When I was 10, my parents got “separated.” This is actually the same thing as divorced, but they don’t tell you this. My father is a very good man. He likes botany, tomatoes, and old people. My mother likes gardening and giving away too much money. They are both doctors. My father moved into an apartment just a few miles away, my mother kept the house in the small town. My father continued to pay the mortgage, my mother continued to give him loans to pay his taxes. It’s strange, I know. But their relationship didn’t end here, existing only through complicated legal, financial, and parental arrangements. No. My parents are far too complicated for that. Some might even call them crazed.
When I was in high school, my friends did not understand why my father was invited to Sunday night dinner at my mom’s house (especially considering the fact that her boyfriend was typically there too). My father cleaned my mother’s refrigerator. My mother wrote him prescriptions. I used to pray to God to have either happily married parents or violent parents who hated each other so fiercely that they could not live in the same city — let alone share tips on orchid growing for hours on end. A year ago, my father’s mother died. My mother wept at the funeral and carefully transported the flower arrangements home afterwards so that they could be dried and preserved. My father always picks me, my mother, and my sister up from the airport — sometimes he even comes on trips with us. A few years ago, he visited my mother’s parents — his ex in-laws — without us. In the winter, my mother makes giant batches of applesauce, which she proudly sweetens only with cinnamon and apple cider, and always gives my father several hefty containers of it. He plays with our cats and comes over just to change their litter. She gives him chocolate. I think you get the idea.
How does such a relationship exist? How does it continue without burning up or drying out, without coalescing into cohabitation? Why was I burdened with such confusion during my teenage years? Sometimes, when my mother’s youngest sister phones, my father speaks with her, very gently. The sister, we’ll call her “A”, is both wildly successful and wildly beautiful. But my father never regards her as such. To him, she is an extension of my beloved mother; a unique and lovely human being, but also an artifact of the woman he has never stopped loving. And my mother loves him back as much. Today, I don’t usually try to explain the situation to people I meet. But if the topic does come up and my audience is skeptical, I am uniformly hesitant to trust them. The love between my parents runs so deep that it could not be confined to a relationship. This kind of love is very hard to know. I have not come across it yet. When I get frustrated or saddened, or confused, I imagine my mother carefully drying flower petals for him, preserving her former mother-in-law indefinitely.