Wednesday, August 01, 2012
[ For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Diane gave me this prompt: "Nobody sells crutches or wheelchairs for the emotionally crippled." I gave SAM this prompt: "Whatever your kids are comes from you. So whatever irritates, look at yourself." -Art Garfunkel ]
I could always tell when she was angry. Her river of talk slowed to a trickle, laughter and casual conversation drying up in favor of curt replies and one word answers. When that happens, the storm is coming, and all I can do is wait it out. Nearly 30 years in, the pattern is clear. I have offended her, stepped out of line in any one of a hundred ways, and, soon enough, I'm going to pay the price. It is illogical, but there was no way of hurrying the process.
She got to the end of the hospital driveway before it started.
"What the hell is wrong with you?," she said, her voice low and bitter. That seemed rhetorical, so I didn't respond.
"I really want to know, Bill. What's wrong with you?" She flipped on her signal. The relay was broken, so it made extra clicks, more insistent clicks. I had told her I would replace it, but I hadn't.
"What do you mean?"
"What do I mean? Bill, you're a grandfather now, for God's sake. You just witnessed probably the most important day of your daughter's life, and you're barely interested."
"I don't think that's fair to say," I said. I hadn't said much all day, true. There didn't seem to be much to add.
"You said seven words all day, Bill. Seven. And I bet you regretted even those." I had felt pushed aside by events. She was in charge, and Janie's husband had a big role to play, obviously. But my wife was in her glory as Janie's red face begged her for a salvation no one could give. She responded carefully, calmly, reminding her about the breathing, seeming to feel every contraction along with her daughter. She said she hated being depended on for everything, but I think she loves it. She loves to be necessary.
"I can't believe you counted." She kept track of things. Everything.
"How hard was it? There were SEVEN!" She was twitching, almost shivering with anger. I watched her calf muscle, still fine looking after all these years, flex slowly as she accelerated.
I looked out at the roadside, wishing I was anywhere but here. A woman in a red sweater laughed as she got into a low sports car. A man, hard and mean looking with a goatee, getting into the driver's seat, scowled at her. People always thought things were funny when they weren't.
"I didn't think I had anything to say. Any role. It wasn't for me. It was your show." She explained everything, listening carefully to the doctors then offering advice anyway, acting the role of the expert, as any woman who had ever been pregnant inevitably did.
"MY show?," she said. She nearly ran a red light when she turned to look at me. "It was your DAUGHTER's show! And you were completely absent!"
"I don't know what you want me to have done," I said. I tried talking softer, to subtly influence her to do the same. It never worked.
"DO? Jesus, Bill. Do something. Anything. Say something. Show that you have some feelings. Tell your daughter you love her. That you're proud of her. I've given up on you ever telling me that." I saw the thrust, like we were in a knife fight. I tried to dodge.
"She knows," I said quietly.
"No, Bill. No," she said. She accelerated through a yellow light, something that made her angry when I did it. "She doesn't know. I don't know. People don't know that you care about them unless you say so. Yes, you have worked hard to provide for her, and she appreciates that. She's said that. I've heard her. And I'm pretty sure you love me. And I know you love her. But once in a goddamned while, you've got to say it. Express it. In words. I know that's against your bullshit stupid nonsense male code or something, but I've stopped caring about that. Dammit Bill. If you love her, if you're proud of her, you've got to tell her. Tell me. Do something. Anything."
She sounded winded, like when she gets back from a run. We had been about to have some brunch at Lockhart's in the center of town when Janie had called us, and ever since then, it had been a blur of driving, and white hospital walls, and Janie's wails of pain as nature took its course. I understood what she was saying. I'm not stupid. But I couldn't explain my behavior. It just was. It felt hard wired, like I was just carrying out my instructions, line after robotic line. I thought about Janie, and her new daughter June, another woman into the fold. I was surrounded by women, demanding things of me that I didn't have, feelings I couldn't share, actions I couldn't take. I was trying to think of a way to explain it when I realized that we were home, and my wife had parked and gone inside already. Hopefully, she left the front door unlocked.