A year after the divorce, I convinced myself that a limited amount of e-mail and phone contact between my ex and me would be safe and healthy for our son. Of course, boredom and nostalgia played into my motivation, as did that Father-of-My-Child, Master-of-My-History attachment that contact only enhanced and made worse, more aggravating, and prone to cause hurt feelings. I did not look at behavior at this time, his or mine: I listened to words -- a most dangerous tactic where he, or for that matter, anyone else, is concerned. Things were reminisced over. Blame was reassigned. Then would come a meltdown (mine), in which, just as during the divorce, I felt like hammered feces and thought myself the biggest idiot on the planet, next to him, of course.
Communicating with him on any level, I've learned, is potentially toxic.
"You'll be able to speak with him later," a friend says. "Just not yet. You're still developing the antibodies."
Sleep is the only restorative that doesn't come in a childproof bottle, and it has been my savior. People who allow me to sleep are my angels. I long ago decided that, at 3 a.m., I would rather take a Xanax and sleep than stay awake and remain drug-free. In the beginning, I changed my sheets every day. I had to start treating myself like the queen I was, because when you've become an unmarried mother, you feel like a beggar woman in rags. You think, perhaps it was your fault. That it was because you weren't young or good enough that the father of your child left. That's why you imagine him being perfectly happy, forever.
I found out later that they aren't perfectly happy, the fathers who leave their children. That made things easier. But when Pablo first went to visit with his dad, I had no job lined up and didn't know what to do with myself. I stared wildly around the house, as if I expected it to fall down at any minute -- probably from the sheer filth of the place, the dirt that only I knew existed. It was taunting me, the dust, the dirt, the grime, and the piles of bills, magazines, and newspapers. I started with the refrigerator and went from there. My rolltop desk was packed to the gills with detritus, so I cleaned that out. Realizing it was April 13, I decided that I might want to get my tax receipts in order, and did. Naturally, I filed for an extension, as I do every year. Another way to screw the government -- I take every opportunity. I got the data to my Thai bookkeeper just in the nick of time. I foiled the system.
All the same, I still need the occasional kick in the ass. Spouses do that for you. I have no spouse; therefore, no one kicks me in the ass. Therefore, I also missed the county house-tax deadline. This year, I filed an appeal and hope to avoid a penalty. It was a very fine appeal, though, of course, the attached documentation was entirely falsified. Sainthood is not yet within grasp, but I can live with that.
Pablo gets tutored at his school at 7:30 on weekdays. We blast out of the house at 7:00 -- I like beating the elementary school rush and seeing the sunrise with my son. Talk about what's blooming, what's dead. His tutoring adds an hour to my free time, and I like my days to be unstructured. To compensate for the lack of a regular paycheck, I get to wander about and stare into space, with no one giving me meaningful looks of disapproval. Yes, I like having a bit more time to clean house, procrastinate, and think about where it is I might be going. Does the furnace filter need to be changed? And where is the pour-top to the olive oil bottle?
On the other hand, you could argue that "unstructured" is simply a euphemism for "boring." For "not having a job that gets me out into the world." For "being single," and so forth. You can fill in the emotional blanks.
In the meantime, I shall voice my alarm that the subject of online dating was on 60 Minutes II and Frontline recently. Everybody's doing it, and while I'm not ready yet, I'll admit, I'd admit to being a bit closer to ready. I could do it if I had a gun to my head and if somebody else typed the profile up for me. I'm not all that social; most writers aren't. I hate children's birthday parties, which I see as hell on a stick. I frown on forced interaction with a roomful of strangers, unless they are paying me personally and by the seat, and I get to just talk into a microphone. They, of course, get to say nothing. Otherwise, interaction feels the tiniest bit like dissection without anesthesia.
The biggest gift divorce imparts is the knowledge that I own my own experience. For example: If I can get a babysitter, I can rediscover the secret to life. I've done this. I've driven into San Francisco to have two drinks with eight friends. I've laughed until I've fallen down, not from drunkenness but from intense mirth, and a feeling of complete freedom:
Hangar One Mandarin Cosmopolitan in a large martini glass, Repeat once.
I am an ex-wife. I can live with that, now. I'm just fine, thank you very much -- much smarter and harder to fool. I can sense that any sudden "Oh I need a man" obsession is yet another diversion from the novel I'm writing, or the floor I need to scrub again. It's a way out.
Unfortunately, it was also the way in. I adore men, and yet, it was a man who turned me into a struggling and unmarried mother -- instead of a happy wife, a mother, and a financially secure woman -- in the first place. I don't forget that for a second.