Today I reserved a lovely one-bedroom suite at a lodge in Colorado, with a gas fireplace, two-person Jacuzzi, and a mountain view, the latest piece of the typical puzzle of how my girlfriend and I ever get to see one another, living as we do 2000 miles apart, both with kids. And then, driving home from work, I got the last piece of the puzzle, and along with it, at last, a sense of elation. I figured out the excuse.
The excuse. The reason why I can’t take the kids on that Monday night is not because I will be flying back from Denver – that would be the truth. That kind of truth means revealing even more truths to my ex-wife, the worst of them being the existence of a girlfriend. I’m not ready for her questions and so, no, I won’t be on that little porch in Colorado, with a cup of coffee, in my bathrobe. That weekend, I’ll be home, in Massachusetts, doing nothing. And that Monday? Gee, I have to fly to Ohio for a work thing and won’t be home until very late – can we swap nights?
Although I moved out over a year ago, I still feel like I need to prevent my ex-wife from knowing that I’m happy. Right now we live in a divorce DMZ. Though the fighting is over, we’re still clearing away bodies. We’re suspended in time between what happened and what’s going to happen next. It’s not like she can take anything else from me, out of spite, if she knew. It’s just that it’s – unseemly, like dancing during wartime, or “grief sex” after a spouse dies. You can’t be too happy too fast. Unlike actual death, though, in a divorce, the departed still lives. I see her or talk to her many times a week. Dancing feels, at best, awkward. At worst, it’s like saying to the departed that you don’t matter, and that you never mattered.
As much turmoil and bitterness as we went through, I have no desire to hurt my ex. I don’t want to be that guy having a fabulous vacation with a woman he’s crazy about, leaving his ex to stew about what went wrong and to wish that he would die so she could at least use the life insurance policy to buy some nice jewelry. I’m trying hard to maintain some kind of a relationship, but a large swath of myself has to remain off-limits. I can be “friendly” but I can’t really be honest – not really. Not about this.
So I’ll go to Colorado, but I won’t text pictures to my kids. When I call to say goodnight, I will have had just an ordinary day. I won’t tell them how much they’d love these mountains. I won’t bring back little shampoos for my daughter.
But I will be happy to talk to them, maybe a little happier than usual. I may laugh, from the belly, about something my son says. I’ll be listening more closely to everything they say, and they will hear that. For now, maybe being “more” with them is all anyone needs to know.