Bo Caldwell: Mom wants short skirts and a divorce

Moving out

I’d even say the kids are thriving, and that, while there was damage, there don’t seem to be permanent scars.
  • I’d even say the kids are thriving, and that, while there was damage, there don’t seem to be permanent scars.
  • Image by Larry Ashton

In March of 1993, four days after my 12th wedding anniversary, I moved myself and my two kids out of the house I had shared with my then-husband for ten years. Ours was not one of those breakups that everyone expected. My dad, for example, liked to tell friends that of the young couples he knew, we had one of the best marriages he’d seen. And it often seemed that way: The surface of our marriage was smooth and easy in the day-to-day business of raising kids and paying the bills. But in June of the previous year, we’d hit a rough period, and as we tried to negotiate it, I began to suspect that what I’d thought at first was minor was really a crack in our foundation, and our marriage wasn’t something that could be mended after all.

The reasons? Too private for these pages, but probably not all that different from the reasons most people give, things having to do with people changing or not, moving apart or closer together. I was, in the lingo of breakups and uncoupling, the initiator — the one who wanted out — a role I’d never expected, and one that had crept up on me. In late December, when the idea of separation was first mentioned, I caught my breath, panicked. Nobody did this in my family. But then a strange thing happened: Within the space of a few days, not only was the idea no longer shocking, it seemed perfectly logical, the next step, and by January, I found myself considering things I’d never imagined as part of my life. Leaving my husband. Ending my marriage. Moving out. I started looking for a place.

Because the separation was at my request, it seemed only fair that I would be the one to move. It also seemed easier. So on a Saturday morning in January, I scanned the rental ads and went out to look, apprehensive and doubtful. I had reason to be nervous — finances, the logistics of moving, the fear of what my decision would do to the kids — but with each house I walked through, I thought, I can do this. I could imagine the kids and me sitting at this stranger’s kitchen table. I could imagine them in these rooms. I could imagine moving out and starting again, and I came home not daunted but hopeful.

Over the next few weeks, I kept looking. I looked at houses close by, houses on the other side of town. Old houses, new houses, postwar tract houses. In most cases, I knew the minute I walked in whether or not the house would work. There were the really grim ones that no amount of fresh paint and curtains and carpet cleaner would make livable. There were the serious fixer-uppers that I thought might be all right, given a lot of time and elbow grease. And there were the charmers, the ones that either had already been “doll-housed” or were charming enough on their own that you could see how it could be done. But money was tight and rents were high, and charm, hidden or evident, was usually out of the question.

And then I found the cottage, and from the start, it had several things going for it. First, it was cheap. Second, it was still in the same town, but far enough away that I probably wouldn’t run into my husband. Third, it was very different from my married house, which I saw as a plus. And fourth, I fell in love with it the moment I saw it.

It had probably been built in the ’30s, the owner told me, as the caretaker’s cottage for a larger farmhouse nearby that had since been bulldozed. This cottage, too, would probably be bulldozed soon, she continued as we walked through the rooms — it wasn’t a very long walk—and replaced with a far bigger, for more expensive house. The lot was going to be “castleized.” But, in the meantime, here was this place that I was sure we could call home.

A generous soul would call it bohemian, artsy, even romantic. My dad called it “that Huck Finn place.” Peeling white paint on the outside, peeling blue trim. You went down a short cement path and found yourself in a sort of patio faced by three doorways. One looked like a regular front door. The next was a pair of uneven French doors. The third looked like an apartment door, newer than the real front door. Inside were a living room, a small dining room, a kitchen, and a largish bedroom. White stucco walls, freshly painted. New carpet. Wrought-iron sconces on the walls and a wrought-iron chandelier in the dining room. A tiled fireplace in what was really the living room but would be my bedroom. My kids could share the actual bedroom; they still shared a room at the other house, so that seemed all right. Two baths. Four closets. A large garage.

And there was an orchard. The cottage was in the corner of an acre of land that would be ours, a place for the kids to run wild. There were apple trees, blueberries, a good climbing tree in the corner, and a rusted old tractor that, I was told, had been donated to the Boy Scouts — they just hadn’t gotten around to picking it up. There were huge pine trees, in the corner of the lot, that swayed in the wind. There were beehives in the back, near an abandoned chicken coop. Nothing in that orchard had been cared for in years, which to me simply meant less work. Not much space on the inside, but lots on the outside, and lots of charm as well. It was perfect, and I resisted the urge to beg when the owner told me that there was another possible renter and that she’d have to get back to me. Four days later, when she called to tell me that I could move in any time, I was sky high.

At night, as I lay in bed, knowing that I wouldn’t be sleeping in that bed many more nights, I’d make lists of what needed to be done. Because of my husband’s hopes for a reconciliation, we hadn’t told our families about the separation yet — I’d told only two friends and the veterinarian, because I started to cry when I took the dog in for shots—so there were a lot of Tells on my list. Tell Mom and Dad. Tell the kids. Tell God, with apologies. There were practicalities as well: Buy a toaster. Pack. Put a good face on it. Underneath the obvious items was another that I didn’t know how to address: Figure all this out. In other words, decide whether this was a separation or a divorce. I was calling it a trial separation, and although I suspected inside that this wouldn’t be trial at all, but very permanent, it took six months for me to say that, for two reasons. For one, everything was happening so fast and my feelings were changing so completely that I worried about the truth of it all. Maybe my husband was right: Maybe this was a phase. Maybe it was a vitamin deficiency. Maybe I’d wake up in one month or six months and feel like that person I’d been the year before. But the thought made me shudder.

The second reason was the kids. The stakes were far too high not to be absolutely certain about what I was doing.

I read a few books on the subject, books that I kept hidden under the mattress. Books on kids and divorce, books on women and divorce, books on finance and divorce, books on divorce in general, all of which gave practical advice (Chapter 3 — Telling the Kids) and emotional support (Chapter 5 — Taking Care of Yourself). One, called Uncoupling, gave me a road map. Written by a sociologist named Diana Vaughan, it didn’t give advice but simply chronicled typical breakup patterns. And as I read it, I found myself reading about everything I’d done over the past months. I was the initiator to a T.

In February I told my parents that my husband and I were separating, a conversation that I’d dreaded for weeks. With good reason: My mom sounded truly shaken; my dad sounded as though he’d been physically assaulted. A week later, when I told them I would be the one to move out, they sounded as worried as if I were seriously ill. I told my brother, who mirrored their concern not only for me, but for my judgment. What is she doing? I could hear them thinking. What has come over her? I told the kids’ teachers, who listened silently, the expressions on their faces saying, Are you sure you know what you're doing?

And finally my husband and I told the kids.

When my daughter was two, she fell and hit her head on a windowsill. The cut was deep enough to require stitches, and at the doctor’s office on that Saturday afternoon, as she lay face down on the table, I’d had to firmly hold her head still as the pediatrician gave her four shots in the back of her skull. She had cried softly, trying to be two-year-old brave and succeeding so much that it was almost worse than if she’d simply cried like crazy.

That day, as it turns out, was nothing compared with the morning we told the kids that we were separating. My son, seven, blue eyes wide, his expression one of anguish, one I didn’t know he was capable of so young. It was as though I’d said I didn’t love him anymore. And my daughter, nine. She’d sensed something in the air for a while; she’d seen evidence of the unraveling, a loose thread here and there. The expression on her face was far more masked, a steeliness that frightened me and said, Well, it looks like I’m on my own.

There we were, me bulldozing away, razing my marriage, everyone around me just trying to stay standing. Each of these conversations was as difficult and painful as it sounds. If you want melodrama, separation is the place for you. But there was another side to all this, because I had, by then, become two people, both of them based on parts of myself. One part of me took everything that was going on intensely seriously and became not just emotional but sentimental over it all. There was a song playing a lot on the radio then — “Even a Fool Can See” — about a guy saying he’ll be okay after his girlfriend or wife has left him. I broke into tears every time I heard it.

The other part of me was an adolescent type who was gleeful as a kid on the first day of summer. Because it was the first day of summer: All of a sudden I didn’t have to be what anybody else wanted me to be, and school was out. I’m an old hand at being a pleaser, pretty accomplished at it, but now there was no one to please but myself. I didn’t have to worry about wearing clothes my husband liked, or making sure that I made a real dinner, or picking up the house. I was the only grown-up around, and I was drunk on that feeling.

I packed at night, while my husband and kids slept. I’d always hated the sight of someone leaving, and I was trying not to make things worse than they had to be. I wanted to take as little as possible, so that the house wouldn’t look cleaned out after I left. Late, late at night, when the house was still, I’d walk from room to room, planning. If I took the small dresser from my son’s room, I could move things around a little so the room would still look okay. I could take the small cedar chest my grandparents had given me when I was a child. That was mine, and it was small, and it meant something to me. I could take the love seat in the den. I packed a few plates, glasses, cups, silverware in a wicker basket — it was almost like a picnic — and I picked out a few books that were important to me and a few knickknacks. I went through the box of photographs and took a handful of my favorites and stuck them in a manila envelope.

I was looking for practical things, in part. But I was also looking for talismans, anything that would help us in that cottage. And as I picked these things out, both practical and magical, I carried them to the trunk of my car in the night, feeling like a thief, furtive, guilty, not wanting to be caught, working hard at not leaving any holes where I’d taken things, and trying to rearrange what I hadn’t taken — what I was leaving behind — so that no one would notice my leaving.

What I hoped for was a magic trick I wanted to pull the damask tablecloth right off the dining room table with one good yank and slip quickly away, leaving everything else undisturbed, everything still in place, except with the kids and me living elsewhere and my marriage dissolved.

It didn’t work, of course, but there were days I believed it would. When the kids’ friends came over to play and their moms pulled into our orchard to deliver them, those friends would spill out of station wagons and minivans, amazed and envious at what we now called home. “All this is yours?” a friend of my son’s said, as he stood in the orchard. Then he looked at his mom. “Mom, can we do this?”

We had told the kids on a Saturday, and the plan was for the kids and me to spend our first night in the cottage the following Thursday. That Monday at school, my daughter, a third-grader at the time, told no one except her best friend. But word got out; my son, who was in first grade, told his whole class during “sharing,” the modern equivalent of “show and tell.” When it was his turn, he stood up and explained that his parents were separating for a while, that he and his mom and sister were moving to a cottage. He said he liked the cottage. He said he was scared and sad about the rest. I heard this secondhand; I wasn’t in the classroom that morning, but another mom told me it was quite amazing. He was composed and articulate. His teacher also told me about it; she’d been terrified when he’d started, not knowing where it would lead. But it had turned out all right, she said, and had prompted a really good discussion. I listened, nodding, trying to act as though I’d expected this, while inside, I ached.

But word was out on the playground, and by lunch my daughter was being teased, and she and my son ended up fighting with each other, both of them in tears. That night I explained to them that they had to stick together. I tried not to show how rattled I was.

We’re told that single parents are everywhere, but it didn’t feel that way when I became one. Late one night, before I’d finally decided to move, I’d gotten out the school directory to see how many kids were in the same boat as mine. The divorced kids had been easy to spot. If a student had, in the lingo of elementary school, “a mom’s house/dad’s house situation,” he or she was listed twice in the directory, first with one address, then with the other. There weren’t many in the whole school, and they tended to stand out. In my son’s class, there were none. In my daughter’s class, there was one, a kid with whom she had nothing in common. He was a troublemaker, difficult, and hard to manage, the kind of kid you’d never invite over to play. Seeing his name had made me wince, and I remembered thinking, Of course he’s a divorced kid. No one’s in charge, he’s running wild.

I’d sat dismayed for a few minutes, thinking things would be harder than I’d thought. Then I’d start planning again.

That spring and summer and fall were crazy times. I was, on one hand, sure that I “wanted” to be doing what I was doing (in the way anyone can “want” a separation or divorce, since it’s a little like wanting to be in an accident), and at the same time, I was afraid to look at any of it too closely because it hurt too much. I learned to function mostly on autopilot, only my autopilot was a little out of whack. The slow dissolving of my marriage had messed up my controls; my husband and I had said and done things that seemed to be from somebody else’s script, and I was lost. And there was the pleaser aspect: For more than a dozen years, I’d taken a lot of my cues from my husband. Without him around, I was left to reinvent myself. Who did I want to be now?

I decided on rebel and free spirit and began to make myself up as I went along, not realizing that I wasn’t being myself; I was just taking on a new role. Before the separation I was a working mom, with the emphasis on “mom.” The suburbs were home. I dressed conservatively. I rarely went out without the kids. But with the cottage, all of that changed: out with the old, in with the new, and presto! — the single-working mom. I was teaching creative writing to college students, so that fit. I bought some black tights and short skirts. Leggings, black boots. The kids and my husband gave me a moped for my birthday. I figured I was pretty cool.

The effect was sort of like a sugar high when you’re a kid, a feeling I mistook for happiness. Late at night, after the kids were asleep, I’d go into my bedroom and be amazed at my good luck: Look where I get to live! We had people over to dinner. I danced and sang while I made the kids quesadillas for lunch. I drank Diet Cokes for breakfast and too much beer at night. I let the dog drink too much beer, though for her it was an acquired taste. We got into a late-night happy-hour habit, the dog and I. I’d turn on Letterman and get two Bud Lights from the kitchen. I drank mine from a glass mug. I poured hers info a white cereal bowl with little blue sailboats around the edge. To go with our beers, I’d bring some Chips Ahoy cookies, which I’d started buying regularly when we moved in, as though they were a staple.

Somehow I felt I should be writing during all this, so for a while I made myself a deal: I promised myself I’d write every day. What “every day” got translated into was every night at around 11:30. I’d turn on the computer and bring up this awful novel and write a few pages, just making things up as I went along. I have vague memories of a palm reader and a music store figuring prominently. After that I’d watch TV, and the dog and I would have our cookies and beer. And then finally, at maybe 3:00 a.m. or so, I’d go to bed. I’d pretty much convinced myself that I didn’t really need sleep, so that seemed to work just fine.

The kids were the place where I tried to keep my wits about me. I took a damage-control stance and refused to buy the theory of permanent scarring, of their being ruined for life. It was all a matter of how you handled things, I told myself. There were things you could do. So I tried to be upbeat with them, to be confident and act like I knew what I was doing. I tried not to cry in front of them. I told them they were doing great and that we’d be okay, and I tried to mean it. And I worked hard at not dwelling on the visible signs of their hurt: The pained look on my son’s face in his school picture that year, him smiling tensely, his eyes sad and afraid. The hard looks from my daughter when she sensed I wasn’t telling her the whole truth.

When a good friend told me in a kind but concerned way that I was as loony as anyone he’d ever seen, I took it as a compliment. One day while walking downtown, I caught sight of myself in a store window and did a double take: I hadn’t recognized myself. My hair was longer, I’d lost weight. I was wearing clothes I hadn’t owned a few months earlier. It wasn’t that I looked good or bad. I just looked so different. At Halloween, I was invited to a party for which costumes were required, and I gritted my teeth and tried to think of something. I told a friend, who said she had a great costume that I could borrow: an angel, complete with silver wings, pink curly wig, and pink leotard and tights. Well, the pink stuff was out — no pink for this rebel — but the wings had possibilities, and what I came up with was a punk angel. Cutoff jeans, black tights, combat boots. Black leotard top, black vest, makeup. A dog’s choke collar around my neck. And, of course, the wings.

My kids went back and forth between their father’s house and mine, and on their nights away, I did anything rather than stay home. I met a friend for a drink, I shopped, I wandered in bookstores, sometimes I just drove for a while, anything rather than stay home alone. And when I finally did give up and come home, I’d do anything not to notice that I was alone. I did not find myself good company, so I’d turn on TV or rent a movie or call friends, trying to figure out what a happy, free-spirit single mom would do now.

To a person in an unhappy marriage, the idea of dating can be very appealing. It was to me, not because I wanted to jump right back into another relationship, but because it was so different from married life with young kids. Dressing up, going out to dinner, being wined and dined, then going home alone sounded lovely.

I didn’t do much of that. For a few months I hung out with someone I never should have been with (ponytail; always broke; taught drama to kids). I knew it wasn’t anything remotely serious, but I also knew that I needed someone to just hold my hand for a while. In early June, I went on my one and only blind date: I met a carpenter from South Africa (a friend of a friend) at a cafe. He was probably one of the nicest men in the world but so earnest and somehow humorless that I found myself in tears after our one beer. At my 20th high school reunion that month, I ran into someone I’d known since kindergarten, a man who was recently separated as well. We started seeing each other in the fall, and he was, I thought, just what the doctor ordered. He held my elbow and guided me across the street He made dinner reservations. He cooked gourmet meals for me at his home, a place so orderly and antique and crystal-filled that I was stunned. He seemed to enjoy my company, and he paid attention to me. I realize that these are not reasons a healthy person gives for spending time with someone. I was simply starved, and he fed me. Meanwhile, we had almost nothing in common, and he was very carefully keeping me at arm’s length emotionally, arranging dates only every two weeks or so; it was never a given that I’d see him. But that didn’t slow me down; once again, I found myself shaping myself to someone else’s taste, asking myself. What would he like me to be?

And all this time, my family — my parents and my brother — watched from the sidelines, worried, and I could feel them thinking. What will she do next? I was jumpy around them, and I’d overhear them talking about me. She seems restless, doesn’t she? How do you think she’s doing? At Christmas, my brother took me out to lunch and brought up the punk angel. It seemed, he said, that I was at a crossroads and could go either way. I could follow one path, toward the angel, or the other, toward the punk. I tried to act as if I were listening, although I thought he was overreacting. But what they could see, and what I couldn’t, was that I had lost my bearings, and as if that weren’t dangerous enough, that I didn’t know it, or care. If my bearings were a map and someone had tapped me on the shoulder and said, Excuse me, miss, I think you dropped this, I would have crumpled it and tossed it gladly into the first Dumpster I passed, never giving it a second thought.

That fall I’d done something I’d dreaded since moving out: I’d told my husband that I was certain I wanted a divorce. We’d met for lunch; it was November, near Thanksgiving. He was very calm, understanding even, and when we parted, I was hugely relieved. Wow, I thought, we’re going to get through this. Then, as I was driving across town to pick up the kids at school, I rear-ended the guy in front of me, a very nice older gentleman who wore a cowboy hat and drove a big white Buick. I don’t mean that I bumped him; I’d thought he’d pulled forward, and I was accelerating, trying to merge with oncoming traffic, and wham! I hit him hard.

It was early afternoon; there was a light rain. I had taught that morning and was wearing nice clothes. I started to cry the instant I hit him. The impact felt like a judgment: Hey, not so fast there, you're not getting off that easy. I got out of the car and we stood together on the side of the road. He was perplexed at first, then angry. “Look at my car,” he said a few times, “look at my car,” as though we’d witnessed something that couldn’t be explained. I started apologizing like crazy, freely admitting that I’d been at fault. I reassured him that I had insurance, then I started to explain that I was getting divorced and had just had lunch with my husband and that, once again, I was so sorry. This nice gentleman softened as we stood there in the rain, and after a few minutes, he began to comfort me. “You’ll be all right,” he said. “Don’t you worry about this.” I wrote down all the useful numbers I could come up with — phone, insurance, driver’s license — and we parted. Later that day, and again a few days later, a woman who identified herself as a friend of his called me, at his request, she said, to make sure I really was all right.

In January, my life began to change again: I fell in love. By March we were seeing each other regularly — we skipped over the formal dating stuff. He was recently divorced and was wary about just drifting into a new relationship. He wanted to be careful; he wanted to be watchful. I wasn’t particularly interested in being careful or watchful; I mostly liked being in love, but his earnestness was convincing, and soon he was no longer a distraction in my life — he was, more and more, one of the central parts. There was something to pay attention to now, something to cultivate, and that required some cultivation of myself as well.

And so, that spring, thanks to time and a lack of distractions and that boyfriend’s kindness and a little grace, I began to come to. When I did, I felt like somebody had slipped me a mickey. In fact, of course, I’d slipped it to myself, and I’d done a pretty good job. A year earlier I’d been cleaning out my married house. Now I found myself starting to look within, and I found a mess. It was as though I’d taken a long vacation and things had really piled up. So I began to work at staying home alone, during the times when the kids were gone, and quieting down.

It was somewhere around then that I started to cry. I don’t mean a few tears now and then (I’d been crying all along, of course). I don’t mean that I cried when I was sad or upset. I mean that I began to weep almost every day, as though it were part of my daily regimen (brush your teeth; shower; get the kids to school; cry). It lasted for months and was a given of that period: Every time I quieted down and just sat for a while, trying to pray or meditate or simply look within, I cried. I understood that those tears were partly from fatigue and partly from grief over the breakup of the marriage, but there seemed to be something else as well. I had the vague hope that it helped, that it was somehow constructive, and I tried to stay with it. But if you’d asked me, then, why I was crying, I couldn’t have said any of that. All I knew was that I felt so sad.

Mostly I cried when I was alone in the house, while the kids were at school. Late nights saw tears, too, when the kids were asleep or at their dad’s, and there were occasional middle-of-the-night phone calls to two good friends when I felt truly inconsolable and sitting alone just seemed like something I couldn’t do. On nights when the kids were with me, I’d try to hold myself together until they were asleep and I could go to my room. But I wasn’t always successful, and now and then they’d find me in tears. I’d explain that I was just very tired, and they’d nod and comfort me. “You’re doing great, Mom,” they’d say, and though I had my doubts about that, it helped to hear them say it, and I tried not to let them see my fear.

I had reason to be afraid. Money was tight. My teaching job would end soon. That charming little cottage had no washer or dryer, and I came to dread the Laundromat. I’d let the laundry pile higher and higher until I finally had to go and it would be an all-day affair — my record was nine loads — and I’d come home exhausted. There was child support to figure out, and to do that I had to figure out a budget and my expenses. There was health insurance. Car insurance. Renter’s insurance. Each piece of paperwork was like a test I had to pass, and I’d stew and fret and pace for a while until I finally sat down and got to work.

It would be nice to say that all of a sudden things got better. But they didn’t, not overnight. Going through a divorce was like falling into a hole. You left your husband, you filed the papers, and before you knew it, there you were. Then it was time to climb back out and get your life back in order. It wasn’t overnight, it was a process — sometimes slow, sometimes painful, usually difficult.

But it happened. Little by little, life began to feel normal, and I started to feel like myself. The crying stopped and I got through the paperwork and seemingly endless lawyer tasks that the dissolution of a marriage requires. When the divorce was final, in April of 1995, I felt not so much happy as relieved. And that spring was a nice time for the kids and me. They were both in the school play, Pinocchio. My daughter had one of the big parts, Jiminy Cricket. My son was Donkey No. 2, one of the boys who’s changed into a donkey on Pleasure Island. The irony was not lost on me. In June my daughter graduated from fifth grade and my teaching job ended, but other doors opened and I found other work, and life, as they say, went on. I was glad to just make pancakes for the kids in the morning and pay the bills and order a pizza for dinner and read a book.

In February of 1996, the kids and I moved out of the cottage to a larger house nearby, a rental house that my ex-husband and a partner owned and offered to rent to us. It felt like an important move, the end of some things, the beginning of others. For one, it was evidence to my kids that, despite the divorce, their dad and I could get along decently enough to negotiate a rental agreement. Two, the new house was a more typical suburban house than the cottage, and it was as though we were regaining some of the stability we’d left. We were settling down, and I saw signs of recovery. My son grew calmer, my daughter trusted me again, and I was as glad to move out of the cottage' as I’d been to move in.

Now, for the first time, I believed it when I told the kids we’d be okay.

At Mass not long ago I stood next to a young father holding his son in his arms. The boy was about two, and he clutched a black rubber snake, the kind that looks a little too real for a lot of us. The dad and the boy seemed very peaceful, and even though the boy was asking questions and talking, the dad didn’t seem distracted. He seemed able to concentrate on the Mass and his son at the same time. There was no conflict.

Halfway through, the son held the snake out as though he were about to drop it. “Don’t let go,” the dad whispered, and then he added, “Hold onto it.” It was his voice that got to me. It wasn’t a warning, the kind we give our kids all the time: Don’t do that, sweetheart, no no no. There was something more earnest and serious in this dad’s voice, and when he said, “Hold onto it,” it was an urging, as though he were telling his son, Don't make this mistake, hold onto this, it's important. And his son listened.

I wish that, during the almost three years that we lived in the cottage, I’d listened a little more to the inner voice that speaks to us with that same urgency. I wish I’d been able to give my kids that certainty, to guide them through that time a little better than I did. My regrets aren’t about leaving the marriage but about ignoring the urgings from within that might have shown me how to do it all more gracefully and with less hurt to those around me.

But we’ve gotten through it. Proud mom that I am, I’d even say the kids are thriving, and that, while there was damage, there don’t seem to be permanent scars. My daughter’s in seventh grade. Her English teacher asks her to write autobiographical assignments at times, and the divorce plays a part in those assignments. Some of these she shows me, some she doesn’t, and that’s fine. My son has the lead in this year’s play: He’s Ali Baba in Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, and this evening his cheeks are rosy because he’s just come home from tech dress and he didn’t quite get all the blush off. They are good kids— no, they’re great kids. And they do, I’m sure, still feel torn between their dad and me, trying to read us.

We’ve moved again; on my birthday last year, the man I fell in love with proposed, and the wedding was that July. The kids go back and forth between our house and their dad’s now, while that same beer-drinking Labrador stays put, sleeping under my desk and thumping her tail when she hears us get up in the morning. I am back in the rich and complex land of marriage, a place that feels like home this time. And though I’m still getting the hang of it, I’m finally learning how to be myself, how not to please too much. That novel I worked on late at night in our small cottage sits in a cupboard in the upstairs hall. I don’t know why I keep it; it isn’t any undiscovered treasure. Maybe just as evidence of where I was for a time.

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