Friday, March 25, 2005

Exes (with an axe to grind?)

In the five years since I caught my ex-husband with another woman on my birthday (that's another post, trust me), I have seen him a handful of times: when he came to my parents' home to apologize for ruining my birthday (though notably not for cheating); in divorce court, when my attorney handed over the Baccarat bell he had requested as a condition for the divorce (another long story); in a local steakhouse, when he and his family were celebrating his engagement, sitting back to back with me... I have wondered (often, if idly) what we would say if we came face to face now. I suppose it would be a more charged encounter than that of Paul Tomm with his ex-girlfriend Mia, whose relationship petered out amicably enough, though perhaps not as quietly as Paul supposed. In this scene from The Geographer's Library, Paul and Mia meet by chance while he's visiting his alma mater during his investigation of an eccentric prof's death. Mia is commenting on why working as a reporter seems an appropriate career choice for Paul, explaining, at Paul's behest, why it's a good fit "for someone like you":

"'Someone curious, but without a strong personality. Politically moderate. Personally moderate. Moderately moderate. Sometimes I felt you were like a sponge, you know, just sitting there listening to me talk or vent, without giving anything back. I guess that quality would make you a good reporter. A rotten boyfriend, but a good reporter.' I thought we had finished with these kinds of conversations. Oh, well. She smiled sidelong at me to see whether I was offended. I wasn't." (p217)

Not only is Paul not offended, he thinks this encounter went well:

"It was an ideal conversation with an ex: flirtatious enough to produce residual little flutters, but noncommital enough to avoid trouble; long enough to end with an ellipsis, but not so long that either of us got any ideas; glib, but with a warm and serious turn at the end, but not so serious that either of us brought out the knives. I was feeling ticklish; she tickled, and I went home almost missing her." (p218)

Almost but not quite. He has now another girl in mind and halfway in heart: the prep-school music teacher Hannah Rowe, who was the dead professor's only known friend.

As for the perfection of Paul and Mia's encounter, it wouldn't be reproduced in my own life -- five years in I still have no desire to come face to face with my ex again. I wonder if I ever will.

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