She was headed to a girlfriend’s house to do martinis or cosmos or something. She went from circumspect to suddenly silent, and I knew she was crying. Filing the papers was a milestone in a long, troubled denouement, but it didn’t make the experience less painful. I knew she would be happier soon — probably happier than she’d been in years — but there was no way for her to know it yet.
“Stop and pick up some good champagne,” I told her. “Not that cheap balloonist crap we used to drink after weekend flights. Something good and pricey.” I told her to frame the evening’s plans as a celebration, not a get-drunk-to-numb-the-day bender. She’d made a definitive step toward a better life, and it was time to start thinking about it that way.
“You’re all open doors,” I said. “And windows, too!”
She didn’t own a house, or even a car. They didn’t have a kid. She was a human yard sale, and everything was up for grabs. I told her not to make any big decisions for a while, but to enjoy the lightness that her decisive move had allowed her.
I wish someone had been able to tell me, six years ago, how, after a period of mourning, and some serious disorientation, my life would become richer and funnier and more rewarding than I could possibly imagine. That maybe I hadn’t chosen to get divorced, but that my world would open up like a morning glory, all gorgeous and joyful, and I wouldn’t even recognize my old life or ever want it back.
It made me think of the four best things about the last six years:
1. My relationship with the girl
It’s wonderful and terrible to parent a child on your own, even if you only have her half the time. If you’re a single parent, you’re already nodding. The highs — the two of us splashing together on the beach, or reading at bedtime, or warm and snuggly under a blanket watching Saturday morning cartoons — cannot be translated into human language. We don’t have to share each other with anyone during those times. Would I like to enjoy new experiences with a third member of the family? Would I love, love, love to smile over Simone’s head at someone we both adore while the three of us walk hand-in-hand? Hell, yes. But my alone time with Simone is truly magical.
Most of the time. The lows can be as abysmal as the highs are high. And when I’m up all night with a vomiting girl, or when she smashes her toe at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and I have to calm her down, sling her over my back and lug her to first aid (with her screaming along the way that she doesn’t want to go), well, it would be awfully nice to have some backup.
But the most challenging times, when it’s the just two of us struggling to make our way through the world together, make us stronger. The rough times have forged a bond between us that many dads don’t get with their kids. It’s so worth it (looking back).
2. A network of love and support like I’ve never experienced before
I’ve written about it in the past, but it can’t be undersold. I’ve never had such a circle of friends; both those with whom I speak almost daily, and the ones in my ambient awareness—a community of people who care what happens to us, who revel in my love for Simone, and in whom I feel the sense of safety and confidence that allows me to take personal and professional risks. I truly owe my recent successes to this web of unconditional regard that keeps me buoyed in even the worst of times (especially when they tell me I’m being a total ass). It’s a miracle to me.
When I was married, we kept close to a few friends, but I never felt part of a larger community. Life is so different, and so much better, to have so many people I love and care for, so many people I can count on. Simone and I definitely have a village.
3. The stories
Seriously. You’ve read a bunch of them in the last several years. My life has become a series of touching, silly, near-tragic, and, occasionally, romantic tales.
A few weeks ago, a former colleague asked me to help him get a crowd to a favorite local bar that was having a grand re-opening. He made me a host on his Facebook event page, and I invited a healthy number of FB friends to meet me at 9p.m. (on a non-Simone Saturday night) for open bar and free apps.
I was the first to arrive, so I settled in with my first free cocktail, bumping the bartenders a few bucks for their trouble. Within minutes, a couple of my female friends arrived, including Simone’s favorite after-school teacher from kindergarten. Then the Bombshell showed up with a crowd of her girlfriends (I’ve never known her to turn down a grand opening party). And then my BFF showed up. Another circle of women friends arrived moments later. (Full disclosure: roughly 0% of the women there had any romantic interest in me.)
By the time my former colleague had a chance to come by and say hello, I was amidst almost two dozen of my invited guests, and every single one was an easy-on-the-eyes woman. The look on my friend’s face was perfect. It was an epic moment in my carousing career.
My life of the last six years has a surfeit of “that could only happen to you, Eric” stories; of incidents and coincidences and encounters that stretch credibility, even for me.
4. The Dating Dad
I was always a writer, and my first book was published before the divorce. But the pain and pleasures of my grief- and cocktail-addled emergence into a new life added grooves and ridges, a patina of darkness and color, to my creative output. My writing grew more textured and honest, fecund and plaintive. And my commitment to keep Dating Dad as candid as possible (while maintaining the privacy of those around me) made the column something that other single parents, both newly out of the gate and veterans, have found worth reading. I found a community of committed, loving parents who are muddling through just like me, and we’ve provided each other with encouragement along the way.
Truly, it’s been six years of wonder.
I hope I can help my sister understand that her life is just starting, and that she has much to look forward to; that the grief and the regret will fade, and sprawling vistas of possibility will open up before her.
But I’m not sure I would have believed it. She’ll just have to see for herself.