Friday, August 8, 2014

Not Sad

The chirping ring broke through the haze of half-sleep. Faded denim light seeped around the curtains. Another chirp. Pushing myself out of the bed in a flash, I stumbled from the bedroom. My shoulder hit the doorframe with a staggering crunch. “Ouch! Dammit!” Feet not awake yet. Who the fuck would be calling so early? Mom? Better not be a wrong number. Down the hallway and into the dining room—don’t step on the exposed tackstrip. Christ, I have to finish that floor. My bleary eyes scanned the desk, glossing over the piles of books, stacks of papers. Did the kid leave the damned phone somewhere else again? One more chirp let me zero in. I snatched the phone from the crack in the couch.

“Ms. McDonald?”
“Yessss?” I said. Not Mom. Not a wrong number. Maybe a bill collector? No, too early. My heart skipped a beat. Something worse.
“Sorry to disturb you so early. I’m Officer Jackson with the Kansas Highway Patrol. I have some bad news.”
Kansas? I only knew one person in Kansas.
Brandon has died in an auto accident. His wife asked that I call you—I understand you have a son with him?”
I mumbled some kind of reply.
“My condolences to you and your son. He was on his way to work and collided with an 18-wheeler. The scene wasn’t discovered for several hours, the other driver was unconscious. Brandon was transported to the hospital with severe injuries, but he died a short time later.”
“I see.”
“I expect they’ll notify you of the funeral arrangements. If you need anything, please feel free to call me at 316-555-8691. Again, my condolences.”
“Thank you.”

I pushed the “off” button and set the phone on the desk. My heart thumped as if filled with molasses. I pulled the desk chair over and sank into it. Rapid, shallow breaths flowed from my lips, making them dry. I licked the parched skin and allowed the grin to stretch across my face.

Finally. I’d waited years for that call. The scenario changed each time I imagined it; a prison escapee had burst into his house and murdered him; a heart attack, or better yet, a long torturous cancer; a tornado flung him through the air and impaled him on a jagged spike of twisted metal. A million versions, all ending the same way.

I tried to feel bad, now that it had happened. I tried to conjure some sense of sadness or grief. It wouldn’t come. I only felt relief. Well, not only that. A rush of grim satisfaction pulsed through me at the thought that he suffered for a little while.
I knew it would be difficult for Connor, our son. He would grieve, and I would comfort him. I would hold him close and wipe away the tears. But I wouldn’t voice the brutal reality.

‘It’s better this way, honey. I know it hurts now, but this is only for a little while and the pain will fade. You’ll have the chance to live only with the memories you choose. If he’d lived, your pain would continue. He cared nothing for you. He never called, let alone bothered to come see you. He spent money on his own toys, but none for you. You cried so many times, wishing he would give you just a few moments of his time; just show he cared a little. Now you don’t have to question why he didn’t care. Those nagging doubts about yourself can die with him. It’s better this way, I promise.”

A strange emptiness settled in my chest. The anger and hatred I carried for so long left me. I would no longer have to lay in the dark, seething with fury after soothing Connor’s anguish and hearing him lament, “I wish I could see my dad.” I wouldn’t have to lie in response, “Honey, he’s just busy working; he works a lot. Soon, maybe.”

I sat by the desk as the sun’s rays topped the trees. I thought of the pointless, banal words I would give him instead. The birds awakened on their boughs, singing their cheer. I listened to their distant, muted calls and planned fun excursions to distract him: the zoo, camping, maybe the museum. I pulled in a deep breath, closed my eyes, and peace settled over me.

My eyes opened, a flash of confusion in the darkness. Not at the desk. In bed.

“Fuck.” A heavy sigh as I rolled over. Disappointed, again. “Soon, maybe.”


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