My husband and I have an unusual arrangement. While he continues to toil away in California, I and our daughter have moved to New York City. We moved back here after 20 dreary years in California.
Learning experience – climate is a terrible reason to choose a place to live. And I don’t think the climate is all that great, anyway. It’s gray and gloomy for the entire month of June and part of July. Contrary to popular opinion and the old song, it does rain in California. And rain and rain and rain. All through January and February. And not a little bit of rain. Torrents of rain. Scary, pounding rain.
They say California doesn’t have seasons. That’s true, up to a point. What California has could more accurately be described as plagues. First there is earthquake season, which is followed by fire season, which lasts until monsoon season, and finally, that makes mudslide season possible. Every year I watch these houses slide into the sea and I wonder, “What were they thinking? This is a surprise to them?”
But I digress.
So, we have this arrangement now, Mark and I. Diana and I are in New York, where the weather suits our clothes. He’s due to join us here in June. In the meantime, I get to experience single motherhood while I parent my child alone and wait for my soul mate to return.
Friends are puzzled. They don’t understand such an arrangement. “How can you go without your soul mate for a whole year?” They ask if I’m lonely, if I miss him, and how do I manage. These are all valid questions. Let me try to explain:
Mark and I have been together for 20 years. Although we have had our ups and downs, our feeling is that we really are right for each other – we work. We’re both kind of strange (Mark does calculus in his head, dear G-d), but we “get each other.” We accept each other, and we complement each other. There are no secrets between us.
Now about this separation: For most of the 20 years, I’ve been begging Mark to let us go home. I hated California for many reasons, only some of which are noted above. I will go into this further in a future column. I can tell you that I was there for 20 years and will probably never speak to anyone I met there again. Ever. And that is very telling in itself.
Anyway, meanwhile, I’ve been working on myself – trying to figure things out, not be a victim, own my own power – you know the drill. And 3 years ago, Mark said that Diana and I should rent an apartment in New York City for the summer. He thought I’d find it less appealing than I did when I was 21. WRONG! I found it MORE appealing. Diana loved it, too.
Within 2 weeks of arrival, I called Mark and said, “We’re moving to New York. For good. You may join us, if you wish; in fact, I hope you do. But with or without you, we’re going.”
You see, one of the things I’ve learned in the past 20 years is that you can love someone with all your heart and never want anyone else and that’s great. But you can’t make someone your whole life. And that’s what I was doing, all those years. I had no friends. There were weeks I didn’t speak to anyone over 4 feet tall. Because Mark works a lot, too. So my day consisted of nearly the same routine, every day: 1) Wake up and get Diana ready for school; 2) Try to talk to husband in the a.m. – he tells me he’s got to go. Can’t talk right now. 3) Take Diana to school in car; do not speak to anyone or even step out of my car – instead, smile phonily at the other mothers as they smile phonily back at me; 4) Walk dog; 5) eat breakfast; 6) clean house (maid only comes 2X a week), do laundry (which there is a ton of, every day, because – lucky them! – Diana and Mark have a personal laundress!); 7) Go food shopping for anything needed for house or meals; 8) pay bills and balance checkbooks; 9) deal with household items – workers, things to be repaired, appointments, etc.; 10) Start dinner; 11) pick up Diana – basically just do #3 in reverse; have no interaction with anyone over 4’5″, unless child has misbehaved at school, in which case teacher punishes ME; 12) help Diana with her homework; 13) finish making dinner in time for Mark to come home at 7 PM; endure withering looks if dinner is late; wait for his majesty to make drink or chill wine if dinner is on time; 14) Clean up after dinner; 15) leave Mark alone for an hour so he can recuperate from work and read his favorite blogs; 16) fold and put away last load of laundry for the day; 17) wash face, brush teeth and put on nightgown; 18) It is now 10 PM. Go downstairs and stare numbly at spoils of war – big screen TV with surround sound. 17) Contemplate blowing my brains out because I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS IS MY LIFE!!!!!!!
G-d, I was bored even just writing that! You must have wanted to blow your brains out from reading it!
And of course, I’m leaving out the good stuff that Mark and I do together – the warmth, the evenings when we do talk, the cuddling, Sunday morning breakfast… But it’s still not enough to make a life. At least not for me. I need women in my life – women to talk with, to go to a movie with, to have a drink or a cup of coffee with. Women who don’t think reading is an odd little habit, as the moms in the OC did.
So the good news is, Mark agreed that we’d all move to NY! Hooray! He just asked me to give him up to 3 years, so he can exercise his final stock options, which he is deluded enough to believe will actually be worth something some day (Stock price on day Mark started there, 15 years ago: 16; stock price of our options: 1.75-2; stock price today: $1.00. Yes, one lousy dollar! But don’t worry, I’m sure it’s coming back real soon!). So I said OK. And then a strange thing happened.
We continued to rent in NY during the summers. And I found out, the following summer, that there is no guaranteed placement in middle school in Manhattan. None. You apply, they put you somewhere based on your talents or lack thereof. Which is what we’ve been preparing for – going on tours and interviews, taking entrance exams. You do this in 5th grade for 6th grade admittance. If Diana had simply arrived in NYC in 6th grade, she would be placed wherever they had room. And some of those schools are really baaaaad. So I knew what I had to do. We had to go a year early.
I told Mark. He reminded me of my promise of “up to 3 years.” The new me, who doesn’t fight or argue and is confident and does not need permission to live her life the way she wants to said, “I know. I’m sorry about that. But you did say ‘up to 3 years.’ And this is up to 3 years – even though it’s only 2. Because 3 encompasses 2. And in any case, there’s nothing to be done. If we’re to succeed in NY, Diana must be in a good public school.”
The year went on. I started planning for a June move. Every time I did something, Mark would say, “You know, I’m not on board with this! I’m not OK with this!” And I, mindful of the fact that I didn’t need his permission, merely answered, “Yes, dear, I know, it’s terribly tragic.” And I kept doing my preparation. I found a good (and cute!) Realtor and in April, the three of us came to NY and rented our apartment.
[Side note: One of the newly-discovered advantages of being 52 – you can say whatever the fuck you want to a good-looking youngster. Because you have no chance, anyway. No chance whatsoever. So when I saw said Realtor for the first time, I said, “Well, aren’t you the stud muffin?” He was. Quite the. Stud muffin. Thirty years ago, I would have just stammered on meeting him, not being able to form words; today, I just say whatever I want. Soon, I’ll be an old lady who everyone refers to as eccentric, and then I can start actually insulting people with impunity! Can’t wait! But back to our story.]
Mark paid for the apartment with a wire transfer from one of our brokerage accounts and put his name next to mine on the lease, all the while complaining about how he didn’t say OK, etc., etc. etc. That’s just how he rolls. (Lesson learned: Never fight with someone who wants to thwart you; simply say “OK” and do what you want.)
So that’s it. Mark’s “up to 3 years” is concluded this June. And though we miss each other, we’re solid, still. I know that sounds strange. But I’m not worried about him cheating on me – I don’t have to leave town for him to cheat, if he is of a mind to. As for me, I have reconnected with a few great-looking guys from my past. No desire on my part. At all. I just want to be with Mark. I made a promise at our wedding, and I always keep my agreements, if at all possible. But that’s easy, because I really don’t want anyone else.
Recently, an old boyfriend took me to lunch, and I was thrilled by the light flirting. It had been months since I’d had any actual, in-person, male attention. So I called Mark: “Honey, let me get this straight. We’re not sleeping with other people, are we?” Mark: “No. Not unless you get film.” I just wanted to get it straight. And so those are the rules – I can sleep with anyone I want, if I get film. OK. I can live with that. Not the film part. Just the no sleeping with other people part. And if I really, really, really have to have someone, I’ll just whip out that video camera!
Finally, I will leave you with the words of the old (who are really much, much smarter, the old cliché notwithstanding) correcting something from the mouth of babes:
My friend’s daughter, Hannah, age 14: “So, it’s exactly like you’re divorced now, huh?”
Me: “No, dear. We still call each other every day and yell. And that’s exactly like being MARRIED.”
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