On Zero

In November, Bug had to visit the clinic for his flu shot. The kid was stone-faced, shivering, and mighty pissed off at me. I had failed to inform him of our destination until we were already buckled in and halfway down the street. When we finally made it into the exam room, the nurse rolled up his sleeve and said, “Okay, on three, I want you to yell out your name.”
 
“Why three?” Bug asked, twisting his body away from her.
 
“Because it’s over much quicker that way. Okay? So, on three, just . . .”
 
“Can it be a different number?”
 
She paused, needle hovering an inch away. “What number?” She asked.
 
“Zero,” Bug said.
 
“Okay,” the nurse smiled. “Zero.”
 
She stuck him, he sucked his teeth, and it was over.
 
Shake it off. On to the next thing. The throb fades by morning.
 

 
When Tee and I moved down here in the midst of our split, we returned to a place that had been my home far longer than it had ever been his. I had friends. Heaps of friends, high school classmates, old co-workers and grad school buddies all around. Plus, my folks are here. When Tee joined the local Meetup group for single parents, he was trying to fill out his own rather weak social circle.
 
Tee has never had any trouble buddying up with folks. Even as an introvert, his warmth is inviting and his hobbies — board games, sports, music and camping – make finding common ground a breeze. Within a few months of landing, Tee’s calendar was full. He plays basketball with guys on his lunch hour and meets other geeks for poker and German strategy games on alternating Thursdays. He takes Bug to every birthday party. He volunteers in our kid’s classroom.
 
My social schedule is a little more subdued. When I have time to myself, I will often write or take a solitary walk with the dog. A current of isolation runs through my days. This is a strange thing to notice, because so many friends are near and they are forever welcoming.
 
It recently dawned on me that most of my dear ones have intact families, so their down time involves soccer practice and family dinners. When we squeeze in the occasional ladies’ night, I always sense that my filter is not functioning properly. A frisson of disquiet seems to greet my talk of divorce and dating, as if a slightly foul odor just wafted over the table. At a recent gathering with new-ish friends, I was halfway into my cups when I made some comment about sharing a house with my mother and father. One gal looked at me and said, “Oh my God, you live with your parents? How old are you?”
 
Clearly, it was time. Time to step outside the comfort zone (or into it, as the case may be) and make acquaintances with a few folks whose lives more closely resemble mine. Time to seek out some single parents.
 
I danced around the edge of the local Meetup group for a few weeks. It is Tee’s territory, after all. Also, Tee has a new girlfriend he met through the group and they attend the happy hours and potlucks together. Because Bug has no reason not to spill, I have learned that Tee and the new lady have begun functioning as a family. They splash around on Sunday afternoons at the rec center pool. They have even gone to camp together.
 
While it is well past time for me to make new friends and strengthen Bug’s community, this awareness of Tee’s fresh love gave me pause. Would I be able to absorb the blow of seeing my son’s dad in the company of another woman? Even from this safe remove, it made me a little wobbly to watch his (their) life galloping away from mine.
 
It is only a matter of time, of course. Chances have always been good that Tee would make his way into a serious relationship with someone else. Heck, I may do the same sometime in the next few decades. It’s the timing that chafes. Right when I am striking out on my own and finally acknowledging my need to be a part of this community of single parents, Tee settles in with his new Someone. Fate couldn’t care less about our relationship status and it isn’t out to be my teacher. Nevertheless, dispatches from the deep come crashing in.
 
It is frightening to fact of our parting again and again. It is a reminder of too many mistakes and too many good things left behind, not to mention the woozy terror or what is to come.
 
And this, too: So, it stings. So what? It will sting in two years or five. It will sting two minutes or five. Our split is truth, and twisting away from it only prolongs the agony. I might as well get it over with.
 
Zero.
 
I picked up the phone.
 
“Hey, um, so. Would it be okay with you if I joined the Meetup group? I know it might be a little awkward, but awkward is better than crazy. I’m feeling ready to make some friends who are single parents.”
 
Tee was a gem, as usual. “Sure! Okay, so here’s who you need to know. . .” Off and running. I hung up dizzy from the more-than-sufficient run-down of the group’s top players.
 
Now that I am in, I can see with my own reluctant eyes where Tee and the new chicky are heading on any given weekend. They smile out from photos of playground outings. They were at karaoke on Friday. They are on deck to take my kid camping in April.
 
Each time their names pop up in the Meetup queue, it stings.
 
Each time, it stings a little less.
 
Tee and I have both chosen to be brave. Rather than duck and rage and wallow, we take our medicine. I am lucky to have him and he to have me. Our kiddo is the beneficiary of all this fortitude and fortune.
 
On days like today, I know that the vaccine is doing its work. Bug and I are eating at a neighborhood deli with a dozen other families. My kiddo sits with the other rug rats, eating pizza and arguing over their Gameboys. My boy actually introduces some of the kids to me, having played zombies with them at a Meetup he attended with Tee a few nights earlier. I gab with grownups and feel out friendships. Mention of a complicated housing arrangement or legal case barely causes a stir.
 
A mom tells me she saw Bug at a recent party. She knows Tee. She has met the girlfriend. We gab about that and are quickly bored of it. On to the next thing. Another mom makes comment about how she clearly ruined her ex-husband’s life. No frisson. Just easy laughter and nods. Across the room, my boy starts to get a little too rough with one of his pals. A dad steps in to split it up. My circle widens. My heart steadies.
 
It is never easy to face the truth of what you have done and what you must become. Even if you didn’t ask to be there, even if you are shaking down in your bones, roll up your sleeve. It is an inoculation again creeping alienation. Turn towards it.
 
Zero.
 
The throb fades by morning.
 

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