Tuesday, July 19, 2016

And The Survey Says....!

For almost 15 years, my friend "Lucy" had been married to a well-known singer/musician. She and I had known each other since our early twenties. Our friendship had survived dating, marriages, pregnancies, kids, my career ending and her's beginning — and oh! our respective, divorces. Lucy was maybe one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen, so I was flummoxed when her husband ended their marriage by having a very public affair with his backup dancer. When news of the divorce hit the tabloids, she never said a word about the affair. Actually, she didn't say much to me about it either. She refused to condemn him, publicly or privately. At the time, I viewed this as a serious character flaw.

In March of 2010, my kids and I had been at her younger son, "Jack's" 6th birthday party. Front and center, right next to Lucy and her ex-husband, "Albert" was "Alison," his former mistress/back-up dancer/now-girlfriend!

As the 3 of them huddled together to light the candles on Jack's birthday cake, I, along with a few of the other moms, sipped sparkling water with lemon and watched in horror from a small table in the shade. Shaking our heads, we clucked our tongues as we observed what we considered to be a spectacle of disrespectful behavior (his) and lack of self-esteem (hers).
There were lots of "UMMM, UMMM, UMMM's" and sarcastic, whispers like:

"Well, I guess Lucy is a better woman than me!"
And "I wish my ex-husband would..."
And "damn, that little girl has got some nerve smiling for the 'FAMILY' pictures with Lucy, Albert and the babies."
I watched the whole thing with a mixture of amazement and pity.

Poor Lucy. How humiliating for her. I never took her for the type to "roll over" and let this kind of thing happen.
In other words, I was firmly on the side of the "cluckers."
How could she allow this to happen? How could she stand it? Didn't she care?

I hadn't seen Lucy since that infamous party two-month's earlier, but without looking up, I could tell she had arrived for our lunch date. I could hear the cacophony of shallow conversations stopping one by one as she made her way through the narrow tables at the Fred Segal Cafe. She kissed my cheek before sitting down.

"So good to see you," she breathed as she signaled for our waitress.
"Hey!" I hugged her and smiled expectantly as she settled in to her seat.
"Let's order," she purred. "I'm starving."
Her long, shiny mane framed her heart-shaped face. She used her recently manicured fingers to push a lock of chestnut hair out of her eyes as she watched the busboy place a bread basket on the table. Suddenly the air was filled with the mouth-watering fragrance of fresh-from-the-oven-bread. The smell made my stomach growl. I didn't realize how hungry I was. Lucy picked up a roll and broke it in half as the busboy pooled olive oil in our respective bread plates.

"So what's going on with you guys?"
As she brought a glistening morsel of bread up to her mouth, she left a trail of olive oil-dots that made a pathway from her bread plate to the edge of the table. She seemed to be unaware of the fact that her napkin sat folded next to her plate.
"Going on with me and the boys?" I said trying not to be distracted by the droplet's proximity to her dress.
"Going on with all of you. Our friend told me something about Brian and Tracy living together now?"
I exhaled and closed my eyes for a second before answering. I was tired of talking about it. It had been over a month since Miles's Bar Mitzvah and the boys were out of school for the summer. I love my summers with my kids. Lazy days, late mornings, afternoon movies and dinners in front of the TV. So, I didn't want to discuss the fact that when my kids went to their dad's house, they spent time with HER because, yes, she lived there now. And after that incident at Mr. Chow, I didn't expect to have to see her for a long time. There was really no reason for our paths to cross. Brian picked them up from my house and he brought them home afterward. I never, ever went there, which was fine by me. My boys seemed happy and carefree. I was cool.

"Yep, for a while now," I answered with what I hoped was a unfazed-sounding voice. "And you don't ever see her?"
"Nope," I salted my olive oil with more concentration than was required.

Can we change the subject?

"Hmm," she said re-crossing her silky, brown legs, flashing the red soles of her taupe pumps. "So then what do you guys do for holidays?"
"What do you mean?" I looked up at her with a slight startle.
"I mean do they spend Thanksgiving with you and then Christmas with him, or what?"

"Oh! They always spend Thanksgiving with both of us at the Malibu House. He has a huge family; lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. They all come up for it. I wouldn't want to take that away from them. It's the tradition."
"Tracy too?"


What a ridiculous question! Of course not!

"So Brian hosts and you...?"
"Well, I always go too. It's how it's worked out best. Even since the divorce, I said proudly." "So, for the past two years?"
"Yes..." I felt a set-up coming.
What was she getting at?
"And this took place at the Malibu house."
"Correct." My eyes narrowed as I caught her use of the past-tense.
"The same one you told me that was sold this spring when Brian bought the house in Encino?"
"Um, well -- yeah." I felt a vague panic rising inside of me. I was staring at the olive oil drops on the tablecloth again.
"The house in Encino where he and Tracy live currently?"
I couldn't meet her gaze.

She was right! Why didn't I think of this before? The Malibu house was gone! Brian would be hosting Thanksgiving in his new house this year — with HER! I couldn't possibly go. ​Oh my God.
She unfolded her napkin and placed it on the lap of her turquoise Herve Leger bandage dress.

"Are you okay...?" Her dark eyelashes looked like Bambi's. I was momentarily hypnotized.
I shook my head and refocused.
"You're right," I began to ramble. "I don't know how I didn't think of that when he sold the house. I think I'm in shock. I don't know what to do! I don't know how you do it. What do you guys do?"

"For Thanksgiving?"
"Yes, and for all holidays."
"Can we order first?"
"Uh...of course." I placed my hands palm down under my thighs against the seat of the chair to quiet them.
"What do you usually have here?" She bit her perfectly lined, burgundy lower lip as she studied the menu. Two open-mouthed thirty-somethings in business suits at the next table stared at her like they were watching television. I wanted to jump across the table and slam her menu down and force her to pay attention to me.

Don't you understand that this is a CRISIS?!? How can you sit there and casually look at the menu??
"I've been eating too much red meat," she sighed and turned the back-page of the menu. "A salad sounds good..."
She seemed oblivious to my attempt to incite her telepathically.
"I'm going to get the chicken salad," she said finally, placing her menu in front of her.
"Good!" My voice was over-enthusiastic.

All at once my bread-fragrance intoxication wore off and I discovered that I had no appetite. When the waitress came over I ordered the chicken salad too, just to keep things moving. "So?"
Now she was looking at her phone. I raised my eyebrows at her while I made fists with my hands under the table to keep from snatching it from her.

"Oh yeah," she said dreamily without looking up from the screen.
"You want to know what we do..."
"Lucy? Holidays?" I tried to keep my voice level, but she must have heard the tone of desperation. She put down her phone (face down) on the table and looked at me with compassion.
"Sorry, girl. Work," she said nodding toward the phone.
"So anyway, we all spend Thanksgiving together when we're both in town. Although, last year you remember the boys and I spent Thanksgiving in Turks and Caicos by ourselves."

I vaguely recalled her saying something about how "everyone" was going to the Caribbean for Thanksgiving that year.
"Oh yeah, right."
"But," she moved the bread-bite to the side of her mouth while she chewed. "We always spend Christmas together."
"All of you?"
"Yes," she laughed out loud. "Don't look so shocked. It's actually fine."
"Alison too?"
She laughed. "Oh yeah." She shook her head and looked at me like "​ Guuurl."
"He would't have it any other way."
"Well, that's great for him. But what about you? How do you do it? How can you stand it?"
"It's the best thing for our kids," she said simply. "Once I wrapped my head around that — the rest wasn't so hard."

I arrived home in a full panic. I paced around in circles and looked at my phone. I checked my calendar over and over again.
It can't be. It can't be
Justin's birthday is on Thanksgiving this year.

How did I not know this?

I couldn't NOT be with my baby on his birthday. I was a​lways​ with both Miles and Justin on their birthdays. I had planned every birthday party. I greeted very guest. Handed out every gift bag. Wrote every thank you note.
I had to call Brian and tell him. I needed to let him know what was happening.

Maybe he wouldn't want her there. Maybe he would say, "Don't worry, I'll ask Tracy to spend Thanksgiving Day with her family up north. We shouldn't change what we've been doing." Otherwise I would have to tell him that I couldn't be a part of Thanksgiving this year — or any year.

But maybe he won't want me there. Maybe this year he'll say, "Let's do what most divorced couples do. I'll take them on Thanksgiving and you can have them Christmas Day." He'll probably be relieved.
My stomach was in knots. The truth was that even though we were divorced I didn't want anything to change. I couldn't not spend Justin's birthday with him. I didn't want to have the kids over to my house for a lonely 3-person Thanksgiving dinner/birthday party. And I didn't want to picture myself trying to find a family to invite me to their table while my kids went over to Brian and Tracy's and celebrated Justin's birthday without me. The phone in my hand grew blurry as my eyes filled with tears.

Instead of dialing his number, I called my friend "Kay." Kay was also newly divorced. Her son "Caleb" was the same age as Miles. Kay and I had been pregnant together and did all of the "Mommy and Me" classes together before enrolling our sons at the same school for kindergarten. She was a well-known actress/producer and had been married for more than 10-years to "Eric Woodard," a newly successful manager/filmmaker. Right after their divorce was final, her career stalled and she and Caleb moved into an apartment in Sherman Oaks.

Meanwhile, a small independent film that Eric had produced was purchased by a major distributor and turned into one of the biggest movie-franchises in history. That very same year, Eric fell in love with one of his actress-clients, "Katarina". He courted her by purchasing one of Los Angeles's most expensive homes for the two of them. Occasionally, when Eric was shooting one of his many movie-sequels on "his weekend" with Caleb, Katarina would roar in to the pick-up line at our son's school in her black Maserati and hand Caleb a large strawberry Jamba Juice as he got into the car.

Again, we all watched with pity from the sidelines. I had heard that Kay went to their wedding, but when a mutual friend told me that she'd moved in to their guest house, I decided that Kay had lost her natural mind. But now I needed the "T". So I decided to invite her to tea.

I buzzed her in and saw a dark blue Range Rover with paper plates pull in to the driveway. "Hey!" I said. "You got a new car?"
"Eric bought it for me yesterday" she smiled as she jumped expertly from the driver's door landed solidly on the ground in her running shoes.

Kay is gorgeous, but in a different, less "obvious" way from Lucy. Kay is light-skinned with short, curly, light brown hair and freckles. Her stature is that of a pixie. She's maybe 5-feet tall and 90 pounds soaking wet.

I steeped her favorite peach tea and swirled in sugar crystals until they melted. When we sat down at the kitchen counter we talked about our sons. Caleb's broken leg was healing nicely. I was thinking of placing Miles in another school. Justin had made his All-Star team this summer. We talked like this for while before I told her I needed her advice on something.
She listened keenly as I told her of my dilemma.
"So, I'm confused," she said finally, blowing the steaming liquid in her clear, glass Teavana cup. "Are you're worried about being invited there for Justin's birthday/Thanksgiving or not being invited"?

"I'm not sure," I laughed. "I guess I'm confused too."
I watched her as she twirled a diamond ring on her middle finger that looked suspiciously like her wedding ring. I decided to switch topics.
"Are you really living in their guest house?" I had tried to keep the judgment out of my voice, but some of it might have seeped through. "Please help me understand."

"There's not much to understand. Eric is still my best friend," she said solemnly. "We will always be each others' family. Caleb is better when we're all together and honestly, right now my money isn't too right. It's really helping me out. And It's not like I sleep with them," she laughed as she tossed her head back.
I turned my head sideways and shot her a look with a slight smile.
"Girl, please," she said giving me back my look.
"It's just not like that. I'm not all up in their business all the time. It's a big property. Caleb comes and goes from my house to theirs," she continued. "And there isn't that big hassle of the dreaded 'transition' (she made finger quotes in the air) of him going from their mansion in Beverly Park and then back to our little two-bedroom duplex on Moorpark, you know?"
I shook my head while I held her gaze.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't. I mean, I can't. I just can't imagine living with Brian and Tracy."
She smiled knowingly at me. "I totally get how it would seem to you".
She grabbed my hands and held them in hers. "But this just works for me. It works for us. You have to find what works for you."

"Justin's birthday falls on Thanksgiving this year!" I blurted out to Brian on the phone after she left. I felt like my head was filled with helium. Everything looked slightly blurry. My head was pounding in sync with my heartbeat.
"Oh wow," said Brian. "Okay cool."

He doesn't get it!

"What can I do?" I pleaded. "I can't NOT be with him on his birthday, but I don't want to keep them from their Thanksgiving tradition."

I felt my eyes filling with tears again. I struggled to keep them out of my voice.
"Don't worry," he said in a soothing voice. "We'll figure it out."
"How?" "I've been trying to figure it out. I sat down with both Lucy and Kay to have them help me figure it out."
He laughed. "Lucy and Kay?! And what did the survey say?"
"Nothing really helpful." I pouted, ignoring his attempt at humor. "Either way, I'm sure Tracy won't want me at her first official family Thanksgiving."
I hated myself for saying it as soon as it came out of my mouth.

Pathetic! What's wrong with you? Why did you say that?!?

"What would you like to do?" he asked calmly.
"I don't know," I started to hiccup, like I do every time I cry. "Maybe split the day?"
"What do you mean?"
My mind started to clear as I spoke. "I mean like, the boys will send the night with me on Wednesday and I'll keep them until Thursday afternoon and then I'll bring them to your house. My mom and I can do a birthday breakfast with them and hang out for a while."

"We could do that," he said carefully. "But let's think about it. Let me talk to Tracy. There may be a better way."
I was barely listening to him. As far I was concerned I had found my solution.
I felt lighter. As though a burden had been lifted. Never mind about the actual Thanksgiving dinner. I could figure that out. I could be with my baby on his birthday and that's all that mattered.

As we hung up I held on to feeling that it was all over and settled. Little did I know that come November, I would see that this conversation with Brian was just the beginning. It didn't occur to me at the time that there were three more very important opinions that needed to be considered before anything could be settled.

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