How to keep a family together – Penelope Trunk Careers

Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach, detail

I’m meditating now because it slows down time and I only have 14 more weeks until both my kids are at college. When Z is reading on the couch, and Nino is reading next to him, I pull up a chair and meditate with my eyes open because I don’t want to miss this moment.

I told Nino he has to be my friend. He can’t keep coming to our apartment three or four days a week while saying he wanted a divorce because he can’t stand me. “You have no friends and no family in the entire world. I’m the only person who loves you. How can you not love me?”

Earlier I thought all that mattered was the kids saw their dad. Now I want the kids to have a family to come home to, which means Nino and I have to function like a family. Also, what will I do when the kids leave? I don’t want to find a new most-special person.

After a week of thinking about what I said, Nino comes to visit our apartment building but we meet in the common area so he believes I really want things to change: if he doesn’t love me then no hanging out in our apartment.  Nino cries, but I have seen him cry so many times that I’m unmoved.

He says he wants to do what I want. He doesn’t want to make anyone unhappy.

I do not say, “Then you shouldn’t have left us.” I’ve said stuff like that for fifteen years, and even the kids are sick of it. But, to be clear, we couldn’t watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel because in the first episode her husband leaves her in the exact way Nino left me. My kids were shocked when both Nino and I agreed the show is unwatchable.

Nino says he’s not good at these types of conversations. He says this is like me asking him to play beach volleyball.

The next week I bring him a list of things I want that he can give me. I cannot ask for money, which is truly what I want from everyone I know. He is not good at earning money. But he’s really good at being interesting, and I miss spending time with him that is unmoderated by the kids’ preferences.

We agree to have friend time each week. The first meeting he has found an art gallery with an exhibit on sense of place. We walk along the harbor which means winding around docks and parks, and we take twice as long to get there.

The gallery is closed. If I had made the plans neither of us would be surprised the gallery is closed. But Nino is a god of logistics, so he checks back to the site and says the site is wrong. The gallery is wrong. It should not be closed.

After knowing him 20 years, I can recognize the pain in his voice. “It’s okay,” I say. “I liked walking here. And we can see the exhibit through the window.” I wish I had been this forgiving from the start. But we would have never started dating if I had been so kind.

If I had been this kind from the start, I would have married someone who is accustomed to kindness. I can’t imagine that, really, because now that we are friends he comes to the apartment like always. And often I don’t look up when he comes in the door, because people annoy me, and I can’t be dismissive of the kids, so I’m at it again with Nino.

If I’m not going to be happy he’s here, why do I need him to be my friend? Fifteen minutes after he walks in the door, he’s sitting in a chair across from me. I ask, “How was your day?” This is the most caring, engaged question a person can ask, because the answer will be boring; our days are monotonous and if they aren’t we say so unprompted.

He tells me not much happened. Then he thinks and he says, “I saw Faith Ringgold died, so I requested a bunch of her books from the library. I saw she has a book of protest posters.”

“Protest posters? I didn’t know that.”

Nino knows I have an autographed first edition of Faith Ringgold’s first book. Nino was the only person who ever admired me for my minimum-wage bookstore jobs. I thought of the book as a savings account in case I was ever starving. But when the kids were little we needed money for food and I didn’t sell it.

For Mother’s Day Nino gave me a present. He hasn’t done that since we were divorced. He said, “It’s not quite a present, but I think you’ll like it.”

He gave me the books he requested from the library.

A feeling of happiness runs though me. It’s a gift to feel known by someone.

Then he says, “I read them. I thought you could read them too and then we could have book group during friend time.”

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