In the previous chapter, Lisa is dumped by both her DemocratSingles and RepublicanSingles matches. She promptly signs onto two new sites—JDate, for Jewish men, and BrainTrust, for academic high-achievers—but takes time out to visit her ex-husband in the hospital, where he is recovering from hair-implant surgery gone wrong.
On our way into the ICU, Martin’s girlfriend, the Rotten Egg, passed us on her way out. She looked, well, cracked. “I can’t stand sick people,” she said. “I’m outta here. He’s all yours.”
Martin looked dreadful. His head really did resemble a melon—to her credit, Dawn was right about the Cranshaw, size and color—and his scalp was still oozing where it had been plugged. But he was out of danger, and the doctors said that, once his fever was down, he could leave the hospital, although he would have to be on intravenous antibiotics for a month.
With Dawn out of the picture, the boys said, there would be nobody at Martin’s house to look after him. “Can’t he move in with us, Mom?” Chris begged, sounding like a kid who’d been followed home by a stray puppy. “He could have my room.”
It was the last thing I wanted. In the three years since Martin had left, I had done everything to eliminate all trace of his existence. Apart from the boys, there was nothing in the apartment to remind me that he had ever drawn breath. Still, when your ex-husband is at death’s door and his fiancée has jilted him and your sons are pleading with you, what do you say? Okay, “no” would have been my first choice. But the boys were in tears. And I thought, if we were still married, I could be a widow, and I’m too young for that.
“Okay, Martin, “I said. “You can come home with us until you’re better. But I’m still going to date.”
Two days later, the boys and I picked up Martin and deposited him on the convertible sofa in the living room. (Chris decided that he really couldn’t give up his room and computer.) Apart from his portable IV, the situation was uncomfortably familiar: Once again, Martin was the centerpiece of the household, and everybody had to tiptoe around him.
It was a nuisance, but he was so whacked out on painkillers that he slept most of the time. It reminded me a little of the way I used to feel when Chris and Johnny were toddlers and got sick. As long as they weren’t in danger, I appreciated the long naps. Like them, Martin was so good when he was sleeping.
“Who knows, maybe you’ll get back together,” Amy said. She said that 6 percent of American couples who marry and divorce then remarry each other. “Think Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson,” she said.
“They got divorced again,” I told her.
“Well, think George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst.”
“Natalie Woods and Robert Wagner!”
“She drowned,” I observed.
* * *
I had new “winks” from JDate and the BrainTrust, and both looked promising.
Psychologist with successful clinical practice, specializing in depression and eating disorders, currently writing a book on relationships. I am separated as an irrevocable step in the ending of a marriage. Sensitive, compassionate, honest, monogamous, analytical (in a Freudian way), emotionally stable, non-smoker, serious about life and love and family. I’m looking for a witty, sensual woman for intellectual and physical stimulation, possibly more. Prefer Jews or not very religious Christians who like Jewish men and appreciate the culture. Life is a process: Let’s work on it together.
CalTech ’71, University of Chicago ’76. Tall mesomorph, with a good hairline.
After earning a doctorate in mathematics, I taught university for 15 years,
worked in private industry for 10 and have recently returned to the academy.
My specific interest is topology, which involves the study of spatial objects; the joke about topologists is that we can’t distinguish a doughnut from a coffee cup. Lest this scare you off, I’ll add that I also understand and appreciate
language (I do some SAT tutoring at 826 Valencia and the culinary arts. Seeking a woman who’s smart and multidimensional.
“You’d like Adam,” I told Amy later that week. “He’s very, well, analytical.”
I had earlier that day. He hadn’t posted a picture—he said it would be “inappropriate” for “clients” to know he was looking to date—so I hadn’t known what to expect. Freud, maybe. He was reasonably good-looking, if you have a thing for beards. I didn’t, but he seemed like a nice guy.
His separation was pretty recent—he still had a white circle around his ring finger. He said he and his wife had taken a last vacation together to Mexico over Christmas and broken up on New Year’s Day. The vacation was “a way of saying goodbye,” he said, although apparently she hadn’t realized that until they returned.
“How could you compartmentalize like that?” I asked—nonjudgmentally, I hoped. Thinking, how can you spend a week lounging in the sun, sleeping and presumably having sex with someone you’re planning to dump within a few days?
“We’d booked the trip months earlier. And besides, I wanted a date for New Year’s Eve.”
I suggested that he might need to spend some time mourning his marriage. He said he’d been mourning it for years, and would I like to go out to dinner next Tuesday?
Frankly, I found shrinks a little scary. Each time a marriage ended, I had popped into their offices for a few sessions and popped right out again. I was past the point of thinking that they were wiser than everybody else—but I thought they thought they were, and that gave them an unfair advantage.
Besides, when it came right down to it, I wasn’t convinced that analysis was the way to go. I knew that Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” The trouble was, I’d always felt that an examined life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Still, I’d promised Amy I’d try something different.
When we met for dinner at The Corner, I told Adam that part of my reservation about him was that he seemed really conflicted about his wife. They had been separated for a month, but he was seeing her a lot because they were planning their daughter’s wedding.
“How do you feel about that?” he wanted to know.
“Well,” I said, choosing my words carefully, “mostly indifferent. But I get a sense that there’s more going on. Are you still sleeping with her?”
“Would you feel better if we set up a third date?”
“How can you have a conversation with someone who answers every question with a question?” I asked Amy the next day.
“Did you see the wedding announcement in today’s Chronicle?” she replied.
Andrea Zoloft, a daughter of Pia Zoloft and Dr. Adam Zoloft of Cole Valley, is to be married today to Dr. Paul Gelb, the son of Linda and Robert Gelb of Brooklyn, N.Y. Rabbi Rachael Weiner will perform the ceremony at Sha’ar Zahav.
The bride, 25, is a candidate for a master’s degree in anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. She graduated from Mills College. Her father is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. The bride’s mother retired last year as a counselor at the Urban School.
The bridegroom, also 25, is a third-year student at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine. He graduated summa cum laude from Brooklyn College. His father, an internist, has a practice in Brooklyn.
I wanted closure. Immediately. I called Adam and got his voicemail.
“This is Dr. Zoloft,” he said, in that “I feel your pain” tone therapists cultivate. “Please leave a message, and take as long as you need.”
I needed only a few seconds. “Adam,” I said, “our time is up.”
* * *
I was convinced that Carl the MathGuy was my last hope. I prepped carefully for my date. I read McSweeney’s. I watched QUEST on KQED. I even attempted one of those stupid Sudoku number puzzles. It was like doing Kegel exercises for intellectuals.
When he walked into Flour + Water, however, I realized that he would have been more attracted to a suckling pig. Carl had said he was a mesomorph but, still thinking wishfully, I translated that as robust, or maybe stocky. Actually, he was a man-mountain—not just tall, maybe 6-foot-6, but hugely fat. Which, given that he was smart and could carry a conversation (and probably an ox, over one shoulder), might not have made that much difference if we hadn’t met over dinner.
We agreed to share an antipasto and a couple of entrees. By the time they brought the main course, I couldn’t eat a thing.
“Aren’t you hungry?” he asked, inhaling a roasted pork leg.
“That’s okay,” I said. “I like to watch.”
I watched, fascinated; I watched, appalled; finally, I just watched, speechless. Dating this guy might be a good way to drop a few pounds—it was like instant anorexia. Finally they brought our coffee. He studied the cup longingly, as though he hoped it would turn into a doughnut.
On the walk home, I wondered if it was time to stop meeting these guys. I didn’t mean that I would give up on Internet dating—far from it. I loved signing on and reading that Bill had winked at me and George had sent me an emoticon and Greg liked my smile, that Tim had just browsed my profile and that, yes, even “Single Christians Want to Meet You.” I was hooked on this stuff. And I was pretty good at the friendly chitchat, the flirtatious banter, the sexual innuendo. I was starting to think I could happily conduct entire relationships online—connect, fall in love and break up—without ever meeting face to face. Why not eliminate the middleman?
After an evening like my dinner with Carl, it was kind of nice to come home to find my ex-husband waiting up for me. Martin was still tethered to his IV so he couldn’t pace the floor, but he looked pointedly at his watch. With the antibiotics and the antidepressants kicking in, he was almost back to his old self—not that, as Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing.
* * *
Valentine’s Day was the holiday I dreaded most. I knew what I could expect this year: nothing. When we were married, Martin dutifully sent expensive bouquets of red roses, refrigerated and odorless. My favorite gifts had always been the crafts projects that the boys had been forced to make at school—the handprints cast in plaster from preschool, the big red paper hearts glued to doilies from kindergarten, the bracelets that spelled out I*©*MOM from first grade. I kept them all, in a huge box crammed under my bed. When it came to the kids, at least, I was a hopeless romantic.
But, for the first time in ages, I came home to a Valentine’s Day windfall. Howdy had sent a huge pot of forget-me-nots. I must say, for a warmonger, the guy had class. I also got a giant chocolate heart from the MathGuy. That was a complete surprise, but I’d noticed a two-for-one sale on the hearts at Scharffen Berger’s and figured he’d kept the other one. I was thrilled to get anything, especially with Martin checking the loot. Why did I need to convince my ex-husband that other men found me lovable? That was something I could have asked Adam if I hadn’t terminated our relationship.
Martin was a little petulant about my haul. I didn’t tell him that I hadn’t seen Howdy since Christmas, or that I’d had one disastrous dinner with the MathGuy.
“Wouldn’t roses have been more appropriate?” he asked.
“No, Martin. You’re the one who always sends roses. Red roses. I like lots of flowers. Tulips. Freesias. Carnations. I like different colors, too.”
Which reminded me of my first ex-husband, who used to buy me tulips. Lately, with my second ex ensconced in my living room, I’d been thinking a lot about David. I had lost touch with him more than 17 years ago, and I was sure he’d remarried and had a family. But why not find out?
So after I watered Howdy’s flowers, I registered on classmates.com. The questionnaire covered the usual categories (marital status, number of kids, career) but also contained a real zinger. “How do you feel about your life right now?” it asked. Luckily, it offered multiple choice, so I didn’t have to say, “Sucks” or “Okay, but I’d rather be 27” or, better yet, “Not bad if I could get my ex-husband out of my living room.” Instead, I could choose among:
- I’ve accomplished more than I thought I would.
- My important “to-do” list is still unfinished.
- I’m right around where I thought I’d be.
- I’d rather not talk about it.
- I’m headed in the right direction.
I flirted with #5 but settled on #2. Then I scrolled through the list of people from my class that had already signed up. It was just like the parties that I used to go to in high school: None of the cool kids were there. Thirty-two years had passed, and I was still hanging out with the nerds.
And one of them was David. I read his profile. Married, two kids, lives in Portland, blah, blah, blah. Okay, I thought, I’ll let it go. But classmates.com insisted, “Go ahead Lisa, let David know you were here. You’ll make it easy for him to visit your profile and see what’s new with you.”
If you insist, I said. So I let David know I had dropped by.
The next day, Martin had a dozen chilled red roses delivered to the house.
He told me that he thought we should get back together. He said that his near-death experience had helped him realize that he’d made a big mistake pursuing a much younger woman. He said that coming so close to dying made his recognize his own mortality and he wanted to know there would be someone to look after him.
It wasn’t the most romantic proposal. And it didn’t help when Martin noted that, as a “mature woman,” being alone probably wasn’t the best thing for my health, either.
“After all, you’re 50 now,” he said.
“Not for days,” I murmured.
“People get divorced and get married again, all the time,” Martin concluded. “What about Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner?”
But I had to admit that I was tempted. I liked the idea of putting our shattered family together again. I liked the image of that intact family, the two of us waving Johnny off to the junior prom, sharing seats at Chris’s graduation from middle school, eventually driving Johnny off to college in the family car, having a family car. No more hunting in the auditorium for friends who might have saved me a seat, or taking a solitary seat on the aisle—assuming, of course, that Martin remembered to come.
While Martin napped, I asked Johnny and Chris how they’d feel if their dad moved back, permanently. They both stared at me, dumbfounded.
“You can’t be serious, Mom,” Johnny said. “After he dumped you for Dawn?”
“But wouldn’t it be nice to be a family again?”
“We are a family,” Chris said.
And I thought, of course we are. Sure, it would be more convenient if there were a dad in the picture. But the dad had walked out of the picture years ago and, just as if Chris had Photoshopped it on his computer, his place had been seamlessly filled in. The boys had each moved in a little closer to the center and I had taken my place between them, and eventually it was though we’d always been a threesome. Which, in a sense, we had.
“Thanks, guys,” I said. “Just asking.” Thinking, would it be awful to toss the roses?