“Should I ask Dad?”
That’s what my son said. We were on the phone, catching up. Talking about this and that. And then the subject of old friends came up. Friends of my ex, though once they were my friends, too. Friends who felt like family.
I took a long, slow,
deep breath. The separateness of their father’s life and my life has been cemented by years of not talking, or barely talking, which has suited both of us. And this wasn’t critical, so why rock the boat? We are, more or less, past issues of money and logistics. One son is now out of college, and my younger, to whom I was speaking, has a year and a few months left.
I hate putting him or his brother in the middle for any reason. I hated it years ago, when it was necessary at times; I hate it now, when it is less so.
Both my sons found themselves mediating between their parents more often than I would have liked. In a way, they had to advocate for themselves over certain issues, as communication from me tended to fan the flames no matter what I did.
No doubt, this is a common scenario.
What may be a little less common is that it went on for years. And years. And years.
This time, it was a small issue — my issue only, and a matter of understanding multiple sides. And being sensitive to the legitimacy of all points of view.
Like most mothers, I did my best for my kids, and I still do. Like most divorced mothers, I wish some things could have gone down differently.
To my amazement and relief, the challenges we faced as a family seem to have resulted in their becoming compassionate young men. I will never know the depth of hurt they absorbed — from me and from their dad — but I see how well they seem to be doing, and like I said, I am relieved.
I also respect them for always trying to see both sides. Perhaps that was the only way to ensure they had a relationship with both parents. How they are with my ex? On pleasant terms. On “guy” terms.
How they are with me?
But in the Big Black Hole of virtually zero communication between my ex and myself, I am struggling with this conundrum — the issue of these friends, discussed with my son. Once upon a time, they were mutual friends. And in a couple of months, I’ll be passing through the town where they reside.
Do I stop to say hello, or do I let sleeping dogs lie?
When the Ex Gets the Friends
Does it matter that we were all very close during my marriage? Does it matter that I still hurt over the fact that they took sides so many years ago? Do I factor in the knowledge that I have only received secondhand communications as to what they were up to, that communication typically coming from my kids?
And yet there have been years of “say hello to your mom from us” or similar greetings conveyed on my part, also through my children: “When you see them, and I imagine you will, please give them my best.”
When your ex gets custody of the friends, must that be forever? If all they do is pass along a word through intermediaries, should we simply leave it at that? Do we ever move beyond the pain when friends and family choose sides?
I have no desire to make this couple uncomfortable. On the contrary; I only wish them good things. But I’ve heard he’s been ill, and I can’t help but be concerned. And so I find myself with this odd quandary. Do I call to say hello? If that goes well, do I visit? Is that selfish of me — or kind? Would it anger my ex, which I prefer not to do?
And my son, sweet kid that he is, was trying to figure out how he could help me decide. Thus, his question: “Should I ask Dad?”
Family Gatherings Are Still Awkward
Our little family, such as it is, managed to survive two high school graduations and — so far — one college graduation.
In the first two instances, my ex had to fly into town. I bent over backwards being polite, because I knew it was best for the kids.
As for the college graduation about a year and a half ago?
This time, it was I who had to fly off for the celebration, as my ex lived near the campus.
At one of the events that weekend, I struck up a conversation with my ex’s wife. She was pleasant and polite – I expected nothing less – yet he didn’t speak to me. I imagine we’ll have a replay of that when my younger son graduates in another year.
And I’m guessing that any family gatherings in the future will be more of the same. If there is communication necessary, which is rare these days, it goes through the kids.
And I say to myself: The silent treatment. Still weird, after all these years.
Echoes of Loss
I am surprised at the intensity of loss, and the way it wells up again like some inevitable tide that washes over us and threatens to pull us under. And when divorce is involved, the casualties are greater than an ending with a spouse; there are spaces emptied of people we loved, emptied of belief systems, emptied of a kinder version of ourselves.
I thought for a moment after my son’s question.
“No, that would be weird. Don’t ask your dad.”
“Okay,” he said.
“I’ll play it by ear,” I added. “Besides, I have time before I have to figure it out.”
After I got off the phone I couldn’t shake the sadness. And for a moment, just a moment, I wondered if I would have the strength, the “normalcy” to pick up the phone and call my ex myself.
And ask: Would my hello to this couple be welcome? Would a visit be appropriate? Would you prefer I not, and more importantly, would they prefer I not?
I haven’t picked up the phone.
“Let sleeping dogs lie,” I tell myself.
Meanwhile, my conundrum persists: Would seeing these people I still miss be an act of love, of friendship, of caring? Would it be taken as a gift or considered an intrusion? Should I break a pattern and call my ex — and just ask?