Category: Dark Shyte

Moving And What We Leave Behind

Alive

Alive.

This old house is so… alive.

It wasn’t always.

The house was 20 years old when the ex and I had first stood hand-in-hand as a couple and promised aloud to do all the things that would turn this humble house into a veritable mansion, worthy of Uptown People of Wealth.  I had grown up in this neighborhood. On this block. She had grown up only a block or two over. We wanted all the children we had planned to grow up here, where we had grown.

The many children we planned had turned out to be only Mouse by the time the divorce detonated.

In a bizarre miracle of fate, I found that I had ended up with this house when the mushroom cloud began to dissipate.

There was that terrible moment when I came to the stark realization that, although I had married my high school sweetheart for love, and companionship and all the “right reasons”,  I had, in fact, allowed my soul to be knitted to one who was… soulless.

There was also that terrible moment when I realized that the years and the plans and the promises and the memories were to about to coined into cold, hard, cash.  The marriage was not now, nor ever was going to be remembered for the things we’d felt, or the memories we’d made, but for what it had ended up being worth on Missouri’s Form 14.

In the end, this old house had netted out to a negative on the balance sheet. At the moment of the divorce it represented more debt than profit. With no apparent value, it was cast aside, like those worn and stained old mattresses you see lying on the side of lonesome back roads. Furtively pushed off the back of a moving truck in the middle of the night, valueless and unwanted.

This house became the place where Mouse “grew up”. She spent the vast majority of time with me, and in this old house. She “latch keyed” there every day as this old house was only two blocks from her grade school, and only a couple more blocks from her eventual middle and high school. This put her in my care and in this house every school day of her life over the next 10 years.

As the years rolled by my status as a completely broke divorced Dad kept me from investing in the house as diligently as good home owners usually do. The money simply wasn’t there for extensive professional repairs or even basic remodeling from time to time as most responsible home owners do.

Repairs tended to be “homegrown” and basic, and upgrades… well… upgrades were non-existent.

The years before the divorce didn’t bring the promised attention. The years afterward were necessarily more Spartan still.

In the decade that followed the divorce it fell into disrepair. I was doing well to keep the basics together. The plumbing. The foundation. Basic structural integrity. There was no money for anything more.

As I struggled and scraped to keep my head above water with the millstone of confiscatory child support payments threatening weekly to drag me to a watery grave, I found myself still paying for Mouse’s every day needs. I never understood how I could pay 4 figure child support, and still be required to pay for every doctor visit. Every school book, activity pass, or fee. All of her clothes. Most of her meals. Virtually every aspect of her care, I paid for outright. Then paid again every month in “child support”.

Outrage aside, this necessarily meant that there was no money left over for anything but the basics.

This old house stopped living and breathing sometime during the years that followed.

Although I did my best to keep it a home for Mouse, it became a crusty bachelor’s pad.

Who needed a working stove? I had a microwave. Good enough for Mouse and me.  The stovetop worked.  Most of the time.

The multi-colored kitchen linoleum was 35 years old, and looked like Walt Disney himself had upchucked on it.  The matted 70’s style fun-fur shag carpet in the living room was, I kid you not, Pepto Bismol Pink. While most of the neighbors had years ago transitioned to modern aluminum or vinyl siding, this old house wore her ancient asbestos shingles like a shabby housewife wore an old, loud, floral moo-moo. Where the rest of the neighbors had long ago installed the more efficient and attractive replacement windows, this old house wore her tinny old single pane abominations like the aforementioned housewife would wear her gigantic, 50’s style sequined cats-eye glasses.  The basement went unfinished, of course. The garage as well. The oversized yard, once the envy of the entire neighborhood, went undercared for and began to sport weeds, and crabgrass, and was lucky to even be mowed from week to week.

Slowly… this old house… expired.

Along with all the hopes and dreams that had seemed so apparent the day we’d stood hand-in-hand and taken possession of it.

Once a man has experienced watching while his feelings and beliefs are callously sold into servitude to someone else’s greed, it’s not surprising that he’s not in a hurry to put his heart or his dreams in Harm’s Way again anytime soon.

For the longest time, I had kept the entrance to my old heart boarded up. Graffiti covered boards fastened to a rotting frame with rusty nails.  It was as old, and dusty, and uncared for as this house had become.

And then…

Something happened.

Well… more precisely…

“Jamie” happened.

A “fix up” date, engineered by well-meaning friends would bring Jamie into my life. And Mouse’s.

Jamie took a look and decided to take the time to tentatively pry off those splintery old boards, and let the light shine into this old heart, and, by extension, this old house.

During the “girlfriend” years she would fuss, and decorate, and insist on small upgrades that made this old house less like some horny old guy’s “Love Shack” and more and more like a home.  A carefully selected lamp here. A nice little curtain there. A dab a paint over here. A dash of cloth over there.

A plant here. A plant there. Before I knew it there were plants everywhere.

Growing. Thriving. Prospering.

Like everything Jamie comes in contact with seems to do.

Plants. People. It didn’t seem to matter.  Everything she touched was better for her having touched it.

And I was no exception. Nor was Mouse. Jamie’s pure faith, love and feminine energy was the warm sunshine in all of our lives that our souls had been withering without for years, and that we had never really known. In that warmth and sunshine we began to grow.

And when the day came that I could no longer deny I didn’t like thinking about what my life would be like if it was deprived of that warmth and light, she answered my quietly whispered prayer for a more important place in her life with an even more quietly whispered “Yes”.

The day she moved into this old house with me, she sat my crusty, old, previously bachelor’s ass down, and gave it to me straight between my eyes.

If she were to be my wife, she needed to make this old house HER home as well.

This would mean…. “change” for me.

Those who know me, know my life’s motto all too well : “Change… is BAD.”

A crusty creature of habit known for being cantankerous and disliking change immensely, she made it clear she didn’t want to live in a crusty, decrepit, boarded up old bachelor’s pad.

Her heart needed a Home.

A real, living, breathing, Home.

“Good luck with that.” I remember thinking quietly to myself. This old house assumed room temperature loooong ago.

Then, I made the smartest decision I’ve ever made in my life.  I decided to get out of her way, and allow “change” to enter my life.

And… as if through some miracle… she slowly began go breath life back into this place.

In an amazingly short period of time, and for an amazingly small amount of carefully scrimped and saved for money, things in this old house began to change.

That old gaudy multicolored linoleum disappeared, and was replaced with a modern, attractive ceramic tile, complete with carefully selected matching grout. The ancient asbestos siding morphed into contemporary vinyl siding. The outrageously colorful (and outrageously filthy) Pepto-Carpet morphed into contemporary Berber carpet that just happened to be a color that actually was found in nature.  The prehistoric old Roper stove disappeared and was replaced by a modern GE Silver Line appliance that was smarter than most high school graduates.  It could turn itself on, bake a pie, then cool itself down and turn itself off apparently without human intervention.  In place of the 50’s style crappy metal windows new, energy efficient “double hungs” appeared. The savings each month on our energy bill more than paid back the cost of those windows in less than a year. With the tax breaks from the upgrade –  we actually came out ahead. I kid you not.

Strange, cloth-like things began to appear over the windows. These new-fangled apparitions were apparently known to others as “curtains”.  Why someone would bother with such frivolous things was beyond me until I discovered that those long, thin metal strips across the windows actually weren’t dusty grey, they had… apparently… been WHITE all this time, and when you twirled the little stick thingy next to them… as if by some evil magic… they OPENED and allowed sunlight into your house. Plants apparently needed this to happen in order to survive.

There was also a suggestion that those big, dirt filled things in the back yard were actually oddly named “flower boxes” and were – much to my surprise – NOT a repository for cigarette ashes and sticks from the yard. One day I came outside to find… flowers… in the flower boxes. Like… real… living… flowers.  Not the plastic kind mind you – but – REAL flowers. In my her our yard!

Suddenly, and without warning, this old house began to BREATH again.

Where once I couldn’t see anything but decay, and decomposing dreams, Jamie brought color, and light, and warmth, and life to this old house.

Just as she had done to this old heart.

Like a determined doctor that refuses to give up resuscitating a long dead patient, she kept pounding on this old houses ribcage and puffing into its mouth until… like a miracle… it choked, and  gasped,  and sat bolt upright, chest heaving and coughing as it tried to expel a decade of decay and cobwebs from its dusty lungs.

“Alive.”

This old house is so… “Alive”.

This old heart is so… “Alive”.

Because of Jamie.

So…

Today… our lives are taking us in a new direction. A new home, in a new neighborhood awaits us.

And as I stand looking around at this warm, living, breathing space I have this huge lump in my throat, and my emotions are threatening to overwhelm me.

Jamie swept into this house and poured herself into it, and into me, and brought both of those crusty old things back to life.

I look around and see her hard work and faith in us everywhere, and I see the color and light and happiness she put back into all of us, and it’s hard to let it go.

In a day or two, I’ll have to hand the keys to this old house to a new owner and I wonder if they will ever know this place as we have. So much living was done here. So many memories. So many summer days. So many Christmas mornings.  So many storms weathered.

So much…. Life… lived here.

I fight the tears and I know, I know a new, bigger, fancier house awaits.

I know in my heart of hearts that Jamie will do for the new house what she did for this one.

And what she did for me.

And what she did for Mouse.

She will continue to breath life into it, and into us, and make us what we were always meant to be.

Alive.

Good-Bye, Old Girl

ripley1

February, 2006

My Old Guardian passed away this morning.

Ripley was a Good Girl – and I owe her a debt I cannot ever repay.

In the months after my divorce she chased so many ghosts out of this big empty house. In the evenings when I would come home from work, it was so comforting to be greeted at the door by someone who was so glad to see to me.

In the turmoil of the months that followed, my daughter Mouse often had trouble sleeping and became very, very afraid of the dark.

Nobel Ripley was drafted for service in the Little Girl Guardian Corps, and was posted at the foot of little Mouse’s bed. She performed her duty bravely – and chased the darkness from the room and the shadows from Mouse’s small and troubled face as she slept. Mouse slept soundly knowing that her big brave girl was watching over her from her post at the foot of the bed. I slept better knowing her sleep was less troubled.

When Mouse would go back to her mothers after our time together – Ripley would often mourn her, and pace endlessly in front of her empty room. If I’d close the door – she’d stubbornly sleep on the hard floor in front of Mouse’s door, as if to say “If you won’t let me in, then I’ll guard the door so nobody else can get in either.”

When my daughter would return from her mothers for our time together – stalwart Ripley would assume her place at Mouse’s side, and never wander far from it the entire time she was here. She took her service in the LGGC very seriously.

If I’d lose my temper with my daughter – and begin scolding her too seriously – Guardian Ripley would jump into service and interpose herself between me and Mouse as if to say “Chill Out Dad, anybody could have put Skittles candy in the VCR – it’s not that big of a deal.” It was hard to stay angry at my two favorite girls, especially when they ganged up on me.

As the years rolled on and my daughter began to grow – the two remained a unit, and when it became necessary for Mouse to start “latch-keying” at my house, it was a deep and abiding comfort to know that that absolutely gigantic tongue and happy snarffling would be there to greet her every day after school, and to keep her safe then too.

A couple of years ago Ripley got very sick. Cancer the vet said. A tumor on her insides. The operation would be expensive – and even if the doctor got all of it – it would be hard on her – and probably only a “temporary” fix. Once a Boxer starts with the cancerous growths – well – the prognosis isn’t good.

For a moment I worried because… money comes hard for a divorced dad, but as I watched my Good Old Girl sleeping peacefully beside my Little Mouse – it was only for a moment. I knew what I had to do.

She was okay for a little while. We had a couple of good summers after that – although she never fully recovered. Our long walks in the evenings and our endless play sessions with that damned old squeaky porcupine were over. Where once she’d prance the entire neighborhood with her head held up like she was somebody – now she confined herself to her overstuffed bed near the couch. Where once I had to be careful or I’d get a well-slobbered squeaky porcupine stuffed in my lap and then a head-cocked look as if to say “Yo! Food-guy! Time to play.” – now she contented herself just sort of mothering that matted old toy as if it was the puppy she never had.

She was a recalcitrant counter surfer, and an unapologetic toilet water connoisseur, and one of her favorite shenanigans was to wait until the evening for me to be in my study writing, then she’d softly get up from her bed in the other room and pad into my study nonchalantly and come over and stand next to me as I wrote – and then – like some old man in a locker room – she’d lift her hind leg and let loose a fart that can only be described as one her famous “face-melters”.

Then she’d quietly pad back to her bed in the other room where the air was fresh – and leave me choking in the great green fog.

I swear to G-d that dog snickered at me every time she did it. If I’d yell or make a fuss – Mouse would try to stifle her amusement and scold me for not appreciating the fact that Ripley just wanted to share with me. Then she’d giggle herself silly and give the wise-ass a jerky-treat.

A few weeks ago her back legs began to get shaky, and I told myself that she might just be sick. My nosey neighbor fancies herself a “dog-lover” and although I’ve exchanged angry words with her about it – she’d still often sneak Ripley table-food treats, something you just can’t do with a Boxer. She’d get horrible diarrhea and her back legs would wobble a bit until she felt better.

But… that turned out to be wishful thinking.

A trip to the vet confirmed that her cancer had returned, this time in her kidneys and liver, and her lower spine. I asked about an operation. The vet explained that my Good Old Girl was, in practicality, over 100 years old, and even if the doctor could get all the cancer (and she couldn’t) Ripley was much too old to survive the operation.

I spent the next few weeks giving her antibiotics, anti-inflammatory pills and steroids, and cortisone injections and a metric ton of pills trying to save her – even though the vet was very clear that there was very little chance that any of it would do any good at all.

Friday evening she didn’t sleep at all, and whined most of the night. Even though I put extra blankets out for her, she whimpered and shook most of the evening. Saturday morning when I woke to let her out, I knew it was time. She couldn’t move anymore at all. Her back legs were useless, and her breathing was ragged and labored. I carried her out to the yard to pee, and as I set her down, she gave me a long and serious look that told me that it was time. She asked me not to hold on to her any more.

I fought back the tears, and made the hard phone call, and arranged to meet the vet Sunday morning.

When the time came, I sat beside her and gave her favorite ear-rubbing, the kind that always made the magic legs beat on the floor, and I patted her face gently as she turned and gave me a look, the look said “Tell Mouse that I’ll be waiting for her when she gets to heaven, and that she can count on me to keep all the rabbits out of her yard until she gets there.” And then she went to sleep for the last time.

She chased so much darkness from of our lives, and I grieved because I couldn’t chase this darkness from hers.

I’ll be waiting for Mouse tomorrow afternoon when she opens that front door, and that gigantic tongue and happy snarffling isn’t there to greet her for the first time ever, and I’ll hold her and assure her that she didn’t go in pain, and that she didn’t go alone, and to help her remember the Gentle Soldier that stood guard over both of us for so many years.

Good-Bye, Old Girl.

 

A Darker Kind of Dad…

darkerdad

Circa Summer, 1989

Her name was Sarah.

She was 11… perhaps 12.

She was bright, and intelligent, and had a smile that could make a halogen bulb hide itself in shame.

Her parents were good people. They had married very young, and had Sarah right off.

And while they were good to Sarah, and were in all ways good parents, they had never really put their partying days behind them.

As my wife at the time and I struggled to have children and become parents, we would often “kidnap” her for a Saturday afternoon. This afforded her parents the time to get their party on, and hang with their single friends who still liked to cut loose. It afforded us the opportunity to play at being parents while we waited for the magic to happen to us.

On this summer day we were bound for the big amusement park.

Sarah had an adventurer’s heart, and bore the lines and the heat with her usual bright smile. At one point she hauled me over to the bumper cars. The line was unusually long. As we waded through the twisting maze of velvet ropes, we questioned Sarah relentlessly about her school, and her teachers, and her friends, and her life. We were parenting vicariously through her. At one point a shadow crossed her usually happy face, and she confided in us that her dad had been drinking more than usual lately. We knew that her father probably had a problem with alcohol, but, we would never presume on the relationship to the point of actually saying something. We never wanted to do anything that would cause a riff that might mean we couldn’t steal Sarah from time to time. I remember quickly changing the subject, and steering the conversation toward happier themes.

Finally, our time came at the bumper cars, and Sarah and I climbed in. We spent the rest of the afternoon slamming around that amusement park. No ride was too scary. No coaster too high. When the temperature got crazy-hot we headed over to the water world side of the park, and hit the wave pool and the water slides.

In between we stuffed our face with hot dogs and French fries, and a crappy ice cream called “Dippin’ Dots” that looked a lot cooler than it tasted.

We stayed until they were closing the park. Sarah was in no hurry to get home, and we where in no hurry to return to our childless life.

Eventually our tanks were empty, and we headed home, exhausted from the heat and the fun.

As we turned down Sarah’s street… we were a little alarmed. There were police cars and EMS vehicles everywhere.

At first… we thought there had been an automobile accident of some sort, but as we drew nearer to Sarah’s house, our hearts began to pound when we realized that all the emergency vehicles were at Sarah’s address.

Before we had a chance to fully comprehend what was going on, a St. Ann police officer tapped on our window, and asked for our names. When we supplied them the officer’s eyes narrowed and he turned and spoke into the microphone attached to his collar. Within a few seconds another officer appeared, and ushered Sarah out of the car, and took her somewhere out of our line of sight.

At first, we had a hard time getting any answers. We couldn’t see Sarah, or her parents, and we were very concerned.

Eventually, a Sergeant wandered over, and told us what had happened.

In a sad voice he informed us that Sarah’s father had passed away while we were at the amusement park. Shocked, we pressed for more information. Her father was barely 30 years old and was in perfect health when we left that morning. Reluctantly, he gave us the details:

He’d been drinking. A lot. He’d drank an enormous amount of vodka, and then made the fatal decision to mow the yard in the mid afternoon heat. Sarah’s mom had found him lying behind the lawnmower, dead from an alcohol induced heat stroke.

We had a million more questions. Was Sarah’s mother okay? What would become of Sarah? Did the family need any help? But… because we weren’t family… the police didn’t want to say too much more. We were ushered on our way, shocked, and very, very sad.

Some months later, we’d get a chance to see Sarah again.

But… the light in her eyes had gone out. Where once she’d chatted endlessly about her favorite school subject, or the boys in her class, or the MTV videos she loved, now she talked only about her dad. And his funeral. And where he was buried. And how many times she’d been to see him. And talk to him. We told ourselves that it would take some time for her to overcome the emotions she was feeling, but it hurt us a great deal to see such a little girl carrying such a huge burden.

Years later, I would finally be a father, and looking back I still can’t get my head around what would make a man who was as lucky as Sarah’s father was prefer the inside of a bottle to the gift that he had held in his hand.

Never having battled with addiction I suppose it’s easy for me to be glib, and say that he should have been able to look at the wonderful life and family  he had, and that it should have been easier for him to turn away from the addiction and turn toward those that love him, but… I also know addiction to be a powerful thing.

I look at my own father, and remember in wonder that I until I was 23, I never saw him drink so much as a beer. He wasn’t a tee-totaller. Or a bible-thumper. And I’m quite sure he enjoyed a beer from time to time. He just didn’t do it in front of his kids.

One part of me is very sad, that this small life was impacted so deeply by this tragedy.

But one part of me is very angry too.

Too often today fathers are portrait as either drunks, or abusers, or both.

Divorced Dad’s too often fight these stereotypes. I get angry when I see men reinforcing these stereotypes.

Sarah would be… dear G-d, 35 this year.

I’m left to wonder what lessons her father’s death has taught her, and how it may have impacted the way she’s raised the children of her own she surely has by now.

And I wonder… if she remembers me.

 

Little Mouse Phones It In

bigbus2

Circa Fall, 2004

From “The Urban Dictionary”.

The Definition of  “Phoning it in” :

To put in a half assed effort at something, but complete it. Often pertaining to work which is complete and pretending to have worked a long time on, when in fact little to no effort was put into it. Derived from deciding to not physically attend a meeting in person, but rather to be present by phone only. Example :

“Even though he had a huge project due Friday, he went to a party and got hammered Thursday night. He totally phoned it in.”

___________________________

In My Dream, it is always the same, and tonight – The Dream is no different.

I’m standing at The Bus Stop. The Bus is there. The Bus is big, and white, a white so stark it’s almost hard to look at and it gleams in the bright afternoon sun. Its big engine is idling and it sounds like a gigantic cat purring so deeply you can feel the vibration in your soul. On the front of the bus, over the driver, there is a digital sign displaying a moving message made of amber pixels. The message tells when The Bus picks up, and where it’s going. The message races by every few seconds.

It says : “12:00 to The Future”.

I look at my watch. It’s 11:59.

The Bus is packed. All of Mouse’s friends and peers are on it. Everyone she knows. There is one seat left on The Bus. It’s been held aside for Mouse. I’ve made sure of that. For years I’ve fought, and sacrificed, and saved, and waged a thousand bloody battles at enormous cost of life and dignity to be sure that seat was there for her when the time came for her to get on The Bus.

But…

Mouse is not here.

It’s almost 12:00 and Mouse is not here.

I look around.

Every few feet there are pods of people huddled together. Each pod is a family that came to see their loved one off. Parents, Grandparents, Brothers, Sisters, Family, Friends, all waving to bright faces beaming back from the spotlessly clean windows on The Bus. The faces are bright and a little scared. Not scared in a crippling, terrified way, but scared in an excited way. Scared in the way that people are when they board a carnival thrill ride. Frightened and a little uncertain, but smiling and eager to see what the future holds.

I stand alone, apparently the only person in Mouse’s life that actually expected her to show up. The rest of the people in her life worked hard to make sure her seat on The Bus went empty. They are all at home, secure in the knowledge that all of their hard work has paid off, and smirking a little to their self at the idea of her foolish Father waiting at an empty stop. All of the bloody battles and hard work were for nothing as I stare at the empty seat in the back of The Bus.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

I hear a tapping sound. I look up. It’s The Driver. The Driver looks exactly like Steven Wright. His uniform is as crisp and white as The Bus itself. Even his hat is white. With deft movements he pulls a lever and the door folds open. He looks at me. He looks at his watch.

It’s 12:00 exactly.

In Steven Wright’s voice he deadpans “Gotta go. Can’t hold everyone else up.”

I know he’s right.

Everyone else on The Bus deserves to get to their Destinations on time. It’s not fair to hold them up. The rules governing when The Bus leaves are Immutable Laws. They cannot be changed. For anyone. Ever. The Bus leaves on The Appointed Day at The Appointed Time in every person’s life. You are either there on time, or you aren’t.

Mouse isn’t.

I lower my head.

The Driver that looks exactly like Steven Wright crisply shuts the folding door, and I hear a great blast as the giant air brakes on The Bus exhale mightily and the engine roars to life, pulling away from The Stop.

And just like that… The Bus is gone.

The crowd of people cheer and wave until their arms are exhausted and their voices are hoarse as they watch The Bus begin its All Important Journey.

With each passing yard The Bus travels into the distance, their hopes for their family on board gets higher, and their hearts get lighter and more excited and they cry great tears of joy because they know that their loved one is on their way to Great Things.

With each passing yard The Bus travels into the distance my heart sinks deeper into the Sink of Despair, until, eventually, it shatters to pieces on the bottom. I too have tears on my face, but they are not tears of joy.

Overwhelmed with sadness and grief, I leave the waving crowd and head back to my car.

On the long drive home I am haunted by so many ghosts.

A long time later my cell phone rings. It’s Mouse. Her voice is upbeat, as if nothing in the world could possibly be wrong.

“Dad… sorry I got busy, I’ll be there in a little bit.”

“Be where?” I ask, incredulous.

“At The Bus Stop.” She says, her voice the picture of earnest. “You told it to wait for me, didn’t you?”

At once I’m both amazingly surprised, and amazingly angry. Angry at myself I suppose, for actually being surprised.

I had lectured her relentlessly about this. She understood all too well that The Bus shows up once, and only once in every person’s life. She understood all too well that it leaves precisely at noon on The Appointed Day. She understood all too well that it waits for no one. Ever. She understood all too well the consequences of missing The Bus.

This was so… Mouse.

She had missed the All Important Time on the All Important Day and somehow, it would be Someone Else’s Fault because they hadn’t changed the Immutable Laws of the Universe for her sole benefit.

I choke on the angry, hurtful words that threaten to spill out of my mouth. All I can manage is a sad little laugh before I let the dial tone that used to be my end of the conversation speak for my feelings.

Little Mouse had “Phoned It In”.

Absolutely perfect.

She had learned at the feet of The Master, I have to say.

Her mom had been “phoning in” motherhood for Mouse’s entire life. Her mother had loved the idea of having a child, but loathed the idea of actually doing the work that being a real parent required. She went AWOL shortly after Mouse was born and within a few months had learned that converting one’s marriage into cash was a fairly easy thing to do when children are involved, all the while keeping the title of “mother” while never actually having to do anything to earn it.

I’ve often heard it said that writing a child support check doesn’t make you a father.

Let me assure you, cashing a child support check doesn’t make you a mother.

For the whole of Mouse’s life, I’ve been the ‘parent’ while her mother has been the ‘buddy’. As the ‘parent’, I was left to deal with the doctors and the discipline and the schools and the grades and the real every day work that is being a parent. Her mother… just… didn’t. She never came to a parent teacher’s conference. She rarely took her to the doctor when she was sick – her favorite trick was to simply let Mouse be sick until it was my time to have her – then I could deal with her (and the co-pay). To this day Mouse and her mother have never been on a trip alone together. Ever. Anywhere. But you can be certain that she’s quick to claim the title of “mother”. Just not so quick to actually do anything to actually earn that title.

Slowly, inexorably, Mouse had been programmed to fail.

Misery needs company.

I have tried valiantly to overcome this programming.

But… I was left to be the parent that rode her about her homework, and her responsibilities, and her choices of friends.

While her mother told her not to worry about her homework, and encouraged her to hang with the detrimental friends to curry favor, and told her that ‘some people’ worry just too much about being responsible.

After a point, Mouse came to the stark realization that face time with me meant face time with her responsibilities as a student, and a person, and a daughter.

So… it is easier not to face me.

It is easier not to face her self.

I’ve become a mirror.

And lately, she doesn’t like what she sees.

So she stopped looking after a bit.

After all the years of never letting her down, or selling her out.

She just stopped looking.

She doesn’t need to. Her mother has provided her with a haven where there are no mirrors. Anywhere. Her mother’s Apartment of No Responsibilities is preferable to her Father’s house.

There are mirrors everywhere here, and I keep them very clean.

And today, at precisely 12:00 noon, on her Appointed Day…

The Bus left without her.

Little Mouse had totally Phoned It In.

I awake from this dream with a start. I look around for what has shattered the silence in my home, and brought me out of The Dream. It’s the phone. It’s ringing.

At first… I’m glad to have been awakened.

I hate The Dream.

I hate it more than you can imagine.

Relieved to be awake, and relieved by the idea that it’s not yet “too late” for Little Mouse, I stumble to the phone.

It’s one of Mouse’s teachers.

It’s Monday and she hasn’t handed in the work that was assigned on Friday. She has also totally tanked the quiz that was worth a third of her final grade because she apparently didn’t study over the weekend. She went to a weekend party with her mother instead. Her grades are in trouble. Big trouble. Again.

My heart sinks.

Maybe being asleep was better.

ATHAIR’S NOTE:

This journal entry dates from a time when Mouse was in her early teens. She’s in her early twenties now, graduated from high school on time and on plan, and attending college. She works full time to pay her way, and has, by all accounts righted her ship in big and important ways.

I couldn’t be more proud of her.

I told her early on, that it was all going to be here.

Hey, it can’t all be about the joys of going barefoot, someone has to warn you about the dog shit, and the broken glass.

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