May 12 2010

Overlapping Moments

It was sometime last summer that my ex-husband called me to tell me of the latest coincidence in his life. He’d been driving around with his daughter – who I knew best, actually, when she was the same age as Buddy-roo or Short-pants – looking at places to host her wedding. A sobering piece of news: that someone you knew when she still believed in Santa Claus is now getting married. Just another marker of how time halts for no one.

A wedding. Mazeltov and all that, I thought. My ex (let’s call him Ex-facto) went on to say that while driving to one of the venues on her list, he recognized a landmark red-and-white-striped ice-cream parlor and realized how close he was (a mile) to my childhood home. Of the half-dozen places she was considering, this one was actually right in my little hometown. The venue in question was a ruin when I was growing up, but has since been restored to a majestic mansion with picturesque views, a perfect spot for weddings and other celebratory occasions.

A disclosure is in order: Yes, there was a man and some vows, many years ago. Our divorce was relatively elegant, as divorces go, and we remain not only cordial but compassionate toward each other. Our correspondence, though not regular, is frequent enough and always slightly nostalgic. He kept in closer contact with me when Short-pants was in the hospital, and also called me this winter when I was taking care of my mother. When Ex-facto’s daughter, the bride in question, was a student abroad, he encouraged her to come visit me in Paris. I was nearly 9-months pregnant, but I wanted her to experience French café society so I urged De-facto to take her out to some of our favorite bars in the neighborhood. I think what she enjoyed most about that night was running into our friends and answering the question, “so how do you know each other?”

Between De-facto and Ex-facto there is a striking sense of mutual respect. Ex-facto’s regard for De-facto, he tells me, is enhanced because of the things I write on this blog. For De-facto, it is the result of two precious tickets that Ex-facto once secured for him to see the New England Patriots play in the Superbowl. I suppose that could make a friend for life.

“If we choose this place for the wedding,” Ex-facto told me, “we’ll want your mother to be there.”

If she lives that long, I thought. By then, my mother had already outlived her doctor’s estimates; she was living month by month. On borrowed time, as she liked to say.

When my mother died, it was her wish to be interred quickly and quietly, and also her suggestion that we take our time organizing a memorial service, without the stress or urgency to make it coincide with her burial. Given the inclement weather last February, her wishes were more than sensible. After the private burial, we selected a Saturday in mid-May for her memorial service, dreaming of a sunny spring afternoon that would create hopeful dispositions and easier transportation.

Once the date was chosen, I called around to local inns and hotels to reserve a block of rooms for the extended family we expected to attend, and found it problematic. I managed to secure the very last rooms at one B&B, but I was surprised to find that otherwise, there was, literally, no room at the inn – or the hotel, or anywhere. My hometown is known for its summer tourism; it’s on a beautiful lake with lots of sailing and water sporting. But sold-out in the middle of May?

“There’s a wedding,” one of the hotel clerks told me.

What are the chances that Ex-facto’s entire family (and his first ex-wife and current wife) would descend on my hometown at the same weekend as my entire family will assemble there for my mother’s memorial service? Is this some sort of cosmic joke? Some strange vertigo-inducing vortex uniting our two families, again, par hazard, on this auspicious date?

I mean, you couldn’t make this up.

Do you think we’ll bump into them? I can imagine my aunt encountering my ex-mother-in-law in an elevator and wondering why the other seems vaguely familiar. Or Ex-facto’s cousin, studying my Uncle Buddy (who’s pretty memorable) in the breakfast room, puzzling about where she’s seen him before. Ghosts of the past inhabiting the present.

I suppose this is how life works. A tiny baby, like my new nephew, born last week, slips out into a waiting, welcoming world. A poised bride steps in a purposeful gait down the aisle toward her groom. A beloved woman, laid to rest, is remembered with words of tribute, gratitude and affection. For each one of us, there are significant moments marking our passage through life. And sometimes these moments overlap in rather extraordinary – if slightly awkward – ways.