He came for a visit when our son was two and a half. The last time they’d met, the boy was ten months old. It was also the first time they’d met, and we’d gone there to visit him.
On this visit, we’d agreed to settle where we would go from here. We both knew things could not continue as they were – three thousand miles between us, and a relationship based on late night telephone conversations, with me woken from sleep and him staying late in his office, both of us tired after long days at work.
The boy behaved badly throughout his stay. Normally a sweet-natured, talkative child, he alternated between sulking and demanding my attention, referring to his father as “him,” refusing to address him directly and pushing between us at every opportunity. Months before, his father had sent us a talking camera and the boy believed it was his voice telling us we needed more light and to check distance. He enjoyed talking to the Dad in the camera, but the reality was too much for him.
During the two weeks he was with us, the future was never mentioned, until the night before he was due to fly back home, when I pressed him to make a decision. He told me he had tried very hard to convince himself he didn’t love his wife, but he did, and now he needed to go home and make things work between them.
We drove him to the airport the next morning. My instinct was to drop him off at Departures and drive away, but I gave in to the need to snatch even one more hour together, and we stayed through check-in, waiting with him for his boarding call. When it came, he kissed us both goodbye and started to walk towards the security gate. I was struggling to find the right words of farewell, when the boy raised his voice and trilled “Bye-bye, Daddy!” He stopped dead and turned back to look at us, with his face working. Then he turned away and walked through the gate, passing from view.
Six months later, on the boy’s birthday, we came home to find a bouquet of red roses waiting on the stairs to our apartment. Even before I read the card, I knew they were from him. “Happy birthday, from Dad. Love to you both” was the message.
I’ve done my grieving and moved on, I told myself. Actions speak louder than roses. And, screw him. But I put the flowers in water anyway, although I wanted to throw them in the bin.
The roses eventually withered and my friends assured me I had done the right thing in ignoring them and him. But still, in the back of my mind, I fought the urge to call him, just to see how he was doing, if he was missing us at all.
Late one night, almost a month later, I called him on his private line at work. He won’t be there at this hour, I told myself. If he is, I’ll put the phone down. I just want to hear his voice. But the phone was picked up on the first ring and his voice said “I’ve been hoping you would call! You got my roses?”
“What if I’d ignored them? What if I’d moved away, left no forwarding number or address? What then?” I retorted. And then “How are you?”
Within minutes, we were back on the old, easy footing that had gotten us into this affair in the first place. Before we rang off, promising to call each other again soon, I asked him how things were now, between him and his wife. He told me they were no better, although, when he’d gone back all those months before, they’d sat down and talked things over. “We shared our dreams,” he said, “agreed we wanted more family and would like to buy a boat.”
“A boat? What the hell has a boat got to do with anything?” I asked.
Fast forward fifteen years. We’re in our boat, during a storm on Lake Ontario. I’m hanging on for dear life, while he beams in delight at the 10ft waves creaming over the bow.
How the hell did I get here? I wonder.