dating, mating, and flagellating


Yesterday, I sent a research question to the research librarian at my school. He responded with an answer and added that he had heard “what’s going on in my life” and had been thinking of me; he asked for a personal email so he could send me a short note.

So I wrote him from my personal account, and this is what I got in return:

I truly wish I were an elegant writer, so I could send you a witty, sincere and thoughtful message that would lift your spirits and maybe, just maybe, make part of your day a wee bit brighter.  Sadly, I’m not a writer at all, so you’ll have to put up with my plodding prose for a wee bit.

I’ve been mulling over what I’d like to say, and in the end it comes down to this: your soon to be ex-husband is a complete fool and he’s going to really rue the day he made this decision.  I don’t know the details, (and in the end, do the details matter?) but I do know he left you, not the other way around.  When I learned this, I became very angry.  This surprised me.  We really don’t know each other very well, yet, the complete rottenness and selfish action of your soon to be ex, (if I knew his name, I’d use it), seems so short sighted, heartless and astoundingly stupid, that I am at a loss and very upset.

I meant what I wrote earlier about this not being a “Oh, I feel sorry for you” sort of message.  I am truly saddened by your news and I’ve thought about you often.  I have no idea what you must be feeling; however, what I do know is, you are a resilient and very strong soul.  You don’t need me to tell you that you’ll deal with this and move.  You know that already.  I guess what I want you to know is how honestly fucked in the head I think your ex is, how honestly fucked up I think your situation is, and how sincerely I hope the unwanted stress this must be causing you goes away post haste.

with deepest  sincerity,

Oddly, I found this email very uplifting and not a little funny (I guess he wanted to write me from and to personal accounts so that he could type “fucked” with wild abandon?). Uplifting not because I need a colleague to slag K., but because I think I can put into words why this man, whom I have always liked and never gotten to know too well, is so angry.

This is his church. This, family life, commitment to a marriage and children, is the foundation upon which he has built his life, and I mine. The life I was and am trying to lead, the life he is trying to lead (he is married and has a young daughter), is difficult and demanding and trying at times. Yet he is still in it and I am still in it and, from his perspective, my husband has abandoned that life and us with it. And it makes him angry because he feels how wrong that is, because he is choosing a different path, and because he identifies with my concerns and hopes and worries — for the marriage, for the children — and can’t conscience K.’s apparent lack of commitment. From his perspective, my husband has betrayed not only me, but the values upon which our lives both rest. And to do so is more than a dismissal: it is a devaluing of the challenge my librarian friend probably feels he rises to every day (and there are plenty of willing college students who think he looks like Brad Pitt; I’ve had many a class visit turn into a swoonfest).

I can’t say I blame him.

Advertisements

There’s a beautiful French song, À la claire fontaine, with that as a refrain: “il y a longtemps que je t’aime/jamais je ne t’oublierai.” It is also the title of the movie Joaquin and I saw Wednesday night, an odd tale of a woman released from prison who goes to live with her sister and has difficulty re-entering life, which he disliked and I liked. Of course, a film’s being French automatically raises it 20 points in my estimation, and even the streets of Nancy have that particular French logic and charm that appeals to me, so I am biased. But I know what I like. I like the texture of French, the warp and the weft of it, the differences in the muscles of the face and the turns of phrase, and absent a trip over the Atlantic anytime soon, I’ve made a resolution to see at least one French film per month. That, I think, will be as healthy for me as a regular yoga practice or a trip to the therapist, if not more so: there are few things in which I find so much pleasure.

Otherwise, the week has been up and down. I felt, earlier this week, a lifting of the immediate sense of the sorrow of having lost my husband and partner and lover, mostly based on the feeling that since K. is not that person, is no longer that person, no longer wants to be the person I thought he was/did  — not just with respect to me but in general — that it is appropriate. His treatment of me ranges from casual, superficial chatty (mostly about work, booze, minor rock stars, and the drug and partying habits of his coworkers) to contemptuous and rude; his engagement with the kids seems minimal; he does not repond when I try to talk to him about them or when I solicit his input on issues relating to their welfare (their mental state, their school plans, etc.).

Of course, I don’t know what goes on in his head. I just know that I have an increasingly clingy and anxious son and daughter and that my son continues to assert that he doesn’t love Daddy because Dadfdy doesn’t love him. And that Daddy remonstrates with him rather extremely for minor offensives (such as a diatribe about how WRONG it is to not cover your cough that went on for several minutes and was negative, e.g. “That’s wrong. That’s wrong. You have to stop doing that. That’s bad.” in a way that seemed to me out of proportion).

And I know that on Facebook he has a lot to say about what music he’s listening to and his Saturn return (to which he attributes this life change, at least in part). There were several Facebook updates Monday night to that effect. And it took all my restraint not to point out, on Facebook, that a)he’s not yet having his Saturn return and b)even if he were, many people get through theirs without dumping their wives, damaging their kids, and becoming only 10% parents.

He is not impressing me.

Part of what I’ve been dealing with this week is disappointment with him for dumping me. And that’s what it was. I believed that our commitment was at least great enough that any decision to split would involve communication and sincere effort to find another solution. I see now that he didn’t want to communicate or collaborate and that he felt he’d already expended the effort. So in that sense, our marriage was a sham. My sense of responsibility for/duty to it went on and on. His seems to have allowed him to make the unilateral and immediate decision to leave, regardless of the cost to me, to our future co-parenting relationship, and to a large degree, to the kids.

I can empathize with his feeling that it was wrecked and he should bail. Unfortuately, I don’t think he knows that because of that, he has treated our relationship with no respect and me, as a person, poorly. As we expressed in a counseling coversation a couple of weeks ago: he doesn’t see why we can’t be friends, because he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. I feel that the trust between us has been destroyed and that any attempt at being ‘friendly’ is token.

Because really, most of what we had going for us was his avowed commitment to and love of me and our family. And that made me put up with a lot, try to work with a lot, and forgive a lot: a lot of disregard, absence, poor parenting, poor self-care that impacted others, superficiality, lack of intelligent conversation, etc.

And now he doesn’t love me and he’s not committed to me, and I’ve seen his commitment to his children erode, and he’s just this guy who makes small talk about boring things, who wears makeup to hide breakouts, who loves fashion and gossipy magazines, who is excited about his bar job and his hairstyle and the minor celebrities who come in there and the cocktail recipes and who doesn’t have anything to say to me about anything of substance. I don’t know why I should be surprised — maybe there was never much there there. After all, I did supply the works of literature, subject, thesis, many of the ideas, and some of the verbiage for his senior thesis (go Reed ’08). He wanted to write about Radiohead.

So for a couple of days I felt like this: maybe it’s hard, but I’m better off without that. And maybe it sucks, but if he wasn’t that person then I don’t want to be with him.

But then last night I remembered that hauntingly beautiful song and all the hopes I had and all the depths I thought I saw in him, and I sat and cried. For a long time.

J’ai perdu mon ami,
Sans l’avoir mérité
Pour un bouquet de roses,
Que je lui refusai…

Je voudrais que la rose,
Fût encore au rosier
Et que ma douce amie
Fût encore à m’aimer

If wishes were horses.

And don’t even get me started on today’s comment: “Don’t you think the child support is ample enough?”

As though I were going on a cruise with it, or something.

Today I am up in the playroom with both kids. K.’s desk is still here, as most of his things are. On the desk is a silver fortune cookie picture-holder with a snapshot of me kissing him, taken at his company party back when Thing One was a baby and K. had a day job.

To its right there is a random collection of K.’s pictures: a collage he made before I met him, covered with Scotch tape (every collagist I know has one of these, where the imperfection of the tape is supposed to be artistic and reveal an additional texture to the work, etc.) and two movie photos. Until a day or two ago, one was a head-and-shoulders shot of Natalie Wood, upon whom K. has always had something of a crush, and one was a still shot from The English Patient with Ralph Fiennes walking toward a plane.

Today Ralph Fiennes is gone and, in his place, is Natalie Wood in black-and-white, her cleavage spilling out beneath a heavy, beaded necklace, the planes of her face looking stark and yet somehow vulnerable, as though she were on a toilet and rather constipated, but trying to be ladylike, when the photo was taken.

I was never that big a fan of The English Patient. But I’m looking at Natalie’s tits and her strained expression and the hints of her dissipation and drug addiction showing around her jaw, and I’m feeling somewhat nostalgic for Ralph. And somewhat offended by the avalanche of starlet flesh.

As a parting statement, it leaves something to be desired.

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!’

Check.

“I’m already gone,” he said.

Mate.

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?”

“Yes.”

“Wow.”

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.

« Previous PageNext Page »