I don't get bent out of shape too often. At the age of 45, having been married, divorced, and re-married, with two teenagers and a pre-teen, not much phases me. Clog the low-flow toilet again, kid? Get the plunger and fix it. Don't like what's being made for dinner? Make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Ex-husband dates my next door neighbor? Hope they had fun. And used protection.
But the anticipation of an upcoming trip to my former in-laws' summer house in the Poconos was starting to get to me. Three days spent in their company, and in the company of the 99 year-old matriarch of the family, staying in a guest bedroom on the second floor of their all-too familiar three story stone house. Sharing my meals with them. The same meals they used to prepare when I was married and joined their son at the same table on countless weekends and holidays.
My 14 year-old son was already at their house, having gone up a week before. And I had agreed to fly up there with my 12 year-old daughter so I could drop her off for a few weeks. Coming here is one of the highlights of my kids' summers. They love this place. This idyllic community with nothing to do but hang out with family and friends, play golf and tennis, swim in the massive outdoor pool and hike in to the woods to a natural slide nestled in to a waterfall. The same community where their father, my ex-husband, spent his summers as a kid. Except now, my ex's friends have all married and have kids of their own who, in turn spend their summers here with my kids. Phew, that's a lot of history.
So here I was, a decade later. Divorced and re-married with a lifetime between me and this kids' version of heaven. Flying in to the Newark airport and going back to the Poconos but this time as a slightly anxious outsider. I'm not normally an insecure person but I planned my wardrobe with great care. Cute not-too-short shorts, a few new t-shirts, a black one piece bathing suit that showed some (tasteful) cleavage, a matching embroidered cover up and a cute hat. I had my hair colored and highlighted professionally for the first time since, well, the first time that I got married. Manicure pedicure. Got my eyebrows and bikini line waxed along with a first ever upper lip wax. (I didn't want to look too much like my teenage son.)
Because, even at my age, I care what people think about me, especially in this situation, being divorced from one of the community's golden boys. I want them to know that my ex and I are on really good terms. That we are still raising our kids as a team. That we talk on the phone a couple of times a week, coordinating our children's busy schedules. That we bounce ideas off of each other (well, mainly him on me). That I sometimes feel badly that I've found love and partnership in my second marriage and he hasn't yet. But I'm hoping.
I want them to know that we have a "good" divorce. That there were no affairs, no cheating, stealing or lying. Just two people trying to be happy together. But we couldn't. Well, I couldn't. And that no, it wasn't easy in the beginning to co-parent and do what was best for the kids. But we got through the tough spots. And as a testament to our relationship and to each other's families, there is this: me going to stay with my ex-inlaws for a few days and him staying for a night at the beach house we rented in North Carolina so he could drive the kids to a family reunion in NY.
Losing that part of my life was sad for me. The people there, especially the women who were my age, soon to be or newly married, were so welcoming and so warm when we first met. And I hit it off with them like you do with people when you are at the same stage in life and have so much in common. We were pregnant together, birthed our first kids around the same time and shared a lot of special memories. It was such a loss for me after the divorce but loyalties fall certain ways and I can't complain. I got my fair share.
I went back to the Poconos this summer because neither of my kids has any memories of my time with them at this place that they love and they've been begging me to come for a visit. My last trip there was ten years ago. 2001. The summer before their dad and I decided to separate. A month before the Twin Towers fell. I remember being in the Newark airport waiting for our flight back to South Florida, sitting with my four year-old son and two year-old daughter and admiring the downtown Manhattan skyline. Where my husband and I met at graduate school and where, a few years later, my son was born. Looking at that view, my husband said to me, "Isn't that a great sight?" "Yes," I murmured in agreement, "Wonder when we'll be back?"
And the answer was never. We never went back there together and neither one of us ever saw the World Trade Center again. The towers fell less than a month later, taking one of his best friends with them, and my marriage, which had already slowly begun crumbling, collapsed not too soon after. A collapse caused partly from learning the stories of all the lives taken too soon and the resulting feeling that permeated my day-to-day life: life is too short to live it unhappily.
I consider myself fortunate. My life has gone on. It's not the life I thought that I would be living, getting divorced and re-married. But I still have it, it's mine and I love it. Perfect in its imperfections. Ten years later, I feel lucky to be able to visit a place from my past and still feel the warmth and the welcome, like I was one of the family. Which, I guess, I am. All that anxiety for nothing. But I still get sorrowful, and bent out of shape, when I think about all those whose lives were lost ten years ago, on 9/11, and the families that were ruined by those events. They don't get to make mistakes and then change their lives. They don't get to re-visit their pasts to find out that you can go back to places you thought you would never return to and have it be okay. And that is just not fair. That is tragic. I'll never forget.