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Archive for the ‘parenting’ 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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On Mother’s Day, I called Mom and thanked her for not shooting me in the back. She replied that she was happy we got through the rough times without Dad pushing me through a window.

My family follows Lost, which ended its fifth season this week. Drinking game enthusiasts may fixate on such tics as Hurley’s use of “dude” (if so, give someone else the keys to the raft, brother). But for my reasonably well-adjusted family, the most persistently noted motif is familial dysfunction. Have you noticed how many characters have serious conflicts with their parents?

I watch Lost with my children. My twelve-year-old was the first to pick up on the leitmotif of parent/child relationships around the time Ben slipped on a gas mask to bid adieu to Roger Workman. “Man, talk about daddy issues,” my son observed, covering his nose.

Mothers certainly don’t fare well on Lost. On the island, pregnancy has been a death sentence. Claire abandoned her son, who was subsequently left behind by stepmother Kate. Walt lost his mom, Rousseau lost her daughter, and Eloise lost any hope of being Mother of the Year 1977.

But, as my son noted, fathers are the show’s truly bad mofos. Sawyer was orphaned in an instance by his father’s shotgun. Kate put a torch to her abusive dad. Jack, Sun, Charlie and Penny had controlling, dissatisfied fathers. Miles and Hurley were abandoned to ghosts and candy bars, respectively. Claire and Faraday never knew their fathers or their siblings. Locke’s father never ceased to come up with ways to torment his gullible son.

Still, putting aside their obvious failings, some of the fathers of Lost do seem to do the right thing, if they go about it in the wrong way. My children and I keep a running list of the show’s lessons in fatherhood.

Be consistent. Children prefer order to chaos. “All babies want to be swaddled,” Locke told Claire. “It’s only later we crave freedom.” It’s a lesson Locke learned from his own father’s consistency. When Locke needed to be loved, his father told him he loved him. Locke was conned, swindled, ruined and defenestrated, but throughout, the son always knew what to expect of his old man.

Be a role model. Dr. Chang honed his skills in offering clear instruction. He helped others to always make the right decision by removing the margin of error introduced by free will. Reunited with the son he had yet to abandon, Dr. Chang was always clear in what he expected from Miles. Drive me here, drive me there, deliver this package; Dr. Chang provided clarity and purpose to his often-distracted son.

Always be there. Whereas many of his friends suffered the neglect of their fathers, Jack feels sure that his father will always be with him. Always. Always and always.

Offer safety. Ben loved his daughter Alex as best he knew how. He stole her away to a contented suburban life, keeping her safe from the dangers of the world beyond the home in which he himself had been tormented as child. Fearing Alex’s sexuality as she matured, Ben offered a fatherly brainwashing to her boyfriend. When she was threatened, Ben made sure the voice she heard clearest was that of her father.

Encourage independence. When Michael was reunited with Walt, he failed to remember the adage about loving something and letting it go. After his father barked “he’s my son!” a few too many times—and dropped “it’s a father’s right!” as an excuse to kill a few too many friends—Walt had had enough. Michael was left with nothing but a string of unfortunate boating adventures.

You can have “do-overs.” Look, we’ve all been there. The kids are wrecking havoc, the place is a mess and you just don’t have the energy to consider dinner. Frustrated, your temper snaps and you say or do something you regret. Maybe you raised your voice. Maybe you murdered your future son in haste. Take a breath. You’re only human. Saying “I’m sorry” helps. For the bad times, keep a stock of hydrogen bombs.

As a father, I know that the show has taught me the danger of pushing buttons. For other parents, Lost may serve as reminder why they originally had children: you never know when you’ll need a kidney.

Also posted at Time Out, New York

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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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Five

“Attention passengers, we are being held momentarily due to an explosion at the World Trade Center. We should be moving shortly.” A woman gasped. I was annoyed.

I was up early, after very little sleep. Lucy showered as I made coffee and woke the kids. As I showered, Lucy took over with the kids, putting clothes on Lillie, who clutched her blanket as she drifted in and out of waking. Jason helped Collie look for his missing shoe.

Lucy drove us to the preschool and I took Lillie inside. Once she was settled with her teacher, I sat back in the passenger seat and picked up my coffee.

“Wow, it’s nice out,” Lucy said. “Isn’t it nice today, boys?”

“Yeah,” Jason replied, weary. Collie didn’t answer. David Gray was on the radio. I turned it up.

We double parked near the boys’ school and took them to the yard for assembly. Parents were chatty as the school year began. We met up with people we hadn’t seen all summer. Yes, the new house is great, I said. No, we won’t always both be here for drop off, Lucy explained. This is just for the first few days; after that, Henry would bring in the boys.

We both wanted to be there to reassure Collie.

Jason was already in the third grade, and an old hand at the routines of his school. He was looking out for his brother, who was just starting kindergarten.

The year had got off to a bumpy start. Collie first days ended after lunch, as the five year olds were transitioned into their classes. For the first day, his dad had stayed with him. The second day, he was left alone with his class. The third day, he didn’t feel well, and so he stayed home with his dad.

It seemed like “school” was not one thing, but a whole bunch of different things. Collie tried not to be confused.

His mom and dad smiled and waved goodbye as he held hands in line with some kid he didn’t know. He couldn’t see Jason anywhere.

Lucy’s eyes were wet. “Aw, honey, he’s fine, mama,” I kissed her cheek.

“I know, I know.” She wiped her lashes, and noticed another mother doing the same. She caught her eye and laughed. “Crazy, right?”

“I can’t weep every day,” the mother replied. “I’ll get dehydrated.”

I walked Lucy to the car and kissed her goodbye. I walked quickly to the subway. I had missed one day this week, and I had a shitload to do. I was eager to get to work. Then I found myself stuck in a subway tunnel. Great. My luck.

The train lurched forward. I was two stations from my stop. I was also starving.

I climbed the stairs to the street, and waited for the light to change. I crossed the avenue and went into a bakery that was usually packed. It was empty. My luck!

I bought a blueberry muffin. I began to tear nibbles from it as I carried the bag. As I reached the next avenue, I could see the sidewalks packed with pedestrians, shielding their eyes and looking south. At the corner I turned to look, expecting to see, I don’t know, a jumper on a ledge or something.

“Oh my God,” I said. I turned to a woman. “What happened?”

“A plane flew into it, just a few minutes ago.” She was pushing a stroller. “I was just taking Ethan to his playdate when it happened.”

I looked down at the toddler, whose head was turned to avoid the sun. I looked back up.

It looked as though the skin had been torn from the side of the tower, far up. There was no sign of a plane, no smoke, nothing.

I watched for a moment, then decided to head to my office. As I walked the next block, I stuffed bite after bite of muffin into my mouth. Adrenaline was kicking in as I thought, okay, people are going to freak out, because people freak out. This is just like the time that airplane crashed into the Empire State Building, back in the forties, but no one will remember that.

What do we need to do?

At the next avenue, I joined another crowd looking south. Jesus.

People were shouting and crying. It had just happened.

The second plane.

Now, black smoke drifted above the towers.

Shit.

I walked the next block to my office. I found my colleague, a close friend, already at his desk. Our desks looked out over the avenue

“You know?”

“I know,” he said. “I’m trying to get the radio to work.” He fiddled with the CD player.

” . . . reports are now coming in of planes crashing into the Mall in Washington, DC, mere miles from the White House . . . ”

“Holy fuck!” I said.

He shook his head. “Incredible.”

“I was thinking of that plane that crashed into the Empire State Building.”

“No,” he shook his head. “This is like Pearl Harbor.” He was an historian. His brain made those connections faster than mine.

We listened to the radio. We went back outside. We ran into our employer, a man given to hysteria in the best of circumstances.

“This is it,” he gesticulated, pointing south. “We’re attacked. This is it.” He ran off to share his insight with others.

My friend and I just watched the towers smolder. “Were they fighter planes?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I didn’t see them.”

We watched. “I don’t get it. Did they bomb them, or was it kamikaze?”

“I don’t know.”

We watched. “How many people do you think . . . ?”

“Thousands. At the beginning of a weekday? Tens of thousands.”

A tower fell. People around us screamed.

I was stunned. If you had asked me if a tower would fall, I would have bet against it.

At that moment, if you had asked me if a second tower would fall, I would have doubled my bet.

Then the second tower fell.

It was over. People just stood there. That was it.

A man with a European accent turned to me. “I didn’t go there today.”

A fighter jet boomed overhead. I ducked, instinctively.

We went to our office. I tried calling Lucy. I tried calling the school. Nothing went through.

The radio kept repeating the same words. Nothing about the schools. Nothing about the subways.

The phone rang. It was Lucy. “Henry, you heard?”

“I saw it. Where are you?”

“I’m leaving my office. They are closing the schools. The subways aren’t running.”

“Okay.”

“I’m getting the boys. Can you meet us at the school?”

“If I’m walking, I won’t be there for a long time. You’ve got the car. We should meet someplace.” We agreed to meet at her father’s apartment. He was gone, but she had a key.

“Come with me,” I said to my friend. “Maybe we can get you someplace. There’s no subway.” I picked up my briefcase. I threw out my muffin.

We ran into my employer on the sidewalk. He was telling someone what he had seen. He noticed us. “Are you guys leaving?”

“Yes, I need to get my kids.”

“Okay,” he hesitated. “Yeah, I guess no one’s going to get much done today, so, yeah, you can go. See you tomorrow, okay? Early.”

“Thanks.”

At the end of the block, my friend turned to me. “He’s an idiot.”

I nodded, looking south at the smoke. “Yep.”

We walked north. Office workers were also walking. People spilled into the streets as vehicles dwindled. Some people stood impatiently looking for cabs.

A man came up from a subway station, covered in white dust.

We passed an electronics store. People looked in the windows. There I saw the first images of what I had witnessed.

We passed a clock. It wasn’t yet noon. I heard a woman laugh. It felt good, walking in this cool sunny day, when the city was still.

I found my family watching television. The same images. Collie burst into tears when he saw me. He ran to me.

I picked him up. At the sight of my crying child, my friend began to cry.

I carried Collie to hug Lucy and Jason.

We wanted to get out of the city fast, if we could, before the roads were closed. We offered the apartment to my friend. We drove home on empty streets. National Guard vehicles rumbled in the other direction.

For the next few days, I answered emails assuring people that we were fine. I was not dead. No one we knew was dead.

That night, Lucy got high and I got drunk, watching those same images.

For days afterward, Collie was very upset. He kept talking about what had happened. He had learned about it when the assistant principal assembled the students in the auditorium. She told the three hundred students, ages five to eleven, that school would be short today and everyone would wait in the auditorium for pickup. Some bad people had blown up the World Trade Center.

A kid near Collie said, “That’s where my mommy works.” Collie realized he wasn’t sure he knew where his daddy worked.

At age five, Collie was already very much someone who liked things to make sense. He liked rules. He liked knowing the rules, and he liked it when everyone played by them. When the kids played ball, he wanted to be referee.

This didn’t make sense. He couldn’t make it make sense. Too many things didn’t make sense.

He had lived in the city, and now he lived in a house.

He had a nanny, and then he didn’t have a nanny.

He went to kindergarten, and things were blown up.

Collie stopped going to the bathroom. He refused to eat. He had accidents and cried.

We found a therapist. His teacher helped. He got better.

This morning, as we waited for the bus. Collie looked at a newspaper box at the cover of USA Today. Under a headline about the anniversary was a photograph of President and Mrs. Bush laying a wreath at Ground Zero.

“Hey Dad, can I have seventy-five cents?”

“Why, baby?”

“Because the Colts beat the Giants. Peyton Manning beat Eli Manning.”

“Well, that’s interesting.” I put a hand on his shoulder. “You know, it’s also the fifth anniversary of nine eleven. You okay?”

“Yeah, Dad. That was when I was five. So can I have seventy-five cents?”

“Here comes the bus. Let’s get you to school, baby. You can read the paper tonight.”

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Man, Lesbians!

Bridget took us out to celebrate Lillie’s seventh birthday. We were a little belated in this, as the big day was last month. But Lillie didn’t mind. It just meant her birthday wasn’t over yet.

Per our custom, Lillie got to choose the restaurant. She opted for Patsy’s, where the pizzas are covered in fresh basil and cooked in wood-burning ovens. She can also order–if not readily pronounce—what she considers her “favorite pasta I ever ate in my whole life,” paparadella alla tuscana.

As we passed through a sidewalk art fair, Collie laughed at a painting of Yoda as the Mona Lisa, entitled Yoda Lisa. Bridget loved it too, and bought a magnet with a reproduction of the painting to give to Collie.

We also went bowling at Bowlmor, which, I realized, was exactly what we did for Lillie’s sixth birthday. The thing I most remember about that afternoon is my ex wife debating my exact height. My doctor and I agree with the height given on my driver’s license. Lucy is certain I am one inch shorter.

I am certain it’s a pointless thing to debate. Bring the measuring tape or drop it.

Bowling is among our favorite family outings. You can make as much noise as you like, you get to knock things over, and the grown-ups can drink.

At Bowlmor, you get the added attraction of waitresses in short skirts and fishnets. They call it “retro,” I call it “hotcha.” Puts a little extra wood in the pin, ifyuhknowwhutuhmean.

We always play with bumpers on the lanes, which, I have to admit, has tremendously improved my score. The kids will have to make adjustments as they mature as bowlers. For now, they use the bumpers like flippers in pinball.

Collie broke one hundred. Lillie achieved her two best scores, and even beat her brother Jason in one set. He was not in top form, as he was still hung over from a sleepover that apparently included very little sleep.

Afterward, we had s’mores at Cosi and made an excursion to Forbidden Planet, where I most certainly did not flirt with the ethereal blonde waif who checked my bags. We were just talking, that’s all.

Bridget would have teased me had she noticed, but you put that geek in a comic store and her blinkers go up. I could’ve balled the girl on the counter without Bridget looking up from the new releases.

Instead, I let the girl ponder her awakening interest in FILFs and busied myself with reading American Virgin.

Loaded with comics and action figures—it’s fun for me to watch Bridget struggle with the word “no” when the children ask for things, as it morphs faster than a speeding bullet into “maybe,” then “just one,” before settling into “yes, okay, get both”—the kids were worn out and ready to head home. Bridget went to retrieve her car from a garage. Wanting the children away from the garage entrance, I shepherded them down the sidewalk.

It was a lovely summer afternoon, and the sidewalks were full of Villagers, New York University students and protesters gearing up for the arrival of President Bush, in town to commemorate the anniversary of nine eleven.

I was watching people go by when I realized that the kids had found their own show.

Two young women braced against a corner, their bodies entwined and their tongues deep in one another’s throats.

Now, this presented a sticky wicket.

I hadn’t intended for the kids to see a live sex show, but here it was, and those girls were working for tips. The hands of the woman with the short cropped hair and tattoos were devouring the tanned skin of the long-haired brunette.

They were really going to town, and much too far gone on their way to notice three gawking children.

Lillie looked at me and giggled. Jason shrugged and rolled his eyes.

Collie stared straight at the women.

I didn’t want to make too big a deal of this by ushering the children away. But I did wish Bridget would hurry up with the car.

In the fullness of time, she drove up. The kids climbed into the car and began to buckle up.

“Bridget, there are two lesbians over there, if you want to see them,” Collie said, snapping his seatbelt into place.

“Wha . . . well, Collie!” Bridget sputtered, her ears not attuned to the sound of the word “lesbian” in the voice of a ten-year-old boy.

“Your gaydar is fully operational, I see,” I said to my son.

“It’s obvious, Dad,” he replied. “I mean, they were kissing.” He looked back to the women as we drove by. “Man, lesbians!”

I’m sure Bridget was glad to get past the public display of Sapphic affections. As she drove out of the Village, she put the lesbians out of mind and focused on traffic.

We passed a billboard showing a man wearing no shirt.

“Look, Dad,” Lillie pointed. “He’s got a six pack.”

Bridget guffawed. “Who are you people?” she laughed.

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Book the Potato

It’s the first Friday night of the new academic year. Collie and Lillie are being schooled in the fine art of playing hooky by “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” while Jason is sleeping over at a friend’s place after his third straight afternoon of after-school pick-up football in the park.

I believe my twelve-year-old son has matured into the peer socialization phase of adolescence. Or, to put it another way, I can’t be far from debating such venerated topics as, “I don’t have to do that! Michael’s mom never makes him do anything!

Collie wanted a pair of back-to-school shoes with wheels in the heels, called Heelys. Wheels are forbidden during school hours, but before and after, he pops them in and glides the sidewalks like the Silver Surfer. He will no doubt be discovered and spirited away by Shaun White, if Peter Martins doesn’t snatch him first.

Lillie’s second grade teacher, Ms. Lowenthal, happens to have been Jason’s fourth grade teacher. In the public schools, fourth grade social studies focuses on local history, a subject near and dear to my heart, so Ms. Lowenthal and I have had many discussions of New York City history.

Apparently, her interest carries over to teaching her new charges.

As we rode the bus home from school, Lillie said, “Did you know that so many Irish people died because there were no potatoes? Isn’t that so sad?” Her voice was a solemn whisper.

“In fact, I did know that,” I said. “Did you learn that in school today?”

Lillie nodded. “Ms. Lowenthal said that. She said a lot of people came from Irish because there were no potatoes there. And now they are all babysitters.”

I laughed.

“It’s true,” she insisted. “Four kids in my class have babysitters who are from Irish.”

“They are Irish, smart girl,” I smiled. “But they are from Ireland.”

“Ireland, right, right.” Lillie looked out the window. “Potato. Puh-TAA-to. Potato, potato, potato.”

“You like that word, huh?”

“It’s funny.” She paused a moment, thinking. “Hey Dad, how do they cook potatoes in Irish?”

“Ireland, honey. Well, these days, they cook them lots of ways. But back in the old days, I guess they boiled them or baked them. I think they made potato pies, maybe? Maybe they mashed them. They probably didn’t cook french fries or potato chips, because I’m not sure those things were invented yet.”

Lillie nodded, not really listening to my extemporaneous and unschooled lecture on potatoes and their history. She hummed, and then repeated, “Potato, potato, potato.”

She sat looking out the window as I finished and watched the streets go by.

“And Dad!” she suddenly exclaimed. “Did you know the world’s oldest lady lives in New York?”

“She does? I didn’t know that.”

“Yes! She’s so old and no one is taking care of her. Isn’t that so sad?”

“That is sad. Why wouldn’t anyone take care of . . . oh wait, do you mean Brooke Astor?” I recalled recent tabloid headlines about a lawsuit concerning the care of the aged philanthropist and socialite.

“Yes, yes!” Lillie replied, bouncing in her seat. “Book Astor.”

“I didn’t realize she was the oldest living woman, but yes, she’s very old—I think she’s a hundred and four or something.”

Lillie laughed. “That’s so old! Does she have any hair?”

“She had hair the last time I saw her.”

Lillie looked at me. “You know Book Astor?” Her voice was low and serious.

“Well, I’ve met her, yes. She was very nice.” I wasn’t sure how to explain that Brooke Astor has spent eight decades or so meeting everyone in New York City. She was bound to get to me at some point, even if she was just working her way through the phone book.

Lillie’s eyes were locked on mine. “Dad, can we please meet her? Please?”

When we arrived at home, Lillie asked me to Google a photograph of Brooke Astor.

“Is that your friend?”

“Yes, that’s Brooke Astor.”

Lillie looked for a moment. Then she scooped up Boo Boo and went off to zone out to television. When she grew bored, she arranged her stuffed animals into a classroom. She asked me if she could “borrow” two Idaho baking potatoes from the pantry.

With a red waterproof marker, she drew a face on each potato, designating one a boy and the other a girl. The girl potato was given a red dot on her forehead.

“Everyone, pay attention,” she said, holding the girl potato before her menagerie. “This is Book Astor, the world’s oldest lady. She is Dad’s best friend.”

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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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