At first it’s smooth enough, and you say to yourself This isn’t so hard and you settle into a sense of belonging – in a good way – not just to an institution or even a person but a new status, a new acceptance, a new way of being, a family that welcomes you, a feeling of family.
So this is marriage, you tell yourself.
Then kids come along and you’re rapturous and overwhelmed and exhausted and the two of you are closer than you’ve ever been, and then you’re not. You look up after a year and then two and then three and you realize you’re miles apart and you try to ratchet it up but it doesn’t work and maybe it never did and maybe there were signs all along.
But you say “I made my bed” and you look at your kids and things are calm enough so you keep going as long as you can and then you can’t any longer and things happen that you could never have imagined and then it’s really over and you’re sleepwalking through a fictionalized version of your body and your mind and your voice and your gestures; it must be someone’s idea of a joke. It’s Candid Camera but there is no Alan Funt and no “reveal” because you’re sitting in a leather chair in a legal office scrawling checks in five thousand dollar increments, you’re sitting in a metal chair in a conference room under deposition, you’re sitting on a cold bench in a courtroom, you’re sitting in judge’s chambers where your attorney seems unconcerned while his attorney says “my client is out of town on business” – and it works every time.
So it all drags on and drains your resources and then your credit and now months have turned into a year. And you cave.
Because there’s only so much borrowing power and only so much rage and only so much you to go around, and your kids are devastated and they need love not the battlefield, solid ground not the Titanic, and you look up and it’s two years later and finally you’re divorced. One of the kids says Dad has a girlfriend already and Mom you haven’t even been on a date and you nod and say “I’m not ready” and so you stay not ready, until you are.
Of course, that’s another year because there’s a home you can’t keep and jobs you can’t get and a child who is tearing his hair out, literally, and that’s much more important than whether or not Dad has a new girlfriend. And you continue taking kids to school and driving them to activities and fielding questions on insects and why women shave their legs and the eating habits of raptors and how to do square roots, and you drum up anything you can to make a buck; you have other problems besides Dad’s New Life like what else you can liquidate and how much more to cut off your resume so you can find a job that doesn’t expect travel, because kids keep needing something and well, that’s what kids do, and that’s why they need a parent who doesn’t travel.
Then there is the Narcissist an old friend set you up with, and you sort of like him but not in that way, and he’s pushing 60 with a bad hip and you tell yourself he has a good heart, and then you come to see that all he really wants is someone to drive him and cook for him and listen to him. And that’s okay for a little while because he’s kind to your kids and you’re so lonely you could implode, and you aren’t ready to date yet anyway.
So this is divorce, you tell yourself.
Finally you sell the family home well below market, and you buy a tiny house in the same school district and maybe the move will do you good because the space will be about new memories, so you jam your stuff into the new place and your kid says Mom, Dad met his girlfriend online so you can do that too and isn’t it really time you started dating, but first you need to grow your hair because guys like that.
And you look at your 12-year old with such love and amusement, and you tell yourself you are a lucky woman and you tell him you’re not ready to date, but you’ll grow your hair so when you are ready you’ll be all set.
And then you do.
You grow your hair and you’re happy to grow your hair because your little one’s hair is coming back and you know he’s going to be fine and apparently, the secrets to life have much to do with hair.
So the Narcissist stops calling and now another six months have passed and you join Match and you provide your real age and you write something clever and authentic and you watch those movies on sex and the single mom and you admit to yourself that your libido isn’t dead, but all the men who get in touch drive pickups and hang-glide and love Nascar though your profile specifies that you like Paris and Diebenkorn.
And even if all that’s okay, several are cross-eyed and that’s one thing you can’t abide. Then there is the fact that half of them are bald and you have nothing against bald men because a good man is a good man, but your ex is bald and you really don’t want to have a coffee date with someone resembling your ex so you say yes to every man with hair – even the cross-eyed, hang-gliding, Nascar-loving ones – and no to the rest, and you have hair to your shoulders so you figure odds are, eventually this will yield results.
And you date.
You coffee date which really ought to be a verb because there’s Coffee Dating at Starbucks and Coffee Dating at Borders and Coffee Dating at Starbucks again because by this time the Bulgarian Barista knows you by name and the Poet Barista knows you from Open Mike Night and you feel safer with this parade of coffee dates at “your” Starbucks and finally one of the dates leads to a little something and it’s been years since anything and you’re relieved that something still works and then there’s a flurry of somethings.
You weary of that pretty quickly because you’re not a kid and you have kids and it isn’t really your thing and you’re out of babysitting money anyway and losing your taste for Double Venti Skinny Lattes.
Of course, now the kids fly off for their dad’s wedding and you tell yourself Okay, maybe he’ll leave me alone and you’re still dealing with financial dramas and now middle school dramas and a social life isn’t even a consideration because you’re solo parenting and then, to your surprise, you fall in love.
And it’s good.
That lasts almost two years and the only reason it works is because it’s long distance, because day-in-day-out parenting eats up everything along with making a buck any way you can and divorce itself pales in comparison to its aftermath but you keep plodding ahead because you look at those kids and they aren’t little but they are your heart and now it’s been a decade and you thank God for the deepening voices that long ago stopped saying Mom you need to date and say, instead, Mom can I have the car and Mom can I go to a concert and Mom can I have a party in the back yard. But they don’t ask for money because Mom doesn’t have any of that.
So you say yes, and yes, and yes, and only the occasional no because they’re great kids and great kids deserve yes in spades and no when it counts, and then no isn’t disputed. But all those yeses mean a lot of nos for yourself and that’s okay, too, but now you look up and they’re launched or nearly and you’re living a life you do not recognize in a face you do not recognize in a body that is aching for something and everything and you still go to Starbucks except it’s to write and write alone though you say hello to the Poet Barista who is graying now but then, so are you.
And it’s the weekend.
You wake from a horrible nightmare at five in the morning and you pace and you take a breath and you say I’m going to read today because that is a gift you rarely have the time to give yourself and you’ve been going at 300mph and today you just can’t and you didn’t make this bed but now you want to lie in it all the same, and with a book. And so you do.
You dig in and begin to read and you catch yourself grinning on page two and nodding on page three and you’re caught up in the words and their quirky sentiments and the sticky sensation of the author’s reality resembling your reality and then you laugh. On page 19, you laugh. Out loud. And you’re happy your kid is asleep and his friend who stayed over is asleep and you can read some more and you’re smiling now and maybe you can squeak out another 19 pages before anyone wakes up.
And maybe, page 19 is like falling in love when you don’t expect it and your kid saying Mom you need to grow your hair because guys like that and knowing somewhere in your reflux-ridden gut that “good” isn’t gone forever and though you don’t want to Coffee Date (the verb) you just might stop by and say hello to the Poet Barista in the days ahead.
He isn’t cross-eyed, and you’re mesmerized by his long strands of thick, curling hair.