When he opens the door there are no words. Only his lips pressing into mine. Now I feel good. Now I feel okay. And the answer to my curiosity is yes.

“Do you have a car?”

I drive us both to his tiny apartment, just a couple blocks away.

“This is convenient.” I say, turning down the narrow alleyway behind the plaza.

“Yeah, I usually walk to the bar, since I lost my license.”

It’s not about the fucking. Not at all. It’s about that melting feeling–the excitement and anticipation of being desired. And it’s about being somehow transported, even for a little while–from my current situation, that is quickly careening out of control.  Everything that is important to me is slipping away. But this…this moment feels okay.

At dawn, I leave him curled up asleep on his thin, white-sheeted mattress with no blankets, in his stark little room. He is naked and vulnerable. I didn’t realize his body was so small until I got beneath his clothes. He looks like a child by the light of day.

Thomas believes me  when I tell him I slept in my car in the bar’s parking lot  because I had too much to drink and didn’t feel like I should drive. We kind of make up before he has to leave for work. His restaurant serves brunch on Sundays.

I cannot bear this life anymore. The deep, deep sorrow over the separation from my kids is a constant companion, washing every seemingly pleasurable moment with an inconsolable wave of pain. Always the pain. I find no comfort with Thomas anymore…and now I have a shameful secret to keep from him. I don’t deserve his love or his loyalty. He doesn’t deserve to live with someone so complicated and destructive.

Every week it’s the same phone conversation. I beg Keith to fly up north and bring them back. He begs me to come back. Every week I adamantly refuse. Until today.

“We don’t even have to sleep together. I’ll rent a new place. You can have your own room. I’ll sleep on the couch.”

I am desperate. And something has to change.

“Let me think it over.”

I don’t want to let Thomas go, but I can have no peace of mind without my kids. I tell him it’s just until I can get the kids back down here and settle things with Keith. I need to get caught up on money and plan my strategy. He is upset, but understanding. He still loves me. I still love him.

I tell Keith I will move in with him, only when the kids are back. A trial period. I tell him, in time, maybe we will get back together, but it’s important we are both there for the kids. I know, however, that I have no intention of getting back together with him.

My mother suggests I meet with her boss to represent me in my divorce, because she knows he is not tough on collections. He says I can pay over time.

I tell Thomas he has to remain scarce when I move in with Keith. He is as filled with anticipation and anxiety as I am about the kids coming back. Is he really going to follow through?

He brings them back as he said he would and I am finally reunited with my babies. I promise myself I will never, ever lose them again. We live together in the awkward arrangement I agreed to…me in my own room, with him sleeping on the couch.  I work as much as I can at the restaurant to save up money. He has a restaurant job too and we put together the money for the rent. He keeps asking to sleep with me, but I refuse–inciting bitter arguments, made worse by his drinking and drug use.

Within a few weeks he is served with the divorce papers. I gather my kids and my stuff and move in with my mom until I can save up for a place of our own.

I slip over to Singer Island when I can where Thomas is living in another efficiency apartment– this time on the beach. We still make love, but there is always a note of melancholy when I leave. I can’t incorporate him into my life with my kids. I am too afraid to risk losing them again.  I need space to make my own decisions and try to repair the damage I have caused. We drift apart over time and he finally leaves me to move on with my life.

We meet again, five years later. I have a steady job and a place of my own, with my kids. My little sisters help with the babysitting while I work.  I am seeing an elusive younger man who drifts in and out of my bed.

I invite Thomas into my kitchen for a beer and we have a conversation about the status of our lives. I am crazy about Alan, a lanky, boyish heavy metalhead with long ginger-colored hair, even though our relationship is clearly on his terms.

“Are you happy?” He leans forward in the kitchen chair toward me, resting his thick forearms on his open knees.

“Yes. This is good. It’s all I need.”

“Good. Me, too. I’ve been with Stephanie for a year now and I adopted her two kids. Life is good.”

“Yeah…” I say, taking a sip of my Amstel Light.

“Life is good.”