I saw him in 1999, right after our divorce was finalized. I can't remember the last time I saw him before that morning because he wasn't around the day when I finally moved out of the home we once shared. I'll never forget that bright afternoon the year before: I'd locked the door behind me, with Stacy walking ahead, to lead the movers through the 20-mile drive to my new apartment building. Before getting into my car I paused and turned around to take a long, sweeping glance at the house I knew I'd never see again. I can still see it now in my mind today, and I sometimes wonder if the new owners have made any changes to all the many changes I'd made when it became mine.
So on that day when I saw him for the first time as my ex-husband, he came up with me to the ninth floor to drop off a few things I'd left behind and to see where and how I now lived. Before we finally parted ways, I leaned in to kiss him on the cheek and he moved away from me quickly and said stiffly in a low voice, "No, that's too weird for me."
I never saw him again.
Until, I think, last year. Not too long before I moved out of yet another home and began another life, incidentally. If you haven't noticed, I said I think I saw him. To this day I have no idea if the man I saw at the Chinese restaurant far away from where we once both lived was my ex-husband. The one I was with for eight years, married for five. And although the time we've already spent apart is more than the years we were together, it makes absolutely no sense to me that I would not recognize someone I was once married to.
I saw him about two tables away from where I was seated. I stared ahead, frozen in some combination of dread and astonishment, my gaze locked firmly on his face. His hairline was further back from his forehead than I'd remembered, but his jaw was still as strong and determined. His eyes crinkled at the sides underneath the glasses he wore and his entire body shook awkwardly when he laughed, just like a stiff board would, the way he would have if he were my ex. He even dressed the same way, in the kind of clothes I used to buy for him. For a second I thought he saw me, and I would have ducked if I weren't too shocked to move. It wouldn't have mattered though; if he were really my ex he wouldn't have been able to see my face from where he was, even with his glasses on.
I wanted to open my mouth and call his name, just to see if he'd look my way. But I couldn't -- I still don't know quite why, but I couldn't get the words out. If it were him then what would we both do? Wave and say hello, ask what the other was doing there, laugh, and then politely say goodbye? If I had to ask him who he was, wouldn't he be offended that I couldn't recognize someone I once built a life with? What if he didn't recognize me? What if we acknowledged each other and then had to pretend now that we didn't spend all those years pretending we'd never been married to the other?
In the end, I stood up from my chair and slipped away quietly, hoping he wouldn't see me. To be face-to-face with him again -- no, it would have been too weird for me that day, too.