I called your dad tonight. I’d forgotten to tell him something important about Vesta. I got his voice mail. I haven’t left him a message since we broke up. In the 15 seconds it took for his outgoing message to play (the one he recorded, standing in our kitchen in San Francisco, holding Vesta as a baby. The one where her little voice, not yet forming words, is heard just before his, the one I wonder every time I hear if anyone but me knows what that first sound is.), I had about a million thoughts, all focused on the first four words I would say. It went something like this:
“Hi Danny. It’s Monica”? “Hi Danny. It’s me.” “Hey, it’s Monica”? “Hey Danny” and just start talking? or he sees that it’s my number called and has a voice mail, so he’ll know it’s me? or once I start talking he’ll know from the content of the message who is calling? or perhaps he’ll just recognize my voice? Yes. We were together for 13 years, going on knowing each other for 14, pretty sure I can say anything, my name, his name, no name, and he’ll know who it is. Unless for some reason, over the past hour since I saw him last, he has forgotten what it sounds like. Or the last decade plus. I opt for “Hey.” and launch into the message, awkwardly, since I have not spent a moment considering how I might convey important and really too complex for voicemail information, while I considered what names to use.
He still calls me “Mon” sometimes and I bristle but don’t correct. It feels so casual, so intimate, a privledge that I think he has lost. At what point in any relationship, a friendship, a romance, do you start using a nickname? At what point are you familiar enough? I think there is an awkward time where you try it on, to see how it feels, to see how the other person reacts, to show them you are fond enough of them now to shorten their name. And then when do you stop? Do you stop? Is there a similar window at the beginning and the end when it’s awkward to not say anymore as it was to start saying? He still looks at me the same way too, or tries to upon greeting and leaving when I am able to look right at him, with interested, flashing eyes, a small, adoring smile, a face of such sincerity that I used to believe it. I used to feel so special when it looked upon me, like I was the only one he could see, a face reserved just for me, his love and wife and friend. An expression that has not changed. So I realize it’s a mask or a habit, at best. It is not reserved for me and nor does it indicate my place in his life. It’s the face he gives when saying hello and good bye to me. Our relationship has changed from black to white but not the way he looks at me or, like I say and when I’m being generous, force of habit. There is a movie version of Into the Woods out now and in the trailer there is a scene between Prince Charming and Cinderella when she questions his behavior and he says, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere” and I think, Yes. Lucky me, I married Prince Charming. This is what fairy tales get us and why I feel like I have woken from a long, long slumber.
There is also what to call him. My husband (he still is on paper)? My ex (only in my heart, see above)? My kid’s father? Or is it kids’? (Splitting hairs and no one hears the difference but I do. I hear it and I say it differently and I wait for someone to notice and ask.) I have come to opt for “Vesta’s dad” which indicates no relationship outside of that with me and is factually accurate, with the verbal void game, which I have become accustomed to. Not lying, but not telling the truth, like kid’s or kids’.
But it’s not really any of that. It’s that I don’t know who I am anymore. And I certainly don’t know who he is. We went from husband and wife to strangers in about as long as it took him to record his voicemail greeting five years ago. It’s all conjecture, now. We just make guesses and throw darts or don’t even bother, really. Like the magician pulling the table cloth out without upsetting a dish. It’s all exactly the same, except for one key piece. Without the tablecloth, that both makes a difference, is the reason the trick exists but that we can also do with out.
I say, “Hey…” and just leave a message and then send a text telling him to listen to his messages because, while I may not know him all of the sudden, I remember the shape of him.