It is a gorgeous day, sunny and bright, and I am sitting at the picnic table in my backyard, with the huge new house that our tree died for looming over my shoulder. The air smells cleaner than usual and the birds are singing. Every now and again a stray commuter passes to or from the metro stop a few blocks away, smiling because it is a beautiful day, just the sort of day that makes people smile.
It is the sort of day that makes the plants stretch tall, aching for more exposure to the warm sunshine. It is the sort of day that makes blossoms open and release their fragrance. It is the sort of day that comes alive with buzzing and singing and it makes a body’s soul want to come alive with buzzing and singing, too.
Ex was to have come last Friday. He didn’t.
He called again two nights after he told the children he wasn’t coming. He spoke only to Little Man. I don’t know if he read the blog or if Zeep’s bluntness got to him, but Ex had a few things to say. Little Man held the receiver away from his face because Ex was speaking so loud. I could hear Ex clearly and wondered if he was drunk.
“I was thinking I would talk to your mother to figure out another time when I could come out to visit with you,” Ex said. Little Man was quiet.
“Would you like that?” Ex asked.
Little Man was lukewarm. He set the phone down and went to fetch his brother. A minute later he was back and speaking into the receiver again.
“I have a message for you from [Zeep],” Little Man said. “He said to tell you to Go to Hell.”
Everyone I have told this story to has made the same facial expression I made at that instant, the same one you probably just made. In my case it was accompanied by a gasp. My nine-year-old son had just carried a profane message from his thirteen-year-old brother to his father. Boys! Where are your filters?! I raised them better than that. Really.
I could no longer hear him, but Little Man reported that Ex answered, “He has a right to say that.” I give Ex credit here for validating feelings, even though he went on to say that he had rights himself; the right to say he was sorry and to tell Zeep he loves him.
Little Man said his goodbyes and hung up. A few minutes later Zeep entered the room and Little Man faithfully delivered the messages from his father.
“Yeah right, he loves us,” Zeep said sarcastically.
“He told your brother he wanted to try to arrange another time to come visit,” I said.
The clouds parted on the boy’s face. “Really?” he asked.
“That is what he said,” Little Man added. I quietly wondered whether Ex will follow through or just let them down once more.
That was a week ago and no one has heard from Ex since. I did, however, have a nice note from a friend who knew the woman whose funeral Ex used as an excuse to bow out. My friend suggested that the departed woman “would have been ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED at [Ex's] dumping the kids to go to her visitation.”
Horrified? Aren’t we all by now?
Last weekend Ex was to have been here. One of our favorite Aunties rolled into town instead. She helped us in the green room during the productions and took scads of photos. Sissy and Zeep buzzed around in black backstage, helping move set pieces and props. Little Man put on stage makeup and joined the other actors in a community theater production of Charlotte’s Web. It was a perfectly charming show, funny and entertaining. “I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats!”
With community theater, the emphasis is on community and we were so fortunate to be embedded in it as the disappointing drama of our real lives played out. It was a blessing to be steeped in support and kindness, and it was a privilege to watch the long hours and hard work come together, and to watch so many lights shine so brightly. Ex didn’t come and it was an incredible weekend: four shows, the strike and cast party, the regional science fair,* Sunday morning at church where the first grade lesson was where babies come from. With a favorite Auntie in town, there were laughter, anger, tears, and more laughter.
Here it is midway through the week now, and the weather makes a person want to grow and stretch toward the warm sunshine like a plant.
*Zeep took a third place for his project and was awarded a monetary prize by an engineering society. I thought that was terrific, considering that he is in eighth grade and competing against high school students who have taken more advanced courses. He didn’t see it that way. He got a first last year and to make it worse, this year he had to watch his arch-nemesis walk across the stage to collect a first. It bit. His project tested household materials for their potential use as airship skin. He is fascinated by airships and wanted to play with helium, so he created a valve assembly and made helium balloons out of paper, foil, plastic, latex, vinyl, and Mylar. He collected data on how rapidly each material returned to its pre-fill weight. He is already talking about next year, “…something with rocketry, I think.”