Sunday, July 4, 2010

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More from my essay "The Fence"

Before the rage over his adultery and addiction to pain killers, before she tore his photos from frames and gutted the house to erase all evidence of his existence, before the thought of his adulteress lingered in our home like a poltergeist, Mom liked to watch Dad through the French doors of her bedroom. She sat on her bed in the afternoon with the lights out, and the curtains open, her silhouette ominous next to Dad as he wandered about his end of the yard, trotting in the gravel, circles of sweat soaking the polyester between his love handles. I often watched from the hallway, as she watched him. Despite their separation, his life seemed to continue its routine. After he stepped out of his truck, he spit; when he opened the two garage doors of the shop, he tucked in the back of his polyester shirt before he fiddled with the stereo next to the compound press. I knew she could predicted his actions, because I could, but nether of us couldn’t see if he was thinking about the separation, or if he felt remorse over his adultery.
Our yellow and red brick home sat on a one-acre lot near Center Street in West Provo. We could see into one neighbor’s windows; the next closest home sat three acres away. Dad’s heating and air conditioning business covered most of the backyard. The aluminum building was square, tan and dark brown, with a lightly pitched roof.
Dad owned the gravel, and Mom owned the grass, but I never noticed how bifurcated our yard was until those few weeks after Dad’s confession. A jungle gym sat in our back yard, between Dad’s air conditioning shop, and the clubhouse. When Dad built the jungle gym, he placed the back legs in the gravel, and the front legs in the lawn. Large divots of earth were visible beneath the swings where we dragged our feet like stitches holding the gravel to the grass.
The day of Dad’s confession, he filled a small duffle bag with jeans, shirts, and painkillers, and walked out the door without looking back. He continued to go to work each day in the backyard but refused to enter the house, a resolution that was particularly obvious each time he needed to use a toilet. The Shop didn’t have one, so several times during the day he had to leap into his pickup and jet to the corner mart, about a mile down Center Street.
Mom also never crossed the yard to the shop. Sometimes she stepped into old sneakers and walked a few feet into the grass, folding her arms, and looking out on the shop like it was on the other side of a ravine that was once accessible before the collapse of a bridge.
For weeks, the only time I witnessed my parents on the same end of the yard was during Dad’s comings and goings. The shop and the house shared a driveway. Dad would pull into work at the same time he always had, 7:30 AM; the same time that Ryan and I packed our backpacks and Mom rinsed the morning dishes. She always looked up at the hum of his truck and watched him through the window above the sink, hopeful that he’d turn his head and make eye contact, but he always kept his face forward, lips drawn to a tight line.
I think he knew we watched him, so he kicked at the gravel so he could look downward, and picked garbage from the bed of his Ford pickup so he’d have a reason to stare at his truck. Mom noticed the way he averted his eyes from the house, it was hard not to.
After Dad left, Mom continued sleeping on her side of there water bed, keeping Dad’s side open, unable to break the borders of her own bedroom. Once she placed my Playschool record player with the yellow base and red needle arm atop her dresser. Then changed into sweats and an old t-shirt and listened to the Carpenters. She crawled into bed. It was mid day and sunlight filled the room. The way her back arched, her legs stayed in line, and her stomach fat rolled in layers, reminded me of a slow moving worm trapped in rainwater. Her eyes were dry and weary, knuckles white and cracking, fingernails splotchy with old polish, everything about her told of longing. I wanted to do something, perhaps pull her from the bed and place her on dry ground, but instead I tucked my self next to her.
She curled her body around mine, one arm between my elbow and side, the other beneath her pillow. I pressed my body into her warm weight and felt her breath, hot and moist, against the back of my neck. The harmony of the Carpenters played smoothly all but for an occasional pop from where the needle slid from the groove.
After a few minutes she said, “I gave, and I gave, and I gave.” Her fist drew tight, clutching the chest of my shirt. Deep inhales pressed against my back as she wept. I wonder what she thought about as she held me close, her body trembling. Perhaps she thought about why he left, wondering if it was because she wasn’t attractive enough, or smart enough. Because she wasn’t a good cook, or was too demanding, or because she asked him to not work so much and then contradicted herself by asking that he make more money. Because she questioned his use of painkillers, and got angry because he put candy bars on the credit card. Perhaps she rolled these things through her head and thought about how he left because she simply was not good enough, and had found someone he liked more.
They didn’t communicate much without lawyers, and as painful as it was for Mom to realize how little his life had changed since he left, it was still a life she recognized. She hated having him so close, but in this early period of their separation, I think she found comfort in being able to see Dad everyday.

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