We rarely go out together, en famille. Oz and I usually take turns with the kids, divvying up the marathon of birthday parties and sports and parent-teacher conferences. We pass them off like batons to maximize our free time.
I’m a person who needs a lot of alone time, not only for myself, but in order to write. Oz tries to come home in the afternoon so I can get a couple of hours before dinner, and watches the kids on the weekend mornings so I can escape. This seems to work, but most people assume we’re separated. Some of them I’ve never even met.
Once I asked Oz: “Shouldn’t we all be going to church and then to Costco like everyone else?”
He gave me a look. “No. Why should we have to suffer at the same time?”
But Halloween night is one of those times it’s best to stick together. Who knows what kind of malevolent spirits might be lurking about?
Oz and I dressed up as members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. I felt very Patty Hearst in my long red wig and trench coat. Four-year-old Buttercup wore her hand-me-down space suit from the Challenger Museum, and eight-year-old Felix transformed three costumes—lion mask, skeleton, and cape—into the Gryffindor Lion. Then we all got into the car and drove over to the neighborhood with the “good” candy.
I didn’t think we’d be recognized in the dark, but Oz’s voice is quite distinctive. We were immediately pounced-upon by my would-be friend, Zan, and her son, Harry Potter.
Zan is glib and funny and sarcastic and shy all at the same time; a loner mommy if I’ve ever met one. Our boys were in the same dubious preschool before everyone jumped ship, and in the same dubious Kindergarten class, before Felix and I leapt aboard the homeschooling raft.
She’s only a “would-be” friend because, in all of the years we’ve known each other, we’ve only managed to get together twice. The last time—well over a year ago—she was extolling the benefits of divorce: “You can eat whatever you like—eggs benedict for dinner—and no one’s hassling you for a blow job.”
I was riveted by this information. But it seemed to have its downsides as well, because she was contemplating an affair with her postman.
“He’s got a nice body and these mirrored sunglasses…” she’d sighed.
I couldn’t really picture it. The attraction, I mean. To the mirrored sunglasses. But maybe he was the only guy who showed up at her door with regularity.
Meanwhile, back at the park, Oz’s “bro-friend,” Geoff, had arrived with his two kids, Piper and Quinn. Piper was dressed up like a character from Monster High and Quinn was a mummy with a bike messenger bag strapped across his chest. Their satchels were bulging; they’d obviously already been on the job. They looked like such professionals compared to my children, who only had tiny, plastic jack-a-lanterns.
I introduced Zan to Geoff, and fleetingly wondered if he had mirrored sunglasses. They said “hello” and repelled away from each other the way single sometimes people do.
“Where did you get the most candy?” Piper screeched. She was chomping on her long blonde hair and raring to go.
“Um, over there?” Felix waved vaguely.
So we set off like a nine-headed caterpillar, down the narrow sidewalk flushed with ecstatic children.
“How was that pumpkin thing?” I asked Zan.
“I didn’t go! There was a shooting!”
“A pumpkin was shot?”
“No, a person!”
Zan always knows the most sordid news going on in our city. She must have a police radio in her kitchen and her car. Then she told me about the mother and daughter who were mugged the previous week on my block.
Our conversation was interrupted by the appearance of a very grim specter, the pretty-but-unhappy wife of a famous poet, giving out hugs. We saw her in this very spot last year, and now she was gripping Oz.
I didn’t blame her; he is very intriguing and sexy to the casual outsider, and sometimes even to me. But I wondered if she’d been laying in wait all this time.
Once, a few years ago, she’d cozied up to me in that pathological way that some women do to extract personal information. “He must be a handful,” she had murmured, hoping to hear that my life was as least as unhappy as hers.
“Not really,” I said, guilessly. “He’s great! Very supportive, and wonderful with the kids.”
Which is true. Oz is a Contrarian, but once you figure that out, it’s easy. I’m the much more complicated, mercurial one.
This year, she offered me a tentative hug and invited us to a gala event. Last year, as I’d stood there with my mother, she had ignored me.
“What did I used to call her?” Oz asked as we walked away.
He laughed and said to Geoff. “I forget everything and she remembers everything. That’s why it works.”
Geoff laughed, but not much. That’s the kind of joke that’s never really funny, especially after a divorce.
Zan suddenly veered off at a house to visit a friend (a real one I presume) and we promised to get together real soon. Geoff was coerced into taking his kids to one more neighborhood before he returned them to his ex-wife’s house where they would explode like a time bomb.
Driving back home, our car was full of exhilaration and accomplishment. I felt relieved, like Patty Hearst going back to her closet after robbing a bank.