We needed such boundaries. We were living so close together that when I told Jim I'd thrown out a huge ball of unmated socks, he said, "Oh, I know. I found it in the trash and took it upstairs. I had most of the mates." He borrows our vacuum; we steal soda off his porch when we run out during a party.
It has made all the difference that the two men like each other. Bill asks Jim for help fixing the toilet, and Jim, who publishes local histories, consults Bill, a book editor, on which cover photo might work best. Jim sends us soup, eggs, and fruit from the farmer's market, and he stores his wine in our extra fridge.
It turns out that when Jim and I divorced, we were not done with each other at all. In fact our relationship would evolve, not end. Underneath our daily life, politely writing each other checks for shared kid expenses and having our regular Sunday night family dinner at his house, was our deeper connection, the unbreakable bond of having created two human beings together and being linked for life by our love for them.
The other day Morgan said, "Why don't we dig up our overgrown jungle of a backyard and put in a lawn for sunbathing?" Ten minutes later she and I had dragged the radio and some trash bags out back. Suddenly Jim and Patrick came up from the basement with shovels, and the four of us clipped back bushes, filled the bags with dead leaves, and threw out the rotted wooden planter boxes. Bill hid out as long as he could, reading the paper. But finally even he showed up, with a pair of long-handled clippers, and cut away the nasturtiums that covered the tiny square of backyard behind our Victorian while reggae music spilled from the doorway.
Sometimes, it takes a duplex to raise a child.
Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from the April 2001 issue of Child magazine.