Things Nino hates about me: I yell. I’m ungrateful. I threw things when we were married.
Things I hate about Nino: That he left.
Five years ago
I supported the kids after the divorce, so he’s always had save-the-world jobs that pay almost nothing. But he came to the farm every weekend to see the kids.
Once he had to skip two weekends for a work trip. I said, “Are you going to Europe?”
“No,” he said. “Georgia.”
“For two weeks? For what?”
“It’s actually just one week, but I’m taking the bus there and back because our research doesn’t have a lot of funding.” I told myself it’s ridiculous that he can have a job that does not pay enough to support a family. I told myself my kids are never working at a job where time is so undervalued that you travel by bus.
When the divorce was not so raw and the kids were not so young, they played by themselves and we sat on the back porch and talked. I asked him about his research. He told me some vague answer but I asked a few more times and then I realized he worked as an advocate for men who don’t pay child support. AND I LOST MY SHIT. But silently. I told myself don’t worry, it’ll be a good storyline for a movie about me.
Another day, on the porch, I asked about the men who don’t pay child support. As in, of all the people to advocate for, why them?
It turns out that men in prison can’t pay child support, because they’re in prison. So while they’re in prison, the government pays money to the mom and kids. But when the dad gets out of prison they can’t see their kids until they pay back what they owe to the government for covering for them. And, of course, most men in prison are Black, and then Black kids can’t see their dad.
It was a lot to get my head around. He recommended that I read The New Jim Crow. I also read some of his research. After that, I decided that I was helping the world by enabling him to fight against the prison system. Now I know I do not get to be the hero in the story of helping Black people. But I didn’t know that then.
I had coronavirus and worried the kids will be alone while I’m in the hospital. I cough and cry and sleep all day. I call Nino and he flies to Boston. I am annoyed he has to wait two days before he can get on a plane. I tell him to just quit his job. It’s a terrible job.
He decides he’ll stay till the end of lockdown. We thought it would only be a few weeks.
He connected our older kid with a local food bank that requires an oath of anti-capitalism. Our son was so happy about that last part. Our younger son needed a pianist to accompany him and in a post-coronavirus world, it has to be someone you live with. Nino learned a Tchaikovsky piece and they practiced each night after dinner.
Lockdown went on and on.
At dinner, Nino and I made inside jokes and this shocked the kids at first but they also saw our long history together. I told them, “I’ve known Nino since before the Internet had pictures.”
They said what they say to everything: “Boomers.”
Nino and I began calling each other Boomer before the boys could do it. The boys didn’t know what to make of this.
The boys couldn’t tell what is happening. I couldn’t tell either. Nino kept saying he didn’t want to live with us and he would get his own apartment. But he never looked for his own apartment. Probably because he doesn’t earn enough money to get one near us.
My older son said, “Nino hunting for an apartment is like Elmer Fudd hunting for Buggs Bunny. It’s not really a hunt, it’s just a backdrop for the real story.”
I ask, “How do you know Elmer Fudd?” He shows me memes. Then I wonder, What is the real story?
Nino kept saying he left so much behind in Madison. I think WTF? The only family he has in the world are his parents and us and none of us are in Madison.
He said, “Can you please not schedule coaching sessions for 11pm? You get all excited then you want to stay up all night.”
He knows me so well. I moved some phone calls. I slept better.
He held the ladder while I moved a plate. I accidentally brushed him on my way down and he recoiled; he didn’t want me to forget that he’s moving to his own apartment.
George Floyd was killed and Nino disappeared into the Internet. He had lots of work to deal with in Madison. He wouldn’t talk about it, but one morning he had a Zoom call and I restructured the book garland that did not need restructuring so I could listen.
He explained his spreadsheet for the Madison bail fund. He said at the beginning he could do everything by hand. The people on the call ask him how he had so much time to do it. He said he had a job that wasn’t very demanding.
I hate myself for scoffing at his not-very-demanding job. He was setting up a bail fund years before I had ever even heard the word.
The Zoom callers talked about how Madison police were taking videos of protests and arresting people two weeks later. The fund received lots of donations and bailed out lots of people. Nino was passing the baton on most of the maintenance of the Madison bail fund because he couldn’t do it from Boston.
I didn’t know he worked with people for years on the bail fund. Now that Black Lives Matter is everywhere I ignore the years I was pissed that he put nonprofit work ahead of us. I ask him, “Can I write what you said about the bail fund?”
“Can I say you work on it?”
“I guess. Why would you say that?”
“Because I’m proud.”
“No. Don’t say that.”
So I tell the kids they should ask Nino about the work he did in Madison. I tell them, “He did amazing stuff.”
The younger one says, “I thought you said he didn’t make any money.”
“Well, I did say that. But I’m seeing that isn’t always how you judge a person’s work.”
I make vegan dinner for the kids and fish for me and Nino. I think about how we will spend family time tonight. I suggest watching Hamilton. “It’s compliments of Disney,” I say and look across the table at Nino because he used to work there.
He reminds me about the woman who said the gamma rays from his screen were negatively affecting her reproductive system and he refused to move his screen.
The boys laugh.
I sense a social skills lesson. I say, “Dad got fired. He should have moved his screen. When someone is an idiot at work just go with it. It’s not our job to call out people for being idiots.”
My younger son says, “Mom, that is literally your job. You do it every single day.”
My older son says, “Oh, yeah, and Hamilton is canceled.”
I look at Nino. “Is it canceled?”
He says, “I don’t know if it’s canceled. I’m not watching it.”
I google. I find Black Actors Dress Up Like Slave Traders…. And It’s Not Halloween. I keep that to myself in case I can get the kids to watch with me. Wait. No. I’m not doing that because then I’d be one of those people who only supports Black Lives Matter when it’s convenient. I knew we should have seen Hamilton on Broadway.
Nino tells us about how the Madison bail fund reached a big milestone and bailed out all the Black women who were in jail because they couldn’t pay bail.
The boys ask him how much money it was. He says he can’t answer but he tells us you pay bail with cash at a reverse ATM machine at the jail. They paid one bill at a time and it took an hour and a half to pay the last woman’s bail.
My kids work on the math. Shout out numbers. Nino smiles.
I smile too. We are being a family. Nino is in the next stage of his life, here in Boston, helping our son be an activist in his own community. So I have a soft spot for that bail fund. I sent money to them, and I hope you will, too.