“Who is it this time?” I asked the same question I had asked too many times before. I stared at the floor and wrung my hands. Rick’s* silent breath confirmed what I already knew. He was cheating again. That word ‘cheating’ flashed in my mind like a neon sign in a dive bar, blinking occasionally as the lights died out. I knew we were dying out, too. My body went limp. I could no longer mentally compare myself to the naive ingenues he chased after.
A month later, he would move in with his girlfriend and I’d be alone in a home I’d made for us together. As I stared at the photographs on the walls of our son and happier days, my heart crushed in upon itself. But Rick wasn’t the only one who’d hidden something. For while he’d been unfaithful, I’d been carrying a secret of my own. Like an albatross around my neck, I was gasping for air, gasping for words, haunted by living an inauthentic life. After we separated, I looked at our one-year-old son and realized I couldn’t raise my baby while hiding my secret from the world. I made the decision to come out as a lesbian.
Entering the dating world for the first time as a queer woman was scary, especially living in the buckle of the Bible Belt. However, tides turned when I eventually met a Florida transplant, Sandy*. I felt like champagne bubbles were floating in my head when I was near her. Weeks later, in true U-Haul fashion, we were living together. All was well for nearly three years. That last year together, I was diagnosed with a serious illness and she was laid off from her job.
We fought over money, time, and resources.
“We can’t keep spending like this. You need to look for a job, like yesterday, “ I nagged at her one particular day.
“You’re one to talk. You don’t even work,” she retorted. In that moment, I knew we were broken like a pretty doll and no glue could put us back together.
We became the villains of our own fairy tale. The stress of reality proved too much and we broke up. As I’d lived in her house, I needed to find a new home. Battling a chronic illness that left me unable to work, I faced potential homelessness. Where does one go when they’re jobless and battling chronic illness?
Apparently you move in with your ex-husband.
Rick knew of my plight and had recently broken up with his girlfriend. He offered me a place to stay while I figured things out.
“I know things are rough for you at the moment. My door is always open.”
While we had a rocky marriage, at his core, Rick is a good man and an amazing father. He’s the kind of man who’d stop on the road to change a tire for a stranger or pay for someone’s meal in a restaurant. Without the trauma of infidelity dangling over my head, I could simply be friends with him. That’s not to ignore the pain I felt during the marriage, but I’d also held a deep secret from him, so weren’t we on level ground?
Unable to work, I fell back into my role as a stay-at-home mom. I took our son to and from school. I was secretary of the PTO. I volunteered at school functions. By my side during these events was my ex-husband. Except he was no longer my ex: he’d become a friend, a confidante. As time wore on, the resentment my heart held onto from his infidelity lost its grip. Our son was quite excited at the arrangement of having each of his parents in the same household.
Before I knew it, two years had gone by and a temporary living circumstance evolved into two best friends raising their epic kid together. Although my life was full of my child’s laughter and smiles, I felt a twinge of guilt. I was lonely. My heart felt like it was missing a piece. For while I had my family under one roof, I longed for a romantic love.
That’s when I met Mary* on a dating app. We immediately hit it off. One step at a time, I told myself. When I was around her, however, the champagne bubbles began floating around again. I knew in that moment that honesty could be my only course of action. Upon learning I lived with an ex-husband and we co-parented our son in this way, she was taken aback.
“I’m sorry… what?” she asked, incredulously. Her voice shook with emotion.
Suddenly fascinated with the tiles on the floor, I said, “I live with my ex-husband and we co-parent together.”
“Who even does that? I don’t understand.”
“We do,” I answered simply.
“I’m going to need time to think about this,” she said. Fear set in. All the butterflies in my stomach stopped fluttering and died. That’s when I knew I was falling in love.
After some time, she said she respected my choices. We developed feelings for each other which soon grew to love. We’ll soon celebrate our three-year anniversary.
The most unlikely things grew from my circumstances. In a crazy twist because the universe likes to play, Rick and Mary are friends with one another. I didn’t know how to react to their friendship in the beginning. While I wanted to show support amidst this burgeoning friendship, internally I struggled. How does one respond to their girlfriend and ex-husband chatting it up? I wish I could say I took it all in stride at first, but as Christina Perry sings, I’m only human. Eventually, I’d see how very lucky I was that they did get along. Their friendship made my relationship with them both better by keeping the channels of communication open.
One day, I took a mental inventory of my life. Kismet set in and I realized this was how it was destined to be all along.
Love comes in so many forms and I have so very much to give. Mary has two boys that my son absolutely adores. I don’t think I could have made it through this pandemic without their love and support. As we continue our journey of living together after nearly four years, we’re constantly addressing various issues. Creating healthy boundaries and managing our communication is the key to making this work successfully.
I didn’t know that ten years ago my then fiancé would be an ex-husband and that I’d finally come into my truth that I was gay. Life is full of twists, turns, and turbulence. We screw up sometimes. Rick and I bicker over dishes and homework and screen time for our son. However, we also celebrate his achievements as a family. While we’re far from the Cleavers, I’m proud of my little modern family.