Dugan didn’t expect the divorce to last any better than the dozen other times they had split up but it kind of did.
Cat got their life in the divorce settlement: their daughter, their place at the law firm, their home, and Dugan was like the piece on the game board that slid all the way back back back to start. So he dusted himself off and jammed together a life waiting tables at a couple restaurants, flirting, trying to remember how to do those things that he hadn’t had to do in so long.
Sometimes it helps him to pull out his cell phone and call the people who knew him back then, in those youthful days before he sacrificed decades to a love that was destined for tumultuousness. Not that anyone can regret after they have a kid and all, not that anyone should ever regret period, but maybe that’s something that a voice from the past can help with too.
Time zones are shit, he’s in the middle of the country and his old life is back on the coast so it takes a while to figure out the best times to call. Dusk is a best time, not on the days he has to work of course, but other days he can stand on this old dock and watch the sun slip down and call his mom or a person who could have been his wife and talk to them as they make dinner and plates rattle and they are just that little bit distracted so they don’t pry too hard. He’s mostly lonely and a little lost and it helps to hear normalcy and not have to answer twenty questions and not explain how he’s forty-two and has fancy degrees and is waiting tables again. He takes great pains to not call anyone who’s going to click their tongue and throw that in his face.
This night though, instead of simply flirting and dishing about old times he’s reached an equally pensive soul. Tracy and Dugan pretty much invented the ‘friends with benefits’ concept long before those nasty little tweens. Tracy lived off campus and was failing out because of missed classes; Dugan lived on campus and had ditched his dorm bed in favor of a double futon chucked on the floor. Tracy moved in but just for those nights before there was a morning class. And by moved in one shouldn’t infer clothing or toothbrushes or anything ridiculous like that, no she just slept on the floor with him and put on the same clothes and stumbled to class. And by slept on the floor with him one shouldn’t assume hanky-panky because there was a roommate too. It was a giant of a dorm room.
Tracy didn’t do anything post-grad, Tracy didn’t do anything careerish either. She has a sweet job though where she can dress like she works in a record store and ditch work early for little league games, Life Is About Knowing What’s Really Important. At least that’s how they console themselves along the crappy connection, one person on the dock and the other banging pots in a little kitchen with peeling linoleum hundreds and hundreds of miles away. Some nights are like this and the sound of one beer bottle opening is echoed by the sound of a matching bottle being cracked along down the line.
“I used to have a family” he laments.
“I used to have a fucking soul,” she snarled back, a lid making way more noise than necessary. “I used to make shit, remember? I was in the art show, God I should have taken pictures. I feel like every inch of me is insipid now.”
She heard his mouth open, she pictured instantly the flash in his eye, “don’t say a fucking word about inches and quantities thereof you bastard.”
“I like girls with figures, with hips and thighs and breasts and all, you know that.”
“You skinny little shit, you married an ironing board and I’m supposed to believe you?”
“Well, clearly that’s why we were destined for failure.”
“Don’t call it failure, call it impermanence or something. You grew up together, you have that pretty little girl, it was important.”
“Well, don’t call yourself insipid. Making dinner is important too.”
“I would never call my dinners insipid, my dinners are awesome. It’s everything else that sucks; it’s this fakey fake life. I feel like I’m wearing a wig all the time pretending to be a grown up. Let’s pretend to be a super competent secretary, let’s pretend to be a mom who gives a shit about fourth grade homework, let’s pretend we care about how our gardens look. I have so many wigs and ingratiating personas I don’t even know What’s Really Important anymore.”
“Oh my God, do you think you’re using an ingratiating persona now? Is this flirting to you?”
“Shut the hell up, I’m having an existential crisis. Can’t you hear it?” and another pot banged, he could tell it was just pretend though. He could picture the wooden spoon in her hand being smacked for emphasis. He only hoped it wasn’t against the pot of boiling water, Monday was macaroni and cheese night.
His eyes had closed to picture her, as she had been twenty years ago, and he smiled a tiny bit while she raved on, absurdly comforted that whatever path he had taken or she had taken, the landmarks were universal. The dusk that was slipping west, tinny voices on mobile phones, insipid wigs, gently spreading figures and flirting with an old friend.