My workday has ended, but that was the easy part.
Sensitive to the rumble of the engine and the crunch of the tires, I pull into my driveway. The sudden void of noise as it turns off sounds like an alarm klaxon. I white-knuckle clutch the steering wheel at three and nine positions and I realize I have been holding my breath. I hold it for a moment and exhale slowly, stingily, as if I were trying to conserve air. I am trying to slow down time.
The car door swings wide and I step out onto the driveway. After popping the trunk, I move around and grab the three paper bags of groceries in both arms and awkwardly close it. As the lid swings closed, my eyes latch onto the tire iron. It is a solid piece of metal. Strong and useful, capable of removing a troublesome dead tire from a vehicle before securing a fresh new one.
I imagine its heft in my hand as the trunk closes. With one brown bag securely wedged in between the other two, I make the slow methodical march to the front door. I notice the front lawn is looking a little thick and decide I should mow it tonight.
That should take up at least an hour.
I stand and stare at the front door, feeling like a prisoner who is returning to prison after a weekend furlough, but in reality I have been at work for eight hours. Before I can summon the strength to open it, the door swings wide followed by an excited screech of “Ricky!” I look down at Sam with her arms spread open; her five-year old face which is full of life and warmth welcomes me home. Happiness shoots out of her zapping into me like a ray gun. In a flash, I am reenergized.
“How was your day, Sam?” I ask as I slip past her with my arms full of supplies. I notice she is still wearing the same PJs I put on her last night. She has been in them for twenty-two hours.
“No hug?” she asks/demands with a pout and her arms now on her hips. If she’s trying to look like Shirley Temple, she’s doing a great job. “Let me put down the bags,” I say hurrying to the kitchen.
“She doesn’t like Sam. Call her Samantha. That’s her name.” I notice her there on the couch. My computer is on her lap and the television is blaring some nonsensical reality show that features angry women screaming profanities at each other. I say nothing as I pass in front of the desperate wives fighting on my big screen.
I can feel her presence as I pass by without a sound. There is a storm radiating from her, but it is not a rainstorm. A wet typhoon, though destructive, at least adds precipitation to the land. Despite the devastation it brings, the rain will bring life. Her destruction is empty and hateful.
Sam follows me into the kitchen, her little feet, covered in her footie pajamas, patter frantically behind me. I make room on the counter; dishes linger from breakfast, and dinner the night before. I should throw them in the trash and start fresh with the disposable kind.
Once the bags are down, I spin and crouch, finally giving the beautiful, pajama-wearing girl a hug. She squeezes me with all her might and whispers in my ear, “I like Sam, but call me Samantha, so mommy doesn’t hear.” I make a mental note to give her a bath after dinner.
I scoop her up so she is sitting in the bend in my arm. My other arm acts like a mechanical crane as I provide its buzzing and whirring sound effects. She giggles with joy as it hovers over each bag before diving in to search its contents. My crane-arm dives and returns with a forty- count box of heavy flow, spring-scented tampons. She shrieks in pretend horror and the robot arm drops the box to the floor. It resumes its search and returns with a box of the gummy fruit snacks she loves. A chirp of delight emanates from her as the crane deposits the treats in her hands with an electronic hum. I put her down; she sits cross-legged on the floor as she begins to tear open the box.
Over the chatter of too-loud commercials I hear, “Who’s Rebecca?” I freeze in my tracks. The sound of her voice makes my sphincter clench in surprise as if a hungry lion had strolled into the kitchen. I struggle to think about Rebecca as I thaw. I burst free of my paralysis and call to her, “Why are you using my computer?” as I put away groceries.
“I thought it was mine.” A lie. “Who’s Rebecca?”
I stand in the doorway to the kitchen and stare blankly at her. “Rebecca Reynolds? She was someone I dated right after my divorce.” I return to the kitchen. “It was three years ago.”
“Why am I just hearing about this now?” she says as she slams my laptop closed. I know she was searching through my e-mails. This is the kind of thing she does all day while I work. She searches through old paperwork and photos, and now she has hacked into my computer and email in order to find evidence of my unfaithfulness, instead of looking for a job of her own. Instead of cleaning the house. Instead of changing her daughter. Evidently she thinks this is her job.
“I don’t know, honey. It isn’t a big deal.” I throw in a “honey”, but It is as useful as an umbrella in a tornado.
“Do you still see her?” She is stomping at me with clenched fists and a red face. Then I notice the empty bottle of scotch on the table behind her.
I look through her and reply, “She works for Pathways, but in a different department. I rarely see her.”
“Don’t fuckin’ lie to me!” Fire explodes in my right eye as her fist connects with the unprepared socket. I stumble back in surprise and pain. I should have expected an attack; this isn’t the first time she has quote unquote ‘lost her temper’.
“Never, ever hit a woman,” my dad used to tell me. Society also aggressively objects to such behavior, saying, “There is never a reason to hit a woman.” If she were a man in a bar, one would expect me to fight back. Despite my father’s words, every iota of my being is demanding retaliation. It’s funny, the same man who taught me how to deliver a devastating uppercut that would drop her to the floor is also the man who would demand restraint. My vision clears before my head does and I see Sam; the box of fruit snacks crashes to the floor and she rushes over and places the flats of her hands against her mother’s pelvis, pushing with all her might.
With a tearful face, Sam says, “Mommy, stop it.” The raw emotion of the scene hits me harder than a fist ever could.
Her mother turns and crashes back into her place on the couch as I cover my bruised eye with my hand. I pull frozen peas from the freezer and place it against my injured eye. “Don’t make a big deal out of it. I barely smacked you,” she says. Her denial is experienced.
I remember another man’s words. A few months ago, I had an Instant Message discussion with my older brother who lives two states away. I thought he was joking when he offered his help. He had typed, ‘A problem gone isn’t a problem.’
I think of the tire iron. How heavy and powerful it would feel in my hands. I don’t enjoy the thought, but I imagine its weight crashing into her skull, splitting it open. I smile at Sam who is looking at me with too much worry for a five-year old. “Can I have one?” I reach out to her and she places a package of gummy sharks in my hand.
I should call him.