1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
2. a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter: friends of the Boston Symphony.
3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile: Who goes there? Friend or foe?
My ex-husband e-mailed me to wish me a happy birthday. People ask me if we're friends, and if we keep in touch. It's not a simple question to answer.
I would say we are friendly, but up until recently, the idea of being friends with him hadn't crossed my mind as a possibility or a desire. As for keeping in touch, it's strange and sporadic. He e-mailed me when he wanted me to get him some reporter's notebooks. He didn't e-mail me when my father died. You see, the simple things are easy, you know what to say. In the second instance, he just didn't know what to say. I understand that now.
M. and I separated a little more than seven years ago. Add a few months to that, and you have the same amount of time we were together -- dating, breaking up, reuniting, engaging, marrying, divorcing. Maybe it takes being without someone the same amount of time you were with them in order to return to them in a different capacity.
I don't know.
Shortly after we broke up, he started dating L., a woman in his office. I've never been able to shake the idea that perhaps they hooked up before M. and I split. But I'll put that issue to the side for now, or my obsession with it will overtake this post and I'll get nowhere with the issue at hand.
The only reason I mention it is that she is divorced with three kids, and shortly after M. and I broke up, he said to me that he wished that someday he and I could be friends like L. and her ex are. I don't recall what dismissive reply I had to that, but it was akin to, "Only if it includes you letting me rip your heart out with my bare hands and force-feeding it to you, which I would tape so I could watch it again and again."
My reasoning had always been, here was someone who couldn't be trusted. (Did I mention I was his second wife?) He makes commitments and breaks them. How could I be friends with someone I didn't trust?
Recently, M. and I had been bandying about the idea of having a drink and catching up. In the e-mail he sent for my birthday, he said, "Let's get that drink before too long," so I offered some days. We settled tentatively on this Thursday. "I'm really looking forward to catching up with you," he wrote.
At the end of my first e-mail in that exchange, something compelled me to write, "I'd really like it if we could be friends." Then I realized that I meant it. He responded, "Yes, let's be friends."
All is fair in love and war, they say, and how could I blame him for leaving me if he didn't love me? Why would I want to be with a man who didn't love me?
After our break-up, I listened to this song a lot, "Baby, Don't You Break My Heart Slow," by Vonda Shepard, paying attention to the stanza:
I'd rather you be mean,
Than love and lie,
I'd rather hear the truth,
And have to say goodbye,
I'd rather take a blow,
At least then I would know,
But baby, don't you break my heart slow.
On the way home from what would be our last marriage therapy session, as we approached the toll booth for the Golden Gate Bridge, M. turned to me and said, "You're an old soul." I held back my tears and nodded, looking out the car window. I thought, I've survived my mother dying and my brother going to prison. There is no one in this world whom I can't live without.
I immediately wrote M. a check for half of all of our accounts, bought boxes from U-Haul and neatly packed and labeled his things, resisting the urge to tear up our wedding pictures and stuff pieces of them into all of his pants pockets. On the box holding his wedding tux, which he had purchased instead of rented because he is a fan of the opera and other fine things, I wrote, "Wedding tux: Clean and ready for re-use." I piled his things in the garage for him to pick up. It was I who filed for divorce.
I asked to keep three of his things: His old 35 mm camera, a red flannel shirt that his first wife had made him (I had developed an inexplicable attachment to that shirt, which I still wear. In my only conversation with first XW, who called me after our break-up, I think still looking for her own answers, she said she was happy that I had it), and the brown leather jacket M. was wearing when I first met him that I thought made him look so handsome. That, however, has since gone to Goodwill.
Seven years and countless tears, self-recriminations, therapy sessions, screwed-up relationships, dreams of revenge and more life-changing events later, I forgive him, if there is anything to forgive. And I thank him, for not breaking my heart slow, and for allowing me to fly on my own and become the person I am.
And I think just maybe, just maybe, I am ready to be his friend.