By Kate Oden
Today my boyfriend pulls up in the red mustang with the leaky soft-top. Other days, he’s arrived in a bronze Town & Country van, a Dodge Durango camouflaged with rust, a Ram truck crested with a rack of lights. What must the neighbors think – the Russian couple next door I never see: Do they look down at us from their green ranch on a grassy rise? Judging by the cars in my driveway, I could have four boyfriends. And that’s not counting the local foot-traffic.
I know they’ve divorced in the modified white cape, catty-corner. I saw him on Bumble years ago; I swiped right, which means “yes.” He’s an economist with silver-dollar eyes, cheekbones that sling a smile before it even happens. We didn’t match – he was correct, of course, not to swipe right on me. Imagine dating someone within hearing distance of your ex. Sometimes I see him walking down our street, striding behind his ice-cream belly. I remember when he had an operation and was on summer-vacation time, years ago, how they both came out of that cape that binds a hillock of tall ostrich ferns. They sat on the stairs, wanting to chat – the kids were gone at camp. “We feel like we’re back in college. We sleep til nine.”
Now I hear her chipping away at the driveway ice all winter: chit, chit, chit. She’s beautiful, cold blue eyes and black hair. She has a beautiful name I’ve never heard on anyone else. She once told me her mother had a badger living beneath her house. A badger or some beary mammal, pulling up in the driveway like slightly sleazy cars, seeking heat.
Every time I put the recycling out or shovel the driveway, I wonder if the cars passing have seen me many times before and asked themselves why my partner doesn’t share the duty.
Signs of divorce:
1. The sudden appearance of more cars in the driveway
2. One person doing all the outdoor chores
3. Sometimes a dog disappears, or appears
4. Sometimes newspapers pile up when someone like me vacates the house for the weekend – every weekend.
Sometimes I wonder if neighbors even overhear the phone conversations I have in the yard. They wouldn’t even have to decipher the words, just my tone, to sense that I was flirting with someone new. It’s amazing what we reveal to the curious.
All of my daughter’s friends are children of divorce. Well, Emma is the exception that proves the rule. All these households split and drooping their thread-bare connections across town, across state lines, a web of spray-confetti relationships. I feel sorry these kids have formed a de facto support group for torn households. Sorry and grateful.
It almost seems like for every intact household there’s another of divorce. We play Red Rover with our houses. There’s the jogging family who moved out of the modern behemoth up the street into a cedar-sided home vacated by a divorced couple. Red Rover, Red Rover… Where does ice-cream belly live? Does he rent from the divorcee I know on Park Street?
I’ve never been married, but I’ve done the traditional, marriage “thing” (if there is such a thing): lived in a home with a partner for years and raised a child, rescued pets, started home-improvement projects we never finished. I never wanted to make it official with marriage, though. There wasn’t enough there, there. Then I met someone divorced twice before who doesn’t want to risk a third time and of course I want to wed him, joke about it every day. The joking makes the angst funny, puts a leopard-print speedo on the elephant in the room. We’re both post-split; he sees little reason in marriage now, whereas I see more reason than ever.
Of course it could be, as my friend in Nevada says, we’re just not made for marriage. Maybe certain hearts have smaller tanks, hearts that need to fuel up at every fresh pump. I don’t mean affairs or cheating, necessarily, but the restless searching for more. The American disease. I am constantly asking my partner for commitment even as I am new to the idea, myself. I am constantly making dinner for a love that might not ever come over. There is a wonderful way that I don’t take my boyfriend for granted, however. He is no more tethered to me than the vermilion maple leaves settled in my driveway. Our relationship is built on choice, a certain wind that put us where we are and keeps us there only more or less.
The divorcee with the beautiful name used to have a barking hound and a sassy pug. She works at the retirement home. I’d like to give her a ride in the red truck, maybe the mustang top-down on a nice day. We are both more likely to forget when recycling day is, in the absence of another remembering head. But aren’t the leaves that blow here lovely.
Kate Oden is a German translator and ghostwriter. She lives in New Hampshire in a household with slightly more animals than humans.