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A Tale of Two Houses

What happens is this: You get separated from your husband or wife and you try and be civil about things. You’ve got the kids to worry about and all, and no one wants the kids to suffer. No one wants the kids to even realize that mom and dad are rarely seen in the same room anymore, that they’re never seen hugging in the living room or laughing together on the couch. It’s a bunch of wasted wishing of course, because the kids clock it all. They’re smarter than the two of you think; they’re actually smarter than the two of you, period.

But you do what you do and someone moves out of the family home and then the ball is rolling. I don’t care what other people say about any of this, really. I know the deal by now. And the deal is this: The moment things begin to settle into any semblance of a groove, just as soon as your failed marriage jetliner disaster finally registers in your battered head, and the two of you clowns begin to crawl out of the wreckage something kind of unexpected creeps into each of your bittersweet little hearts.

And that something is ego, baby.

And then, it’s go time.

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What happened with us was chaotic and crazy, but what you need to know is that my wife ended up in one house and I ended up in another. The kids, they go back and forth. They’ve handled it well, I think, and we try hard to make it as nice and easy as possible for them. Our kids are young—at 5, 3, and 8 months old—so they’re incredibly impressionable and wildly resilient at the very same time.

It didn’t take long for the unspoken need to win to come sneaking into the picture here. That’s what happens, you see. No matter what lengths you go to, or THINK you go to, in order to be a player in the all-time classiest breakup performance ever staged on the planet Earth, when you are even remotely honest with yourself about what is going on way back inside your sinister mind, you will have to readily admit that you want to be the favorite parent.

Or even more importantly, on a more realistic and materialistic scale (for modern human understanding), you want to have the better house, the better apartment, the place the kids like more. It is, inarguably, a wildly unhealthy and immature way of looking at things. But then again, that’s probably why you’re sitting there, in your own place, without a husband or wife to begin with, no?

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I thought I had it all in the bag for a while there. My place was bigger than hers. Oh, how I glistened in the morning dew of that fact! The house she rented was small. I mean, small small. It was nice and the kids seemed alright with it; they had their own bedrooms (the older ones in the bunk beds in one room, the baby in another). But the joint was tiny, no matter how hard their mom tried to decorate it and make it awesome—which, by the way, she certainly did.

My place was just bigger, though. Huger. Huge. My place was kind of huge mostly because my place was older and back in the day people made giant rooms with high ceilings because everyone ate massive amounts of flapjacks and sausages for every meal and therefore everyone was a giant lumberjack of a human. Everyone was Paul Bunyan. Even the women. So, I landed me a Paul Bunyan house.

But I had managed the bigger house, the ‘funner’ house.

In effect, I was winning a very important unspoken war.

It made me giggle with evil glee on the inside, I'll admit it now. I never rubbed it in her face. However, every time she showed up at this house I’m renting, she would walk in the back door and step up into my three-acre kitchen that looks out over the rolling, throw-rugged prairies of endlessness that are my dining room and living room, and she would throw her arms in the air and exclaim,”Oh! It feels SO GOOD to just stand here! To just stand in a house that has all of this uncluttered open space!”

I would be happy then. I would pretend that I was just normal, but I wasn’t normal. I was ecstatic. I was beyond thrilled with her honesty and her feelings and frankly, like a lot of things about her, it made me very horny and I wanted to take her and chuck her up on my battleship-sized kitchen island and make sweet love to her by the banana bowl. But I didn’t, obviously.

You can’t do that kind of thing when the kids are all there. And besides, she would have stabbed me with one of my three steak knives if I tried to touch her, you know. We’re divorcing, y’all.

Love wanes.

--

The kids loved my place. More room. Lots of other young kids running around the summer streets, stopping by my yard to ride bikes or throw things at each other. I kept a box of Bomb Pops in the freezer out of pure ego. It all started to make a lot of sense, too. Here I was, on my own for the first time in a long time, fathering three whippersnappers through some tough times. But I had managed the bigger house, the ‘funner’ house.

In effect, I was winning a very important unspoken war.

Then, she moved. Again. Quickly. From the small house. To a large house.

Ugh.

B*tch.

Everything changed.

--

You can get all lost in there. It has sections that have other sections and it takes you a while to walk from, say, the bunk-bed room all the way across to the sun room.

Uh-huh. I said it. You heard me. The SUN ROOM. And this one is no lie; there’s all this sun in there, even when it’s freaking raining, the sun is out in that damn room because it has like three thousand miles of windows instead of walls and so there is light even when there is no light—magical/uplifting/spiritual light streaming in and splattering all of the kid’s plastic dinosaurs and story books and crap with natural shine and glow.

Goddamn her.

--

Tiny moments will knock the most sense back into you.

The other day, I picked my daughter up from kindergarten: small talk; holding hands; seatbelt buckling. Pulling out of the parking lot, she asks me which house we’re headed to.

I looked in my rear view mirror and told Violet,”We’re going to Millheim House, kid.” I call my house by the town’s name. That way I don’t have to say ‘my house’ because it’s not just ‘my house’. But it’s not ‘our’ house either because, for the kids, there’s two of those.

Plus, "Millheim House" sounds kind of like a swanky members-only club in London where Jude Law sips champagne from a flute, far from your sorry ass.

For a second, my response hangs in the air between us, and I feel awkward about everything like I do fifty times a day, I guess. But life is life, kids are made of Teflon and tank armor, and here we are.

Violet looks out the window, her long lashes blinking in the afternoon sun as we whip down a country road at 3 p.m. cornfields shining in the fields.

She takes a long slug of chocolate milk.

She probably wanted to hit her mom’s place, the one with the big yard and the tree swings and the f*cking obscenely sun-drenched playroom, you know?

My kid comes out of her cup and I recognize that smile, the one that gets me through a lot of my days anymore.

“OK! Yay!!! You know what, Daddy!?”

“What?” I said.

“I love Millheim House so much.”

I’m a little stunned. How could she know I’ve been tripping out on all this?

“I think we should live in there forever! OK, Daddy? OK??!”

My heart rises hard and fast, and fist-bumps my skull. I smile at her in the mirror. I say nothing because I’m caught up in what has just been said.

Oh, my sweet sweet girl, what perfect little words to say to me. And in my head I say it: We probably won’t live there forever. That’s my guess; at least, you sure as hell won’t. But I am in love with the idea. I’m in love with the idea of you and me together, forever, even when we’re not together.

Even when you’re down at your mom’s, kiddo.

Even when you’re over at your mom’s.

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