I used to have one. A really big one. One that worked its way into every "let's catch up" brunch or happy hour with anyone I'd known between 2001 and 2005. One that made me look over my shoulder every time I had to go to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. One whose whereabouts and happenings I regretted hearing as much as I relished and dissected them.
That's right. I had an ex. More like an Ex. The college sweetheart turned long-distance boyfriend turned boyfroommate (co-habitate sounds too "Animal Planet: Silverback Gorilla Mating Special" to me) turned uncomfortable "when are you getting married?" questions from everyone turned break-up-move-out-"I found a box of your stuff, what do you want me to do with it?"-"Just throw it out" sort of thing.
One of those. You can give him a name. Henry. Sam. It doesn't really matter. I always thought he looked like a Kirk, but not Kirk Cameron, more like Alan Thicke with a beard and a William Faulkner collection.
He was the guy who was there during my parents' sad and surprising divorce. A little less than a week after he said to me, "I'll never do to you what your dad did to your mom", he did. Or rather he had been doing for a while with a girl from work named Natasha whose Friendster profile indicated her favorite things were laughing, mac n cheese, Sex and the City and gerber daisies.
I remember going to see a therapist, the only one I could afford at the time, which meant she had an online degree. It took me an entire hour to answer the question, "What brings you here?". At the end of my time slot, she left the room. No "that's interesting" or "let's work on that" or "I'd like to see you every day twice a day". She just walked out. I guess she didn't know where to start. I didn't either, so I started with a bottle of vodka and a hunger strike.
It sucked. All of it. The time I found her bedazzled "Pink U" sweatpants in the apartment we alternately time-shared until I found a place of my own. The divvying up of dishes, books and friends.
After a few weeks, it sucked just a little less. Then a little less. Then I realized I was single and skinny and I bought clothes that looked awesome on me. I went to rooftop pools in the Meatpacking. I went to launch parties and friends' parties and happy hours. I took screen shots of all the stupid things Natasha said she liked on her Friendster page and sent them to my girlfriends and we laughed at her. It felt good to laugh. And for once it was funny and not offensive that she liked cheesy flowers and a show on which the main character's boyfriend has a new and grammatically ignorant girlfriend, coincidentally named Natasha.
Then I met a guy. A great guy. We went on dates. One night on the way to his brother's brownstone in Park Slope he laughed and hugged me and told me he loved me while we waited on the subway platform for the F train. Then he asked me to be his wife. I said yes. We got married. We had a baby. All the while what's-his-name became older and older news, an ill-fitting and unflattering outfit I tried on for a while.
Eight years later I saw him. I was 25 weeks pregnant, had a pulled muscle in my neck and smelled like Tiger Balm. We both did a double take at the entrance to the 6 train at 33rd and Park. I gave him a hug. He blurted out that he was nervous. I wasn't. No butterflies, no catch in my throat. No harm, no foul. I asked how his parents were. I made fun of his beard and joked that I should've put on makeup that morning. He checked out my belly and I told him that this was number two. I showed him a picture of my son. I smiled because I always smile when I get to show off my son. I love my son. I love his dad, my husband. I love that soon there will be another baby. I love that I'm radiant and glowing in the way only pregnant mamas can. I love my life. It was clear that if I'd asked him to grab a coffee, he would have. He asked after anything he could think of before I politely cut it off so I could get back to the office.
As I walked away, my only feeling I had towards my ex-boyfriend was gratitude. Because of him, he and I broke up. Because we broke up I could say "actually, yes" when my husband asked me out on a date. Because I said "actually, yes" I got to say "I do" and "it's a boy" and "it's a girl" and "I love my life".
So thanks, Henry Sam Kirk Alan Thicke. I owe you big time.