I didn’t bother correcting him when he mentioned that we were married for 12 years. After all, it had been 35 years since we met and fell in love. I didn’t feel the need to make him wrong for being off by a year.
Here we were together again. My children’s father and I had flown from Nebraska to New York to celebrate our firstborn’s completion of grad school at NYU. Benjamin had gently negotiated that his brother and I would arrive a few days prior to the ceremony, his father staying a few days after.
In the middle were three days of our former family of four together again. In these 72 hours I saw how much I didn’t know.
I didn’t know how joyful it could feel to treat your ex to a ticket to his first Broadway show. I bought tickets for four great seats. I thought myself generous until I realized that cost was less than a single payment of child support that this responsible man faithfully paid to me on time each month for ten years.
I didn’t know how awkward it would feel to have all of us listening to the lines from the actors on stage portraying a dysfunctional family speak as though they had lived in our very own home. They sang and danced to the universality of the challenges of being a family, and each of us understood from our own perspective.
I didn’t know that bitterness can linger for decades, with its foul taste capable of spoiling the moment with an offhand remark. I didn’t know that my own judgments about the marriage had mostly mellowed into a mildly pleasant bittersweet.
I didn’t know that it was possible for us all to have a good laugh over my former husband having no idea when my birthday was while each year I secretly try to ensure that our children remember his.
I didn’t know that comments about my career which once would have sent me into a downward spiral of defensiveness would now float by me like slow moving summer cloud as we all sat perusing the menu at a Brooklyn café.
The giant purple banner of New York University hung on the stage at the Lincoln Center. As we rose to the familiar melody of Pomp and Circumstance, so did the lump in my throat. Hundreds of family and friends searched for their loved one. But the only person who could share the meaning of this moment with me was the man who had been there for Montessori, for middle school, and for making of countless shared memories of being two people lucky enough to be the proud parents of the graduate.
I didn’t know when we divorced over 20 years ago how much it would mean to have another human share a lifetime of loving my children, whether any of us are together or apart.