When Trisha leaves to go see her counselor he thinks he might just get in his truck and drive down to Biloxi where his friend Dave runs his own motorcycle shop. He’d have time to think at the beach listening to the waves crash on the shore and watch the sandpipers dodge the tides. Even the counselors and psychiatrists didn’t know what to do with her. Anytime he complains about her people look at him like he’s your typical misogynistic male and maybe he is, but what they don’t realize is that she has serious emotional problems. She is hard working and kind. She is beautiful. You have a daughter with her. How could someone who looks like that have any real problems they wonder?
She says her low self-esteem makes her believe she must work 50-60 hours a week managing the Matador Restaurant and Lounge or she feels she is somehow not a good person. No matter what he says she just looks at him with her dark brown eyes and tears well up, but he’s not fooled. He’s seen this before. There’s no breakthrough here. Her tears signify her frustration, that while she knows the truth she will be compelled to run off to work after the appointment to get the waitresses ready for the lunch crowd. She’ll be furiously doing paperwork, answering calls; telling Mike to change the tanks on the soda; prepare the wait staff for the Pachyderms; remind Anne the cook to inventory the freezer; make sure Beth is ready in the lounge for the afternoon business men, lonely hearts, alcoholics, ex-cons, and the rest that are simply too far gone to notice; until the lunch crowd descends on them—a lull in the afternoon before the diners hit and she loses herself in the business. The barely controlled chaos of work is like grace to her.
Don’t think about how hard it will be to setup a new checking account and transfer just enough money to survive on. You could take Audra out of Kindergarten and just head out, but Trisha will need her more than you do emotionally. Without someone to need her, a reason to keep going, she might totally collapse. The anger she’s suppressing will only fuel her for so long. Your parents left you with the neighbors when you were a boy and you said you would never run out on your own child if you ever had one and now you do and now you know the weight of the responsibility that somehow your parents felt and fled from. You have your own inner demons, but you’ve mashed them down there deep inside so that you can help Trisha fight hers. Her demons are fifty feet all. You’ve been trying to help her for years, but it’s gotten worse as the years have gone by. Neither of you is getting any younger. You’ve been laid off from the brick plant again. You might have to get a job bartending like you did the last time this happened. She is drinking two bottles of wine at night. Just cheap stuff. She gets friendly then. She wants to go to bed and things seem so good that any grudge or argument melts away. It almost seems like the old days when she would slide over next to you in the truck. The two of you used to go on dates to the city park and make-out because you didn’t have any money to do anything else.
When you are pissed you say things like: I told you the same thing as the shrink—that’ll be two hundred dollars! But nothing you can actually say seems to make any difference. You sound crazy even to yourself—especially to yourself. The school nurse called to say Audra’s having an allergic reaction to some cookies they gave her. They gave her Benadryl but she is clawing at her throat and they tried to call Trisha first but nobody could track her down at work. You’ve got to go pick her up and she’ll probably be fine by then anyway. It makes you wonder if she is having an affair with another man. Maybe that’s where she is now. Maybe she’s not ever really working late, but with him in one of those crappy motels out on the business loop the Indian family runs. She’s paying the bills while you are unemployed. You should not feel so resentful but you do. When you argue neither of you plays fair. She ends up saying you can have her job and she’ll stay home, but it’s her way of saying she makes the real money. She says if you don’t find a job soon you might want to consider moving out until you do even though you have been with her since she was in high school.
Now you understand why spouses kill each other in all those 48 Hours stories instead of just getting a divorce. You think about choking her to death, bashing her head in with a bat, using the deer rifle on her, and it’s hard to say what she’s considered. You talk to yourself. This is it! you say. I’m not putting up with it anymore! If she doesn’t want or need me, then the hell with her! Then you remember taking her to prom and her tan skin looked so good against her sparkling gold dress—the dress you picked out for her. You remember the day Audra was born after two days of labor you said, I am in love.
A few years ago you thought she was going to die from breast cancer and they did the double masectomy. She was bandaged with tubes protuding from under her arms where her breasts had been and the blood pooled in what looked like transparent alien eggs. She did not want you to help her empty the draining blood down the sink because she was afraid you would never want to touch her again. You had to keep her pills straight for her. She had pills for pain, pills for sleeping, and pills to keep from getting an infection. A woman who sent her little boy to Audra’s daycare died from an infection after a minor surgery earlier in the year. You’re not the praying kind, but you prayed on your knees next to where she lay on the couch for the better part of three days.
The three of you made it through all that somehow as a family, but it felt temporary. A dapper old plastic surgeon did the reconstruction, but it’s hard to explain to people that it’s not the same as a boob job. Great! They think. Now you’ve got big boobs! She feels better about herself now, but things are still not perfect. You keep trying. Even though you grew up leaving places and people, you do not want to leave your wife and daughter ever. Your own family did not care about sticking around and maybe that’s why you feel the way you do about Trisha and Audra. Trisha thinks she has low self-esteem, but you think it is probably suppressed rage leftover from her own shitty childhood. Something men know about and drink to keep the animal low down. You don’t want to sound like a baby, but it wouldn’t do to tell her that you are not as strong as she is. You will only leave if she makes you.