So many parts of me, parts of my story that I had mapped out as a married man, and especially as a married dad — they’re nothing anymore. They’re nothingness. Nearly ten years ago, I took a leap into wedlock and from the get-go I have to admit that I felt like I had found “the one.” I was sure we would be together until the day one of us died.
But nothing ever seems to work out the way we envision it, huh? Especially love affairs and relationships and that kind of stuff. And look, of course I know it’s not like any of us is ever supposed to head into a marriage daydreaming about some morning down the road when we bite our lip over a cup of lukewarm coffee and stare out the back window fighting back tears as we finally accept that the love is dead and that the marriage is over, but still. I was sure that wasn’t going to be my fate.
You know what though? When you’re so sure of a thing, I think that’s probably when it’s least likely to happen for you, huh? When you relax in even the slightest of ways about the certainty of your future, that’s when you’ll almost definitely be getting throat-punched out of nowhere.
So it goes.
I’m alone again, my marriage broken up. Not divorced just yet, still “separated” as we call it. My world seems more shaky and unstable than I ever imagined it could be. And certainly way more messed up than I thought it ever would be. And somewhere in there lies the hardest thing that I have ever had to face, which is this: I’m still a father to three beautiful young kids. They are my life and like any dad who is worthy of the task, I would lay myself down on a cold set of railroad tracks without a split-second’s hesitation if I knew that getting split in half by a locomotive would somehow make my children’s lives better. The love we have for our kids, it just goes without saying. But I’m saying it anyway. Because I’m sadder than hell. And I’m afraid of letting them down.
It’s been nine months, give or take, since we more or less officially separated. Since the beginning of the year I have been a ‘single parent’, a term which used to slide right over my eyeballs without a second thought from me. It was like whenever I read certain other words or terms that mean little to me, like “ice hockey” or “vegetarian” or whatever. They’re things that mean a lot of things to other people, and that’s fine, but when they crossed over into my inner-galaxy of personal crap, when I read them on the computer or wherever, I plow right through them as if they were invisible. They mean nothing to me.
That whole term, “single parent,” — that was my mom. That’s all that was to me. She raised me and my younger brother for a long time without any man in her world, or in ours, and I admire her for that more than I can say, but that was always the beginning and end of my grazing up against the term itself. I certainly never dreamed for even a moment that it would be my deal someday too. Funny how that one snuck up on me.
Henry, three, and Violet, five, are watching a little Sponge Bob on the TV while Charlie, at just six months now, tries to do a tiny push-up off the cheap imitation oriental rug I’ve got sprawled out in front of the couch. I stand at the island in the kitchen and I wait for what comes next. It always comes/there is no stopping it. Certain things are on a fast-track from the future, always beaming across space and time straight at your head and your reality even though we never know about them until they slam right into our life in real time.
Henry sucks on his sippy cup of OJ and like clockwork, Charlie’s baby fat arms give out on him and he plunges down slow to the rug. Once he realizes that he can’t hold himself up any longer and that he’s a turtle without the power to flip himself, he begins to cry. I watch this all go down as I sip my afternoon coffee. I don’t rush over to him to rescue him with my slow flip right away either. Maybe I should, but the way I figure, letting him work those marzipan arms of his for a long 30 seconds or so will probably help him develop the strength he needs to get the job done.
But maybe not.
Maybe I’m messing with his mind in ways that child care experts would tell me will screw him up for life. What do I know anyway, right? Here I am, alone in this rented house with the three most important people in my world and the only other person I would probably bounce ideas off of in regards to how to handle our baby boy’s little problem, she is nowhere to be found.
I could call her, I guess. But that would just be awkward, really. It isn’t the same. Nothing’s the same now, that’s what I guess I’m getting at.
And what would I say anyway?
“Hey, it’s me. Yeah. Charlie’s stuck on his belly again. What do you think I should do?”
That would be stupid on the phone.
I have to figure it out on my own. All of it. Every teeny inconspicuous event that no one else in the world would even give a damn about except for their mom, who isn’t here and who ain’t showing up — I have to figure all that stuff out by myself.
How will I not screw that up?
Don’t answer that.
How will I be able to make a million snap decisions a day, three or four days a week, and not mess so much up along the way. That might seem like a dumb-ass rhetorical question to you, I guess, but not to me, not anymore. My guilt explodes through me now every second of every day. I want to be the best I can be.
But I feel like I’m sucking, big time.
In order to keep a home running smoothly, you need to bust your butt, in case you didn’t know. You can’t wait around for the cleaning lady to show up when you don’t employ a cleaning lady. You get up in the morning and unless you’re some kind of a frat-boy slob, you aren’t even halfway down the dark hall towards the bathroom yet when you start noticing all the things you need to take care of.
There’s a thin line of dust on the baseboards. There’s like five or six wood chips from the swing sets at the park that must’ve stuck to someone’s sneaker just lying down there in the middle of the damn hall carpet. The bathroom mirror is a wall of sloppy toothbrush graffiti spray.
Toilet paper needs to be changed.
Where is the towel I had hanging here last night?
I smell pee. God, did he pee all over the seat and the floor again? I need to mop this whole freakin’ room.
Why is the cold faucet like halfway on?!
Here’s that towel. It smells like piss. WTF?
All of it just cascades out of the sky down onto me like a ton of rubble sliding down out of a front end loader. I have so much to do. I need to wake them up too, or else Violet will miss the school bus, which will suck since she’s only just started kindergarten and I don’t need her teachers and the people that work in the office watching me bring her in late, a flustered guy dragging three kids in through the big glass doors at the front of the school, a look of total befuddlement on his 40-something face.
To hell with that. To hell with them sighing their little sympathy/bemused smiles at the single daddy tripping his way across the modern landscape.
A half-hour later: we miss the bus.
I haven’t read a bedtime story to these kids in months.
How could I let that happen? How hard would it be for me to just drag myself away from my stupid evening thing and march up there and turn the Netflix off right there in front of their sleepy eight 0’clock eyes and read them Green Eggs and Ham or whatever?
I don’t have an excuse. It’s just that I feel like I’m spinning, spinning, spinning. And getting them set up on my bed on these evenings now, smelling their freshly-shampoo’d heads right under my nose as I race to get the cartoon to appear on my laptop screen and then race out of the room, racing right by my baby son’s little body rising and falling slightly with his sleeping breaths, race back down to the kitchen so I can feast upon my hour or two of personal time, eat some dinner/watch some Guy Fieri, it has become this race against time, this race against reality even.
I think I wanna outrun the life I’m living. I want to have everything be okay and wrestle some time for me to drink an evening beer or two by myself as well.
But it’s all a shambles, man. It really really is. Because even on the nights when I play my cards just right and zip back down into the kitchen and throw together my salad and sit down with my drink, the cartoon and their giggles coming at me loud and clear through the baby monitor on the microwave, even then, as I hit the remote and flick through the channels, I am bombarded by this overwhelming sense of failure and disappointment, by this landslide of guilt.
And the storybooks remain on the bookshelf.
And another day fades away, me never knowing if I’m getting any of this right or not.
Image: Bielanko Private
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