ONE DAY LAST WEEK, Buck and I were working at our desk together. Actually, “desk” is a misnomer, in that our work space is an L-shaped configuration of two wood-grained folding tables. One of them is lined up under two windows and forms a sort of credenza for my overflow of stuff: printer, desktop computer, photo of Buck, books lined up on either side of a small television, lamp, calculator, stapler, my Harley Davidson coffee mug stuffed with pens and pencils, box of kleenex and a small linen pillow propped where I can look at it. The needlepoint stitching says, “Home Is Where your Journey Begins.”
The table forming the other side of the L faces the living room. It’s a long table, with plenty of room for both of us to have a phone, laptop and surface space to spread out whatever we might be working on at any given moment. We swivel the big tv in the living room around during our work day, so that with one eye we can watch the stock market, with its irrational exuberance, dips on geopolitical fears, quadruple witching days and my own personal favorite, the dead cat bounce (forgive me, Sherman and other honorable cat beings out there in the blogosphere.) We use the small tv to keep an eye on news events, or move it to C-Span when we want to hear a speech or debate on some issue without having talking heads telling us what we are hearing.
Warning! This is an inelegant segue.
Depending upon your age and circumstance, you may, as do I, have a former spouse somewhere in the background of your life. In my case, he is a decent sort, but he lives in another place and I haven’t thought about him or the fading watercolor of our lives together in a very long time.
Imagine, then, my surprise when Buck and I were sitting at our work table, enjoying a companionable working lunch — I think mine was V-8 juice, a hunk of cheese and some pretzels — when Buck, looking at the big tv, says, “Isn’t that your husband?”
Retrieving my dropped pretzel, and looking at him, I said, “What?” Motioning to the tv, he repeated. “Your husband, ah, your, ah him — look at the tv!” Whereupon he punched the remote control to de-mute the set. And there he was, my former husband, looking just the same but with less hair than 21 years ago. He was saying something about hospital costs, which makes sense. He’s a lobbyist for the hospital industry, so naturally that would be the subject of his sound bite. I’m babbling. Sorry.
A few seconds later our screens returned to normal. We looked at one another, grunted “Well!” and “Huh!” and continued on with our day.
I awoke this morning recalling the day that marriage ended. In the way endings often meander from a superhighway down to a two-track dirt road, the actual divorce took another five years to record in a courthouse.
Here’s the short form.
After we had been married about five years, every now and then I would bring up the subject of starting a family. “Oh, sure. Whenever it’s time,” he would say, and go on to a more comfortable topic, like golf. Tick, tock, and the year’s went by with these periodic closed-end conversations.
One fine Sunday morning, I prepared a dazzling brunch: omelettes with fines herbes, fresh strawberries — spring flowers set on a low table underneath a window. But I was loaded for bear. We both had that satisfying taste in our mouths which comes from omelettes, croissants, butter, orange marmalade, strawberries dipped in confectioner’s sugar, and cafe au lait, when I popped “the question” again. As usual, he smiled and murmured, “Oh, of course we will. Whenever it’s time.”
Uh huh. I was uncharacteristically silent for a few extra beats, and his smile began to look a bit anxious. Taking a deep breath, I said, “Well, ok, but I do have one question about that.”
“Who is going to know when it’s time? Me or you?”
He gulped. Several times. Probably realized that if I was essentially forcing a real discussion, it was serious, and time had come to finally deal with it.
And so we did. Sort of. We decided, that day, to start “working” on having a baby. I was ecstatic.
Three days went by. He had gone morose on me. Nervous. Finally, in our small kitchen one evening, he became uncharacteristically bellicose. Told me he didn’t want children; didn’t like babies; feared he wouldn’t love one, and that would cause me to leave him. And, the coup de grace, if I “absolutely had to have babies” to go do it with someone else.
Talk about no come-backs.
Those words don’t have the power to hurt me anymore, thank goodness. And I don’t hold him accountable for the fact that I didn’t have babies. I do have a whole gaggle of great kids in my life — Buck’s kids and grandkids, who have become my own.
That old file drawer in my mind popped open by accident, when an unexpected face appeared in an unexpected place.
And now I’ve looked at it, read the file, smiled compassionately at the young twenty-something girl in there, and the twenty-something boy, too, and returned the file to its proper location, way back in the archives.