ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching

This Sunday has felt slow and heavy, mainly because I’m making myself re-read Codependency for Dummies. It’s difficult to absorb, but digest it I must. It’s good for me.

To break up the reading I go to the park, passing mamas and papas pushing their babies in fancy buggies up and down the hills. One baby sports sunglasses and a purple pacifier. The combination almost makes me dizzy, but it’s funny, too.

I see a man sitting in a portable chair under a spreading beech reading what’s probably the New York Times. I’ve seen him in the park several times before. He’s always in the chair, he’s always reading — or writing on his laptop — and he’s always by himself, in his own circle of privacy. I’ve seen him with cap on and cap off. With cap on, he looks younger. With cap off, the sun glints off his shiny dome.

Last Sunday he set up his chair near the bench I was sitting on at Sky Hill. I was tempted to say something to him — “Are you a writer? Are you working on a writing project?” — but I decided to leave just before he folded his chair and left, too. If I see him next Sunday, I promised myself, I will ask him my question.

Now it’s next Sunday, and there he is. Will I crash his circle of privacy — his boundary — to ask my question? Who knows?

I pass him and head to Sky Hill, but the dogs and the walkers don’t hold my attention. I walk back to a bench flanking the sidewalk. He’s over my right shoulder, still in his chair, still reading the newspaper.

I head toward the tree Ernie and I staked out when we had our picnics, where we watched from our discreet distance the parade of park people. I can see the man through the screen of the beech. He’s turned toward its shade now, toward me. But he’s still reading his paper. Sunglasses on, cap on, still reading.

A young boy, running downhill, falls just behind him, and the man turns, says something to the boy and to the boy’s parents, smiles. So . . . he’s interruptible.

I’m getting restless. Time to leave the park. Before heading to my right, though — the way home — I turn left, toward the beech tree. My steps quicken. I’ve learned about boundaries. I know I’ll be crashing his if I say something to him. Still, my curiosity is too great. Or is it my neediness?

“I’ve seen you here three or four times,” I say. “Last Sunday you were on your laptop. Are you a writer? Are you on a writing project?”

He looks up. He has small teeth. His powder-blue cap says Malibu on it. He does sort of look California, laid-back in his shorts and tennis shoes, long leg crossed over knee. His voice is soft. “I’m a teacher. I come here whenever I can. Today I’ve been here twice already.”

“So have I,” I say in an amazed voice.

“What brings you to the park?” he asks.

“I live nearby. To catch a breeze and for the peace.”

“Two good reasons,” he says.

I realize it’s time for me to go. I’ve said enough. I’ve satisfied my curiosity. But before I turn, he says, “I’m Russ.” I extend my hand and introduce myself.

That’s it. That’s all. I leave.

I don’t think I’ll cross this kind of boundary again. It made me feel like a trespasser. I invaded Malibu Man’s privacy. Besides, perhaps my question was more about me. Perhaps my curiosity was more about what his response to me would be.

I’m still a co-dependent. But I’m also a co-dependent in Recovery.

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Ernestina

Ernestina

My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 3-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.