I dart a glance in the rearview mirror at the sound of shouting and catch the last word, “Dad.” I had forgotten that the kids were in the car. Their restless bodies secured to the car’s seats and their uniforms already beginning to wrinkle.
“Hey!” I yell back, “What’s going on?”
From the perspective of the mirror, Casey has her frustrated “no-one-understands-me” look, while Chase is red-faced and clearly in attack-mode. At fourteen and eight they can never agree on anything.
“Mommm,” Chase starts, “Casey called Dad a liar!”
His blonde curls fall into his eyes, and he swipes at them with his fingers. But they fall right back down again as they always do.
“No, I didn’t!” Casey shouts back, her green eyes piercing back, the same color as mine. “I said—“
“--Yes!” Chase interrupts indignantly, “Yes, you did!”
“Quiet!” I yell back before they can start up again. My patience is running thin this evening. I clench my hands on the steering wheel and take a deep breath.
“Alright, one at a time,” I begin. “Casey you’re the oldest, what happened?”
I can hear Casey adjusting herself, trying to sit up straighter in her seat, and I catch the smug look on her face in the mirror as I switch lanes.
“As I was trying to explain,” she starts, glancing at Chase, “Chase said that Dad is coming home this weekend because he told Chase he’d come to his soccer game. But I told him that there is no way he could possibly come because he lives in Cali-forn-iaaa--“
“--Yes he is!” Chase cries.
“Alright, Casey,” I say, “We get the point.”
I adjust my speed to the rate of the new lane and catch the beams of light from Chase’s little light-up Spiderman shoes dangling off his car seat from the rearview mirror.
“Chase, your turn.”
Chase’s chin is wobbling, and he is already hiccupping from getting so worked-up.
“W-well D-dad s-said h-he” Chase tries to calm down and starts over, “He-He said that he would come to m-my soccer-r game and that means he is c-coming back home, and maybe he meant he’ll come to my first one tomorrow.”
Chase looks at me in the mirror from the backseat. His eyes are big and blue, like his father’s.
“Both of you need to figure out a way to get along,” I say, trying not to show any emotion. “We’ll talk about this later.” With that, I turn up the radio and focus on the road.
Behind me I can hear them at it again. My eyes blur and I no longer see the road. Instead I see a black, murky nothingness. I blink hard to stop the tears and glance at my left hand. My wedding band chokes my ring finger and I control the urge to pull it off and throw it out the window. Careful, Care. Relax. You’re fine. Breathe. I roll down the window and let the cool damp air waft in.
When we get home, the kids march upstairs knowing the routine to change out of their school uniforms before doing anything else. I make sure they take their shoes and bags with them this time. Since the house is so messy, I’m sure it would take hours of excavation to find them for tomorrow.
I check the messages on the answering machine in the little alcove of a hallway under the stairs. The machine blinks telling me there is a new message. But I already know what message it is. I heard it play last week while I was folding laundry. I had been so caught up in switching the laundry that I hadn’t even heard the phone ring.
It was his voice that pierced through my thoughts, causing me to start and drop the basket. I had glanced in the doorway of the laundry room half expecting to catch him standing there. But the doorway was empty, allowing me to focus on the fuzz and echo from the machine carrying into the room. I couldn’t believe he had the nerve to call the house phone and leave a message knowing that the kids would hear it too. The bastard.
I hear the kids banging down the stairs, the signal to start making dinner. As they begin their homework at opposite ends of the kitchen table I begin to wash and chop the vegetables. Each time I chop, I don’t see the broccoli fall away from the stalk; instead I see my marriage being severed off. Chop, chop, chop, chop, the sound echoes in my mind, and I feel as though I have somewhat lightened my burdens. The sound is final, the rhythm almost soothing.
I glance up at Casey in alarm and then follow her gaze to the cutting board. The board is covered in a mess of little green grains that resemble the size of quinoa instead of chopped broccoli.
“Oh…” I say absently. Pull it together, Care. You can do this. Staring at the mess of shredded broccoli pieces, I try to save any last feelings of peace. I take a deep breathe and look around the room catching sight of the bright red advertisement of a local pizza shop peeking out of the pile of mail on the counter by the fridge.
“You know, why don’t we order a pizza tonight?” I ask, forcing a smile.
Chase jumps out of his chair while screaming, “Yippee!” He runs a loop around the table at the same time as Casey’s eyes light up.
“Can we?” she asks, her excitement restrained but present in the slight upturn at the edge of her lips.
I knew this would be a big deal. Ride never let them eat anything that wasn’t straight from the ground.
“Don’t you realize they’re trying to poison everyone?”
He’d always say at the mention of fast food. I grab the phone off the wall by the fridge and head to my office just past the kitchen to call in the order.
“Why don’t you guys take a break until the pizza comes,” I call out over my shoulder.
I listen as their excited voices trail off. I shut the office door, dial the number, and order pepperoni pizza. Ride hates pepperoni. But I don’t care what he hates anymore.
I know I’ve been stalling, so I finally allow myself to listen to the message that I’ve been trying to ignore for a week. I push the “play message” button on the machine.
“You have one new message. First voice message-- Beep-- Care, hey, listen I’m sorry, alright. Let’s just talk this out. I didn’t mean to hurt you or the kids. Can you please just talk to me? At least let me come to Chase’s game… Care, they’re my kids, too. I won’t stay long… Please call me. I’m sorry, I lov--Beep-- end of new messages.”
How can he do this to me? He knew what he was doing. He lied to me, and I told him to leave. And then… he left. That was the last time I would wake up to find him gone. Of course, I had my suspicions at first. Maybe there was another woman. He started pulling longer hours at 'work' or so he said. But I knew something was going on.
I called his work phone one evening after he told me it was disconnected. That young secretary answered, “Oh, hi, Mrs. Arlyn. How can I help you?”
“Um, hello Blake, is Ride in?”
I could feel my stomach dropping as she stalled.
“Oh… Mr. Rider didn’t tell you? --I mean… He umm… He was asked to leave...,” her voice betrayed her thoughts, full of pity and assumption. I hated her for it.
“What do you mean ‘asked to leave’? He’s been working late every night for a month now.” I could hear the panic in my voice, the worry leaking in.
“Mrs. Arlyn, I’m sorry, but Rider no longer works here… I can send you some of the information we have on this situation here, since you are his wife and all… but you’d have to call our main office to get anything further.”
“I see… Please send it to me… Thank you, Blake… Have a nice evening.”
“You too--“ Click. I threw the phone at the wall. Get a grip. Call Ride. Find him.
I dialed his number one too many times. Finally, I decided to wait up for him, it was three in the morning by the time he rolled in. He almost walked past me but I called out to him first.
He jumped, spun around, and squinted to make out my form in the dark living room.
“What’re you doing up so late, Care?”
I watched him as he tried to maintain a casual tone. He relaxed his shoulders and shifted his stance. But I could see right through him. I saw his nervousness, and I knew he was hiding something.
“Where were you? Where have you been? I called your office, and, wouldn’t you know, you don’t even work there anymore? ...When were you going to tell me?”
I stood, my hands now balled at my sides. If he had moved one step closer, I would have hit him.
“Well, aren’t you full of assumptions,” he tried to say lightly.
But it was too late, he was caught, and he knew it.
He took a deep breath,“I got laid off… I’ve been meaning to tell you but… it just didn’t seem like the right time.”
All this time, how could I have not known? Had it been right in front of my face?
“Well, what are you doing? If you don’t have a job to go to, what is this!” My cheeks flushed and I felt my eyes burn with tears. Why hadn’t he told me? Had he been seeing someone else?
He cleared his throat and glanced around. “I…I started to make some money on the side… With the kids in private school now, and the pharmacy making cuts…” he trailed off and stared at the ceiling. My throat went dry. What has he been doing?
“What?” I said staring right at him, “What are you doing...”
He looked at me and my chin started to wobble as I used up the last ounce of courage I had left.
His face had morphed from indifference to shame. His eyes pleaded with mine.
“Care…” he started softly, the same tone he used when he told me he loved me. The same tone he used when he saw our first child, the same tone he used after our first fight.
“No, Rider, I--I can’t do this anymore.”
He exhaled and tried to fight for what he thought was left of our marriage but really, there was nothing left to fight for.
“Care, I love you! Please!” He moved forward, grabbing my arm. I stared at his hand on my forearm and then up into his blue eyes. The same curl fell on his face like Chase’s.
“I made some mistakes, I see it now, and tonight I was going to quit,” He had grabbed my hands and squeezed them, trying to reassure me. “But we had this order, and-and I couldn’t leave it, I was putting our family first! I was thinking of you and the kids, how it could help us…”
And I realized then that it wasn’t some other woman, it never was. It’s his new “hobby,” the one he always joked about. Or so I thought…
He had joked about being able to make meth in our college years. He had called himself a dealer at one point, playfully since he worked for a pharmacy. And even weeks ago while watching “Breaking Bad,” he noted different techniques Walter could or should have used.
But I thought he was joking. He was joking, hadn’t he been? My stomach fell. I looked at him and said the words I never wanted to say.
“Leave Rider. Leave now!”
“--No! Don’t tell me you love me.”
I pulled away from his grasp and stepped out of his reach.
“If you loved me you would have protected our family, you would have put us first. How could you have put our lives in jeopardy!? All for that sick business?... You disgust me.”
I pointed to the door and then called out, “And I don’t want your drug money.”
I heard him slam the door-- only now, instead, I am awakened from my memories of the past by the ring of the front door bell, coming from the same direction.
The bell rings again. I jump and realize my face is wet. I glance at my reflection in the hall mirror as I rush to the front door and realize I’ve been crying. I drag my sleeve across my face and open the door.
The delivery guy hands me the pizza box, and I hand him some cash with a tip.
“Have a nice night,” I say, as I turn back to the house.
The smell of the pizza comforts me, and I can’t remember the last time I ate it.
“You too... Oh and umm… Is Mr. Rider out of town?” he asks.
I look back at him.
The pizza no longer smells comforting; instead it makes me want to puke.
“Rider no longer lives here,” I say, and with that I close the door and leave him to form his own conclusions.
“Pizza!” Chase races to the table and jumps at the box.
“Chase! Sit down!” I try to say sternly but end up laughing. “You’re like a little dog, my gosh.”
He crawls around and does an awful impression of a bark, causing Casey and I to laugh again.
Casey grabs a slice and takes a huge bite, “Mmmm.” She reaches her greasy hand for another, but Chase stops her.
“Casey! We have to save one for Dad!”
Casey and I lock eyes. I take a deep breath and put my arm around Chase.
“That’s okay Chase,” I say. “Dad wants you to eat as much as you can. He’s allergic to pizza.”
“Allergic?!” Chase makes a horrified face.
“Yes, but don’t worry, he’s trying to find a cure for it… and everyone else like him.”