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Archive for April, 2005

“Hey Dad, you need a haircut.”

“I know I do, Lillie. I am looking very shaggy.”

“Can I cut your hair?”

“No, you aren’t supposed to cut hair. Remember how sad I was when you cut your hair?”

Lillie lowers her voice to a whisper. “It’s pretend, Dad.”

“Oh, then yes, I would very much like a haircut.”

Lillie races off and returns with wet hands and a comb. She soaks my hair and combs it forward. I look like a wet Sting.

Lillie steps back and assesses her work.

“Now you are handsome, and Mom will marry you again.”

It’s spring break. The kids are home.

Jason is spending the night with a friend, so Collie is able to relax his big boy stance and play in the universe of stuffed animals he shares with Lillie.

All the animals have names and distinct personalities. They are all assigned specific places to sleep. Each night, a privileged few get “cuddle time,” allowing them to sleep in bed with their respective child.

That night, as I tuck in Collie, I toss his SpongeBob Squarepants blanket on top of his covers.

“No Dad, the other way,” he says, flipping the blanket. “See, this is how I tell fortunes.”

“Oh? You can tell fortunes?”

He nods. “Uh huh. Beary helps me.” He placed his stuffed bear at the edge of SpongeBob’s blue eye. Beary peered into the vast flat iris.

“Can you tell my fortune, Collie?” I asked.

“Yes.”

He held Beary so that the medium’s nose poked SpongeBob’s eye. “Your children will have many children and grandchildren. Your family will continue until the sun burns up the earth.”

“What a beautiful thought, Collie.”

Lillie looked nervous.

“Don’t worry,” I added. “The sun isn’t going to burn the earth in your lifetime.”

Lillie chewed a finger, thinking of her grandchildren in a conflagration.

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Restraint

The reception is a swank affair in a fine regional museum. The crowd is already filling out when I arrive, drinking wine and nibbling at the hors d’oeuvres.

I make conversation with Nora, who is my co-presenter at tonight’s event. She and I are a collegial mutual admiration society. Prior to working together on this project, we only knew one another by reputation. But we liked those reputations and now, as it happens, we like one another as well.

Tonight, I am meeting her family for the first time. She has an adorable seventeen-month-old daughter, and her husband is a very nice fellow. Nick is darned handsome too; tall, dark hair with the first flecks of gray, and a radiant smile. They dote on one another endearingly.

And that baby! That blue-eyed cherub who took a quick shining to me. Most babies that age are wary of strangers, so I knew to approach her gingerly. She was soon very happy to be in my arms. And I am very happy to hold babies.

Particularly when you get to give them back.

As the evening got underway, Nick told me that they had enjoyed drinks at a new and very posh restaurant near our hotel. Perhaps I would join them there for dinner after the event?

Of course, I accepted.

A bell sounded, and we were all herded into an auditorium. Nora and I gave our presentation. There were the usual accolades afterward.

As the reception resumed, I found myself in conversation with a young artist, a cute gay man who introduced himself as a fan of my writing. Thanks, I said, returning the compliment, as I think his art is pretty great too.

He then talked very knowingly about things I had written. Oh, wow, I thought, he wasn’t just blowing smoke. He actually did know my writing.

You know, I am pretty easy. I don’t require much foreplay. But a cute thing who thinks I am smart? I was beginning to regret my dinner plans, and wondering how I could casually drop my room number into the conversation.

I tried not to drool when he introduced me to his father and grandmother.

Alas, at such functions, you really do have to respond to the tugs on your elbow. I was pulled away—although not before giving him my email address.

The evening wound down. I piled into the backseat of Nick and Nora’s car, playing fingers with their baby as the adults talked about the reception.

The restaurant was posh. And it was trying hard—it was part of four-star hotel chain and only days old. It was staffed to the gills; it seemed that every staffer to come in contact with diners was observed by at least two executives.

Babies drop things. Every time that baby dropped a spoon, there was someone at the ready to be sure she had another before the first one had bounced. She turned it into a game.

My kinda gal.

I decided to let Nick and Nora order. Smart idea. They started us off with martinis, then oysters and salads, then a nice taster’s sampling of entrees, all backed by a fine pinot.

The conversation was kick ass. And when the bill came, they declared that my money was no good.

Did I mention that I am easy?

After dinner, we took a walk on the beach. I removed my shoes, tucked my socks into my jacket pocket, and rolled up my trousers. Nick and I passed the baby back and forth as she pointed at the waves and stars, asking “Da? Da?”

Nora announced that it was time to get the baby to bed.

Nick was still stargazing. “Good idea. While you do, I think I will stop by Henry’s room for a cigarette.”

“Oh, but you quit,” Nora disparaged. “For shame.”

“I did, and I don’t even have any smokes,” Nick said. “But if Henry doesn’t mind . . .”

“I don’t mind, but I don’t smoke,” I said. “For you though, I will get a pack.”

“Then we have a date,” he smiled.

The family went up to their room to get their baby settled. I crossed the street to buy some Camels.

“Do you have matches?” I asked the clerk.

“Nope,” he said, pointing at a display of lighters. Oh, so that is how it’s going to be? I plunked down an extra buck fifty for a lighter. It would be seized the next morning by airport security.

I went back to my room and filled the ice bucket.

Nick knocked at my door. I offered him a bourbon and we sat on the balcony to listen to the waves. We smoked as we drank. One cigarette. Two. Three.

We talked about art, marriage and parenting. As we chatted, a busload of high school students converged on the boardwalk outside my balcony. We watched as they raced to the shoreline, cavorted on the beach, and made their way back into the hotel.

They popped their heads out on their own balconies, talking to one another across floors. We joined in for a bit, laughing that this was a bit like “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In”—an ancient reference we kept from the kids.

We talked a bit more before Nick said he needed to get to bed.

At my door, he hugged me. As he did, I held his face and kissed his cheek.

“Night, Henry.”

“Sleep tight, Nick.”

He opened the door and left to sleep with his wife and child. I closed the door behind him.

I left the balcony door open. I wanted to fall asleep to the breeze, the sound of waves and flirtatious teenagers.

As I stripped for bed, I commended myself. I had not flirted with Nick.

Such restraint.

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Just before bedtime, Collie asked me to look over his writing homework. “We really need to do these things earlier, Collie,” I admonished, giving in.

He couldn’t find it in his back pack. We looked through the papers on my desk, we searched his room, we looked in his siblings’ back packs . . . it was nowhere to be found.

He was upset. After twenty minutes of searching, every possible hiding place was exhausted. I was exhausted.

“You did your homework at the dining table,” I recalled. “You usually put homework in your back pack right away. Is there anywhere else this could be?”

“Well, maybe I did my homework at school and left it there . . .”

“Maybe? You aren’t sure?”

“No . . .”

“Then let’s assume it’s at school. I don’t think you have misplaced it here.”

“Okay . . .” he said, somewhat cheered but not fully convinced.

I tucked in the kids and kissed them good night. I made my bed with fresh sheets, and started to do the dishes.

Jason came in, complaining of leg pains. He’s eleven, and sometimes prone to “growing pains,” particularly after an active day.

I turned off the water, and sat with Jason on the couch, massaging his legs and feet until he felt somewhat better. I encouraged him to sleep with his knees bent and wrapped around a pillow.

What do I know? I’m no doctor. But it feels good to sleep like that, and I’ve got no other ideas. So I offer the advice with sage gravitas.

Parenting requires a little show business now and then,

With him back in bed, I finish the dishes, pour a bourbon, and sign online.

I have a date with Madeline, my online girlfriend.

Just as we get the webcams cranking, up pop an instant message from May, my former steady who now lives in California.

May: I hear you are divorced.

Henry: Good evening. Well, it’s not official yet, but the papers were filed two days ago. News travels fast!

May: I heard it from Jen. She heard it from Whitman.

Oh yes, Whitman—my former professor. He and May know a lot of people in common.

Henry: Yeah, Whitman was up here last weekend as this transpired.

May: Can you imagine how humiliated I was to hear it second hand? Jen was so embarrassed that I didn’t already know. Why didn’t you call me?

Here we go.

Henry: Sorry. I haven’t been burning the phone lines with the announcement. I haven’t even told my parents yet.

May: I’m not your parents. I think you owe me that courtesy.

And so we fell into a recurring theme of our now-defunct relationship: her extreme disappointment that I fail to put her at the center of my life. This disappointment overwhelms everything else between us, leaving her morose and dejected.

I know what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to be abjectly regretful that she was put in the humiliating position of hearing second hand that my divorce had been filed.

But you know, it galls me to go that route.

It annoys me that the news about my divorce—my divorce!—has been turned into a discussion of my failure to meet an obligation to her. Her morbidity prevents her from asking how I feel about the filing. This discussion would be framed entirely by my failure to call her with the news.

I should mention that May battles depression. I should also mention that my ex Lucy does as well.

When Lucy and I first started dating, I noticed that she would sometimes vanish for a couple of days. I didn’t think much of it; she seemed to be a fairly private person.

She let me into her depression when it became apparent. I woke up one morning and found her collapsed on the bathroom floor, nude, staring at a tray of kitty litter.

I helped her back to bed. She lay there, eyes open, unable to speak. I asked if she needed to see a doctor. She nodded, slightly.

I called in sick to work. I got Lucy dressed and we took a cab to her doctor.

She was with the doctor for a while. When she returned to the waiting room, she was groggy and lethargic, but functioning. She was to go home and rest. I stayed with her, watching movies in her bed.

When she came out of it the next day, she was very embarrassed that I had found her.

Don’t be embarrassed, I said. It’s part of who you are. I love you, and I want to help.

When she was overcome, I would cancel everything to be nursemaid.

When we had our first child, she got serious about tackling her depression. She finally found medication that works.

I had plenty of experience with Lucy’s depression, so I recognized the signs in May’s behavior early in our relationship. And like Lucy, May was drawn to me in part because I keep a pretty even keel—I could be counted on to help with the rough spots.

Only problem was, I also knew better than to succumb to the demands of a depressive personality.

While I was dating May, I had a very rare weekend to myself. She missed me, and asked if I could come to see her.

I couldn’t, I said. I had writing to do, and a reception to attend.

You can do your writing at my place, she countered. And that reception can go on without you. Or I can come and go with you.

I stuck to my guns. I had made plans, I would be seeing her soon . . . there was no need to cancel my plans to rush to her side.

“Are you saying that reception is more important to you than I am?” she cried.

“No,” I said. “I am saying that I care about you. I saw you last week, and I will see you next week. I am taking this weekend to myself to do other things.”

“You don’t love me!” she wailed.

I repeated myself, staying calm. I refused to be drawn into her mood.

So last night, I knew to resist her cry for attention. I was not going to be drawn into a conversation about my failure to call her with the news about my divorce filing.

Henry: I am sorry you are upset to hear the news second hand. I have other things to do now, and I’m tired. So I am ending this chat.

May: Why didn’t you call me?!

Henry: Good night. Talk to you soon.

I signed out.

I talked to Madeline for a while. We shot the shit, unwound from the day. Very normal, very relaxed.

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Jason was engrossed in his homework. Collie and Lillie were across the hall, playing with their three-year-old neighbor.

I took the opportunity to do some laundry.

In the laundry room, I ran into a new neighbor who had acquired her apartment as many of my neighbors have—she inherited it at the death of her grandparents.

She was folding sheets.

“Those are beautiful sheets,” I admired. They were crisp and white, with embroidered details.

“Aren’t they?” she smiled. “Let me tell you about these sheets.”

My neighbor had cared for her grandmother in her final years; her grandfather had died a few years before.

One afternoon, her grandmother asked to be helped from her bed so that the sheets could be washed. She wanted to sit in the living room until the sheets were clean and the bed made again.

“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in the bed?” her granddaughter asked. “I can make the bed with other sheets.”

“Oh no,” the grandmother replied. “I don’t have any other sheets.”

She told her granddaughter that when she and her husband fled Germany during the war, they carried only one trunk.

Among the contents were the sheets on her bed. The sheets my neighbor was now folding.

“So for fifty plus years of marriage, they had only one set of sheets?” I asked.

“That’s right,” my neighbor nodded. “My mother was conceived in these sheets. And now I sleep in them.”

“Incredible.”

I hoped that my neighbor had not noticed my own wash.

As we talked, I had folded two loads comprised entirely of sheets. Sheets for my kids beds, sheets for my bed, sheets for my parties.

So many sheets.

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Viviane poured two stiff bourbons, on the rocks. “Okay, show me your driver’s license,” she said.

I pulled out my wallet.

“Okay, good. Now take this,” she said, handing me a pen. “And this,” she added, handing me my drink. “Cheers.”

“Cheers.” I took a belt, opened the pen, and changed the course of my life.

My lawyer had given me very clear instructions.

There were five copies of the final divorce agreement. Lucy and I needed to initial every page on all copies—there were over two hundred pages involved—and sign each copy in the presence of a notary public.

Lucy signed the papers at the end of the day on Friday and brought them to me. I had to have the signed agreements at her lawyer’s office before nine on Monday morning; they were being filed with the court at ten.

I had to find a notary over the weekend. I thought immediately of Viviane.

Viviane is also going through a divorce. We’ve met a few times over drinks to discuss life, art and the beginnings of our new lives. We’ve kissed, which was sweet and passionate.

I once left two hickeys on her bosom to remember me by.

She agreed to notarize my signature, but at a cost. She had gone without sex in the two years since her break up. She wanted me to break that streak of bad luck.

She drove a hard bargain. But what could I do? I needed a notary. So I agreed to emboss the sheets of this smart and attractive notary public.

“Now,” she instructed. “Sign here.”

I did. She countersigned, stamped the page and attached her seal.

“Again, here.” I held her hand as she left her stamp.

“Again.” I ran a hand along her leg.

“Again.” My hand on her back.

“And once more.” A kiss.

And so easily as that, my marriage ended.

If there is a God, the Lord spends too much time on irony. As I kissed Viviane, her stereo was playing Frank Sinatra singing “I Love My Wife.”

She took me to her bedroom. We undressed, kissing. Her kisses grew hungry, awakening my mouth.

My mouth traveled all over her body, leaving kisses, nibbles, bites.

We went at it passionately.

When I left, my divorce was signed, sealed and ready for delivery. Viviane was covered in hickeys, her streak broken beyond repair.

Feeling light headed and giddy, I went to meet a friend for dinner and theatre. He is a former professor of mine. He served as the best man at my wedding. His signature witnessed my marriage certificate.

He was visiting me for the weekend, along with his husband of eighteen years.

“Well,” I announced, “I’m pretty much divorced.”

“Rather ironic, given what we are seeing tonight,” he laughed. They were taking me to see “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

But first, we were having dinner with another former student of his. The former student brought his boyfriend. His boyfriend is Jake Shears, lead singer for the Scissor Sisters. They joined us at the play and for drinks afterwards.

Throughout the evening, I reflected on the loving affection of the two young men and the longevity and commitment of my professor’s relationship.

Perhaps I will find those things as well.

But as George and Martha bickered on stage, I took solace that at least those days were behind me.

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Vitriol

I missed my kids the way drowning lungs miss oxygen.

They were with my ex for a few days more after I returned from my business trip. It was a warm sunny afternoon when I walked across the park to pick them up.

I was in a spirited mood, and planning a large supper.

My daughter Lillie ran to me. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” I knelt so she could grab my neck. She held fast.

“I missed you baby!”

“I missed you, Daddy!” she exclaimed. “Did you bring us anything?”

“I did bring you something. You will see it when we . . . oof!”

Collie tackled me from behind. “Dad!”

“Hey mister! Look at you! Did you get a haircut, Mister Collie?”

“I did! Did you bring us anything?”

“Yes sir, you will see it at home. I missed you like crazy, Collie!”

“I missed you too. Now take my back pack.” I stood and did as instructed.

Lucy joined us.

“Hey,” I said. “You got a haircut.”

She shielded her eyes to the sun and glared.

“Uh huh. You have no idea. This is bullshit.”

“What . . . ?”

“Jason is lying about his homework. He is now behind on a project due in two days. You have to make sure he does this! If he doesn’t do his homework, he will get bad grades, and we won’t be able to get him into a good high school. He will wind up in a school with ruffians. Do you want that?”

“No, of course not, but what . . .”

“He is a liar. I’m sick of it.”

“Okay . . .”

She shook her head. “This is bullshit. We have shared custody and I’ve had the kids all week.”

“I’m sorry, I was away. But you agreed to take them. I mean . . .”

“I am getting screwed on custody, I am getting screwed about money, and that is bullshit.”

“I know, the divorce sucks. Everyone is getting screwed, especially the kids.” Where was all this vitriol coming from?

“You know, I tried everything to make this work. Everything. This is your fault too, you know. It’s not just me.”

This came from nowhere. This was going nowhere.

“Okay,” I replied. I was calm, not having anticipated such an onslaught. “So what is this about Jason’s homework?”

Lucy stood, glaring at me. Then she explained the homework assignment, turned on her heels, and stormed off.

What was all that about?

I got my answer at home. My lawyer had sent me an email.

Lucy was scheduled to sign our divorce agreement on Friday. No wonder she was in a foul mood.

It was almost over.

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