In the parking lot of the state college campus where Tee was staffing an exhibition table, Bug nursed. We sat in the back seat with the door open to a spring afternoon. Tee came around the corner to meet us, concern folding in a face usually at full sail. He moved to block us and pushed the door partway closed.
“What are you doing?” I asked. In my lap, Bug raised his eyebrows up and back to get in on the action. He didn’t lose his grip. Besides the perfunctory drape in an airplane or shopping mall, modesty had rarely factored into Bug’s mealtimes.
Tee shrugged and shuffled. “Everyone can see. We don’t know people here.”
“Am I embarrassing you?”
Tee stepped back, still half blocking us but less determined about it now. “No, it’s not that. It’s just. . .” He gestured in the direction of my chest. For this single, glorious chapter in an otherwise A-cup life, my ribcage was adorned with something resembling breasts. “I don’t want to share those with strangers.”
I laughed out loud. “These are not yours!”
Now, a grin. “Yeah, a guy can dream. I guess they’re really for Bug, aren’t they?”
“No!” My amusement was enough to jostle Bug off his latch. He scowled and rearranged himself as I flashed the parking lot. “They’re mine.”
In the mailbox waits a letter from the school. My married name is typed across the front. Inside is Bug’s report card. Self-control and conflict resolution carry his lowest scores. In art, math, and language, he’s off the charts. I set the grades aside and consider the envelope before recycling it. Should I write the school and change the designation to match the court’s? My son’s surname is spliced to my first. When his teacher or doctor calls me and refers to me as “Mrs. H,” it doesn’t sound wrong. The configuration of letters is irrelevant, after all. We both belong to the title through the circuitous connection of an obsolete marriage. Because the name is Bug’s and Bug is part of me, I do not revoke my claim.
Retaining dual citizenship is easier than the mythos of divorce suggests. For this interval, mercifully, Tee is not a cross I bear and our history is not that of a warring nation. What would be the prize for disavowal?
It may be that the choice to shed the fetters of taxonomy is not a matter of citizenship at all. It may instead be a rejection of specious declarations of belonging. It’s not as if my childhood name is unencumbered or any of those fluttering from the branches of my family tree is better suited to the story of me. I am a native of many places, resident and alien everywhere. I move freely from each to each. I belong to before and between and now. The choice is mine.
Bug and I arrive late at the chain restaurant where folks from our single parent group are already into their nachos and second drinks. I wave hello to the grownup table, settle Bug in the kid booth, and collapse on a seat. She is here now in the flesh and more elegant than her photos. A light expression dances across her face but she also holds it tight. We do not make eye contact. One of my friends whispers, “Is this is okay? Are you okay?”
“Sure,” I shrug. And I am. After ordering, I get up and walk around, bending to touch her shoulder. We smile and shake hands. The conversation swirls and we each allow it to pull us into our separate eddies. I make my way back to the other end, chattering and jibing and making sure Bug’s behavior doesn’t get us thrown out of the restaurant. Tee and his new girl – Lady, actually? Her poise is remarkable – lean their heads in from time to time to exchange murmurs beneath the din.
Tee and I are both up and down. We make our rounds. Passing between turns to sit with Bug, we chat about our son’s negotiations for a second order from the kid’s menu. Tee takes my abandoned chair and I park myself next to the girlfriend. This rhythm is so familiar, so forever, I almost don’t notice that he and I are the only ones on our feet working the room.
I understand nothing of this new relationship except that it is the slipping-free being it probably always was. My breasts were Tee’s for a time. They were Bug’s. Now and always, they are mine. As it was in the afternoon sun of a Colorado parking lot, I reveal and guard as I see fit from a place I choose.
Tee is similarly situated only in the arc of his singular story. He mine and not mine. He is hers, he is Bugs. He is none of ours. Freed from the cincture of covenant, he flourishes into his easiest, best self. He is his own.
We populate the borderlands, Tee and I. Others like us are here, too, these bodies and names of unfixed tenancy.
We laugh at our end of the table about pop-top campers and beer. We wend our way to Woodstock. Somehow, puppies trot into the conversation just ahead of a lexicon of anatomical slang for the native Hindi speaker who is a scarily quick study. Conversation with these new friends is not about my ex-husband or the assumed discomfort of coexistence. The stained glass up above, the finch perched on the lamppost, the juggler just there, and oh, the view from here!
The names stamped on the map and the lines separating them are a breathtaking puzzle. They blur with the simple weathering of stride and seasons. Sometimes I forget to consider them divisive. I suppose this can get a girl in trouble at the border, but the price is a pittance compared to the open terrain and one’s wide-eyed belonging to it all.