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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