The night passed quickly. While I was busy click-clacking away on the computer’s keyboard and detailing the events surrounding my introduction to Bull and the lifestyle I had come to embrace over the last year of my life, my wife and stepdaughter slept soundly. I could scarcely see the light changing on the new dawn’s horizon before I realized how much time had passed. I became queasy at the idea of my wife inquiring about my sleeplessness when she recovered from the bottle of wine she had consumed the evening before. The ill-feelings passed though, as I dropped several more shards of dope from the baggie Rhonda had given me on the computer desk in front of me, smashed them into powder with the broad side of my lighter, and snorted the powder with the tooter I had made earlier with the bendy straw.
As the buzz crept into my head, time pressed onward and words poured from my racing thoughts, through my fingers, and onto the obnoxious light of the computer monitor. Before I knew it night had become day and I became quietly aware of the sounds of the house behind me stirring. The first door that opened in the house was Lil’ Step’s. I quickly wiped the white, dusty residue from the spot where I had been crushing dope throughout the night and licked the remnants from my fingers before she appeared in the door behind me. I pushed the tooter and baggie hastily into my pocket and feigned a yawn as she walked into the room.
“Wow Steppy… you’re up early.” She stated while yawning herself, and walked up behind me and rested her chin on my shoulder. “Whatcha writing… a book?”
“I really don’t know yet darlin’. It’s actually just a couple of stories about what I was doing while I wasn’t living at home here with you and your mom.” I minimized the document, and turned the chair on its spindle to face her. “Do you want some breakfast or something?”
“Is mommy still asleep?” She looked back out of the room towards the bedroom door, behind which I imagined her mother was still sleeping soundly, still oblivious to the headache that would more than likely accompany the inevitable opening of her eyes.
“I imagine so… I could make you something to eat if you want.”
“Nah, that’s okay. I usually eat cereal on Saturdays. I think I’ll go jump on the bed and wake mommy up.” She turned towards the bedroom and began walking away from me.
“That’s probably not a wise idea Lil’ Step. Your mom probably has a headache.” I laughed quietly. “She drank some wine last night before bed.” I was actually hoping to avoid having her wake my wife up before I had the chance to try and crawl into bed with her, and hopefully alleviate the bucketful of questions she would have about my spontaneous insomnia after drinking nearly twelve beers. I realized the futility of this, as Lil’ Step would no doubt report that she had found me at the computer when she herself had woken up. “Why don’t you get some cereal and watch some TV while I see how she’s feeling?”
“Okay… if you say so.” We walked together to the kitchen where I passed her on the way to the bedroom door. She was rummaging through the pantry for her favorite box of cereal as I slowly eased the door open, revealing my wife’s sleeping body underneath tangled sheets. Her body was sprawled diagonally across the mattress and her head was underneath a pair of pillows leaving only room for her mouth and nose which were snoring softly. I stood over her sleeping body until Lil’ Step hollered from the kitchen.
“Mommy, wake UP! Its Saturday and I’m ready to be bored after breakfast!”
“Shhhhhhhh….” I hissed, but it was too late. My wife’s arms emerged from under the tangled covers and patted both sides of the bed. When she realized she had been sleeping alone both arms fell heavily to the bed with what appeared to me as frustration.
“Where’s your stepfather?” She followed her question with a moan of quiet agony.
“I’m right here, sweetie… everything’s good.” I spoke softly and promptly sat on the edge of the bed. “How’s your head this morning?” I was trying in vain to seem nonchalant, but the sweet softness I was attempting to attach to my voice sounded guilty even to me.
“Why didn’t you come to bed?” She hoisted her arms to the pillows covering either side of her face.
“I started writing something at the computer, and I checked on you a couple of times but you were sprawled out diagonally and I felt bad about moving you.” It was a hopeful lie and a stab in the dark at best.
“I would have moved…”
“That’s not the point, my love. My brain was occupied anyways… so I let you sleep how you were.” I touched her arm gently as I spoke, hoping to quell any further questions. She pulled one of the pillows away from her face and squinted through one eye in my direction.
“Did you sleep at all? It doesn’t look like you did…” She let the pillow fall back over her face. “I don’t think I want to know, but are you high?”
“No. No… I was just awake and writing at the computer. I think I fell asleep in the chair for awhile, but I was pretty buzzed up.” My words were racing from my mouth too quickly, but I couldn’t stop them. “I’m sorry I didn’t come to bed... I won’t let it happen again.”
“Give me a little while to wake up, okay?” She shoved her arms back under the covers and rolled away from me. “My fucking head is pounding. No more wine for me.”
“Can I get you something?” I asked as I stood up from the bed.
“No, just let me wake up…” She moaned. “I can’t believe you didn’t sleep.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll close the door.” I shut the door behind me and heard the sound of her hands pounding the mattress repeatedly as I crept through the kitchen and living room. Lil’ Step was eating cereal on the couch in front of the television and singing along with Spongebob about this being “The Best Day Ever” or something ridiculous.
“This is my favorite episode,” she said taking a break from singing, and talking to me with her mouth full of chewed-up chocolate cereal. “Wanna sit down and watch it with me?”
“I don’t think so kiddo. Spongebob isn’t exactly what I need right now.” I kept walking towards the computer as she resumed singing along with the TV.
I sat back down at the computer desk and maximized the document I had been writing. I was absently reading and scrolling through the text when I heard the bedroom door open at the back of the house. I could hear my wife open the refrigerator, followed by the cabinet. I assumed she was pouring a glass of tea.
“What the hell is this?” I heard her mutter.
“Morning Mommy!” Lil’ Step offered happily. “What the bleep is what?” Any time she felt the need to repeat a question that was asked with the aid of colorful adult words she slyly exchanged the curse word for ‘bleep’ or ‘bleeping’. It usually drew a smile from whoever made the decision to swear in front of her. This time her mom ignored the inquiry as I heard her marching through the house towards where I was seated. Before I could turn around to greet her approach and ask her myself, she dropped the pink, bendable joint of the straw I had hastily cut last night for my tooter onto the desk in front of me.
“I found this on the floor of the kitchen. Do you want to tell me why you’re cutting straws apart after I go to bed?” I could hear stifled fury in her voice. “Do I need to ask you again why you didn’t come to bed?” She turned about face and started to walk away from where I sat stunned, staring at the straw remnant I had so carelessly let fall to the floor the night before. “You know… just forget it. You’ll just lie to me and assume I don’t know what you look and act like when you’re high.”
“Baby, wait…” I started and was cut off.
“No, goddammit,” she turned back around and hissed at me through clenched teeth. “No, BABY… you wait. I’ve been sitting here alone and freaking out, waiting for you to get your shit together for months and come back to us. I came and got you from that fucking jail and vowed just to be thankful that you were finally home with us. I sat here for months and cried myself to sleep every night while you were out running around cooking dope and getting high with those assholes! I was actually relieved that you were finally back here with us, regardless of what brought you here!” She stomped her foot on the floor, and I watched tears well up in her eyes and cascade over her eyelashes and down her face, “and the very first opportunity that you have to spend a normal day with the two of us again…” she trailed off and looked over her shoulder where Lil’ Step had risen from the couch to investigate the surprising disturbance happening right in front of her. “It’s only been a few hours that we’ve all been in this house together again dammit… and you chose to get high and start this fucking roller coaster all over again. I can’t believe you would do that to me… that you would do that to her. God damn you!”
“Baby, please… I didn’t think it…”
“No, you didn’t think at all. You didn’t think about anything but what was important to YOU!” She walked out of the room and stopped in front of her daughter. “I’m sorry sweetie, but I have to take you back to your aunt’s house already. I want you to get dressed. I’ll bring your things by later, okay?”
“But mommy, I don’t want…”
“PLEASE DON’T ARGUE!” My wife instantly made a visible attempt to calm herself in front of her daughter, as Lil' Step's face appeared to be ready to manufacture her own tears any second. “Please honey, do as I ask. I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
Lil’ Step silently put the half-eaten bowl of cereal on the coffee table in front of the couch where she had been enjoying the musical escapades of Spongebob Squarepants only minutes before. She looked grievously in my direction and then turned towards her room to do as her mother had asked. I finally rose from my chair at the computer desk as my wife walked from the living room through the kitchen towards our bedroom. I followed her and stood in the door frame of our bedroom and silently watched her slip sweatpants on underneath the long nightshirt she had worn to bed. She was still struggling with the tears flowing from her eyes when she finally looked in my direction.
“Could you have possibly thought that I wouldn’t know?” She wiped her eyes with her forearm.
“Baby I’m sorry. What can I do to fix it?” I was pleading quietly.
“You’re already spun way the fuck out. I can see it. I can FEEL it!” She threw her hands above her head in exasperation. “Any resemblance that you had yesterday to the man that I married years ago jumped on the first bus out of town. I’m sorry mister, but I don’t think that you can fix it, and I don’t think that I have any business trying to help you fix it with my daughter close enough to see you like this. More importantly, I don’t think you have ANY IDEA how to fix what has happened to you!” She closed the distance between us, and whispered, “You are completely lost to me. Do you understand?”
“Please…” I felt my frustration building, but any emotional impact I was hoping to achieve with words at this point was being muted by the lingering effects of the last line of dope I had done.
“I am looking at a complete stranger right now.” She placed both of her hands on my shoulders and tilted her head one way and then the other in an exaggerated and melodramatic examination of my face and eyes. “This shell that you’ve inhabited belongs to my husband. I don’t know who you think you’re trying to kid because I can recognize my husband from a mile away… but whoever you are in there…” she raised her hands to my face and shook her head, “I wish you’d let him have his life back. But if he’s dead and gone…” one last tear fell onto her cheek. “If he’s dead and gone then I wish that whoever you are would just leave us alone.”
She grabbed her keys from the dresser and pushed quietly past me. She met Lil’ Step who was waiting in the living room. My wife took her daughter’s hand and walked through the rest of the house and out the front door. When I heard the door shut I walked to the front of the house and watched them walk together to the car. I watched as Lil’ Step climbed into the back seat and fastened her seatbelt. I watched as my wife started the car and pulled out onto the road in reverse. I watched them both leave me alone in the house without looking back to see if I was following them down the sidewalk to the driveway to make one last vacant protest to this tragic turn of events. I watched from the house as the car drove out of view.
If I had known that those last shameful, frustrating moments I had shared with my wife in our bedroom would be the last time I ever saw her alive I think I would have tried harder to keep her from leaving me. I think I would have begged her to stay.
But I didn’t know that then.
Instead, when the silhouette of her car disappeared from my view I went to kitchen and found a roll of aluminum foil in the pantry. I tore a piece of aluminum foil from the roll and folded it meticulously into a tiny trough and set it down on the kitchen table. I retrieved the bag of dope from my pocket that Rhonda had given me to celebrate my release from jail. I undid the twist-tie and dumped several large pieces of dope into the foil trough and sat down to get high.
This work is the intellectual property of Jerome J. Panozzo