Sweaty and panting from a jog, I was just about to walk up the steps to my apartment when I heard someone call my name.
I turned around to see Nick walking his dog. Nick was an old friend of Prince’s and I hadn’t seen him since the divorce. I had heard from my kids that he lived in the swanky apartment complex next to us and, truthfully, hoped that I wouldn’t run into him. I was sure he’d gotten a couple dozen earfuls about my “mental illness” and general ineptitude over the past ten years.
So I was surprised to see him approach me, grinning. He opened his arms for a hug and insisted on having one despite my protestations of sweatiness.
I stood back to look at him. He appeared exactly the same as he did went I first knew him, twenty-plus years ago, plus a few gray hairs in his dark ponytail.
Nick is a scenester and long-time bachelor. Although he co-owns a nightclub and dates a succession of young women, he always struck me as a traditional Jewish guy.
A talker, Nick chatted me up for about 15 minutes. He told me about his prowess with Words with Friends and the new apartment he was moving to (Nick is perpetually moving). He told me about some of his conversations with Luca.
“Luca listens to me,” he said. “I think I’m like the cool uncle or something, maybe it’s because of the long hair.” He touched his ponytail.
“I told him he’s got to get his act together now,” he continued. “He’s gonna have more opportunities than 99% of the kids in the world and he’s gotta start making the right choices so he can make the most of what he has.”
I nodded. We compared our observations of Luca post-residential treatment and concurred that he seemed to have learned that his actions have consequences.
He told me about his daughter Ellen, who lives in another state with her mom. He showed me videos of Ellen and Franny singing in the backseat of a car, taken the last time Ellen was visiting him.
“Hey,” Nick looked at me. “It would be great if Franny could Facetime Ellen. I’m worried about her. She’s a little behind socially.”
He went on to tell me that Ellen had Asperger’s and on top of being genetically programmed to miss social cues, she wasn’t getting social opportunities with her mother, who didn’t have a lot of friends.
“I bet Franny has a lot of friends,” he said.
“She does,” I nodded.
I told him I would make sure Franny Facetimed Ellen. We made plans to get the girls together when Ellen visits him later in the summer. He programmed my number into his iPhone.
We hugged goodbye and as I turned the key in my apartment door I felt a wave of surprised relief wash over me. Talking to Nick had felt normal, like the conversations we used to have in my backyard when I was married to Prince.
I was sure he’d heard that I was a lunatic. Maybe he’d believed the stories. Or maybe he’d formed his own opinions. Whatever the case, I reveled in the afterglow of a conversation with an old friend
* * *
The next day, I drove Luca to his dad’s house so he could pick up his remote control planes on the way to the flying park. I sat in my car, checking e-mails on my iPhone when I noticed Prince’s wife Sarah drive her SUV into the driveway. She and her younger son and an older woman who looked like her mother got out of the car.
I glanced back down at my iPhone, pretending to be transfixed by e-mails. Sarah and I were always pleasant to each other but I didn’t like talking to her. She had tolerated Prince’s maniacal drive to flatten me, as well as his control freakiness with Luca. So as much as I’m grateful that she’s good to my kids, I don’t exactly trust her.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her walk around the front of my car. There was no way I could avoid speaking to her and she was clearly coming to talk to me.
I pushed the window button, smiling at her as the glass moved down.
“Are you on the phone?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
She introduced me to her mother, a casually-dressed, gray-haired woman.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, smiling. I was doing a lot of smiling, in part to make nice, and in part to offset my uneasiness.
“Nice to meet you too,” said her mother, who looked like she might have meant it. She struck me as shy. Shy, or nervous around the woman whom she had been told had snakes growing out of her head. Whatever the case, she smiled back at me.
I turned to Sarah’s son and said something dumb about how tall he’d gotten. I told Sarah that her blow-out looked good. She told me she didn’t know how she’d survive missing her older son, who was heading to college in the fall.
“Jacob asked his dad how long he would stay when he drops him off at college. His dad said ‘three days.’ He asked me how long I would stay, and I said ‘four years.'”
We laughed in maternal solidarity. I had always had the sense that Sarah was a nurturing, involved mother. A regular, emotionally healthy woman. So it puzzled me why she was with Prince. But as I watched her walk past my car with her mother and son, I thought to myself that maybe I needed to let go of my judgment.
Luca had gotten in the passenger seat mid-conversation.
“That was nice,” he said, as I drove down the street.
I knew what he meant. It must have felt good to see his mother and stepmother being civil to one another.
“Yeah. It was nice,” I nodded. “Sarah is a nice person.”
It was twice in a 24-hour period that I’d had friendly conversations with people who could have ignored me. And in those conversations I’d felt a shift in my post-divorce life. Nursing animosity and suspicion is an energy-sapper. Ridding oneself of those emotions makes space for hope. And for moving on.
Today, I’m thankful for post-divorce civility.