Ivor’s ex-wife, Julia, lives in a brown-shingled house in the Oakland hills, tucked in a grove of live oaks and so obscured by camellias and rhododendrons you can barely make out the door. Ivor pulled the Explorer to a slow halt and sat idling for a moment as though having second thoughts before he cut the engine. He didn’t turn to face his kids and for a while there was silence in the truck.
Finally it was Gabriel who moved to unbuckle his seat belt and open the door. That prompted Ivor finally to turn around to release Megan from her car seat. He got out, too, and wrapped his arms around both his kids together, holding them so long they finally had to struggle free. “Bye!” Gabriel said. He tapped on the window where Dante sat. “Bye, Dante. Bye, Chloe!”
Megan mimicked him. “Bye, Dante. Bye, Chloe!”
“Bye!” said Chloe, still throned in the car seat we had rented at the airport.
Dante turned his head to the opposite window.
“Dante!” I said. “Don’t you want to say goodbye?”
“Well, Dante and Chloe had a great time with you guys! You’ll have to come out and see us in New York soon!”
Megan climbed back in the SUV for a moment to kiss Chloe and Dante on their cheeks. Chloe smiled at least; Dante still didn’t acknowledge. It wasn’t like him, to be so silent. “Dante?” I asked. “Is something wrong?”
Ivor finally led his kids up to the house. I didn’t get any glimpse of Julia when the door opened; I just saw Ivor kneeling down to hug the kids one more time. When he came back to the car, his face was red and wet.
I wanted to say something to comfort him. Surely he’d find a way of being with his kids more often, of living with them again. Surely Julia would wake up and see what a fine father he was, and how much the children needed him. But in what I’ve seen of divorce, things could just as easily go the other way. My own parents argued constantly about where Darby and I should live. I couldn’t help wondering whether Charlie and I had some such horror in store for Dante and Chloe. So all I could think to do, when Ivor sat back down in the driver’s seat, was to give him a quick squeeze on the shoulder.
Dinner that night was very quiet.
Before they left for work this morning, Ivor and Andy both urged us to make ourselves at home. They promised we could stay as long as we needed to, but the moment the front door shut, I felt like an interloper. Without anyone around to play host to us anymore, I’m having trouble justifying my stay on this side of the continent.
Never in my entire career have I taken so long a leave without months of planning, my colleagues are certainly scrambling, my patients are probably furious. But I can’t yet bring myself to go back and face Charlie.
A few minutes ago I called an old friend. She was frantically busy and let me know it right away. I’d waited too long, nourished our friendship too little, to lean on it then.
There is no place in the world I can be without humiliation. Sooner or later I’ll have to go back to New York, face Charlie, pick up the pieces. But I don’t have the strength. What I need is some kind of sanctuary. A battered women’s shelter. A convent?
What do you recommend?