March 2009


This is going to be the On The Road of blog posts. Imagine it as though it were written on a single roll of butcher paper, at a typewriter, in one sitting. No edits. Porbably the author is a little crazed.

Because I have no time. Because too much has happened. Because I’m so frustrated and angry and sad I can’t breathe, and yet I can’t take time to be those things either.

Because I can’t breathe for real, and so as I eat and drink I find myself gasping for breath, and this head cold has lasted all week so far.

Because Thing Two has pinkeye and an abcessed hand and a sinus infection.

Because Thing One’s eyes are both swollen, under and over, so badly they look like water balloons. Purple, shiny water balloons. He resembles, if anything, the vampires from Buffy, except that it hurts my heart to look at him.

What happened this week is that one of my oldest friends flew out to visit from the East Coast to stay with me and ostensibly help out. He wanted to be useful, I more wanted the moral support. He spent a couple days apparently getting frustrated when he spent time with the kids. Then I walked into the kitchen and found him swigging from the bottle of Pastis.

He’s an alcoholic.

He’s been recovering for nine years.

This is what happened: I walked in, noticed, but didn’t jump all over him. Instead, I made a trivial remark on a different topic. He leaped off the chair he was standing on (the alcohol is high up), bottle in hand and behind back, and edged toward the door, then went upstairs. I went to the bottom of the stairs.

“Is that the Pastis?”

“Ye-es.”

“You know, that’s really hard to get.”

“I’ll get you some more.” (Retreats toward attic room where he is sleeping.)

“John?”

“Yeah.”

“You need to bring that bottle downstairs. Now.”

Now, I don’t have a lot of experience with alcoholism or alcoholics (I do think that K. has a problem with alcohol, but I don’t think it’s his primary problem). However, after he zipped downstairs, replaced the bottle, then ran back up, muttering, “Long story. Shameful stuff. Long story,” I decided that two things were probably wise: 1)not to bury my head in the sand, and 2)not to leave the booze out.

So I hid it. As best I could. On the bottles that were harder to hide or went into worse hiding places, I used a Sharpie to mark the fill line. On the label, so it couldn’t be scrubbed off. Yeah, I know that these things can be diluted. But I figured it was something.

We did have a talk that night, a talk in which he assured me that this was only the second time he’d relapsed in nine years, a talk in which he told me he didn’t want me to tell his family and I told him that I couldn’t be complicit in keeping that kind of secret. I suggested he go to a meeting and went and found him one the next day at noon. He expressed concern that he would be missing picking up Thing One at school, which he had been slated to do as a favor to me. I told him not to worry about it. Then I got on the phone and machinated wildly, calling in favors and cobbling together a schedule that would have a friend picking my kid up and keeping him for a bit and my mom getting him and bringing him to our house on the bus. I had to attend a workshop on campus that day, you see, and K. was supposed to come at 3 to do parenting time, and I didn’t want Thing One to miss it (or I would have had a simpler solution).

I was in and out of “Focus on Assessment as a Learning Tool And Blah Blah What the Fuck Ever” all morning, making and taking calls and making this happen. And then popping back in and discussing stupid acronyms for ways to do Learning-Centered Teaching. By eleven I’d nailed it down.

At exactly 12:15, K. called and left a message that he would not be coming because he was sick, had the flu and had been terribly sick since Monday.

Ron, who was in the workshop with me, said, “Hangover!” when I told her. I didn’t think it unlikely, either. Especially since I remember that at four a.m. on Tuesday (late Monday night) he’d been on Facebook posting his five favorite albums with some cheery blurb about them for all his friends to read. He hadn’t seemed sick then.

But, hangover or flu, one thing was clear: he was irresponsible, he was inconsiderate, he was a major spanner in the works. If it were really a flu, why didn’t he call me more than 2 3/4 hours in advance so that I could make other arrangements? I was angry, not least because I didn’t actually feel like leaving Thing One in the care of my obviously destabilized friend (and this made me feel bad, but at least K. has more experience, and also I’m legally obliged to trust him until he proves that trust wrong, whereas I have no such obligation for others. He could have called me Tuesday night. He could have called me earlier. Whatever.

I did talk to him. I didn’t reproach him. I suggested he text me letting me know if he’d be well enough to come Sunday. He said quickly, “Oh, I’ll be fine. I’m going to work tomorow.”

So maybe he believes in recuperating conservatively. Or maybe he was hung over. Or maybe he had something else to do. But most of us parents — we don’t get to call in sick. Particularly when, as his voice suggested, the worst of it was over.

As it was, the wheels were in motion. My mom doesn’t have a cell phone. I could have saved her and Thing One the pain by just having him stay with friends and getting him myself.

So that’s one thing that happened this week. And I did end up telling John’s family, and I don’t think he liked it, but he was making a mysterious effort to make secret purchases at the store and I didn’t think he was on the up-and-up. And the kids didn’t see their father — the sum total was about 3 1/4 hours last Sunday. And my friend and I are uneasy around each other.

He went home yesterday. He seemed all too eager to leave. I was sick and the kids were sick and I didn’t feel up to confronting it, nor did I think that would be strategic.

It’s Sunday again.

Backstory: so the children had shown a lot of interest in a cat. Thing One talks about wanting a pet, and Thing Two is extremely interested in cats. She’s always pointing and bellowing when she hears or sees one on the street. And I work with a woman (she was on my tenure committee, actually) who runs a cat shelter. And I had heard that she had a kind of cat that was less likely to provoke allergies, which Thing One has.

(Oh, my delicate boy! It must be true that boys are more delicate, and I really believe his immune system was fucked over by the toxic mold we had when he was one. Food allergies, asthma, cats, dogs, feathers, dust mites, etc. etc.: he’s got ’em all, and three times this week his head has ballooned.)

Anyway, today was the day. We were going up to get the cat in a small town an hour away. I had explained our situation and my coworker was understanding. We could take the cat, she said, and if it worked out we could keep her; if not, we could return her.

The drive was dreary, though pretty at the end. Our destination was on a steep hill overlooking the river, a view unfortunately marred by I-5 providing a lot of noise and a visual interruption. My coworker led us to the cattery, a small ‘house’ in her backyard. Maybe 100 cubic feet inside, and all of it full as can be of cat dander, for of course she doesn’t leaave the door open and multiple cats live in there.

You can guess what happened: Thing One started to sneeze. I sent him out. We took the cat. By the time we were on the highway he was clawing at his eye. By the time we’d hit the first mile post he was screaming, it was swelling, and I was panicking. It was 11:20.

“Hold me, Mama!” Thing One wailed. “HELP ME!!! AAAAAAGH!!”

“We’re going to be home soon,” I lied. “I can’t stop now; it’s dangerous.”

“Talk to me! HELP ME! I NEED YOU!!!” he wailed.

I tried to talk. I tried to reassure. I tried not to crash.

I called K. I’d been debating whether to do so, but I figured I would need an extra hand, and he was due at 12 (and if I had to wake him up, well, at least he’d be on time this week). I told him that we could pick him up and would call when we got close. I told him that I’d need him to help me take care of Thing One, who was having a bad allergy attack.

Thing One screamed.

We picked up K. at a few minutes to noon, zoomed home. I asked K. to take Thing Two, who showed no signs of allergy, to the nearby pet store and buy some allergy cat shampoo. I took Thing One up, disrobed us both on the front porch, ran into the bath, and rinsed the dander off us both. I administered a second dose of antihistamine (the first had gone down in the car). K. got back and, as instructed, brought a naked Thing Two in and left the cat on the porch. I frantically cleared and cleaned a spot for her (the cat) in the back entry, HEPA vacuumed her bed, which had been sent home with her, then went outside and combed out some of a seemingly endless supply of shedding fur, doused her with allergy wash, brought her in, then quarantined all the dandered clothes.

The cat was actually very tolerant, which gave me an idea. “Will you help me vacuum the cat?” I asked K.

“What?”

“I’ll hold her, and you can vacuum her,” I said. “Should help with the dander.”

“Can I finish my coffee first?” he said.

Finally, we did it. I held the cat. K. vacuumed her with the brush attachment. It seemed to be working well. Thing One sat at the table during this time, snacking (I’d put Thing Two down for a nap in between cleaning forays). We were nearly done when – CRASH – our son hit the floor. Crying.

There I was, covered in dander. “Pick him up,” I said to K. ” Comfort him!”

I finished on my own, removed and washed the vacuum heads. I was about to go shower off the dander, and Thing One had subsided and I was just giving him cheese to go with his crackers, when K. said, “I’m going to take a break on the front porch.”

I looked at our son. His eyes were swollen, discolored, and red. He was traumatized. He had just calmed down.

“The last thing he needs is another allergen,” I said, “Can’t you wait?”

K. was offended. “I’d be happy to brush my teeth afterwards. I just vacuumed your cat,” he said. “I can’t take a three minute break?”

“You vacuumed our son’s cat,” I said, ” so that his allergies, which are flaring, wouldn’t be triggered any more than they already are. He’s not feeling well, he hasn’t seen you all week; he doesn’t need to sit alone and eat while you smoke. He needs you to sit down with him.

He grumbled.

I took my shower.

Thing One came into my room when I came out and played with me.

I got my things ready, finally, after a third cat wash, and said goodbye.

“I’m going to kiss you!” said Thing One. His purple, swollen, bruised little face kissed me on the cheek. Then, as if to establish that he would not take sides, or to assert some equality of affection, he kissed K. on the cheek, too.

And I remembered a conversation we’d had when Thing One crawled into my bed at four this morning:
“Maybe someday we can take my bed over to Daddy’s and I can spend the night,” he’d said. “But you need to stop him from sleeping in my bed. Because that scares me when he does that. That’s not nice. So you need to keep him out of my bed so he doesn’t get scary.”

I had held him and thought about the night to which he referred, the night when I asked K. to settle Thing One and found him passed out in the toddler bed, Thing One standing there pleading to be let back in, and then when I pulled K. out he yelled, “Fuck you! Get the fuck away from me! Fucking fuck you!” and shoved me across the room, several times, as Thing One watched. And I thought that I couldn’t stop Thing One from wanted to sleep over at his daddy’s, but I also couldn’t make his daddy behave.

So today I feel angry and I feel anxious.

I feel anxious that the cat will not work out, that she will make Thing One sick, that it was foolish to try even though I felt that the children needed a pet to love and learn to care for and even though it seemed like it could be possible.

I feel angry that K. is the kind of father who shows up once a week and informs me that since he’s done ME such a favor by helping make the cat safer for Thing One to be around I owe him a smoke break 2 hours into his parenting time.

And, lord help me, I feel angry that Thing One keeps reaching out to his daddy. Because I don’t think there’s much there to reach for. And I know that my relationship with K. and Thing One’s are not the same. But I also know that K. is this guy: the guy who thinks it’s a favor to me. The guy who cancels or is late frequently. The guy who has hit the children, called them names, told him it’s their fault he’s leaving, told them it’s my fault he won’t come see them. The guy with whom I had this conversation (apropos of his asserting that “having a bar would have a ‘positive impact on the world’ last Sunday, when he was over three hours late due to oversleeping):

“You know, don’t you, that you’re not having a positive impact on this world. Right now.”

“I know.”

“What do you think about that?”

“Not everyone can have a positive impact all the time.”

“What do you intend to do about it? This is hard for them.”

“I have no plans.”

—-

Sure, some of it’s me being petty. I feel guilty about that. But more, I feel like this: I feel that I don’t want to watch my kid stand in an empty house at it chars and crumbles around him. And I especially don’t want to watch him try to make a bed there, curl up, and hope it will be okay.

I meant to write a fuller post this weekend. About the filing, the clerk, the experience of that, the days since. About the letting go and the internal goodbyes and the part of me that lags behind them.

But I don’t have time.

K. didn’t show up at noon today. He called at 12:30, having just woken up, and I let it go to voicemail. He left a message saying he’d just woken up and would be over as soon as he could (but since that was on public transit on a Sunday, it wouldn’t be quick). I waited until 1:20 and called him, figuring he’d be en route and could give me an ETA. Instead, I woke him up.

“Hello?”

“Hi, where are you?”

“Oh god. I fell asleep again.”

“WHAT?”

“I’m getting up.”

“Send me a text when you have an ETA.”

I took the kids to a friend’s house to distract them and got a text at 2:37 that he was (finally) waiting for the train. So yes, he was three hours (at least; we got back around 3:30) late today (and would have been more if I hadn’t inadvertently furnished a wake-up call). And I have no work time. I am at a café and I should have left already.

I’m surprised. I’m not surprised. I wonder if he sees that his priorities are showing. And they don’t look good.

Tomorrow we file for divorce.

The “document review” appointment is at 10:45, and there was some question over whether we both had to be there. I followed up with the office I’d originally called (why am I doing the administrating of the divorce? K. is the one who wants it) today and learned that we should really both be there to sign papers.

Throughout my life with K., waking him up so that he could get somewhere or do something on time was a recurring theme. Maybe the recurring theme. And I think tomorrow morning might be the last time I do it. I think I’ll end up calling him at 9:30 or so just to make sure he’s actually going to make it. And I will feel funny about intruding, even telephonically, into the sleepy haze of his morning when I am so clearly not invited, and I will know, practically, that it’s worth any embarrassment to circumvent the very real risk that he sleeps through it, and I will do it.

When I sensed, in the last weeks of November, that things were going downhill, that K. was receding from me, I took some pictures of him. Sleeping. The sweetness of the sleeping form of the person you imagine you will always love. The quietude of the beloved face at rest. The intimacy of the camera’s gaze because it is an invited one, because your place, as you watch that person’s breath rise and fall, is there, and you alone are allowed to look.

I did not think, then, that it would ever be painful to look at them. And yet something must have told me, because I took them not playfully but wistfully. Because in that gaze, there is hesitancy, and a little fear.

There’s the subtle:

“So what day should I come this week?”

“You only want to come one day?”

“Well, I don’t want to come two days in a row.”

And the not-so-subtle:

“So, do you want to spend one day a week for the foreseeable future? Or more than that?”

“One day. I guess so.”

The superfluous:

“Can you please tell me before you take things out of the house?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The glasses. The DVD player. Etc. I want you to show enough consideration to tell me BEFORE you take them out of the house.”

“What’s the problem?”

“It’s rude.”

“Whatever.”

The disappointing:

“So, we talked about how we believed that the children’s standard of living should be consistent with our own.”

“Yeah. Of course.”

“And we talked about agreeing to pay more than the state-mandated child support if we make dramatically more money.”

“Yes.”

“So I’d like to make an agreement now that if in the future we do make more money, our percentage of child support will not go down as far as the state calculator might suggest. As a commitment to the kids.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because there might be money that could be better allocated elsewhere. The foundation of my life for the next ten years is entrepreneurship. I’m not going to commit to that.”

“But don’t you think the children have a right to our support beyond the paltry amount that the state mandates? Like for college funds? We could make an agreement, say, to not go below 35% of our incomes in child support and to put an extra beyond the state mandate into a college fund. And it’s not just you; if you had the kids half-time and I made a lot more, then I would be paying more child support.”

“I’m not going to make an agreement. I will always support them, but I’m not going to make an agreement.”

And the ill-advised:

“Is it that you were never the person you said you were? Or did you just stop?”

“What?”

“Did you just stop. Being him.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know who that was. Or if I’m not.”

Oh, you’re not. The lack of resemblance is striking. My husband, that guy I loved, who loved me, the one who fathered my children, the one I believed in enough to create those two children with and carry them in my body despite grave reservations about the process and its prospects?

He’s dead.

Or maybe never was. And I guess I don’t get to know which.

I’m a fatalist, but not a patternist. I don’t really buy the whole “God has a plan” idea, or at the very least I don’t think that god’s plan, if there were a god who had a plan (as opposed to no god, or many different gods, or some amorphous godlike force whose plans are totally unintelligible to us, or some amorphous godlike force that is itself totally unintelligible to us) can be understood logically.

But it does often seem to me that there is a hidden order, or some kind of pattern, into which our lives fall.

This week I had a dream about Shannon. I don’t remember it well — that morning was a rushed one, as every morning when I haven’t prepped with what seems an inordinate amount of late night lunch-making, clothes-selecting, house-cleaning and such is — and by the time it resurfaced in my head, it was twenty-four hours old. But two things about the dream stand out: Shannon was dying, but not yet dead; she was there; and she had something she wanted to tell me that I knew I had to get around to hearing before she went.

Classic, I know. She died and I’m here and her kid went away with her ex and her dad is still living across the street and I didn’t get to say goodbye. Of course I’m dreaming she had something to tell me. But I don’t know: for one thing, my dreams tend to be alarmingly prophetic. I’m not going to tell you about the precognitive dreams I had about deaths and divorces, because then y’all might start emailing me hoping for a direct line to the oracle. And I’m no oracle; my dreams are rarely clear. But when they are clear, they tend to be quite strikingly relevant.

Anyway, so I had a sense of lingering unfulfilled duty to Shannon for the last couple of days. I thought about the plans I’d made — I want to plant a tree to remember her and make a wire dragonfly, sort of a totemic animal for her, to hang on it. I want to have her daughter over for a playdate. I was pretty sure none of these were what my dream referred to.

Today was K.’s first day since last Sunday. I was wondering if he’d be late again, but I was pretty sure he wouldn’t. For one thing, the last few weeks had been so egregious that pattern had to break. For another, he’s not going to just drop off; it’s not his style. Slow erosion and inconsistency is more his style; as my stepfather would say, “he’s always an hour late and a dollar short,” but he does eventually show up and he does have the other $2.99. So it’s hard to completely give up on him. And sure enough, he came walking up the steps right at noon.

I’ve been thinking a lot about K. lately. My friends say I’ve been sounding better. My friends say, in fact, that I sound great, and I’m pretty sure they’re all breathing sighs of relief and raising vodka shots to each other thinking ‘thank GOD she’s not calling us every day crying anymore!’ I mean, I love my friends, and I know they love me. But we all have our own dramas, right? And I’m sure it gets old, listening to your jilted pal moan over the loss of some dude you never really got to know anyway and are now convinced was a total loss.

Anyway, I have been doing better, at least in the ways that can be observed. And yet “doing better” is a strange phrase, one that seems almost to mean that I am succeeding at distancing myself from my own life. For example: music. I have several songs on my player that remind me of, or refer to, K. One of them is “I Thought I Held You,” by Wilco; the other is “Nobody Knows Me,” by Lyle Lovett. Both invoke the closeness I thought we had and the betrayal or abandonment of it. And for the last few weeks I’ve been skipping over them in the player, going directly from MC Solaar to more MC Solaar, which is safe ground because it is never plaintive and never specifically about love, but more about how ridiculous social behavior and mores are. I’ve been listing to a lot of Solaar and precious little else in the car, which I guess is good insofar as it’s probably safer not to drive while sobbing.

But this week I managed to listen to both of those songs. Not without a little catch in the voice, it’s true, but without falling to pieces. And I made a semi-jesting list of qualities of the ‘ideal man’ and circulated it on Facebook. And I told some people that I thought I should go out on a date when the divorce is final, which may be very soon as we’re filing on Wednesday and asking for a waiver of the ninety-day waiting period. And, after I’d complained about the prospect of spending ten days with K.’s family in Hawaii this June (family reunion; the kids should go, and the grandparents are of course adamant that I’m family too, more power to them; the fact, however, remains that it’s going to be my first interaction with the extended family since the split and there will be side-taking, unwarranted and -wanted judgments, and tactlessness, and it’s probably going to be frustrating for me from an interpersonal perspective), a friend of mine came forward with the contact info of a friend of his on the island, with the idea that I could slip away for an evening. I’m now thinking that might be a good plan for at least half the evenings there, and might keep me sane enough to stand the loneliness and the frustration/irritation and the humiliation (yes, humiliation; I don’t like it, but I feel it) at being there in my status as K.’s cast-off wife and potential Antagonist to the Family Interest. Particularly when they find out my thoughts about the name thing.

So anyway. I’m normalizing. I’m coping. I’m acting like a person who has perspective, who is healing, and who doesn’t find the idea of sleeping with someone not my husband scary and abhorrent. And Ron told me that she knew a guy who sort of fits my idea of the ideal man, and did I want her to introduce me?

Whee.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to see K.

My feelings about him are complicated and cause my stomach to start jumping about twenty minutes before he’s due. There’s the fear he’ll not show. There’s the fear he’ll be late. There’s the fear of how the kids will take to him. And there is the personal sense of dissonance: K. is not the person I expect to see. He looks different, he acts different, he smells different. He is puffier about the face. He is scrupulous about never brushing against me, as I am him. He is messy-haired. And the look in his eyes is unfamiliar to me.

Right now, writing about it, I’m wishing for a cigarette more than I have in the two weeks since I haven’t smoked. It is umheimlich in the worst sense of the word. What was homely, familiar, lovely, safe is now unrecognizeable, and yet eerily the same.

Ron says that K. is dead and I am dealing with a zombie. That sentiment rings true at times like this. And yet I am careful — I try to be careful — not to let my feelings of alienation from him color my observations of how he is with the children.

Anyway, today K. showed up on time. He was puffy and unkempt. He was also apparently glad to see the children. I found myself thinking that maybe once a week is perfect; maybe that’s the amount of time that causes him to actually appreciate his afternoon with them. We’ve done three times a week and twice a week, and it just seemed like he viewed it as a chore; perhaps this new interval, should it become permanent, would at least allow him to be happy to see them. On the other hand, it also sets him up as something of a rock star, and I don’t much care for that: the weekend dad who, when he shows up, is flocked to by children showering affection and looking for approval. They should be able to depend on him more. He should have to be present enough to — to put it baldly — become pedestrian.

Anyway, today things were going pretty well. Thing Two was happy to see K., and Thing One, despite having told me he didn’t want Daddy to come, seemed eager to play with him. K. got coffee and Thing Two finished her eggs. I set Thing One up with a game. All seemed proceeding well, so I went to get ready to go. And just then, there was a knock on the door. It was Shannon’s father with her daughter, Hana, wanting to drop her off to play.

I should explain that Hana is almost seven and has a forceful personality. She can be great with Thing One, who’s half her age; she can also be easily offended and combative. And the last couple times, before the wake, they saw each other, there were some clashes. And of course right now she’s probably not at her best. So I told John that we were happy to have her, that K. was there but that I’d stick around to get everyone settled, and that I’d have him call when it was time for her to come home.

That delayed my departure a bit. There was game-playing to be managed, skirmishes to be broken up, faux pas to be smoothed over (Thing One had the bright idea to say, “Your mom died!” to her, which she took pretty well, considering), and personal space to be managed. There were rules to be set and fruit leathers to be distributed. There was my own checking in and noticing and comforting of Hana, including the worrisome fact that she seems to have gained quite a bit of weight, and was never a skinny child — he dad is quite overweight (Shannon was not, and part of their divide always seemed to be that she fell on the health nut/raw foods and he on the Jack-in-the-Box side of the spectrum) and I worry that she’ll be allowed to grow up unhealthy.

Anyway, it finally seemed OK for me to go. During this time K. had absented himself from the child management and gone out to smoke a cigarette. I know he’s not overfond of Hana, so that’s one thing; another is that he maybe doesn’t want the challenge of having to manage a sometimes contentious playdate. But there it is: that’s part of parenting, too. I felt that I was observing something: he was happy to see the kids, more playful and connected to them than he had been, but when Hana stepped in, he disconnected again, seeming put out at the concept. You could almost see the cartoon bubble above his head that read, “not in my job description!”

But I did make it out, an hour later. And I stopped by Hana’s and talked to her ex-husband and father, who were both there, about the set-up (that K. might not be the most competent at managing the dynamic and might bring her home) and also about her news: that she and her dad would be moving into the place across the street, where she’d lived with her mom and that John, her grandfather, had been in the process of closing down and moving out of.

Apparently there was a roommate/childcare swap share her dad had set up that wasn’t working out. And apparently they needed somewhere else to live. And the apartment across the street from us, where Shannon had lived, is roomy and affordable and in a community full of parents (mostly single moms) and kids, all of whom Hana knows. I think it’s a great idea. Hana’s dad said to me, “It’s going to be hard since I work nights, but we’ll definitely have a good support system.” And I thought, maybe that’s what Shannon had to tell me: that there is still work to be done here, more actively than perhaps I had envisioned or, if I am honest with myself, wanted. Maybe I have a bigger role to play. And maybe the glancing connection Shannon and I had before she died will turn out to be just a part of the story.

Maybe. But it’s a story I’ll always be telling Shannon, without words.

There’s me being cosmic. It happens.

Hana’s dad also asked me how I was doing. I told him that K. and I were filing for divorce this coming Wednesday. He said he was sorry, and that four years ago it was him and Shannon doing the same thing. I told him that it seemed as though K. had just disappeared, and also that I felt like I was pulling all the strings because K. didn’t want to — that I had had thoughts along the lines of “what’s the minimum the kids can see K. and still feel they have a good relationship with him,” and that I hated having those thoughts, but at the same time, K. seemed neither able nor especially willing to be the equal parent I had always hoped he would be, and instead seemed like a pretty negative role model. He sympathized, saying, “It sounds like he’s scared. Of all of it.” Then he said that Shannon had wanted to be the primary parent and he had wanted to share equally, and that they had just, before she’d died, gotten to where Hana was with him three nights a week.

At the wake, John had told me that he’d been unimpressed with Hana’s dad for a long time, but had grudgingly allowed that he had been there every afternoon after school (because he worked nights and Shannon days) for Hana and had been a pretty involved dad. And now he’s moving in with his ex’s father, at least for the time being, and, in a very real way, into his ex’s life and surroundings and support network. He will, I imagine, be sleeping in the room where she died.

There are all kinds of models. I don’t know who K. will turn out to be, as a person or a father. I don’t even really know where he is right now, though if pressed I’d say that he’s up for 10-15% parenting his kids and doesn’t want to deal with the details of their lives, like playdates or relatives or social events or the like. I don’t know where he’s going as a person, though I have felt, not just for a little while, that part of this whole shift is that he is letting go of the self-image and ambitions that he crafted when I met him, and which bound us together — to be someone who created things and who was a powerful force for that, making and doing in an elemental and essential way, in the world; his new ambition, as he said to me in December, “is to own a bar. I know it’s not much of an ambition, but that’s my ambition. That’s all.” And so it seems that the furniture of his life is bar stools and a track between his sister’s house and his job, with stops at the movie theatre and the smoke shop, and that he works long, plays a bit after, is tired, and has no room or energy for anything else.

If I sound dismissive or belittling, I don’t feel so. I am just increasingly reminded that the K. I see now, the life he is making, is not the K. who married me or who shared my ideas and ideals. Maybe he never was. Maybe I was too much the leader. Maybe he needed to grow up by himself. Maybe, maybe, maybe. It makes me sad to mourn that man whose own — I thought they were his own — future plans I also loved and respected. His constancy and his ideals were a huge part of what bound us together. In a week he revoked his allegiance from me; I don’t know how long it took for his ideals to lead the way or to follow suit.

So yeah. I’m supposed to go on a date. I’m supposed to escape to witty adult company in Hawaii. I’m able to retain composure while Jeff Tweedy sings, “I thought I held you/by the hand…”. And I’m seeing double right now because of the tears.

I am the master puppeteer, and I never wanted to be. And K. is, perhaps, just a tired young man who hasn’t realized that dragging himself out of bed a little earlier, planning a little better, seeing his children a little more, would have immeasurable benefits for them and him.

I understand tired. I was up all night Friday after Thing One climbed in bed with me, then threw up all over. I was up last night taking Thing Two to the E.R. and then waking up to make sure her head injury, though apparently mild, wasn’t worsening (it didn’t).

And I am tired every time I have another “first since,” every time I go or do or see somewhere or one or thing that I last experienced with K., in my life with him, in the life that belonged to us both. I am tired of pulling that invisible carapace over my head and greeting the world with a gaze that does not betray the last time I did this or hear it or saw it I was a woman who loved a man and had committed her life to him. A woman who was loved. A woman who held and was held, who believed and was believed in.

Now I am a woman who doesn’t know what to believe.

One of the things that K. agreed to last Sunday was to text me as soon as he knew his schedule for the next week. It’s Friday, and I haven’t heard from him. Still don’t know when/if he’s seeing the kids next week, and I’m currently setting up various playdates with Thing One’s playschool kids and such. We’ll see if he remembers.

I, on the other hand, just texted him to let him know that I’ve transfered another thousand dollars to his account (so he can fix his car; the running total is $4K, which is more than it’s worth and also a huge chunk out of his “share” of our savings, which I still have to calculate so that I don’t start giving him my savings).

The kids haven’t mentioned him all week. I don’t think they’ve thought about him.

How odd.

I know, I know: Cher is not exactly what you want to be thinking of, at least not before noon. And my Cher repertoire is actually very small, despite the amount of time I’ve spent singing karaoke in San Francisco’s Mint, where the queens are thick on the ground and the Cher thick in the air. But I have a special fondness for this song ever since I saw Lloyd Cole and Jill Sobule cover it, with technical perfection and to raucous applause, at Arlene Grocery in something like 2000.

It was an encore, and it was amazing. I mean, picture Lloyd Cole, who’s kind of an ironic college radio circuit crooner, belting out, “I can feel something inside me say/ I really don’t think you’re strong enough, no!”

Completely deadpan. There’s something endearing about a performer willing to completely transgress his own style to adopt someone else’s.

Maybe that moment in Arlene Grocery somehow correlates to what I’m doing now. In many ways, this is exactly what I never wanted to do: be a single mom of two children. Even more so given that I’m a single mom who has to deal with a father who’s neither very present nor very interested. But lip service, and service to my own sense of ethics about including him in decisions/apprising him of them, has to be paid. So I’m in the unenviable position of having to chase him down or prolong our now-ultrabrief Sunday night “scheduling meeting” by importuning him with these concerns.

Last Sunday was pretty amazing. Yes, I woke K. up nine minutes before he was supposed to come over; I then drove the kids to pick him up and sat in a parking lot waiting for nigh on twenty minutes. When we got to the house, Thing Two was crashed out and I put her down. I thought I’d do some work while she napped and K. played with Thing One.

He wandered into the kitchen and picked up the coffee pot, which was empty. He then wandered back into the living room, where I was talking to Thing One (who had remarked quietly, in the car on the way over, “Mama, I don’t want Daddy to come over.”). He said,

“Since you’re here, can I go to the coffee shop?”

“Why don’t you just make some coffee? You’re welcome to.”

“It’s too hard. I don’t want to make a whole pot.”

“K., it’s your parenting time,” I said. “I’ll stick around the house, but if you want to go to the coffee shop, you need to take Thing One.”

“Thing One,” he said, “do you want to go to the coffee shop?”

Thing One looked up from his trains and turned his eyes, which are a changeable bluish color and at this moment were turquoise and piercing, on K. “You can make coffee AT HOME, Daddy. And drink it AT HOME. You don’t need to go to the coffee shop.” He continued playing. Dis-missed!

A frustrated K. took Thing One upstairs to the playroom. I found him there, slumped on a couch, blearily watching Thing One and his trains, when I brought him a cup of coffee ten minutes later.

None of that was really surprising. It’s been pretty typical. And I guess I agree with the counselor, who says that it’s better for the kids to see and know K. even if he’s not a very good parent in terms of the quality of time and attention he offers them or spends on them.

I finally made it out of the house and did a little work, got a little air. Mostly I walked a couple of miles in an odd, alternately sleeting and sunny day, and wished for a cigarette. But I took a vow that I wouldn’t drink or smoke for March, and I’m keeping it. (I felt my body needed a rest from smoking. And drinking is a gateway drug.)

When I returned around six, K. and Thing Two were in the bathroom. Thing One was sitting alone at the table in front of a bowl of something reddish and gelatinous. He poked at it. I sniffed and examined the detritus on the counter, deducing that it was the soft rice noodles I’d left in the fridge boiled into a glutinous mass and covered with the contents of a jar of Pad Thai sauce (mainly sugar and tamarind).

“Mama,” he informed me gravely, “Daddy says I have to eat this.”

I really don’t want to undermine K.’s parental authority. And I really do want to teach Thing One to eat his dinner, which he’s constantly questioning as a concept. But I submit that the dinner looked disgusting, and also not very nutritious. K. hadn’t totally neglected nutrition, though; there was a plate of steamed broccoli on the table, too.

“Why don’t you eat your broccoli,” I suggested. Thing One seemed only too happy to comply.

After the kids were in bed, it was meeting time. I asked K. when he was going to be able to come this week. [As you may remember, we had set out a schedule on Feb 1, when we divided our finances, figured out a basic child support plan, etc., that had K. coming over three afternoons a week. That didn’t last long before it became two afternoons a week, one during the week and one on Sunday. I realize that from an antiquated perspective that assumes it is the mother’s responsibility to do the child-rearing, that may seem like a lot, but from a perspective that each parent is equally responsible for the children, it’s peanuts: less than 10% of the time. K. and I always discussed how we (and perhaps especially I) wanted to equally share the parenting; I worked and earned more during our marriage, although paradoxically I also spent more time with the kids (he was in school and that took up a lot of mental time/space). ]

K. said, “The only day I’m not working this week is tomorrow.”

“What?” I was shocked. “You told me last week that Monday is the only day you will always work!”

“I asked for it off a month ago,” he said, “because I’m going to see M. Ward play.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know.”

“You asked for it off a month ago!”

“I didn’t remember.” He didn’t look sheepish, even, just abstracted. “So, should I come over tomorrow afternoon?”

I was chagrined. I had made plans to watch Ron’s daughter, Lorena, that afternoon so that Ron could work on her book. I’d lay money on Ron not wanting K. to watch L. even if he were willing to, and I was disinclined to cancel. On the other hand, I hated the kids not seeing K. all week. But I’m a firm believer in Natural Consequences, and it seemed stupid to go to still greater lengths to rearrange everything so that K.’s complete neglect to inform me of his schedule (which is only necessitated by K.’s refusal to set a regular schedule to see the kids) could be accommodated.

“Unfortunately, I have plans to watch Lorena, and I can’t cancel them,” I said. “So you’re not available the rest of the week?” (As we know, K. works at 3:30 most days; the kids are home by one. Additionally, Thing Two does not go to daycare on Wednesday, when he could be with her all morning.)

“Guess not,” he replied.

“Well, that sucks,” I said.

“Yeah,” he agreed.

So that was that. He’s not seeing the kids this week. He saw them Sunday and he’ll see them next Sunday. It sucks, yeah, but it sucks because he engineered it that way, or failed to engineer it another way, or failed to make the kids a priority over a singer-songwriter or his own scheduling snafus or however you want to look at it.

Should I talk to them about this? Since they haven’t been able to form an expectation of when he comes, it seems pointless. They are learning that Sunday is his day (even if we have to go fetch him and drag his smoky, booze-scented ass out of bed in the process). I guess they’re also learning that Sunday is lackluster and anything else is unreliable.

I’d been thinking about how K. seemed to be failing to realize how much, just in terms of real time, he is cutting himself off from his children. Now I’m thinking about how he also doesn’t seem to see why consistency and effort on his part might be important. His attitude seems to be that he’ll see them when it works out and if it doesn’t work out now, it’ll work out later. This sort of passivity is shared by his sister, who also hasn’t been the best planner, but he is not their aunt. He is their father. At least in name.

Meanwhile, we’ve been busy. We had that playdate Monday. We had a surprise goodbye party for one of the playschool parents yesterday afternoon, and Thing One had a grand time running around with a pack of his peers. My dad is coming over today.

And K. and I are filing for divorce next Wednesday. I will try not to cry. I realize I’m crying over something that’s long dead, or maybe that never was. I doubt, even so, that I’ll succeed.

But as I finished up this post, I watched that Cher video. Maybe she has the right idea. If I could just get her to appear behind me as I weep and morph, thunderbolt-like, into my body, maybe I too could resolutely walk away.

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