When the kids are sick in the middle of the night, that’s when I miss having an extra set of hands to help. Or when one has a baseball game at the same time as the dance recital for the other. Sometimes when they have no one to go to the Daddy-Daughter Tea or Father-Son Camp-Out with them.
It’s not so much that I miss him. It’s that I miss having someone.
A nanny could help with some of it. But there will always been that space. That part of their hearts that will just remain vacant. Because he’s gone.
No use thinking about it now. The stomach bug has hit both kids. Which means I have to call in to work. One less vacation day for us. Not that we can ever go anywhere anyway. Now I just have to pray that I don’t get sick. Mama doesn’t get to be sick.
Anthony wasn’t a bad father. Wasn’t a bad husband either. He just wasn’t reallythere. He always seemed so far off. Like there was something else he wanted to be doing. Someone else he wanted to be with. So I let him go. I told him to. We didn’t need him.
He didn’t call my bluff. I guess he really didn’t want to be with us. We haven’t heard from him in a real long time. But the child support checks still come. That’s all he was ever good for anyhow. Just money.
Now that I think of it, he’d be no good with a barfing child or at a tea. We’re better off this way. At least that’s what I try to tell myself. But there are days when a strong arm around my shoulders would be so comforting. Not necessarily his arms. He was never all that strong.
I need to keep my mind off him. No more Anthony barging into my thoughts. I flip on the tube and zone out.
I slept for about 4 hours. On the couch. My contacts still in my eyes. Reruns of TV sitcoms that never quite made it have been playing for hours. A few worked their way into my dreams.
Groggy, I get up. If I call work now I’ll get the voice mail. I won’t have to talk to anyone to explain why. My boss’ kids have a live-in nanny. She never has to worry when they’re sick. Whatever. Good for her. But she doesn’t understand why the rest of us can’t just get a sitter when our kids are sick.
The ringtone is a lulling sound. I’m so tired I could just fall back to sleep with the phone to my ear. One ring. Two rings. On the fourth the voice of the receptionist will invite me to select a mailbox. Instead, someone answers.
“Baynes and Associates,” the voice. Female. “Can I help you?”
“Yes. Good morning.” I’m set off balance. It’s, what, 5:40 am. Why is anyone there already?
“Good morning. What can I do for you?”
“Well, I thought I’d get the voicemail. But, that’s okay.”
“Who is this? Is this Marley? If this is Marley, then don’t even think you’re calling in sick.”
It’s my boss.
“Hey, Sheri. Yeah, this is Marley.”
“You’re not calling in sick. Are you? You can’t. Remember, this is the day Corporate is coming. I can’t do this without you.”
“Sheri, my kids are sick. I was actually thinking of taking them in to see the doctor.” Okay, that was a lie. “It’s been coming out both ends all night.”
“I don’t care what’s going on with your kids. You need to get here. And soon.”
“I can’t. What am I supposed to do with my kids?”
“That’s not my problem. How old are they?”
“6 and 8.”
“That’s old enough to be alone for a couple hours. Just leave them a note and get your butt over here.”
“No. That’s not old enough. Not even close. Especially being sick.”
“Just take them to school. There’s a nurse. Let her earn her money for a change.”
“Hey, I’ve got an idea.”
“How about I take them over to your house and let your nanny watch them.”
“Marley, don’t get snippy with me.”
“Sheri, I don’t have any options.”
“Well, neither do I.” She sighs. “If you don’t come in today, then we’ll have to discuss your future with the company.”
“I’m going to have to consult my lawyer.” Another bluff. He’s a divorce attorney. But she doesn’t know that.
I hang up. I’ll worry about that later. One of the kids is stirring. Hopefully not to get sick again.
The kids are camped out on the couch. Thank goodness for my endless supply of DVD’s. But I know they’re really not feeling well. They aren’t laughing. Even at the really funny parts. You know, the part in all kids’ movies when the dad gets hit “there”. That isn’t even getting a laugh. Poor kids.
Sheri called back. She apologized. Said that they’d figure things out. My job would still be there for me. Told me to take the rest of the week to make sure the kids were okay. It won’t count against my vacation.
This time the bluff worked.
The things that a single mom resorts to. How many cans have I dented just to get a few pennies off at the grocery store. Or how many times I screamed at bill collectors to get them off my back. I’ve threatened, cheated, lied, manipulated. What else could I have done? I’m alone in all this.
The kids ate a little at lunch today. Some broth, crackers, a little soda to calm their tummies. If they get better, maybe we’ll spend the rest of the week at the beach or at the zoo.
How often do you get a free pass from your boss? And during the most stressful season of the work year.
The doorbell buzzes. Probably a salesman. I ignore it. But the buzzing doesn’t stop.
“Mom!” my son calls. “You want me to answer the door?”
“No, I’ll get it.” I walk to the living room and fling open the door. “Listen, I’m not buying anything…”
I stop. There’s no air left in my lungs.
“Anthony?” I say.
I step outside the front door, closing it behind me. The kids don’t need to see him. Not now.
“What are you doing here?” I ask. I feel how pinched up my face is. That’s always what happens when I’m angry. It’s an ugly look for me, but I can’t help it. “What on earth makes you think this is okay?”
“What? I can’t come visit my kids?” Anthony’s voice is slimy as ever.
“No. You can’t.” I look at him. He’s exactly the same. Even wearing the same leather coat. “How’d you know we’d be home today?”
“Didn’t. Thought I’d sit on the porch ’till you got here.”
He combs back the gray hair from his forehead with his left hand. He still wears the gold band on his finger.
“Why are you here, Anthony? Just tell me.” My voice softens. My heart beats a little faster. He’s back for us.
“Okay. Fine. I need to talk to you. And the kids. It’s kind of important.”
He’s acting goofy. A little like a school boy. The way he was when we first became an item.
“Sounds good.” I let myself smile at him. I play up the eyes. “Maybe we could order in. The kids are a little sick today. They should be better tomorrow.”
“Maybe I’ll just come back later?”
“You can if you want.” I didn’t want him to leave. “But we’d like to spend a little time with you. You could keep them busy while I order something. What are you hungry for?”
“I don’t know. Whatever you want is fine.”
We go inside. The kids are so excited to see their daddy. I’d forgotten how much they loved him. He sits between them on the couch and let’s them snuggle up to him. Even though they’re sick, he lets them kiss him. Maybe I’ve been wrong. He might just be good when they’re sick. He would probably do well at the kids’ events and games.
It might just be good that he’s home with us. Would we need a ceremony for our remarriage? I’m sure it wouldn’t be a good idea to live together until we have it all in paper again. I certainly couldn’t fit into my wedding dress from before.
“Marley,” Anthony calls from the living room. “Hey, Marley.”
Just hearing my name from his voice. I’ve missed that.
“Marley, please come here,” he says.
I walk out and see that the kids have both barfed on the floor. Totally missed the buckets.
Anthony is standing across the room with arms crossed over his chest.
“You want to clean that up?” he asks.
I get the kids into a bath and clean pajamas then off to bed. Looks like the broth and crackers for lunch were too much. Or it could have been the excitement of seeing their dad. Whatever. I know it’s going to be a sleepless night again for me.
Would it be wrong to ask Anthony to spend the night?
Not for that. You know. That didn’t happen after our 6 year old was born. Not even once.
But would he help? Or would he just watch me take care of everything?
He’s in the living room, sitting on the couch, watching TV.
“You got rid of all the channels,” he says, flipping through the stations. “How am I supposed to find the sports station?”
“I had to cut back on the cable. To save money.”
“How’s that take out coming? Did you order it yet?”
Unbelievable. Did he not notice me cleaning up barf? I want so badly for him to be home, but I don’t want all this junk again. I throw the phone book toward him.
“Find something and order for yourself.” I look at his face. Nothing. No expression. Just like before. “Why are you here, Anthony?”
Something inside wishes that he’s here for me. There must be something to that “one flesh” thing. Because when he left I felt the tearing. I thought I was over that. But now he’s back – maybe for today, maybe forever – and the pain has returned with him.
“Okay, Marley. I’ll tell you.” He looks into my eyes. I can’t read him right now. “It’s about us.”
“There is no us, Anthony,” I say. Something inside makes me want to play games. Manipulate him. It would feel good to make him cry. Would that mean that he still loves us? “Hasn’t been for years.”
He sighs. ”Marley, I wasn’t a good husband to you. Wasn’t even a good dad.”
That’s true. But could he have changed enough for a second chance? Or am I just lonely, groping for whatever I can reach?
“But you were never the best wife to me,” he says. “You never knew how to talk to me.”
“Did you ever learn to listen?”
“Listen, we had some real rough times. But there were some good things, right?”
“I don’t remember any good times with you.” That’s a lie. There were great times. Beautiful times. But I need him to tell me. I want him to remind me. I want him to tell me what he missed about me.
“Not even one? I wasn’t a monster.”
No, not a monster. More like a disengaged sloth.
“Why are you here, Anthony?”
Standing up, putting his hands in his pockets, pacing the room. “I always thought marriage was supposed to be easy. But it wasn’t. Nobody told me it would be so much work.”
“Who told you it would be easy?”
“My parents made it seem effortless. They just did their thing and raised us kids.” He stops and looks out the window. “They never screamed at each other.”
“I didn’t scream.”
He’s looking for something. “Well, close enough.”
“Hey, what are you looking for?”
“Nothing.” He turns around. “Anyway. I thought I’d give up on marriage after you kicked me out.”
“I didn’t kick you out. You left.”
“That’s not how I remember it. You told me to leave.”
“No. I said that you might as well. You were never really attentive to us. There was no difference with you gone. Not a single difference.”
That’s a lie. The difference was in the kids. They folded in on themselves. Didn’t trust, didn’t smile as much. They needed him. Was it really my fault? Did I really send him away from them?
“That’s why I’m here. I want to give marriage another try.”
“I’m confused.” Something isn’t right. “What are you talking about?”
I’m too exposed. But all my defenses are down. Sarcasm, bitterness, snark, biting insults, bluffs. All far too overwhelmed to snap to action. I’ve worked so hard since he left to hide myself, who I really am. I became mean and nasty. A hard worker. Now all that is failing me.
“I don’t want to give up on marriage. You know, I miss being in a loving relationship.”
“Did we have a loving relationship?”
“Once. Yeah, I think we did. At the beginning.”
I don’t want to go back there with him. Or do I? Everything is so confusing.
“So, you’re looking for a relationship?”
“I’ve found one.” He looks outside again.
“I swear, if you look out that window one more time, I’m going to bash you in the head.” Oh. There’s the mean and nasty. “Will you please just tell me what you’re talking about?”
“I got married.”
“You did what?” I try to suck in air without him noticing.
“I met her…it doesn’t matter where I met her. But we got married. I thought you should know.”
I don’t love this man. Can’t even stand him. But somehow there’s pain in my soul. Just knowing that there is a replacement is awful.
“That’s not all. There’s more, isn’t there?” I know this man’s holding back. “Just tell me. I know you didn’t come here just to tell me that you got married.”
“Right.” He clears his throat. “We’re moving to Hong Kong. That’s where she’s from.”
“When are you leaving?”
“As soon as she gets here. She’s going to pick me up and we’ll be on our way to the airport.”
So the ring, the shifty behavior, the constant peeks out the window. Now I understand.
“You didn’t say ‘good-bye’ to the kids.”
“Can you do that? Let them know that I love them?”
“Yeah. But they won’t believe it.”
“What? Right. I wouldn’t either.”
“You’re leaving them again. And without even really talking to them. They’re going to hate you no matter what I tell them.”
“Well, I can’t really do anything about that.”
Headlights flash in the window. She’s here to get him.
“That’s her, huh?” I ask. “What’s her name?”
“Cindi. She’s real nice.” He looks at me. “You want to meet her or something?”
“No. That’s stupid.”
“True.” He’s thinking about something. “Should I hug you or something?”
“Just go, Anthony. We’ll be fine without you.”
And this time it’s not a bluff.