Three and a half years ago I went through what can only be characterized as a bloody divorce. We had been estranged for years before that, but my ex-husband still did not cope well when I finally filed. We underwent the kind of desperate fight you can only engage in when you think everything is on the line. And it was: a house, two children. Even after the battle was fought, and both of us had lost, little things like a scheduling change produced bitter screaming matches.
So it surprised no one more than me when I found myself sitting on a park bench with my ex-husband the other day, soaking in the sun, talking for hours. It was the kind of spring thaw I never would have thought possible.
It happened like this: I left my town library and, to my surprise, saw him in the parking lot. It was his weekend with the kids, but I didn’t realize he’d be waiting for them there, an hour before dismissal and several blocks away from their school. A year ago I would have hurried by and hoped he hadn’t seen me. But recently our relationship has turned almost cordial, so I tapped on his car window and he rolled it down.
He looked like he was in the mood to chat. He handed me an Easter egg he’d just made. (I told him, no, thanks, I wasn’t hungry, but he insisted I take it. The man has never known how to take no for an answer). I took it to be gracious. We talked a little about the kids – homework, sports schedules. He stepped out of the car and led the way to a park bench. I followed. It was the kind of sparkingly sunny day that makes you want to breathe in deep and smile.
At the bench, I sensed a new expansiveness, and I broached a difficult subject that had been bothering me for a few weeks. Someone we both used to know – someone who had caused trouble between us – had reached out to me recently, and I had questions I wanted to ask him. He took them in stride, being almost introspective. We talked about business – his favorite topic. He told me he was thinking of taking karate lessons with our son.
He asked me who I was dating. He asked about someone I used to see,wondering where things were between us. I told him it hadn’t worked out. I asked him why he never brought his girlfriend around our kids – my kids see signs of her in his place and they don’t understand why the divide. I would be fine with it if he did, and he seemed pleasantly surprised to learn that.
It wasn’t like old lovers meeting again, but it wasn’t like old enemies either. After all the years of struggling, it was just two people with a shared history and a shared purpose – the success of our kids – sitting on a park bench on a sunny afternoon. My daughter sauntered up after school and gave us her hip-cocked, “what in the world are you two doing talking” look. But the way she sat between us and giggled reminded me just how good this united front was for her and how much she must have missed it while he and I were both privately nursing our hurts. I threw my head back, felt the sun on my face, and handed her the egg.
I got up to go, feeling a quiet satisfaction. It’s not that he was the old him, the man I had fallen in love with. It wasn’t that he was a new him, either. None of the years and the frustrations had been erased. But neither had any of the joys. The man on the bench was all the things I had known – hardworking provider, brick wall, bitter combatant, doting father – but something else too. Something after all that. As I walked away, I felt, above all… peace.