I’d been up since 4:36 today. Despite the predicament of not knowing his whereabouts, I was in a cheerful mood.
The sun was barely up; the rosy-hued morning just cresting the bare trees. It’s a cold dawn in late November, the temps were down to the teens last night.
The boys see him first, “There he is, Mom.”
“He looks so smug, all slow and casual…” my oldest son says, a little sad that this is what’s become of our family.
My stomach churned inside itself as though a baker were kneading it to make a gut dough. I didn’t want the children to be exposed to this: his blatant flouting of the family trust, his perpetual shenanigans so close to the holidays. There was no avoiding it I s’pose. I was done lying to myself and covering up for him after all our years together.
“Do we let him in? I’m so confused by it all. Why doesn’t he stay with us? Doesn’t he love us?” asked my middle son.
“Let him in, but keep him in the hallway, I can tell by a sniff of his neck where he’s been and who’s been keeping him away and I want to look into his eyes. I want to watch him try to hide from me what and who he’s been seeing and who’s been making him so comfortable. Don’t tell your baby brother; he’ll be devastated. He just made Gingerbread cookies yesterday hoping to eat them with him nearby,” I said as I was packing lunches and pulling hats and gloves from the storage container in the closet.
“He’s not cold, that’s for sure. Not like he’s been out all night; nope. Someone kept him nice and warm…” said one of the boys.
He looked away; he couldn’t be bothered with any of us, really.
“Love? Did one of you ask about ‘love‘? He doesn’t love anything but himself. He never has. He’s like a robot — I just make a nice home for him, feed him, try to hold him — but he won’t let me, he wiggles out of my arms any chance he gets. He’s always looking over my shoulder for the next sucker. It really gnaws at your sense of family and place in the world,” I answered as I looked at him.
He heard everything I said. He looked right at me. His eyes laser clear, deep and green. It looked like he hadn’t shaved in weeks, his face was beautiful though, just gorgeous — it was the face I fell for so long ago. But I knew instantly when he slowly closed his eyes and turned his head that he was no longer interested in having this conversation. When our dog greeted him he showed complete indifference; he almost growled at him.
“Don’t you dare do that to Murphy! He worries himself sick about you! Sure, he eats what you leave behind, and he will gladly take your sleeping spot when you’re not here, but that’s because he knows I’m confused and sad that you’re with her. Don’t look at me like that….” I said.
What did he ever do for me? Oh sure, a slow meaningful glance now and then or a stroke of my leg, but I wasn’t appreciated. He treated me like staff. I close in on him, sniff his collarbone and his shoulders. He turns his head, gives me the jaw, so to speak. I move to meet his face. We were an inch apart, our breaths heat one another, eyes lock.
“You know we raked 30 bags of leaves this weekend — withOUT you?!? You walked right by them on your way into the housssse,” I hiss as I push him away.
“I can smell her on you. Her perfume, fresh jasmine and essential oil-infused coconut balm that she makes and uses on her hands; she gave me some you know after we carved that pumpkin for her, it’s great stuff, I’ve started using on my face, I don’t break out … ugh! But you don’t care! Look at me!! Loooooook at meeeeeee you sonnabeech! Don’t you care about us?! WHERE WERE YOU LAST NIGHT?! I called and called … you NEVER answer!”
Why do I bother?
Cold hearted, he is. I turn back to him, lock his shoulders in my hands but he wriggles himself free of my desperate grasp. I stand there, enraged at the insult. The boys are engrossed and ashamed at the same time.
My older son looks outside, then at the clock. “Mom, we can’t … the bus will be at the stop soon. C’mon, D. I can’t really start my day, my week with this stuff. This is between them. This isn’t for kids: we are not to blame,” he said, tugging on his younger brother’s backpack.
“That’s right, boys. This isn’t your problem. I appreciate you holding him back though. I didn’t want him to get one step further into the house without inspecting him. Have a good day. Try to forget about this. It’s none of your fault. It never was. It’s between me and him,” I said, glaring at him.
He walks away from me, coughing. Sometimes he can’t get away from me fast enough.
“Well, you sure haven’t been missing any meals!” I can’t help myself. My rage has kicked into full gear; I’m blind. I’m sure the boys can hear me with the door closed, screaming at him, crying, asking him to stay with us, to live with us, to stop going to her, them, for days on end without a trace of him.
“Did you know I asked her about you? She looked right at me and said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve seen ‘im since Saturday…’ It being WEDNESDAY…” he says nothing, just stares into the distance.
By now we’ve moved to the kitchen, just beneath my youngest son’s bedroom. I start in again. He gazes out the back door into the frigid morning, the sun is higher but it’s still dark.
“Sure. Just keep doing what you do… keep coming and going… at your whim. Meanwhile, three boys, a dog and I are here wondering if you’re safe, or if you’ve been picked up… will I get the call from the holding cells?, ‘Mrs. Field… we have him … again…'”
“You disgust me. I have to wake my son for school. Don’t bother joining me. If he asks me if you came home, I’ll tell him you’re here and that you’re happy to hear his questions…”
He slinked into the living room and sat in his special chair. He said nothing. He doesn’t engage me in these fights. He doesn’t care.
It’s not me, it’s him I’ve decided. I give up. He stays out all night. Doesn’t come home for days. The boys wonder where he is. I ask people we know if they’ve seen him — some have and some haven’t. But this morning… that walk of shame… I know where he’s been.
“Just let it go, Mol,” my husband said. “He’s a dick.”
“That’s right… he is a dick…” I agree.