In the year 2006, I did not drive.
I walked and took public transportation everywhere I needed to go. I was fond of walking to a popular restaurant nearby which sat in an outdoor shopping center. The design of the restaurant was such that it was shaped like a crescent and most of the tables sat next to windows, so everyone had a view while eating. Some of the tables had a view of the street, while another bank of booths had a view of the shopping center and parking lot.
Once, I was seated at one of these tables. The shopping center was clearly visible to me. However, the restaurant’s layout also dictated that once you were seated, you had walked a fair curved distance from the entrance. To get to the tables meant you were deeply ensconced in the guts of the restaurant. The entrance was quite a ways off. Yet, you still found you could look out at the parking lot which was very close by, but you had no sense of immediacy because of your physical seclusion from the restaurant’s exterior.
This particular evening I had walked to the restaurant after work. As I sat at a booth that allowed me to view all the pedestrian traffic and storefronts, I was startled to see my son walking. Soon I saw his mother as they both entered a video rental store. We had been divorced a couple of years at most, and my son was still quite young, so on days I didn’t have him I still called each night to say hi and see how his day had gone. There was that fresh parental bond that was not quite severed, even after 2 years of divorce. I watched as they both entered the video store, oblivious to the fact I was sitting in the restaurant, not a great physical distance away, but still removed and isolated behind the windows and out of convenient reach due to the curvature of the restaurant. My initial instinct was to yell, to wave, but that would be silly. They had no idea I was watching them and I felt strange at that moment for I felt so close to them, but so uselessly distant. It’s a dreadful sensation to be within the circle of those you hold dear, but still excised from the flesh, like a random chunk of meat droplet that sits in an aluminum tub, part of, but not part of. That’s how I felt.
It was a sad feeling. It was like a longing, a faint despair. That you can see someone’s life in progress but you’re helpless to join or influence it. This is one of the most fearsome sentences a man can live. I wonder if that’s how ghosts feel? They wander amid the living but cannot join the living. What use is there in being part of a life that you cannot interact with?
I felt like I was doing something wrong by watching my son but not talking to him or letting him know I was here. I almost picked up my cell phone to call them and tell him I was right across the parking lot, over here, see me, waving…?
Of course I stopped myself from doing this because the trademark of sanity is recognizing when your behavior threatens to spill over into insanity. Running out the restaurant and yelling at them would be equally bizarre. Part of the process of divorce (if you’re human) is the separation, the process of extricating yourself from a former life. For me, on this evening, it meant seeing my son and his mom (by the way, I was the primary cause of the divorce) was an odd detour, a disconnected third-person revelation that demonstrated just how my life was slowly separating from their’s. Many times, people do not realize this forgotten aspect of divorce, until they are. No longer being a part of the family dynamic means there is a greater chunk of life that you simply don’t see and are no longer a part of. There is a sub-layer of existence that you can only witness from afar and it never strikes you until you in fact do witness it…from afar. And like a lonely ghost, you reach out to shape and mold life into a single, recognizable unit that can never be again.