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Dads Eye View: Honey, Want to Meet My Ex?

05/06/2010 14:27 ● Published by Anonymous

It was midnight. Three other fathers and I were sitting around a campfire, talking, drinking illicit beer and staring into the flames. We were on a YMCA Adventure Guides camp-out. Our kids were asleep in the cabin, their marshmallow-smeared faces glued to their pillows.

Out by the fire one of the guys finished telling an amazing story about a carpenter on his crew who’d quit to become a registered nurse. (“... and he was the best millwork man I ever knew.”) After discussion faded, there was silence. The mood was mellow, but even so, no one was eager to follow a great tale like that. Finally I said quietly, “I’ve got a story,” and told this one:

The summer after high school I met a girl named Suzie. We were in love all through college and came awfully close to getting married. The feelings were there, but we really weren’t suited for a life together. When it came, our breakup was stormy, painful and it took months to complete.

But I kept in touch with Suzie’s parents, even after they’d moved 100 miles away – Christmas cards and a phone call every few years. My wife Betsy knew about this, and was amused.

(“Amused?” asked one of the dads. “Yes,” I said.)

So, anyhow, I was chatting with Suzie’s mom on the phone a couple months ago, and I updated her on my kids. “I want to see them!” she said.

“I guess you never will,” I said.

“I don’t know about that,” she said, “Why don’t you and Betsy come here for a visit?”

“I doubt Betsy will go for it, but I’ll ask,” I said.

But Betsy surprised me by saying OK. And then flabbergasted me by saying she wouldn’t even mind meeting Suzie. After a few phone calls, it was arranged for Suzie and her family to be at her parents’ house for dinner on Sunday. I looked in the mirror. Suzie’s boyfriend of long ago had been a fairly presentable specimen. But the years and too much pie had changed me. Also, I had failed to make much money. Suzie has a big government job and her husband is a lawyer or something. My level of success would be demonstrated by the car we’d be arriving in. I had a choice of vehicles: decrepit or shabby.

After a couple of days of agonizing along these lines, I asked myself the purpose of the meeting. Was it to make time with Suzie? No. Was it to make her wish she’d married me? Not really. I only wanted to satisfy my curiosity, see an old friend, and extend a feeling of good will that would make our four-year romance something better to look back on. A modest mission, and I could accomplish it looking ugly and driving a rusty wreck.

The encounter itself was anticlimactic. Suzie still looked good to me, although like most people our age, she was no longer 23 years old. Her husband didn’t attend; he was either lying low or busy making money. Suzie was driving a brand-new forest-green Volvo SUV. Her daughters and mine hit it off and played nicely together. I had worked hard to build a wall in my mind between the two main women in my life, and being in the same room with them, was disconcerting. It kept shocking me – Oh no! They’re both here!

Suzie and Betsy did not engage in a hair-pulling contest for my favors. In fact, there seemed to be no tension between them whatever. Suzie was charming and appropriately impersonal. No one could’ve guessed our past from our behavior. We both had our defenses up, and it was like a polite fencing match without thrusts.

Toward the end of our visit, I gave her older daughter a nice edition of “The Land of Oz,” a book Suzie and I had read aloud to each other in lovey-dovey mode way back when. (I did not like admitting this to the guys around the campfire.) “What a nice present!” said Suzie with automatic politeness. And when she saw the title, she gave a quiet but genuine, “Oh!” A gentle ambush; small but gratifying.

Driving home on the interstate, kids asleep in the back seat, I tried to imagine myself visiting an old boyfriend of Betsy’s. I wouldn’t have done it. I looked at Betsy. “Why’d you go along with this?” I asked her.

Her small smile was illuminated by oncoming headlights, and she said, “I like an adventure.”

The men around the campfire, who had been spellbound by this story-without-climax, were quiet, each thinking about his own past. Finally one of them said, “That situation. There’s no RIGHT way it could’ve gone. I’d never have tried it. But your WIFE...” Words failed him, and he and the others shook their heads in wonder at the self-assurance of the woman I’d married.

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