School began not long after we returned from the South.
The children’s lives are divided between their mother’s house in the suburbs—formerly, our shared marital domicile—and our apartment in the city. The schools in the city are preferable to those in the suburbs, so the kids are registered in my local school district. This means all school related mailings come to my address.
This makes my ex Lucy anxious for two reasons.
First, she dislikes any factor of the children’s lives that is not completely under her control. To get the information contained in a school mailing, she needs to deal with me.
Second, I get an outrageous volume of mail. I have to confess that sorting it is not always my highest priority. I make sure to separate anything requiring immediate attention, and allow the rest to pile until I just can’t stand to look at the heap. Lucy is aware of this.
One evening, Lucy called.
“Henry, we are expecting a mailing from Jason’s school. It’s important because it includes his new class assignment.”
“Right, I have my eyes out for that.”
“Did you receive it?”
“No, not yet.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Henry, this is very important . . .”
“I realize that.”
“Can you please go through your mail to look for it?”
“It’s not here, Lucy.”
“Can you please look?”
“I will look, but as I said, it’s not here.”
“Fine. Call when you find it.” Click.
I sorted my mail. No letter from the school. I called.
“Henry, how could you have lost this letter? Can’t you focus at all on the children’s education? Don’t you know that that this is a critical year for Jason?”
She began to pace her words, as she broke down a crucial fact so that even I could understand its import: “Your son Jason. Needs to get. Good grades. In order to get. Into a good high school.”
“I recognize the value of a good education. And I’m aware of the correlation between grades and high school admissions. I am just reporting that the letter did not arrive.”
“Fine. I’ll have to call the school. Thanks a lot.” Click.
Lucy sent an email to say that the school gave her the assignment, so the letter was no longer needed. She had taken care of it.
She also reminded me that I had agreed that she and her brother Richard would join us for dinner on Saturday, during my weekend with the kids. I replied that it was great news about the school information, and of course, I looked forward to seeing Richard.
Richard is a fine fellow. He’s very smart—he would be on my short list of people to call as a contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”—and he keeps above the fray of our divorce even as he provides a sympathetic ear to his sister.
On Saturday, I took the kids swimming at a friend’s pool. It was a lovely warm day, as summer drifted into autumn. I periodically reminded the kids that we were having dinner that night with Uncle Richard. They were excited. As five o’clock rolled around, I toweled the kids and we dressed to return home, where we would meet Lucy and Richard.
“Hey Richard, welcome back!” I kissed him on the lips, as we do.
“Nice to see you Henry, you look great.”
“Uncle Richard, Uncle Richard!”
“You look great too, Lillie. So big! I can barely lift you!”
“I want to show you my video,” Collie tugged. “We did a play last year. I was a star!”
“I heard all about it! Let’s watch it in a minute, after I talk with the grown ups.”
“Boring!” Collie teased.
“I know, I’m a dull uncle.”
“Do you have any beer?” Lucy asked.
“I was just about to offer,” I replied. I went to the kitchen and brought out three glasses of Kingfisher. Richard was sitting on the couch. I place the beer on the coffee table.
“Lucy, here’s your beer.”
“Thanks, just a minute.” She was sorting through my mail.
Richard and I sat, talking.
“Jesus Christ, Henry!” Lucy held up an envelope.
“Don’t tell me you found the school letter?” I asked.
“No, but look at this. It’s a newsletter from my union, dated last month. You have to get my mail to me!” She looked at me, her face contorted into scowl that read “This is so fucking obvious, moron.” She took the newsletter to the kitchen and tossed it in the trash, unread.
“Maybe you want to save that, and let them know to correct the address,” I suggested.
“That’s not the point,” she said from the kitchen.
I shrugged to Richard. We picked up the conversation.
I could hear Lucy opening cabinets. “Henry, why do you buy Capri Sun?
“I’m sorry, what?”
She emerged from the kitchen. “Capri Sun. It’s not one hundred percent juice. You shouldn’t buy it for the kids.”
She sat down and took her beer. She noticed a book on the table.
“T. C. Boyle? Since when do you read T. C. Boyle?”
“That’s a bestseller, Lucy. I’m not the only person to read it.” I heard the undertone: T. C. Boyle, like Paul Auster, was her author. I had no business reading her authors.
“Oh, I know that book,” Richard said. He began to discuss it. I was glad to let him handle the conversation.
Collie came out to remind Richard about the video. Richard took his beer to watch in the other room. Lucy returned to sorting my mail. Jason came out to join me on the couch. “I’ve seen that video like a hundred times,” he said.
“Me too. So where should we go for dinner?”
“I dunno. Sushi?”
“I’d like sushi. Anything but pizza, really.”
Lucy overheard our discussion. “You are not invited,” she said, her back to us.
“You are not invited to dinner.”
Jason rolled his eyes. I was surprised. “Are you saying that you are taking the kids on my night, and I am not invited?”
“Huh. Well, how about that?” I shrugged to Jason and went to the other room.
I was not going to get into it with her in front of the kids.
As they prepared to go, Jason said he would see me later.
“You’re not joining us?” Richard asked.
“No, he isn’t,” Lucy answered, tying Lillie’s shoes.
“But Dad,” Collie asked, “What will you eat?”
“I’ll eat something here, don’t worry. I’ll see you afterwards.”
Jason looked at Collie, holding a finger to his lips. At the door, I told Richard it was great to see him again. I took his face in my hands and kissed his lips. As we do.
Lillie watched. She laughed. “You kissed a man! That is so gay.”
Richard feigned shock. He took Lillie’s hand. “Let’s just begin to discuss all the ways that is an inappropriate thing to say,” he said, leading her down the hall.
I closed the door. I was famished. I ate a simple dinner.
I emailed Lucy.
Lucy, I spent the day telling the kids we were having dinner with you and Richard. It came as a shock that this was not the case. It came as a greater shock that you chose to tell me this in front of Jason. Can we please do better?
Also, you need to respect that when you are at the apartment, you are in my home. You are not invited to go through my belongings. If you need to see something, just ask.
I was hurt and angry, and took great care in choosing my words. I recognize that Lucy is not entirely to blame for her moods. There is something about me that makes her furious. I regard her outbursts as akin to those sparked by Tourette’s Syndrome: unpleasant, and not entirely within her control. I try not to let it get to me.
Still, I am resolved to point out when she crosses a line. Being rude to me in front of the children is not acceptable behavior.
The email was deleted the next day, unread.
“What did you eat for dinner?” Lillie asked when they returned.
“Some pasta. How was the Chinese?”
“It was so good! Why didn’t Mom let you come?”
“Um, I don’t know, honey.”
“Yeah, that sucked,” Jason said.
“I’m glad you ate,” Collie said. “I was worried. I brought you a fortune cookie, you want it?”
The kids went back to their mom the following day. I left town on a short trip. When I returned, I found an email from Lucy.
The judge signed our agreement. I guess that’s it.
A few days later, I received an envelope from my lawyer.
Enclosed please find an executed Findings of Fact and Conclusion of Law and a Judgment of Divorce. Congratulations, you are divorced!
Elizabeth Weiner, Esq.
Also enclosed was a bill for seven thousand three hundred and forty-five dollars.