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."