The first night of our mandatory quarantine my 8-year-old daughter, her father and I sat on wooden stools around the counter in his kitchen eating pizza. Rose regaled her dad with tales of all the movies she’d watched during the two months of Los Angeles’ stay-at-home order. Andrew looked at me with a raised brow, “I guess all those screen-time rules we discussed got thrown out the window?”
“Anything goes during the pandemic,” I replied. It became our unofficial motto during the two weeks the three of us lived together as a family once more.
I never could have imagined in the midst of a global pandemic, as a married and pregnant 38-year-old, I would be forced to live with my ex. But, Rose needed to see her dad. Due to the 14 day quarantine requirement for all arriving visitors and returning residents to the Hawaiian islands, I needed to be the one to take her there. That way her dad was still free to pick up groceries and other supplies while I hunkered down with Rose. Desperate times called for a reckoning with my past.
I met Andrew the summer of 2010 at an afterparty for a stand up paddle race in Maui. We were both there on holiday. I spotted his back first. A navy blue t-shirt clung to his 6’2, lean and fit frame. His golden hair was tousled from the ocean’s salt. I knew before he turned around he was attractive and when he did I swooned. He looked like what I had always imagined Finny from A Separate Peace to look like. “Who is that guy?” I asked, nudging my friend who was pouring cocktails for the event. She yelled his name, waving him over to us. “He is going to love you.”
Andrew was 45 and I was 28, but we didn’t let the age gap deter us. Nor the fact that he lived in Santa Monica and I lived in Brooklyn. We charged through every red flag that flapped in our face like a matador’s cape. I believed we were going to ride off into a Hawaiian sunset, with a couple of kids and a dog, while Bob Dylan serenaded our happily ever after. A therapist once told me I romance the past. He failed to mention I romance the future too.
Our six-year relationship was tumultuous. Andrew and I were off more times than we were on. We fought over everything—finances, his drinking, our infidelity. We never married, but we moved to Maui together and had a daughter, Rose. We finally imploded four years ago.
The night Andrew moved out of our house for good I duct taped shut the old cigar box filled with our private mementos. I moved all of our emails—love letters from the beginning, hateful rants from the end—into a folder titled, “Don’t Go There” (I still have not gone there). Afterwards, I lay in bed listening to Dylan's "Blood On The Tracks" on repeat. “It wasn’t supposed to end like this, Bob,” I said into the darkness.
I got together with my husband, a film composer, while the ashes of my relationship were still smoldering. If there was a patron saint for accepting emotional baggage, he would be it. We long-distanced co-parented Rose with her dad. We live in Los Angeles. Andrew still lives in Maui. Rose spends the school year with us and all holidays, spring and summer breaks with her dad (who is now five years sober). Because of the coronavirus outbreak two months had passed since Rose and her dad last saw each other. The longest stretch of time since we split. Thrice daily FaceTime calls weren’t cutting it. The lack of connection was taking its toll on Rose. At night she had regressed from turning out her own lights at bedtime to needing me to lay with her until she fell asleep. I would strum her back while she whimpered, “I miss papa.”
My husband wasn’t thrilled about his wife, five months pregnant with his first child, traveling 2,500 miles to reside with a man she had once been in love with. Even if it was only for a couple of weeks. But, he wanted what was best for Rose.
The morning Rose and I boarded the empty flight in all of our homemade PPE I couldn’t tell if the flutters in my stomach were the baby’s first kicks or my nerves. My relationship with Andrew had been so fraught. Part of making peace with us had meant compartmentalizing six years of my life. What if all the heartbreak and sorrow I had suffered came rushing back?
My apprehension vanished the moment I saw Rose on the curb outside of baggage claim, doing star jumps as she shrieked, “Papa! Papa!” She and her dad ran into each other’s arms like a scene from a movie, but with face masks.
Living with Andrew felt a lot like when we used to live together. Minus the screaming fights, and being married to another man and carrying his child. We played scrabble, ate fish burgers in the yard as the sun set, and looked at Venus through a telescope. For Mother’s Day he surprised me with takeout from my favorite Japanese restaurant.
“How is it going with your new roommate?” my husband asked, during one of our nightly FaceTime calls. “It’s fine,” I said. “Just fine?” he pressed. “It’s a new chapter. The best chapter. We’re friends now.” He said he was glad, and I could hear the relief in his voice.
Andrew still watched C-SPAN on mute. I still loved real estate reality television. He was still a vegan. My favorite meal was still a cheeseburger. His wake up time remained 5am, approximately four hours after I went to bed. We were still the same people we were when we loved each other and were miserable together. But, we found a new way to co-exist. Now we laughed at the habits that used to enrage us.
“This is what you do,” I said, not looking up from the book I had been reading on the couch for the last two hours. “Stop pacing and pick something.” Rose’s dad was on his third cup of coffee for the morning, circling the living room as he debated his next form of exercise. He stopped mid-pace and spun on his heels towards Rose who was playing on the floor with her cat, Snowball. “Hey Rose, who am I?” he asked, then put his hands on his hips, sashayed around, and pretended to flip his hair. “When is Sephora going to re-open?”
“Mommy,” Rose said. We all burst into laughter. “Lets play charades and do each other,” she added. What ensued was a hilarious take down of one another’s peccadilloes.
When I was pregnant with Rose, Andrew and I would drive 40 minutes to our favorite beach almost daily for a prenatal triathlon. A leisurely bike ride, followed by a half-mile deep sand walk, then an open ocean swim back to where we started. We would talk about our future, our plans for our child, for us. After the quarantine lifted, the three of us went to this beach. At one point, as we walked along the sand with Rose in the middle, she reached up and grabbed each of our hands. Andrew and I looked at each other and smiled.
The rush of emotions I feared never came. I never felt a pang of what could have been (I already knew). Our plans hadn’t worked out the way I hoped. But we had managed to dig ourselves out of the wreckage. We had rebuilt our lives and were happier. We were still riding off into the sunset, it just wasn’t together.