We stand at the edge of the playground. A throng of racing children and chattering parents presses us to chain link. He asks about the house and I give him the latest update. Good news, for once. When the celebratory chaos has melted away along with the popsicles, Bug and I will head back to my office to print and sign 44 pages of loan documents. The seller’s bank has approved an extension and my sketchy but efficient new loan officer is pushing for the end of the month. Tee listens and asks polite questions. Neither of us ever bought a home before and I am now tackling this with the help of a huge circle of friends and family which does not include him.
He says that he’s heard about the housing market around the place he is considering. Four-bedroom homes there are going for about what I am paying for this cramped condo. He has dreams of a fixer-upper and his father swooping into town in a van packed with a table saw and hydraulic nail gun to help turn the place into a masterpiece.
He had no intention of staying. This should come as no surprise yet it guts me all the same. Six months after I zeroed in on a place in his neighborhood and just weeks before it may become mine, he says he is aiming to leave. The bigger, better version of his life resolves into view. And it is not here. The patches of a co-family we’ve sewn together fray at the seams. It is hard to picture donning yet another configuration when we’ve just barely broken in this one.
Bug will be fine. Tee and I will figure out school and weekends and transfers. The steady dedication to civility over the past three years has given us language for the tough stuff. It will be tense but we have tools we practice regularly, like intentionally appreciating each other in every conversation even when we are disagreeing about a parenting approach. Like slowing down, using “I” statements no matter how contrived they sound. Like apologizing when we act like boneheads. I remind myself that we have passed the needle through the seams together and we can do so again, even if we have to tear back stitches and add a swath to expand the garment we share.
Because I’ll live in Bug’s school district and Tee won’t, it’s likely I’ll end up with a larger portion of time with my son in our shared arrangement. The thought of this comforts and exhausts me. I breathe and push down, down, down the rising anxiety about how I will manage. The days are so tight. The wallet is so thin. Tee will no longer be down the road to lavish his boy with his loose and easy care while I push and push against the constrictions of single motherhood.
He continues to talk of buying a big home on his maybe-new salary in his maybe-new job. Something rises into my throat but I swallow it back. This is a good thing, I tell myself. Good that he is now seeing the possibility of landing on his feet in a field he left. It is right for him and will be great for our son.
If I say this enough, it will become the loudest truth.
Yet, he surges forward on his own volition. When I was hitched to his engine, he choked. He is now capable of reaching beyond where he could go when fueled by my love and dedication.
Doubt is a creosote scar that scores the valley of my fledgling faith.
When we were in the raw days of separation, he said to me, “Why are you hiding?” I could not articulate that I had given over to the vision of us foolishly and prematurely, and had gotten lost along the way.
He said to me, “If I’d known how broken you were, I probably wouldn’t have married you.”
And I said, “Maybe you didn’t want to know.”
Oh, the words we cannot unspeak or unhear. How they edge in along that same tarred furrow. I wish I could expand enough to accept the rougher cuts of honesty. To hear without crumpling.
As my ex-husband steps further forward into the arc of his own story, he leaves me behind to manage mine. The envy is nothing compared to the dread about how I will manage. All over again, I shudder under the weight of what I hold. I wonder when I am going to grow up enough to be able to claim this as my own.
To stop hiding.
To knit the broken places.
To hope for the best for Tee. To truly mean it because I understand I am living the right life for myself and I trust that happiness is not a zero-sum game.
Since I possess neither magnanimity nor conviction in sufficient quantities, I fake it instead. I wish Tee luck at his interview, gather up my son, and head to the car. We have 44 pages of a loan application to complete and they have to be at the bank by closing time.
I am underqualified, overwrought and clearly ill-suited for this job. Nonetheless, no one else is on deck to take over. It’s on me to make a home here in this place.
This place I landed.
This place I choose.