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Archive for the ‘custody’ 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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Sex, Lies, Videotape

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.

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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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Boo Boo

The phone rang just before eleven o’clock on a Friday night.

Who could be calling at this hour? I wondered. Collie got to the phone before I did.

“Hello? Oh, hi Mom! . . . Yes, we are still awake. Dad’s letting us watch ‘Back to the Future Three’ . . . It’s good. It’s got cowboys . . . You are? You do? That’s going to make Lillie so happy! . . . Okay, bye.”

Collie hung up the phone and turned to his sister.

“Lillie, good news—Mom is bringing Boo Boo! She’ll be here in fifteen minutes!”

Lillie took her thumb from her mouth. “Boo Boo! Boo Boo! Me want Boo Boo!”

Collie patted her head. “Boo Boo be here very soon, baby,” he said in a singsong tone.

“Did you say your mother is coming over?” I asked from the door.

“Yes. She’s driving and she’s bringing Boo Boo for Lillie.”

“Well . . . great!”

“Can you guys please be quiet?” Jason asked, his eyes on the television.

“Sorry,” I whispered. “Prima donna.”

“I heard that,” Jason said.

“Bossy.”

“Dad, please!”

Now, this was a curious turn of events. Lucy never stops by, and certainly not at eleven o’clock at night. But it was nice of her to deliver Boo Boo, Lillie’s funky blue blanket and constant companion.

Boo Boo has been loved to shreds. It is barely held together by threads and knots.

Lillie considers Boo Boo to be a living creature that is sometimes, but not always, a dog. She speaks baby talk to Boo Boo, and often talks about her adventures with “him.” She sleeps with him every night, so she was unhappy to have left Boo Boo at her mother’s house.

Lucy called again to say that she was turning into our building’s driveway. Lillie raced for the door.

“Wait, wait, isn’t your brother going with you?”

“No, he’s watching the movie.”

“Hang on, then, and I’ll join you.” I slipped on my sandals and followed Lillie to the elevator. She bounced up and down as we waited.

“You are so excited to see Boo Boo,” I smiled.

“Yes, he’s been so lonely without me,” Lillie said. “Poor Boo Boo!”

I followed as Lillie raced through the lobby.

“Mommy! Mommy! Me want Boo Boo!”

“Hi, Lillie,” Lucy callled from the driver’s seat. “Hang on, let me open the trunk.”

“Hi, Lucy,” I said. I smiled at the man in the passenger seat.

He waved meekly from his open window.

Lillie and I joined Lucy at the open trunk. Lucy reached in and handed Boo Boo to Lillie.

Lillie put her head through the hole in Boo Boo’s center and draped him over her shoulders like a poncho. She wrapped a few loose threads around a finger and stuck her thumb in her mouth.

“I just washed Boo Boo and its not fully dry,” Lucy said. “You may want to put it in a dryer for a bit.”

Lillie shook her head and scowled. “No take Boo Boo.”

“Well, the laundry room is closed by now, but we’ll manage,” I said, stroking Lillie’s hair.

“Okay.” Lucy stood looking at me for a moment before tackling the inevitable. “Tom?” she called, her eyes still on me. “I’d like you to meet Henry.”

I crossed to the car’s passenger side.

“Howdy,” I said, extending my hand. “I’m Henry, nice to . . . now, don’t get up.”

Tom was already opening the door. He stood in front of me and took my hand.

He had a gray goatee, slumped shoulders and a potbelly.

“Nice to meet you, Henry.”

“Likewise.”

Lillie stood by, sucking her thumb.

“Okay, we’re leaving,” Lucy said, buckling into the driver’s seat. “Bye, Lillie!”

“Bye, Mom. Boo Boo says ‘bye’ too.”

Tom settled back into the passenger seat and closed the door. He looked back as Lucy drove off.

I waved.

I took Lillie’s free hand and walked inside, wondering if I had just met my ex wife’s new boyfriend.

I contained the urge to ask Lillie if she had ever met Mom’s friend before. It’s not proper to put children in the position of reporting on a parent. If she had met him, she didn’t register it.

I mentioned the encounter to Bridget.

“Dude, you so busted her!” she said. “Of course that’s her boyfriend. They must’ve had dinner or something in the city, and she was driving him back to her place in the suburbs. What did he look like?”

“Truth is, I barely got a look at him,” I said. “But enough to know that I’m way hotter.”

Bridget laughed.

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“Hey Dad, get a picture of me with the football!”

I raised the camera and aimed it at Collie. He held back the football as if he were prepared to throw it to me. I crouched, bringing into the frame the backdrop of skyscrapers over the verdant tree line. We were lucky. The annual fourth grade class picnic was blessed by a beautiful summer afternoon. It was hot, but breezy in the shade.

“Okay—smile, handsome man!” Collie grinned. “Ooh, nice one,” I admired. “Take a look; we can put this one on a bubble-gum card, dude.”

Collie giggled. “Hey, can I take some pictures of the soccer game?”

“Yes, if I can take a picture of you and your teacher.”

“No way,” he said. He had no reason to refuse me, really, other than his immaculate control over the use of his image.

“Fine,” I said, beginning to put away the camera.

“Oh, fine, you can do it,” Collie said, throwing back his shoulders. He turned on his heels and marched to the side of Mrs. Ferenzi.

“Oh, hello Collie, what’s up?” she asked.

“Just look at my Dad,” he replied, staring straight ahead.

“Your Dad . . . oh, hello, Henry.”

“Hey, mind if I take a picture of you two? Collie is only doing it to appease me—he says he doesn’t want a picture with you.”

“Oh, he doesn’t, does he?” she smiled. “Well, we’ll see about that.”

Mrs. Ferenzi bent forward, taking Collie into a hug. He was giggling as the shutter snapped. “Oh, that looks sweet,” Mrs. Ferenzi said as we reviewed the photograph.

“Whatever,” Collie said in his toughest roughest tone. “Now, give me the camera, old man.”

“’Old man, please,’” I corrected.

“Whatever,” he laughed, taking the camera and running off.

“I really deserve better children,” I sighed.

Mrs. Ferenzi laughed. “He’s too much. I’m going to miss him.”

“So keep him,” I offered. “He can lead your new baby astray. How many more weeks?”

She rested a hand on her belly. “She’s due in mid-July.”

We fell to talking about childbirth, and the way teachers plan to have babies in summer. It makes for a memorable Thanksgiving, if you get my drift.

As we walked back to school, we passed a park worker watering flowers. He offered to mist the students. The kids squealed as the water rained down over them, washing away the sweat and heat. They were covered in dew as we returned to the school for dismissal.

In the yard, I found Lillie standing still in the sun. She didn’t run to me as usual. As I approached, I could see she was crying. I picked up my pace. “Sweetie, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“My head hurts,” she sobbed. Her sob gave way to deep coughs. She gagged and vomited at my feet.

“Baby, you are burning up! Let’s get you in the shade.”

A nearby mother asked another, “Oh God, where is her teacher? Someone should get her teacher!” I ignored the mother’s panic, and put aside my annoyance about the presumed ineptitude of fathers. I overhear this kind of thing fairly often, actually, as if a man alone with children were the most appalling aberration of social norms.

Thanks lady, but I can take care of my sick child without the assistance of a teacher.

In the school, I put a cold compress on Lillie’s forehead and gave her a water bottle from my picnic bag.

She cooled down and her stomach settled.

Collie carried her backpack as we left the school. We hailed a cab.

Once we got home, Lillie stripped to her panties and crawled into bed. I cranked the air conditioning and retrieved Children’s Tylenol to bring down her fever. She soon felt much better. She told me that she had felt bad during gym, her last class of the day, then worse at dismissal. “Must be the heat,” I said knowingly, exuding parental confidence in the diagnosis. “So you are going to drink water and take medicine. And no school tomorrow.”

Lillie giggled. “I have to get a sick day?”

I nodded. “That’s right. And I want you to watch a lot of television, young lady.”

A grin took over her face. “And we can play Uno?”

“Yes. And Sorry.”

Lillie was delighted to be sick.

That evening, her mother called to check on the kids. She wanted the details on Lillie’s illness, so she spoke at length with the co-parent she most trusts.

My twelve-year-old son Jason.

“Yeah, Mom, what’s up?” Jason spoke into his cell phone. His eyes watched the television as Collie battled against Obi Wan. Collie generally prefers to play for the Dark Side.

“Uh yeah Mom, she threw up, but she’s fine now . . . watching television . . . yeah, Dad gave her something . . . no, I don’t guess she’s going to school tomorrow . . . I dunno, soup, I guess . . . no, Collie, behind the cantina, behind the cantina!

“Beast!” Collie shouted. “I’m a beast! Oh yeah, oh yeah.”

“Yeah Mom . . . so, you want to talk to Dad? Okay . . . one sec.” Jason came to the kitchen and handed over his cell phone.

“Mom,” he reported. He walked back to his game.

“Hello?”

“Henry? How is Lillie?”

“She’s much better. I gave her Tylenol for the fever, so it may be back, but . . .”

“What was her temperature?”

“Well, unfortunately, we broke our thermometer, so I don’t know the exact temperature. She was warm to the touch, though—not broiling.”

“You don’t have a thermometer.”

I readied myself. “No, it’s broken. But as I said, her fever is down, and . . .”

“Henry, you have to have a thermometer. It’s important to know the exact temperature. You can get one delivered. Or call the pharmacy and have it put aside—maybe Jason can go pick it up. That’s faster. You can have it put aside, and give him the money. He can go get it and bring it back.”

“Uh huh.” I rested the phone against my shoulder and continued chopping mushrooms.

“Don’t get one of those digital ones, you know, like the one we used to have that goes in the ear? Those aren’t accurate. You want one of those that goes under the arm. You know the ones I mean?”

“Uh huh, under the arm.” I lowered the heat on the chicken stock.

“Henry, it’s very important to do this.”

“Okay. So anyway, I’m keeping her home tomorrow. I think she’s improving, but she can’t be in school if the fever returns.”

“Right.” Lucy sighed. “So can I talk to her?”

“Sure, one sec.” I put down the knife and took Jason’s cell to Lillie. I returned to the kitchen and dropped mushrooms into the soup.

Of course, I wasn’t calling the pharmacy.

When the kids are sick, Lucy’s anxiety disorder takes over her maternal instinct. She wants desperately to be in control of the situation, which forces her to go the extraordinary length of speaking directly to me.

In these moments of familial crisis, she most regrets that she is required to share parenting. As her father once said, Lucy forgets that she is not a single parent.

She’s a co-parent. Her children have a father.

Unfortunately, Lucy sees me not as a partner, but as a delinquent subordinate who cannot be relied upon to do as instructed. If only I would follow her directions, she could be sure that responsible decisions are made and acted upon. Otherwise, she has no alternative but to trust me—and that is an untenable option.

I just don’t get it, she tells me. I will never understand how a mother worries.

Of course I won’t. How could I possibly understand a parent’s concerns?

Around midnight, Lillie woke up crying. She was burning up. I gave her more Tylenol and a glass of water. I rubbed her back as she returned to sleep, holding her blanket and sucking her thumb.

The next morning, she woke feeling fine. She wasn’t going to school at any rate, but she was in good spirits. She felt very “big girl.” She wanted to stay home as I got the boys to school.

I knocked on the door of my neighbor, Trish. It was just after seven, but I knew she would be up: she has two young children as her alarm clock. We put into action the plan we had devised the night before.

“Sorry to bother you,” I said, “But sure enough, Lillie wants to stay here while I’m gone. She’s okay, and I won’t be long . . .”

Trish waved her hand. “It’s fine, we’ll keep an ear out.”

“I’ll leave my door unlocked,” I said.

“Me too,” Trish said, “Now go!”

Lillie knew that she was staying in our apartment so she wouldn’t expose Trish’s kids to germs. But if she felt bad, or got scared, she should go to Trish immediately. “I know, Dad,” she smiled. I gave her the phone and made sure could call my cell. “I know, Dad. But I won’t call unless I throw up.”

I tucked her in bed and turned on the television. I made sure I had cab fare. I did what one has to do with one sick child, two healthy children, and no other adult in the home. I relied on my support network.

The boys were at school and I was on my way home when my cell rang. It was Lucy. “Henry, where are you?”

“I’m in the park, heading home. So, Lillie woke up last night . . .”

“And where are the boys?”

“At school, Lucy.”

“Where’s Lillie?”

“At home. She woke up last night with a fever and . . .”

“You left her at home? Henry, she’s six years old. You can not leave her home alone!”

“Trish is across the hall and Lillie knows that . . .”

“Trish is home? You swear to God?”

“Yes, God knows, Trish is home. So, yeah, Lillie woke up around midnight . . . “

“So if I go to the apartment right now and bang on the door, Trish will be home?”

I sighed. “If you are going over there, want to swing by and pick me up?”

“This is serious, Henry. I swear to God, if you ever leave that little girl home alone, even for a minute, I swear to God I’m calling Child Services and hauling your ass to jail so fast, you won’t believe it. You have to be responsible, Henry, you just don’t get . . .”

I closed the phone and put it in my pocket. If she wants to talk about Lillie’s fever, I’m here. If her priority is to act on her anxieties by chewing me out, I have other concerns.

“Dad?” Lillie called as I closed the door. “You’re home!”

“Yes, dear.” I went to her room. She was watching Nick, Jr. “How are you feeling, big girl?”

“Fine. You were fast!”

I kissed her forehead. It was cool. “Yeah baby, it just took a minute. You want some oatmeal?”

Lillie improved throughout the day.

That evening, I phoned her mother to give Lucy an update on her condition. When Lucy answered, I could hear birds in the background. I assumed she was sitting on the wrought iron furniture in the backyard of the home we bought together, where she now lives. I pictured the azaleas in full bloom. The grass probably needed its first cutting. I told Lucy that Lillie was much better, and would be back at school the next morning.

“That’s good,” Lucy said. She sounded tired. “Hey, Henry, about this morning . . . I’m sorry. You know how I get.”

“I do,” I said, surprised that she had brought this up. “But you have to know, it doesn’t help. I didn’t make Lillie sick, so there’s no need to blame me.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

We paused. “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “You want to talk to Lillie?”

“Yes, please.” I took the phone to Lillie. I stood at the door, listening as she told her mom that she was not sick any more. She didn’t even throwed up, not even once.

Imagine that, I thought. Entirely of her own volition, Lucy had apologized.

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“Dad! Hey, Dad!” Lillie broke from her class line and ran to me. She pulled a backpack from her shoulders as she dodged kids and parents standing between us.

“Hey sweetheart,” I smiled, bending on one knee to hug her. “You are so excited!”

“I have a birthday card for you, Dada,” Lillie said, a babyish tone slipping into her voice. She unzipped her backpack and fished inside. “Here you go!”

I looked at the paper she handed to me. On the outside fold she had written, “Happy Birthday Dad.” Inside there was a drawing of the two of us—Lillie with bright red hair, me with yellow hair, no necks on either figure—dancing on green grass under an orange sun. A gray kitten watched next to a flower.

“That’s very sweet, honey. Thank you so much.”

“Look at the back,” she giggled. On the back fold she had written, in brown, “You are stinky just like poop.”

I lowered my arms in mock exasperation. “Why, Lillie? Why must you be such a rotten child?”

She giggled. “You’re old.”

“And you are an ill-mannered cur.”

“Hey Dad,” Collie said from behind me.

“Hey, handsome boy.” I hugged him. “How was school?”

“It was fine. Here,” he shoved a note in my hand. “I made you a birthday card.” He suppressed a grin, trying to play it cool.

“Oh, how sweet is that? Let me see.” On the cover fold, he had drawn a heart, surrounded by other hearts, and written, “Happy Birthday Dad.” I opened the card to find a drawing of stars and planets, with a colorful pyramid topped by the words, “I love you.”

“Now, isn’t that the sweetest thing?” I gushed. I took his cheeks in my empty hand and cooed. “My adorable, tender boy, so sweet to his dear loving daddy . . .”

“Uh, Dad,” Collie grimaced through puckered lips. “Not in the schoolyard, dude.”

“Oh, right.” I dropped my hand. “Gots to be cool, hep cat.”

“Whatever!” he giggled. We gathered our belongings to head to the bus.

On the day after my birthday, after five days apart, I was back with my kids, providing a hiatus and respite from sex with my friends and lovers. Just in time, too: I needed a break. It would be nice to rest up with my progeny.

Jason was meeting us at home later. He had an appointment with his mother, who was taking him for a haircut after school.

Haircuts are a sensitive matter for Jason. At twelve, he is newly attuned to his appearance. For the past two years, he had emulated his cousin, my cool eighteen-year-old nephew, by growing his hair long.

Jason’s straight chestnut hair split at his forehead to cascade to his shoulders, framing his angelic face and deep chocolate eyes. He looked adorably spacey, which rather suited his dreamy, slightly out-to-lunch personality.

Every now and then, his mother takes him for a haircut to trim the edges. Jason endures this glumly, always watching the mirror as his hair is cut, complaining that he didn’t want it to be trimmed too short as his mother directed the barber to take off just a little more here, a little more there.

My ex Lucy insists on supervising the children’s haircuts. She feels I would indulge their preferences too much. Lucy remembers when my hair grew past my shoulders. She thought my long hair was sexy back then, but that history discredits my judgment concerning the children now. She would much rather be in control of the children’s appearance.

I was reading on the couch when the front door opened. I looked up to see a boy’s head pop in the doorframe, grinning. It was Collie. No, wait: it was Jason. With a very short haircut.

“Jason! Oh my gosh, I didn’t recognize you!” I closed my book. “Come here, let me look at you.”

Jason walked in and closed the door. His grin stretched from one newly exposed ear to the other.

“Do you like it?” he asked.

“You look . . . very handsome,” I said, stunned. “But it’s so different!”

“I know. Mom thought I should try it short for a while.”

“She did, huh? Well, what do you think about it?”

“I don’t know, it’s okay, I guess. Do you think it looks, you know, babyish?”

I looked him over. “No, not at all. It actually makes you look older, really. Like, longer. Taller.”

He nodded, still grinning. It was true. He looked very grown and handsome. It was a fine haircut.

I swallowed my resentment. My ex thinks nothing of radically altering my son’s appearance without my input. Here was evidence that my opinion doesn’t matter in the least to her. I can imagine her reaction if the situation were reversed. Of course, the situation would never be reversed. I know better than to question her presumed authority over most things.

Jason stooped over his backpack. “So Dad, did Collie and Lillie give you their birthday cards?”

“Yes, they sure did. Those were sweet. Did you see them?”

“Uh huh, they made them last night. I have something for you too.”

“You do? How sweet, honey.”

“Yeah, where is it . . . okay, here it is.” He pulled a yellow bag from his pack and hid it under an arm. He stood and walked to me. “Okay, are you ready?”

“I’m ready, baby.” I smiled.

“Okay, so here it is.” He swirled an arm to present me with small bag from Tower Records.

“You got me a CD?” I asked, taking the bag.

“Yeah. After my haircut, we went to Tower ‘cause I wanted to get something for you. I used my own money, too. It took a long time, because I wanted to get something I knew you would like, but that we would like too, so we could all listen to it.”

“That’s very smart,” I said. “That way, we can share it.”

“Exactly,” he said.

I took the CD in my hand. “Oh wow, it’s the White Stripes. I do like them.”

“Yeah, I know. It has that ‘doorbell’ song. I know you like that because you always play it.” He paused. “Wait, you don’t already have that CD, do you?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. He was so sweet to think of the White Stripes for me, but . . . “Um, well actually, hon, yes, I do have it. That’s why I keep playing it.”

“Oh, that’s cool, I thought you might. That’s why I saved the receipt—you can take it back and get something else.”

“Oh, good thinking, kid. So did you have second choice?”

“Um, yeah. Mom said I should get you the new Death Cab for Cutie, but I didn’t know if you had it.”

“You know what? I don’t have it. So that is just what I’ll do. I’ll take this back and get the new Death Cab for Cutie. That’s a great gift. Thanks!”

I stood and kissed him.

“Well, you know,” he said.

“I know baby. I love you. So tell me about school.”

He talked about a friend at school, eventually sitting on the floor as his story grew more elaborate. We talked for a half hour before I had to get started on dinner.

A few days later, I returned the CD and brought back Death Cab for Cutie. It caught Collie’s ear. He began to sing along. “Hey, did you steal this CD from Mom?” he asked.

“No, actually, your brother got it for our collection,” I said.

“Oh. Well, it’s Mom’s favorite too.”

“Do you like it, honey boy?”

He shrugged. “It’s okay.”

“Nice.”

That night, we spun the CD again as I prepared dinner and Jason typed his homework. He was asked to write the first chapter of a fictional story based on a true event. For a source, he went back to the central trauma of his young life. Fiction offered a way to revise an unalterable memory, exchanging one set of facts for another.

“Brett, will you come downstairs for a moment?” As I walked down the stairs, I knew what was coming. I was prepared for it. “Ed, Lisa, you two come down too!”

As my brother, Ed, and my sister, Lisa, rushed down the stairs, I looked in their eyes. I saw happiness and joy. They had no idea that the next words that would come out of our parent’s mouths would crush their hearts and drastically change all of our lives forever

It wasn’t as though I hadn’t seen it coming. My mother always tells me that when her parents got divorced, she had no idea it was coming. My parents had been fighting for what seemed like forever, but in reality had only been three months. At first, it was just petty fights. After that . . . it got much worse.

The first time they ever fought, it was about something small and stupid. My father was home fifteen minutes late, and my mom asked why he was late.

“Traffic was a killer,” he replied, and proceeded in to the kitchen to make dinner. But my mom was not going tom let him go that easily. You see, my father has problems with being late sometimes, and my mother had heard on the radio that there was no traffic.

“But sweetie, I heard there was no traffic.”

I’ll be straight with you about my mom. She’s a fundraiser person, so she’s a bit of a nag. She simply does not leave a conversation without getting the information she wants. And also, she does not lose arguments.

“They must have been wrong, honey,” my father said.

“I heard what the radio said. They would have been wrong three times,” my mother said.

“Maybe you misunderstood them.”

“Are you calling me old?!”

“No, I just said . . . “

“If you are going to speak to me like that, I don’t want to talk to you at all!”

I’m still walking down the stairs. You know how they say that when you’re about to die, your life flashes before your eyes? That’s sort of what’s happening to me, only I’m not thinking about my life, I’m thinking about their life. And I’m not dying, I only feel like I am.

My father is a man who works in a corner office, like one you see on TV. He calls himself the above average man with the world’s most average job. He works for Microsoft, which means he works for Bill Gates, which means his salary is rather healthy. It also means he gets pushed around a lot, which is why he never gets mad or raises his voice. He can’t, or he’d be fired in two minutes. At least, I thought that he couldn’t get mad.

My mother, as I said, is a fundraiser lady. She knows what to do, why to do it and how to do it at all times. She’s not a bad fundraiser person, either. She gets calls from companies everyday asking for her services. You might think that she’s away a lot, but she’s really not. She’s with us most of the time. I thought she could handle anything. It turned out she couldn’t handle one thing: a husband.

Those petty fights lasted for about two months. I never really got worried about them. They made up right after their fights. But for the last month, I was worried. Very worried.

Their last fight, which happened a week ago, pretty much summed up their last month of fighting. It went something like this:

“I’m tired of you being late and lying about why you’re late!,” my mother yelled.

“I’m tired of you not listening to what I say! I’m not a liar,” my dad retaliated.

”You’re an irresponsible old man and I never want to see you again!”

“Fine!” my dad shouted, and grabbed some clothes and his toothbrush and was out the door. My mother immediately began crying. My father spent the night at a hotel. My mother begged him the next morning to come home, which he did. But never was there an apology by either of them. Never.

I get down the stairs, and sit down. I look around me. My brother and sister were anxious to know what they were going to say. I was not. I shouldn’t have been. I knew what they were going to say.

“Kids,” my mother said with a shaky tone. “Your father and I have been thinking, and we’ve decided . . . to have a baby. I’m pregnant.”

This was probably the biggest surprise of my life. As my siblings celebrated, I reflected. I guess I was to pessimistic. It takes longer than three months to decide to get divorced. So our family is safe.

For now.

We ate supper shortly after he finished. The kids bathed before bedtime. I tucked them in and did the dishes before reading over Jason’s homework.

He hadn’t mentioned the subject all night.

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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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