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Archive for the ‘abuse’ Category

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.

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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.

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Astonishing

Lucy,

This morning, a little after four thirty, Collie woke me to say he had vomited.

He felt warm. I made him a bed on the couch, stripped the bed sheets and cleaned up the mess.

This morning, a little after six forty-five, Jason called you to say he would be picking up something at your office on the way to school. He told you Collie was sick.

He handed me his cell phone.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Henry?”

“Hi Lucy, did you call?”

“Oh. You are asleep.”

“No, the alarm went off a while ago.”

Click.

You hung up on me. I called back.

“Hello?”

“Lucy, you hung up on me.”

“I know, why are you calling?”

“Lucy, you shouldn’t hang up on me. Collie is sick and won’t be going to school today.”

“I know. What about tomorrow?”

“Well, we’ll see how it goes today and talk about tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

Click.

You hung up on me. I called back. You did not answer. I left a message, saying you should not hang up on me, and saying I found your behavior astonishing.

I made lunches, got Lillie dressed, and took the kids to your office.

Collie stayed home.

We arrived at your office a half hour before school. You were out. We waited.

When you returned, you told me I did not need to stay—you would see the kids to school.

“Do you have anything you want to talk about?” I asked.

“No.” You said, smirking. “I’m working.”

“Your behavior is astonishing, and illegal. Our son is sick . . .”

“I know. I hope he throws up on you.”

Jason rolled his eyes. I left.

This is, to the best of my recollection, a verbatim transcript of our interaction on a morning Collie woke up vomiting. Prior to this, you and I had no altercation, or any interaction of note. True to your behavior since mid July, you have avoided conversation with me. This was not your response to a fight. This was how you responded to the situation of co-parenting a sick child on a school day.

I find your behavior astonishing.

Since Jason acquired his cell phone, you use him to gain information about the children while they are with me. You cut me out of the loop, and treat Jason as your co-parent.

A month after freaking out that my phone was broken, you cut off my phone service, apparently judging it a useless tool for communicating about our children.

Insofar as your behavior affects me, it becomes just another anecdote I can share with friends. Divorce sure makes people weird, I say. You are welcome to detest me all you wish. You don’t need much reason, just as you didn’t need much reason to end our fifteen-year relationship.

But if the thought of Collie sick at home can’t make you communicate better about the children—to at least inquire about him—then I am at a loss for what might.

When I said that your behavior was “illegal,” what I meant is this.

My lawyer—who is a very, very good lawyer—foresaw that you could be a difficult co-parent. Our divorce agreement stipulates that if either parent refuses to cooperate effectively, the other has recourse to legal action. The court can intervene to make both parents stop behaving like children and behave in the best interests of the children.

I have tried to be a calm, rational person throughout this process. I let the water slide off my back. I do not respond to goading. I long ago learned that I can’t win a fight with you. I can only survive one fight and wait for the next one.

You and I have a long history. I miss our friendship. I would dearly like to be friends again.

You don’t have to be my friend. If we didn’t have children, you would be free to refuse to speak with me.

However, we do have children. You have a moral responsibility to speak with me. What’s more, you have a legal obligation to do so.

For the next eleven and a half years, you are obliged to be the best co-parent you can be. After that, we can be friends or we can just be civil at weddings and funerals. That’s entirely up to you and how you chose to live life in your mid-fifties.

But now, in your early forties, you have to get past whatever revulsion you have towards me and do what is best for the children.

I have offered, many times, to go into therapy with you, or to do whatever it takes to get you to a place where you can deal with me as your continued parenting partner. If your behavior leads us to seek a court’s help, we will certainly be forced to accept the guidance of a family counselor.

I am writing to you now to say: please do the right thing for the children, and communicate.

Best,
Henry

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Control

One afternoon before collecting the children from school, I met my friend Yael for lunch.

Yael and I work in the same field, and we have known each other for over a decade. We’ve collaborated on more projects than I can count. We are charter members of our mutual admiration society.

In many respects, we have enjoyed parallel careers, but different lives. I am newly divorced with children. She has recently married for the first time, finally making an honest man of her longtime live-in boyfriend. They have no interest in becoming parents.

“Look how gray you are!” I kissed her cheek when we met.

“Isn’t it awful?” she said, hugging me. “And you are too thin.”

“Nah. Live fast and die young, right?”

“I think you are pushing the clock on that aspiration.”

We crammed into a tiny table at Le Pain Quotidien. I let her order for us.

We gossiped over lunch. She is incredibly well connected, which offers a very nice counterpoint to my current state of mind, more concerned with parenting and dating than with networking. I ate up her gossip, glad to be in the loop on the latest.

She enjoys news on the ongoing soap opera of my new life. I spare the most salacious details but I give her enough to get her going.

We were asked if we wanted coffee or dessert. I agreed to coffee. “Would you object to sharing a cookie?” Yael asked. “They really are good here.” I allowed that I would take a nibble. We were served a chocolate chip cookie the size of saucer. She tore off bits as we talk. I took my requisite nibble.

She claimed the check when it arrived. “We talked about work,” she said, opening her wallet. “I can expense it.”

“Tell me in advance next time,” I teased, “So I can order without looking at the right side of the menu.”

As we pulled on our coats, I saw that there was still half a cookie left. I wrapped it in a paper napkin. “Can’t waste a cookie when there are kids to feed.”

“Oh God, yes! Should we get another to go?”

“No, this is just a bonus. No need for more.”

She was heading west, and I was heading east. We hugged at the door. “I’m glad things are going well with you and the husband,” I said, kissing her cheek.

“Yeah, and good luck with dating,” she replied. “Just remember my advice: it is just as easy to fall for someone wealthy as it is to fall for someone poor.” I laughed. “I mean it!” She held up a finger. “Don’t let me hear that you have fallen for a willowy starving artist.”

“I promise. No starving artists for me.”

“Good. Be well, Henry.”

I smiled as she walked off. Yael and I always inspire optimism in one another. I tucked the cookie in my pocket, feeling pretty good about life.

I found Lillie in the schoolyard, huddled against a wall. Her hair was in her face. She looked cross. “What’s up, Lillie? Are you sad?”

“Mmmrph!” Lillie whined. This signals that she does not want to talk about it.

“Well, maybe you will tell me later. Here,” I reached into my pocket. “You want half this cookie?”

Lillie looked up. “What is it?”

“Chocolate chip.” I broke the cookie in two. “You want?”

She nodded and examined the two halves. One was slightly larger. She took it. She scrunched back against the wall, crumbs falling on her coat.

“Hey Dad.” Collie tossed his backpack at my feet. “Hey, where did she get that cookie?”

“Same place you got this one,” I said, holding out the napkin.

“Oh yeah, chocolate chip!” Collie grabbed the cookie and took a bite. “So Lillie had an accident in school today.”

“Mmmrph!”

“Is that true, Lillie?” I realized she was sitting so that no one could see the seat of her pants.

She had been having “accidents” lately, at school and in bed. She refuses to go to the bathroom until the very last moment, which is too often one moment too late.

“Mmmrph!” She was clearly embarrassed.

“Don’t worry,” I said, lifting the hair from her eyes. “You can put on dry clothes at home.”

“Mmmrph.”

“That’s all I’m saying.”

Collie watched, chewing his cookie.

Lucy was also at school, as she had plans with Collie afterward. She found us by the wall. “Hi Collie, hi Lillie!” she said, ignoring my presence. “How was school? What’s wrong with you, Lillie?”

“She had an accident at school,” Collie said.

“Mmmrph!”

“Oh, did you?” Lucy said, her face darkening. “And where did you get that cookie?”

“Dad gave it to her,” Collie said.

“Oh, he did?” Lucy leaned forward and snatched the cookie from Lillie’s hand, just as she was taking a bite.

“Hey!” Lillie said.

“No cookie for you,” Lucy said, crushing it into crumbs. “You don’t get rewards for having accidents.” Lucy shot me a look, “you moron” written on her face. She brushed the crumbs from her hands as if washing her hands of me.

Collie took another bite of his cookie.

“C’mon Collie, we need to go.” Lucy took Collie’s hand and picked up his backpack. She walked away without looking back.

She didn’t see Lillie crying. “C’mon Lillie,” I whispered. “Let’s go home.” Lillie stood and put her hand in mine. She kept her eyes on her shoes as we walked.

Lucy says she has a “no tolerance” policy for Lillie’s accidents. She insists that Lillie go to the bathroom at bedtime, and at certain times of the day, whether she needs to go or not. Lillie can pee or not pee, but she will sit on the toilet at those times. Lucy enlists Lillie’s brothers to help enforce the rule. If she has an accident, the boys are to report it and to tell Lillie she did a bad thing.

I don’t play along.

I have told the boys they are not to humiliate their sister while they are with me.

Not that it comes up, really. She doesn’t have accidents at my place. It’s pretty clear to me that this is really a pissing match between mother and daughter. At issue: control.

Lucy is determined to make Lillie control her bladder according to her mother’s demands. Lillie is determined to prove that she is in control of her own bathroom schedule. She won’t bend, even at the cost of wetting herself.

It’s the wrong battle for each of them. Lillie knows that her mother is in control of most things, but she has found one thing that she can control—her body—and she is not budging.

If Lucy listened to me, I would tell her what I tell the boys: if you make a big deal about this, it will become a big deal. If you can treat the symptom—getting to the bathroom on time—without challenging Lillie’s sense of self-control, you will get better results from her.

But Lucy does not listen to me. Lucy continues to confront her daughter, and so Lucy continues to wash sheets every day.

Later that week, Jason celebrated his twelfth birthday. His mother and I planned a birthday party with his friends on the following weekend, when the kids would be with Lucy. I would join them for football in the snow.

The actual birthday fell on a school day, when the kids were with me. The day before, Jason came to me holding his cell phone near his ear. “Dad, are we doing anything special for dinner tomorrow night?”

“Well, I am making burritos, as you requested. Why do you ask?”

“One minute,” Jason said. He spoke into the phone. “Uh yeah, so Dad is making burritos. Okay . . . okay.” He looked back at me. “Can Mom come over tomorrow night?”

“Is that your mother on the phone?”

“Yeah.”

“Sure, your mother can come to dinner tomorrow night.”

“Okay. Mom? He says you can come. Okay . . . I’ll ask. Dad, she says she’ll bring cupcakes and be here at six.”

“That’s fine, though we will eat closer to seven thirty.”

“Okay. Mom? He says dinner will be ready at seven thirty. Okay . . . okay . . . Dad, she says she’ll be here at seven.”

“That’s fine, Jason.”

“Mom? He says that’s fine. You need me for anything else, Dad?”

“No, you can finish your conversation with your mother.”

“Thanks.” Jason went off to answer his mother’s questions about the homework he and I had already completed.

Ever since she gave Jason his new cell phone, Lucy has seen no reason to call me about the children. She can get all the information she needs from Jason, and use him as an intermediary when she requires anything specific from me.

She’s got it under control.

The next evening, Lucy arrived with cupcakes and presents. I gave her a beer left from her previous meal with us as she settled in with the kids. I went back to the kitchen to cook. “Jason, do you want to open your presents now?” Lucy asked.

“Sure!” he said.

“I want to help!” Collie said.

“Me too!” Lillie said.

“Just a second,” I called, pouring rice into boiling chicken stock. “I can be out in a moment.”

“Hurry, don’t make us wait.” Lucy called.

I covered the rice, lowered the heat and wiped my hands. “On my way.”

When Lillie saw me, she grabbed a package and began to tear into it. “No, Lillie,” Lucy said, taking the package. “You need to wait! These are Jason’s presents. Control yourself.”

“But I want to . . . “ Lillie began.

“I don’t care what you want, you need to wait.” Lillie crossed her arms and frowned. “You can be as mad as you want, but you need to control yourself,” Lucy said.

Lillie stuck out her tongue. Lucy stuck out her tongue.

Lillie looked around. She began to cry.

She ran to her bedroom. “Hang on, guys,” I said, and followed.

Lillie was curled on a pillow, sucking her thumb and holding a blanket. She sobbed as tears ran down her cheeks.

I sat next to her. “I’m sorry that made you sad,” I said, petting her hair. “You know Jason will let you open presents. We just need to take turns.”

“Mom is so mean,” she sobbed. “I hate her.”

“I know you are sad about that. Why don’t you take a moment to recover? We will wait until you join us to open presents. Okay?” She sniffed and nodded. I returned to the living room.

“Should I talk to her, or will that make it worse?” Lucy asked.

“Let’s give her a minute. Do you mind waiting, Jason?”

Jason shrugged, not looking up.

“Well, I think I should talk to her,” Lucy said, standing. She went to the bedroom. A few minutes later, she came out, holding Lillie’s hand. Lillie held her blanket, her thumb in her mouth.

Jason offered his sister a present to open. She took it and slowly tore away the paper.

Lucy was very talkative at dinner. She’s usually loquacious, all the more so when she is nervous. I watched as she spoke with the kids. Her rapid speech had the kids rushing to keep up. They were like other children in their interactions with her.

Lucy prodded Jason for details about his tardy return home that evening. “There’s no story there, Mom,” he replied, sullen.

“That makes me think there must be a story!” Lucy laughed sardonically.

“Mom, I am telling you: there is no story. None.”

“Okay, now you have to tell me the story.” Collie’s head moved back and forth as he followed their volleys.

“Mom, read my lips.” Jason was agitated. His voice rose. “There. Is. No. Story!”

“So why were you late?”

“I. Missed. The. Bus. I. Took. Another. Bus. The. End.”

“Why didn’t you just say that, then?”

“Urgh!” Jason threw up his hands, rolling his eyes.

Before dinner was over, Lucy had Collie in tears over something having to do with a turtle. Lillie tried to interrupt, but was told to wait her turn. Her turn never came.

I cleared the table.

We served cupcakes, with candles for all the children.

Shortly after, Lucy left. “Thanks for dinner, Henry,” she said at the door.

“Sure,” I said.

I closed the door, locking it for the night.

The next day, Lucy called MCI and cut off my phone service.

When my phone died recently, Lucy overreacted by emailing her parents and mine to complain of my “irresponsibility” and inaccessibility. I had learned of Lucy’s panic only after replacing the broken phone.

Our families wrote off Lucy’s behavior as one of those things.

As she fretted about her lack of control over my telephone, she realized that my phone bill was in both of our names. This was a hangover of our days with a shared bank account. I had never switched the service over to my new bank account; it simply never occurred to me to do so.

Lucy insisted that the service be put in my name exclusively. Fair enough.

MCI required that we both be on the phone to authorize the transfer. Fair enough.

It didn’t occur to us to make a three-way phone call. Instead, we decided to make the call one day when we were together, presumably when transferring the kids.

Unfortunately, she is barely speaking to me, and so our interactions are as succinct as possible. We are usually distracted when dropping off or picking up the kids, and so we neglected to take care of the phone.

Now and then, she would email terse reminders that this needed to be done. Each time, I agreed, saying we should remember then next time we were together.

We remembered one afternoon. Lucy made the call, but grew impatient with MCI’s automated process. “I don’t have time for this,” she complained, closing her cell phone. “We’ll do it next time.”

“Sounds good,” I said. “No rush.”

We forgot once again on the night she invited herself to dinner for Jason’s birthday. Apparently, it was not a huge priority. But somehow, it became a priority for Lucy the next day. With no further notice to me, she cancelled the service.

One month, she panics because my phone is temporarily out of service. The next, she discontinues my service. As her father told me over the holidays: these things don’t make sense. This is just how they are.

I contacted MCI to continue the service. I was told this would not be a problem, so long as Lucy and I were on the line to authorize the change in her order to cancel the service.

We had three days to do so, or I would lose my telephone number.

I sent Lucy an email. I reminded her that my number is an emergency contact for the children, and said we now had the exact same situation—we had to make this call—but now we had a deadline.

She agreed to stop at my place after work.

Six o’clock passed. Seven o’clock. I called her. She was home.

She had forgotten.

Okay, I said. I will come to your office tomorrow. She agreed.

The next afternoon, I left my work to travel across town. We called MCI. She cancelled her order to discontinue service. I authorized service to continue in my name. It took half an hour of passing a cell phone back and forth, but it was settled.

A month later, I was at my desk when my friend Meg sent an instant message.

Dude, your phone is disconnected.

I picked up my phone. It was dead. I contacted MCI. They had no record of our call to cancel Lucy’s order. The service had been discontinued, per her original instruction.

The phone could be back in service, I was told, in about two weeks. But the number was lost.

I contacted Verizon and was told that a new number could be had in a few days. MCI lost a customer.

A few days later, my new phone number was up and running. That same day, I lost my DSL. That account had been linked to the original number. When that number vanished, the DSL went with it. I contacted Verizon, the DSL provider, and learned that a new contract would be necessary, as my new phone number represented a new account.

Service could resume in about one week.

I contacted schools, friends, family and colleagues with my new number. I waited for my DSL to return. I was furious at Lucy for being so unnecessarily vindictive and impulsive.

But my fury passed. I looked on the bright side: Now, my phone is one more thing no longer in Lucy’s control.

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“Hello?”

“Hello, Henry. It’s Lucy. Can I speak with the kids?”

“Sure, just a sec. Jason? Your mom is calling.”

Our typical exchange. A handful of words, the bare minimum necessary for Lucy to convey what she wants, and for me to meet her request.

Anyone else answering the phone would have received a more loquacious greeting, replete with “how are yous?” and “how’s the weathers?”

I don’t warrant such niceties. I am merely an obstacle, the thing that stands between my ex and a conversation with our children. Her tone made clear her regret I was the person closest to the phone when it rang.

She did not acknowledge the date. My parents had not mentioned it either, if they even noticed. I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up.

That day, one of the last of my visit back home, was our wedding anniversary. It was the fourteenth since the big day, and the second to pass since we separated.

For two years, we have been suspended in this limbo, no longer husband and wife, not yet divorced. And in each of those years, the calendar has thrust this date into our faces like a cruel insult.

Or into my face, at least. Lucy scarcely noted anniversaries when we were together. Perhaps they don’t haunt her now.

For me, it will be a while before this is a day like any other.

My wife was never one for sentiment. Indeed, her aversion to sentiment was a hallmark of our wedding ceremony.

We came to be engaged at her suggestion. We had been living together for about year when she allowed that if I proposed, she would not refuse.

I can take a hint. But, as she knew, I had a young anarchist’s distrust of the institution. Why should we seek state sanction for our love, I asked?

Because I prefer it, she answered.

But its just paper, a contract, I argued. Why not trust in one another? Why accept the rules of matrimony, the ideal of lifelong monogamy, when they seem so contrary to human nature?

Because I prefer it, she answered.

So it was that one evening, in a tavern, I proposed. I gave her a ring my mother had passed on to me. Lucy cried. She lost her breath. She threw the ring at me, saying she was “not worthy” of me. She ran to the street.

I picked up the ring. I followed her to the street. I put the ring on her finger. “I love you,” I said. “I am yours. Please, marry me.”

She nodded. She cried as she held me tight, as if I would evaporate if she let me go.

We set a date.

Marriage ceased to be abstract, something I supposed I would do some day, when I grew up. Now, at twenty-six, I was grown up. I was engaged to the woman I loved. We were entering into a sanctioned union.

We planned the wedding.

Of course, it would be a civil ceremony. My faith as an agnostic Methodist was no match for her firm convictions as an atheist. Her mother offered us the use of her home, a lovely Cape Cod situated on a bay in Long Island, for the wedding ceremony.

We accepted. Lucy and her mother began the time-honored tradition of mothers and daughters arguing over wedding details.

It was decided that the ceremony was to be performed by a local ferryboat captain.

“Do you want to say anything during the ceremony?” he asked us one afternoon as he guided his ferry across the bay.

“No,” Lucy said, looking at me. “We want the ceremony as short as you can make it.”

“We can do it in about, oh, five lines, if that’s what you want.”

“That’s what we want. Right, Henry?”

“Right,” I nodded, taking her newly expressed opinion as my own. “Four lines if you can manage it.”

My family was surprised that Lucy intended to keep her last name. “She’s the end of the line,” I explained. “I’m one of four boys. Our lineage is secure. She’s got one brother, and he’s gay. So she is keeping her name.”

They thought it odd that she rented her wedding gown. “Don’t be superstitious,” I chided. “Why buy a dress she will wear once?”

To me, these things made sense. Lucy’s decisions were consistent with her independence of mind, which I treasured. They also reflected her ambivalence about the ceremony, which I shared.

Still, there were some traditions we kept. I did not see Lucy in her gown until shortly before the ceremony.

“You are a stone cold fox,” I smiled, kissing her.

She looked so beautiful.

Lucy prefers her hair short, but knew that I liked it long. For her new husband, she grew her hair so that it flowed over her shoulders.

She had chosen an antique gown, in ivory white, with petticoats and layers of lace. Her smile radiated from her warm olive complexion. Her almond eyes sparkled.

“I’m so sorry about this,” she whispered, fingering the gash on my forehead.

“It’s okay,” I winced. “Looks much worse than it feels.”

“Has anyone noticed?” she asked, looking about.

“Everyone has noticed. But it’s okay.”

Following the reception on the previous evening, Lucy had stormed away from me, shouting obscenities as she hurled herself into the middle of a quiet street.

It was well after midnight. She was drunk. We both were.

She was scared to death. We both were.

“Shhh, shhh,” I shushed, running after her. “Please, don’t walk away.”

“I hate you! I hate you!” she screamed. “There is no way I am marrying you tomorrow, none!”

“Lucy, Lucy, please. Everyone is here. My family and friends are here. Your family is here. We love each other. We have to get married tomorrow. For us. For them!”

“What, I have to get married because your family got on a fucking plane? I don’t have to do anything!”

“Look,” I said, my anger rising over my dread of being overheard. “We are getting married tomorrow. That’s it. It’s settled.”

“I fucking HATE YOU!” she shouted, lashing at me. Her newly filed nails clawed into my face.

“Fuck!” I grabbed my head. I pulled back my hands and saw blood. “Oh, shit . . .”

“Oh my god,” Lucy gasped, shaking her hands like things she could no longer control. “I have to go. I have to go.” She ran down the street, away from her mother’s home, where we were to sleep that night.

“Don’t follow me!” she called back.

I looked at my bloody fingers, and wiped the mess coagulating on my eyebrow.

I had to take care of her.

I had to disguise this outburst. No one should know.

I was bleeding. How do I fix this?

I abandoned the reception party and headed to my future mother in law’s home. No one was there. I could sneak in and clean up the wound. Maybe it would look better in the morning.

I awoke alone. The pillow was streaked with blood. I washed my face and went downstairs to join in the wedding preparations. I had to be normal.

“Good morning,” Lucy’s brother Richard said as I approached him on the lawn. “Did you enjoy the . . . good Lord, what happened to your face?”

“Uh, nothing, just, you know. Say, have you seen Lucy?”

“You mean she’s not in your room?”

“No, and I’d like to find her quietly, okay?”

“I’ll find her,” he said. He understood. “You just try to, I don’t know, just avoid Mother until we find her.” That was good advice.

I visited my family. My mother expressed alarm at my scratched face. “Lucy did this to you, didn’t she?”

“Mom, please. She’s anxious. It’s a big deal. The wedding, I mean, not the scratch. It doesn’t hurt.”

“Sit on the bed,” she ordered, examining the wound. “Hmm. I don’t think you need stitches . . .”

“Mom, please,” I batted her hands. “I don’t need stitches. It’s a scratch. Anyway, I have to go. I have to help with the set up. I’ll see you at six, okay?”

She hugged me as I stood.

“I have to go, Mom.”

“I know,” she stroked my hair. “Just . . . don’t let her hit you again.”

“She won’t, Mom. Geez.”

When Lucy left me standing on the street, she ran to the house a friend was renting for the wedding. I had invited dozens of friends, and most had accepted.

Lucy invited very few friends, but this one in particular. Of course, she took Lucy in. She sat up with Lucy, calming her down.

The next morning, she woke Lucy and called her sister. Together, they did Lucy’s hair and make up—she was clueless about these things—and helped her into her gown.

They made her into a bride. I think Lucy was as surprised as anyone to see how ravishing she looked.

How much I loved her.

I put on my suit. I pinned a boutonniere into my lapel, then into the lapels of my father, brothers and future brothers-in-law, Richard and his partner.

My former professor, Whitman, was on hand to serve as my best man. I reserved flowers for his lapel and that of his partner.

A bus pulled up in front of the house, discharging my past. My friends from high school, from college, from work.

I hugged Allan. He told me I looked great in my suit. I thanked him for not wearing shorts, and took a swig from his flask.

“Man, I got to tell you, Lucy is really, really pretty.”

“That’s kind,” I said, swallowing his bourbon. “I mean, considering she is the only girlfriend of mine you haven’t fucked.”

“Henry, I am shocked, shocked,” he began, his mouth dropping. “But, you know . . .”

“I know, its true.” I handed the flask to my brother and greeted more arrivals.

Marcus was there, with his new wife.

Debra sat with Donnie, who was, by this time, so thin he was swallowed by his suit.

Guini was there, in a skirt so short my mother felt compelled to tug down the hem. (Later that night, my little brother Lee would feel compelled to lift her hem with his face.)

Everyone mingled, all these parts of my life coming together.

And I realized that with the exception of people sharing my last name or that of my bride, I had pretty much slept with all the wedding guests. It was time for me to settle down.

The ceremony was over fast. Whitman clocked it at under two minutes. We exchanged rings, we signed a paper, and we kissed.

Just like that, we were married.

“I love you,” she said. “Thanks for marrying me.”

“Thank you for accepting my proposal. I’ll love you forever.”

The wind was coming strong from the bay, anticipating the arrival of Hurricane Bob a few days later. It whipped everyone’s hair and clothes; as the drinks settled in, it blew away inhibitions.

We had hired a stomping swing band. In photographs from that night, everyone is contorted, windswept, dancing, laughing.

Everyone agreed: there has never been a better party, before or since.

My friends paired off as they stumbled back to their hotel rooms, or boarded the bus back to the city. The driver covered the sounds of kissing with a Marvin Gaye soundtrack.

That night, everybody got laid.

Well, almost everybody.

With the departure of our guests, Lucy decided we would not sleep at her mom’s house as planned. We loaded the wedding gifts into a car and drove, drunk as can be, to her friend’s house.

Over my objection, Lucy opened all the gifts that night as I tried, hopelessly, to match names to items.

We fell asleep on a couch as the sun rose, my wife in my arms.

Four days into the honeymoon, we made love for the first time as a married couple. I videotaped her afterwards, laying on the bed, still flush from sex, her slip pulled up over her belly. She laughed into my camera, “Now you have evidence that we had sex on our honeymoon.”

I laughed, though the comment made me rather sad.

A month after returning from the honeymoon, we were in couple’s therapy.

We would see our therapist every week for two years, until the birth of our first child.

We’d return to therapy many times afterward.

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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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Scars

The longevity of my marriage was largely derived from my ability to disguise my wife’s . . . eccentricities.

I had a secure place in her life. She had me to anchor her, so that she would behave as people are supposed to act.

She grew up hiding her own mother’s eccentricities. She was very appreciative that I could manage all the quirks she inherited, while never losing respect for her.

In public situations, I knew when to lean over and whisper, “Ix-nay on the olitics-pay. ” I could tell her, with a glance, when an opinion became a rant, or when the drinks had made her incoherent. She trusted me to do this.

In private, I endured her hypercritical assessments of yours truly.

She was trained to avoid any imperfections. Her mother was a model, a copyeditor, and an alcoholic in the Fifties. You couldn’t ask for a more volatile mix to create a perfectionist.

Lucy did a number on herself, battling depression and anorexia in her struggle to live up to her mother’s ideals. Then she found good clay to mold in me, a talented kid who needed direction and ambition.

No more sleeping in. I was up early, responding to her monologue.

No more late nights with friends. Why go out when I could be with her?

No more dead end jobs. I needed to make more money.

She trained me well. Under her tutelage, I became a responsible husband and father, just like my own dad before me.

But there were some things she could not change.

I snore. She tried waking me. She tried nudging me. She hit me, so hard there were bruises. Nothing made me stop. I was sent to my doctor to seek a cure.

The doctor said that if she could do anything, she would have cured her own husband’s snoring years ago. She recommended my wife get earplugs.

Lucy was not happy with this diagnosis.

Lucy decided I had bad breath. I was sent to the dentist to seek a cure for chronic halitosis.

The dentist told me I did not have chronic halitosis. She asked why I thought I had bad breath. My wife says so, I replied. Try gargling when you get home from work, she recommended.

Lucy had no interest in touching me. When we passed in the hall, I tried to steal a kiss. She turned away, grimacing awkwardly.

Sometimes she allowed me to snuggle next to her as we slept. I gulped that human contact.

Other times she flayed her arms, telling me to get the hell off her and back to my side of the bed.

She complained that my erection pressed against her as I slept.

We went into couple’s therapy. Every week. For years.

Lucy was encouraged to initiate physical contact when she wanted it. By this point, I was too discouraged to start anything sexual. I thought I was repulsive. I was encouraged to use words rather than touch to suggest intimacy.

It was a good thing that I was so interested in her pleasure, I was told. But what about my own?

I was really embarrassed about this. I get off sometimes, I protested.

How often do you have sex? Now and then.

How often do you orgasm during sex? Umm, sometimes.

Lucy, he enjoys giving oral sex to you. Do you reciprocate? No.

Why not? Because that is disgusting and demeaning to women.

Henry, do you enjoy receiving oral sex? Yes.

Do you want Lucy to give you oral sex? Well, no.

Why not, if you like it? If she doesn’t like it, she shouldn’t do it. Right?

Well, yes, no one should do what she doesn’t want to do. But it can be satisfying to pleasure your partner. You are both in your mid-twenties and in good health. You are really too young to live as companions. You are sexual partners. You need to take care of each other’s needs. Will you work on that?

We nodded.

We had more sex, doing our homework like the diligent graduate students we were. No blowjobs, of course, but I orgasmed now and then.

We made some progress.

I never, never told anyone that we had no sex life to speak of.

I never, never told anyone how she railed at me, and made me feel like dirt.

I never, never told anyone about the many times she threatened to leave me.

She didn’t hit me often, and I only had scars now and then. The scratch she tore into my face on the night before our wedding was awkward to explain, but everyone put that down to wedding day jitters.

That’s just how she was. I could deal with that. She was worth the effort.

So long as no one else knew.

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