We were sitting there talking about life, talking about this new house she was hoping to rent, one with a nice big yard for the kids and the dogs. It was nothing special, really, just a conversation between two adults — between two people who share three children and a decade of life together.
The only twist in the whole thing was the fact that we’re not together anymore. And that the conversation was civil and mature. That may sound like a lame claim to make, but you’re not us and so you don’t really know what we were like before. Before, back when we were in the same house, always sharing the bills and the coffee and the air we were sucking into our lungs, Monica called us out on it first and she didn’t back down. She said she couldn’t go on anymore the way we were. And the way we were was pretty bad.
Now here we were, spit back out by the tornado of our separation and landed in the small side yard of the house she was renting down the valley from the one I found for myself. It’s staggering at times when I realized that we actually went through with it, that we broke up. And it’s even more staggering when I look across the yard and see her sitting there sipping her bottle of beer in the pale evening light.
Things have gone pretty good, I guess. I didn’t want to split up and I fought like hell to try and keep it from happening, but in the end I know it was a pretty sensible thing to do. Our lives together were kid-centric and as the years went by, like a lot of married people who struggle to raise a family amidst the modern pressures of work and crushing responsibility, we had pretty much lost all contact with the very power lines that had once run an endless supply of heat and juice through our togetherness. We’d accomplished a lot and yet we’d paid a high price, it seems.
I sigh and take a swig of my own beer and we talk some more about the humor of moving her into this new place if she gets it. I’ll help her move, of course. I’m good at moving, I’ve done it so many times in my life. Plus, strangely enough, there’s a part of me that digs the actual planning and then the execution of transferring the physical elements and properties of an existence from one house to another. It’s satisfying in a weird way. It’s exhausting as hell, but it’s the good kind of exhaustion, I think. You get tired but you’re optimistic. You move house and there’s hope in the air, or at least there ought to be. We both share that feeling here tonight over a couple beers. We’re both hopeful about this cool home for her and the kids when she’s got them. And we both deserve a little bit of feeling good about something right about now.
This has been the way things have been rolling out lately for us. We used to fight like wild animals about damn near everything back when we shared our lives and quarters, but we’ve more or less let all that go now. It’s bewildering at times to realize that it can be done. Every 20 minutes when I’m near her, or even when I’m not, I ask myself why we couldn’t have just gotten along so well back when we were together. It almost seems as if there was some kind of button we pushed when we finally separated and settled into our own separate worlds, some button that diffused the tensions and the animosity and all of the selfish and self-conscious bull-crap that wrecked our marriage when it was still a living breathing thing. And so I question myself all the time. Why couldn’t we have just pushed that damn button back then? Why did we have to lose each other before we could sit down together in the yard and smile?
The answers are unavailable. So don’t even try, if you don’t mind. Love is fickle and partially deranged. And so it goes.
I notice things about Monica now that I never noticed much before. Little things like the way she walks, the way her hips sway. I recognize her temper clipping at times when I never would have seen it a year ago. We used to bounce our personal fire off each other with no restraint or hesitation. Now, there’s this thing called respect rising up out of the ashes like thin wisps of tired smoke and it’s a really odd comforting sensation for me to be able to actually just sit next to her and watch her lips move as she says something. I don’t feel jolted into reaction. I don’t feel the need to have an answer at the ready or some sort of defensive quip laid out on the back of my tongue. Instead, I just listen to her speak, my ex, talking about this or that, talking about whatever’s on her mind, or whatever’s on her mind that she feels okay with sharing with me, and I find myself genuinely interested. But I’m calmly interested. And that’s the difference, man.
Part of me, probably way too much of me, feels like I’ve just met this girl. I find myself staring at Monica out of the corner of my eye and I sometimes feel this giddiness about being in her company. It’s kind of sad though, because just about the time I start to feel that way, I get Mack Trucked by the reality of the situation. We have so much past already. We have fired so many rounds at each other down the years.
That sucks. For me.
And yet it doesn’t suck too bad. We’re making our way down a difficult road for anyone and we’re doing it, or trying to do it, with the kids in mind and our collective past as a neon warning. And we’re doing it as far as I can tell. We’re getting along better than ever and that makes me happy because we need to do that, it makes life so much easier.
But it makes me sad too, you know. Because it feels like I’m meeting a girl for the first time and I kind of really like her.
Too little too late, though.
And so we just sit there in the late summer twilight, her on her stoop/me on my bench, two people having a beer and shooting the breeze as the kids drift off to sleep in their beds back in the rooms of her house.
Back in the rooms of her house.
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