February 2009


Sunday:

“So you’ll come for a couple of hours before work on Thursday, since you have to leave early on Tuesday?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ll let me know tomorrow if you can make the counseling appointment on Friday?”

“Right.”

“And you’ll let me know tomorrow what time you can come on Thursday? Just whatever’s two hours before you start work?”

“OK.”

Monday: radio silence.

Tuesday:

“Did you find out if you can make counseling Friday?”

“No.”

“Well, when will you know?”

“When I talk to the owners. I haven’t seen them.”

“Well, can you call them? I need to let the counselor know.”

“Oh, and I’m not going to be able to come on Thursday.”

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So I keep noticing new things that are gone as the result of K.’s clandestine packing spree. I also learned that his friend Alec was here with him that day, because, you know, if you’re going to sneak into your former residence without telling the current occupants, you should definitely bring an uninvited guest. Apparently his excuse for dumping the contents of his dresser (that he didn’t want) on my desk and shoving random items in my dresser was that Alec was there and was waiting for him. Perhaps this also explains why he let the children’s lunch items mold all weekend…

I’m not really as bitter as I sound. Just crabby and acknowledging. I took the kids to a playdate with one of Thing One’s former playschool families today. The moms asked how it was going and I said okay, but that I was unsure how things would proceed. In response to learning that K.’s parenting time is 10%, they remarked that it seems men have a greater tendency to abdicate responsibility for their kids and wondered what was up with that. They told the story of Hedy’s best friend who has just lost her husband, who refused 50% parenting time and said magnanimously, “I’ll do thirty.”

K. worked with one of them, Angelina, at the playschool for their parent shift, and they always seemed to like each other. I can’t help wondering if she doesn’t feel a personal sense of puzzlement, or even disappointment.

Now we’re home and in the playroom. Thing Two is sleeping. As I was tidying up here, I noticed that the collage K. made for Thing One when he was an infant, at his first Christmas, is gone. It was a large-format plywood piece, maybe 2.5 x4′. He had created a timely and semi-political collage on it out of his magazines and said it was for Thing One.

I don’t know where it is now. But since there has been no question, or suggestion, or proposal that Thing One spend time wherever K. is living, at least not in the near future, I wonder what possessed him to take it away. I can’t help feeling that Thing One’s connection to his father is eroding through his father’s own volition.

K. and I are no longer married on F*cebook.

I did it. It has been long enough that we haven’t been married in real life. It seemed ridiculous.

How was I to know that hitting “Save Changes” would make me mourn all over again?

I have been waiting for him to come back, to come home, even as I have been facilitating and accommodating his departure. I have been unable to believe that whatever-it-is he’s doing, which as far as I can tell is work, hanging out, his freedom, a little or a lot of partying, is more important than the family we made together.

I’m such an idiot.

It’s Sunday night and I’m in my perch by the front window. The main floor lights at Shannon’s are on. Her dad is staying there for the next month or so. I stopped by today and chatted with him and he had some things to say about choices and parenting and marriage and community. He was smoking outside when I did, and he invited me in. And I noticed the picture that Shannon’s daughter had drawn of a mother and daughter standing outside their house, and one with a rainbow that said “I love you Mommy.”

Is this why I didn’t want to be a mother for most of my life? Probably. I am ill-equipped to deal with being that important to anyone. I am terrified of being needed forever. I was an excellent babysitter; I was the Magic Babysitter for most of my long career — but I always knew my term of duty would be up. There is no such thing in parenting, and the only way out is unimaginably awful.

On Friday when I posted about Shannon’s death I was sitting in the coffee shop across from the counselor’s. Eventually, K. came in. He was carrying a small paper bag full of books that he was returning to me. Some of them were mine and some were his, insofar as anything is anybody’s in a marriage, but he told me he was giving them all to me, rather smugly. He went to get a coffee and I told him what had happened, or more mouthed than told because the tears came back (you must think I cry all the time. Maybe I do. I’ve never been a big crier, really, at least not in terms of crying easily or unabashedly in public. I suppose that had to change sometime). K. had the decency to ask if I “wanted to do this right now.” I said yes, we needed to.

Right now is all about yes, we need to. It is about what has to be done rather than what I would like to do. I had just begun, in the context of our marriage, to feel that there was a little leeway for personal whims and desires, but in the context of my being the lone person over four feet tall in this house full of loose ends and laundry, that leeway has narrowed considerably.

So we went into counseling. I told the counselor about Shannon’s death. He was sympathetic. K. said it was awful and that it was terrible for her daughter, that he thought of his mother and how her father had died when she was eight and that event, that loss, still colored every aspect of her life, even now, and that she was “fifty-four in April.”

Then he said that he’d always thought her daughter was kind of a brat, but that it was still too bad.

We got down to business. We talked about how he’d canceled his parenting time last week. I asked him why and he said, “because I was still furious at you.” I said that if we couldn’t maintain a parenting schedule regardless of personal dust-ups, that I would have to get more daycare and he would have to pay more child support. He said he wouldn’t do that again. I said I was concerned because it seemed inevitable to me that, in the course of dividing a household, etc., there would be ample opportunities for disagreements and anger. He said, “I made a snap judgment, so I just won’t make any snap judgments anymore.”

Then he said, “Things will settle down a lot when we’re in the new space.” The counselor and I both looked at him, puzzled. In the new mental space? I thought. In the space of you having your own place?

“My work,” he explained. “In the new space.” Because the wine bar where he works is moving and is becoming more of a bar bar, in a lofty spot with a view of downtown.

“Oh,” we both said, not really getting it.

Courtney Taylor Taylor came in last night, he told us. The lead singer of the Dandy Warhols. He’s actually quite grounded. People say he’s stuck-up, but it’s really not true. He shook my hand. He said, when he left, “See you upstairs.” Meaning the new space. Courtney Taylor Taylor is going to come to the new space. He’s cool. He’s very imposing. Solid. Really nice guy.

“Oh,” we both repeated, still not getting it.

This is the thing about conversing with K., for me right now at least. His affect is totally reasonable. It seems measured and calm and even. So when he says things like that your dead friend’s kid is a brat or when he interrupts this counseling session for an important bulletin about how Minor Rock Star Actually Has Wonderful Qualities and By the Way Isn’t It Cool That He Likes My Bar and He! Said! He’ll! See! Me! Upstairs!, you feel at first incredulous, like “Are you really blathering about Minor Rock Star in the middle of a counseling session that’s supposed to be about How Your Kids Can Be Parented Well and By the Way What Happened Last Week with the Whole “I don’t want to come” Business?” and then self-doubting, like “Am I being a crazy shrew to think it’s inappropriate to talk about Minor Rock Star? Maybe Minor Rock Star is of deep spiritual importance to K. A sort of lodestone. A pole star. A compass. Maybe Minor Rock Star is… an allegory! That’s it! Minor Rock Star is allegorical. And if I can parse the allegory, I will have Deeper Insight.”

Yup. It’s a one-way ticket to Crazytown.

Anyway, that was Friday. Not much was resolved. Not much was solved. K. said he’d cancel no more, and that was that. We did touch on the whole grandparents’ letter issue. I, semi-pettily, pointed out that all the info in the letter came directly from his mother and he looked annoyed. We also touched on the Giving Notice Before Moving Objects Issue. He was irritated, yet again.

I came home and thought that it was strange to interact with K. and to feel like he wasn’t really there in any of the ways that matter.

Yesterday was the wake. We were late getting there, mostly because we were importuned for an hour and a half by Obnoxious Hard-sell Window Replacement Company, whose hard sell had semi-tricked me into agreeing to an appointment. We really do need a couple new windows around here, which I’d told them. I also told them that that was ALL we needed. I also told them that I have only the recommended max time period of 90 minutes, which they ran over by 20. They gave me a canned speech, a PowerPoint printout, some prefab “what window would YOU want?” questions, some melted chunks of vinyl that supposedly represent the lameness of the competitors’ products, and the assessment that all of my windows are cheap and badly installed and my entire house is filling with mold and dry rot and ruining my investment. And they got my name wrong repeatedly. And they would not leave. They asked me what they would have to do to get my business and I finally told them that they would have to listen to me when I told them that I needed to go, that I was late for a wake, and that their canned patter (plus the lead talker’s insistence on getting my name wrong) was in my way. It took them another 20 minutes to get out. I am never going to buy their windows.

The wake was full of people. It was at the corner bar, and David the bartender, my commiserator and perhaps would-be suitor, was there. He plied me with free beer. I saw Cara, the bearer of bad news and Shannon’s next door neighbor, and she filled me in on some details: that Shannon’s daughter had not seen her much the last few days. That there had been a day, the night before she died, when Cara had taken the daughter over, hoping to say a few words to Shannon herself, but the little girl had said “I want to crawl in bed with my mom” and had done so, crawled onto the hospital bed and nursed.

(Shannon was not still nursing her six-year-old, though she did tell me that she had nursed until H. was four and that she felt that H. would have nursed forever if she’d let her. But who can blame her? I couldn’t help thinking of that celebrity in New York who was murdered and found with her two-year-old daughter trying to nurse from her cold, dead body. It’s so totally understandable and so sad.)

I talked to Shannon’s ex, who will be taking their daughter, and I talked to Shannon’s dad. That was sort of odd: he asked me how my situation was going, and I said, “Not good. K. didn’t come this week, and I’m not sure if I can count on him,” and he responded, “Men don’t understand family. They just don’t. Women do, and they’re trained to from a young age. Men. Just. Don’t.”

Interesting, coming from a guy who moved cross-country to be with his daughter when she got sick. But I think he’s got something there. At the very least, there is a level of responsibility — emotional responsibility — that women seem to take on more easily than men. And that explains why, in situations like mine, there was never any question that I would stay with the kids, that K. would go off and do…whatever he does. Which, as far as I can tell, is listen to music, work late, and go out with his coworkers until three or four or five a.m.

There was a slide show happening in the back of the bar: moments of Shannon’s life from birth to recently. Before it, on one of the tall tables, her daughter sat with two other children watching it. “I want to see me,” she said, and the adults went to the computer and forwarded to photos of Shannon holding the baby, little girl, child.

There were photos of Shannon getting married, Shannon laughing, Shannon sitting, as I had seen her sit so many times, outside the back door of her apartment, with roses and lavender around her, in the afternoon sun.

There was a table with Shannon’s ashes in an urn. There was a computer with Shannon’s work, the Citizens’ Utility Board, and an obit her boss had written for her.

I had told Thing One that we were going to a party for Shannon, but that we wouldn’t see Shannon because she was dead. But I guess I was only half right.

Left to myself, I would have stayed all night. But Thing Two was cranky and tired, so I said my goodbyes (David hugged me, which was nice, and said, “Stay strong. I love you,” which was a little unsettling; I am getting used to the fact that my husband is not my husband and that the man I thought loved me treats me with little but disdain and anger, but that doesn’t mean I can deal with a Valentine expression of love from Random Dude) and at four-thirty we finally made it home. In my pocket I had put a Play-doh cat face H. had made and left on the table. Of course it was crushed.

I put Thing Two down and let Thing One watch a movie and sat on the porch looking at Shannon’s and cried and cried. I cried for Shannon. I cried for her daughter. I cried for her father and her former husband and for Cara and all of us who will wake up in the sleepy hours still hoping to see her long and graceful body loping down the hill toward her car. I cried for the past that we didn’t savor enough. I cried for the future that we don’t have.

I cried for K., whoever he is, saying such hateful things and such inconsequential things, failing to connect with his children, with me. I cried for my children and the uncertainty of our lives and the pain they feel at losing their father, at losing their family, which the facsimile of him — or of what he should be — does not alleviate. I cried for the irony of all of the mourning I find myself having to do and, in the midst of it, these earfuls of Minor Celebrity updates or How Many Drugs My Coworkers Are Doing gossip or whatever.

I cried for the end of the life I thought we had. All of us.

I cried because Shannon believed it was worth getting through it. And I have so much trouble sharing that belief.

This morning I took the kids to the coffee shop, which is a red brick building across the street from the bar. “No,” Thing One said, pointing at the bar’s wooden siding, “I want to go to the brown one.”

But the brown one is not the same today.

I mean to write a post about the events of Friday and Saturday, including the counseling session that would have been funny if it weren’t so tragic, but for now I’m going to include this letter I just sent out to K.’s family in response to a “Happy Valentine’s Day” e-mail from his grandparents. Since it has become apparent that everyone knows, I thought I might as well acknowledge what’s been going on. Here’s the letter:

Happy Valentine’s Day. The children and I spent the afternoon at a wake for our friend and neighbor Shannon. Shannon died this week after an 11-month battle with breast cancer. When she was first diagnosed, she went on a raw foods diet and I brought her back some purloined bananas from the organic farm we stayed on in Hawaii so that she could have a treat.

Shannon was a beautiful person with a way of creating community. She used to have us over regularly and invite the children to participate in parties and wading pool gatherings in summer in her courtyard across the street. When I first met her, I remember remarking that she was the one person connecting us to our neighbors and making me feel that it was actually a neighborhood. Her six-year-old daughter, Hana (named after the place on Maui) loved playing with Thing One. Hana was at the wake and she and Thing One played peekaboo and tag. They made play-doh sculptures and ate chips and acted like children, which was good to see.

As you’ve all heard, the day was otherwise not going to be much great shakes in terms of love or celebration for us. However, I feel we are lucky to have had the chance to participate in a gathering for a person who was always full of love, compassion, and humor and to share those feelings with others who loved her. It was hard to be there and witness the history of her life — particularly through a beautiful slideshow that caused me to cry every time I watched it — but being able to be in a place of love and remembrance for Shannon gave me perspective and a better sense for the gifts we still have without diminishing the gravity of the situation and the grave cost for the children. It seems that even in death, Shannon continues to give me an example and an inspiration.

You can read Shannon’s letter to her friends here.
I think it beautifully expresses her spirit and a mother’s thoughts on having to leave a child behind.
Shannon was a great, thoughtful support when I first became a single parent in December, even as she learned of the far bigger personal transition she would have to make. As I think of her daughter, Hana, and the loss she has suffered, I also think of Thing One and Thing Two and the loss they are currently suffering. Although, fortunately, the loss of an intact family through divorce offers some opportunity for redemption or amelioration, divorce is, as Shannon once wrote in a mediation on her own experience, a kind of death. It tends to drive a wedge between parents and children, a fact that is often forgotten in the shuffle. It will mark these children for the rest of their lives, and that adds an almost unbearable grief to the loss of the relationship central to my life.

Please keep Thing One and Thing Two in your thoughts as we move forward. Please keep Shannon and Hana in your thoughts. I am grateful for all they continue to give me. I only wish I could have given more back. Although I have been preoccupied with my own grief, the bigger joy of Shannon’s life has given me an opportunity to recognize the immense love and joy we can take in the world.

I am reminded of ee cummings’s poem “you being in love:”

you being in love
will tell who softly asks in love,

am i separated from your body smile brain hands merely
to become the jumping puppets of a dream? oh i mean:
entirely having in my careful how
careful arms created this at length
inexcusable, this inexplicable pleasure-you go from several
persons: believe me that strangers arrive
when i have kissed you into a memory
slowly, oh seriously
-that since and if you disappear

solemnly
myselves
ask “life, the question how do i drink dream smile

and how do i prefer this face to another and
why do i weep eat sleep-what does the whole intend”
they wonder. oh and they cry “to be, being, that i am alive
this absurd fraction in its lowest terms
with everything cancelled
but shadows
-what does it all come down to? love? Love
if you like and i like,for the reason that i
hate people and lean out of this window is love,love
and the reason that i laugh and breathe is oh love and the reason
that i do not fall into this street is love.

I keep looking across the way at Shannon’s and feeling the emptiness of her absence. And yet reading her words, particularly her meditation on marriage, family, etc., makes me feel that even in death she is communicating to me something I need to hear, as she often managed to do.

I left the house to go to the counseling appointment and ran into my neighbor, Cara, who ran across the street with purpose. Our other neighbor, a woman I was very fond of and whose six-year-old played with Thing One occasionally, died two nights ago. I knew she had cancer. I knew it was bad. But I didn’t know it was going to end like this, and so soon. Apparently, no one did.

Tomorrow, we’ll all go to the corner bar and have a wake. And the kids will have an object lesson in death and love and community. And I will try to push past the feeling of wishing I’d called sooner about coming over, wishing I was less preoccupied with my own story, and tell this story:

She was one of the first people I told about K. leaving. She had a karaoke Christmas dvd and she and her daughter and Thing One and I sang along to it that day in December. She had a clear soprano and sang harmony, something I have always admired when it comes so naturally. We laughed, through our individual tears, about the “grandma” and “grandpa” puppets in the video, who looked like creepy paper dolls. And even though we don’t celebrate Christmas and Thing One didn’t know any of the words, it was the most Christmasy feeling I’ve had in a long time.

I am lucky. And as long as I am lucky, I’m going to try to keep knowing it. And the terrible loss to her daughter is something so much harder and bigger than this.

‘Bye, Shannon.

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Radiohead. K. loves Radiohead. I think they’re okay. But this song seems appropriate for this situation.

When I ask my friends why he could possibly be acting like this — choosing not to see his children — all my guy friends say variations on the same thing: “The only way he can assert himself is by defying you.”

Well, they are the best thing that he ever had. And they are going away. And he doesn’t see it, because he’s not here to, and because he doesn’t have eyes to see. Yesterday Thing One said again, “I don’t love Daddy because Daddy doesn’t love me.”

We have a counseling appointment this afternoon. K. declined to offer to come over yesterday when both kids were sick and I had to teach — my dad saved us — but he seems to be planning on going. I spoke with the counselor this morning and detailed the recent goings-on. “Sounds like he’s not cooperating,” he said. Yes, clearly. But in trying to punish me — you recall Monday’s landmark “I’m doing this to YOU!” — he’s not really succeeding. He’s punishing them. He’s punishing himself.

Anyway, I’m not sure how this appointment is going to go. But I do know that if K. is going to keep leaving the kids high and dry, that I’m going to have to make other plans.

And the kids are going to start making other plans. Because they can’t count on them if he won’t be there. And I wonder why K. doesn’t see:

They’re the ones who’ll hate you when you think you’ve got the world all sussed out
They’re the ones who’ll spit at you. You will be the one screaming out.

I don’t wish that on them. Or even on him. Although it’s quite clear that he’s asking for it.

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