Wednesday, June 22, 2016
It's a Family Affair...
Ever since I can remember I've been daddy's little girl. And despite the fact that my parents divorced when I was five, along the fact that I haven't lived in the same state as my dad since that time, I always felt as though I were raised by both of my parents. My dad and I have a deep connection. And sitting there next to him that day, I could see that whatever he was about to tell me was hard for him.
"Okay?" I said smiling at him expectantly.
"I have two more children," he said finally. "They are brothers, two boys. I met their mother..."
I honestly have no memory of the details he shared with me after that. I just remember being unbearably uncomfortable.
After a minute so, I reached over and touched his arm to silence him.
"It's okay Daddy," I told him. "You don't have to explain."
Looking back, I think it probably seemed to him as though I were responding to the fact that he had kept something from me.
Maybe it seemed like I was saying, "Daddy, it's okay you don't have to explain why you didn't tell me this until now. Please don't feel bad."
But in fact, what I was saying was "Daddy, it's ok, you don't have to explain why you went and had two more children. Don't worry, it won't affect my life."
And it didn't. I never asked about them after that. I remember him bringing them up occasionally and me responding with an awkward stiffness. I didn't really mind that my dad had a relationship with these two young men, but certainly I couldn't be expected to relate to them like my other (real) brothers. I didn't know them. I had no history with them. And frankly, for reasons I wasn't ready to examine, I wasn't at all interested in getting to know them. When it came to the subject of them, my protective shields were up. I found myself holding my breath when my dad interjected anecdotes about them into our conversations.
A lot of life happened after my dad and I had that conversation. I started a business, got married, closed my business, had my two sons, became the ultimate PTA mom, checked into rehab, got divorced, got sober and met Scottie. There is more of course, but those are the broad strokes. My brothers that I had grown up with, my mother's son, Kenji and my father's son, Kofi, were part of my life throughout all of this. They were both loving sources of comfort for me. They, along with my teenage step-brother, Chris, were and are, my family.
As I transitioned in to this new phase of my life, the idea of these two "mystery brothers" faded further and further away. I knew their names (Jay and Jordan), but had no idea how old they were, I didn't know where they lived or what they looked like.
I remember being on the phone with Kofi once and him saying very casually that "Jay" was in town.
"Jay who?" I asked, trying to picture what friend he was talking about. "Jay - our brother?!?"
Kofi knows these brothers?
"Oh right," I said (hoping to sound equally casual). An inkling of envy crept into my head. Maybe it was jealousy, I don't really know. One of my "rights" in life, as I understood it, was that I was Kofi's only sibling. I was his proud big sister. It just hadn't occurred to me, that not only did he claim these two brothers, but that he might have a relationship with them as well.
About a two year's ago, Jordan messaged me on Facebook. I had never seen what he looked like before. I looked at his picture for a long time trying to see what it stirred up inside of me. He was young and handsome. He had deep, gingerbread skin and our family nose and cheekbones.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Miles and Nancy
Scott was about five-year's old when his mother, Nancy, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He doesn't remember it being a big deal. In fact, besides the daily medication, the only lifestyle-difference he noticed was that she enrolled herself in swim-aerobics at the local YMCA. "You know the kind where the ladies are all in their one-piece swim suits and white swim caps and they 'run' on the bottom of the pool?"
By the time he was in his teens, Nancy seemed to move a little slower, but there was still no real outward sign of the disease. And it wasn't until the she began to use a walker in the last 20 years or so that other people started to see her MS as a disability. And then in 2012, three years after the death of Harry, her husband of 46-years, Nancy received a second diagnosis. This one was not so easily ignored. It was a rare form of cancer that required immediate surgery. Scottie had flown back and forth to Virginia several times during that year and the next, taking care of his mom. There was no one else. Nancy has no siblings or cousins. Scottie is her onIy child.
Would a 12-day road trip be too much for Nancy?
My mom Linda, Scottie, Miles, Justin, Lily, Nora and I all sat around a large road map of the United States that was spread on top of our kitchen table.
I narrowed my eyes at Scott, trying to catch his attention.
"What if we brought Nancy?" I asked him.
"Yes! Invite Nanny!" said Lily.
"Nanny!!" cheered Nora.
"Nancy?!" Miles's voice scaled up. "But how can she come?!"
"Same as all of us," I said with a diplomatic tone. "She'll drive with us."
"But, she lives in Virginia" he said with a pained look.
"She'll fly here."
"And it's hard for her to move around quickly."
"Miles..." I cautioned him with my eyes. "Let's just talk about it okay?"
"We'll have to pay for another hotel room," he said in an attempt to appeal to my frugality. "She could share my room," my Mom offered.
"But she's not going to want to eat anywhere we want to eat!" he continued. "She only likes to eat the kind of food she grew up with."
I turned my back to Miles and faced Scottie.
"Why don't you ask her, Hon?"
"I honestly don't know that it's going to be like for her next summer," he said. "She's still doing treatments now. She could be better then, but I really don't know."
That December, Nancy took a break from her chemo treatments and came to spend Christmas with us. Miles kept mainly to himself, participating with minimal enthusiasm when we ate dinner or watched tv together. When Nancy asked a question about an actor or questioned something on a menu, Miles's response was noticeably short. When Scottie or I brought up July's road trip, Miles refused to discuss it in front of Nancy.
"I'll be in my room," he said with a sulky look every time I tried to include Nancy in the road trip planning.
On the third evening , I pulled him aside and sat him down.
"What's going on?" I tried to keep the anger out of my voice.
I had really hoped that after he'd spent time with her, he would soften and want her to come on the trip. But at that point I would have just settled for him being kind to her.
"Nothing," he said sullenly.
"Why aren't you being nice to Nancy?"
"I'm not being mean to her," he challenged. "I answer all of her questions."
"Yes," I said carefully. "But with one-word answers. You're not exactly being mean. But you're not being nice."
"She keeps asking me questions about food."
"Yes," I said. "Because you know a lot about food."
"It's too much. I don't want to teach her everything."
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a moment before speaking.
"Please try to be nice," I said placing my hands over his, "please?"
"I'll be nice if we don't talk about the trip in front of her."
"It may not matter anyway" I said. "I don't think she's going to come."
"I just really think it will be a different trip if she comes," he continued as if he hadn't heard me. "We won't be able to walk long distances or even go up steps."
Miles was sitting straight up with his shoulders hunched toward his ears. His mouth was scrunched up like he was in pain.
"Miles, come on!" my frustration was reaching a boiling point. I decided to try a different strategy.
"I'm asking for that sweet boy I raised to show some consideration and act better than he feels. I'm not sure why you're so against Nancy coming, but the way you're expressing it is hurtful. Can you please try and be nice? Not just for me, but because it's the right thing to do?" I took a deep breath as we locked eyes. Miles's eyes are a deep, clear brown. I tried to see beyond the iris into the sensitive young man who I knew was in there (somewhere). He stared back at me with an I dare you look. It was our game of "chicken." I put my face closer to his. His skin had the faint fragrance of the Neutrogena cleanser he had just started using.
I kept my gaze steady. I knew I couldn't look away first
"Okay, I'll try," he said finally, releasing his gaze and lowering his shoulders.
I exhaled and nodded my head okay, cupping his neck and the back of his head with my hand, "Thank you, sweetie."
The next morning I was awakened by the sound of Anthony Bourdain's voice blasting from kitchen tv. I looked at my nightstand clock ,
I felt the anger rising from my stomach into my chest as I put my slippers on.
Miles is going to wake up the whole house!
I burst in to the kitchen but stopped short once I turned the corner.
Nancy and Miles were both sitting with their backs toward me at the kitchen table. Nancy had her walker "parked" next to her seat and was eating a bowl of Raisin Bran. Her eyes were glued to the TV screen. Miles had a heaping plate of cheese-eggs and bacon in front of him. He was standing there at the table next to her, busily buttering two huge homemade biscuits. I bit my tongue as I surveyed the kitchen. It looked as though an entire farm had exploded; half-empty cream bottles, an open sack of flour, several egg shells and a block of cheddar cheese littered the counter tops. But the smell of the freshly baked biscuits was intoxicating. My stomach growled as I observed that the bacon grease was still popping in the cast iron skillet on the stove.
"Well, good morning!" I said.
Neither of them could hear me above the tv. I untied my silk "sleeping scarf" and stuffed it in to my robe pocket as I stood there watching them.
"Now, is that the restaurant you want take everyone to in Chicago?" shouted Nancy, pointing at the TV.
"No" said Miles forcing patience into his voice as he placed the freshly buttered biscuit in front of her.
"This is the place I was telling you about in Nashville. Since you like Richmond BBQ, you're going to love this place."
Was Miles smiling?
"Oh, I see," said Nancy, looking down at her biscuit.
"Do you want honey?" he said squeezing large, golden globs on the side of his plate.
"Well, that sounds good!" she said, pushing her plate towards him.
Scottie walked in to the kitchen behind me. I placed my hand on his leg to stop him. I felt as though we were observing a deer family in the back yard. I didn't want him to startle them.
After Nancy went back to Richmond, Scottie, Miles and I had several speaker phone calls with her to plan the upcoming road trip. I could hear Miles exercising restraint as they discussed what she should eat at each restaurant.
"No, they don't serve pasta there, Nancy. It's more Northern Italian. I'll just order for you when we get there."
He couldn't wait for spring break when we would all be together again at our house for the final planning session before the trip. He had a special meal planned for Nancy's 6:00 pm arrival. Each course represented a city that we were going to visit. The house was alive with the smell of cajun-spiced gumbo and mustard-based,barbecue pork. After the meal was on the table for 15-minutes or so, he started to get antsy.
"Can you call them again, Mom?"
As soon I heard Scottie's voice, I could tell that something was wrong.
"What happened?" I asked. "Did she miss her flight?"
"No, she didn't miss her flight. We're on the 405 now, we're almost there." His voice was heavy with melancholy.
"What's wrong?" I was imagining all kinds of tragedy.
Did she fall down? Was she in a wheelchair?
"By the way, you're on speaker phone with both of us," he said with a sigh.
"Mom says she can't come on the road trip. She feels horrible about it. But she doesn't think she's up for it."
"I don't want let Miles down," Nancy's voice had a slight tremble as though she might be crying. "I know he's really counting on my coming."
"It's okay," I said stiffly. I knew that Miles was watching my face.
"He'll understand," I tried to soften my tone. "We'll see you when you get here, ok?"
Miles barely waited until Scottie had helped her in the house before he started in on Nancy. "Nancy..." he said calmly, taking a seat opposite her.
"Yes, I know you're disappointed, Miles," she said folding up her cane and placing it in the basket of her walker. "I'm really, very sorry."
"Just tell me why you can't come," he was staring at her with the intensity of a cat stalking a sparrow.
"Well, for one thing, I just can't move around too well," she started. "I'll just slow you all down too much."
"We'll get you a wheel chair," he said confidently, leaning closer to her. "I'll push."
"So will I!" said Lily.
"See?" he grinned. "What else?"
"Well," she said, "it's not as easy for me to fly anymore. I'll have to fly all the way out to California again in two months and then fly back Richmond again after we finish the trip. That's a lot for me."
Miles looked around at each of us for help. Then you could see a lightbulb go on.
"Maybe, you can meet us in Chicago," he said happily. "Then you wouldn't have to fly so far." "But the driving may be hard for me too. Twelve days is a long time on the road."
"Nancy, you can fly home whenever you want to. If you get tired, I'll put you on a plane home myself. I promise."
Nancy opened her mouth to say something else and then closed it again. "What else?" He was smiling now. "Well, stairs are more difficult for me now."
"We'll take elevators."
"Bu..." Nancy started.
"And if they don't have an elevator," he continued. "We'll go somewhere else."
Nancy looked at Scottie for help. He shrugged his shoulders. "He's right, Mom. But it's still up to you."
"See, whatever it is, Nancy, we can make it work for you." Miles's words had the smooth cadence of a used car salesman.
"Just say you'll come. It's a family road trip. It won't be the same if you don't come." "Please Nanny?" chorused Lily and Nora.
Scottie, Justin, my Mom and I joined in with them for a moment with sheepish grins on our faces, "Yes, please Nancy...?"
She was clearly overwhelmed. Her eyes started to fill with tears.
"Hey guys," I said holding up my hand. "That's enough."
Nancy composed her self and turned her attention to the plate of cornbread next to her. We were all watching her like she was on display.
"Well, all this food sure does look good," she unfolded a napkin and placed in on her lap like it was any other meal.
"Nancy!" said Miles. He stood up and bent down so their faces were just inches apart. "Will you come?"
She looked around at all of our faces. There were still tears in her eyes, but her lips were starting to form a smile.
"Well, I believe that is a deal I can't say no to," she said after a moment. "I'll have to say that I'll go -- for now."
"Yes!" Miles fist pumped in the air as Lily, Nora and Justin did silly victory dances around in circles.
Nancy smiled at my Mom.
"Your grandson is very persuasive."
"Yes," said my mom, beaming with pride. "Yes, he is."
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
"Right this way..."
Yvette extended her arm in front of her and lead the way into to the inner sanctum of one of my favorite Beverly Hill's eateries. I had a rare free weekend, Brian had the boys until Sunday, Scottie was in Mexico on a surf trip and I had no classes or other work that needed to be done. I was looking forward to my meal.
Yvette and I made small talk as we walked.
"How are the kids?" She asked, stopping at a table set for 6.
Oh good! I thought greedily. I was going to ask for a bigger table, even though we're only three (I always like a lot of "table room" for all of the food I order).
She looked at me expectantly.
"Oh!" I said, remembering she had asked me a question.
"Really good, Miles just had his Bar Mitzvah last weekend!"
"Oh my God! Is he already thirteen?!?"
"Isn't that bananas?"
She shook her head, "I can't believe it. How old is Justin?"
"Eleven" I smiled. "He's next!" I rolled my eyes and shook my head in a look of mock exhaustion.
I hoped that the sound of her pulling out my chair masked my stomach's growling. In my mind, I was already dipping my four chicken satay strips in the extra sauce that I was going to ask for. I watched Yvette head back toward the front of the restaurant and admired how her loose, glossy curls bounced.
I wonder if she uses "Mixed Chicks" or "Carol's Daughter"...
I turned my attention to the mirrored wall on the other side of the room. Even in the dim light, I could see that my white tank top had a stain on the nipple area.
Jesus - my chocolate protein shake! Had I walked around Neiman Marcus like that all morning? I pulled my sweater closed to cover it. Looking down I saw that there was also a huge splotch of it on the thigh of my jeans.
There was only one other table seated, an older couple with sweaty, over-full martini glasses beside them and a plate of glossy, red, spare ribs between them.
My stomach growled again. I could smell the tangy rib sauce. It was all I could do not to go over and ask for a bite like Elaine in that Seinfeld episode.
I checked my phone for the time.
"Hey!" Suddenly my friend, Lynn and her daughter were standing above me. I got up to hug them both. My friend Lynn lives for 1970s fashion, she's all tailored high-waist flared pants and long, blond "Farrah Fawcett" hair. Her daughter (then still in her teens) has long, dark hair and soulful brown eyes. They were both leaving the following day for the entire summer.
"So, how was the Bar Mitzvah?" said Lynn as they sat down. They both looked at me with polite, curious expressions as they unfolded their respective napkins on their laps.
"Miles was incredible," I said.
I couldn't help smiling whenever I talked about it.
"He rocked his Torah portion. I was so, so proud of him."
"Good," she said. Then she lowered her voice to a confidential tone,"Did um, everyone behave themselves?"
"Yes, everyone behaved themselves. It was really a non-event in that regard. At first, I was hyper aware of her, you know? I could kind of "feel" where she was at all times in relation to me and the boys. But then later, I found myself having to remember to look for her. She was very respectful. It felt like she was probably staying out of my way."
"Who?" asked her daughter, looking back and forth from me to her mother. I paused and thought for a moment.
"My ex-husband's girlfriend," I said, suppressing the further explanation that I felt rising to my lips.
"Ohhh," she said knowingly. "Wow."
"I have pictures!" I said brightly, switching the subject.
I showed them pictures my brother Kenji had texted me; there was Miles on the bima standing in front of the microphone, then there was a great one of Miles and the "hype" dancers in their black track suits, and my favorite one of me embarrassing Miles as I read him a poem that wrote for the occasion.
"So cute" said Lynn. "He's gotten so tall. Last time I saw..."
"Oh, I thought you had pictures of her!" her daughter interrupted. "Can we see what she looks like?"
I grinned at her exuberance.
"I don't have any pictures of her. Sorry!"
"Did you guys talk?" asked Lynn.
"You mean, after Starbucks? No, not really. We were cordial at the Bar Mitzvah. Hopefully I won't need to see or speak to her again for a while. I think I just need time to get used to the idea that some other woman is going to be spending time with my kids, you know? It seems that they're together a lot now. I guess can't actually tell Brian that they can't be around her. I know it's not my call. But I'm just not ready yet."
"Not ready to order?" asked the waiter with a wry smile.
He had snuck right up on us! I laughed out loud.
"Yes, I am most definitely ready for food. I'm beyond starving!"
"We haven't looked at menus yet," said Lynn.
The waiter and I smiled at each other over her head.
I rattled off the my standard order; chicken satay, squab in lettuce cups, special lobster, fried rice, the noodles, the crispy beef...
By the time the dishes started to arrive I was beginning to get a hunger headache. Lynn and her daughter were talking excitedly about the job that was taking them both away for three-months. I was barely listening as I slathered hoisin sauce on my dewy, crisp lettuce cup and scooped in the "squab". I chewed so quickly that I scarcely tasted the finely diced (slightly orange) chicken and vegetables. Seeing the pace at which I was clearing my plate, Lynn and her daughter both got quiet and followed suit. I was pondering whether it would be bad form to take the last of the "special lobster" when I heard Justin's voice.
Suddenly everything felt like it was moving in slow motion. Yvette was leading Miles and Justin toward my table. My t-shirt and sweatpants-wearing boys were both wearing linen button-down shirts and pants. Justin came over and squeezed into my lap.
Why were they dressed up? Why were they here?
"Will you be 3 or 4 more?" asked Yvette with a big smile. "I can set you up at another table if it's more."
When I saw the woman walking a few paces behind them, I froze.
Without looking at her face, I could see that it was her. She looked like she had just stepped out of Vogue in her flowy blouse, pants and heels. I bit my lip and tried to include her in my smile as I addressed Yvette.
"Um, I didn't know we were going to be more," I faltered.
"Hey?" said Tracy sitting in the chair that Yvette was holding out for her. At least she had the decency to look confused as well. My brain felt as though it had blown a fuse. I have no idea how I functioned for the next few minutes, I must have introduced them. I must have interacted with my kids. I must have talked to her, because I remember her saying that Brian was on his way.
I was torn between flight and freeze.
This can't possibly be happening.
Justin had now moved away from me to the chair next to Tracy and asked to play a game on her phone. He leaned his head against her arm while he played.
My heart burst in my chest.
I willed myself to say something normal. To do something normal with my hands, to act like this was something that happened every day.
My mind raced while my heart beat like a drum-line. I could see the my chest pulsing under my white tank top. I felt a trickle of sweat betray me by running down the inside of my upper arm on to the chair. The room was spinning. I couldn't catch my breath.
How did this happen?!
I forced my mind to concentrate.
I made a random lunch reservation at one of my favorite restaurants as a TREAT (I go there like maybe twice a year) and somehow, not only must Brian have made a reservation under the same last name at the same time (at the same place), but apparently he was coming from somewhere else because he had seen fit to send her ahead with MY children. And to add insult to injury, the lovely hostess, Yvette (who has seen my kids grow up) probably thought that the double reservation was a mistake and assumed that we would all be eating together! She probably thought that Tracy was a friend of mine who was bringing my kids to me!
I felt like my limbs were stuck in cold molasses as I reached for my purse.
I've got to get out of here.
"Should I set a larger table?"
Yvette was looking at me with some concern now.
Oh shit. It must be obvious.
I tried to compose myself.
"No, no." I heard myself say. "We'll actually take the check. We're going to head out." It felt as though the skin on my lips split open when I smiled.
"Oh?" said Yvette. Her smile was fading as she looked back and forth from me to Tracy. "So, you three will be staying at the table?"
I tried to picture a meteor slamming through the roof and annihilating us all. That was the only way I could see this ending without me suffering for the rest of my life.
I have to get out of here, but I can't leave my kids here with her! What do I do???
I blinked back the tears that were stinging my eyes as I rummaged through my wallet. I handed my Amex to Yvette with a pleading look.
How could I walk away and leave my children here?
I knew that Lynn was trying to catch my eye, I couldn't look at her for too long.
Brian came in running in as soon as I got the check.
"Hi" he said, slightly out of breath. He was looking around our table. Whatever he was feeling, he looked confident and friendly as he said hello to everyone.
"Um," he said addressing Tracy. He pointed at the table next to the martini couple, "We're sitting over there right?"
She nodded and scooted out of her chair. He placed his open palm on the back of Justin's neck and kissed him on the head as he gently guided him toward the other table. Miles went along with them, looking back at me expectantly.
I forced another smile on to my face as I signed the check. "Shall we?"
I walked over to their table on my way out. I hugged Miles and kissed his cheek, promising to see him the next afternoon when Brian dropped them off. Justin put his finger on my nose and began our latest goodbye ritual.
"Ciao bella" he said pressing the tip of my nose.
Somehow I managed to smile at him.
"Ciao bella" I said back to him, pushing the end of his nose with my index finger.
My legs were filled with lead as I walked away from the table. I was sure that I'd collapse before I got to the door. I willed myself to keep putting one leg in front of the other.
Don't look back!
Outside the sunshine was cruelly bright. I gave the valet my ticket and turned to face Lynn and her daughter.
"Was that her?" her daughter asked with wonderment.
Lynn and I both nodded. I think Lynn was in shock for me.
"I thought it might be, but you all acted so normal, so I thought, maybe it wasn't her."
I was stunned.
"We did? I acted normal?"
Both she and Lynn nodded.
"You were amazing," said Lynn, shaking her head. "I'm not sure I could have done that."
We all began to chatter nervously, the way people do after they've just survived a major earthquake or a shipwreck. My adrenaline was flowing now. The shock was wearing off and anger was starting to seep in. I felt myself trembling as I hugged them goodbye.
I didn't let any tears fall until I got behind the wheel and the valet slammed my door shut. I pulled over a couple of blocks later and just let it go.
This is grief, I thought as I sat there with the car in park, shaking the steering wheel and sobbing.
I heard Marguerita's voice. "You are letting go of an old idea."
I looked up through the moon roof.
"It's not fair!" I wailed to no one.
After my sobs quieted and I found myself staring at the two-year medallion on my key chain. It was swinging gently back and forth in the ignition like a metronome. Click, click, click...
No, it's not fair.
I pushed the air out of my lungs with a long, noisy exhale and released my grip on the steering wheel.
But it's too painful to hold on to this. I've got to let it go.
"Okay," I said out loud. "I'm ready."
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
I left my trainer's studio and literally ran across the street to Vineland and Ventura to meet her. I had picked this location mainly because I thought it was important that she fit herself in to MY day instead of the other way around.
Hey - I can fit you in between my work out and school pick up - I'll just take a minute to put you
in your place and then keep it moving, Sistah...
But as I approached the Starbuck's entrance, I began to see the flaw in my plan. I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass double doors. My t-shirt had damp semi-circles under each arm. My hair was rebelling against the bobby pins that were keeping my "mouse ear" buns in place. As I re-pinned my hair, I could hear the voices of my friends who had counseled me for the last year or so.
"Keep it classy," Chariesse had advised.
"Remember, you are in control here. Make sure she says in her lane," said another.
I waited for a moment outside and took a deep breath.
As I opened the door I was hit by the icy air-conditioning and the rich smell of freshly brewed, Pike's Place.
There she is.
Tracy was sitting at a table off to the side. She looked young and impossibly fresh in a long, sun dress. Her signature curly, dark hair was long and straight with ombre'd ends. But otherwise she looked the same as I remembered. You could see her Thai mother's influence in her wide, oval eyes. Her father's genetics had given her smooth, deep-chestnut skin. She stood up and we greeted each other with a confined curiosity (no hug). She's tall like me, so facing each other we were eye to eye.
Suddenly I couldn't feel the air conditioning anymore, my skin felt like it was on fire.
An eternity went by as we stood in line and made small talk.
The 15-minute line to order coffee! Another flaw in my plan...
I had never felt this particular combination of nerves and rage. It felt like everyone in line with us could look inside me and see my acute discomfort. Finally we sat down at a table.
Keep it short, Laura. I coached myself. Keep it moving.
"Well," I began.
"Yeah," she smiled. "Well..."
"Okay" I took a deep breath. I pictured myself reading from "my script."
Just get right to it!
I cleared my throat.
"I need you to know that I'm working really hard to put our past behind us. I'd like for us to move forward for my children's sake. And honestly, I don't think that I could have walked into my son's Bar Mitzvah in two weeks without having said that to you first."
There was a modicum of relief as I said the words out loud to her at last. I felt my skin begin to cool. I could hear myself breathing as I braced myself for her response.
"Thank you so much for saying that, Laura. I want you to know that I am very respectful of the way you and Brian are raising your sons. You're both wonderful parents. Miles and Justin are great kids. Honestly, I never want to interfere with that."
Suddenly my nerves evaporated and I was vibrating with anger.
How dare she come at me reasonably and speak to me with humility?!
"Okay," I said out loud. I stared into her eyes without blinking or smiling. My chest felt tight and I found that I couldn't take in a full breath. I sat up straighter and pulled my shoulders back. "Thank you," I said. It was almost a whisper, but there was an instant relief. I took in a long breath.
Suddenly, I didn't know where to look, or what to do with my hands. I grabbed my iced coffee and took a sip, allowing the cold, creamy sweetness to flow down my throat. With my other hand I began intently rubbing at a smudge on our table with my napkin.
I wondered idly what we looked like to the other customers. Did we look like two old friends having coffee? Or did we look like what we were, the ex-wife and the new girlfriend trying to reckon with this new chapter in our lives. A chapter which would, whether we liked it or not, have to include each other.
"I need to you know that I never wanted to hurt you," she said. I swallowed hard and steeled myself.
"I was really sorry to hear about your marriage."
I'll bet you were.
"I have thought about you a lot since..." I saw her catch herself. "Recently," she continued. "It's been so long since I've seen you."
"Actually I don't think I've seen you since my wedding," I said (with emphasis on wedding) .
It was possible, actually probable that I'd seen her since then. But I needed to remind her that she had been a guest at my wedding to Brian. It mattered little to me that they had waited until the marriage was over, I wanted her to know that she was still egregiously violating the "girl code" by dating him now.
I regarded her for a moment without speaking. A woman at the next table with headphones plugged in to her laptop was singing "Rolling in the Deep" under her breath.
"My friends might feel some type of way about you're being at my son's The Bar Mitzvah," I said breaking the silence. "But whatever that looks like, know that it's not coming from me. My intention is, like I said, to move forward."
"Oh, I'm not worried about them," she said easily, looking me in the eye. "I can handle myself," she continued "The important thing to me is how you feel."
I was completely thrown off. I had expected there to be a bit more of a kerfuffle. But she didn't seem to be at all interested in taking a stand or defending herself. At that moment it felt like a tactic. Her whole "I'm giving you respect" stance felt strategic.
The most important thing is that the children feel safe! I could hear my therapist, Marguerita's words ringing in my ears.
My insides began to feel like wet clay drying in the hot sun. There was a fist hardening in my stomach.
I have a right to be angry. And she should be begging for my forgiveness! She is obviously trying to play me. I could hear her now, going back to her friends and laughing. "Yo, it was so easy. She totally forgave me...!"
I looked at her again, cocking my head slightly to the side.
"Well, I already said how I feel." My voice was steel. "I'm ready to move forward — okay?" The okay wasn't a question, but a statement. It was final.
I felt something dangerous and unreasonable swelling inside of me. I didn't know if it was anger or humiliation, but it was threatening to breach the dam.
I started to gather my things.
The most important thing is that the children feel safe.
A little kindness goes a long way toward forgiving.
I deliberately ignored Marguerita's voice and fished around in my purse for my Prius keys. I fully intended to walk out and leave her standing there at the table.
"I've got to go pick up the boys," I said. I was surprised by how normal my voice sounded. "Okay" she said, standing up. "I'm really glad we had this talk."
I nodded (or maybe I said, "Me too" I don't remember).
As we walked to our cars, I was picturing telling Scottie everything.
She seemed genuine and sincere.
And for some reason, that really pissed me off.
Sitting there with her, I remembered why I liked her.
But I'm still hurt and angry and I don't know what to do about that.
Her black, Cadillac Escalade looked commanding and gigantic next to my little gray Prius. She opened her door and stood there for a minute.
"Okay then," she said. "I'll see you at the Bar Mitzvah."
"Okay," I said nodding.
It was time for a goodbye hug. We both just stood there. I didn't know what to do.
Oh what the hell...
Suddenly I felt myself giving her a hug. It was short and awkward. I think I was as confused by the impulse as she was.
We hurriedly retreated to our respective vehicles and I watched her put her sunglasses on in my rear view mirror. I pressed my lips together absentmindedly, scrolling through my phone to find Scottie's name.
"How did it go?"
"I did it, Hon. It's over."
"Good for you, Hon. I'm proud of you."
"Thank you, Honey."
"Now the Bar Mitzvah" he said.
"Yes," a laugh made it's way out of my pursed lips. "Now the Bar Mitzvah. Lawd have mercy!"
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