Frank and I separated when Ben was six and Miles was eleven. We did it, we thought, because of an irreconcilable sexual difference – I was kinky and he was not. Bless him, he tried, but somebody has to occupy one end of the bell curve, and he was it. I was imagining orgies, dungeon parties, climbing to ecstatic heights with pain and role-play – and he wanted genital sex, which didn’t and doesn’t do much for me.

In hindsight, of course, our separation was a lot more complex than that. Each of us had gotten horribly dependent on each other to do things we should have known how to do ourselves: he had to ask me how one went about renting an apartment, and I had to borrow money from him to cover my missed quarterly self-employment payments. But he started writing poetry again, for the first time since we’d been in college (he would go on to become a skillful, published poet). And I began exploring play with partners of all descriptions.

Meanwhile, though, there were the kids. They dealt very differently with the news of our breakup. Miles matured overnight, and began relating to Ben more as an uncle than a brother, while Ben regressed a little bit – he started wanting to sleep with all his stuffed animals on the bed with him, which he hadn’t done for a year or two.

Frank and I had agreed that we wanted joint physical and legal custody. That required that we see each other at least a couple of times a week. At first it was difficult – the first time he came to my new apartment, I tried to hug him goodbye, the way I’d do with any friend. He stiffened in my arms, and stepped back to break the embrace .

Gradually, though, as the months wore on, we eased back into the friendship that was the natural setpoint of our relationship.

He had rented an apartment in our old neighborhood. I was never invited to visit, but I heard from the boys that it was dark and cramped – I was pretty sure that he’d fallen into depression, and it was hard for me not to try to fix it – but I’d sworn off trying to fix people[1], so there wasn’t much I could do to help.

I’d decided to do my best to atone for the separation by finding a place where they could, for the first time in their lives, have separate bedrooms. Given the realities of my budget, we wound up in a decrepit three-bedroom flat on the second floor of an elderly Victorian in downtown Sacramento.

Our weeks fell into a comfortable pattern. Monday through Friday, I’d pack lunches, drop the boys at school, do my work – I was a freelance marketing copywriter at the time – pick them up at their after-school program, supervise homework and TV, then tuck them in.

Frank would pick them up on Friday. As soon as I heard his car driving away, I’d get started spending my weekend slutting around with my new circle of what would now be called “friends with benefits” – kinky people of all shapes, sizes and genders, with whom I practiced both my own fantasies and theirs (and discovered that “spanking” was not synonymous with “S/M”). He’d drop them off at dinnertime Sunday, and it would all begin again.

There was one exception. On Wednesdays, we had Laundromat and Pizza Night.

Our weird little flat, unsurprisingly, did not include a washer or dryer. Fortunately, we lived a couple of miles from a reasonably nice laundromat – and better yet, there was a Round Table Pizza, complete with a video arcade, two doors away.

Wednesday afternoon, I’d gather up laundry: Ben’s clothing from the kids’ department, Miles’s from Young Men, mine from Misses (this was before I began acquiring the specialized wardrobe which included garments from the fetishwear store and the men’s department). I’d strip the bedding from all three beds, and pick up the unreasonable number of towels needed by two growing boys. I’d retrieve the boys from their after-school program at the Y, and we’d head over to Round Table.

Our order was always the same: one large combination and a pitcher of root beer. While the pizza was baking, we’d go start our laundry. I’d dispense the first of several handsful of quarters, then peacefully watch my laundry go round and round while they entertained themselves with electronic mayhem[2].

When the pizza was ready, one of them would come get me, and we’d scarf it down (only those who have never fed two growing boys will be surprised to hear that we were able to kill an entire combination pie in a couple of minutes). I’d sigh and pass out more quarters, and  go transfer the clothes into the dryer. My plan in creating L&P Night was that the boys would help with the folding, but that almost never came to pass – although I did insist on another pair of hands to help with folding the sheets. Full, wired and freshly laundered, we’d head home just in time for bedtime.

Later, when we moved into nicer digs that included a shared laundry room, Miles asked, “Do we have to stop doing Laundromat and Pizza Night?” Sadly, we did – the new place was pricey enough that my budget didn’t include all those weekly quarters – but we all missed it.

Adult Ben and Miles playing air hockey, with silhouettes of themselves as children.

[1] An oath that I still struggle with, 30 years later.

[2] To this day, anytime they get together they try to play a few rounds of air hockey.


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