Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Four Houses Down - Part One

Who moves four houses down from their ex-husband and his wife? I mean it was ridiculous to even consider it (wasn't it?) Hypothetically speaking, he and I could pass each other every morning as we left our respective houses. He would be able to see what lights were on in my house as he drove home from work. I knew I wouldn't be able to resist peeking in their brightly lit picture window at night when I drove by. Voice mails from him might start like : "I know you're at home — your car is in the driveway."

My phone call to my best friend went something like:
"You know I've been looking at houses for almost six months now." "Really, has it been that long?"
"It's hard, because I'm looking for something in their neighborhood and there's nothing. Art, my realtor, says that most of these people have lived in their houses since the fifties. NO one is moving!"
"Maybe you should look in Calabasas" she said distractedly.

"I thought about that" I said. "But check this out!" ​I was sure she could hear my smile through the phone.
"Today I found an amazing house that I can afford and it's in their neighborhood!"
"Okay, good" she said dryly. "And?"

"And it's four doors down from them."
I checked the phone-screen to make sure the call was still connected.
"Are F#@%*#ING INSANE? That's a terrible idea!"
"I know" I said.

I just knew this was MY house.

Conversation with # 1 (all quotes are approximate because I was nervous don't remember exact words, but this is the gist of it):
"What's the good news?" He asked.
"I found a great house."
A beat.
"It's in your neighborhood. It has everything I want and I can afford it."
"That's great! What street?"
"Funny thing about that" I said. " I'd been following Art around all morning, looking at houses. It wasn't until we pulled up to this one that I realized it was on your street."
I heard a sharp breath. ​Was that a gasp or sigh?
"Really?" He said. "Well, it's a long street."
"See that's the thing - it's four doors down from you guys."
Silence. ​Until that moment I didn't realize the desk clock in my office actually made a ticking sound.

"There are four other offers on it already" I continued quickly. "I've put an offer in because I didn't want to miss it, but I'll withdraw it if it's too weird."
"Four doors down?"

"Which side of the street?
"Yours. Same side."
"The one with the long driveway?"
"No, the one with all the ficus trees, on the corner."
Tick, tick, tick...
"I'll have to discuss it with..."
"I know". I was over-talking him. ​Of course he needed to discuss it with his wife. It was still strange to think of her as his wife. But they'd been married for almost two years. I had been his wife for 13-years and now she was his wife. He needs to talk to his wife about me, his ex-wife moving in four houses away from them.

Nervous words began pouring out of me like soda from a shaken can.
"I wish I could give you guys more time to think about it, but I only have until 12:00 noon tomorrow. Do you want to talk to her and then get back to me?"
"Ok, I will."

I felt my heart slow down as I ended the call. But my mind began to race when I thought about the real risk. Loss of privacy was one thing. But what was really at stake, the thing that I was most of afraid of was much bigger. He and I were in a really good groove. We'd been divorced for a few years now and our kids were happy. Most "kids of divorce" got to have one parent that attends their basketball games or school ceremonies. Our kids have both of their parents with them at every event. Their dad and I talked regularly, texted regularly and didn't argue (of course, there was the occasional differing point of view, but nothing major). It was a relationship that I didn't even know was possible. Why risk it now by becoming his neighbor?

But I really, really loved this house.

Later on that evening, I received a call from my business manager. I could tell by the tone of his voice that it was bad news.
"We ran the numbers again, Laura. I'm sorry. But you really can't afford it. Not with the renovation you'll need to do."

I could feel the shards of my broken heart scattering into my chest.
"But earlier you said..."
"I know" he sighed. "I'm not sure what happened the first time we ran the numbers. I wanted to tell you before it was too late."
I could tell that this was hard for him. But I could feel a swell of self-righteous self-pity beginning to envelope me. I fought the urge to make him feel bad for misleading me.

"It's okay." I lied. Inside I was already scheming a way to get the house anyway. I​ knew this was my house! Nothing else mattered but my getting it. I would spend money I didn't have if necessary. I would go into my savings. Forget being smart. Forget the future! I wanted this house and I wanted it now.
"Okay, so you'll be back out looking with the realtor tomorrow?" he asked.
"Looks like it."
I didn't want to sound sarcastic​, but there might have been "a tone". Again, I reassured him that I was okay.
"It's not your fault. Must just not be my house, I guess."

I couldn't sleep that night. Around 2:00am I walked to balcony doors and pulled back the drapes. Looking up at the sky outside, I closed my eyes and tried to feel myself releasing the house into the universe. I"m letting you go, I'm letting you go" I chanted quietly. I pictured the house on the horizon, getting smaller and smaller until I couldn't see it anymore. I said a final goodbye to it and got back in bed. My plan had been foiled. I squinted my eyes shut and clutched my arms to my chest. I just knew that I would never find another house in that neighborhood like that one. I felt as though I'd been robbed.

As the night went on I kept checking the clock to see how much time had gone by. My sheets were wrapped around my ankles from tossing and turning. I must have finally fallen asleep, because I was woken up at 6:00 am by the shrill sound of my land-line ringing. Suddenly, my heart beat was a bass drum. Who could be calling me this early?

When I saw the name on my phone display, my hand lurched for the receiver in a panic.

To be continued on Friday, May 6th...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Raising Eyebrows in Arizona

"What if he hurts you, Mom? I'll have to kill him." Miles wasn't blinking. He wasn't smiling. He wasn't playing. I reached for his shoulders, meeting his intense gaze. "I love you very much. And I don't want you to worry about that. I don't think he's going to hurt me, but if he does, I can take care of myself. I promise, Sweetie. Now let me finish packing ok?"

"Why are the Slaughters coming? It's our trip."
I took a deep breath. He and I had been over this. He didn't really I care that I had a boyfriend whom I spent time with when he and his brother were at their dad's house. But Miles didn't want to share any of "his time" with Scottie. As far as he was concerned, I could see Scottie on my own time.

"I told you" I said for the 3rd or fourth time, "they're coming, but they have their own room. It's only two nights. If you don't feel like hanging out with them, that's okay."
"I won't feel like hanging out with them."
"Okay" I said, feeling defeated. "We'll see how it goes."

We met Scottie and his daughters at the Burbank airport that morning. Lily was 9 and Justin was 10, Nora was 5 and Miles was 11. I tried to take a group photo with Justin, Miles and the Slaughter-daughters but Miles got angry moved away from us to an empty seat by the gigantic airport window. When we landed in Phoenix, Arizona, Miles fast-walked off the plane ahead of everyone, calling for me and Justin to "hurry up". I looked up and gave a little silent prayer.

Please let this weekend work.

Nora was little enough to actually "ride" Scottie's carry-on as he rolled it through the airport down to baggage claim. Justin and Lily were exploring the beginnings of a friendship, talking and joking shyly. Miles was finally walking next to me and Scottie. Looking around, I was struck by the fact that everyone seem to be wearing cowboy boots and jeans. People stared at us as we passed by. One little boy actually pointed at us with wonder. I felt as though were an exhibit on display. ​And here you can observe the interracial, blended family outside of their natural Los Angeles habitat. Don't get too close! They might bite!

When we got down baggage claim Scott's phone rang. "Where are you?" asked his friend Peter.
"Arizona" said Scott.
"What are you doing there?" asked Peter
"Raising eyebrows" answered Scottie with a smile.
I just loved him.

Miles wouldn't ride in a cab with the Slaughters so we rode in two separate cabs to the waterpark-hotel. A good friend had told me that it was an amazing little vacation spot for kids. Only open to hotel guests, was a water park, complete with water slides, wave-pool and a lazy river. An hour after we arrived we joined the Slaughters down at the main pool. Nora was at table drinking a virgin pina colada. We were starving, but it was too hot to eat much. Soon our umbrella'd table (complete with cooling misters) was abandoned and littered with cheeseburger  wrappers, puddles of ketchup and half finished cokes. They were all in the pool. I found myself holding my breath as I watched. Justin and Lily were playing together in the wave pool, Scottie and Nora were on the lazy river. Miles was by himself in the main pool near the volleyball net, hunting down a gigantic beach ball. I swallowed hard and tried to accept the fact that maybe this wouldn't ever happen. Maybe I was forcing it. Maybe I wouldn't ever be able to be with my boys and my boyfriend at the same time.

I let Miles choose the restaurant for dinner that night. The moment we walked in I felt as if the air had been sucked out of the room. All the men, women and children (most of them in cowboy hats) stopped talking and stared at our little crew. First there was Nora, a 37-pound, blond, pixie of a girl. Then Lily, who looked like a younger, blond Scarlett Johansen. Miles and Justin looked tall and athletic next to the girls. Their brown skin was sun-kissed from the day. Their curls were still wet from their after-pool shower. Lastly, Scottie and I strolled hand-in-hand behind them. Raising eyebrows indeed. I didn't care if they stared. But I certainly didn't want to have to "check" anyone out here in the "old west". If the kids noticed the staring they didn't seem to mind it. They went outside on the patio and hung out with a balloon artist until the food came. Miles went reluctantly because Justin was out there. But he kept coming back to the table to check on me. I hugged him and put my cheek next to his. I whispered "I love you's" to him and kissed his forehead.

Walking back to our rooms after dinner I felt the tentative beginnings of hope. The warm evening breeze brought the temperature down to about 80 degrees. The sky was a black velvet painting with a frosting of pin lights. Shooting stars were everywhere. I made a wish on one of them. ​Please let him give it a chance. I looked down from the sky and saw that all four of our kids were now walking ahead of us and joking around. Miles had just discovered how easy it was to pick up Nora. He carried her (amid her protests) almost all the way back to our suites. I did a happy dance inside, but didn't want to push my luck.
"Goodnight Slaughters" I said when we got the door.
"Good night!?" said Miles. "Doesn't anyone want to go for a night swim?"

10 minutes later, Scottie and I sat on the edge of the downstairs pool watching our kids play. Their laughter echoed off the walls of the hotel. The blue-green pool-lights danced around their faces. Nora and Miles swam up to Scottie and I. Nora, who sounded just like Alvin (of The chipmunks) looked like summer; tan, with water-slicked hair and long, wet, spiky eyelashes.
"Can we stay in longer?" she asked, Miles nodding in agreement.
After they swam away, I raised my eyes to the sky again and mouthed "thank you."

Two days later, I was packing to leave for the airport. The boys were next door at "the Slaughter house". Suddenly there was a banging at the door. Alarmed, I stopped packing and ran to open it. All four kids tumbled inside, perfuming the air with the smell of chlorine and freshly applied sunscreen. "What's wrong?" I asked.
"Mom" said Miles with a very serious voice. "We need to talk to you."

"What is it?"
"Can you delay our flight? WE REALLY want to stay. Please?"
"Please, Please!" They all took up the cry. I looked from one suntanned/burned face to the other.
My mind raced. ​Could I?
"Really?" I asked. "You want to stay, what one more night?"
"Actually, till the end of the week" said Miles. Please mom. We're having so much fun."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Our Highly Unconventional Arrangement

I sat picking at a sharp point embedded in our brown, chenille sofa. Suddenly, a long, white feather came sliding out. Startled, I flicked it away. I turned back towards Brian. His mouth was down-turned as he sat facing toward the television, examining his phone (​ maybe it was a Blackberry? After all, it was December, 2008). Beyond the hum of the Sub Zero in the kitchen, I could hear the distant wailing of a tree-trimmer's electric saw.

"Should I go get them?" I offered.
"Give them a couple of more minutes," he answered.
I looked around to make sure that we had everything ready for a quick get-away after we told them the news. There were several, small, blue and silver wrapped gifts lying on the low, wooden table in front of us. I had a little bag of gleaming gold-foiled chocolate coins in my fist. I set it down with the gifts, fearing that the heat from my hand would melt them. It was the first night of Hanukkah and we were throwing a party in our Malibu house in 2 hours. Finally I heard their feet on the back staircase. My stomach seized up and a fist formed inside of it.

"What's the big news?" said Miles tumbling on to the sofa. Justin sat next to Brian. His cheeks were rosy. The air was suddenly perfumed with the sweet smell of bubble gum shampoo and the slightly acrid smell of the perspiration-mist that seemed to constantly cling to our boys.
They were both inspecting us.

We knew we had to tell them now, but we felt so lost. We had no idea how this should work. We had consulted with a "divorce therapist" and sought counsel from friends who were "happily divorced." I had even looked up the word in our children's dictionary - hoping to get some magic language to make what we were about to say "okay" for our 8 and 10-year-old sons.

"We have something to tell you." ​I don't remember if it was me or Brian who said that.
"What is it?" said Miles. "You're not getting a divorce are you?"
I was both startled and hopeful. Maybe if they already suspected this wouldn't be so hard for them to hear. Brian and I looked at each other with astonishment.
"Yes." I said finally. "But we need to tell you how it's..."
Justin fell in to sobs and started scooting off of the sofa.
Miles was looking back and forth at each of us in disbelief. "You really are?" He was now crying too. "No, no, no...!"
Brian caught Justin before he ran and held him. I hugged Miles and rocked him back and forth.

"Why?" asked Justin plaintively, looking up from Brian's grasp.
My heart had shattered into a thousand pieces. My eyes brimmed with un-shed tears. I wiped them quickly. Brian and I were supposed to be calm and supportive. We needed to show them that this didn't have to be a tragedy.
"We've decided it's better this way" (​ again - that was one of us. I'm not sure which).
"But," I said in what I hoped was and "upbeat" way, "your lives are not going to change much." Justin stopped sobbing and looked up at us with confusion.
"Not very much" I continued, bolstered by the fact that he'd stopped crying. "Like for instance - we're all going to Malibu for the Hanukkah party now!.
"All of us?" said Miles skeptically.

"Yes." I said. "All of us. You guys will sleep there with Daddy this weekend (​ they had already spent a few weekends there alone with Brian). When you come back on Sunday, you'll sleep here with me. Daddy will be here for breakfast every morning when you wake up and drive one of you to school. Daddy will come here and have dinner with us whenever he can - just like now. We'll still do stuff together. It's just that Daddy will sleep in Malibu at night and I'll sleep here." Even in our "divorce-ignorance" Brian and I knew this was a highly unconventional arrangement. But what else could we do? It was hard enough, this whole thing. I was 4-months sober and he was trying to reckon with no longer living at home. There was the divorce itself, which was a cruelly sterile process, one in which we were both forced to act as agents for our future selves. But maybe we could spare the boys some of that pain. We would try the highly unconventional arrangement. We would try it for their sake.

"Okay?" said Brian. My heart sang when I saw that both boys were eyeing the presents on the table.
Miles nodded.
"Okay Justin?"
"Okay" he said in a small voice. He was checking out the Hanukkah gelt. It was his favorite. I fished a coin out of the bag and unwrapped the stubborn gold foil. "Here sweetie."
"All right" said Brian. Let's go!

The boys grabbed a couple of more coins and started arguing about who would drive with who. Brian and I looked at each other over their heads.
"Are you all right?" he mouthed.
I nodded.

"Okay" he said out loud. "Grab the presents and let's go!"

Thursday, April 7, 2016


About a year after I met Scottie (and 6 months after my divorce was final), his dad, Harry Slaughter, got sick. Actually Harry had been in and out of the hospital in Richmond,Virginia for the better part of a year. Scottie flew there in August of '09 when he got the call from his mom, Nancy. When Scott told me that Harry'd had a stroke and wasn't doing well, I flew out for the weekend.

I'd never been to Richmond before. The day I arrived it was cold and grey. The breeze near the airport smelled of rain and BBQ smoke. Scottie picked me up in his mother's brown mini-van. I was glued to the window after I fastened my seatbelt. So THIS is Richmond! Known for it's peanuts and pork. Land of Jefferson and VCU! A battered yellow pick-up truck pulled in to the "departures" lane with a hand-painted sign obscuring it's back window. It read: "give me my guns, my money and my freedom - you can KEEP the change". "Change" was, of course, the platform on which our President had run that previous year.

O​h my, I thought. ​We're not in Kansas anymore...

Scottie sat me down when we got to the hospital. "Mom and I are going to talk to Dad first" he said. I nodded. ​That sounds about right. I was nervous anyway. I welcomed the delay.

"We told him that my new girlfriend was coming to meet him today". I nodded a second time. Why was he telling me this like it was new information? He held my eyes for a second before continuing. "But we didn't really get around to letting him know that you're Black.

I fought back a grin. ​Surely this was a joke! I giggled, "Is that a problem?".

Scottie squinted his eyes, "It might be. He hasn't ever really known any Black people. He's had strong -er, feelings about anyone who wasn't white." He kissed me and squeezed my hand. "It will be fine. He'll love you." By this time, Nancy had already gone in. The automatic ICU doors made a whooshing sound as Scottie walked through to join her. I sat down on one of the 20 or so hard, red felt-covered chairs in the otherwise empty waiting room. I felt my heart rate speed up. My hands were suddenly cold and clammy. I should have stopped for water.

My mouth was so dry. ​So, Laura, you're going to meet a racist old white man on his death bed. Do you really think that's smart? What if he gets so angry that he has another stroke? I wanted to go outside and get some air. I hate that hospital smell. My breathing became shallow. I tried to divert my attention from my on-coming panic attack. There was a microwave on a table in the corner. I tried to read the brand name from my seat without getting up. ​Amana - that was too easy.

I closed my eyes. A strong Chef Boy-Ar-Dee-esque smell wafted toward me from that direction. I covered my mouth to keep from gagging. I had decided to go splash some cold water on my face when suddenly a Black woman appeared in the waiting room door. She was followed immediately by what must have been her entire family. There were men, women and children of all ages. Some were crying. Others talking loudly. In an instant the room was alive with energy. The kids spread out on their bellies on the stained-brown carpet and pulled out tablets and books. One of the adults popped open the microwave door and retrieved the microwavable meal inside and peeled off the plastic top-skin. No one looked at me.

I observed them with amazement. They were so loud and chatty. The microwave-meal guy sat next to me. I turned ever so slightly away from him in my chair. I was really happy to see Scottie appear in the doorway just then. I looked up at him gratefully. He looked so handsome. So vulnerable. So...confused! He didn't know where I was! He was scanning the waiting room back and forth looking for me and couldn't find me. I laughed inwardly. I pictured him saying to himself "Which one is mine??". I stood up.

He finally saw me and walked over to me, gingerly stepping over the carpet children. "Lets go in" he said. I took his hand. I heard that same whoosh as the ICU doors closed behind us. Nancy was standing outside a room. "Only two at a time" she said in her soft fluttery southern accent. "He's ready to meet you, Laura". I braced myself and stepped through the threshold, holding my breath so as not to smell bed pans and Lysol.

When I saw Harry in his white and pastel colored hospital gown I exhaled. O​h my God. He looked so small, so frail. I put my purse down next to his bed as I walked in. He opened his eyes and I saw them. Scottie has the kindest eyes I've ever seen. And there were Scott's eyes staring back at me from Harry's face. I felt a tear make it's way down my face. "Here she is Dad" said Scott, leading me around to Harry's good side. "What do you think?" Harry couldn't move. Couldn't talk. I sidled up close to him and smiled. "'Hi" I said. "I'm so glad to meet you". Harry's eyes were following me. His fingers shinnied across his thin hospital blanket and found my hand. He held it up and looked at Scottie.

"Beautiful" he mouthed to Scott. "She's beautiful". He raised my hand to his thin, soft lips and kissed the back of it. He turned his eyes back to me. "Beautiful" he said again. We were all crying now. He motioned for me to sit on his bed next to him. All the southern "keep the change" notions in my head bounced away.

"Thank you" I said, taking a seat.