HOW WE DIE
He wakes up after me, and our ships pass in the bedroom doorway. I am heading to the bathroom to hang up a damp towel found on the floor in our daughter’s room. He is heading downstairs for soda. He kisses me on the mouth like it’s New Year’s. It’s March.
The kids are up now, and I have been singing my actions. Bum-bum-bum-bum. Here’s a clean shirt for sch-ool. Do-do-dum-bum. No, you can’t wear shooorts. It’s rain-ning.
“My positive energy probably bugs you this early in the morning,” I say after his kiss.
“No. I love it.”
A few minutes later, I am in the kitchen pouring Fruit Loops into bowls, and he is back upstairs dressing for work.
I holler up, “Can you carry the vacuum downstairs when you come?” Some friends are stopping by tonight, and I need to clean up the baking soda I sprinkled over a damp spot where our dog peed on the floor. Then, it’ll need a good scrub with the carpet cleaner.
“Is that too much?” He lugs the vacuum to the bottom.
He’s always worried I’m stacking on responsibilities. He has a right to. I often shoulder the slack when depression snares his will in teeth like an iron maiden.
“No. Not too much. It’s only a two-foot square.”
The kids eat, we help them with shoes and backpacks, and I grimace over Lane’s hair. It’s matted, and she tugs, her face pinched, through the tangles with a brush. It’s a lion’s mane.
“Let me do it,” I say. “I’ll be gentle.”
“No! I got it.”
“But it looks…bad.” I am not delicate with a brush either.
“You know why it’s so hard to brush?!” My husband rages. “Because you never comb your stupid hair!”
Our eyes retreat from him. From the unscheduled storm.
“And you’re doing too much!” he screams at me.
No one says anything. We slog through the tension, completing our tasks. Jackets on. Backpacks slung over shoulders. I don’t ask if they’ve cleaned their teeth. I can let it slide so they can leave sooner. School will be their sanctuary today.
What did I say to trigger him?
Lane crosses the entry with a tight mouth. I give her a hug on the threshold; I am squeezing a fish. Our eight-year-old, Vin, follows her out; he watches his feet. Usually they sprint to the bus stop; today, they trudge. Have I ruined them by staying?
My husband disappears in a blanket cocoon in bed. He won’t be going to work. The day is over.
I hide in Vin’s room, curled on his Iron Man sheets. Spike wags his tail and tucks against my chest. He licks my cheek and I nudge him away. I try reading. The words blur. There’s a thumping somewhere in the house and Spike growls. This will quickly become a pity fest if I don’t get up. I key up Gilmore Girls on the iPad for noise and clean my son’s room, tossing sock-balls in the hamper and action figures into the bin. The books about Sonic and spiders belong on the shelf, and I dust the desk and dresser with a tissue. I tiptoe into Lane’s room. Hers will take more time. She cuts out shapes from colored paper to make furniture and accessories for her Pet Shops, so there is a layer of confetti on her carpet.
My husband finds me on the floor, tiny paper triangles stuck to my thigh, scooping up Lego bricks.
“I’m sorry,” he says and holds my hand. “I apologized to Lane before she left.”
We sit for a minute. I resume cleaning. He brings in the vacuum and pushes it over the mess. We stand around, nodding.
At my computer, I cue up my homework, scroll through my Facebook feed, look back at the document I should be revising. My thesis, a memoir, for grad school is due in a few days, but it seems unimportant. The least important thing in the world. I stare at the page with words all about why I decided to stay with a chronically depressed spouse. Is my memoir a lie?
“Come in here,” he says from the bedroom. “Lie down. Let me scratch your head.”
He sees my tears.
I stretch out, my back to him. My dog takes up residence against my chest. His quick heartbeat is mine. He arches his head over my shoulder to inquire, What’s wrong? and mists me with a sneeze.
My husband drapes his arm on my back. “Want me to scratch?”
He pulls my shirt down and rolls away.
“I said, ‘Sure.’”
“I don’t think you want me to touch you.” He snuffles.
“This is why I don’t like to tell you when I’m sad,” I say. “Because you cry.”
I spend my days pirouetting around landmine topics.
“Honey, I’ve been crying all day.”
Eventually he scratches my back, but I can’t uncoil my muscles. We decide to get up. To move some stuff around in the garage and to get some fresh air. Afterwards, we walk hand-in-hand down to the mailbox. There’s a birthday card for Vin from his great grandmother on my husband’s side. His name is spelled wrong and every word is caged by quotation marks: “Happy” “birthday” “Van”. We laugh.
A few days later, he says, “I signed up for this family leave thing at HR. So in case I, God forbid, try to take my own life, I can take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave, and my job, my salary will all be secure.”
I can’t think of how to respond, so I watch the rain spilling down the window. Finally, I say, “That’s good.”
That night, I message a friend on Facebook.
I have a problem, I type. Every time we have a fight, I don’t vacillate between fight or flight, I just aim at flight. Maybe I used up all my fight.
That has to be hard, she types.
My husband doesn’t come to church on Easter Sunday. He tried, but he couldn’t get ready on time. To him, it’s a major failure.
“Dad’s not coming,” Lane says as we pull out of the drive.
Is that a question, I wonder. “No. He has…a tummy ache.”
The toll for his redemption costs me many lies.
We park ourselves in the pew. From their Easter baskets, they’ve eaten the ears of a Butterfinger bunny, half a carton of Robin Eggs, and a mini sack of Skittles. Vin didn’t bring a toy, so I root around in my purse. Sometimes he drops Matchbox cars and action figures inside when he’s bored of them. This time there are none. I give him a plastic fork. He bangs it against a hymnal. I take it away. I give him my phone to draw in the notebook app. He scribbles for a minute and shows me a black doodle.
It’s a spring afternoon and my kids are playing at a park. They spin in lopsided bowls on posts, and behind them two teens hike up the bank of a creek lined with trees like skeletal hands. There’s a perfect sunlight to breeze ratio. A tractor hums in an adjacent field. A mountain range is silhouetted in the distance, and I imagine, from my hard bench, a mushroom cloud curling over itself like in one of those movies. In seconds, the explosion’s expanding circumference, a squall of dust and radiation, would knock us over and disintegrate our flesh and bones.
If it were the end of us, the town, Utah, the world, I think, it’d be a pleasant, though unexpected, way to die, sitting at the park with my kids on a spring day.
A boy playing freeze tag with his father and siblings climbs the ropes and yells, “I’m still alive! I’m still alive! Dad, if you’re dead you can come back alive!”
A child pumps her legs, the chains of the swing rub together, the lub-dub of a metallic heart.