of use

After work, I pick up my son and we head to a friend’s house for dinner. She lives near a small marina and we sit on the grass and watch the sun go down behind a scattering of docked boats. 

We talk about her health. She has struggled a bit, lately. There have been complications. We talk about her divorce, its finality, and how she is trying to redefine herself as a woman on her own with her children at their various stages of becoming. We talk about work, the demands of it. She refills our wine glasses. 

The sky is streaked orange. We can see the faint moon rising. 

It is an easy evening, the air is sweet and warm, but the sentiment that runs through my head repeatedly, relentlessly, like the chirping of a smoke alarm when the batteries are running low is this:

There is so little time. 

My daughter is home this weekend, has her friends come over at night and so M. and I slip out for dinner after our son is in bed. The day has been long and frustrating, but now at night, we are light and unfettered and we laugh. 

In the restaurant, at the next table, the couple sits with their phones out. The tiny screens glow through their meal. 

Still, after all these long months, they are working on the bridge, and the noise wakes my son, who marches into our room and stands at the side of our bed to enumerate his grievances. He says: One, I am having bad dreams and two, the noise keeps waking me up and three, my bed is very uncomfortable. And so we tell him he can come into bed with us, just this once. 

He climbs into bed and wedges himself between us. The noise outside is the continuous drone of large machines punctuated by jackhammer bursts. At this particular moment, there is also a woman screaming at someone whose response - if there is one - is not audible. 

On a recent phone call with my ex-husband, I come to an important conclusion. To him, I am a gutted bird. To him, I am a small useless creature laid bare. His instinct for my vulnerabilities is keen, despite the relatively short time we spent together. 

Here is the way I would summarize it: He is dismissive, condescending. I become enraged. And we go on like this, voices raised and tense for several long minutes. When I hang up the phone, my hands are shaking. 

Do I make you happy? Do I give you what you need? 

I asked this once of M., and he said: One, these are two different questions and two, I do not think of our relationship in terms of function.

I find it difficult to get back to sleep. My son is on his back with his eyes closed. In the dim light, I can detect the curves of his silhouette - his rounded cheek, the gentle slope of his nose, his parted lips. I bring my face close to his, press my lips against his forehead, his cheek, his chin; inhale his hot sour breath. 

He is a good distraction, my friend says, in describing the man with whom she spends her weekends, for whom she leaves her city to drive the long hours to his. He is a perfect fantasy, unrelated to anything in my actual life. Which to me seems the opposite of perfect, but I am always looking for a way to smash things together, not to keep them apart. 

When he is gone, when he is done with her and returns to his wife of twenty years, she says how will I replace what he was in my life? The space his presence occupied? 

It is difficult not to also wonder, although I do not say this, how he will replace what she was to him. It seems to me that such systems seek equilibrium of a sort. 

Don’t the voids left behind when people leave our lives want very much to be filled? 

We spend a morning at the beach with an old friend of mine and her family. It has been a long time since I have seen her and she and I drag our sand chairs together and lean our heads close to chatter and gossip beneath the wide brims of our sun hats while our children roll around in the sand. 

As we are getting ready to leave, she says that I am the only person in her life who knew her back then - before the graduate degrees and the career ambitions; before the husbands and the disorientation of motherhood. I tell her yes, she is the same for me. 

Later, she writes me to say how glad she is that we have reconnected and I tell her that I am, too. I say, perhaps we have found our way back to this friendship because we have something important to give each other at this particular moment. A way of reminding each other where we came from. 

One might argue that I am thinking too much about function and perhaps this is true. But I mean this in the most expansive and generous of ways: I cannot imagine anything more beautiful, more perfect than to be - even for a short time - of use.