I’m standing in the bathroom, wrapped in a towel. I glance at the time as I answer. 8:14. We should be getting in the car right this minute. Behind me, I hear the little ones squealing and jumping on my bed.
“Hey let me ask you a question,” he says in one breath. “I remember playing for Liz’s wedding and Valerie’s. But I can’t remember Lane’s. Did we go to Lane’s wedding?” He’s listing our circle of friends from our earliest years together, the ones we call the Band Family. For six years he and his friends toured all over the Southeast, sleeping in the van on the side of the interstate when the transmission blew at 1 a.m., eating countless crappy meals, leading worship for camps and retreats. We once all moved to Nashville together. We shared holidays and funerals, left Gatorade and soup when someone was sick. It was Lane’s wife Mary who kept refilling my wine glass the night my sister eloped at 19, and again one Sunday afternoon when the truth barreled toward me like a freight train that I wasn’t going to be a conservative Christian after all. The Band Family had once been an intricate part of our daily lives. Lane had been one of his best friends.
“Yes, we went to Lane’s wedding. It was at the Methodist church, remember? You were a groomsman.”
“I remember Nick’s wedding there.” Another member of the Band Family. “But I can’t remember Lane’s.”
“It was a formal wedding. At 5 pm, or maybe 6? The bridesmaids wore black, maybe? I’m not sure. But I know it was beautiful. I wore my hair short back then and you and I took that picture in the sanctuary together. Remember? The one that was in that acorn frame for so long?”
“Yeah! I remember that picture.” Pause. “Yeah …. Okay. I remember Nick’s. I think I remember Lane’s.”
I recognize this tone. He doesn’t remember the moment, but he remembers the picture and I remember the wedding, so it must be true.
Then, “Okay, thanks. Kids doing okay?”
“Everybody’s fine here. Running late, as usual.”
I hear his grin. “Sounds about right. Have a good day.”
I hang up. Behind me, the game has turned into a brawl. “Okay guys. I want to get dressed by myself. Out of my room.”
This is life now. We are both single again. He has friends whose names I’ve never heard, he goes places I’ve never been, he dates. I’ve seen his apartment once, on the day he moved into it almost 11 months ago. I see him on Monday afternoons when he picks up the kids for dinner, and again every other Friday.
The life we once had is over. Yet it did exist. It was real, filled with friends and music and vacations and spiritual highs and pregnancies and losses and love. I remember every moment, but he doesn’t. His memory isn’t reliable anymore, so I’ve become his Secret Keeper, and I’m comfortable with that role. They say most people have a life before a brain injury and a life after it. When needed, I’m the bridge he walks between the two.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Mom, how do you get a boyfriend?” We’re waiting at a red light. In the very back, two neighborhood friends are chattering away, oblivious to my son’s loaded question. I’m guessing this is a calculated move on his part. I look at him closely.
“Are you asking how you get a girlfriend as a kid, or are you asking how I get a boyfriend as a grown-up?”
“You. How do you get a boyfriend, as a grown-up?”
“Well …. you meet someone you think is kind of interesting, and then you probably have coffee or dinner with him, and you see if you’re right. If you both think the other person is interesting, you keep having dinner and coffee until eventually you call him your boyfriend.”
He’s satisfied with my answer. I don’t ask the questions racing through my mind. Are you asking me if I’m going to date again? Are you hoping I do? Hoping I don’t? Instead, I steer the conversation back toward him.
“Do you want to have a girlfriend?”
“NO!” he says, indignant, but his face betrays him. He looks over at me. I’m trying not to grin, but it’s not working. He quickly turns toward the windshield again. “But I like a girl. And I think she has a crush on me.”
“Are you going to tell her you like her? That’s kind of the first step.”
“Nope,” he says confidently. He doesn’t hide his smile this time.
Later, my mind wanders back to his question. Would I even want to date again? Date who? With what energy and what time? What if it didn’t work? Why bother with more heartache and loss? But what if it did? What kind of person would willingly join this arrangement, where nothing fits into neat categories, where I remain Secret Keeper for the person I once committed my life to, whose marriage, it turns out, has an end date? I’m not willing to cut the last cord between us. Does a person who could handle that really exist? Is there anyone in the world who would sign up to join a single mother raising four little kids, whose best friend lives in an apartment in her basement, whose once-husband is not the enemy? We sound like a sitcom, for crying out loud. It’s not conventional, but I’m really happy with my life. I’m not willing to scratch the whole thing for a new life with a new partner, but I am willing to widen my circle for another. Is there anybody in the world who would be willing to step into this? And if there is, do I even want to meet him?