Sunday, May 4, 2008

My Ex Gets Married

A couple weeks ago I wrote about my ex-girlfriend, who left me for two other men. We thought about staying together, but they kept using my razors. Finally it was her pregnancy that convinced me I was better off single. She'd gone crazy--or at least seemed to be mired in a quarter-life crisis. What tipped me off was when she tried to convince me the child was mine. She was two months pregnant in mid-April, and I hadn't seen her since January. "It's a leap year," she said. This is a Columbia PhD candidate talking.

Last week I visited her in New York.

She lives in a fifteenth-floor walk-up with Dennis--her new husband. They'd just moved in a couple weeks earlier--their first place--and there were still empty big-box-Scandinavian-furniture-store boxes collapsed in the hallway. I was supposed to be coming down for their engagement party, but the other ring on her finger said I'd wasted a plane ticket. "We eloped on Wednesday," she told me, meeting me at the door.

"Why?" I asked.

"Class was cancelled."

Dennis is a nice guy; I don't have anything against him. He's twenty-five, he's got a nice head of auburn hair, and he loves his mother very much. Better him than me.

We got the "cheating" issue out of the way very early. "I'm sorry," he said, pointing at my ex's pregnant belly. "I never meant for this to happen. I don't know what to say. Really..."

I shrugged my shoulders. "Don't worry. It could've happened to anyone." And she shot me a sharp-toothed smile.

There was a bag of groceries sitting by the door, and I leaned over and picked it up.

"We bought all your preferred foodstuffs," my ex said, using her professorial voice. "Dennis wanted to cook for you. He's so good in the kitchen.

I looked into the yawning brown paper bag. "Mmm, favourite."

Dennis made mussels marinara with a pan-fried veal chop. I haven't mentioned that he's a real estate lawyer, but apparently he makes an excelling living. He was wearing his shoes in the apartment, which he explained by saying, "Just trying to get my money's worth." In his defense, they were nice shoes. Black leather with real leather soles and a silver buckle. "People at work go crazy! Everyone asks where I bought them, but I'm not telling."

"He's worn those shoes for the past three weeks," my ex said. "He won't stop talking about them."

"How much were they?" I asked.

"Oh," he said, bending over to look at the price tag, "$1,150."

And the man can cook.

"Where'd you get the recipe for this tomato sauce?" I asked him. "Is this home-made?"

"It's an old family thing. My grandmother passed it down to my mother, and my mother gave it to me. Actually, it's a funny story. During the Depression my great-grandfather owned property in the Italian section of the city. And this old Italian couple lived in one of his units, but they never had enough money for rent. They hardly understood any English. My great-grandfather thought it could have been a cultural thing, you know. Maybe they just didn't know to pay or they were embarrassed to come see him and ask for help. Or maybe they couldn't even ask.

"Finally my great-grandfather went to them, in their apartment, and said, 'Look. We can't have this. You must pay your rent. Everybody else pays their rent. I can't make an exception for you. I love you; my wife loves you. You're beautiful people. I wish circumstances were different. But it just cannot be done.' And the old lady was scared to death. She was too old to be on the street. She had no money. Her husband couldn't work; he'd been a shoemaker, but his hands were warped by arthritis. All he did every day was play with his little grandchildren in the mornings. Their parents--his children--were out looking for work, and he would look after the kids. Oh, he loved those kids. But they wore him out. When they left he would sleep all afternoon.

"But they had no money. What were they going to do? So the next day my grandmother gets a knock on the door, and there's the old lady with a pot of tomato sauce. She held out a wooden spoon, dipped it in the pot, gave some to my great-grandmother to taste, and it was fantastic. She said, 'I know we don't have enough to pay the rent, but this is worth more than money. This is a family recipe, passed down for generations.'"

"So your great-grandparents accepted the recipe in lieu of rent? That's a nice story," said my ex.

"No, no," said Dennis. "She wanted cash. Cash or that was it. The old lady went upstairs, stabbed the husband in the heart while he was sleeping, then stuck her head in the oven. They found the recipe when they were cleaning out the place, deciding which stuff they wanted to take."

After dessert (a pecan pie), I decided to ask what'd happened to Andy--the second of my ex's boyfriends.

"Andy moved to Boston," she said, sneaking a surreptitious peek at Dennis. "I haven't seen him for months. And we were never a thing, anyway. That was just your imagination. OK, so one night I went home with him after we'd had a few drinks. But that was one time. But how do you even know about Andy? I never told you about him. Did I?"

"No," I said, leaning back on their new Ikea sofa (brown suede--her taste), reaching behind me and under the cushion, "but he left his wallet in your couch."

I'm back in Toronto now. But I had a lot of fun. There's always something to do in New York.

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