The good stuff

Bill got up, his swollen legs screaming in protest, and moved to the sofa to sit beside his son. Lady dutifully followed and plopped down at his feet. He wrapped his arm around the boy and they watched TV. It wasn’t long before his wife appeared in the doorway and told D that it was bedtime. Bill looked at his watch. It was 9 already. He reminded himself that that’s what happens when you sit in a bar, dreading coming home. He told his wife that he would take care of bedtime. She gave him a sarcastic “thanks” and went back to the kitchen. He forced himself off of the sofa and motioned for D to follow him, telling him to brush his teeth and put his pajamas on. He didn’t put up a fuss, he reallywas a great kid.

He went upstairs with the boy and told him that he would be in shortly. He poked his head in his oldest daughter’s room. She was lost in a book. He went into her room, leaned in, and gave her a kiss on the forehead.
“I didn’t hear you come home,” she said.
“Next time I’ll make more noise” he joked. He kissed her again. She gave him one of her famous smiles, he loved the little gap between her front teeth front and center. It was cute and reminded him of her as a toddler, mugging for the camera. She was such a happy child. Never more than one thought away from the negative, he also observed that she would need expensive braces soon.
“Good job on your report card” he offered. “I’m proud of you.”
“Mom went ape on the boys.”
Mike could only imagine. Yet she took them out to dinner? It must have been her friend Lisa’s idea. Lisa’s kids probably got shitty report cards as well but she didn’t believe in disciplining her kids. She wanted to be their friends. Bill hated that kind of parenting. Be their friend, sure. But be a fucking parent first. This was his wife’s best friend and he hated that she and his wife were so close. He thought Lisa was a terrible influence, but his wife fucking loved her. Almost to the point that he wondered if she switched teams. He chased all of that out of his head and returned his attention to his daughter.
“Jeez,” he said. You couldn’t have saved the old man a chicken finger?”
She laughed. He kissed her again on the forehead and walked down the hall to the boy’s room where he found Ry at his desk, furiously scribbling on a notebook. He looked miserable.
“Hey bud,” he said. “That’s enough for today, nothing will change overnight.”
“Mom is pretty mad.”
“I know. I already bumped into her. See the burn marks?” he said as he showed his bare forearm. It was a bad joke but Ry laughed. He wasn’t trying to denigrate his wife. He just wanted to cheer the kid up. It seemed to work. He sat with the boys as they went through their nightly routine of procrastination. Fearful of his wife getting angry at the time, he went to the banister and listened for signs of life. She was talking to Lisa, the toxic friend. No doubt talking about what an asshole she married.

He went back into the boy’s room and said goodnight. He made a couple of silly faces, drew a laugh, and turned the light off. He went downstairs looking for his youngest daughter. He poked his head into her room, she was fast asleep. Shit, he thought. I didn’t see her at all today. He sat on the edge of her bed and just watched her breathe for a while. She looked so peaceful. She was the unplanned one but immediately shot up to I can’t imagine my life without her status. She was cuter than a duck wearing a hat. His heart swelled. He got up and closed the door behind him and headed for his comfortable chair. He had to walk through the kitchen in order to get there and he ignored the glare of contempt his wife shot at him as she babbled into the phone.

As he sat down. Britt appeared in the doorway.
“My asthma is acting up. Can I do a treatment?”
Bill got up, went to the closet for the Nebulizer and a capsule of albuterol. He set it up, placed the mask on his daughter’s face, and sat down beside her. The hum of the machine soothed him as he watched her, glued to the TV as the mist gently wafted from her breathing treatment. He had changed the channel to Nickelodeon and had found Spongebob. Perfect.
He let her stay with him for about 15 minutes after the treatment was done. He didn’t want the moment to end. He knew, whether she knew he did or not, that she wasn’t really having an asthma attack. It was her sneaky way of getting an extra half hour with her dad.
This, Bill Marshall thought to himself, this is the good stuff. The rest of it doesn’t matter. He squeezed his daughter tight and waited for her to fall asleep.

home bittersweet home

Bill Marshall sat in his driveway with the engine running. It was a familiar routine lately. There was always a detour on the way home. Usually a bar, sometimes a walk. Tonight it was a walk and while he was proud of himself for not drinking (yet) today, he wished he had a snoot full to deal with the pending shit show awaiting him.
He really was in a bad place.
Sales were down. His motivation was shit. His health was in decline. His marriage was a mess. The only thing that gave him any joy was his children but in order to see them, he needed to go inside. Again, sober. How did it get to this, he wondered? When did he become the guy willing to miss the best time of the day with the kids because he couldn’t stand to see his wife? His pattern of late was to get there in time for bedtime. He would help put them to bed and spend a few quality minutes with each of them. Then, in order, he would feel guilty, pour a drink or three, and collapse in his chair/bed. He had been kicked out of the bed years before. He would get an inadequate amount of sleep, get up and out the door before everyone was up, and hit the repeat button.
Tonight it was especially difficult to get out of the car. His encounter with that kid was fucking with his head in a big way. It was as if he had met his younger self. Everything about it screamed impossible but how else could he explain the details that kid knew about him. And it was not lost on him how true everything he said was. He used to be a happy kid. Able to amuse himself, loved nature and being outside. He used to be active and fit. Of course you were, dummy, you were a child then, he argued with himself. Age aside, his lack of fitness was due to fast food, alcohol, a sedentary lifestyle, and kidney disease. Still, he knew he could do better. But the healthy and active observations were the least of it. The kid had painted a damn accurate picture of how much his natural cheeriness and enthusiasm had dwindled with age. He had completely lost the love of life he once had.
One element of the conversation ran through his head on a loop.
“Did you ever sit just like this? Playing with Matchbox cars in the dirt until your mother called you? Riding bikes with your friends? You hated to go home, right? Just like now. But that’s not why you don’t want to go home now, is it Bill?”
The kid was right, I don’t want to go home anymore. How the hell did that happen?
He looked at his watch. He had to go in or he would miss bedtime. Tonight, more than ever, he needed to be a part of it. He turned his ignition off and walked up his driveway, past the broken flower bed and the unpainted window sills in front of the house. Yup, in addition to everything else, he couldn’t even afford to make repairs to his house.
He opened the door. Lady, his spastic Springer Spaniel jumped all over him. At least someone is happy to see me, he thought. He stayed with her until she calmed down and then went into the kitchen. She was sitting at the kitchen table, a stack of bills before her.
“Why were you sitting in your car for so long”, she asked.
“I was talking on the phone.”
“Bullshit you were, I saw you out the window. No phone on your ear,” she said. “What were you really doing?”
“Thinking.”
“Well think about this, we’re fucking broke. What are you going to do about it?”
Here we go, he thought. Here we go. He opened the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of liquid courage.

the joy of being irrelevant

Last night my wife posted on FB. It was a pretty powerful tirade about how much she values friendship and loyalty and was very upset that someone had very recently betrayed her. She was quite upset, it was obvious by her tone and use of punctuation. In addition, I know that she rarely uses FB other than to post pics of the family or nights out with friends. I skimmed over most of the post and reached for my phone to call her.

Then I reread the post. At the bottom, she had tagged her best friend and wrote: “be ready to hear this story tomorrow Lisa _____, I need you to listen and help me pick up the pieces”. A wave of clarity washed over me at that moment…even if we were still married I would have not been able to comfort her. She wouldn’t even have told me about it. It was a tiny, sobering reminder of what destroyed my marriage, the day she chose her friend (the one tagged in the post) over me as her support system.

Many years ago my wife decided that I was not someone she could talk to. She never came out and said it, or even gave me a heads up that she wanted to be closer (can I only assume she didn’t want to?). It was never an issue for us, we told each other everything. I knew that we were drifting apart, I just didn’t realize how severely. What I did notice was that she dropped most of her friends and limited herself to close friendships with only one friend at a time. I found it odd, but she was a hard-working mother who needed an outlet so when she made a good friend I embraced it.

A troubling trend emerged over the years. My wife would spend every available minute with one friend, way more than is healthy for any two people. She would join activities the other was involved in, I believe to spend more time with them, even activities that I had asked her to do with me to no success. It can only be described as obsessive. Eventually, familiarity would inevitably and predictably breed contempt and there would be a fallout. This happened twice. She was crushed both times but failed to tell me about it. “You wouldn’t understand, you don’t know me like she does” was what I heard both times.

Then she met Lisa. Lisa was a woman my wife met through the school. Our daughters were friends and the playdates led to them starting to hang out. At first it wasn’t too bad for me (yes, I know it wasn’t about me anyway), I liked her husband a lot and they were a part of a really cool scenario; two brothers married two sisters and they each had 4 children. They were a big, fun group and we got together often. The trouble began when the daughters had a falling out. They had a terrible fight and the fallout lasted a while. My wife’s reaction to it was the first sign that this friendship was problematic.

Instead of respecting my young daughter’s feelings, my wife forced them to be together. She even yelled at her one day, telling her “Just because you fucked up your friendship don’t think you’re fucking up mine!” I immediately jumped in and defended my daughter and of course that was as well received as a wet fart in Church. I created a solution. If she was insistent on seeing her friend and getting the families together,  my daughter and I would find something else to do that day. It worked for a while and eventually, the girls became friends again. But what had developed was not lost on me. This friendship was bordering on the unusual.

I managed to tolerate the situation for a while. I looked the other way when my wife started smoking cigarettes, at age 31 a complete statistical anomaly, because she loved the smell of Lisa’s when she smoked. I tolerated being forced to spend every valuable weekend day and day off with Lisa’s family. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them, but by it being decided by default it bothered me that I had no say in who I spent my time with. I took it for the team until I learned that the children felt the same way. I pushed back a bit against her on this and I was told to leave it alone. It was starting to affect our relationship in profound ways. I didn’t realize it was an obsession until the day when we were on the sofa, the kids were with Grandma and we were taking the opportunity to get busy. She was in the middle of giving me some cough cough oral gratification when the phone rang. She actually stopped what she was doing and checked the phone for the caller ID, the phone was in her hand the whole time. It was Lisa calling, she answered and I was left to zip up, shake my head in utter disbelief and walk away knowing that I had a much bigger problem than I had ever imagined.

Fast forward many obsessed, argument laden years (I simply can’t put you or myself through every example of how this friendship destroyed us) and I had completely resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t going away. One day in 2011 I sat her down and asked her why she was so distant from me and so close to Lisa. I was told that I “didn’t get her” and that she didn’t feel comfortable talking to me. She told me, in not so many words, that I was not her support system and I needed to accept it. I tried, but never really wrapped my head entirely around it. We had so many other issues at that time that it just became one more thing to add to the shit heap.

When we split, I wasn’t even remotely surprised that she moved in with Lisa. The only real surprise is that they have yet to announce that they are Lesbians. That would be too easy I suppose, that might actually explain some things.

Now that we are divorced, I find myself thinking of her in a kinder light. I have tried to be more accepting and forgiving. To dwell on all that I was angry about is too consuming, requires too much energy and is extremely heavy cargo to carry around. When I saw her FB post last night, I really wanted to call her, to talk to her and be there for her. The realization that I would have been of no comfort to her hit me like a brick in the forehead and so many questions about my failed marriage came to the fore.

I was irrelevant long before I even became the “EX-husband.”

A bitter pill indeed