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Old Roads

Allan twirled his beer. He watched as the bottom of the bottle followed the ring of its own sweat on the concrete tabletop. His hand had internalized the sequence—wrist back, forefinger lunge, third finger twist, thumb tug, repeat, repeat—so that the bottle would adhere to its course without his further attention. It wouldn’t err as his mind focused on our conversation.

We were just shooting the shit, as we always had. Unlike most times before, however, this shit-shooting had taken coordination, planning and some costs. We had to shed our lives to come here, to a place we could only go together. It cost him four hours of driving and a tank of gas. It cost me excuses to my parents, apologies that I was missing one night of a vacation back home, and a bedtime assurance to my boys that I would come home after they were asleep to kiss them good night once more. Added to this was, thus far, the shared cost of six beers between us. But we paid the toll, glad for the fare.

I looked up at the clear night sky. Allan grinned, watching his bottle twirl.

“What?” I asked, catching his smile with my own.

“This.” He removed his bottle from its orbit and took a pull with his lips. “This, being with you. Man, it’s like I just saw you yesterday. Have we even been in the same place since my wedding?”

“Nope.” I sucked down warm beer. “No, and really, we barely spoke then. You kind of had other priorities, as I recall.”

“Yeah, I guess I did,” he nodded. “What with the ‘getting married’ thing and all.”

“That was a really nice event,” I nodded in turn. I took another drink. “Right nice.”

“Shit, yeah, well, you set the bar high.” He raised his bottle. I raised mine to clink the reference. He drained the last of his beer.

“Cheers,” I nodded, killing my own. “Fuck, wasn’t that some party?”

He laughed, covering his nose to avoid losing good beer. “Your wedding? Shit, yeah,” he finally managed. “I’m sorry, but I was so fucked up by the end of that thing.”

“We all were,” I laughed. “My poor dad. Did I tell you this? Okay, so Dad, he doesn’t drink. He stopped when we were kids. His folks were drunks and so on, but get this. So, he has a few too many beers at my wedding. He finds me dancing with David and some of the gay boys. He comes over, rolls up his pants and asks the queers to check out his legs.”

Allan fell back on his bench, laughing silently. When his laughter entered hearing range, it was well deep and barrel rich. My toes curled in my shoes. “Oh, fuck.” He gathered his breath. “Oh fuck, that’s so good. Your dad . . .” he began to laugh again.

“No, wait,” I grabbed his arm. “It gets better. So Dad, you know, he can’t drink. And he’s dancing with the gay boys . . .” We both break up. “No, no, wait.” We caught our breath. I begin to sing, reaching for an Elton John falsetto. I banged my fingers on the table. “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy and the ga-aa-aa-ays.” I break up in his laughter. I watched him wipe tears from his eyes. “No, but come on, really,” I said. “Serious story here.” We each took a breath and settled down. “Are you ready?”

Allan pushed out one last laugh, deep in his belly. He drew a breath and exhaled. “Okay, no, wait.” He reached for his empty bottle, stared at it for a moment, and sat it back. “Okay, all right.” He folded his hands in his lap. He shook the curls from his forehead.” “All right. I’m ready.” He laughed again. I looked at him askance, as if impatient to finish my story. “No, no,” he laughed. He caught his breath again, “Okay,” he smirked. “Ready.”

“Okay.” I coughed, composing myself. “So, Dad asks the gay boys to check out his legs. Everyone agrees my dad has very nice legs, which he does. So then Dad pulls me over, bends down, and rolls up my pant’s leg.”

“Oh, shit,” Allan laughed.

“Right? It’s my wedding; I’m in my suit. He’s on his knees in the grass, rolling up my pants. His bare knees!” I laughed again. “So he turns to the boys and says, ‘And what do you think of the legs of my wonderful, wonderful son?’ And the boys are all laughing and agree that my legs are nice, too.”

Allan knocked on the table, his face contorted.

“No, wait for it, wait, wait. So my friend David says, ‘The only thing that could improve his legs is if they were wrapped around my neck.’”

We fell out. He banged the table and slapped my back. His laughter infected my own, sending it soaring.

“Oh shit, man,” he finally said, coming down. “Oh shit. He said that to your dad?”

I nodded. “He said that to my dad. About his son. At his son’s wedding. Luckily, I think it went over his head.”

“Lord. I hope so.” Allan shook his head. “God damn, that’s too good. Now, wait, who’s David?”

My fingernails picked at a bottle’s edge. “Hmm? Oh, David? You met him at the wedding—tall, good looking guy.”

“Oh, I was wondering if you two guys ever . . . you know.”

I looked up from the bottle and caught his eye. “Had sex? Well, shit yeah we did.” Allan laughed again. “Before we were married, of course. Baby, I had been naked with pretty much everyone at my wedding who didn’t share a last name with me or my bride. Of course, who’s to talk? You had fucked every girl there except the one I married.”

“You are too fucking funny, man.”

“Just talking ‘bout Shaft.” I reached for his bottle and stood. “And you look too fucking thirsty. Here, I’ll get this round.”

“No, sit down,” Allan took my arm. “There’s no bar here, they come to you.” He waved for the waiter.

The waiter nodded and made his way to us. “Yes? Oh hello, Allan. And my goodness, look who you’re with! How long as it been, guy?”

I smiled, not recognizing him. “Much too long,” I said warmly. “Much too long. How’ve you been?”

“Me, I’m good.” He looked at his feet, shuffling slightly. “I’ve got a new studio down near Daniel’s old place, and I’m doing some large-scale altar paintings, kind of thinking about Rothko, though, you know, more rooted in Byzantine iconography. And you? How’ve you been? How’s New York? I thought of you when the towers collapsed.”

“New York is fine,” I said. “You know, recovering. It’s been a tough year. Your paintings sound interesting in that context.”

“I’m pleased with them. You should come out to see them, if you have time. I’d really benefit from your critique.”

“Well, I’d like that,” I said. “If we can make the time.”

“He’s only here for a few days, visiting family,” Allan interjected, rescuing me. “They’re not even in town. Y’all are down on the lake, right?”

“That’s right. Tonight’s the anomaly.” I turned back to the waiter. “Maybe you could send me slides some time?”

“That would be great,” the waiter nodded. “I’ll get some paper to get your address.”

“Could you also being us two more Coronas?” Allan raised the empty bottles.

“Sure, sure.” The waiter took the empties. “Say, and why are you in town? Is your band playing?”

“Nah, I’m just here to sit for a while with my best friend in the world.” Allan patted my back in a gesture that communicated that this was a private party.

“Well, let me get your beers. And be sure I know when you’re playing, Allan. Your CD was great, just really great. Like Eddie Vedder meets Keith Richards.” The waiter grinned. Allan smiled blankly. “Well, okay, let me get your beers.”

We watched him amble past a large fern.

I leaned close to Allan. “Okay, now what’s his name?”

“Tommy. You remember him from seeing bands here.”

“Right. Tommy the Dweeb. He smoked clove cigarettes. Always did try too hard.”

Allan scowled. “I fucking hate being compared to Eddie Vedder.”

I patted his hand. “You do sound like Eddie Vedder. But you are much prettier.”

He took his hand and slapped my arm. “Fuck you, man. You know I sang the way I do before there was a damn Pearl Jam.”

“You could be bigger than Pearl Jam,” I went on. “You’ve got the voice and the face to go with it. You could front the boy band of grunge. You know, the version that’s safe for eighth-grade girls.”

“Fuck you, man,” he laughed.

Tommy the Dweeb returned with the beers. I wrote my address on the back of a paper coaster and shook his hand. Tommy refused my money, saying the beers were on him. We squeezed limes into our bottlenecks and toasted the waiter. We drank for a time, resting in our memories.

Allan twirled his beer, watching the bottle draw a new sweat ring. “I learned to sing in your car, man,” he said quietly.

I put a hand on the small of his back. “I remember.”

We talked about life, catching up on the gaps that eluded our infrequent long distance phone calls. I told him things were fine with Lucy and the new house. Lucy was there with our baby girl, actually, relieved that she had an excuse to avoid a visit with my family. The boys were still transitioning from city to suburbs, getting used to the idea that they could go outside without special permission.

He told me that he and his wife were having a rough patch. She really wanted a baby, and after years of trying, they had been to a doctor and learned that Allan was impotent. They were considering options, all of which were more complicated than they had hoped. Taking the next steps for in vitro fertilization or adoption had them questioning their commitment to one another; if they were going to redouble their efforts at becoming parents, they each needed to be sure the other was fully on board. At the moment, they were stuck at this crossroads—should they move forward together, or part company as friends?

We ordered another round and talked until eleven or so. Allan had driven over after work that day, and now had to drive two hours back home so he could get some sleep before heading to his shop by eight. I climbed in his truck and he drove me out to my parents. We sang along to George Jones.

The outside light flickered on automatically as he parked in the driveway. He got out of the truck to hug me goodbye.

“You sure you don’t want to crash here?” I asked. “I know we can get you up early. My grandmother wakes up at dawn.”

“Nah, I need to get home. It’s too late to call Alice, and I’d rather drive at night when there’s no traffic. Come here, let me get going.”

He took me into his arms. He pulled me close, squeezing my waist. “It’s been too long, man. Let’s not wait so long.”

I put my hands on his face and pulled back to look at him. His smile was so wide in his baby-faced cheeks. He still looked as he did at fifteen, but for the laugh lines around his eyes. I kissed him. He kissed me back, a warm peck, but I persisted. I caressed his lips with my tongue. He closed his mouth, surprised, but then parted his lips. His tongue met mine. I moaned softly, running my fingers through his hair.

After a while, he pulled back and grinned. “Well damn, I didn’t see that coming.” I was pleased to have taken him unaware. He put a hand on my shoulders. “Nobody else has done that. I love you, man.”

“I love you, too, Allan.” He patted my shoulder and turned to his truck. “Drive safe. Turn up the music. Stop if you need to.”

“I will, and you say hey to your folks for me.” He gave a wave as he drove off.

It was the last time I saw Allan. A few months later, his wife found him on the couch. He had died of an undiagnosed heart condition. We were all stunned to hear the news. Allan was vivacious and strong. It was inconceivable that he would simply pass.

“You have to go down there,” Lucy said when I told her the news. “Are you okay? God, he was like your brother.”

“Yeah, well, I’m shocked,” I told her. She hugged me. “He was only thirty-six, so young.” I thought of his mother and sobbed. Lucy cried with me.

My parents offered to meet me at the airport. I had a carry-on bag and my suit. I would be back home only for a few days, long enough to attend the funeral and check in with our friends. I wondered if it would be appropriate for me to kiss Allan one last time in his casket.

“Poor baby,” Mom cried, hugging me. “I just think of Allan’s mother. I don’t know what I would do if I lost one of mine. And he was her only baby.”

“Hi, Mom,” I mumbled, my cheek crushed by her neck. “Yes, it’s really sad.”

Dad wrapped his arms around us. “He was lucky to have you as a friend.”

“Yeah, we were both lucky,” I said, swallowing.

Dad drove us to the house as Mom filled me in on what had transpired with my nieces and nephews since my last visit a few months before. Essentially, nothing much had happened, but my mother had a gift for weaving elaborate narratives from rather banal threads. I wasn’t really listening, but I preferred the sound of her drawl to the chatter of talk radio. I stared out the window, watching the landscape whir along the new Interstate.

When we got home, I called Nora. She cried when she heard my voice. I told her I needed to see her, to be with someone else who understood. She gave me directions to her house and told me to bring wine, lots and lots of wine. My parents gave me the keys to my grandmother’s old Impala. I said I would likely stay at Nora’s if we got to drinking. Mom kissed me and told me to please be careful, as she would hate to lose me.

“Nora?” I called from her screen door. I could see strings of lights decorating her foyer. Music was playing from somewhere inside. The door was unlatched, but I didn’t want to just barge in.

“Oh my God!” Nora ran from her kitchen. “Oh my God, oh my God!” She opened the screen door and threw her arms around my neck. “Oh my God, you’re here, oh my God.” She began to cry. I lowered the bags of wine to the porch and held her. I kissed her head. She stood back, looked and me and smiled. She laughed. Tears filled her eyes as she clapped her hands. “Oh my God. Okay, you’re here. Okay.” She took my hand and pulled. “Okay, come in, come in, we’re going to the kitchen.”

“Wait, Nora.” I bent down. “I brought wine . . .”

“You did? Oh, thank God.” She bent to take two bottles, took my hand and pulled. “Come in, come in. Oh my God, you’re here!”

Nora’s husband Kevin stood in the kitchen, watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on a television placed on the top of the refrigerator. “Hey, look who’s here!” He held out a hand. I took it and pulled him into a hug. “Good to see you, man.”

“You too, you lucky sumbitch.” I let go of him and put the bottles on a table. “Now, please tell me you have a corkscrew.”

“Here, you do it,” Nora said, fishing in a drawer. “I just don’t trust my hands.” She stopped and took my face in her grip. “Thank God, you’re here.”

“I wish we didn’t have to be here under these circumstances,” I said. “We’re too young to do weddings and funerals.”

“I know, I know,” Nora smiled. “And I look terrible in black.” We laughed. She put her lips to mine, and then jumped as she covered my face in kisses. “God, I love you so much!”

I giggled. “That tickles, sugar. And you know I’ll love you, ever and always.”

Kevin watched, smiling.

I poured Merlot for the three of us, filling Nora’s deep glasses nearly to the rims. She lit some candles and we sat to talk. Her phone rang. She left the room to take the call. Kevin’s eyes drifted back to the television. “You a fan?” He pointed at the set.

I looked over my shoulder. A Vulcan was upset. “I’ve actually never seen it.”

“Never watch it, then,” Kevin shook his head. “It will suck the life right out of you.”

Nora returned and sat, the phone still in her hands. “Okay, that was Lucinda. She’s on her way over.” She slumped and looked at me. “I’m wondering if we should call Timothy and all them.”

I fingered my glass. “Yeah? I don’t know. I mean, I want to see people, but . . . that’s going to become a bunch of people, very fast. And, I don’t know . . .” I took a sip of wine.

Nora put her hand in mine. “What, honey?”

I closed my eyes and winced. “I can’t make sense of any of this. And I’m not ready to have other people mediate my grief.”

I opened my eyes. Nora was inches from my face. “I know exactly what you mean. No one should take this from us until we process it.” She grabbed my arm and pulled closer. “But you know what? We’re all doing this. We’re all hurting. We don’t have to do it alone, either.” I leaned forward to kiss her forehead. “You’re not alone, honey,” she said. “None of us is.”

She pushed her forehead to mine. “Okay, baby, make the calls.”

Lucinda was the first to arrive. She brought more wine.

Timothy arrived with beer and three cars full of people who were, in my recollection, thirteen years old. During my senior year of high school, my circle of friends was very close. We were the smart set and all of the creative kids who read or spoke well gravitated to us. Somehow, into that clique of juniors and seniors came Timothy, a pudgy philosophical seventh grader. He kept up with our banter and if he didn’t get something, he asked follow-up questions until he did. We educated him as we went along, and pretty soon, we forgot his age and treated him like a peer. Still, we made a point of telling him he couldn’t join us at weekend parties.

“There’s beer and pot,” Allan told him.

“And sex,” I added.

“Please?” Timothy begged. “Seriously, my mom won’t mind. I can bring her if I have to. Come on, please let me come. Please?”

The prohibition stood firm so long as I was a senior. The next year, Allan was in charge. The newly-minted eighth graders flocked to him. He was their epitome of cool, all that they aspired to be. During his freshman year of college, Allan once said, “You know, I’ll never get laid like that again.”

“You never know,” I said. “This is the South.”

Our party grew too large for Nora’s kitchen. Kevin lit a fire in a cast iron stove on their deck and we moved outside. It was after midnight. Kevin went to bed, kissing Nora good night. He kissed my head. “Good to have you back, brother,” he said. He hooked my hand and took me into a bear hug. I kissed good night to his bearded cheek.

My hometown has distinctive sounds at night. Crickets and frogs are so voluminous you need to raise your voice to be heard. The trains that bisect the town ran close to Nora’s backyard, so that we were occasionally shushed by distant whistles and clacks that signaled the imminence of a deafening rumble.

“I’m sorry about that, guys,” Nora shouted as a train tore through the night.

“I like it!” I shouted back. I wanted to rush to the tracks and scream at the passing cars, to let out this tumor of grief for a boy I had lost and the longing for a man I didn’t know well enough to love as intently as I did.

It was quiet again as we sat near the stove. It got late but the wine held out, and no one showed any sign of leaving. So many years after high school, we were able to return to our familiar comfort with one another; we had gone on to other lives and places, but here, in this group, we remained the same people who had once imagined the future together.

Timothy looked content, his arm around my former girlfriend Lauren. She caught my eye and raised an eyebrow. I grinned. He had been nursing a crush on her for twenty years. I could remember him following us through the halls at school, and watching as we made out in the parking lot. We were his first ideal of romance. In his young mind, Lauren became the very embodiment of love and desire. He had never married. Allan used to joke that he was waiting on Lauren to break up with her longtime boyfriend. Recently, she had.

Nora sat beside me. She poured me another glass, and rested her head on my shoulder. I massaged Linda’s foot in my lap. She smiled and raised her glass in response. I took a sip.

“I’ve got a question,” Linda said. “I was just thinking of Allan taking my virginity, and wondered: how many of us had sex with Allan? Come on, show of hands.”

Half the people in the circle raised hands: every woman and me. We collapsed into laughter. “Please don’t ask that question at the service tomorrow,” I begged.

“We should charter a bus,” Nora guffawed. “With a banner: ‘Allan Slept Here.’”

“You slept with Allan?” Lucinda asked me. “I had no idea. None.”

“Well, he didn’t much talk about it. He wasn’t really into guys, but you know, he and I . . .”

“He was so in love with you,” Nora interrupted.

“Yes,” Linda echoed.

“We loved each other. I mean, that was the deal. We were straight boys in love. And we were sexual. So we had sex.” I sipped my wine. The fire crackled. I wasn’t satisfied with my answer, despite its truth. I wanted to wad it up, throw it into the fire, and start over.

Nora laughed. She bent over, grabbing her sides. “What, what?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, this is so inappropriate,” she giggled. “But that got me wet!” Everyone descended into gales.

I noticed Timothy wasn’t smiling. I hiccupped a few more giggles. “Hey, are you okay, Timothy?” I asked.

He looked into the fire. “I don’t think it’s very respectful.”

“What? The sex talk?” I sat up. “Hey, I’m sorry, it’s just . . .”

Timothy picked up a wood chip and dug into the deck. “I mean . . . if it was a secret, it should stay a secret.”

“Wait, are you talking about me and Allan? You knew about that, didn’t you?”

He nodded. “He told me, but that’s not the point. If you agreed to keep it a secret, it should be a secret.”

I sat back. “I tell it because I’m drunk, I’m tired, and I miss my friend. Forgive me.”

Nora sat forward. “Timothy, Allan’s dead. He won’t mind. And anyway, we all knew. He told all of us. Well, all of us except Lucinda, evidently.” Lucinda shrugged. Nora hit me. “Wait, why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Ask me later,” I nudged. “I’ve got a story that involves your bedroom.”

Nora covered her mouth and raised her eyebrows. “Oh, really?”

Nervous titters vibrated through the crowd. Timothy threw his wood chip into the fire. We fell quiet and watched the chip burn. Another train was heading down the line. After it passed, Lucinda spoke up. “Allan’s passing was so unexpected, so sudden. I guess it goes to show that you have to live each day like it’s your last.”

There were murmurs of assent. “I don’t know,” I said. “That seems too pessimistic. And maybe too complicated. Like, an anticipated last day might easily become a to-do list, a series of errands. Tell your mama you loved her. Write down the bank accounts. Open the good scotch. Watch the sunset. Kiss the wife and kids . . .”

“Get laid,” Lucinda added. We laughed.

“That too! But you know what I mean?” I continued. “It isn’t that any day could be your last. The point is that each day can be more fully appreciated. We spend so much time doing what we are supposed to do, and maybe we spend too little savoring the everyday things we would miss if they were gone. It’s not just about scaling Everest or whatever. It’s about tasting what you chew, listening when your children talk, laughing when . . . um . . .”

“Stop and smell the roses,” Linda nodded.

I reached for her hand. “Oh my God. Did you make that up? That’s it!” She grinned. “Well, I’m drunk and maudlin and talking in clichés. What the fuck do I know? But if I had Allan for just ten more minutes, I would tell him how much I loved him—which was so, so much—and then I would fuck the absolute living shit out of him until the meter ran down the time.”

“Here, here!” Linda laughed over the noise of convulsions. We clinked glasses.

“To love!” Nora echoed. “Je suis la lune!” She pedaled her feet in the air and handed me another bottle to open.

I woke up the next morning with a head full of rocks. I rolled over and squinted into the sun coming through a window. I was under a quilt on a day bed in a room lined with shelves. I could make out boxes on the shelves; focusing my eyes, I saw that they were action figures, each in their original packaging. I smelled bacon.

I sat up. I swung my feet to the floor. I ran my fingers through my hair.

“Do I look as bad as I feel?” I asked, stumbling into the kitchen.

Nora raised her head from the table. Her hair fell in her face. “I’d tell you, honey, but I can’t open my eyes.”

“Y’all had some party last night, judging from the bottles left over,” Kevin said from the stove. “Sounds like you sent Allan off real good.”

I sat at the table and buried my face in my hands. “Yeah, he got a fine bon voyage.” I dropped my hands and stared at Nora’s scalp.

Kevin put two cups of coffee in front of us. “Y’all best sober up. We have to be at the service in two hours.”

I looked at the clock. “Fuck, is it really ten? I have to go back to my parents house to get in my suit.”

“No problem,” Nora muttered into the table. “It’s thirty minutes on the Interstate.” Kevin served breakfast and we gradually came around. I kissed them each goodbye and walked out to my grandmother’s Impala. It was a bright morning. I drove into the sun, regretting my sunglasses.

I referred to Nora’s directions, trying to trace my way backward to my parents’ house. Somehow, I missed the turn onto the Interstate, which had opened in the two decades since I left home. Rather than double back to get directions, I decided to drive the way I knew, on the older highways and back roads. By the time I got home, I had been driving for over an hour.

“Isn’t the service at noon?” my mother asked as I came in the door.

“Yes,” I said, rushing upstairs. “I got turned around on the way back from Nora’s.”

“It’s twenty ‘til now!” she called.

“I know!” I shouted back.

“You’ll be late to your own funeral, son,” she said, walking back to the kitchen. “Good thing Lucy didn’t come, she’d cuss you out.”

Mom wrote out directions to the chapel so that I could take the Interstate. She gave me the directions, and then went over them with me as I stood in the kitchen tying my tie. “Mom, I could drive there in the time it takes you to explain these directions,” I said impatiently. I kissed her cheek and took the paper. She hollered at me to drive safe.

The chapel was standing room only. I closed the door behind me and shuffled to one side, taking care not to block the view of anyone behind me. Allan’s band was playing one of his songs, with the guitarist filling in the vocals. I looked over the heads of the seated mourners, but I couldn’t see a casket.

The door opened behind me. Jonathan stepped in, removing his sunglasses. I stepped over to hug him.

“You’re here,” he whispered.

“Yes,” I replied. “Thank God for you. No matter how late I am, I can always count on you to be later.”

He motioned for me to move closer and brought his lips to into my ear. “Fuck you,” he growled. I nearly giggled.

The service, or what was left of it, was short. As we were already standing by the door, Jonathan and I each stood to one side to act as ushers. Allan’s widow, Alice, came down the aisle holding a ceramic vase Allan had made. His mother, Barbara, held Alice’s arm. She wore large black sunglasses. She looked so small.

Alice leaned to kiss my cheek as she passed. “My husband is so heavy,” she whispered. He had been cremated. I would never see him again.

I squeezed Barbara’s hand. She turned her face to me. “Baby, are you coming to the house?” she croaked.

I cried and nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

She nodded. “Please, I need you there.”

I hugged her, trying not to cry so much. She had enough tears. She dropped her arms and turned to the door, resting a hand on Alice’s elbow. They shuffled outside. I put my hand to my mouth, suppressing my sobs. Barbara looked so drained of life.

Jonathan and I stayed in place as the mourners filed by. I recovered and folded my hands in front of my body. Following the line outside, we found our friends milling on the lawn outside the chapel. People were hugging, drying their eyes, and smoking, talking in hushed tones. Kids ran by, dressed in their Sunday school clothes. We watched as someone helped Barbara into a car.

“We should give them a good head start before we go to the house,” Jonathan said. “They’ll need to get her settled.” I nodded, reaching for his hand.

I followed Jonathan to Barbara’s place. We parked with the other cars along the side of the road and walked into the backyard. Some of the former seventh graders were seated in a circle, drinking beer and singing as the guitarist played. We nodded hellos and passed into the house. Allan’s aunts were in the kitchen. Linda helped them to bring food out to the dining room table. I took Linda to one side and hugged her. She broke down. “Stop, stop,” she said, slapping her hand to my chest. “I can’t do this, I need to help them.”

“Is she okay?” I asked. Linda shook her head, wiping her nose on a tissue. She turned and went back the kitchen. I followed the corridor to the living room.

Barbara was seated at the center of the couch, surrounded by people. “Mmph, there he is,” she said, drawing on her cigarette. “Come here, New York, and sit next to me. Y’all scoot over and make some room.” One of her sisters stood and took a glass from the coffee table. I made my way through the crowd to her side. I put my arms around her. Her head fell to my shoulder. “I buried my baby today,” she said, quietly.

I nodded, sniffling. “I know.” I held her.

“But you know what?” She sat up and waved her hand, guiding her cigarette through the air. “I’ve still got my other children. Allan’s friends. Y’all have all been so good to me, all his life. And now, even more so.”

Linda watched from the dining room. “We love you, Barbara,” she called. The words were picked up by other voices as heads nodded around the room. Linda wiped her eyes.

“Well, I love y’all,” Barbara said, her eyes raw and red. She turned to me and patted my leg. “You go call your mama and tell her you’re my son now, too.”

I sobbed. “You cruel bitch,” I wept. “Now, I think you’re purposefully trying to make me cry.”

A wry smile crossed her lips. “Honey, we’ve all been crying and we aren’t about to stop. I fully intend to sit here, get drunk, and cry myself dry.”

I laughed, kissing her cheek. I turned to Linda. “What do you have to do to get a vodka in this joint? Jesus Hosanna.”

“On its way,” Linda said, pointing over her shoulder to the kitchen. Barbara was already pretty soused, but no one was going to close her tab today. Her sister came back with a tall glass of vodka and orange juice. Barbara took a long sip. I took the glass and put if back on the table.

“You know what?” She drew on her cigarette and turned her head to exhale. “I always thought Allan would’ve been happier with you.”

I looked around. “You mean, with Linda?”

She patted my hand. “No honey, with you.” Several of us laughed. “No, now, I mean it. He loved you so much, baby, so very much. One time I asked him if he was in love with you. He shook his head and he said, “Naw, Mama. I love him, but I’m not in love with him.’ But you know what?” She lowered her voice. “I could tell he was.”

My face grew warm. “Well, Barbara, thanks for your blessing. A little late, perhaps, but . . . ”

Laughter burst from her. “Oh, baby, you made me laugh,” she said, patting her chest. “Oh heaven, thank you for that.”

I kissed her hand. “Seriously, though, I loved him, too. Still do. That’s the beautiful part. We still get to keep him with us, in our love for him.” I didn’t know where those words came from, but the sounded comforting and true, so I was grateful for them.

She squeezed my hand. “That is so right.” She reached for her vodka. “So right.”

I sat next to Barbara, talking with her and our friends, until she was good and drunk. Two of her sisters came over and helped her to the bedroom. We all wished her goodnight. The sun was starting to set.

We ate some food, sang some songs and drank some beer. We all kissed each other and said we’d get together soon, and not at a funeral. Linda’s brother Simon collected phone numbers, emails and addresses. The next day, I breakfasted with my parents and flew home to my wife and children.

A few days later, Simon sent an email to all of us, inviting us to join a Yahoo group he had created. Other friends were linked into the group, and soon, we were all catching up and carrying on in our message board.

Then, a funny thing happened. Former seventh-grader Timothy began corresponding with my former girlfriend Lauren. He had moved to New York a few years before, and she lived with her daughter in Maryland. He began to travel down to visit them on weekends. Pretty soon, he proposed. She accepted.

Twenty years after first meeting—one year after Allan’s death, two weeks into my separation—Timothy and Lauren were going to get married.

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Sequestered

The call from Lucy’s lawyer was my first indication that my ex-wife was taking me to court. “There’s going to be a court appearance tomorrow morning, at which time a judge will decide whether or not to hear the case.”

“Okay.” I picked up a pen. “So what does that mean?”

“That means that tomorrow, we’re presenting our motion to the court and at that time, it should be decided if a judge will hear the case.”

“Okay, so there’s a motion? What’s in that?”

“If the case is assigned to a judge, you will be served with papers. Then we’ll have a court date.”

I took notes. “These papers will tell me what this motion is about?”

“Yes, the papers are the motion. They will tell you why the plaintiff has filed, and what the claims are.”

“’Claims?’ What’s that, like child support? And the plaintiff is Lucy, correct?”

“Uh, yes, the plaintiff is my client. I’m getting another call and need to be going.”

“Wait, just a few more questions, please.” I sat down. “I’m sorry, but this is only my third custody case, so I’m still getting down the process. Now, we’re supposed to be in court tomorrow morning? Am I supposed to have an attorney?”

“Well, um . . . you aren’t required to be there, but you may want to be there. Of course, it’s up to you whether or not you have counsel.”

“But I should, shouldn’t I? I mean, if Lucy does, I suppose I should, correct?”

“It’s not really my responsibility to advise you on the advisability of obtaining counsel.” Her voice was growing irritable.

“Oh right, of course, you represent the other side. But tomorrow morning is soon. It’s already late afternoon. Is there any way to get a postponement so I can have time to get an attorney? I mean, I don’t even know the claims being made.”

“If a judge takes the case, you’ll be served papers and then you’ll know the claims. We won’t ask for a postponement since we filed that this was an emergency situation . . .”

“An emergency? What emergency? What’s happened?” I stood up.

“Again, you’ll know that if a judge agrees to take the case. Then you’ll be served. Now, I really do need to take this other call. If a judge takes this case, I’m sure I’ll be able to clarify this with your attorney.”

“So I’m going to need an attorney.”

“Yes, if a judge takes the case, you will need an attorney. You can’t represent yourself in this court. Now, as I’ve said, I really do need to take this call. If you are served papers, you’ll have my contact information to relay to your attorney. Bye.”

“Bye.” I hung up. The day before, I had still been on vacation with my kids. Just the night before, I had spoken with Lucy and she had made no mention of this. Now there was an emergency? And I needed an attorney in less than twenty-four hours?

I called Lucy. No answer. I left a message and called her cell. No answer. I left a message and called my son. No answer. I left a message and tried Lucy’s cell again. No answer. I made a few other calls to my family and to friends who are lawyers. I was advised that I should not go to court without knowing what claims are being made against me. I collected leads on family lawyers.

I again tried the circuit of numbers to reach Lucy and my children. All went directly to voice mail. After an anxious evening, I went to bed.

The next morning, I tried to call Lucy and my children. Again, I only got voice mail. I made coffee and checked my email. I was surprised to see a note from my eight-year-old daughter.

im srry im not supposed to be emailing you so make this our secret please please please i just want to tell you what ever happens i love you very much! i have to go im srry

She wasn’t supposed to email me? What did she mean by “whatever happens?” Why was she apologizing? Why was her email a “secret?”

I wrote back:

Honey, that’s silly. No one can tell you that you can’t email your father, or talk to him on the phone, any time you like! So write notes any time.

I love you very, very much.

Dad

Oh, and your M magazine has arrived! Gossip galore.

If my daughter was under the impression that she was not permitted to write to me, I suspected that this prohibition extended to phone calls. I wasn’t getting anywhere trying Lucy’s numbers. I decided to call Lucy’s mother to see if she knew what was going on.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Bucky, it’s Henry. I’ve been trying to call Lucy and the kids for a day now and I can’t get through. I’m worried. Do you know what’s going on?”

“Yes, they are here,” she stammered, surprised by my call. “And you can’t talk to them. Bye.” She hung up.

I looked at the phone in my hand. I called back. She answered. “Bucky, it’s Henry. Are you telling me that you have my children and you are not allowing me to speak to them? That’s not acceptable.”

“Well, that may be, but you can’t talk to them until Lucy gets back. Bye.” She hung on me again. I called back. The phone rang and went unanswered. I tried calling my son’s cell again. It went to voice mail.

I felt helpless. Evidently, my children were being sequestered on Long Island, kept from me by my ex and her mother. I had no idea what was going on, but I did know how to phone tree Lucy’s family. When Lucy was uncommunicative, I could try her mother. If her mother was unresponsive, I could go to her father or her brother. There, cooler heads generally prevailed. I called her brother in California.

“Richard, it’s Henry. I’ve been trying to call my kids and your sister, but I can’t get through. I just called your mother and was told that she has the kids, but she refused to allow me to speak to them. I got an email from my daughter saying she wasn’t permitted to talk to me. Now, I have my car. Should I drive out to your mother’s house to get to the bottom of this?”

“No, you don’t want to do that.” He paused. “You don’t want to do anything that might upset the judge.”

“The judge? So what’s happening here? Has a judge ordered the kids not to speak to me?”

“No, I don’t know anything about that,” he said. “Though, Lucy was meeting with a judge today, and I haven’t heard the latest. But it should be clear to you what’s going on. You’ve written about it many times. Your double life has been revealed and now Lucy is suing for custody.”

I sat down. “My double life,” I repeated.

“Yes, your double life and your blog. Lucy found out about it in the spring and showed it to all of us. Now she’s suing for custody.”

I sat for a moment. “Okay. Well, thanks for letting me know. No one has really told me anything, so this comes as a shock.”

“You haven’t seen anything? No court papers?”

“Lucy’s lawyer spoke to me yesterday, but she declined to tell me what this was about. This is the first I’ve heard.” I paused. Richard was silent. “Okay, anyway, thanks again. If you would please talk to your mother and tell her I want to talk to my kids, I’d appreciate it.”

“Sure. Take care.”

Richard was right. I had written many times that my greatest concern in keeping this blog was that Lucy would discover it and file for full custody.

She had sought full custody in the original divorce. At that time, she had no reason to expect that I would be denied joint custody. Still, she had dug in her heels, defying the advice of her family and even her own attorney. She resisted any compromise and sought every opportunity to protract the case. The more time we spent in court, the more she could hope that, despite all evidence to the contrary, she might prevail.

Further, she wanted to control and punish me. Her family’s money made it possible to pay for unnecessary legal fees. The more expensive she made the process, the more she could bully me. I lacked her resources. She knew she could use financial intimidation against me. Money or no, she knew that her bullying had worked in the past.

Now, she had discovered my blog. For the previous four months—even as she worked to have my family removed from her father’s apartment, never expressing any concern about where the children and I would go—she had been going through my blog, searching for evidence she could use in once more seeking full custody. With twenty-five thousand dollars of her mother’s money, Lucy had retained lawyers to take this blog and turn it into her desired vindication—full custody for her, ruin for me.

I would not see the assembled evidence until that afternoon, after a judge had agreed to take on the case and I was subsequently served papers. My “double life” had been revealed and Lucy was rushing me to court. She was hurling her family’s money into an emergency filing, knowing I would have to struggle to keep up.

What I didn’t yet realize was that Lucy had already broken with the original custody settlement. No judge or legal authority had given her permission to deny me contact with the children. We had yet to appear in court and Lucy had already defied an existing court order.

I wondered what must have been going through the children’s heads when their mother told them they couldn’t speak to their father. How did that feel to them, particularly after two entire weeks of vacation with their father?

I didn’t yet know what the children knew. I wouldn’t know for several months. Lucy had already outed their father. Lucy had told the children that I am bisexual. She had told the children that I go to orgies. She had told the children that I spank people. She had told the children that I write pornography on the Internet. She had made the children understand that I am a bad man and they are not safe with me. She was going to protect them from me, which meant going to court. In the meantime, the children would not be seeing their father and they were not to speak to him.

Saying these things to the children may have satisfied Lucy’s rage, but saying them was clearly not in the best interests of the children.

It would be months before anyone involved in the case would know what Lucy had told the children. Even her own attorneys seemed to be in the dark. By that time, Lucy had sworn in a court document that the children had learned about my “double life” when they encountered my blog on the family computer. I asserted that this was highly unlikely. The children’s law guardian visited our home for a private tour of the computer’s security features. She agreed that they were formidable. Still, better safe than sorry, she said: better to get another computer for the kids and keep them off the shared one. Already financially strapped by Lucy’s emergency filing, I was now out of pocket for a new computer.

Lucy may have gloated about the added expense—another “win” in her campaign of financial intimidation—but the gloating wouldn’t last long.

In describing my sexuality to the children, she had defied another order of the original custody settlement: parents are not to disparage one another to the children. What’s more, Lucy had claimed in the original motion and a subsequent filing that the children had learned about my blog on our shared computer. In fact, she had told the children about my online writing about sex. There was no evidence that the children knew the URL or had ever seen it on our computer.

In her haste and rage, she had once again perjured herself before the court.

All of that was yet to come. A few days after our vacation and one day after I had learned of the custody filing, Lucy appeared with her lawyers before a judge. The judge agreed that the charges in the motion deserved consideration on an emergency basis and ordered an appearance for the following week.

Lucy was ecstatic as she left the courthouse and retrieved her car. She chain-smoked as she drove to her mother’s house, her mind racing as she calculated how well this was going. She had really stuck it to Henry this time! She was going to get him, finally. Where was that loser going to get twenty-five thousand dollars in less than a week? He’d fail to get a lawyer, fail to show up in court, the kids would see what a failure fucking asshole he is, and finally, she would be vindicated for divorcing him. Everyone would see what a loser he is!

That afternoon, I got a call from our daughter. Her mother had given her permission to call. “Hey Dad, guess what?” she said excitedly. “Mom totaled the car. We get to get a new one!”

In the background, I could hear Lucy talking to her mother, a mile a minute, her voice racing to keep up with her thoughts.

On July fifteenth, just before midnight, I pulled in front of Lucy’s house. As we had called ahead, she sat waiting on the front stoop, smoking and drinking a beer. She smiled and stamped out her cigarette. I smiled back. She avoided eye contact with me; her smile was for the children.

The kids and I were returning from our annual two-week vacation with my family back home. After two days on the road, I was glad to be getting home. The kids leapt from the car as soon as I parked. I unpacked the trunk as the kids hugged their mother and began excitedly relating the adventures we had on the road and on the lake.

“Bet you’re looking forward to some quiet,” Lucy said to me.

“Oh yes,” I smiled. “I’ve heard enough ‘hey Dad, hey Dad,’ to last for a while. I’m sure you’re glad to get them back.”

“I am,” she nodded. “I really need them, especially when they’re gone.”

I put a bag over my shoulder and lifted two others. “Here, let me get these things in the house and I’ll be on my way; they won’t calm down for a while.”

“I know! They are really bouncing up and down.” Having satisfied the need to acknowledge me, Lucy returned to the children. I set down the bags in the living room. I’m very rarely in the home we once shared, maybe once a year, and each time, I’m struck by the fact that it looks exactly the same. It’s as if time had stopped when Lucy kicked me out five years earlier.

I said goodbyes to the children, kissing each of them, and waved a goodbye to Lucy. I closed the door on my way out, the children’s voices following me to the car. As I drove away, I turned off the radio, rolled down the windows and enjoyed the quiet summer air. Funny, when you think of it, I mused. Twenty years ago that night, Lucy and I had made love for the first time.

Lucy and I worked at the same bookstore. I was an assistant manager; later, we would joke that this was the last time in our relationship that she wasn’t the boss. We had worked together for six months before she took a long look at me and decided I might be worth dating. But first, she had to clear something up: was I or was I not dating William?

William had come to work at the bookstore that spring. He took an immediate liking to me and followed me everywhere. “He’s like your new puppy,” a friend observed. William knew I was bisexual, as did everyone, but, as he constantly reminded me, he was straight. He had a girlfriend. Together, they tended a gay bed and breakfast. Whenever I visited, I read their copies of Honcho and Bear.

One day, William called me upset. He and his girlfriend were breaking up and he needed to move out. His parents lived in the suburbs and he was welcome there, but he didn’t want to return home. I suggested that he stay with me until things were sorted out. That night, he moved in and we began to share the bed in my tiny room.

My friend teased that we were now an item. “No, it’s not like that,” I replied. “William is straight.”

“So? You’ve been with straight boys.”

I tilted my head. “William is straight and Catholic.”

“Ooh.” My friend nodded. “So that means waiting until he says his prayers.”

“Not happening.” I maintained.

Still, like everyone else at the bookstore, Lucy assumed that William and I were having sex. She decided to get to the heart of the matter. One evening after work, she invited William to join her for a beer. They walked to a nearby Ethiopian restaurant. When the beers were served, Lucy got to the point. “So are you and Henry doing it?”

William spurted his beer. “What? No! No, no way. I like him as a friend, and he’s bi, so maybe . . . maybe he’s into me that way. But I couldn’t . . . wait, why, did he say something?”

“No, he didn’t say anything. So you’re sure he likes girls?”

“Sure, he likes girls. Why?”

Lucy smiled. “I think he’s sexy.”

William sat back. “No way! Really? Come on, you have to tell him. Come over tonight.” He reached for his beer. “Hurry, drink this. We can get some more beer on the way to our place.”

Lucy laughed. “You’d think you were the one getting a date!”

I closed the bookstore that night at eleven. After accounting and closing up, I walked home, stopping to pick up a six of Rolling Rock. I was surprised to find Lucy and William on the front porch. I sat with them. Lucy passed her one hit. We sat talking and drinking beer. It was getting late and Lucy showed no sign of leaving. I was a little nervous about smoking pot on the porch, so I recommended that we go inside to my room.

As William and Lucy laughed and rolled a joint, I put on an album. I liked Lucy but I was feeling a bit put out. Maybe William wasn’t my boyfriend, but still, I wasn’t keen on him bringing girls home to my room. I didn’t want to be put out on the couch while they screwed.

Lucy suggested that we play strip poker. William lost, but refused to part with his boxers. Then Lucy lost and refused to remove her panties. She did concede her breasts. Finally, I cheated so that I would lose and undressed. “This is the point of strip poker,” I chided. “You get naked to see what happens next.”

What happened next was that Lucy kissed me. My hands touched her body, finding William’s hands already there. This was really nice, I thought. I hadn’t had a threesome in such a long time.

The three of us fooled around, kissing and touching, until I recommended that we go to the roof. Being nude outside and making out was even hotter. Soon, I was going down on Lucy, my knees scraping on shingles. William watched, stroking his cock. After a moment, Lucy stopped me. “Hang on, that’s a bit much. Can we stop for a second? I need to catch my breath.”

“Sure.” I grinned and moved to be next to her. I nuzzled my face into her neck.

“Listen,” she whispered. “I’m here for you, not William. Can you make him go away?”

I sat back. “I had no idea.” I turned to William. “Hey buddy, can we have some time alone?”

William was taken aback. I was asking him to walk away from a naked woman, something contrary to his every instinct. “Um, okay,” he said, still holding his erection. “I’ll, um, meet you guys downstairs.”

“Thanks, buddy.” I watched as he climbed the ladder back to my room. I turned back to Lucy. “So I thought I was crashing your date.”

“No, he was crashing ours.” We kissed. That night, we had sex until well past dawn. She declined to sleep over, saying she had to feed her cat. The following night, she came back.

I had received a video camera for college graduation just a few weeks earlier. I videotaped everything. That night, William made a video of Lucy and I making love. Our sex was slow and sensuous, just right for a summer night with soft lighting and ambient music.

William’s video interspersed footage of us with shots of my room: the lamp, the bookcase, the poster of Rilke. After a while, he put down the camera and joined us. His energy was entirely different from ours. Watching us through a viewfinder had left him keyed up and anxiously aroused. He had sex with Lucy abruptly, pulling out to shoot on her stomach. Lucy would later say it was the fastest sex she had ever had. I offered the excuse that William had probably never been so turned on in his life.

Lucy wasn’t interested in more sex with William. He knew he was a third wheel, so he set out to add a fourth. He began to date Lucy’s best friend. She joined the three of us almost every night, nude, talking, laughing, smoking pot, making love, passing around the video camera.

I thought about that summer, twenty years later, as I drove home from Lucy’s house. These were among my fondest memories of what it was like to fall in love with Lucy. I had replayed these memories in my mind over and again as our marriage became increasingly devoid of intimacy, replaying the videos now and then to remember more precisely what we had said and how we had felt.

I hadn’t looked at videos in quite some time until after my divorce, when William suggested we dust them off. “Wow, we were so young,” I said. “I was one skinny kid.”

“And look,” he grinned. “We both had hair.” We laughed and then fell silent, eavesdropping on our younger selves. I watched as he massaged Lucy. “Oops, sorry about that,” he winced.

“Ha, no worries,” I said, watching as he and his girlfriend made love on a couch.

The day after my return from vacation, I called my daughter to let her know that she had left a game in my car. There was no answer, so I left a message. I hadn’t expected an answer, really. I was sure they were still asleep and tuckered out

The next day, I got a call from a lawyer. Lucy had filed for full custody of our three children on an emergency basis. I was told I would soon be served. I was stunned. Lucy’s lawyer reluctantly answered my questions, repeating that I would soon be served. I was confused. What did this even mean?

My hands shook as I called Lucy. No answer. I left a message and called her cell. No answer. I left a message and called my son. No answer. I left a message and tried Lucy’s cell again. No answer.

The following afternoon, a messenger arrived with a package. I opened it and found a stack of papers about the size of a Manhattan telephone book. I learned that Lucy had discovered my blog and was using that as the basis of her motion. I flipped through the pages, reading over and again the words “sex,” “sexual,” “bisexual,” “orgies,” “hypersexual.” Blog posts were excerpted throughout. Attached at the back were pages and pages of printed posts.

I called Lucy. No answer. I left a message and called her cell. No answer. I left a message and called my son. No answer. I left a message and tried Lucy’s cell again. No answer.

I returned to the papers. One particular excerpt caught my eye. The preceding paragraph asserted that my sex partners are permitted to fantasize about my children. That’s absurd, I thought. I looked up the original post. The excerpt had purposefully been shorn of context so as to distort its meaning. “You want to play literary critic?” I said aloud. I reached for a pen and Post-It notes. “Let’s go.”

As I read Lucy’s motion in more depth, I was struck by two curious assertions.

Lucy said that she discovered my blog after it was featured in Time Out, New York. Apparently, a friend had read the feature and thought it might be referring to me. Lucy would have wanted to know more; at the time, she was working hard to have my family removed from an apartment her father owned. She went to the Time Out website but couldn’t find the cover story article then posted on the site’s front page. The feature was on newsstands that week and remains online to this day, but Lucy apparently lost interest in looking further.

A few weeks later, our eight-year daughter approached her. “Mom, did you know that onelifetaketwo.com is Dad’s secret website?” Lucy said this was news to her, but she didn’t bother typing in the URL her daughter had conveniently provided.

At the end of June, Lucy’s therapist recalled having read the article. She agreed that it sounded like me. She provided Lucy with a copy. Then, at long last, Lucy read the feature. As it happened, I was going to be leaving town for a vacation with the children the next day. It was also the first day of Lucy’s long-planned sabbatical from her job. It was incredibly fortuitous that her discovery came at the very moment that she would have free time to address it. Fearing for her children’s safety while they were in my custody, she did what any concerned mother would do. She told me to have a nice trip with the children and contacted a lawyer. She hired her attorneys on July second.

I read over this timeline a few times. It made no sense. Lucy? My Lucy? After so much effort and energy spent in our divorce, despite her continuous hostility over the course of several years, she expected it to be believed that she was so disinterested? Despite her concerted efforts in making me homeless, Lucy cared nothing about reading “Dad’s secret website,” even lacking the basic skills to navigate Time Out, New York’s website?

I flipped through the motion. I noted that many of the pages provided by her lawyer’s office had been printed well before Lucy had contacted them. Why on earth, I wondered, would Lucy’s lawyers print selections from my blog before she brought it to their attention?

I checked for IP addresses on my StatCounter. I asked other bloggers to check theirs. I took notes.

The other curious thing was Lucy’s repeated assertions that she had no idea that I was bisexual or interested in group sexual activities. This simply wasn’t true. She knew that I was bisexual before she knew me. She had asked William about that before our first date. She had known Donnie, my high-school boyfriend, and she understood when I needed to care for him as he died of AIDS. We would name our first child in his memory. She understood that Donnie’s influence in my life was one reason I continued to identify as bisexual even when Lucy and I were monogamous. We discussed this over and again in couples’ therapy. Friends I’ve known for twenty years or more could attest that Lucy has always known of my sexuality. So why claim otherwise?

This would vex me until my first meeting with my attorney.

“She had to show a change of circumstance,” I was told. “In order to file on an emergency basis, she needed to show that she had newly discovered information that she did not have at the time of the original divorce settlement.”

“But she’s always known I’m bisexual!” I said. “She knew about my group sexual activities, too. Heck, she even participated in them with me.”

My attorney sat back. “Really?”

“You want to know what’s more?” I tapped my finger on the desk between us. “I’ve got that on videotape.”

She laughed. “Well, you may want to hang on to those tapes.”

Lucy would repeat her alleged timeline of discovery and her claims to be ignorant of my sexuality throughout the fall. As we prepared for court-ordered psychiatric evaluations, Lucy began to claim that the videos did not exist and I lied in saying otherwise. She then changed her story to say that the videos did exist, but I was lying about their content. Her story shifted until she settled on the central fact: I was lying.

Some people believed her. This was important, as her entire claim of an emergency situation rested on two necessary facts: she was ignorant of my sexuality and had only recently discovered it.

“This is absurd!” I complained to my attorney. “This isn’t a case of ‘he said, she said.’ This is a verifiable fact. One of us is lying about the existence of the videos and their content. If I’m lying, I’m being dishonest. But if she’s lying, she’s lied in court motions. Isn’t that perjury?”

My attorney paused for a moment. “I think I need to see these videos,” she said.

Lost Knows Best

On Mother’s Day, I called Mom and thanked her for not shooting me in the back. She replied that she was happy we got through the rough times without Dad pushing me through a window.

My family follows Lost, which ended its fifth season this week. Drinking game enthusiasts may fixate on such tics as Hurley’s use of “dude” (if so, give someone else the keys to the raft, brother). But for my reasonably well-adjusted family, the most persistently noted motif is familial dysfunction. Have you noticed how many characters have serious conflicts with their parents?

I watch Lost with my children. My twelve-year-old was the first to pick up on the leitmotif of parent/child relationships around the time Ben slipped on a gas mask to bid adieu to Roger Workman. “Man, talk about daddy issues,” my son observed, covering his nose.

Mothers certainly don’t fare well on Lost. On the island, pregnancy has been a death sentence. Claire abandoned her son, who was subsequently left behind by stepmother Kate. Walt lost his mom, Rousseau lost her daughter, and Eloise lost any hope of being Mother of the Year 1977.

But, as my son noted, fathers are the show’s truly bad mofos. Sawyer was orphaned in an instance by his father’s shotgun. Kate put a torch to her abusive dad. Jack, Sun, Charlie and Penny had controlling, dissatisfied fathers. Miles and Hurley were abandoned to ghosts and candy bars, respectively. Claire and Faraday never knew their fathers or their siblings. Locke’s father never ceased to come up with ways to torment his gullible son.

Still, putting aside their obvious failings, some of the fathers of Lost do seem to do the right thing, if they go about it in the wrong way. My children and I keep a running list of the show’s lessons in fatherhood.

Be consistent. Children prefer order to chaos. “All babies want to be swaddled,” Locke told Claire. “It’s only later we crave freedom.” It’s a lesson Locke learned from his own father’s consistency. When Locke needed to be loved, his father told him he loved him. Locke was conned, swindled, ruined and defenestrated, but throughout, the son always knew what to expect of his old man.

Be a role model. Dr. Chang honed his skills in offering clear instruction. He helped others to always make the right decision by removing the margin of error introduced by free will. Reunited with the son he had yet to abandon, Dr. Chang was always clear in what he expected from Miles. Drive me here, drive me there, deliver this package; Dr. Chang provided clarity and purpose to his often-distracted son.

Always be there. Whereas many of his friends suffered the neglect of their fathers, Jack feels sure that his father will always be with him. Always. Always and always.

Offer safety. Ben loved his daughter Alex as best he knew how. He stole her away to a contented suburban life, keeping her safe from the dangers of the world beyond the home in which he himself had been tormented as child. Fearing Alex’s sexuality as she matured, Ben offered a fatherly brainwashing to her boyfriend. When she was threatened, Ben made sure the voice she heard clearest was that of her father.

Encourage independence. When Michael was reunited with Walt, he failed to remember the adage about loving something and letting it go. After his father barked “he’s my son!” a few too many times—and dropped “it’s a father’s right!” as an excuse to kill a few too many friends—Walt had had enough. Michael was left with nothing but a string of unfortunate boating adventures.

You can have “do-overs.” Look, we’ve all been there. The kids are wrecking havoc, the place is a mess and you just don’t have the energy to consider dinner. Frustrated, your temper snaps and you say or do something you regret. Maybe you raised your voice. Maybe you murdered your future son in haste. Take a breath. You’re only human. Saying “I’m sorry” helps. For the bad times, keep a stock of hydrogen bombs.

As a father, I know that the show has taught me the danger of pushing buttons. For other parents, Lost may serve as reminder why they originally had children: you never know when you’ll need a kidney.

Also posted at Time Out, New York

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I’m in the midst of moving my blog to this location. I’m doing so by reposting tales in chronological order. Sit back and take a read from the beginning while I continue stoking the archives. Drop comments now and then. New posts to follow.

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Always

I think my ex is anxious about the upcoming holidays. We spend Christmases together in the hothouse of her mother’s home. Lucy has to contend with all her far-flung family gathering under one roof, plus the one man they all adore and she most loathes, your humble servant.

It’s our annual eXmas.

I can tell she is anxious, as her family reports that she is indulging in her ongoing catalogue of my many failings, as she does when she is obsessed with making the world understand just what a piece of shit I truly am. This is her way of gearing up for a few days of clenching her fists as everyone laughs at my jokes.

Most people are fooled by my friendly personality and outgoing charm, but Lucy sees beyond that mask. It kills her that others are so naïve. She is granted with a mystical vision denied to others, given her unique access to the insights gained from fifteen years of being with me, followed by three years of lip-locked silent rage that I continue to exist. She stews as she conjures visions of a monstrous figure, infuriated that no one else can see the boogeyman before their very eyes.

I can scarcely imagine what she tells people about our divorce when they don’t know me. I’m sure there are people who think awful things about the devoted and faithful husband she dumped in order to win a fight.

Although I often imagine her comparing horror stories with other divorced women . . .

“I found out my husband was having an affair with his secretary,” one friend may weep. “He had sex with her in our station wagon, knocked her up and gave her my grandmother’s jewelry.”

“My husband too,” another might pipe up. “He transferred our assets to another country and lives there now, spending our savings on whores and gin.”

“You think that’s bad?” Lucy would jeer. “My husband disobeyed me once despite my very best tantrum. So of course I dumped his sorry ass. For fifteen days a month, I pretend I’m a single mom. Fuck him.”

Lucy’s new friends would dry their tears and look up. “You’re joking, right?”

For those who know both of us, she has to contend with the truth—I’ve got faults, same as anyone, but I’m just not as bad as all that. The truth is unsatisfactory, for when she rails against my mundane and fairly uninteresting flaws, she comes off as more than a little shrill.

This autumn, we’ve been busy taking steps to find good school placements for Jason and Collie in the coming academic year, as my elder son heads off to high school and my younger son looks ahead to middle school.

Now, in most places, this is no big deal. You simply attend the institution in your local school district. In New York City, it’s a little more complicated. There are many school districts, and while you may want your child to attend a school in your immediate vicinity, you may also choose to apply to schools based on specialized curricula, such as those focusing on math, sciences, art, or even such varied subjects as aviation and social justice.

This requires a packed agenda of tests, auditions, portfolio reviews, interviews, parent/teacher conferences, and tours of potential schools.

That, in turn, requires divorced parents to work together in the child’s best interest. That, in turn, requires Lucy to swallow her pride and actually speak to me.

Lucy knows that when it comes to keeping track of a full calendar, my executive acumen exceeds her own. She knows that when we were married, she would have entrusted that task to me. But now, she can’t, as it would mean admitting that my supreme flaw—the one that puts all others to rest, the one uncontested failing that unmasks my true monstrosity to the world, the one that justifies her own horrid behavior—is, in fact, greatly exaggerated.

The one thing that allows her to truly revile me: I am sometimes late.

Or rather, in Lucy’s view, I am always late.

I can’t deny it, and I would be a fool to try. Everyone I know can tell some tale of a time that Henry was late. If you asked Lucy, I’m sure she would be delighted to pull out her ledger of my crimes against humanity to list every single time I have been late in the past two decades.

It’s one of my three readily acknowledged flaws. (As for the other two, I must confess that I snore. I am also told that my shit stinks.)

Part of this is cultural. As a Southerner, my circadian clock is set to Dixie time. I was raised hearing that someone can reach a destination “when I get there,” that tasks can be accomplished “when I get ‘round to it,” and that plans are made because “I’m fixin’ to do it.”

Where I grew up, people still look at the sky to tell the time. Up north, people tell time by looking at their wrists. Tell me which is crazier.

Lucy grew up in Manhattan. For her, the sun was something kids drew with yellow crayons. To this day, she is confounded if two clocks in the same room are set to different times.

Being prompt is right and being late is wrong. Everyone knows this. Logic dictates that if I am always late, I am also always wrong. Hence her revulsion and hostility are entirely justified.

This failing of mine is documented in our divorce settlement. She divorced me on grounds of mental cruelty, citing a few examples of times my cruelty was truly exceptional. Each of those examples had to do with my tardiness—one time, by as much as twenty full minutes!

To put that in perspective, twenty minutes is one-third the length of an episode of Law and Order. Just try to follow the last forty minutes of an episode without having seen the first twenty and you can begin to understand how my ex suffered under my brutality.

During the divorce proceedings, I thought to contest this accusation, as no one wants to be seen as cruel. My lawyer advised against it. “This is hands-down the most ludicrous assertion of mental cruelty I have ever encountered,” she laughed. “If we can get the judge to buy it, you’ll have a very funny story to tell the grandchildren.”

I saw her point. My ex had combed through a fifteen-year relationship looking for evidence to hurl against me, and this was the best she could do?

I’m sure it will be very funny once it stops feeling so pathetic.

Unfortunately for Lucy, even in this acknowledged failing, I fail again. I can’t even get always right. Sometimes, I fuck up her world order by being on time.

That’s just true to Dixie time.

If we agree to meet “after supper,” that means I will see you after I finish my evening meal. I eat supper when I am hungry. So first I will be hungry, then I will eat, and then we will meet. That could happen at eight, or nine, or even nine-thirty. You may think I was late, but in fact, I was right on time. We met “after supper,” as agreed.

However, if you tell me to meet you outside a theater at a quarter to eight, you’ll likely find me waiting when you arrive at seven forty. That’s not Dixie time, that’s showtime. So again, I was right on time.

Come to think of, by that measure, I’m not always late. I’m practically never late. At least my loud snoring and smelly shitting remain as undeniable flaws.

Lucy is very concerned with controlling things, and since the divorce, she has no real control over me. So as we plan our various appointments concerning schools, Lucy prefers to set the dates and give them to me.

This is fine by me, though she is no great organizer of schedules and her communication skills are ruined by her deep-seated wish that she was widowed instead of divorced. Unfortunately for her, I am not dead. Nor am I a mind reader, meaning that she has to actually tell me things if I am expected to know them.

The other night, as I kissed Collie goodnight, he remembered something from his day.

“Oh yeah, Mom is picking me up to take me to school the day after tomorrow.”

“She is? Why?”

“She’s taking me to my parent/teacher conference!” he grinned.

“Awesome! I want to go to that too. What time is it?”

“Seven forty five.”

“Ugh, that’s so early. And I’ll need to get your sister to school too . . . I guess Jason can manage on his own . . . oh well, we’ll figure it out. I’ll discuss it with your Mom tonight. See you in the morning, sweet boy. I love you.”

“I love you, Dad.”

I blew a kiss and closed the door. I picked up some toys and clothes and washed the last of the supper dishes before calling Lucy.

“What?” she answered.

“Hi, it’s Henry.”

“I know,” she sighed. “What?”

“I understand we have a parent/teacher conference for Collie in two days? What time is it? Seven forty five?”

Lucy exhaled. I could practically feel the breeze of her fluttering eyelids. “You really don’t need to be there, Henry.”

“Of course I do, Lucy. I fall into the ‘parent’ side of a parent/teacher conference. Anyway, I know we’re discussing middle schools.”

She exhaled. “Can’t I just go and tell you about it after?”

“I’d prefer to hear it from his teacher.”

“Fine. I moved it to seven fifteen. Whatever, you’ll be late and miss it anyway.”

“Gosh, that is early. Okay, we’ll see you there.”

“How will you wake up?

“I assume we’ll use an alarm clock, as we generally do. Okay, we’ll see you there.”

“I’m still picking up Collie at six thirty.”

“Great, we can all ride with you.”

Lucy exhaled, inhaled, and exhaled again. “I don’t want to be late.”

“No one does. I have to bring Lillie too, and if we take the bus, we need to leave at six thirty anyway. So that’s fine.”

“Can’t I please pick up Collie and let you take the bus?”

“You want me and Lillie to put Collie into the car with you, then cross the street to take the bus?”

“Yes.”

“I’m afraid that won’t do, Lucy. If you can’t offer us all a ride, we’ll take the bus as usual.”

“Fine. Just please, don’t be late.”

“Thanks. Good night.” She had already hung up, of course. I only say goodbye to keep up appearances.

I poured a stiff drink and sat down to read, reflecting on Lucy’s accusatory tone. In her mind, I was already late for an appointment that had not yet occurred. I had already been late the day after tomorrow.

Was it small of me that I savored the pleasure of not giving her the satisfaction?

Two mornings later, I roused the kids and made lunches, just like any morning. It was just a little earlier than usual, and the sky a little blacker.

There was no traffic at that hour. The bus whizzed us across town. We arrived at school about ten minutes before seven. We killed a little time before heading to Collie’s classroom.

His teacher gave Lillie some books and set her up in the classroom’s reading area. Then she joined Collie and me a conference table. We chatted. The grown ups sipped coffee.

Seven fifteen came and went. We sipped more coffee.

“Well,” the teacher began, looking at the clock and then to Collie. “I don’t know where your mother is, but we need to get started so we can cover everything before the next conference. Okay?” Collie nodded. “Good.” She reached for her glasses and opened a manila folder. She looked down at her notes and smiled. “Well, let me begin by saying what a pleasure it is to have Collie in this class. He’s a great listener and he always has something good to contribute. I’m particular impressed by the way he helps to resolve conflicts when other students disagree. He’s a natural mediator.”

“We see that at home as well,” I said, smiling at Collie. He beamed.

Hell yeah, I thought. The middle child of divorced parents who don’t speak to one another? Notify the Nobel committee: this boy’s on his way to world peace.

Collie’s teacher was midway through explaining his performance as a writer (excellent, but he needs to work on paragraph structure) when a voice interrupted from the door. “You started without me?” Lucy exclaimed.

The teacher looked up, and then glanced at the clock. “Well, we needed to get going at seven fifteen and it’s nearly seven twenty now . . .”

“My watch says seven fourteen,” Lucy said, sitting next to Collie. She waved at Lillie, who waved back before returning to her book.

“I have to go by the clock on my wall,” the teacher explained.

“I think your clock is wrong,” Lucy persisted. “I have seven fifteen now.”

“Well, regardless . . .” the teacher continued. “We were just about to discuss Collie’s math scores.”

“So I missed something? Can you tell me later?” Wanting to break the tension by introducing a note of levity, she looked to Collie. “So, how about those midterm elections?” She laughed nervously at her joke.

“We really need to move forward,” Collie’s teacher said. “And this is a little disruptive.”

“Sorry.” Lucy turned an imaginary key on her lips and threw it over a shoulder.

The teacher looked at Lucy a moment longer, then resumed. “Collie’s been really excelling at math . . .”

Jesus Lord, I thought. Thank God I no longer have to cover for this woman’s erratic behavior.

As we collected our things after the conference, Lucy turned to me and gritted her teeth. “Please don’t be late for Lillie’s conference tomorrow, please. Okay?”

“Lillie has a conference tomorrow?”

“She didn’t tell you?”

“That’s not Lillie’s job, Lucy. What time is it?”

“Three forty five.”

“I have a meeting. I can’t make it.”

“Too bad!” Lucy smiled in a sing-song tone. She turned to lead Collie and Lillie from the room.

Collie’s teacher held me by my elbow. “I’ll be sure you are notified about future conferences,” she whispered.

“Thank you,” I mouthed.

Five

“Attention passengers, we are being held momentarily due to an explosion at the World Trade Center. We should be moving shortly.” A woman gasped. I was annoyed.

I was up early, after very little sleep. Lucy showered as I made coffee and woke the kids. As I showered, Lucy took over with the kids, putting clothes on Lillie, who clutched her blanket as she drifted in and out of waking. Jason helped Collie look for his missing shoe.

Lucy drove us to the preschool and I took Lillie inside. Once she was settled with her teacher, I sat back in the passenger seat and picked up my coffee.

“Wow, it’s nice out,” Lucy said. “Isn’t it nice today, boys?”

“Yeah,” Jason replied, weary. Collie didn’t answer. David Gray was on the radio. I turned it up.

We double parked near the boys’ school and took them to the yard for assembly. Parents were chatty as the school year began. We met up with people we hadn’t seen all summer. Yes, the new house is great, I said. No, we won’t always both be here for drop off, Lucy explained. This is just for the first few days; after that, Henry would bring in the boys.

We both wanted to be there to reassure Collie.

Jason was already in the third grade, and an old hand at the routines of his school. He was looking out for his brother, who was just starting kindergarten.

The year had got off to a bumpy start. Collie first days ended after lunch, as the five year olds were transitioned into their classes. For the first day, his dad had stayed with him. The second day, he was left alone with his class. The third day, he didn’t feel well, and so he stayed home with his dad.

It seemed like “school” was not one thing, but a whole bunch of different things. Collie tried not to be confused.

His mom and dad smiled and waved goodbye as he held hands in line with some kid he didn’t know. He couldn’t see Jason anywhere.

Lucy’s eyes were wet. “Aw, honey, he’s fine, mama,” I kissed her cheek.

“I know, I know.” She wiped her lashes, and noticed another mother doing the same. She caught her eye and laughed. “Crazy, right?”

“I can’t weep every day,” the mother replied. “I’ll get dehydrated.”

I walked Lucy to the car and kissed her goodbye. I walked quickly to the subway. I had missed one day this week, and I had a shitload to do. I was eager to get to work. Then I found myself stuck in a subway tunnel. Great. My luck.

The train lurched forward. I was two stations from my stop. I was also starving.

I climbed the stairs to the street, and waited for the light to change. I crossed the avenue and went into a bakery that was usually packed. It was empty. My luck!

I bought a blueberry muffin. I began to tear nibbles from it as I carried the bag. As I reached the next avenue, I could see the sidewalks packed with pedestrians, shielding their eyes and looking south. At the corner I turned to look, expecting to see, I don’t know, a jumper on a ledge or something.

“Oh my God,” I said. I turned to a woman. “What happened?”

“A plane flew into it, just a few minutes ago.” She was pushing a stroller. “I was just taking Ethan to his playdate when it happened.”

I looked down at the toddler, whose head was turned to avoid the sun. I looked back up.

It looked as though the skin had been torn from the side of the tower, far up. There was no sign of a plane, no smoke, nothing.

I watched for a moment, then decided to head to my office. As I walked the next block, I stuffed bite after bite of muffin into my mouth. Adrenaline was kicking in as I thought, okay, people are going to freak out, because people freak out. This is just like the time that airplane crashed into the Empire State Building, back in the forties, but no one will remember that.

What do we need to do?

At the next avenue, I joined another crowd looking south. Jesus.

People were shouting and crying. It had just happened.

The second plane.

Now, black smoke drifted above the towers.

Shit.

I walked the next block to my office. I found my colleague, a close friend, already at his desk. Our desks looked out over the avenue

“You know?”

“I know,” he said. “I’m trying to get the radio to work.” He fiddled with the CD player.

” . . . reports are now coming in of planes crashing into the Mall in Washington, DC, mere miles from the White House . . . ”

“Holy fuck!” I said.

He shook his head. “Incredible.”

“I was thinking of that plane that crashed into the Empire State Building.”

“No,” he shook his head. “This is like Pearl Harbor.” He was an historian. His brain made those connections faster than mine.

We listened to the radio. We went back outside. We ran into our employer, a man given to hysteria in the best of circumstances.

“This is it,” he gesticulated, pointing south. “We’re attacked. This is it.” He ran off to share his insight with others.

My friend and I just watched the towers smolder. “Were they fighter planes?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I didn’t see them.”

We watched. “I don’t get it. Did they bomb them, or was it kamikaze?”

“I don’t know.”

We watched. “How many people do you think . . . ?”

“Thousands. At the beginning of a weekday? Tens of thousands.”

A tower fell. People around us screamed.

I was stunned. If you had asked me if a tower would fall, I would have bet against it.

At that moment, if you had asked me if a second tower would fall, I would have doubled my bet.

Then the second tower fell.

It was over. People just stood there. That was it.

A man with a European accent turned to me. “I didn’t go there today.”

A fighter jet boomed overhead. I ducked, instinctively.

We went to our office. I tried calling Lucy. I tried calling the school. Nothing went through.

The radio kept repeating the same words. Nothing about the schools. Nothing about the subways.

The phone rang. It was Lucy. “Henry, you heard?”

“I saw it. Where are you?”

“I’m leaving my office. They are closing the schools. The subways aren’t running.”

“Okay.”

“I’m getting the boys. Can you meet us at the school?”

“If I’m walking, I won’t be there for a long time. You’ve got the car. We should meet someplace.” We agreed to meet at her father’s apartment. He was gone, but she had a key.

“Come with me,” I said to my friend. “Maybe we can get you someplace. There’s no subway.” I picked up my briefcase. I threw out my muffin.

We ran into my employer on the sidewalk. He was telling someone what he had seen. He noticed us. “Are you guys leaving?”

“Yes, I need to get my kids.”

“Okay,” he hesitated. “Yeah, I guess no one’s going to get much done today, so, yeah, you can go. See you tomorrow, okay? Early.”

“Thanks.”

At the end of the block, my friend turned to me. “He’s an idiot.”

I nodded, looking south at the smoke. “Yep.”

We walked north. Office workers were also walking. People spilled into the streets as vehicles dwindled. Some people stood impatiently looking for cabs.

A man came up from a subway station, covered in white dust.

We passed an electronics store. People looked in the windows. There I saw the first images of what I had witnessed.

We passed a clock. It wasn’t yet noon. I heard a woman laugh. It felt good, walking in this cool sunny day, when the city was still.

I found my family watching television. The same images. Collie burst into tears when he saw me. He ran to me.

I picked him up. At the sight of my crying child, my friend began to cry.

I carried Collie to hug Lucy and Jason.

We wanted to get out of the city fast, if we could, before the roads were closed. We offered the apartment to my friend. We drove home on empty streets. National Guard vehicles rumbled in the other direction.

For the next few days, I answered emails assuring people that we were fine. I was not dead. No one we knew was dead.

That night, Lucy got high and I got drunk, watching those same images.

For days afterward, Collie was very upset. He kept talking about what had happened. He had learned about it when the assistant principal assembled the students in the auditorium. She told the three hundred students, ages five to eleven, that school would be short today and everyone would wait in the auditorium for pickup. Some bad people had blown up the World Trade Center.

A kid near Collie said, “That’s where my mommy works.” Collie realized he wasn’t sure he knew where his daddy worked.

At age five, Collie was already very much someone who liked things to make sense. He liked rules. He liked knowing the rules, and he liked it when everyone played by them. When the kids played ball, he wanted to be referee.

This didn’t make sense. He couldn’t make it make sense. Too many things didn’t make sense.

He had lived in the city, and now he lived in a house.

He had a nanny, and then he didn’t have a nanny.

He went to kindergarten, and things were blown up.

Collie stopped going to the bathroom. He refused to eat. He had accidents and cried.

We found a therapist. His teacher helped. He got better.

This morning, as we waited for the bus. Collie looked at a newspaper box at the cover of USA Today. Under a headline about the anniversary was a photograph of President and Mrs. Bush laying a wreath at Ground Zero.

“Hey Dad, can I have seventy-five cents?”

“Why, baby?”

“Because the Colts beat the Giants. Peyton Manning beat Eli Manning.”

“Well, that’s interesting.” I put a hand on his shoulder. “You know, it’s also the fifth anniversary of nine eleven. You okay?”

“Yeah, Dad. That was when I was five. So can I have seventy-five cents?”

“Here comes the bus. Let’s get you to school, baby. You can read the paper tonight.”