Thursday, February 11, 2010

Civility

The ex came to my house this morning as I was changing the curtains in my living room. It was Thursday, his two-seater BMW was color coded, so he had some time to kill until he could freely go out to the streets.

It had been more than a month since we last talked, since our son's 14th birthday dinner, which he hosted at a Chinese restaurant. On that occasion, the family was “complete” -- in the sense that there was father, mother and all four children seated around a table, talking about anything and everything except why the completeness felt contrived.

I had a list of topics we had to cover today. Four of the five items were about the children. The fifth agenda was mundane but necessary; something to do with the uncrossing of the support checks he had issued to nobody in particular. (“I did not know what last name you prefer using nowadays, so I left it blank” he said to me. Two weeks ago I had texted him to say it was a burden to wait an extra three days to get my hands on his money. The expenses knew no clearing period.)

It's a busy month for the children, I said. Next week would be the fourth-grader's first communion and the high school senior's prom. The senior is still tangling with her remaining options, college-wise, and yes, she is still with her boyfriend, they are now pushing five months.

The ex shook his head because he had wanted to decree a separation of the two, something which I had opposed. I believed dictatorship only breeds rebellion. A month ago, we had faced the sweethearts and told them they were much too young to be serious about each other. But I could certainly understand my daughter fighting for her love (though I could not understand many other things about her). Once upon a time when I was sixteen and in high school, I fought for my love, too. Alas, that love became the ex -- yes, the ex who was presently seated on my couch, every inch a visitor. Ah, youth's folly, youth's rush.

At least we now agreed that it was crucial to restore communication lines between him and his daughter, who was, truth be told, a little too much like him: upbeat, overconfident, dismissive of others, and way too fond of the spotlight. I say this as a matter of observation, not of judgment. They will try again to suffer each other's company this weekend. Let's hope the good phase sets in – and lasts longer – this time.

Finally, he said he was leaving. Let's have lunch or dinner with the kids again on Birthday Week, he asked, and I said, sure. My birthday is on the twenty-third of the month, his is the twenty-fourth. I was way too sure of the decision I had made nearly three years ago to be insecure about saying yes. I agreed, knowing it will be another polite gesture, albeit an awkward one. I thought it was a good way of showing the children that being separated does not mean you have to carry hatred in your heart forever. Besides, the pictures would elicit many “likes” on Facebook, especially from friends we made in our previous life together.

But I forgot to ask the ex whether he had received a notice of the pre-trial conference for my petition for the nullity of our marriage, scheduled late next month. That would be pushing my luck. Civility makes you skirt the issues that could trigger bad memories. And what memories, mixed as they are, did those thirteen years together contain.

I walked the ex to the gate of my apartment to make sure the landlady's dogs do not growl at, nor bite him. Before he started the engine of his car I was already back inside the house, back to my curtains, happy that the ones I just hung made the home I was building -- alone -- look sharper.

I wish the ex well and I hope he would find somebody else to draw out the best aspects of his nature. I certainly failed at that. I also hope he would be able to build a meaningful relationship with our children. I do not have to be in the equation for them to achieve that.

On some days, I can be really really sad, not because I miss the ex, regret my decision and wish I were back in my previous life, but because I realize I have the capacity to feel...nothing, nothing at all.

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