He was on the edge of his bed. The egg carton foam compressed down into the mattress and almost into the box spring. He leaned over and begun to tie his boot. Steel toe. Not actually steal toe. Plastic Toe. The steel made his feet cold in the winter. The lace broke off in his hand. Not today, please god not today. A drop of sweat fell onto the tongue the boot. He pulled out the lace, decided to skip a hole, twiddled the strand between his finger and thumb, and forced it through the eyelet. Christ, now it’s uneven. Another bead starts to fall. He sits up, the sweat rolls down the center of his nose, and then down onto the cleft of his lip. He looks up at the ceiling fan. Rotating. He replaced it last year. The sweat falls into his mouth. He exhales a deep cleansing, therapeutic breath and feels more sweat fall down his back like Plinko chips, this raises his skin and he gets a chill. He shakes it off, leans back over, commences the evening out of his laces. Unthreading the work he had just done. He now feels the coolness of the air moving on his back and the back of his neck. The anxiety is causing the sweat, which is causing more tension, and it is all causing him to question everything he has been planning for today. The right boot is now cinched. He sits up, takes another breath, this time wiping his brow with his right forearm. It shouldn’t be this laborious for him. It’s been a while since he’s put these damn things on. He leans over again to tie the left one. This one goes as it should. Laced up past the ankle. Tight. Secure. Cinched.
He stands up, the bed breaths relief back into itself. His undone belt buckle clangs across the metal button of his jeans. The jeans are half unbuttoned and resting on his hips. He stands shoulder width apart. Fan blades rotating above his head. Looking up at him it looks like the blades of a helicopter were attached to his head. His chest is average. There’s nothing special about it anymore. On its left side, a tribal tattoo from another mistake he’d made a long time ago. He reaches onto the bed for the Under Armor shirt he bought just for today. He slides it on and over his head. His shirt now damp. The shirt makes him feel secure despite its dampness. It pulls him together. He feels bigger. Firm. Steady. He tucks it in. Both arms reaching down and across his body as he manipulates the button fly, the black shirt gleaning from the motion. Shadows from the fan stretch across the ceiling and down onto the walls. The shades are drawn closed. The white solid wood door to his room is shut and locked.
He’s still standing at the end of the bed. Feet planted, he leans for the vest and with his left arm grabs it, it falls open and he punches his right arm through the hole, leans back and inserts his left arm in and with a roll of the shoulders positions it onto his body. He pauses a second to feel the weight of the vest. It’s heavier today than he remembers it being. The sweat won’t stop. He looks to his left, the dresser has a half can of Red Bull on it, sweating as well. He should open the door to let some air in here. The can has formed a ring on the top of the dresser. He shakes his head. In the instant he thinks he’s gonna hear about leaving a mark on the dresser, he says to himself, “that’s what you are worried about?” Shaking his head he looks down, finds the zipper, inserts the other half of it and zips.
Over top of the vest goes his white button up. He hasn’t ironed it which is fine, he’s not wearing a tie today. He’s noticed that when he does, he gets noticed, and today he doesn’t need to be noticed. He turns around from the end of the bed and faces the mirror attached to his bureau. There’s so much crap atop this thing, he can’t believe he’s worried about being chewed out for the Red Bull which he steps over to and gulps some more. He walks back to the dresser, squares up to it, checks himself out in the mirror briefly, quickly he closes his eyes, exhales and let’s his head fall down fast, towards his chest. He opens his eyes and focuses on the flat black metal 45 where it lies centered to his body. There it is. A weapon. He can’t believe he owns this. He possesses this object. He actively purchased it with the specific intent of using it. Today. And, a second ago he honestly was worried about leaving a water mark on a piece of wood? His hands are pressed against the top of the dresser now. Gripping it. The Gun is still centered to him. He’s above it, staring at it. Acknowledging it. The totality of this piece of metal is hitting him. It’s impact will be real. This decision didn’t arrive at him on a whim. It’s built up to this and this piece of machined metal was built for this. As he looks to the mirror he can see the end of the barrel. There it is, just resting on its side, solid, solid black, the trigger and the handle. He can see the thumb safety is on. He smirks and thinks, “Safety…on a gun.”
Flashes of the Navy come back to him and he sees himself standing topside at 19 years old. The only thing preventing a terrorist storming the boat was him. A 19 year old kid barely out of high school, pissed at the world for the hand dealt to him, standing topside in 28 degrees, 4:30 in the morning, with a 45 caliber pistol adorned to his hip ala John Wayne.
He closes his eye and smirks again at the thought of his 19 year old self looking into the future, and seeing him now slouched over his dresser, adorned in this pathetic bullet proof vest, jeans and combat boots. Could he even picture the sweating, the pitiful excuse he has become of a man, and a father?
His daughter is sick and in pain again. Because of him she is sick and in pain. Again. She’s sick again. He holds back the tears. He’s cried enough over this nonsense and today isn’t the god damned day he’s going to cry again, over something he has created, is responsible for solely now and can’t undo. He’s so powerless. He has no recourse. No other plan. He has nothing else left to consider. No other option. He’s put his trust in so many other people and they continue to fail him. They continue to lie through their ever loving teeth to him. Every. Time. They. Meet. LIES!!!
He’s thought this through. He’s been running the steps over and over and over and over in his mind to the point he is starting to forget the details. He thinks back to the Navy. He remembers the standard operating procedures, the book resting on a stainless steel shelf. Every god damn time we had to anything on that boat they would whip out a book of procedures. While out to sea a Chief would stand up from his seat, lean towards a shelf holding several SOPs, and on one foot, unlatch the bar keeping the books from falling out in rough waters, grab it, latch the bar, collapse into his chair, unclip the black grease pen from his pocket, and ask us to recite the procedures in order. Damn if we wouldn’t forget a step. No matter how many times we had done them. We did them dozens of times before I was escorted off the boat for punching LT Trimble in his fucking throat.
He’s not forgetting any steps today. He opens his eyes, looks at himself in the mirror, smirks, shakes his head, looks down at the gun and looks up in the mirror in disgust at himself. What are you doing man, what are you
“WHAT!?” He responds too loudly he knows it, but catches himself a too late.
“What?” He says again more softly this time overcompensating for the lashing.
“What are you doing in there?”
Her voice comes into him. All her pain floods him. All his actions and consequences weigh down on him heavier than the vest, heavier than the weapon he’s bought that’s going to solve so many problems and rectify so many wrongs. Eyes closed he says to her, “I don’t know honey, I’m just thinking”
He already hears her heading down the steps. She doesn’t bother to ask what’s he’s thinking about, which is fine with him. Down she goes, one at a time. She can’t take them like a normal 10 year old. They’ve made sure of that. She has to hold onto the railing or spindle with each step. Step Down. Hold and let go. Each damn step she has to do this. Gingerly placing the heel of her now longer right leg first, with the left leg following it, flopping into the other painfully because of all screws, the metal rods. Each step, each of his 13 steps. Both her hands grip, the knuckles white, tightening, bracing for the pain. 13 times. Step, squeeze, wince, pain. Step, squeeze, wince, pain. She’s fallen enough times that she knows she has to go down this way no matter how much it hurts her. Everywhere there are steps, this is the process. At School she’s always last. Everytime, everywhere. She doesn’t let him carry her. She says it doesn’t hurt anymore. “It’s ok daddy, I don’t mind.” She’s lying that it doesn’t hurt and he knows it. He’s powerless to do anything about it, Her pain that is. She however has accepted it.
He swipes the freaking gun, scratching the dresser in the process and places it in the vest pocket which is specifically designed for this gun. He steps towards the door, reaches up on the dresser for the can, takes the last swig, wipes the damn ring of sweat from the dresser with the cuff of his shirt, drops the can in the trash, turns the knob, looks down towards the landing in time to see her turn around, grimace a smile his way and complete the last two heart breaking steps. He hates this. He swallows hard and buttons his shirt on the way down the steps. He catches up to her as she limps her way towards the kitchen, he places his hand on her long brown haired head, itches her head a little and says, “I love you sweetie”
“Where’s the cheerios?”
“Same place as they always are kiddo. Look we don’t have time anyway. Let’s get moving. I’ll grab us something at Dunkin. I need some caffeine this morning anyway. I didn’t sleep well.”
He’s reaching into the fridge grabbing the orange juice for her. He steps to his left, over to the cabinet, holding the OJ in his right hand, his left hand is grabbing her Care Bear cup which sits alone in its space upon the 2nd shelf, the space reserved for her since she was 1. She has to have Orange Juice, every day, in this cup, filled to the pink bear’s belly.
“Not up to his ears Daddy or she’ll drown!” She used to bark this at him before he learned how to do it right. He’s learned, most of these daily habits, and he’s fed into the obsessive compulsive idiosyncrasies she’s now developed. It’s just easier to turn the bedroom light on and off 8 times each night, grunt as he moves down on his hand and knees to checks under her bed 9 different times, than it is to fight the screaming, the near perfect, ear splitting, immediate head ache inducing, pitch of a scream she will launch herself into if he doesn’t do it, “the right way.”
“I miss mom”
He wrenches the juice cap shut. Grabs the bottle by the throat and throws it back in the fridge where it slides into and spills the uncorked bottle of white wine he didn’t finish from last night’s meal. He doesn’t bother to wipe it up. To hell with it. He closes the door and says, “I miss her too kiddo. Look we gotta get going and I have a lot to do today”
He hurriedly steps down into the utility room ahead of her so he can catch her if she stumbles. He grabs her jacket off the hook on the wall and helps her with it. He has to help her do that too now. Her latest back surgery hasn’t healed the way it was supposed to and for whatever reason it’s too difficult for her to pull it on. Or maybe she just lets him do it because it too has become part of her ocd. This ritual comforts her as much as it comforts him he imagines.
He’s so tired of thinking about the doctors and the bills that come with it. Everything about this child, his child, reminds him of his mistakes. His mistakes as a father and a husband. Everything he’s done up to this point today, yesterday, they all have come careening into his being. Slamming into his thoughts and leaving him with no other options. God, it was all so much easier when Cheryl took care of this. He gets down on a bended knee to zip up her orange hoodie. She puts an arm on his shoulder, looks at him while he focuses on the zipper and says, “I love you dad”
He stands up, opens the door, slaps the button to open the garage door, feels the vest shift, lets her step out first, feels the morning light pour in, he squints and stares out beyond the light, he exhales, looks out into the day, and thinks about what he’s planned for months and has ahead of him today, he pulls the utility door shut, allows the screen door to slam, thinks to himself, “she hated when it did that”, pats his vest and thinks to himself, maybe tomorrow this will all be different. She, he won’t have to live this way anymore.