Those familiar gestures
Six years after my marriage has ended, I still feel I know my ex well. Have you ever reunited with a close friend from high school or college? The years might have intervened and lots of stuff might have happened, but after you caught up with the details of your lives, you probably felt comfortable with one another again. That's because the essential "you," "me," and "we" haven't changed. You note the physical differences, but if you were once close, you turn to the essentials, forgetting the intervening years.
A few years after Bob left the house, he contacted me asking me if I still had some of his stuff. "Yes," I replied, "in the garage." By that time, he'd remarried and was living in another city. I did not keep these items out of sentimentality. I had been busy working three jobs and simply did not have the time to scour the attic and garage to get rid of the boxes of junk we had accumulated over nearly three decades together.
He came at the assigned time. I did not take him through my house (once ours), but asked him to meet me in the garage. He immediately spotted the old cedar chest that held his winter shirts and old jackets, and some other boxes I had put aside for his inspection.
I stood stiffly by a side doorway, watching him. We discussed the Lord of the Rings film trilogy (in our younger years we had been avid science fiction/Tolkien fans) and a few other sundry "safe" topics. In the middle of our conversation, he lifted the hem of his t-shirt, and rubbed his sweating brow, revealing his navel and chest.
Several observations swept through my mind as I saw him go through this familiar ritual, which I had observed for 32 years, especially after playing tennis or during yard work. One, he was wearing a wedding ring. He refused to wear one when married to me. Two, he had gained weight, something he had accused me of doing before abandoning our marriage, and that he said really impacted him. Three, the gesture was so familiar, I felt the years slipping away. It was as if we were still married and I felt exposed.
So, I turned my back, told him to take what he needed, but that I needed to go. I had things to do. Minutes later I heard his rental car leave. That was the last time Bob visited the house.
I have seen him once since, at a friend's funeral. He had gained even more weight, and was almost completely unrecognizable with his puffy cheeks and without his mustache. Except for those familiar gestures of hand, facial expression, and mouth, I would not have stopped to say a polite Howdoyoudo. Giving me a smarmy smile, (one that for years I had observed him giving to people he did not like) he hugged me. I recoiled at his touch.
Even though the after-funeral reception had just started, I left with a friend. There were other, better ways I could honor Leslie's memory, and we went to her favorite restaurant where the waiters and I shared our thoughts of her.
To this day I will remember post-divorce Bob in two ways: That wedding ring and that unwelcome hug. Familiar gestures, similar interests, and years of shared history be damned, unlike the hugs and handshakes that I welcome from friends of a bygone era, that man had unearned the right to touch me. One year later, I still shudder at the memory.