After the divorce
After the divorce, Mom and I moved into a second-floor walk-up behind the public library.
“Nothing like starting over,” she trilled as we unloaded the U-Haul. “This is such a great opportunity for us.”
I wasn’t so sure. But she threw herself into this new beginning, as giddy as Marlo Thomas arriving inManhattanduring the opening credits of “That Girl.” She bought a set of “office clothes” – mostly short skirts and ribbed turtlenecks. And she started sleeping in rollers and hogging the bathroom each morning as she back-brushed her hair into a perfect bouffant, which she shellacked in place with a cloud of hair spray that still hovered in the air when I came home after school.
Scheduled, sit-down meals, with three food groups and no dessert unless you cleaned your plate, disappeared. Now we grabbed what we wanted when we wanted, every woman for herself. Breakfast could be a can of soup, supper a bowl of cereal. I picked up lunch at the corner store across the street from school, usually Yodels or Twinkies. When I came home, I might pull an individual-sized pizza from the freezer, drop a Pop Tart into the toaster or spoon ice cream directly from the carton while watching re-runs on TV.
Housework also stopped happening.
“I work nine-to-five,” Mom said. “Do it yourself, if it bothers you so much.”
On the alternate weekends I spent with Dad, I didn’t tell him about any of this. His apartment was spare but strange. A brightly patterned bedspread from India hung on the wall above a creepy wooden sculpture of a naked woman with breasts like weapons. We were supposed to take our shoes off at the door and walk around in our socks or bare feet. Dad had grown a beard, and he was constantly brushing his hair out of his eyes. I slept on a fold-out couch in the second bedroom, which Dad used as his study. Once, when I was moving aside a pile of papers on the desk, I noticed that they had Claire’s name on them. Another time I went to take a shower, and found a pair of flowered panties hanging over the hot water handle.
Claire had her own place, but she was always around, staying late into the night and showing up early in the morning, to prepare the tea Dad drank now, instead of coffee. It was Claire who planned out our weekends, always making sure to include an outing – to a movie, a museum, dinner at a Chinese restaurant, a folk concert in the park. She couldn’t seem to figure out how old I was. One week we went to the zoo, the next to a poetry reading where all the poets cursed.
No matter how dumb or embarrassing the outings were, at least they meant we didn’t have to talk to each other. When we did talk, we made sure not to say anything that mattered. I answered Dad and Claire’s general, abstract questions with general, abstract answers, and was careful never to ask any questions of my own. I was always glad when Sunday afternoon rolled around and Dad drove me home. And when Mom dropped the same question she asked after every visit, which was whether Dad and Claire were getting married, I was glad not to know the answer.