Jim was an engineer I dated for the better part of a year. He had three daughters who were, when I first met them, 12 (Leane), 10 (Lainie), and 5 (Julie). His wife had gotten custody five years earlier when they divorced. That’s right; Julie—or Jules, as she was called—was an infant. But instead of taking the girls with her to New York, as she’d promised, she left them with Jim, moved to Florida, remarried, and started a whole new family.
Who could–who would–do something like that?
For a while I spent my weekends at their house, more often than not the one who woke during the night at the slightest sound of coughing or of sleepy, stumbling feet. During the day, I helped them on and off with their snowsuits in the winter and fixed dinner while Jim worked on cars in the backyard with his buddies. It was a cozy domestic arrangement that didn’t last long. I tried to capture Jim in this poem:
On rare days
catching the sunlight
But hardened mostly,
into metal flakes,
chrome and steel
like your cars.
When we had the breakup discussion, I told him somewhat defiantly that I wouldn’t give up the girls. To his credit, he said, “Of course not,” and we arranged a visitation schedule. He worked in the city where I shared a house with my friend Debbie. Every week during that summer, he brought one of the girls with him in the morning and dropped her off at our house. After work the following day, he picked her up. When I was feeling reckless, I asked him to bring all three.
I left their lives too soon, too, but before I moved from Michigan to California, I took each one shopping for school clothes and shoes. The photo on the right was taken as we were about to head off for a music concert late in the summer. I love how they look like they’re in a police line-up. The day I left, Debbie drove me to the airport and brought Leane and Lainie along to see me off. I remember it being a muggy, gray November day. Julie didn’t come. She said she didn’t want to watch me go. But I gave them a big stuffed animal, a gift from an old boyfriend. The girls named it “Gor,” short for Gordon, the ex. They took turns sleeping with and fighting over it.
I know because they told stories on each other in the cards and letters they sent during the year after I left. I also saw them when I went home for a visit about 14 months later. But eventually we moved on–or so it seemed at the time. I’ve always hoped I didn’t do them more harm than good by getting so close to them and then leaving. I know I was the lucky one to have had all that time with them.
Next time: Leane