The evening period between five when he usually got home and eight when all three girls were finally asleep was always the toughest part of the day. Will figured it was because somehow they had a secret stash of Mountain Dew and Ecstasy that they got into right before he got home. Opening the garage door that led to the family room usually brought loud and colorful explosions. Claire would pop up and give him a hug as soon as he stepped through the door, telling him something silly one of the boys did in her second grade class. Emma would wander over to him saying “Daddy!” and hug him and then ask for his phone. Ashley might look at him with her “meh” glance but usually would be focused on one of her dolls.
Dinner was rowdy and the odds were fifty-fifty that all three girls would be sitting at the table with them. With lots of screaming and sometimes crying or whining or laughing or throwing food. It was a little bit of chaos that sometimes calmed down by the time the girls got into their beds. But their moods and energy and willingness to obey were all a bit like the wind outside. You never knew which way it was going to blow and how fierce it might be.
Will’s joke to anybody who listened was that the girls often led him to drink. After the recent incident and the subsequent talk with Tricia, Will had realized that it wasn’t such a funny thing after all. There was always a little bit of truth in every joke, right? It was only recently that Will had discovered his means of surviving those dinnertime hours and trying to relax was by getting the wine to do it for him. This realization didn’t change any habits, however. He’d get around to that whenever life slowed down.
It didn’t matter who was screaming because they were all screaming for him at different times. Will was watching the news and waiting to tell his wife the news, but he knew it had to be in those eighteen seconds between the time the girls went to bed and the moment Tricia started to drift asleep. She’d get comfortable on the loveseat watching a cooking or a fashion reality show. The loveseat was only large enough for two, so their female Shih Tzu was the only one to share the love.
“Daddy come downstairs!”
Bedtime was close and he couldn’t wait. To get this stuff—this awful adult life-is-hard sort of junk–off his chest. Then he could check it off and start making plans.
A couple of blinks and a couple of glasses of wine and the little girls were asleep. Or in the words of singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen:
The time ticked down now before he lost his wife.
“Hey, so I spoke with Victoria today.”
This got Tricia’s attention since they both knew what that might mean. There was no resting on her side, nor was there any channel-surfing.
He gave a look that he knew told her everything. Her body seemed to deflate for a moment, her head tilting and her eyes focusing closely on him. She suddenly had a familiar look on her face, too. The are you kidding me look.
“They’re canceling the book,” Will said without any emotion.
The emotion came from her as they spoke about the realities of everything for several minutes. He didn’t expect Tricia or anybody else outside of the publishing world to understand the realities involved inside it. He understood her anger and confusion and simply tried to stay calm and collected. Those two words didn’t describe him, not deep down, but right now his anger and frustration wouldn’t help the situation.
Exasperation. They’d crossed that border a couple of years ago. This was a new one entirely. Desperation? Desolation?
It all depends on the context.
In the context of this room, the one with the juice-box stained carpet and the sofas hiding Cheerios and Cheez-Its, then it definitely could be put into the emergency category. But in the blinding light of the rest of the world, one that kept cracking apart like poorly made peanut brittle, they were fortunate. They still needed to be thankful.
“I told you I have some good news,” Will said.
In the past, Will would have used humor as a crutch. They were past that point, too.
“I found someway to earn some money,” he told her, then added “Not at the warehouse.”
The warehouse excursion had been an interesting few weeks. A neighbor had gotten him a job working nights at ten bucks an hour packaging different types of food samples from big companies like General Mills and Nabisco to go to supermarkets all over the country. Items like cookies and chips and more cookies that hadn’t been released yet would be packaged and then shipped out. Will hadn’t really earned that much money but he had gained probably ten pounds. They also never needed to buy another Oreo cookie again for as long as they lived.
The warehouse job had been temporary in between a couple of projects. Once he landed the baseball book deal, Will had been even more thankful to be able to write.
Yet the doubts had hung overhead like vultures.
“What are you going to be doing?” Tricia asked.
“Relief work down in South Carolina. Helping to clean up the mess.”
“You’re going to South Carolina?”
She wasn’t happy. Not in the slightest.
“Yeah. I’ll be able to see my relatives, too.”
“When? For how long?”
“I leave Monday,” he said. “I don’t know for how long.”
Tricia was wide awake now, sitting on the edge of the couch facing him and wanting a better explanation. “How did you hear about this?”
Will told her about meeting Alfonso in the pub and about their conversation.
“It’s fifteen bucks an hour. A lot better than the warehouse. Possibility of overtime. And it’s paid by the government. You know I’ll get it. I won’t have to wait forever to be paid.”
“You can’t leave us,” Tricia said. “Not now.”
The way she said it sounded like he was ditching them for some younger woman or something. Will shook his head, knowing this was going to be like this and already exhausted from needing to defend his decision.
“What am I supposed to do? I need to figure out what to do next. But that doesn’t pay for bills. You know?”
The whole money-budget-bills discussion began and soon Will’s calm and collected demeanor crumbled into the usual frantic and pissed-off one. The similar subjects and the familiar terrain. Aggravating and not particularly pretty to look at.
“I’m not leaving you guys I’m stepping foot through the first door that opened,” he eventually said to Tricia.
“What if another tornado hits Columbia?”
“It won’t. I’ll be fine.”
“What if something happens around here?”
“I won’t be gone long. Nothing’s going to happen.”
Tricia broke out into tears. Of course. That was how much she believed him. Maybe how much she believed inhim. He didn’t come alongside her and hold her or anything like that. He watched and waited and tried to figure out something to say.
“Everything’s going to be fine,” Will said.
“You need to stay here.”
“My parents don’t have any way to help us out anymore. Neither does your mother. I’m just trying to do something—anything—I can. To save our home. To just try and get by.”
“I don’t care about this home. We need you, Will.”
She didn’t say his name often, so it pricked at him when she did.
Tricia looked exhausted and worried, probably mirroring how he appeared. “There has to be other options. Is it worth it to go all the way down there?”
“I called my aunt. She might have some work for me at her office.”
This wasn’t exactly true. Will was planning on calling his Aunt Nancy soon. She had told him she might have some work for him to do. Something writing related, something he could do in any office anywhere.
Tricia wiped her eyes and her nose and then faced him. She looked overstuffed with emotion and questions. He hated to have conversations like this simply because he couldn’t help her. He couldn’t answer certain questions. He didn’t know how things were going to work out. Or even if they were going to.
To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer . . .
Shut up interior monologue, Will thought.
“Do you want to leave?”
Her question came out of nowhere.
“What?” he said.
“Are you just using this as an excuse to leave?”
“I don’t want to leave. What are you talking about?”
“Just because of everything—because of you and me—because of what happened–“
“This has nothing to do with that,” Will said.
He knew what she was referring to. The drunken night and the morning after and the whole mess. But that was crazy. It hadn’t ever entered his mind and there was no way he wanted to leave them.
“I didn’t go searching for this,” Will said. “This came to me. Maybe it’s an answer to one of those prayers of yours.”
Will made sure to stress the last word. He also knew that his tone said back down. It said a little more than, actually. Tricia simply remained quiet.
“Why would you think I want to go? That’s unfair. “
“I know you’re tired of me saying–” she began.
“I’m just tired. Okay? I’m tired of going another month not paying the mortgage. I’m tired of Comcast calling. Seriously—I loathe Comcast. I’m sick of asking when the check is coming and I’m sick of you asking me when I’m going to know about this project or that project. We know now, right? And we know something I can do about it.”
Will was done with this conversation but he added a few nice curse words just to add an exclamation point. Her eyes looked at him with disappointment, then trailed off and landed on the half-empty glass of wine on the sofa table next to them.
“I don’t want something to happen to you,” Tricia said. “That’s all.”
She stood up and then wandered over to the stairs. It wasn’t the first time she went up them without saying good night.
And it won’t be the last.
He turned on the television and saw an update on the disaster in Columbia. Another day, another disaster. Another day ending in a fight. A day ending without getting a good-night. A day trailing off like steps moving up stairs.
Maybe this will be the last time I see those leaving me.
Will knew that they were living in an era full of lasts. A last family meal in a house right before it’s torn apart. A last basketball game in a gymnasium full of people right before it’s leveled.
The last breath someone takes right before facing a giant F5 hurtling straight toward them.
It was another symbol for their lives. This big beast coming out of nowhere and tearing apart their world. Will was trying. He was doing everything he could and trying to get by without losing anything else.
Are you using this as an excuse to leave?
He couldn’t believe she’d even asked that. Assuming that their arguments lately—the ones not concerning finances but dealing with other not-so-fun issues—were a reason.
For a few minutes he thought about it, refusing to believe it. But Will realized that Tricia was right. At least a little right.
He wanted a job, yes. But there was this part of him—this part deep down—that needed to breathe. To get away from all of this and to try on his own terms. To get away from her faith and his apologies. The financial stuff was exhausting enough. But living with all this other stuff just hovering over them.
She’s right. More than I’m ever going to admit.
There was no way he was going to tell her this. Absolutely no way. She wanted honesty and he told her he was being honest but this was one thing he wasn’t about to share.
Will was leaving to earn some extra money fast. He wouldn’t be gone long. He would be fine and so would they.
That was the story and the end of the discussion.