For as long as I can remember, I have been incapable of saying the name of that distinct carpenter from the bible without feeling this sharp, stabbing pain in the center of me. I don’t know why. I have come to consider the possibility that maybe I was born with a very specific aversion. Just as cigarette smoke makes some break out in hives or bee stings close up a person’s throat, mine is a reaction to that Name. The first Name specifically. I can say the last name, the Christ. But the idea of saying the first Name brings a cold chill to my body. It leaves me gasping for breath. It leaves me feeling broken, a cup trying to hold liquid as it drains away from me. It leads to horrible moments of anxiety. It leads to panic attacks. And ultimately it leads to graphic thoughts of suicide.
When Brooke and I met, everything was good. Now… now it’s all ruined. Now it’s all over. She went to church today and she came back to tell me some news. She converted, prayed that prayer they try to get you to say. I didn’t even know she was shopping around. I thought she was happy on our religion-free road. If I had known she was playing around with such things, if I had known her Sunday morning was spent in the halls of a church, I would have distracted her. I would have found a way to keep her far from that place every Sunday.
“Do you have anything to say, Eric?” she looks at me, Fiona and Mitchy circling my feet. Yeah, daddy! Tell mommy what she wants to hear! Their eyes are loud even though they haven’t spoken a word. Mitchy is too young to speak, only just recently beginning to take his first uncertain steps. And Fi, usually a spit fire of opinions and four year old tangents, is unusually quiet. She took them too? Where was I? How did I not know? Since telling me her news, I have only stared ahead, trying to focus only on my breathing. She said the Name, the one I can’t say, the one I can’t hear. And now my heart is a loud thumping, a continuous beating drum getting louder and louder. What can I say? Everything is changed now, Brooke! We are incompatible! I am a smoke free house and you just lit up.
I look down at my children. The sadness is louder than the thumping. I close my eyes for a moment. I can already imagine the next few weeks. Divorce papers. A split home. A foundation cracked for two little people just now starting to build up their blocks. They’ll never understand why I couldn’t stay. And neither will Brooke. She doesn’t know about the panic attacks and she doesn’t know their cause. She was perfect for me for many reasons, but especially for her distaste in religion. We didn’t talk about it. The topic was never around us. I made sure to keep it contained, some type of quarantine parameters always implemented—well, I can’t say always. Not today. I fell asleep somewhere along the way and now everything is broken.
Her eyes scan over me a few more times and then wander away with her as she guides the kiddos to another part of the house. She knows the silent treatment, has been on the receiving end of it many times. It’s a pause for thought, a pause so I can say the mean (sometimes cruel) things in my head. And there are many things I want to say to her right now. You broke the rules! You changed the game! You ruined everything we built! This set you apart! But now you are no better than any of the others! Did you ruin our children too?! Did you fill them with that poison?! Did you go and make them incompatible with me?!
I say none of it but in my head, it continues. Along with the still fast beating heart, the onslaught continues. All it seems to do is inflate an already overinflated balloon. If I can’t calm down, I worry I’m going to pop. My lungs are shriveling up, tightness grabs hold of my hands and squeezes, a numbness now spreading from my fingers up toward my forearms. It was that Name being said… and the things I keep screaming inside… and the fact that I’m about to lose all that I love.
Brooke and the kids are out of sight. They are in the living room. I’m bent over in the dining room, feeling like somebody has a vice grip on my lungs, cranking tighter and tighter. I’m trying to breathe but pressure is all I feel. Pressure from all sides and the release valve to bleed it away is missing—it’s always been missing. I just have to make it through. If I can just take a few deep breaths—but I can’t. It feels like I’m suffocating, drowning but without water. This is as bad as it has been in a long time. If not ever.
I close my eyes to try and calm down. I can only see the top of dark stairs. The walls are old stone. It’s not only pressure I feel but fear. Immense and growing. The light downstairs is dim, long shadows stretching up the stone walls, reaching toward me—
“Eric!” Brooke’s voice pulls me back. My eyes open in the way they would if I had spent a night getting sick over the toilet. I’m weak and on the floor of the dining room. The attack has passed but I feel drained, a balloon, once too full, now fully deflated, never to regain the same shape it once had. Brooke now knows something is wrong and she will never see me the same way. “What happened to you?”
I shake my head and shrug. It’s not an act. I have always had attacks when hearing the Name, but never even one image to answer why. A paralyzing fear at the top of dark stairs leading down into a place far darker. I take a deep breath. It almost sounds like I an empty aerosol can. I imagine my voice is nothing more than a rasp. Something is different about today. I have been given a peek behind the curtain and I can only take it to mean one thing: this isn’t broken beyond repair just yet.
Brooke is on her knees, Fiona standing next to her. Mitchy is sitting on the floor, a few blocks keeping him occupied for the moment.
“Are you okay, daddy?” Fi’s eyes look both scared and compassionate, both willing to take on the weight and unable to fully understand it.
“I’m okay, Fi.” My voice isn’t as empty as I expected it to be.
“Time to spill it, Eric. What’s going on? Why does this not seem to surprise you?”
Silence as I prepare to answer. Where should I begin? To show I’m planning on answering her, I look at her eyes (a deep bronze), my mouth opened slightly, as if the words are made in a factory just waiting to roll down the conveyor belt. This silence is a different brand. A brand she welcomes. It isn’t cold and distant. It’s eventual. And it shows intent.
Finally the words are there. “I’ve had panic attacks for most of my life. They are brought on by one thing. And, um, ya-you just accepted Him into your life.”
Her mouth is now open just the same but the factory seems to have stalled. Her eyes squinted, her nose scrunched—does she think I’m lying? What a low thing to do… what a low opinion to have of me. It would be an effective lie, for sure, but who would be snake-like enough to use it? Not me. She should know that. Our years together (ten this May, five dating and nearly five married) have seen many of our hidden rooms exposed. We still have our secrets, of course. Nobody ever knows anybody entirely. How can we? We don’t truly know ourselves. How can I let her see behind every door when there are ones I wasn’t even aware of?
“Wa-why have you never told me?” her look of disbelief has changed into a long and thorough search, the scanning resumes as she shuffles across my eyes with hers: a cast of light looking for answers.
“It never came up. It was unimportant. It didn’t apply to our lives. It was the perfect situation. But now—”
“It doesn’t make sense.”
“No. It doesn’t. But, it’s always happened. The first name, that J one. Even the beginning of it… I react to it severely, B. I always have. So I avoid it.”
Her eyes are sad now. I think she’s starting to picture the same thing happening in the next few weeks. A split home. What we’re going to tell Fi. I want to ask her to choose me, as if this was a situation where I was allergic to a pet and I was given precedence over the animal. But, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be chosen. Her look tells me she has already made her decision. Something happened today, something I don’t understand. My wife is different than she was. Some kind of confidence is with her, some kind of assurance that I can’t match. She has found that thing we all look for, an epiphany that lights up the dim spots and paints everything with a clarity that has been missing. I see it on her face that my ideals and hers are different now. Even if she decided to go back to the way things were, it wouldn’t be genuine.
“Daddy.” Fi wandered away to take a few of Mitchy’s blocks, which he then threw across the floor in rebellion. This conversation, which has been filled with more pauses than words, has never been allowed the quiet atmosphere it requires. Fi helped stir the pot and now Mitchy’s crying.
“I’ll change him and then we can talk some more.” Sometimes Brooke’s statements sound like questions.
I nod my head.
“Daddy.” Oh, Fi is persistent. Her dark brown hair is only a shade or two lighter than Brooke’s, braids meeting braids leading down into two tight pigtails. She’s beautiful, just like her mother. Her white dress is dirty from crawling around on the floor. And even so, she looks far more put together than me. She’s standing. I’m still on the floor, my weak legs trying to regain their previous strength. “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
“Yes, Fi!” she knows how to make my voice raise in response. “What is it?”
“We learned about Jesus today.”
It’s back again, just as bad as before. “Hel-help!” I call but can’t hear myself. I just hear the pounding. My heart feeling ready to stop. I am a young man, only thirty two, and slim by even slim standards. But the attacks leave me feeling like some kind of main component is missing and I’m beginning to short out. I’m going to lose them because they won’t give up the very Name I can’t be around. Now even Fiona says It. This is a whole new trajectory, unfairly introduced into my life without a thought to how it would affect me. Brooke knew my stance and yet she went searching. And worse yet, she brought the kids. I would be better off dead. My whole family are now possessors of a poison that will one day kill me. I wish it were now. A quick and merciful end for a man deficient of the very thing they now seek. What a sick cosmic joke.
All sounds are drowned out. I look around, Fi’s face filled with worry as she looks back for mommy. She yells for her too, I think. Brooke runs from Mitchy’s room, him tucked like a football under her arm. She reaches her hand up toward my face. And her touch immediately softens the constant drumming of my heart. I don’t want to close my eyes again. I can’t. Something was at the bottom of those stairs and if I stay long enough, I fear it will reach me.
I watch my family in front of me. The thought of being removed from this picture is devastating. They are everything I want. But now exactly what I can’t have. If Brooke didn’t believe me before, she has to believe me now. Fiona just wanted to tell me about her day. She just wanted to share with me, her father incapable of handling such basic news.
Her presence with me, her eyes sad but set on me, Brooke ends the drumming. And the sounds that were always going on in front of me return.
Daddy?! Are you okay?!
Just breathe, Eric. Just breathe. It’s going to be okay.
The second spell in only minutes, the weight of the situation is heavy and only getting heavier. Silence sits between us, our eyes taking us to many places. Hers are still sad but there is something else in them. A fleck, maybe.
“You can’t live like this, Eric. W-we can’t live like this.” she pauses as she puts Mitchy down. He immediately staggers toward me, his hands reaching for me. I’m in no place to hold him right now but that doesn’t stop him from sitting down next to me. “If we seek out help for you, would you take it?”
I can’t help but feel envy. She’s not tossing me away but she is saying if it doesn’t change, we’ll have to find other arrangements. She is saying that this Name is worth far more to her than me. How the hell that is even possible after one church service is something I can’t begin to understand. I’m glad I didn’t ask her to choose between us; she already has. And the sting is like being held over an open flame.
“Why did you go looking? Are you not happy?” I ask as a side tangent to the one she posed.
“That’s not important right now, Eric. A conversation we can have another time. Right now, I just need to know if you are willing to try.”
What she really means is, “Right now, I just need to know if you’ll bend to my will. I need to know if you’ll change everything about yourself so that you can stay with those who claim to love you. Right now, I need to know if my sneaking and betrayal of priorities will go unnoticed and we can focus on you. It’s all on you, Eric. It always is.”
“What does ‘try’ mean? What do you expect me to find?” now I’m sneaking around in some way, not letting her know about the image of the stairs, the reaching shadows. I don’t want to know what waits at the bottom of them. That is what she is asking of me, whether she realizes it or not. And what she is asking is unfair on so many levels.
“Answers. Or at least tools to help you cope.”
“Or,” I stop myself. Or you could be faithful to me, drop that stupid religion and never say that Name around me or our children ever again!
”Or what?” she asks, already prying far too much.
“… Nothing. What kind of help are you thinking, if I were to try?”
“The church is offering—”
“It’s free, Eric. And it’s directed toward people with trauma. Couldn’t it be a God thing? The one day I go to church, there is a program offered to help those with trauma? It’s pretty strange to be a coinci—”
“What trauma, Brooke?”
“Can you just try for me—for us?”
“If I don’t, are we done?”
She pauses for a moment and then shakes her head. “No. But, I’m scared it will break us apart quickly. I’m scared that you’ll lash out and become rigid. I’m scared that you’ll pull away from us to protect yourself. Please, just try.”
I nod my head without saying a word. Isn’t that how you should act in a hostage situation? She has the gun and I’m at her mercy. If we did split, she’d almost certainly win full custody. What would keep her from telling the court about my crippling anxiety, my frail state at even the mention of that J name? It would be ammo. And she would use it, if she had to. If I try and things still don’t work out, maybe she’ll be more flexible. Maybe I’ll still get to have my children in some way. Don’t shoot, Brooke! I’m unarmed.
Brooke made a series of phone calls throughout the day, securing me a spot with the church group. Once a go-getter, always a go-getter. It starts tomorrow night from 6 to 8 and continues nightly through Friday. A five day thing. A short program, according to her. She has done her best to paint it up as a good thing, an opportunity for free therapy at the least—you know, because everybody is just dying to have someone go through the contents of their attic. Also, what her optimism doesn’t seem to understand is that free is rarely good. I’m expected to let someone from a free program lead me down the stairs and into some kind of further understanding? What if they can’t? Or what if they bring me downstairs and I’m never able to come back up?
I hate that my partner is now a strange being to me. She’s laying on her side of the bed, flipping through the little handout book she was given at the church. Usually, we’d be ‘dancing in the sheets’ as Shalamar so eloquently puts it. Since I got the snip-snip, our sex life has been more than active. We’re good with the two kids we have. Now sex is an extracurricular activity we like to revisit often. Or it was…
Now my wife (if that’s still who’s sitting next to me) is downloading a Holy Bible app on her phone. She catches me glancing at her. Somehow it’s even worse that she’s about to do bible study with only laced underwear and a tight fitted t-shirt on. This strange creature looks just like my Brooke. I desire her body, her touch, her feel. And still, I am turned off by her. She isn’t the same. It’s only been about nine hours since telling me her news. That news has already changed her in so many ways. She might as well be on driftwood, letting the waves of a strong current take her out to sea. Or maybe she’s on land and I’m in the water, drifting farther away from her with the passing minutes.
“Is something wrong, Eric?” is she serious? Can she not see what’s bothering me? Before bringing J into her life, Brooke was exciting. She was crude and hilarious. What about now? If I were to run off a string of “inappropriate” words just because, would she give me the Christian eyes of disappointment? I don’t curse often, something my mom instilled in me. It’s just not proper, Eric. Well, I don’t always like being proper.
In many ways, Brooke, it feels like I am in your past. And if I don’t entertain this new and grating road you’ve taken, you will gladly open the door and kick me clear. You should be naked with me right now. We should be enjoying one another, making our cloth headboard knock against the wall, testing the strength of our bed frame legs. Instead… the distance is only growing.
“No.” I can’t say what I want to. It’s best to just shut up. Nothing good will come from telling her the truth. Right now I have her support. If this free therapy doesn’t produce the results she hopes it will, I need to keep everything civil. If it comes down to us separating, silence is a shield that will protect me.
The simple truth is I can’t trust her like before. We were partners, happily going along our chosen road. Without warning she left me alone. The worst part is she still acts like we’re in this together. If we were in this together, you wouldn’t have left. You may be only a few feet from me but we couldn’t be farther apart right now.
I turn off the lamp on my nightstand. Without saying another word, I pull the blankets up to cover my shoulders and turn away from her.
Lucid dreaming is rare for me. To have both the awareness that I am lying in bed while also watching a dream as if it’s a home movie—it’s usually only when I have a high fever and my brain is misfiring. And it may be the same thing tonight. It may be… but something about it is different. I am in the dream, both watching from the participant’s eyes and aware that I can control none of what happens. I am a child; and I am a man sleeping in my bed. Standing at the counter of an old gas station, much of the details surrounding us smudged, he grabs a chocolate bar from three small rows of candy. It’s here where the familiar panicked thumping returns. The little boy doesn’t share in it. He is unaffected by the man within now feeling the familiar and debilitating fear setting in. Without thought of me, he puts the chocolate bar in his pocket quickly, glancing up to his left. The woman he sees is still looking ahead, her curls salt and pepper and loose on her head. Her dress is long, a light blue denim thing covering a heavy mass of a body. We look back to the candy and he reaches out to grab something else—
She grabs his arm without warning. Busted, you foolish little boy. Why does it feel like I’m busted too? And why is it that when we look up at her, her face is smudged like most everything else in the gas station? I try to look around but the little boy doesn’t move his head. He is digging in his other pocket, hesitant to hand it over.
“What did I tell you before we left the house?” her voice sounds as if it is coming from a cave, a slight echo before fading.
“Candy is f-for good boys.”
Suddenly I feel as if I’m being pulled from the little boy. And as my tether to him is removed, I see all the things he wouldn’t turn to see. The floor is an old black and white checkerboard tile, stained by years of customer use and owner neglect. The ceiling is white speckled tiles, cleaner than the floor but not by much. A thin man is sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of the aisle, a few strands of light hair left on his horribly scarred head. His face looks like a series of puzzle pieces put together that don’t fit completely but still form a mostly full picture. Dressed in camouflage pants and a matching jacket, much of his body is hidden, but it doesn’t hide that parts of him are missing. His legs are cheaply made prosthetics and his left arm, though resting naturally on the armrest, curves out in an unnatural way. A man blown apart and pieced back together, it seems. A man who was most alive in the military. A little patch sewn on his jacket says THE ASSASSIN. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was his now legal name. If anybody could wear it, it’s him.
Though he pays no mind to me, I get closer to him. There is a distinct smell of old urine on his clothing. It immediately makes me tense up. It’s familiar. Without warning the split nature of this lucid episode develops into something else. The dream cuts to black and now I’m just aware that I’m sleeping, aware that I’m not able to wake up, aware that another attack has started and I can’t do anything to alleviate it. I’m lying face down. I tell my body to move—the connection isn’t there. Here comes the rapid thumping. Here comes the numbness in my extremities, always threatening to climb higher until it paralyzes me once and for all. Here comes the weight trying its best to suffocate me. I’ve had panic attacks for as long as I can remember. But they have been in a different category today. Little by little the curtain is falling away. And what’s on the other side is something my body doesn’t want me to know—
Breathe. Calm down. Breathe. If you don’t, Brooke will wake up to find that you died in the night. Breathe. Think about Fiona. Think about Mitchell. Don’t focus on what you’ve just seen. No matter how much I try to be my own coach, it doesn’t work. My thoughts meet and bounce off of each other. I try to breathe but it seems each breath is shallower than the last. Wake up! Panic is everywhere, all parts of me seeming to shut off and then turn back on without warning or a discernible pattern. Is my heart still beating rapidly? Or is it about to stop? My awareness of my situation is muddled, a trash heap of symptoms only continuing to pile up. The higher it gets the less I can see clearly. I am sick in my very center. I can’t even sleep anymore without being monitored for symptoms…
It feels like I am being held under water and everything is beginning to fade. Am I dying? Help! HELP! JUST LET ME WAKE UP!
Without warning, the dark of an ended dream turns back on and I see the waves of the ocean sliding toward me. Back when everything was easy, back when the curtain was firmly closed and only that J name caused my body to go haywire…
The sound of waves have always calmed me. This is a memory I remember fondly and as I focus on the details, the split nature begins to detach. The attack may be over. Or I may have died and am now sitting in the last memories of a dying mind before everything cuts to black. Whatever it is, the panic is gone. And if this is my death, it isn’t a bad way to go at all. Brooke is sitting on the sand to my right, her smile an invitation for me to take her here and now. And I did. We finished as the tide began to rise, a cold foam gathering around us. A honeymoon from our families. A trip with tons of sex and not as much swimming. The perfect balance, in my opinion.
Though we cannot confirm with any certainty, Brooke and I both refer to that session on the beach as Fiona’s moment of conception. Realistically though, the moment of conception probably occurred on a slightly less memorable session in our hotel room.
I wait for everything to cut to black. But it doesn’t. And for a reason I can’t begin to explain, I have a strong feeling (an inexplicable confirmation) that this second dream was given to me as a message, one meant to say: keep digging because there are better things on the other side of my struggle; keep digging and I will find the clearing again…
My eyes open easily, our bedroom painted in the faintest blue tint of early morning light. My body is dry now but feels like it was soaked sometime in the night. My phone is on my nightstand. It’s 6:33 a.m., the temp outside a cool 36 degrees (with a projected high of only 52) according to the weather app. Fall is definitely in the air.
Everything is still fresh in my mind. I open the memo app. I need to write it down before it fades away, as all dreams tend to do.
“Did you sleep okay?” I didn’t even notice Brooke was up. Panic attacks can make you very self-involved. And when a panic attack is not happening, the anxiety is a rising gauge, leaving you in a state of dread as you anticipate the next episode. And with each episode, you wonder if this is the one that will push your body too far. There is a ticking clock in me; it has never been louder. If I don’t find the answers why and reach the clearing on the other side, it’s only a matter of time until my body shuts off for good. There are many things I need to do today. Hopefully the kiddos sleep a little longer than usual. As a stay at home dad, my morning usually starts at 7 a.m., and that’s the very latest.
“Yeah. Slept fine.” a lie I hope she buys, the memo pad on my phone still empty and the details of my dream already fading. “You?”
She shrugs as she looks ahead. “I know you’re mad at me.”
“Just processing. I’ll be okay.” I need this patch to work. I can’t get in a fight with her right now. The prolonged attack throughout the night can’t be for nothing. I think I was given another piece to why.
“Processing what, Eric?” she wants to start something. But she doesn’t understand how much I need to be left alone right now. Time to drop a grenade into the conversation. Take cover, Brooke, it’s about to get messy. There is a chance this could end us right now. But I have no choice.
“Your betrayal.” I get up and walk away, leaving her and our bedroom behind, opening the door and closing it behind me. She’ll have to be getting ready soon. Work is quite a drive and she has a lot to catch up on. I expect slams of drawers and a lot of loud morning preparation in the bathroom. It is what it is. If I can get onto the other side of this, I can explain my reasoning then. If not, it won’t really matter what was said now. I won’t be around to answer for it.
Our house is a nice sized ranch. All bedrooms are located on one side of the house; the kiddos are in the room across from us. And next to them is the office/storage space. I think every house has that one room that never gets to be used for its purpose. I slide to a sit outside of the kids’ room, beginning to enter my list.
The smell of old urine on The Assassin. Immediately familiar but I don’t know why.
The gas station was familiar too.
The heavy woman. Large and intimidating. Strict. Maybe abusive? Maybe my birth mom…
Who was the boy? Was it me? How old was he/I?
Who was the man named The Assassin? My birth dad?
What do they have to do with the stairs? The shadows? The aversion?
Call mom ASAP. She might be able to connect some of these dots…
Having this list now on my phone and saved is a heavy load off the mind. Should I go mend fences with Brooke? It only took me a few minutes to get down my notes and by the sound of it, the kiddos are still sleeping. I guess I have to decide (if in a hypothetical situation) if I was able to say that J name, if I was able to hear it without locking up, would I want to be around someone that now says it? Someone that now believes it? My aversion is a wonderful excuse to cut ties. No one could fault me for it. But, when I think about losing Brooke, sadness washes over me and I can think only about the beach. Both a memory of a wonderful time and a goal for us to reach again.
I look at our door, trying to figure out a successful way to back pedal. What can I say to make the grenade okay? Maybe the truth. But what if I tell her the details and she uses them against me? I would appear unfit in every way to be with the kids. And even now, if I tell her the details, will she rethink our arrangement of me staying home with them?
I haven’t figured out what to say. There may just be pieces of our marriage splattered around our bedroom, never able to be put back together again. I can only open the door and hope that I haven’t gone too far.
I turn the handle, the door opens without making a sound. Brooke is mostly dressed, a black and white striped pencil skirt in place, her white button up blouse still not fully buttoned, a pair of black heels in her hands. She walks past me without any acknowledgment of my presence.
“I’m sorry.” I say it quietly but she hears it because it stops her stride immediately. She turns back toward me, her head still down, her straightened hair a dark curtain shielding most of her face from me. “I’ve been very raw since yesterday. I took it out on you.”
Now her eyes are tilting up toward me. She’s giving me a chance to state my case. I wait for her to respond but she doesn’t say a word. But it seems the factory is running.
“I don’t understand why you didn’t talk to me before going to church. I thought we were in agreement about how we would live our lives, B. And now you’ve brought this box into our marriage. You can only do certain things now. You can only laugh at certain jokes. I can’t be filthy with you anymore. I could try but I know it would make you uncomfortable. I wish—”
“Don’t you think I wanted to tell you? Everything you just said went through my head like it was on a reel. I knew it was how you would respond. It’s a breach of contract, in a lot of ways. I know that and I know that it may end us. But,” she pauses, “but I need more. Not from you necessarily… I am terrified of dying, Eric. Lately I’ve been having these vivid dreams where I die but it isn’t the end. I’m pulled from my body down into the dark. A dark that is hot. And empty. And these sounds that I hear, something like children’s laughter but I know they aren’t children. I can feel their eyes on me, almost like how it would feel to be surrounded by a pack of wolves or something. They want to eat me.” Her eyes look as if she’s seeing it now. “Last night, that fear was gone. I felt safe.”
“A dream?” you blew up our life because of a dream?! “You’ve had nightmares before. Why the change now, B?”
“It didn’t end with the dreams. I’ve felt those same hungry eyes watching me. Sometimes in our room. Sometimes in my office at work. A dream fades away. Up until yesterday, I’ve been haunted.”
I can tell that telling me scares her. She expects me to respond with something like, ”Monsters, B? What are we children?” And yet, I can’t explain the shadows climbing up the walls of the stairs, reaching for me. They definitely aren’t human. If she believes in monsters, maybe I can tell her about the shadows. What’s strangest about this conversation is discovering how much we both still have in common. We are both haunted. And in it there is a bizarre sense of comfort knowing that we still share a common ground.
“I think something happened to me as a kid, B. Something before I was adopted. And I don’t know how to explain the timing of it all.”
“What do you mean, Eric?” her eyes are scanning me again.
“That J name has always caused me to have panic attacks but it wasn’t until yesterday that I was given some kind of direction, some kind of reason. I saw these basement stairs and-and these shadows reaching for me on the walls. Something happened down there.”
The ‘us’ from last year (even from last month) wouldn’t believe that future us would seriously be having this conversation. We have always told Fi that monsters are make believe. I’ve gotten mad at her quite a few times, actually, because it always ends with her sleeping between me and Brooke, her sweet little foot in my face. “Fear of spiders, I understand. Fear of bugs in general, sure. They’re creepy and crawly. But, monsters? It’s a waste of time, Fiona Marie. And I don’t want to hear another word about it.” What a hypocrite I’ve become.
Brooke looks at me with an attempted warm smile. “We’ll talk more about this when I get home.” Another statement that sounds like a question.
I nod my head as I approach her. She is shorter than me by only an inch or so, now that her heels are on.
“I’ll be sure to be home a little early today. The church is a bit of a drive from here.”
Ah, yes, the trauma therapy from the inexperienced freebies. I can’t wait to let them poke around at me.
“Okay,” there is still distance between us. Not as much as before but the warmth still isn’t there. I give her a peck of a kiss and then a second one. “Drive safe.”
We part for the second time this morning. I leave the bedroom and listen in on the kids’ room. Still not a stir. A wonderful gift. I’ll start getting their breakfast ready. It’s rare that I’m ahead of them.
The carpet is a soft plush beneath my feet, continuing even as the hallway ends. The kitchen is a white tiled room to the right (we almost went with a checkerboard design…). Sticky juice spots are a random mine field for me to navigate. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I clean the floors.
After a series of memorized steps are done, Mitchy’s oatmeal is cooling off; and Fi’s big-girl cup is a mixture of white and chocolate milk (mostly white, if I’m going to be honest). The routine of a stay at home dad can be loose when the kids allow it to be. Today, some favorite episodes of Spongebob Squarepants are going to help me babysit. It’s time to start putting this puzzle together.