I have never had to piss so badly.
I woke on top of the covers.
Madeline was next to me, masturbating.
“Good morning,” I kissed her. “You take care of business. I have to pee like a motherfuck.”
“I’ve had to go for hours,” she sighed. “But I wasn’t sure what’s up with Bernard.”
Right: my father in law in the next room.
I mean, my ex father in law.
It was just after nine.
“I’ll see if the coast is clear,” I said, getting up. I pulled on pajama bottoms and t-shirt, and opened the bedroom door.
Bernard’s bed was made. No sign of him in the apartment.
He was already out, presumably for the day. We would have the place to ourselves until she left.
I went into the bathroom, raised the toilet seat and began to pee. Midway though an unending stream, I realized I should have let Madeline go first.
Nothing to do about it now.
Finished, I lowered the seat and washed my hands. At least some manners remained intact.
“He’s gone,” I reported, pulling off my shirt as I returned to the bedroom.
“Oh good, I was sure I’d bust.” Madeline jumped up and pushed past me to the bathroom.
I undressed and got back into bed.
“I’m sorry I didn’t let you go first,” I apologized when she returned. “I guess I woke up thoughtless.”
“It’s okay,” she said, sinking into the pillows. “I woke up with thoughts to spare.”
Madeline’s eyes were full.
After five days, our remaining hours together were now dwindling to the single digits. Later that afternoon, she would take her bags to the airport and return home to her children and her life.
Leaving behind the part of her life that thrives in my bedroom.
We kissed, and I was in her.
Our eyes were intent on one another, and my mind went back to my original hopes for these days together. I had wanted simplicity and ease, to build on the stream of online conversations and the extraordinary time we shared in April.
As we made love, I knew she was thinking that it would be the last time for a very long time.
I knew that our connection made her sadder about our imminent separation.
I pressed close, to squeeze that sorrow deep. She wouldn’t want me to take it away; she wants to feel it, as part of her love.
I kissed her to tears.
I slapped her cheeks numb.
For the remaining hours, I would take care of her.
We made love and afterwards, she showered. I gave her coffee.
I took her out and fed her.
We walked and spoke of the things we have in common, and reflected on the things that keep us apart.
We came home.
With the evening drawing near, she packed her bags and checked her tickets, as I contemplated the packaging of her souvenir.
On the walk home from the park after the concert the night before, we had passed a pile of junk left for pick up in the morning. Instinctively, I paused to give a once over to the refuse, to see if there was anything worth salvaging.
I am an inveterate scavenger. Dumpster diving is a habit that dies hard.
I saw that two paintings were neatly set to one side.
One was just awful. It deserved its fate as landfill.
But the other had a kind of charm.
Someone who signed his name “Ari” had painted a wedding scene in a naive style very much indebted to Chagall. A couple embraced under a Chuppah before a happy group; overhead, three faces loomed in the clouds.
Ari had used a label maker to add the title to the frame, in white letters on green tape: “The Patriarchs Blessing a Wedding.”
I crouched to look more closely at the painting. “Isn’t tomorrow your wedding anniversary?” I asked.
“Fuck, yes,” Madeline replied, a little drunk. “My last day in New York is indeed my wedding anniversary.”
“I think I have found the perfect gift, a wedding portrait here in the city trash.”
“You are too, too thoughtful,” she grinned.
A wedding painting rescued for her wedding anniversary, the first since her husband had ruined their marriage—an anniversary she would spend with me.
Madeline and I often commiserate on our marriages and divorces, about how fucked up it all is.
If her husband had not cheated, she’d still be married. If my wife had not dumped me to win a fight, I’d still be married.
For better or worse, for richer for poorer, we had each put our fates in the hands of Type-A control freaks. And for all that we endured for that decision, we would have stuck it out.
I guess we are the marrying kind.
Being married sure beat that the hell out of us.
For if even the marrying kind play by the rules and get shafted, then screw the whole enterprise.
I can’t speak for her, but I know I will never again give someone else the power to destroy my future, and that of my children.
I can fix my life, and I can have love and joy, and all that, but I’ll be damned if I will ever again risk losing it all if an impulsive wife decides that I am public enemy number one because—who knows why?—I work too much. I work too little. My shit stinks. Whatever.
Still, as all desire for matrimony hits the gutter with good riddance, I think of the kids.
Madeline and I also talk about the daily life of parenting, and how difficult it can be to go it alone.
I am absolutely confident that being single is right for me now, and that I am doing a brilliant job as a parent.
But on those mornings when there is no one else to get up and make breakfast . . .
When all three children need haircuts and new shoes, and the bank account is groaning . . .
On those days when a child is sick, and someone has to be the nurse . . .
On those nights when the kids are asleep, and I’m alone in bed, hugging a pillow . . .
At those times, I am reminded that raising children is hard work, and a job much better shared.
At those times, I can imagine myself saying to someone—even Madeline, or Marcus, or both, or God knows who—that we have kids to grow and the clock is ticking. We are still young and the next decade is crucial. Let’s move to a big farmhouse, raise the babies and then worry about being happy.
Just one of those thoughts.
When your future is wiped clean, it is disconcerting to realize that suddenly, anything at all is possible.
And sobering to recall that whatever that future holds, it comes with children who are now—and will remain, for years and years—the absolute and immediate priority.
Madeline and I found a painting of a wedding.
I gave it to her for her now defunct anniversary, a day she will have to reclaim for her calendar as one just like any other.
We brought it home.
Now, I had to get this new acquisition packed for her trip home.
I cut cardboard to size and made a box for the frame. I wrapped this in bubble wrap, creating a secure package, though one that would be awkward to carry.
I rummaged through a catch-all drawer and found a handle. In order to affix it to the package, I needed some line.
My tool box yielded twine—not enough—and thread. I tried the thread, but it broke.
“What’s the matter, sugar?”
“Agh, I just need some rope to tie up this package. Just a few feet will do, but I don’t have anything.”
“Jefferson . . . you need rope?
Oh my dog.
Of course I have rope.
I went to my cabinet and found the rope I had used to hang Madeline from my closet door a few nights before.
I wrapped it around the painting. I attached the handle.
The perfect, poignant end to her perfect, poignant trip.
Until fate sent an awkward coda our way.
As we sat holding one another, preparing for the inevitable, there was a key at the door.
We jumped apart.
My father in law, Bernard, was back.
I mean, my ex father in law.
Our last twenty minutes of goodbyes would be spent in introductions.
Madeline was charming. She had heard so much about Bernard.
Bernard, himself a charmer, replied that he had heard nothing about Madeline—and if he had heard a great deal of Madeline, as we had sex the previous night, he was too much the gentleman to say so.
Pleasantries were exchanged. It was determined that he had visited her hometown in the early sixties. Was it still as lovely?
Yes, she thought it was.
Did she think the college basketball team was improving?
Yes, there is a lot of heart there, she agreed.
I commented on the time, and offered to walk Madeline to a taxi.
Bernard and Madeline said their goodbyes.
I picked up a bag and a painting. Madeline wheeled a bag behind her.
I closed the door behind us, smiling to her, sad about her departure, annoyed with the interruption.
The elevator was slow. Our eyes were kissing.
We flagged a cab.
The bags and the painting were nestled in the trunk.
“This is harder than last time,” she said, tearing.
“It’s just that . . . oh,” she cleared a tear. “Oh, we’ll talk.”
“Look for me tonight.”
“I love you.”
“I know. I love you.”
The cab pulled away.
I watched, then turned and went upstairs.
“Lovely person,” Bernard said.
“An old friend?”
“A new one.”
We watched the news.
He wanted to kill some time before dinner.
He was going out with his daughter, my ex wife.
I’m sure that Madeline’s ears were burning as her plane rose about the clouds.