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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.

Read Full Post »

Re-Fi

Lucy shielded her eyes from the sun as she reeled off instructions for my weekend with the kids.

“Oh, and before I forget, you need to come to a meeting next Tuesday at four,” she said, her voice rapid and clipped. “It’s downtown on Water Street, can you be there?”

“I’ll have to look at my calendar, but I suppose I’m available,” I replied. “What is the meeting about?”

“The house. I’m refinancing it.”

“You are? Is now a good time for that? Wait, when did you decide to do this?”

“Yes, I got a good rate. So can you please come to the meeting? You have to sign some papers, that’s all. Please don’t make a big deal of this.”

Our divorce was final, but there were still some loose ends that needed tending. A number of these concerned our house.

The divorce settlement stipulated that Lucy would retain residence in our house, but I would remain co-owner until our youngest child’s eighteenth birthday—in the year two-thousand-seventeen—at which time Lucy would be required to sell the house or buy me out. I agreed to give over the title once the divorce was final.

It was a complicated arrangement, but the best we could manage. Lucy was not in a position to buy me out at the time we divorced, and I was not going to force her to sell the home she shared with our children.

The whole thing left Lucy perplexed and anxious.

Lucy’s rash decision to end our marriage was made in anger after she found herself unable to win a fight about a business trip I had been asked to make. She threw divorce at me early in the fight, as she had often done in the past. I thought she was being shrill. I told her it was foolish to hurl threats of divorce over so minor an issue. I made the business trip.

When I returned, she moved into the basement and refused to speak to me. After the children and I had endured several months of her stubborn fury, I agreed to move out at the end of the school year.

As our separation approached, Lucy’s mood changed. She seemed happy as she insulated herself in a fantasy of life without a spouse. As she saw it, life without me would be pretty good. She had a lovely pre-war home, three wonderful children, and a good career. The only aggravation in her life was the continued necessity of compromise with a husband who could not be entirely controlled.

One afternoon, she passed me in the hall. Her face was twisted with concern.

“Henry,” she blurted out. “I’m so afraid that when you move out, you won’t support me and the kids.”

I stammered reassurance that we would do what we had to do to keep the house and take care of the children.

As I reflected on her concern, I realized just how little she comprehended the reality of divorce.

Lucy apparently believed that her life would be exactly the same as it was, simply minus my presence. She would have full custody of the children and access to at least half of my income. In this scheme of things, I would go off someplace else and no longer be a problem for her. She would live the life we created together, without the aggravations of being with me.

I have to say, I was surprised that so intelligent a person as Lucy was capable of being so very naive.

But such is the ability of divorce to make idiots of otherwise competent people. Divorce stands out as the only life-changing decision made in anger.

Other decisions may cause nail biting, but when you decide which college to attend, what job to take, who to marry, which place to live, which medical treatment to undergo, and so on, you are generally capable of rationally balancing pros and cons in order to make the best possible choice.

Lucy, like so many others considering divorce, could not see past her own spite. She dreamed of getting me in front of a judge and proving, once and for all, for all the world to see, just what a bastard I truly was.

Her family advised her to calm down. Her lawyer told her she would not get the arrangement she sought. She didn’t care. She dug in her heels and steeled herself to fight to the bitter end.

The bitter end came more quickly that she expected, with a result she dreaded, and at a far greater expense than anyone anticipated.

She would have to share custody equally. She would get no financial support. And she would have to continue to compromise with me on issues concerning our house and children for at least the next eleven years. If she failed to do so, she could face legal consequences.

Lucy had allowed her rage to destroy her family. She spent a fortune she could ill afford. No one thought I was a bastard. She looked pretty stupid.

In the process, I learned this sage advice: if parents are considering divorce, they should sit down calmly to determine whether or not they can comfortably afford to buy and furnish a second home of comparable size within the same school district. They should ask themselves if they could continue to work together in the children’s best interests, because, as soon becomes apparent, if you think you spouse is a jerk now, just wait until you are no longer married and you still have to be parents.

If parents fail this litmus test, they should probably get over themselves and live up to their responsibilities.

When Lucy told me that she had decided to refinance our mortgage, I was irked that she had made this decision without me. Not only did it affect a property I owned with her, but within our relationship, I was generally the one who researched such matters and helped her to weigh options. She was prone to making sudden decisions without thinking through the consequences.

As witness our divorce.

Lucy was asking me to sign off on the mortgage as I stood there, hearing about it for the first time. She presented it as a done deal, while I had no way of knowing if this was a good or bad idea.

“Well, Lucy, I can’t say I’m opposed to the refinancing,” I said. “But I can’t sign papers concerning shared marital property without my lawyer’s advice.”

“Come on, Henry,” she said, exasperated. “Don’t make this difficult.”

“It’s not difficult. Just have the papers faxed to my lawyer. If she says it’s kosher, then it’s kosher.”

“Fine!” Lucy spit out. She turned and walked off.

I emailed my lawyer and told her to expect the papers.

Tuesday came and went. The papers were never sent.

I called Lucy to ask about the meeting.

“We rescheduled the meeting because you fucked it up,” she said. “I lost the rate we had, and so now we have to negotiate it again.”

“I didn’t fuck anything up. If you make decisions affecting me without my input, they aren’t really decisions, just proposals. If you send the papers to my lawyer, then I will . . .”

I stopped speaking, realizing that Lucy had already hung up on me.

A couple of weeks later, my lawyer emailed to say she had received the papers.

I’m not a real estate attorney, she averred, but it looks like a standard re-fi. I don’t see any reason not to sign.

I thanked her and forwarded the email to Lucy. “Looks like a go!” I added.

A week passed before Lucy responded.

Please be at the Water Street office Monday at four.

Ten words, including “please,” forming a complete sentence. Lucy was trying hard to be polite.

I arrived at the office to find Lucy already sitting in a conference room with a bank representative who introduced herself as Miranda Valdez. We shook hands and I sat down. Lucy and I were each presented with a copy of the refinancing agreement. Each stack was at least half an inch thick.

“All right,” Miranda began to explain. “If you open your copy to page three, you can see that the value of the house is . . .”

“Wait, wait,” Lucy interrupted. She pointed to me. “We’re divorced and I’m not comfortable discussing my finances with my husband—my ex-husband—in the room.”

“Well . . .” Miranda explained, “We are only discussing information that is in both copies of the re-fi agreement.”

“Still . . .” Lucy began. “I would prefer that Henry leave the room.”

“I don’t mind leaving,” I said, standing.

“Well, if you don’t mind,” Miranda said. “I’ll call you back in a moment.”

“Thanks, Henry,” Lucy said.

I went to the reception desk and helped myself to a paper cone of water. Of course, I knew the value of the house. We had just had it appraised during the divorce. But whatever.

When I was called back to the conference room, Lucy was signing at the indicated pages.

I began to read the contract.

I got no further than the first page. There was my name, next to Lucy’s, as cosigner on the loan.

“Excuse me,” I asked Miranda. “But doesn’t this put me on the mortgage?”

She looked at her copy. “Yes, it does. Is that a problem?”

“I’m afraid so. See, I’m not obliged to take on Lucy’s mortgage.”

Lucy blanched. “Please don’t make this difficult,” she said.

“I’m not being difficult, Lucy. But this is a problem. I’m not supposed to be on the mortgage.”

“You don’t have to actually pay it,” Lucy said. “Just sign.”

“I can’t sign a contract and simply not pay . . . “

“No, wait, he’s right,” Miranda interjected. “This is a mistake. But hang on, are you on the title?”

“Yes, he is,” Lucy replied, as if that settled the matter.

“Well, that also complicates this. If you are on the title, you need to be on the mortgage.”

“I’m supposed to come off the title, now that the divorce is final,” I explained.

“Yes, my lawyer is supposed to take care of that,” Lucy nodded.

“Okay. I think that needs to happen before we can do the re-fi.” Miranda stood up. “Hang on, let me talk to my supervisor. I don’t want to give you inaccurate information, and this is the first time I’ve encountered this.”

“It’s our first divorce, too,” I joked.

“Yeah, well, divorce is complicated,” Miranda said. “I’ll be right back.”

Miranda left us alone. I continued to read my copy of the contract. Lucy continued to sign hers.

“Did you want to authorize the bank to take payments directly from your account?” I asked.

“No, of course not,” Lucy said, not looking up.

“Then you shouldn’t sign page fourteen.”

Lucy flipped back to page fourteen. “I already signed it.”

“We can ask Miranda how to change that,” I suggested. Lucy returned to signing pages. “The kids are in after school?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

Ten minutes passed.

Miranda returned and introduced us to her supervisor, Jack Rollins. He shook our hands.

“Okay, so Miranda has explained your situation to me. Now, if I have this right, you two are recently divorced and you, Lucy, want to do a re-fi on your house. And you, Henry, are on the title now, but won’t be for much longer.”

“That’s right,” Lucy agreed. I nodded.

“Okay,” Jack went on. “In that case, we have to draw up another agreement.”

“Oh no, really?” Lucy said.

“Yes. See, this rate was set with the understanding that the owners were refinancing a shared property. But once the title is transferred, we need to set up a different kind of mortgage. Essentially, it’s as if the two of you are selling the house to a new owner, who happens to be one of you. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“But wait, will I get the same rate?” Lucy asked.

“Yes, you should, assuming that the title is transferred promptly. But unfortunately, there is a surcharge on the new mortgage. It’s going to set you back, say, depending on the value of house, about five or six thousand dollars.”

Lucy fell back. “We both have to pay that?”

“No, only the borrower is responsible, so it would come from you.”

“Oh no!” Lucy laughed nervously. “This is terrible news.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Jack said. “But you still come out ahead in the re-fi, so you will ultimately save money.”

“Okay, I guess that’s good,” Lucy said. “I have some questions, but are we done with Henry? I’d prefer it if he wasn’t here.”

Jack looked to Miranda. “Yes, I think he’s done. But we’ll need him to come back when we do the re-fi signing.”

“Okay,” I said, standing. “Lucy will let me know when that date is set. Nice to meet you, Miranda, Jack.”

We shook hands.

I waved goodbye to Lucy. She waved back.

She looked as though she might be sick.

Two weeks later, we returned to the office and signed the corrected forms.

Lucy now had a refinanced thirty-year mortgage on the house. She was still obliged to sell or buy me out in eleven years.

I left the office having ended my first stint as a suburban homeowner.

Read Full Post »

Lillie stuck out her tongue as I walked into the classroom. I blew her a kiss. She giggled.

Another parent nodded to me and smiled as I sat in a tiny chair. I waved back.

“Okay, parents, welcome,” Miss Harper began. “It’s nice to have you here again—Marvin. Hands to self. You too, Gina.

“Now, as you may have heard from the children, we have been reading nonfiction with our study groups. Each group has a basket containing books on a specific subject. So today, we are going to—Sara. Don’t.—we are going to break into our groups and share our books with you.”

One morning each month, parents are invited to join their children in the classroom to be “reading partners.” I have two children in the school, so I begin with Lillie’s first grade and move up to Collie’s fourth grade. When the children broke into their groups, Lillie brought a boy to my table.

“Dad, this is Perry. Perry, this is Dad.”

I stood and took Perry’s hand. “Nice to meet you, son. I’m Henry, Lillie’s dad.”

His grin was like a broken fence. So many missing teeth. “This is my mom.” He pointed over his shoulder.

“Nice to meet you,” I smiled.

“You too. I’m Margaret, Perry’s mom. I love Lillie’s red hair!”

Lillie rolled her eyes. “Oh, thanks. Perry’s a sweet fellow. He always smiles when we see him on the bus.” Margaret Perry’s Mom patted her son’s head. Henry Lillie’s Dad chucked his daughter’s chin. Such are the rituals of greeting when your primary identification is as a child’s parent.

“Shall we . . . ?” I said, indicating the chairs.

“Oh yes,” Margaret Perry’s Mom said. “What are we reading about today? Oh frogs! I love frogs!”

“Frogs lay eggs,” Perry said.

“Thousands of eggs, to make tadpoles,” Lillie added.

“Well, let’s learn about frogs then!” I said. We sat by our children as they debated which book they wanted to read. Lillie agreed to Perry’s choice and let him read first.

“What do you . . . know about frogs?” Perry began. “Did you . . . know that frogs begin life under water?”

My eyes followed Perry’s fingers across the page. I was interrupted by Lillie’s tapping on my elbow.

“Dad? Dad?” she whispered.

“Shh, honey, we’re listening now.”

“But look, over there.”

She pointed across the room.

“Where am I looking?” I asked.

“Over there, that’s Sara.”

“Okay honey, but we are reading now.”

“No look, there’s Sara’s mom,” she smiled. “Now’s your chance.” Lillie is determined to fix me up with Sara’s mom, a woman I’ve never met.

“Shh, sugar, let’s read about frogs now.” I looked back at the page. Lillie’s eyes followed mine.

“The tadpole is growing up.” Perry read. “It will soon loss its tail.”

“Lose, honey,” his mom corrected.

“Lose its tail.”

I stole a glimpse at Sara’s mom.

Lillie read about frogs and the book was finished. I kissed her on the head. “Good reading, sweetheart. I need to go visit Collie now.”

“No, go meet Sara’s mom! It’s now or never!”

“Another time, baby. Nice to meet you Perry, Margaret.”

“You too, Henry,” Margaret Perry’s Mom smiled.

I walked upstairs and found Collie on his way to collect me. “Perfect timing, son.”

“Yeah, come with me.” He took my hand. “We’re reading poetry anthologies.”

“Oh, fun.”

“Yes, but you can’t read mine. I wrote a poem about you.”

“What? Oh, then I have to read it!”

He giggled. “No, it will make you mad and you will hate me.”

“I already hate you. Come on, let me read it.”

“Okay, you can read it.” He led me into his classroom. His bearing stiffened to the formality he affects when he is feeling silly. “Now, be quiet.”

“Yes, sir.”

He led me to his desk. A group of boys huddled nearby. “Dad, this is Harry, this is Jeremy, this is William. And this,” he picked up a book, “This is my poetry anthology.” He handed me a book of loose pages stapled between sheets of green construction paper. It was titled, “My Poems About Family and Friends, By Collie.”

“Oh, okay, thank you. Nice to meet you boys, but I think I need to do a little reading now.”

“Okay,” Harry grinned. Collie giggled. I sat in Collie’s chair and turned the cover. It opened with a poem about my ex wife’s mother.

My Grandmother

All I wanted
Was a nice Christmas vacation
But no, you had to ruin it.
I try to help
But you yell at me
When I do something wrong.
Everyone who knows you
Knows you
Are not the kind of grandmother
Who bakes cookies
Or kisses you good night.

“Well,” I said. “You are certainly, um, an honest writer.”

Collie giggled.

There was a poem about his mother’s cat.

Gray

You are a gray cat
You play with my sister
But you scratch me when I pass you on the stairs.
But then you curl with me
When I am asleep
And I don’t feel lonely
I don’t know
If I like you
Or not.

“Oh, you and that cat!” I grinned.

Collie giggled.

There were several more poems, some having to do with kids in his neighborhood, some having to do with kids in school. None concerning his mother or siblings.

I came to the last page. Collie looked on nervously.

Dad’s Friends

Last night
One of Dad’s friends came over
It made me sad
All of Dad’s friends are women
We are split up
I do not want him to love a women
I guess (sigh) that is a problem
For divorced kids.

I looked at Collie.

Collie giggled.

“I do have a lot of female friends, don’t I?” He shrugged.

It’s true. In part, this has to do with the field in which I work; in part, it may be personal preference, or perhaps just a twist of fate.

I pulled him close. “I will never be mad at you for feeling what you feel, or for writing what you feel.”

“I know, Daddy.”

“We’re a family, baby. I love you, and that’s not changing.”

He shrugged in my arms. “I know.”

I lowered my voice to a whisper. “And you are still my favorite.”

Collie giggled.

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Matchmaker

“Hey, Dad.”

“Hey, Lillie.”

“Hey Dad, I made a new friend in school today.”

“That’s great, sweetheart. Watch out for that puddle, please—here, step across on this snow bank. Take my hand, please.”

“Okay, hey Dad, so my new friend? It’s Sara.”

“Sara, huh? Is she—Collie, wait at the corner please!—is she a new kid in your class?”

“No, she’s been there, I just wasn’t her friend before.”

“And now you are her friend? That’s nice. Why now?”

“Well, we were in the yard and she wasn’t doing anything so I asked her why and she said because she didn’t have any friends. It was so sad! So I told her to be my friend.”

“That was very sweet of you, Lillie. What did you do with your new friend?”

“We made friends.”

“I know, but after you were friends, what did you do?”

“We made more friends.”

“And how did you do that?”

“Well, after we were friends, Constance’s class came to the yard. And she’s my best friend. So I told her to be friends with Sara, and she did.”

“How nice.”

“Yes, but not best friends, because I’m her best friend.”

“Right.”

“So then Constance and I made Sara come with us to see Christina and Sasha. We told them to be friends too, because Sara was sad because she had no friends.”

“But now, it seems she has a lot of friends, thanks to you.”

“Yes, now she has . . . well, one is me, two is Constance, three is Christina, four is Sasha. Four. Four friends. All girls who are friends.”

“No boys, huh?”

“No, boys hate Sara.”

“Why do you say that, Lillie?”

“Because you know how girls go up to boys and say ‘mwah, now we are married, you may kiss the bride?’”

“I guess I do.”

“Well, Sara does that so the boys all think she’s weird. Isn’t that so sad?”

“I can see why that might be sad. Maybe she should do less of that if it bothers people.”

“It just bothers the boys, the girls think its funny.”

“Do you think its funny?”

“Dad, hello? I’m a girl.”

“Gotcha.”

“Sara was also sad because she doesn’t have a dad, just a mom.”

“She told you this?”

“Yes. So I told her good news.”

“What’s the good news?”

“I told her that I have a mom and a dad, but my mom stopped loving my dad, and my dad is sad.”

“Oh, well, Lillie . . .”

“And I said my dad doesn’t have any friends, so he can be her mom’s friend. I said you should meet . . . meet . . . meet . . .”

“What, why are you putting your hands together like that when you say ‘meet?’”

“Do you know what I mean? Not ‘meat’ like you eat, but ‘meet,’ like this.”

“Like two hands pressed together.”

“Yeah, you should meet.”

“That’s nice, I’m sure it would be nice to meet Sara and her mom. But you know, Lillie, I do have lots of friends. I’m not so sad.”

“Dad, I mean a girlfriend? You can meet? You don’t have that.”

“Okay, well, let’s see about that. Thanks for thinking of me.”

“Yeah, it made Sara laugh.”

“That’s nice. You are a good friend to Sara. Now, do me a favor.”

“What?”

“When we get home, show me Sara in the class picture.”

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