My eyes pop open and I’m awake. No easing from the depths of slumber into the lesser stages of rest to slowly blink myself awake. No. It never goes like that. It hasn’t gone like that for over a year now.
I already know what time it is. Christ how couldn’t I? I’ve been waking up at exactly the same time every night since January sixteenth of last year. Two Forty Eight in the morning.
That would be the time she walked out the door. I had been drunk then, uncaring. It took some time for me to realize I had spent my previous evening with her unaware it would be the last time I ever crawled in bed next to her.
Something brushes my side and tickles. I turn my head on the pillow and stare silently at my two year old daughter Peril. I’ve been taking her to bed every night like a child does a Teddy Bear since her mother walked out on us.
She has adapted well. There was a lot of crying at first. A lot of anger. I spent a lot of nights pacing outside the bedroom as she cried, inconsolable and demanding to be left alone. Maybe it was wrong of me to leave her alone to cry, but God I get so frustrated.
I just think about her mother and her new life, her independent life. No cares, no worries. Just her and her boy toys free to move as they please while I come home from work every night to an empty house to shower before picking our daughter (Ha!) up from her sitter’s.
She goes to sleep around nine these days which is fine by me. I like to get to sleep as early as possible because I know what’s coming each and every night. It doesn’t matter what I do. The waking, at two forty eight, is coming.
I’ve tried everything I’m not scared shitless of to keep from waking. Nyquil. Ambien. Valium. Seroquel. I’ve been drunk, stoned and pilled out on Vicadin, Percocett, Oxycontin, and Morphine.
None of them keep me under. There is some will, some stronger desire that I do not understand that demands I nightly be aware that one more day has passed since our abandonment. One more day I have watched from my window as people pass by, busy with their lives, with their freedom. I have watched the neighbors roll home from work, seen them through their windows as they eat supper together.
And I am alone raising my daughter. What do I know about raising a little girl? I can’t do anything with her hair besides pull it back in a sloppy ponytail. I can’t seem to coordinate outfits; I don’t understand how to reason with her. I’m not a nurturer. It has always been in my nature to be alone. Alone and free and un-tethered by the weight of obligation. But I persist.
Two forty nine now and I may as well get out of bed. There has never been any immediate going back to sleep. I have tried. Many times. Always, I find it is best to rise and work myself into exhaustion.
Some nights I exercise, counting out push-ups and sit-ups while I watch late night reruns of shows like Cheers and The Fresh Prince. Working my body without pause, I lose more than I gain. I have lost sixty pounds in the last year, dropping from a slightly overweight one hundred eighty five pounds down to one twenty five. A good deal of the loss has been in musculature.
It doesn’t matter. I have no time for women. I have no real desire. So my physique is not important. What is important is to take back my sleep and I have no idea how to accomplish that.
Tonight, as I pad on bare feet from the bedroom, easing the door shut behind myself, I will not exercise. Something has been bothering me. Something I have finally recognized in my daughter only today.
There will be no late night activity. No push-ups. No playing of my guitar. No reading. No television or movie viewing. Not tonight.
Though I typically try to avoid being overtaken by introspection and meditative thought, tonight is a night for that. I sigh as I slip into the guest room. This is where I keep my clothing these days, so that when I do wake late at night, I can leave the light off and not disturb my daughter’s sleep.
I slip out of my pajama bottoms, select a pair of blue jeans and put them on. There are plain white undershirts in the top drawer of the dresser where I keep the jeans. I put one them on, noting that it hangs from my shoulders like it were on a clothes hanger, my scrawny frame failing even to fill out an adult extra small shirt.
In the kitchen I prepare coffee. I slip my feet into my permanently tied oxfords, shrug into a jacket and go outside for a cigarette while I wait for the coffee to brew. It’s bright outside; the moon nearing the end of its cycle is silver and luminescent, casting a shimmering gray light over the city outskirts where I live.
Here is the problem.
Peril and I have been in our new house for two weeks now. It didn’t take long to settle in because I typically have, in addition to the evening after work, two to three hours every morning to unpack, organize, and put things in order.
During the course of the past two weeks, she hasn’t cried for her old house. Hasn’t asked why we moved. In fact, there has been no mention of the move whatsoever. When we were moving she stood by watching me carry boxes of our possession to the back of my truck expressionless.
My mother had called to ask how Peril was with the situation and when I told her she hadn’t cried or questioned or asked to see the old house my mother had seemed relieved.
“Good. She’s one well adjusted little girl.”
And tonight I think about that. Staring vacantly toward the old moon in the sky I reflect how odd it is that she has gone along with the whole process of moving without exhibiting any sign of being upset or scared or confused. I don’t want to, but I am forced to face a new fear. I recall, because it is pertinent, a conversation I had last March with my then father in law.
He had taken me out to dinner wanting to talk. At that point, my ex-wife had not yet informed me she wanted a divorce. Oh, I knew it was coming. Nobody separates for that three months just to clear the air. I think Big Jim knew it too. I believe he wanted to ease me into acceptance of the imminence of the end of my marriage. I believe that’s why he had called me and wanted to do dinner.
We had ordered, made small talk. Of course he asked how I was holding up. After filling him in on mine and his granddaughter’s current state of affairs and had our food in front of us, he ate silently for a few minutes, clearly lost in thought. After a while, he looked across the table at me, laid his fork aside and ran his hand over his face.
“Sean.” He began. “I think maybe there’s something you don’t know about Emily.” He sighed then continued.
“You see she’s got this way about her. She’s a lot like her old man and Goddamnit, I’m sorry. Sometimes things are just how they are.” He had laughed bitterly, taken a drink from his glass and set it back down.
“Things are how they are.” He repeated. “Let me explain. I think the best way is to tell you a story about when I was just a small child.”
“I remember it well because I was eight years old when my dad died. I was one of those rare kids back in the fifties that had divorced parents and had been living with my dad and step-mom in Alabama ever since I can remember.
“Well, dad had a heart attack and I remember being upset and crying and wishing he were still there. That was normal. Well, my mother had legal rights over me then and I had only seen her a handful of times. She had her attorney contact my step-mom and give her the news that she was taking custody of me.
“I remember talking to my mom on the phone. She told me my uncle would be driving down from Ohio to pick me up and bring me back to her there. He didn’t own a truck and was coming in a car so all I could take with me was one duffel bag.
“Well the day rolled around and I had packed my bag and was sitting on the couch in the living room with my grandparents and my step-mom Beth Anne. Well, my step-mom was pretty upset. She kept crying and hugging me and telling me how much she would miss me and I suppose most kids would have been scared and they would have been crying right along with her.
“After all, I never really knew my mom before then and dad had remarried while I was still just a toddler and as far as I knew, Beth Anne was my mom. Always had been. At least that was the role she had accepted, and I always just called her mom.
“Well, I didn’t cry. I wasn’t scared either. I remember even grandpa was having a hard time keeping himself from bursting into tears. Of course he was always strong, especially when grandma needed him to be. She had gone back and forth all day from clinging onto me and hugging Beth Anne as they cried together and grandpa was doing his best to console them.
“What I do remember is that the whole day, up until my uncle Ronnie showed, I was just wondering why everyone was so upset. Now, I was eight years old and I was smart enough to know it was because I was moving away and I had lived down there my whole life. What I couldn’t figure out is why it was something for them to cry about.
“You see, I was the one that was moving, not them. I was the one being uprooted from everything I ever knew and believe me, when you’re eight years old the world out there is huge and scary and the world where you live is small and comfortable and no matter what the circumstances, you know it.
“I wasn’t excited to move if that’s what you’re thinking. Damn it, I just don’t know how to explain it. It’s just that…that’s the way things were. There wasn’t nothing I could do to change it and all I could do was just accept it. Does that make sense?”
I stared at him across the table, pushed my plate away and folded my hands in front of me shaking my head.
“Well, what I’m saying is this. It’s like a defense mechanism. I’m sure you know what that means. When something big came around…it didn’t have any emotional effect on me. Whatever it is that a normal person feels when something big happens in their life, some major change, well I don’t feel it.
“It’s like I take my feelings and roll ‘em up like so much dirty laundry and tuck them away in some corner of myself. They’re still there, but I can ignore them until they get so old and dirty that when I do find them again, well, I don’t try to put them in the laundry. I just…throw them away.
“And that’s what Emily is like. I saw it in her early on and I’m sorry but we should have had this discussion a few years back before you got married. Son, I’m sorry, but with someone like that, there’s no patching things up. She’s moved out and things are how they are now and that’s just that.”
And so I put my cigarette out, go back in the house and pour myself a cup of coffee. I think I’ll just do push-ups tonight because I don’t want to think about it anymore. But I know. God help me, I’ve seen it in her early on.