant herb, commonly used in pork dishes and clear spirits. Five miles east of this house there are two lanes, one with my name and one with his, all alone and next to each other across from a vast field. We used to see that and smile.)

It is beautiful in both concept and execution. And I have toyed with the idea of asking K. to destroy it when all of this is over.

Because I can’t bear to look at that symbol of a life that’s over.

Today was my tenure vote.

My mom was babysitting for the meeting. K. had said he’d call me in the morning to talk about coming over after to see the kids, maybe around three.

My committee met and was its usual hilarious, disorganized self. They voted to recommend tenure; now the vote goes to the board of directors and president. I’m a little apprehensive because of the current union tensions and the state budget cuts, but not thinking about it too much.

Mostly I got in the car at 3:15 with no missed calls on my phone and realized that the person I really wanted to call was the one person I couldn’t call. The person who always cheered me on at times like this and to whom the news really meant something. And, to my surprise, I started to cry.

I cried all the way home. Not just tears leaking, but full-on eyes screwed up, mouth stretched to a grimace, skidding down I-5.

In the fridge is my holiday present from K.: a bottle of champagne he got at his work, which he presented to me wrapped in a brown paper bag from our recycling bin. He said it was for when I got tenure.

I don’t feel like drinking champagne.

Next Page »