By Suzanne M. Royer
He seemed nice enough from his profile—college degree, a good-paying union job doing skilled work, loved to travel, and in one of his photos he was wearing a jaunty summer fedora, sitting in a lounge chair in a garden and holding a glass of wine—so we met.
We met at Panera, one of my regular choices. You can just get a cup of coffee or tea, blend in with the Moms with young kids and the elderly couples. And, alone with your coffee, you don’t look out of place if your companion doesn’t show.
I had gotten the idea he had two children, or was it three? It came up in the profile questions he’d answered, and there was that photo captioned “me and my youngest daughter.” We had exchanged email addresses, something that I prefer not to do until I’ve met someone in person. My email address contains my last name, the key to unlocking all sorts of personal information. His was Dadov8 . . . was his last name Davidov? Davidoff? Was he Jewish? Was he possibly a Dad of eight?
So we chatted about his job – night work but it paid well. His kids live in a different town and he drives there and back to get them for weekends. A subsequent relationship recently ended —a relationship with a different woman and her kids. But he’s still sharing a small house in the suburbs with them because they signed a lease together, and who has the money to move out before the lease is up? He’s lonely, not angry, but he can’t understand why she would rather be on her own than with him. He keeps to his bedroom.
So I asked him: How many kids do you have? “Eight,” he said, “from three marriages.” Two in their thirties live in the middle of the country and he’s estranged from them. Maybe it was his ex-wife’s doing. Three from his second marriage—they live in Florida. That ex-wife was an alcoholic. He loved her so much. Three kids from his third marriage. The third ex-wife was much younger than he, and she got pregnant, so he did the respectable thing and married her.
How do people become estranged from their blood relatives? It’s not just Dadov8 and his oldest kids. A friend of mine, his father and uncle haven’t spoken to each other in maybe 20 years. They apparently don’t speak about each other, either. No second-hand news. And my sister’s classmate from California, from a very educated family—doctors, a librarian, an engineer and such—one of the four adult children checked out years ago. I know them pretty well. I don’t think there is some unspoken childhood trauma.
People just check-out of their familial relationship? Really? No matter what hurt or grudge or annoying behavior, they are willing to miss the births, the deaths, the opportunity to reminisce, to say goodbye, to say I love you? How does this not eat away at them every day? Is it a coping strategy, to not get hurt, feel pain, lose control?
The seemingly nice guy in the summer fedora, we didn’t meet again. Never heard from him. Maybe he sensed my reticence without me saying anything. Maybe something in our conversation made him reflect on other things he needed to figure out first, before trying to start yet another relationship.
Copyright © 2015, Suzanne M. Royer
“For any writer who has known early loss and dislocation, the task is to find metaphors, to work out ways of dealing with experience that are indirect to begin with, and then slowly move toward the original wound by something lurking in the prose. Writing becomes a skin-tight camouflage; the camouflage then carries with it traces of the original impulse to write and to make the writing matter to the reader, traces that gradually become more right with truth and dense with feeling than the original impulse itself.”
From the essay The Hard-Won Truth of the North
The New York Review, July 9, 2015 issue.