It is Sunday night and we are standing on the porch after I’ve put our son to bed, saying goodbye, see you in a couple of weeks, etc. It’s the often perfunctory end to dropping our son back off with her, but it’s gotten warmer over the years. At first it was clipped, forced. She would turn off the porch light seconds after (or sometimes in the middle of) closing the door. Go back to Atlanta with the rest of the scum. You are not welcome here.
That’s all changed now. We’ve softened, and we’re usually joking with each other at this point in the night. She drops some sort of weird joke that she knows no one else in Opelika will appreciate, and I laugh, and I know it makes her feel good to have that communication received. We’ve slowly become friends again and, absent the perpetual fog of war that choked our marriage, I can see the woman I fell in love with almost ten years ago. Her gentle, loving eyes, her soft little voice. The love is directed at our son, not me, but it is still nice to see it after years of wondering where it had gone.
A few months back it became OK to go in for the hug. She still keeps her arms at her sides but she leans in, lets me hold her. If her father is still awake, and has been drinking, he will wrap me up in a big hug as well. Her mother always remains in the other room.
I go in for the hug and this time she rubs my back, whispering, “Get home safe.” On Friday nights, when I pick up our son she adds, “Text me when you guys get there.” She never adds this on Sunday nights.
The weather is getting warmer and I can’t help but notice the re-emergence of the large, colorful sleeve tattoo on her upper arm. We got our wedding tattoos at the same time and they’re both enormous, intricate monsters that took multiple trips to the shop over the course of a year or so. Hers is of a southern paradise, with a large white house overwhelmed by colorful flora and fauna. Overhead soars an enormous graf zeppelin, an experimental aircraft that defied all expectations to enjoy a successful aeronautic life. I went more literal: mine is of the Brooklyn Bridge, where we were married, and it covers my entire back. She chose her artist for color, I chose mine for the intricacy of his shadow work. Sometimes, if we timed our sessions right, we could sit across the room and look at each other while we were getting inked.
Our marriage ended two years ago, burned to the ground before we could really get started. When most couples were honeymooning we were in marriage counseling. Hell, we were still putting the finishing touches on our tattoos when we started our weekly sessions with Amy (not her real name.)
I get off easier in this regard. If anyone asks about my tattoo I can just lie to them, tell them I’m a fervent admirer of gothic architecture. But this rarely happens: I’m not often shirtless, and the few times someone at the pool or the beach has asked I have answered honestly. She, on the other hand, is stuck with the date of our marriage, framing her sleeve from the bottom, so people are constantly asking her what it means. She says she wants to get the date blacked out but she can’t afford it.
We get along now because we’ve forced ourselves to get along, for the sake of our two and a half year old son. Like our tattoos, he is probably going to be with us until we die, and we’ve decided not to be those people who allow their divorce to seethe onto their children. We’ve decided, essentially, “We’re stuck with each other, so we might as well make the most of it.” Fake it till you make it.
“Get home safe,” she says to me on her porch, her hand rubbing my back, and I take a step away from her before finally saying what I’ve been waiting to say.
“Let’s be real. Nobody cares if I get home safe.”
I walk back to my car, cutting across the lawn sharply, a head full of steam. I am almost there when she yells, “Hey!”
She runs out to where I am on the lawn.
She puts her hand on my face.
She kisses me.
She pulls me in tightly and asks, “Text me when you get home?”
“I will,” I assure her, tears in my eyes.
We are both crying, there on the lawn, looking into each other’s eyes, our son sleeping peacefully not thirty feet away, and he doesn’t even know that the world is perpetually shifting under his tiny, beautiful feet.