We were together for a summer, the first one he’d ever spent away from his two little girls who were downstate with their mother. He called her my ex on our first couple of dates and then Nicole for a handful after that, but it wasn’t long before she was back to being Nic—a name I thought too endearing for someone he was trying not to love anymore.
On Saturdays we’d stay in pajamas and play cribbage at the dining room table. He’d make mug after mug of pour-over coffee, and at some point I’d go to the guest bathroom to take a shit, nothing to look at but family photos. I learned that Nicole had homebirths and breastfed and that there was no chance he’d ever look at either of their beautiful girls without thinking of her.
Each new thing he learned about me seemed to fall into one of two categories—Like Nicole or Unlike Nicole—and soon he was trying to fix me with the bits of her he had left: old snowshoes so I wouldn’t have to buy a pair that winter, too-small tampons under the master bathroom sink, clonazepam in the medicine cabinet in case I forgot to pack my own, and a scalding bath for a UTI because she used to be a nurse and swore by it.
Nic will always be the mother of my children, he’d said, unprompted, more than once, but it got old, feeling him go limp in my mouth when her ringtone played; washing my dark brown hair with the dregs of her Forever Blonde shampoo.