Steve Axelrod reminisces on his lost love and realizes he’s not alone as he thought he was. He just wishes he enjoyed the company.
Sitting in a warm silent apartment on a Friday evening, snow ticking against the windows, the re-set button pushed, the slate wiped clean, everything possible, nothing happening, no expectations, no plans, no appointments, no obligations, no kids for the night, no women to obsess over, nothing to do and no one to do it with, alone but not lonely, just finished and just about to start.
Then a memory slips in, like the faint draft of cold air through the antique window:
Folding laundry in another winter, with a sick child sniffling at my feet. I came upon a relic, an inscrutable icon of past intimacy, changed and diminished, absorbed into the lives of my children … but still powerful: a pink, spaghetti-strap t-shirt. It was a light, sexy summer garment, too flimsy to wear with a bra. It reminded me of good times and bad—Lisa was wearing it that day when we all went to the beach with Desmond, and they thought I had traipsed back to the house with the kids. We paused to tie a shoe or something and when I looked back they were acting like lovers a hundred yards away, his hands slipped under the light cotton to refresh their memory of warm flesh and firm nipple. And there I was, years later, so many fires flickering or extinguished, even the cheap flare of violated intimacy (we made love more often in the days after Desmond left than in the entire year before), holding out that same pink t-shirt, staring at it. Lisa and my daughter had made it into an art project, drawing cats on it with a magic marker, turned it into a child’s play suit.
So, how does a lapsed priest feel, when he sees his children pilfering some forgotten stash of communion wafers for a after school snack? Their very innocence defiles him, shows him the distance he’s fallen, the uncertainty of his path, the ambiguity of his destination.
And I wrote in my journal that night:
These pages are like a letter written to some imaginary future self, standing free and happy in the sunlight, with a gently pitying curiosity about the way this extinct version of himself lived and felt in the self-imposed darkness. But I cannot grasp the reality of that person. How I might get from here to there I have no idea. But I know that if I ever crossed over I would want most of all to be alone. I would eat solitude and drink solitude, and rub solitude into my scaling pores like some perfumed moisture cream—make the hard flesh silky with silence, smooth with the cessation of judgment, supple with self.
And here I was; somehow, and basically against my own will, I had become that imaginary person, reading those letters, posted from another world.
The new world certainly wasn’t what I had expected, though I had to admit Married Guy had nailed it perfectly about the alone time. Of course I was still despised—but being despised from a distance was a delicious luxury. And even as a hermit, I had joined a new social world. I was part of a club now, a club I had never even known existed: the Divorced Folks’ Club. The welcome was overwhelming. People I scarcely knew stopped me at the coffee shop now,to trade war stories—their late night trips to A Safe Place, the alcoholic binges and serial infidelities they had to cope with. I heard about nightmarish first wives and second husbands, tortuous custody hearings and runaway children. I realized I had gotten off lightly. Lisa wasn’t an alcoholic or a drug addict, a pathological liar or a kleptomaniac … she just didn’t love me anymore. But I got boatload of advice on how to deal with her, anyway.
“You know my favorite part of being divorced so far?” an electrician on a job site said to me. “Hanging up on her. You should try it, man. Next time she calls and she’s pissing you off—just hang up. It’s like a declaration of independence. It’s Liberation! It’s great.”
The embrace of this new community made me realize that I had been a forbidding figure in my “happily married” days—a drag and a spoil sport: kind of like the one guy at a party who wasn’t smoking pot. Well I was stoned now, partying with everyone else, wasted with the worst of them, one of the gang.
I just wished it could be more fun.
This post originally appeared at Salon.