Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
He was there, Dad, he touched me on the shoulder. Memory flashes back reflexively and I remember the nurse pulling the feeding tube out. The blue leather hospital chair squeaked under my weight, next the breathing tube came out. His frail body twisted uncomfortably and his mindless mouth moaned. I held his hand, skin dry and rough. I tried to open my mouth, just tell him what he meant to me. But I knew he couldn’t hear, that he was already gone, so we just sat in silence.
Memories crack in my brain and I’m snapped back to reality. I wipe the wetness from my eyes and put Pat’s Lab back the way I found it. Before I know it I’m sliding between the cool sheets beside Laina as the first hints of light paint the dark sky.
The buzz of the alarm wakes me. Shit, I slept for ninety minutes and now I’ve got a full day of work ahead of me. The warm shower water doesn’t wake me up, so I turn the knob labeled “Cold”. When that doesn’t work I give up and push forward anyhow. That restless, focusless, sleep drained distance fills me.
Laina is all bubbles and smiles as she examines her belly in the mirror. Smooshing it out, sucking it back in, then pushing it back out again. She stares at her navel like she has x-ray vision that lets her see the baby growing inside.
My lips touch her forehead. “Off to work Hun.”
Scattered, distant, hunger less, I ride out the day. Nothing breaks, nothing crashes, no meetings, five o’clock creeps its way to me. Any coherent thoughts I slide together are of my Father. I wonder, will I have changed anything? Do I dare hope that somehow I’ve changed my reality? I decide not to think about it, which only makes me think about it more.
Six thirty, dinner time. Laina hums as she sets a casserole on the kitchen table. I shove the first spoonful in my mouth and my phone rings.
I hear about ten seconds of empty breathing, then a haunting voice “I’ll always love you.” It’s Amber.
My face turns ghost white, jaw drops. I have no poker face. Laina is looking at my quizzically. “Can I help you with something?” I try to recover.
“Just promise that you’ll be happy. I can never be happy without you.” She laughs desperately. “Just promise that you’ll always remember what we used to have?”
“I… I promise.”
“Do you believe in Hell?”
“Hell, you know, do you believe in Hell?” The tone in her voice shifts and her words come slowly, calculatedly.
“I, er, I don’t know, I guess.”
“I don’t.” Amber sighs. “I just want you to know that this is all your fault.” A small sob escapes her lips.
The desperation in her voice sends a chill of understanding up my spine. “Wait, what? Don’t do anything. Where are you?”
“You know where I am.” Pause. “I’ve… God…“ She lets out a sob soaked chuckle. “I love you. Goodbye.”
Click. The phone goes dead.
Still-lives-with-his-parents me looks down; I’m holding something in my hand. It’s a rejection letter from a job application. I look up; the wooden desktop is filled with rejection letters.
“Thank you, but we have filled the position.”
“We have found another candidate for the job.”
“Thank you for your time.”
“Overqualified for this position.”
“We will keep your resume on file for the future.”
“Good luck in your future endeavors.”
A lot of pretty words that all translate into fuck off. I stand up and walk over to my dresser. I slide a ringer t-shirt on and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I’m pale, scraggly hair. Instead of my normal love handles I have fat rolls. Rejected-me has sure let himself go.
I head down the familiar steps, chubby bare feet thumping on every other step. I turn the corner in the hallway and step into the kitchen. At a long rectangular table sits Mom and Dad. I feel immediate elation, after three years gone, after the pain and hurt and loss he’s sitting right in front of me.
They can see the look on Rejected-me’s face and their hopeful smiles turn to concerned frowns.
“Something will come up Bud.” Dad reassures me as I shrug and grab a bowl of cereal.
My eyes fall into the bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats as I shrug. Damn it, all I want to do is reach over and hug Dad, tell him how much I missed him, tell him I love him. I want my eyes to well with tears, I want to wrap both arms around him and never let go. But I can’t, I have no control and it tears me to pieces.
Mom is reading through the newspaper, “Hmmm… the classifieds just aren’t what they used to be.”
“It’s okay Mom, I’ll keep looking online.” I push an especially crunchy Mini-Wheat into the milk and scoop a soggy one onto my spoon.
I feel Dad’s large warm hand on my shoulder, he squeezes just a bit. It feels so great, but Rejected me just shrugs it off. “I’m going out.” I stand up, dropping my spoon into the milk. White 2% splashes onto Mom’s gaudy tablecloth.
I feel the expectant jerk around my waist, the grey clouds form around my eyes and in an instant I’m alone in Pat’s lab.
“It’s my life to throw away!” I spat back, standing across from him.
“We decided you’d finish Grad school before you got married!” he was waving his hands around. He always did that when he got really frustrated.
“I decided! Plans change!” I was pointing my finger at him, the wrong move to make.
“Don’t point your finger at me! Don’t talk to me like I’m your buddy, I’m your Father!” Sweat beaded on his bald forehead.
“I’ll do whatever the hell I want to! This is my life, my decision!” The fight wasn’t about Grad school, it was about control. “I’m twenty-three; I’m not a child anymore, stop treating me like one!”
“I’ll treat you like an adult when you start acting like one!” His eyes were on fire. The icy blue orbs raged with anger.
My shoulders pulled up and forward, tense and knotted. My knees were locked, legs tight, every muscle in my body felt like it’d burst. We stood there, staring at each other for a long moment, eyes locked, breathing heavily, each waiting for the next to move, to speak, to look away.
He leaned forward, fists balled up, knuckles turning red. His mouth tightened and I could almost hear his teeth grind as he resigned. “Fine! Ruin your life, you are going to regret this and when you don’t have the life you want, you will always remember this day! You will regret this day for the rest of your life!”
He twisted, grabbed his car keys off a nearby hook and stomped out the door. The thin white door slammed behind him, shaking the walls. A picture of our family fell to the floor, the glass shattered and sprayed across the linoleum. I sat down, body trembling, a sudden tiredness washed over me. I had won, but it didn’t feel like it.
I can’t remember how much time had passed, but I’ll never forget the hollow knock on the front door. I could see the men in blue uniforms standing outside, hats off. My hand pulled the knob hesitantly.
“We're sorry…” and they meant it. Eyes heavy, words slowly measured and weighed before they spoke. Dad had been speeding, as he was passing another car someone pulled out into the road. It was a blind alley, it was just an accident. He was in the hospital, but it didn’t look good. It was like listening to a story about someone else, but it wasn’t, it was about my family, my Dad.
A tear wells up in the corner of my eye as the machine hums to life, I feel my body vibrate and lunge forward into what could be.
I’m on autopilot, not thinking about the consequences of my actions or even my actions themselves. All that matters is the choice, the choice I’ve already made. To keep my mind off of it I notice the details in everything. Why is that fire hydrant painted green? Aren’t they usually red? Damn, there are a lot of stars out tonight; I thought it was supposed to rain. I wonder who takes care of the ivy that runs up all these old buildings. I wonder if he hates his job.
Before I know it, I slide my key into the lock, click it open and let the heavy wooden door slam behind me. I flip the light switch and florescent lights throw fuzzy white around the room. My hands twist knobs and set dials, the machine is prepped. I slip the rubber gloves on and slide the helmet on. I hold the goggles out in front of my face and pause.
“What the fuck am I doing?”
I don’t care. I reach over, hit the final switch and snap the dark glass goggles over my tired eyes. I focus on the memory. The memory of tear filled hugs of sorrow, of police knocking on the door, the angry pacing, car starting, door slamming, raised voices, broken glass and torn steel.
“I’m pregnant!” A smile crosses her face as she takes one bounce toward me and wraps her arms around my neck. She pulls me close and hugs me tightly. “I never thought this could happen. I mean for us! We tried so hard! I’m so happy.”
I wrap my arms around her waist and return the warm embrace. For a split second everything disappears and I forget about the cold empty feelings, the despair and the bloody knuckles. We’ve tried for years, constant disappointment, charted on calendars, took temperatures, discarded home pregnancy tests. All of that disappears as I lift Laina and spin her around once.
“That’s great news honey!” The too good to be true bubble bursts, “Wait, when did you find out?”
Her brow furrows at my tone, “What do you mean?”
“When, when did you find out, when did it happen?” I push her back slightly, holding her at arm’s length.
“I found out today, I just took the test.” She holds up a pink and white plastic stick with two thin lines running across it.
I mask my face in a smile, burying my concern, and hug her once again, “I’m so happy Honey.”
After a few hours discussing baby names, Laina falls asleep easily. I don’t. This is the machine, it has to be. She’s wanted a baby for so long. I bet she saw a reality where we had a baby, a reality where it all worked out so naturally, where everything seemed perfect. I turn my head toward her sleeping form, her soft skin almost glows in the darkness, her body rises and falls with every even breath. Even if it was the machine, isn’t that okay? Doesn’t she deserve it? Don’t we deserve it? With all the heartache and trouble caused by Amber, maybe Laina deserves something good from all of this.
I finally fall asleep promising myself that I won’t tell Laina about the art or Amber or anything. I tell myself that I’m done with Pat’s machine; we have our blessing, our happy ending and that now it’s all over. I tell myself everything is fine and now we are moving forward. Even after all the self convincing, I fall asleep with a knot in the pit of my stomach because I know it’s all bullshit.
I can’t stay still, I get out of the car and sit at a picnic table. I stare down at the wood, painted, faded, repainted, faded again. Dozens of names carved sloppily into the wood. Jack + Diane, people hoping to leave their mark on the world by digging into a picnic table with a dull Swiss Army knife.
Hands reach into my thick hair, fingers clench and I pull. If only I could pull my thoughts out, organize them neatly on the table, maybe I could figure it out. Laina, Amber, the hotel, the goddamn machine, all today, all on the day my Dad died. My Dad…
I reach into my khakis and pull The List out of my pocket. There it is, staring up at me from the Never See column. Taunting my in neat blue ink; Dad. Never See. Fingers run over the ink, like somehow just touching the word will give me peace.
I stand and pace, still staring at The List. Still running my fingers over the word; Dad. Lips curl into a snarl; fingers tighten, crumpling The List into a ball.
“Fuck!” The rage and confusions fills me, the world disappears around me and I give in. I let loose, swinging a balled fist into a nearby oak. I don’t even feel the pain. I punch. Tears well up in the corners of my eyes. I punch. My voice raw as I scream incoherently at no one. I punch. The skin on my knuckles tears. I punch. Blood seeps from my knuckles and spatters the bark. I punch.
Until there is nothing left. Until the screams are gone. Until there is no more strength in my arms. I crumble at the base of the tree and give in to despair.
I don’t know how much time passes, but it’s dark when I get up and head back to the car. The trip home is spent in deep reflection. I’ve made enough mistakes, I’ve messed enough things up. I can’t get back in the machine again. I can no longer risk the consequences of seeing what could have been.
My hands hurt so bad.
I step into the house, the low drone of the television echoes from the living room. For a moment everything seems normal. The moment is short lived.
Laina hears me come in, she steps into the hallway. The corner of her mouth curls up slightly; there is a glow about her, a sparkle in her eyes that’s been missing for so long. She doesn’t even notice my bloodshot eyes or skinned up hands.
She looks me dead in the eyes, steps toward me and announces, “I’m pregnant.”