I hurry home, pull into the driveway, open the trunk, and grab all six plastic grocery bags. Dropping the bags on the kitchen counter, I go out to the living room, where the TV is blasting. Melissa is on the couch, eyes glued to the set. I grab the remote off the coffee table and mute the volume. “Homework?”
“Done. Well, mostly. Can I start the essay after dinner?” she asks. “I have to do a rough draft and it’ll probably only take me about forty-five minutes, but my ideas aren’t solid yet.”
“So you figure they’ll solidify while you’re watching TV?”
“Uh huh,” she says, grinning.
“Show me what you’ve got after the movie.”
Melissa is watching an old Joan Crawford film on the cable classics station. It’s not going to surprise me if she goes into some aspect of filmmaking. She has no yen to try acting, nor costume or set design, so I’m wondering if she’s going to end up behind a camera. Nick told me last week that he’s saving up to buy a video camera for her for Christmas. Struck me as a pretty damned expensive gift for a fifteen-year-old.
I hurry back into the kitchen to put away the groceries. Pre-heating the oven, I place the chicken in a glass oven dish, put cloves of garlic in a circle around it, add a little water, and pop the dish in the oven. It is when I sit on a barstool in the kitchen that I begin to cry, my shoulders heaving.
Melissa finds me like this.
I’m ashamed to admit how many days such a scene has played out. It’s not daily, though — not any more — and it’s not always at this time of day. I have before-dinner collapses like this one, watching-a-funny-show crying jags, putting-on-make-up sob fests, bring-in-the-mail breakdowns. I can cry any time, any place. What I can’t do is plan it, as I try to do when I tell myself to save up my tears for after the kids’ bedtime. Instead, I get ambushed.
How many times did Nick and I sit right here late at night, sipping tea and talking over the kids and work? I miss hearing about what he’s doing with his paintings, what’s thwarting him and what’s going well. Yet, somehow, we never talked about him, about the thing that exploded in his face, in our faces.
I’m sure that, if there were a pattern to my crying, Melissa would just make a point of not finding me. Not that she’s cold-hearted, but it can’t be easy on her.
I accept her hug, grab a napkin from the counter, and blow my nose loudly, comically, to get a laugh. Then I hold out my hand for her homework.
I see ten math problems that take up front and back of a paper, her science journal, an essay assignment sheet, and some notes.
I don’t really need to check Melissa’s homework. I do need to check Timmy’s, though, and I’m a believer in the “fairness doctrine.” Timmy has always needed prodding, but ever since Nick moved out, Timmy’s attention span seems to have gotten even shorter. So yesterday I hovered over Timmy for two hours, making sure he put in some time on a project due next Monday, reminding him whenever he began to waver that if he wants his Wednesday Night Special with his father, he needs to get ahead. When he showed me he’d done two nights’ worth of math homework, I told him he could go.
Every other Wednesday, one of the kids gets one-on-one time with their father, which leaves me a chance for one-on-one with the other. That would be fine, great, wonderful, only I’m not fresh after sleeping until noon (Nick is a bartender by night, a reasonably successful painter, as in artist, by day). I have to fit in glamorous jobs like grocery shopping, cooking, folding laundry, and scrubbing the sink.
Last Wednesday, the toilet overflowed and I stuffed towels around it, pulling off the lid to poke around inside, flicking this and that, determined that I would not call Nick, as I had many times before, to come over to fix things. Recently, I have been coping with household catastrophes on my own, especially since I got to know the neighbors down the street, a young married couple. The guy is “good with his hands.” That’s what we used to say about my dad, who, if he were still alive, would be helping me now, probably over-helping. Anyhow, this young guy, Mike, has a very secure wife, but I don’t overdo asking for his help. And I make him “let” me pay him because they’ve got a toddler and a “bun in the oven.”
That’s just how he explained it to me one Saturday when I saw him and Mary outside working in their garden. He’s a funny, puppy-dog man who sometimes makes old-fashioned statements like “a bun in the oven” and at other times gets a little bawdy, like the time he winked at Mary as he told me she made “finger-lickin’ good fried chicken,” as though he were really talking about something else, something intimate. Barely able to choke back tears, I smiled, rushed home, and started the bathwater, wishing I had my parents instead of a neighbor who just reminded me of what I no longer have. Or maybe never had.
“Yo,” I say, grabbing the phone on the first ring. It’s ten p.m., so it has to be Pat.
“Hey, Laura Jane,” she says. Jane is my middle name, but nobody calls me Laura Jane except Pat, and she does mostly as a phone greeting.
Pat and I have been having private extension calls since high school. Her kids are older than mine — she got knocked up senior year — so her latest calls have alternated between “I’m going to miss him” and “I can’t wait till he’s gone,” he being her older son Jon, who is leaving for UCLA in a week.
“What’s up?” she says, and I imagine her lying on her bed, yellow eyelet curtains blowing in the breeze, her frizzy red hair spread across the pillow.
I reach to grab the stick that will close the blinds, then lie back on my own bed. Girlfriend phone talk needs to be done in darkened rooms.
“Timmy wants to get his nose pierced,” I say.
“He’s only twelve years old, for God’s sake,” I shout. I don’t know why, but sometimes Pat and I begin our calls at a shout. Then we kind of settle each other down.
“I wonder where he got such an idea.”
Jon got his eyebrow pierced a month ago.
Even though I started us off on this topic, I know it’s not what I most want to talk about. Still, I must follow it through.
“There’s a big difference between twelve and eighteen. Jon is an adult,” I say, reaching behind me to grab a scrunchie to pull my hair into a high ponytail.
“Yeah, right. In the eyes of the law, he’s an adult. But he – ”
“Couldn’t carry a dish to the sink if his life depended on it,” I finish for her. “Timmy has always admired Jon. But I blame Nick.”
“Everything is Nick’s fault.”
“Damn straight. Hey, I had a really bad hair day. Do I get to blame Nick?”
“Stick to your own ex-husbands,'” I say. “This is really upsetting me, you know.”
“Yeah, I know, hon. Twelve is too young.”
“Plus I saw Tina Groshau today.”
“Who’s Tina Groshau?”
“She was in our Spanish class all four years.”
“Can’t picture her,” Pat says.
“Well, it doesn’t matter. I’ve only seen her a few times since high school. I couldn’t tell her about Nick, Pat. I mean, what business is it of hers?”
Pat doesn’t say anything.
“Damn straight?” I venture.
“Yeah,” she says, “but Laura, it’s not really about whose business it is or isn’t. Obviously, there are strangers off the street who don’t need to hear your life story, and Tina is practically a stranger. So, yeah, damn straight.”
“But it’s about whether or not you’ll ever tell anybody besides me and the two people at work that you told.”
Janice and Sandra, and I haven’t supplied them with many details.
“Until you can tell people, I think — well, it’s like you can pretend it isn’t happening.”
“I just don’t do indiscriminate self-disclosure, Pat.”
“But Janice and Sandra are your friends, so talking with them wouldn’t be indiscriminate. You know, Laura Jane, you are blocked big-time.” Pat has been getting massages for years, and now she’s added some other new age body-and-spirit thing that is all about getting unblocked.
“I’m blocked in more ways than one,” I say. I’ve always had a little trouble with constipation, but now I bloat up like the Pillsbury doughboy.
“You gonna let Timmy pierce his nose?”
“No way in hell,” I say. “So enough about me. Your turn.”
When Nick comes by a week later for Melissa’s Wednesday Night Special, I just send her to answer the door and keep loading the dishwasher. I used get the door on purpose so Nick would have to look at me, so he’d feel bad. I’d dress real nice, but casual, so it didn’t look like I was dressing up. I’m sure it didn’t fool him one bit, but it helped me feel better. I guess I thought he’d see what he was missing and want me back. But, of course, Nick didn’t leave me because I’m not a glamour queen since he knew that from the start.
Now I just send the kids to answer the door. I don’t want to see him. Ever. I never want to run into him. I want the child support checks delivered by mail. If I could, I would just make him a paper daddy. No, not that. The kids need to see him. But I definitely want him to be a paper ex-husband. Paper, mail, phone. Nothing in person.
The front door shuts.
“Laura?” he says. I hear his footsteps. I guess I’ve been on alert, so his entrance doesn’t startle me. He walks boldly into the kitchen, my kitchen, and heads straight for the water cooler. He grabs a paper cup and helps himself.
“Yes?” I say behind my teeth, and I’m calling him names in my head at the same time my breath catches at how beautiful he looks, and then I’m angry again because I want to be over him, to be indifferent.
I turn my head and push the tears back.
“Laura? You okay?”
“Yeah. Do you – are you just thirsty?”
“No. Actually, I want to talk to you about something.”
I motion for him to sit at the kitchen table, and I sit across from him.
“I would like to start having the kids every other weekend.”
“Both of them at the same time?”
“Yes. That’s more like a real family, don’t you think?”
I don’t trust myself to speak.
“I think they can handle it,” he says, tapping the table with that fidgety energy he has.
I have known this was coming. The last five months have been his period of penance, his “tippy-toe time,” as Pat puts it.
Nick looks a little surprised by my response.
“Timmy wants to get his nose pierced!” I burst out.
“He told you?”
“A couple weeks ago.”
He only told me last week. “I said no.”
“Yeah, I figured you would.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I guess I know you pretty well.”
I can’t speak and I can’t look at him.
“I don’t mean anything by it, Laura,” he says, aware that he’s on thin ice here. He wants something I have and could keep, at least for a while longer.
“Would you let him do it?” I ask accusingly.
“Of course not.”
“Then why make it sound like I’m some kind of overprotective mother?”
“That wasn’t what I was trying to do. I was trying to say that I know you. We used to be married.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“It’s a connection.”
“Well, that connection has been severed.”
“I haven’t stopped loving you.”
My head jerks up. I have no idea what he sees on my face. This is the first time since he told me about Sam that he has made such a claim. And it hurts the way a toothache does, right down to the root.
“Well,” I say, “I am the mother of your children.” I want to say it coldly, reminding him of my mother power, but for some reason it comes out kind of nice. Even though he has hurt me, I know it’s not that he wanted to. “Timmy had one of his nightmares about a week ago.”
“How long did it take for him to come out of it?”
“More than a half-hour.”
“I think you’re telling me you don’t think he’s ready.”
“I just don’t know, Nick.”
“I could start with just Melissa.”
“No, then Timmy will feel left out.”
“Will you think about it?” he sighs. “And let me know if he has any more bad dreams.”
“You know, Nick, I think it’s going to be hard for them that – that you and Sam share a room.”
“It’s not going to be easy, but I think they’ll adjust.”
I cover my mouth with my hand so no words will come out. Can he possibly believe that they aren’t going to have a whole lot of complicated emotions about what goes on in the bedroom he shares with Sam? The thought that Timmy and Melissa might get visual images the way I do churns up my gut.
I swallow a whole lot of words these days.
After Nick leaves, I check Timmy’s homework, watch some TV with him, tuck him in, and go take a bath. By the time I’m done, Melissa is home. She is sitting on the couch, holding a paper container. Nick must have taken her to get a frozen yogurt before dropping her off.
“There’s one in the ‘fridge for Timmy to have tomorrow,” she said, “and we got you one, too. Chocolate.”
“Thanks, honey,” I say, wondering whose idea it was, hers or her dad’s, and if it was Nick’s idea, was it guilt-inspired or meant as a comfort offering?
I’ve never seen Sam, and neither have the kids. I have no idea what Timmy and Melissa know. Nick did tell them he is gay. Or is now gay. Or has been gay but didn’t think he was. Or stayed married to Mom for so long because of them even though he’s gay. I’m not sure what he said to the kids, only that he didn’t try to hide his relationship with Sam. He told me when he dropped the bomb on me that twenty-five years of denying and hiding made him feel like he had sold his soul to the devil.
I didn’t handle Nick’s coming out very maturely. I told him we could present a united front when we told the kids we were splitting up but that he was on his own about telling them why. Now I regret that decision because it means I don’t know just what he said. I’d pump Melissa for information, but she’s too smart to let me get away with it.
Pat thinks it should be better for my ego that Nick fell for a man, but she doesn’t go on and on about it because she can tell I’d like to throw something at her when she tries to make things seem somehow . . . good.
If I blame it on sexual orientation, then Nick didn’t leave because I’m ugly, have gained some weight over the years, or am not worth loving. It’s that – now this is what Pat says – when love and sex come in the same package, then you have to go for it, as opposed to when just one of the two is there. It’s only natural.
But it’s no fun to think that Nick’s love for me is a kind of “neutered” thing, sexless, like brother to sister. I love — loved — him through and through. That’s the way I keep thinking of it: through and through, the whole mind-body-soul thing. The thought that he might still love me as much as he ever did just doesn’t help because it means he never loved me as I loved him.
I want to hate him, and I actually feel like I do sometimes. But mostly I hate it that he is gone and that we are no longer a family.
How could I not have known? It’s been hard to find that much to grab hold of in retrospect except that we always had sex only about once every two weeks, but then, I know people who don’t have sex for months, even years. Nick was able to — well, I thought our sex life was fine.
Actually, I must have known at some level because, when he told me, I was surprised but not shocked. He never looked at women the way most men do, just appreciating their femaleness. And men — gay men, I now realize — always looked at Nick. I never saw him looking back at them, but he must have been giving off some kind of vibe. Knowledge never penetrated through the membrane of my own fantasies, my joy that Nick was mine. Pat believes I was dangerously close to idolizing him.
It causes me heartpain, Pat’s term, when I think about Nick unable to open up about something as basic as his feelings about his own sexuality. And yet, how could he tell me? No. I should have known, period. That his announcement surprised me points out my failure as his wife.
Pat and I are probably the only two people in the world who believe Nick, who swears that he and Sam didn’t “get together” until after he moved out.
“You realize that everybody else would say, yeah right, two men, all that testosterone and they didn’t get physical?” I said to her about a month after Nick and I separated.
“True, but we know Nick.”
“So you believe him, too?”
“I guess I do. I don’t not believe him. It would be a stupid thing for him to say if it weren’t true. I mean, since nobody would believe it.”
“That’s totally convoluted,” I say. “It’s like when a teenage boy says, ‘We might as well do it because everybody thinks we are anyway.'”
“So we must be in denial.”
“You know, Pat, even if they didn’t have sex, it doesn’t really matter all that much because they were attracted to each other. In love, Nick says now, which means he wasn’t faithful. Not emotionally.”
That Nick waltzed so comfortably into the kitchen tonight has set me off.
“I want to throw things and shave my head and wear black and wail and keen,” I say to Pat, my eye on the clock. It’s ten-thirty and this is our second phone call today. “I want to dance like Zorba, one of those mournful dances that spreads the pain all over my body. I want to be the pain. And then I want to pop like a . . . a zit.”
“A zit? You gotta be kidding!” Pat snorts.
“I admit that it’s a pretty stupid analogy, but sometimes it feels so good when you pop a big one.”
“Yeah,” she says, “and the euphoria lasts at least three seconds.”
I don’t say anything.
“I’m sorry, Laura.”
“I have a big zit on my chin,” I say. It glared at me this morning when I put on make-up. “I hate him, Pat.”
“You just want to, hon.”
“How can he do this to me?”
I’m in the car on my way to work, my window open to catch the morning breeze, when I think about how I hardly ever go outdoors these days.
Once upon a time, Nick and I were faithful joggers. We used to go to our favorite park and take turns watching the kids while the other jogged. Nick always went first, I guess because I liked getting released from watching them rather than returning to duty. I can see Nick without gray in his hair and myself twenty-five pounds ago. The kids and I are in the shade, looking up. “There’s Daddy,” I’d say, and Melissa would run up to meet him as he started down the hill. She never ran to meet me, but I was Timmy’s special parent. When he was two, Timmy was all over me, pushing Nick away, nuzzling me.
My eyes well up, as they do whenever I remember a time when we were happy. I told Pat I want to be pain, but that’s only in my most masochistic moods. Mostly, I want to find a way to let go of the dream I have nurtured for twenty-two years, the dream that Nick and I would face empty nest together, enter old age together.
In December, I’ll be done with my MBA, so after New Year’s I’m going to circulate my new resume and get the hell out of this job. I’ve only stayed because it’s close to home and the kids’ schools, they let me work a four-day, thirty-two hour week, and, since the company offers flex time, I can start at seven and take classes from four to seven two days a week. Also, I’ve made some friends here. Those are the pluses.
Now for the minuses: the pay, my boss, and my boss.
My thought is that the kids and I can move if I get a really good job somewhere else. Of course, I haven’t told this to Nick yet. Family court might not let me move too far away, but a little more distance sounds good. It’s time for me to pursue a new dream.
I turn into the parking lot, find my spot, nod at the guard as I enter the building, head for the break room to start the coffee-maker since I’m always the first one to arrive, slip into my desk chair, wait for my computer to wake up, and slide into my work self. My little morning rituals allow me to wake up gradually.
I do payroll for a company that employs three hundred people.
I always get a lot done that first hour. Then people begin to trickle in. By eight-thirty, there’s a happy little hum in the office. By nine, people have gotten down to business.
Harold, my boss, comes in at nine.
Harold is the kind of guy you love to hate. The young girls in the office, the ones wearing mini-skirts and sculpted nails polished with multi-colored designs, make fun of him in the break room for his hairdo, hair fluffed from behind to “cover” his bald spot, and the manicured nails, but they’re careful not to be overheard. What Harold does best is yell, generally at his assistant, Bev, but any female will do if she’s not around. He is one reason I’m an officer in the clerical workers union. If he ever goes after me seriously, I’ve got people covering my back.
The next four days are going to be really busy because the checks go out Friday. We’ve been juggling temps all summer to cover for vacations, and we hired six new regular employees, so today I’ve been working without indulging in any chitchat. When my ten-forty-five appointment is escorted to my desk, I stand to shake his hand, motion for him to sit, deal with his deduction forms and questions, send him on his way after ten minutes, and get back to work, barely looking up until eleven-thirty, when I take my lunch.
Harold has been Bev-bashing all morning. Bev doesn’t tell him to take the job and shove it because she’s caring for an elderly mother and needs to work for two more years. Her pension isn’t going to be big, but it’ll be a lot less if she goes out early. I feel sorry for her, but I also wish she’d stick up for herself. I’ve put on my union hat and told her what her options are, but she just pats my hand and says she’s fine, really.
Shortly after I come back from lunch, Harold’s labored breathing — this is a man with true girth — tells me he’s getting close to my desk. I look up.
“I keep getting calls from the new hires,” he sputters, spit landing on his fifty-dollar tie. “I thought I told you to make appointments with them.”
“I did, Harold,” I say. “I saw one this morning, and I’ve got the rest scheduled between now and next Monday. Payroll goes out this week,” I remind him.
“Well, this one,” — and he waves a piece of paper at me — “is having a fit about transferring his insurance policy over from the other company.”
“He needs to call Insurance, then.”
“Here,” he says, shoving the paper from his memo pad toward me. Pink telephone slips are too menial for big shots like Harold. “Call him.”
I look calmly at my calendar. “I’ve got him scheduled for 1:30 tomorrow afternoon, but I’d be happy to give Sue his number.” Sue works in Insurance.
Harold whirls around and clumps back into his office. His one redeeming feature is that, while he’ll never flat-out admit it when he’s wrong, he doesn’t push back too hard, unless, of course, he’s dealing with Bev.
Janice, who sits across from me in our open-room, cubicle-less office, catches my eye and makes a one in the air. “Ten thousand for you, zip for The Man,” she whispers.
“Laura,” Sandra says, from my left. “Line one. It’s Timmy’s school.”
Some school secretary who doesn’t really know how it happened tells me that I should probably come get Timmy, it seems he might have broken his wrist, or at least I should get it checked out.
Something happens to your kid when you’re at work, you tell them you’re leaving.
It takes us almost two hours to get in to see the doctor and get Timmy X-rayed, and, sure enough, it’s a broken wrist. Getting the cast made is next. By the time we pull into the driveway, Melissa has been home from school for a half hour.
My Tuesday night class is going to start in ten minutes. I could go late, I tell myself. I should go. It would probably be okay since Melissa’s here, but it doesn’t feel okay to leave Timmy parentless, especially since he has been a little whiny.
Settling Timmy in front of the TV, I briefly interrupt Melissa, who is on the phone with a guy-friend I think she is secretly interested in. I write down their requests for fast food and videos.
Still unsure about what to do about my class, I head out on my errands. As I’m leaving the video store parking lot, I realize that I never called Nick. Unfortunately, I don’t have my cell
phone. He’ll be at work now anyway, my watch tells me.
The car, seemingly all by itself, turns right instead of left, and I end up at Fernando’s.
I go inside and am momentarily blinded. When my eyes have adjusted to the dark, I see that Nick has spotted me.
What does he see? A short, stocky woman wearing a long tunic and jeans, whose mascara is probably a little smeared, and whose sandal strap is going to give out before she actually springs for another pair.
The woman he met when he was seventeen and she was sixteen.
He smiles tentatively as I walk toward him. He hands drafts of beer to three thirty-somethings in business suits and, just as I sit down, slips a drink in front of me. My favorite, a Salty Dog.
“Hey, Nick,” I say, taking a sip without stopping to think that I’m going to have to drive. I’m so surprised that I’m actually here that I forget for a moment why I came. “Timmy broke his wrist.”
Nick’s face pushes forward, wrinkling up, but he doesn’t say anything to me, instead calling across the room, “Sam? Take over for me, okay?” He slips the towel he has just used to wipe the bar under the counter.
I look across the room at Sam, surprised at how plain he is.
When Nick first told me about Sam, about them, he explained that Sam had bought the business from Fernando. I figured Sam would be in the restaurant part and that I was going to be able to slip in just long enough to give Nick the news.
Or maybe I didn’t figure anything like that. Maybe it was time to see Sam. If Nick is really going to press for weekends with the kids, I have to know what kind of home Melissa and Timmy will be going to. I have to know who Sam is.
So now I am staring at him as he walks behind the bar.
“Laura,” Nick says, sitting on the stool next to me. There are five other people at the bar, none very close to us. “How did it happen?”
I pull my eyes away from Sam and look at Nick. “They were playing flag football in P.E. I took him to Acute Care. He’ll be okay.”
“How could that happen in flag football? They’re not allowed to tackle each other. And where was the P.E. teacher?”
“The teacher can’t be everywhere at once,” I say, though, really, I’m only a few hours ahead of him on that issue. When your kid is hurting, you want to assign blame.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I just felt like I was handling it okay.”
“I was home,” he says, though of course he could have been anywhere, at his fitness club, running errands, painting. Anywhere.
“Yeah. Well, here I am. I just got some videos and was about to get burgers when I realized I hadn’t called you. So consider yourself told.” My words come out a little snippy.
I am getting tired of being so close to my emotions. And why do I change stages, change feelings, so fast?
“I want to see him,” Nick says.
“He’s fine. Really.”
“Let me take them dinner. Don’t you have class tonight? Why don’t you go to class and
I’ll keep an eye on Timmy.”
“But you’re working.”
He stands up abruptly and walks the length of the bar to where Sam is chatting with a customer. As I watch them, I begin to formulate a description of Sam to share with Pat: tall and thin, average-looking, clean-shaven, pleasant expression, not buffed (against stereotype), hair more gray than Nick’s.
Then Nick is back.
“Can I? Sam will call somebody to fill in for me,” he says.
Is Timmy’s injury just providing a wedge for him to inch his way back in with the kids? I look at him closely and decide that he is genuinely worried. I know that if he told me Timmy was all right but I couldn’t see for myself, it would just kill me.
“Okay,” I say, handing him my keys. “The videos are in the car.”
“Aren’t you going to go to class?”
“No.” Suddenly I know exactly what I want to do. “I’m going to get drunk,” I tell him, daring him to react.
He doesn’t, though. He smiles, just smiles, and I don’t know what that smile means. Well, what do I care? Nick is not my keeper.
“Come back for me later,” I say, as though I were a princess and he my footman.
I move from barstool to booth as soon as Nick leaves and am just starting on my third drink when Nick’s replacement takes over for Sam. A few minutes later, Sam brings me a huge plate of appetizers.
Everything slows down. My blood is pumping and my hearing seems extra acute.
“Peace offering,” Sam says.
I don’t hear anything cutting in his tone. Had he spoken more sharply, as if he really didn’t owe me a peace offering, or more ironically, as if a mere plate of appetizers were absurd, I might have shut him out.
I look straight into his small, brown eyes and nod. “Are you going to join me?”
“I’d like to,” he says, sliding into the booth across from me.
I reach for my glass. “This is awkward,” I say. “Maybe it would be easier for me if you were drinking too. Unless . . . ”
Not very politically correct of me to pressure someone to drink. I’m thinking that meeting with him isn’t such a good idea.
He smiles at me, slips out of the seat, walks behind the bar, makes himself something amber-colored, and returns.
“It is awkward,” he says, settling in again. “I’ve been wanting to meet you.”
I say nothing.
“It took me a long time to adjust to my divorce,” he says.
“Oh? You were married?”
“How long ago was your divorce?”
“Ten years. We’re friends now. But divorce is a very hard thing.”
“Yes. I am angry a lot of the time,” I tell him, and I sound civilized, as though I were talking about someone else.
“Angry with Nick,” he says.
“And with me.”
“I don’t know you. Isn’t there some rule that you have to know someone to be mad at him?”
Sam smiles and shakes his head. “I’ve never heard of that rule.”
“You’re making it hard for me to hate you,” I say. “But if there’s no rule about anger, then I guess it’s fair to say that I am pretty pissed off that my husband left me for you. No, actually, pissed off is mild for what I feel.”
I reach for my glass and drain it.
Sam looks at me, waves at the bartender, points at my glass, and reaches for a chicken wing.
“Want one?” he asks.
I examine the assortment carefully and reach for a mozzarella stick, which I swish around in red sauce. I bite into it.
“Anything I say is going to be wrong,” Sam says.
“Nick thinks that, given other circumstances, you and I would like each other.”
“I’m sorry you’re hurting.”
The bartender brings me the drink, which I grab immediately. I don’t guzzle, but my mouth feels dry, and I have a craving for the grapefruit juice in the drink.
“You know something, Sam? I’m tired of feeling sorry for myself. Why don’t we pretend we’re just meeting each other like regular people. Let’s talk about something else, anything at all. Tell me about yourself.”
“Are you suggesting that we swap life stories?”
“Sure. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”
And so he starts in, leaving me plenty of time to take sips.
By the end of that drink, Sam has paused to take a breath. The vodka must have hit full force now because I am suddenly a real motor mouth. When I’m done telling him about Pat, I bombard him with questions about his two grown sons and twin granddaughters.
While he talks, my mind both listens and drifts, and I find myself thinking about his ex-wife. I imagine myself contacting her. She could be part of my support team. Maybe we would even become great friends over and above this thing our ex-husbands have for each other.
I think about his grandkids and the kids Melissa and Tim will someday have. All these grandchildren will somehow be related.
I have no idea who is running the restaurant while Sam sits there with me. I remember laughing and flirting with Sam in a somewhat drunken “Aren’t I charming?” way, having five or six Salty Dogs, agreeing to let Nick have the kids next weekend, and being delivered home just in time for Law and Order. I fall asleep on the couch immediately.
…read the conclusion of “Union”…