In Giovanni’s house, the first one appeared in the bathroom. The hair ties and citrus lotion live there. Then, two small ones sprouted up in the dresser. In those, my extra socks, a pair of pajamas, and a few earplugs took up residence. Just recently, I discovered a fourth. This is a deep one. The jeans fit, along with the aquamarine sweater.
No key yet. We are both still dancing a little on the outer edge of certainty. He says it is simple. “I want to give you a place you can feel at home.” And I do. The small fire crackles. The wide-leafed plants stretch to the ceiling. A single white towel is folded on a rack next to the tub; like the drawers, this one is mine. Whatever I need, he provides. In this liminal space, I have a home. His arms are never closed against me. It is good I still have to knock. I get to hear him invite me in, again, again.
From my perch on his brown sofa, I can see the bare trees outside. I do not look for long, not the way he does, the binoculars resting on the top of the headboard for him to watch the hawk he has yet to name. I only glance in a fleeting way. Get my bearings. Open my journal. Commence.
Writing is the only thing for me on these too-brief nights. He tells me to come anyway. “Write over here, baby. Whatever you want to do.” And so I take him at face value, which is new. A few minutes s of small talk, perhaps a quick bite. Then I just write. What he does, I do not know. It is his business. He tidies, I suppose, considering how well spaced the candles on the mantle, how gleaming the sink. Does he organize his work? His thoughts? Pay bills? Curiosity teases, but I am practicing trust. Vigilance is just control in sheep’s clothing. I turn back to my page.
On other nights after the journal is put to bed, it is all different. We talk, out at the bar or on a walk, and he unfurls like a bear from its winter sleep. I see and smell the whole expanse of his layered pelt, and I want to dig my own claws into its depths.
Balance is key. Too much of that, and I start to pick at the nits. Yank at the ticks. Knee him toward the river to find next season’s dinner.
I think it is better that we circle back to turning away from each other.
I am here in his home which he gently offers as mine, but it is not mine. He can putter, you see. Put his laundry in the dryer and empty the dishwasher. Meanwhile, back at my other home, the dog paces, itching for her walk. The iron is cold. The wrinkles set.
After a time with him, whether curled into our own edges of the cave or stretching out in the sun together, I start to fidget. I start to worry. Something is waiting. The sink at my folks’ house fills while the refrigerator empties. The fruit in the bowl shrivels and draws flies. I have to go home, freshen, replenish. Touch my books. Dig through my own drawers.
I have been writing for an hour. I am beginning to get edgy on the sofa. I set my jaw against Giovanni’s attentions, even while he brings the ginger tea.
My phone rings. Tee’s name pops up.
“I need you to wake up at four in the morning and drive to Daddy’s house and bring my blue doggie jammies.”
“I do, huh?” This is unexpected. “Is it jammie day at school?”
“No. My blue doggie jammies are at your house.”
In the background, Tee’s voice, filling in the gaps. “The shirt is here and the pants are over there. We had a little bit of. . .” He is calm. I hear the smile. “Of being upset.”
I get up and walk through Giovanni’s apartment, stretching my spine. “Listen, baby, I know exactly where your blue doggie jammie pants are.” They are at my house, not here, but Bug does not need to know this. “I can bring them to you tomorrow.”
“At 4:00 in the morning, okay?”
I laugh. “I will bring them at 8:00 in the morning before I go to work.”
“Okay, 5:00 then.”
“I’ll see you in the morning. Good night. I love you.”
The phone is already dead.
It is simple. The longing slices to the marrow, as clean and pure as the surgeon’s knife. I want to crawl into my little boy’s bed, with his daddy there or not, I don’t even care, crawl in and just be one one one family again. I would give anything for the unfettered faith, for the stupid oblivion of a shared name. This here, pinging between Giovanni’s apartment and my parents’ house, is uncomfortable. It chafes.
Karma is a beautiful woman without mercy. This in-between existence is my choice. It is abundance, and it is voluntary, and I have safe harbors and generous care on all sides. It is, as anyone looking in might point out, a gift to be so well loved. Yet, straddling two homes is slippery. The mind grasps and loses this here and that there. Where are my people? Where are my underwear? Every return to one place or the other requires checking gauges and adjusting mirrors.
Bug lives with this every day. We try to leave the big decisions far out of his reach, up in the ether where the grownup worries reside. No, he does not have one place of his own. But we do not force him to remember his various belongings. We keep double snow pants and winter boots, double swimsuits and raincoats. He can relax. We take care of managing his things and making sure someone is always there to pick him up school. Our job is to help him put something in his backpack starting with the letter T, which we all know is the letter of the week.
But all of this is only so much. It is only a fraction of the everything. Bug still asks, constantly, “Whose house am I staying at tonight? Who am I with this weekend?” He came into my room one recent Saturday morning to find me getting dressed. I explained that I was heading to some workshop or other, he became very still and asked with such a furrow in his brow, “But who will take care of me?”
I tried to keep my own voice casual. As if taking care of him comes as naturally as breath (which it does). “I’m taking you to meet your daddy because you guys are going to that basketball game.” I gave him a smile as I brushed out my wet hair. That was that.
The rub is that sometimes the jammies are split for no reason. Even to a five-year-old mind, the truth must flash like a sun dog from time to time, searing the eyes. His things belong in the one and only place they are not: together. Bug is right to be mad about this fragmenting of his parts. It is his right to be stung by the injustice of it, and to be sad, and to tell us so, and to ask us to help set it right. Sure, children lose their stuff, even in model families. But I get it. I get that sometimes, under all the okay-ness and the abundance, my kid’s legs quake a little from straddling two shifting worlds. Mine do, too.
“When you and daddy are not divorced anymore, we should get a new kitty.”
“Baby, that is never going to happen. Daddy and Mommy will always live in two different houses. And you have kitties in both your houses already!”
“Yeah, but when you are not divorced anymore. . .”
Around and around. He wants a different truth, yet truth does not submit to his will. I cannot solve this puzzle for him. I have said it here a dozen times, and still, the sting does not wear off the every-time-the-first-time realization of this frustrating fact. I cannot give him one home.
But I’ll be damned if I cannot give him his blue doggie jammies. It is an inadequate play at righting the universe, but it is the one I can manage. So, I leave Giovanni’s earlier than I had planned and return to my other place. This way, I am sure to pick up the jammie pants and put them in my backpack, and I will not forget to give my son this one meager reassurance about a whole and completely loved boy in a fractured world.
In the morning, Tee and I speak in his foyer. We are cursory but kind, moving with intention against whatever hurt we may be feeling. “What time is tomorrow’s pick-up?” and “Will you meet us at the metro?” and “What are your thoughts about that Tai Kwon Do place?”
Yes, yes, and pretty okay, I guess.
We build the bridge between us, one slat at a time. We sink the pilings, hang the wires, check the blueprints again and again. We calibrate our exchanges to hold the weight of what we are attempting. Bug steps out between us, crossing safely over the abyss. He does not have to think about what lies below, and can run easily over that expanse. My prayer to a capricious god is that my boy barely feels the sway, and that no matter how suspended he is (as all of us are) above some unknown chasm, he only ever has the sense of a solid foundation, unshakable, beneath his feet.