I needed a date the other night, someone who would appreciate a family party and would be willing to drive an hour north into white-out country, late March though it was. Naturally, I called my Ex.
When I was 16, the year that Blake and I met on a Good Friday bicycle hike, the word “ex” hadn’t been invented and had certainly not devolved from meaning ex-husband/wife down to meaning ex-boy/girl friend. Only the rich and scandalous and movie stars got divorced in those days. I can’t even remember whispered adult conversations about divorced people in my home and I always heard the whispered, good stuff.
Blake and I were together for over 25 years before we broke my grandmother’s heart. (My mother had passed on, so my grandmother had to fill the role.) She thanked God that at least my grandfather had not lived to see it. Then divorce began spreading like a nasty disease and she started working hard to keep up.
So my second niece was turning 50. My children and my sister’s are all one year apart – Irish twins, as they say. This niece was the last of the four to reach 50. Initially I phoned her daughter -great niece, that would be – to say sorry, apologies and all that. I got off the phone and had a brainwave. The invitation had been addressed to Joyce and guest. I phoned Blake and he readily agreed to be my date. It would be good to see the family, he said. I cancelled my regrets.
Blake could drive through hell without turning a hair as he proved in Paris, Rome, Athens and on the Autobann when we were married. And although we have been divorced for 36 years, he has come to family gatherings in the last few years. My sister greeted him at that first Easter dinner, “Gee Blake, I didn’t know we were going to get you back.”
It hasn’t always been hearts and flowers. At first when divorce loomed, the kitchen knives lured me, sang siren songs, but both Blake and I have a blood phobia and being a bright guy, he moved out.
Even so, we didn’t fight over the division of property or children. Fifteen and sixteen -year-olds make up their own minds. The rest we divided in half, although I resented being given the cabinet television set, which took 2 men and a boy to move. We didn’t divide my brother’s drug stash in the crawl space because we didn’t know about it and he didn’t know we were selling the house. It’s still there if you look up in the rafters near an air vent or so he claims. But that’s on your head.
Any lingering angst evaporated when Blake’s wife died. No, I didn’t mean it like that. She was a beautiful, vital young woman, as passionate as only the Spanish can be and she was a brilliant cook of Mediterranean food, ambitious and hard-working. She and Blake were coping with the idea that he would go first since he already had a cancer diagnosis. Then she was diagnosed, but the prognosis was good. Not to worry. But in the course of one autumn, she turned very badly for the worse and passed away on the winter solstice.
Our daughter came flying back to aid and comfort her father. Although neither of us had known his wife well, we felt a great out-pouring of love as if she were sending it back from the other side. Blake was perhaps too overwrought to register it. It wasn’t hard to realize that Blake could use support once our daughter left.
We go to movies like August, Osage County, I cook steaks or stew, or we eat out and we talk about politics or current events: ‘what did happen to that airplane’. Julia says it’s just what we did at our own table all those years ago. We go along with each other for medical appointments, just to have a second set of ears and to decide on treatment if necessary. It’s true that Blake has other companionship as well. Fine with me. She can keep up with him. Being younger. Is there a pattern …. No, no, that’s small minded.
Dressing for this masked ball proved challenging for me, but I pulled together a long sleeveless dress, heavy tights and a black scoop-necked top with long sleeves for a suitably “formal” look. Blake showed up in maroon cords, a blue shirt and the softest grey/blue jacket that invited touch, mine and that of several other women.
We had a charming misunderstanding about our gift of cash. He insisted on being generous. I thought we were dividing what I had ready in half. He thought he was adding to what I had ready.
When we arrived, my niece’s grandchildren greeted us at the door, the boy in a tuxedo, two girls in long dresses and one in a tutu. Our coats were whisked away and we were provided with masks.
Shortly, thereafter, Blake wished my older niece happy birthday and she thanked him, noting that he was 5 weeks early. “Wrong niece, Blake”, but Blake is forgiven everything. He is the beloved, absent-minded uncle to them and always has been.
It is an interesting venue, the long narrow foyer of an athletic club where the birthday girl works, with a bar and tiny kitchen in the middle and glassed in squash courts in clear view. There is one baby. Two others have been left at home, to great disappointment. And all those flying beautiful sub-teens. So septuagenarians right down to a one-year-old. In the kitchen is the family chef, birthday girl’s son-in-law, father of 6, churning out nibblies, that the kids pass around, explaining each in detail.
Someone is reported to have said, “It’s nice to see Blake and Joyce back together.” It’s not clear if this was a joke.
Blake and I enjoy a chat with my younger sister, Georgia. They have always liked each other and are not above flirting. Then we try to mingle and find ourselves with the most mono-syllabic fellow in the room. He regards innocuous questions as an invasion of privacy.
Then a remarkable thing happens. Georgia’s ex-husband takes his two daughters – my nieces- aside and tells them he is giving each of them $40,000 from their grandfather’s estate.
It takes me only a minute to slide over to the gift table, unseal the envelope and pocket my gift money. NO, no. I didn’t do that. Honestly, I didn’t.
Then in general jubilation, the band starts up – Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin – and the dancing begins.
Once upon a time as in the best fairy tales, Blake and I danced. We square danced, we polka-ed, we two-stepped, we jitterbugged, we foxtrotted. Since we parted all those years ago, neither of us has danced. Sixty years later, we dance.