After my divorce, a friend introduced me to a man, G., also recently divorced. He would come by, we agreed, after dinner one evening, we’d have coffee and talk. He brought applesauce that he had made that afternoon with his kids. We ate it out of tiny pink bowls I had bought at the thrift store.
We sat on the couch in my living room. It was early fall. He told me about the woman he had met, before his marriage had ended. And how he wondered whether he should see her again, now that things had changed. I told him about M. About how the intensity of it was frightening. About how sometimes, I didn’t know who I was.
He told me about a trip to San Diego that he took with this woman, before she went back to Paris, where she lived. About standing on a deck overlooking the bay. How they looked down and he pointed out two otters playing in the water. She couldn’t see them, he said. She kept looking and he kept pointing, but she couldn’t see them.
Follow my hand he said, and she watched him move his hand until he stopped, and pointed, insistent. “There. They’re right there.” He was getting annoyed. How could she not see what was right in front of her.
Still, she couldn’t see it, but she smiled at him. “This big, blinding smile,” he said. And she leaned in, kissed him on the cheek. “It’s enough that you see it,” she said. “See it for both of us.”
The friend – the introducer – was worried about me. No need to get involved again, so quickly, she said. Take your time. Maybe you should date for a while? The word “date” sounded forced, even as she said it. But I agreed to it, to please her, to move on to other things.
When I told her, a few months later, that M. and I were getting married, she seemed visibly disappointed. We were at lunch, and she paused, her fork mid-way between plate and mouth. “I guess you’re just the marrying kind,” she said.
My parents’ own divorce seemed to happen quickly and without occasion. We were on vacation – our annual trip to the New Jersey beach house – but it was just my mother, my aunt, my sister and me. No explanation was given or needed. My father often only joined us on the weekends.
On the last day of our stay, after breakfast at a diner, my mother slipped into a phone booth, leaving my sister and me standing on the sidewalk, shaking pebbles from our sandals. My aunt paid the check then came down the stairs from the diner to take our hands. It was a quick call. My mother emerged from the booth with her sunglasses on. Her brown hair was long then, and standing there, in her tank top, her tanned shoulders, she looked glamorous and unfamiliar. Like a woman we had never seen. She and my aunt exchanged glances, and my mother nodded.
When we arrived home, later that day, he was gone. The closet, just off the dining room, where he had stored his off-season clothes, was open, a few coat hangers on the floor. A brown paper bag stood in the corner, with some loose papers in it. There were some coins near the front door that must have fallen from his pockets. I picked them up while my mother unpacked our bags.
Later, after G. had walked the French woman to her rental car, tapped his hand on the driver’s side window before she pulled out of the parking lot, he went back to that spot. He said he stared out for a long time at the point where he had seen the otters. The sun glistened on the water, it looked black and slick, he said. I saw driftwood, big pieces of it, that I hadn’t seen before. Floating there, in the middle of the bay. “I think that must have been what I saw, just driftwood. And she saw it, too. But just didn’t want to say.”