The day after my surgery, as I was still pumping morphine into my ailing body, Kevin and the girls came to visit me.
The pathology was back and it wasn’t cancer, time to celebrate life!
The girls told me all about their babysitter, the dogs, the T.V shows, while Kevin stood by my bed silent. I knew it was hard for him and I wanted to appologize, but what was I going to say? ” Sorry I had a tumor, I really, really didn’t plan on one? ”
“So,” I tried to encourage communication, ” How are you doing? How’s work?”
On second thought, perhaps asking about work was not the best opening, but he ignored it anyway, and unrelated to me question said:
” Your ex-husband called yesterday while you were on the operating table.”
“Who? What did you say?”
“Yes, you heard me, your ex called because he said he had a premonition something was wrong with you and he wanted to know if you were okay!”
“So… you spoke… the two of you spoke? What did you tell him? Where is he?”
After the frentic calls from Austria, after we mailed him money and books to learn computer language and various remedies for back pain, the communications stoped. I had not heard from him in a few years…
“Cristian is now in the States. In Atlanta, Georgia, working for Coca Cola. He told me he is very happily re-married and has two boys by his third wife…”
“Third wife? What happened to the one for whom he left me? He already had a baby with her, remember? When they defected he sent her back to Romania to be with the baby… she was supposed to follow him later, she and the baby?”
“I really don’t want to get involved in this!” Kevin cut me short. “All I know, when I told him you had major surgery he said he is coming to Philadelphia.”
“Who is coming to Philadelphia? My ex-husband? Why?”
“To see you, because I told him you were really sick and Cristian said he’d stay in a hotel, but I offered to have him stay with us. The house is big, why should he spend money… he has all these kids to support.”
There was no feeling in Kevin’s voice. He didn’t look surprised, happy or unhappy, he was just reporting the facts: My ex called, they spoke and he was coming to Philadelphia. What was more incredible, Kevin invited him to stay with us!
And… what was wrong with this picture? Was Kevin a perfect gentlemen or he didn’t care? Which? Should I ask or let it be, just go with the flow… Weak and stunned, with my head swarling from pain medications I made the right decision and kept my mouth shut.
I told my family I was tired, I needed to sleep and closed my eyes conveniently.
Being sick was a good excuse, I thought, as I was trying to understand why did my ex call, did he really have a “premonition” and why did my present husband invite him as a house-guest… didn’t he care or was he nice?
The bottom line was I might never find out but the fact of life was Cristian was going to come and after 11 years, for the first time, see me weak, pale, bend over in pain… he was going to see the ruin of the woman he secretly married at 18!
Perhaps that’s why he was coming, to see it with his own eyes, just how deplorable I had become! And on top of it all he was going to be in the house. Day and night. I wouldn’t even have time to put make up on, unless I slept with make up, just in case I ran into him first thing in the morning.
And what was I going to tell the girls? Who was he? A friend from Romania? I didn’t think they were old enough to understand the concept of divorce and now he remarried and had a child and remarried again and had more children, all boys! Yes, a friend from Romania was the simplest explanation. I consulted Kevin. He shrugged his shoulders:
“Tell them whatever you want!”
What I really wanted was for both men to go to Hell and leave me alone so I could sleep and heal, but what I had to articulate aloud to my husband was:
” I just can’t believe you invited my ex to stay with us… ”
I had learned by then to limit my questions to a minimum because I never knew what could trigger unexpected reactions in my husband and if he chose to invite my ex-husband into our household as I was coming home from major surgery, such was life, I had to embrace the experience. How many husbands would even do this? How was this going to work out? I tried to see the humor in this unexpected twist of life. Yes, another twist!
When I was checked out of the hospital I was told to keep a small pillow against my abdomen and press gently.
Bended over, holding my pillow as instructed, I steped out of the car and as I looked up, there was Cristian and my two children in the doorway of our home!
Kevin supported me by my arm:
“You said Cristian was coming tomorrow?”
“I wanted to surprize you,” He said, guiding my steps slowly.
Now, really, if it weren’t so bad, if I weren’t in pain and felt lie the ugliest woman on Earth, it would have been funny.
Actually, it was funny, if I could only step out of the grotesque picture in which I was surrounded by my present and ex husbands and more importantly, I had to explain to our children who was the man who showed up after my surgery. Was he a psychic?
Cristian came to meet us and supported me by the other arm, while telling the girls I was in pain and to wait until I sat down to give me hugs and kisses.
Miraculously, they listened to him. Obediently they waited until I sat on the couch. They behaved like Cristian was their friend, as if they knew them forever. INo need for me to explain… but time to find the truth, and the first words coming out of my mouth were:
“How did you know I was sick?”
“I just felt something was wrong and called and Kevin invited me over. I was right, you are very sick, you look sick.”
So… he was going to stick to his story about premonition!
Just what I wanted to hear from my ex. I looked sick! Yeah, now I was sure, he wanted to see me defeated, sick, perhaps dead!
“It’s only temporary. I will get better,” I assured him.
“Tell me about you… haven’t heard from you in years. Yes, more exactly, the last time I heard of you, not from you, was when Ingrid, Richard’s wife, wrote me a letter about how she was in love with you. I put you in touch with my friends in Austria and you broke up their marriage, didn’t you?”
He looked away and didn’t answer.
“I re-married a wonderful Austrian woman. She is 13 years-younger, she is perfect! We love children and already have two boys. Would you like to see pictures?”
“Wife number three? What happened to number two from Romania and the baby you two had? Are you supporting them?”
He looked away again and didn’t answer.
“She is the love of my life! I didn’t mean to leave my second wife, but you know… things happen and we fell in love!”
“You mean you and the Austrian girl, 13-years younger and who conveniently supplied you with Austrian citizenship?”
“I work for Coca Cola. They sent me here, at the headquarters. I make good money and support my family!”
The meds were wearing off… sure, he was supporting them but never supported us for the 14 years we were together. My mother’s work of a life-time and my work supported him in Romania. Through my mind paraded images of when I worked my entire summer vacation packaging books in a warehouse, images of blisters and bleeding hands while Cristian sat at home studyng for an entrance exam in the Polytechnic Institute, an exam he finally passed the third time he took it.
What was it about me that no men ever supported me? How come now he was supporting his younger wife but when we were together I supported us?
Yeah… I heard enough about their happiness, their perfect children, their love and his amazing career. I felt sick in my stomach and pressed the pillow harder.
“Okay now, I am in pain. Make yourself comfortable, because I am going to bed.”
“The girls and I will play! Do you want to play hide-and-seek or another game?”
“No, no, pick me up and throw me in the air!” Eva demanded.
“Me too, me too!” cried Natalie hanging on to him.
He lifted them both and they were dancing in circles, around and around until dizzy with happiness they fell to the ground and laughed some more.
Kevin was no where to be seen.
I swollowed a pill and went to sleep.
The following day Cristian left and the girls cried.
I didn’t cry, I was glade the mascarade was over. However, before I came downstairs to say good-bye I carefully applied lipstick and blush so I looked alive, so he wouldn’t be left with an image of me half-dead.
He kissed my forehead and whispered:
“Remember, when there is a will, there is a way!”
Was this a parable I was supposed to unlock? Was he talking about himself? About us?
I decided it was about me and said aloud:
“Don’t worry, I have the will to get healthy again!”
We all waived good-bye as the cab was driving away, but Cristian didn’t wave back. He was gone!