(Welcome to week seven of the Friday Afternoon Serial. If you haven’t had an opportunity to read Chapters 1-6, we highly recommend doing so before delving forward into Chapter Seven. Otherwise, enjoy. Pass it on. After the jump, a homecoming.)
Friday. March 2nd. My month-long speaking tour ended last night at a Barnes & Noble in Charlotte, North Carolina. As soon as the event was over, I took a cab to the airport. I rented a car. I drove directly back to Philadelphia.
I did not pass go. I did not collect 200.
This is my weekend … The first full weekend I’ve had with Tommy and Sara in nearly a month. I flew back for one night toward the end of February, but everything felt so rushed that Laura accused me of doing more damage than good.
Laura and I have agreed it’s best if I stay at the house in Rosemont whenever I spend weekends with the kids. My apartment in Fairmount is small and dark and there’s very little room for the kids to do whatever it is kids do. Besides, the house in Rosemont is the only home Tommy and Sara have ever known.
I think I need to respect that.
I know I need to respect that.
Tommy and Sara are still at school when I arrive at the house.
I find Miggs sitting at the dining room table, eating a corned beef on rye.
By all appearances, he is in no rush to leave.
“How’s life in the big city?” Miggs asks, sprinkling pepper on his sandwich.
“I like to think of it more as life in a small apartment,” I say, as I pretend to rifle through the mail.
“C’mon,” Miggs calls from across the room, chewing as he speaks. “You’ve got the entire world sitting right outside your front door over there – museums, restaurants, history, culture – what more could you ask for?”
“You seriously want me to answer that?” I ask.
“I guess not,” Miggs says. “You want something to eat? There’s a whole pound of corned beef in the fridge.”
“I’m good,” I say.
I wander over to the back bay windows in the dining room.
“Where’s Laura?” I ask, looking out across the backyard.
“She’s at work,” Miggs says, between bites.
“Why aren’t you?” I say.
“Why aren’t I what?” Miggs says.
“Why aren’t you at work?” I say.
“Someone’s gotta be here when the kid’s get home,” Miggs says, without the least hint of self-awareness.
“What about me?” I ask, turning round to face him.
“Sure … I mean, we expected you to be here,” Miggs says, realizing his faux pas. “But just in case you were delayed for some reason, we thought it’d be a good idea to have a back-up plan, y’know?”
“Right,” I say, pausing momentarily. “Tell me something, Miggs: Are you here every afternoon waiting for my kids to get home from school?”
“Of course not,” Miggs says, laughing aloud. “Laura’s reworked her schedule so she can be home before the kids get here most afternoons.”
“I see,” I say. “So I guess what you’re telling me is you don’t need a back-up plan when Laura’s taking care of the kids.”
“Look, this is the way Laura wanted it,” Miggs says, impatiently. “I’m just honoring her wishes, that’s all. It’s nothing personal, Bobby. She’s just looking out for the kids, that’s all.”
“Are you living here?” I ask.
“Living here? No … God, no,” Miggs says, swiveling his chair to face me. “But I should mention that Laura and I have begun to discuss what might be best for everyone going forward.”
“Oh, this oughta be good,” I say, crossing my arms. “Please, enlighten me, Miggs. What conclusions have you and my soon-to-be ex-wife drawn regarding what’s best for me and my children?”
“Relax, Bobby,” Miggs says, raising his palms. “I’m not looking for a standoff here. There are just some necessary details Laura and I thought we should discuss with you before making any final decisions … y’know, out of respect.”
“I see,” I say. “Respect? Tell me something, Miggs: Where was all this respect nine months ago when the two of you were bumping ugly over at the Quick-Hit Motel?”
“Look, that whole situation was a mess,” Miggs says.
“Is a mess,” I say.
“OK, is a mess,” Miggs says. “And I wish it hadn’t happened the way it did. But there’s nothing I can do about it at this point, Bobby. And there’s nothing you can do about it either. As a matter of fact, the best thing any of us can do at this point is figure out how to peacefully coexist for the long-term sake of the kids.”
“The kids” – my stomach churns whenever I hear Monty Miggs refer to Tommy and Sara that way. He tries to sneak it by me quickly, like a fox stealing chickens. But I catch it every time, and the implication makes me sick. Still, I manage to keep myself in check. And I remind myself that if I can make it through these next 10 minutes, I’ll have the entire weekend at home with Tommy and Sara.
“OK,” I say, clapping my hands together. “Lay it on me. What do you and Laura think the best way for us to peacefully coexist is?”
“Laura and I think it’s time for the two of us to move in together,” Miggs says, without any hesitation.
“You mean here?” I say, placing my index finger on the dining room table.
Tick tock. The ticking of the clock.
“Yes, that’s right,” Miggs says, straightening his back. “We’ve considered a number of different options, but we keep coming back to the notion that it would be unfair to make the kids move elsewhere. They’re very well adjusted here, y’know.”
“Of course they’re well adjusted here,” I say, barely able to contain myself. “This is their fucking house. More to the point, this is my fucking house, Miggs. Mine. Not yours. And definitely not Laura’s. She has zero equity in this house. Zero. None. Nada. I bought this house with cash I earned while Laura was still out there chasing her Masters – a Masters I paid for, coincidentally.
“Now, if the two of you think the kids are happy here, great. I couldn’t agree more. If you think it’s unfair to uproot Tommy and Sara and force them to live somewhere else, well, I agree with you on that count too. But I tell you this, Miggs … And keep in mind, I’m only telling you this because Laura’s a spineless bitch who dispatches you like her fucking monkey boy every time a situation like this occurs … If the kids do stay here, they stay here with me. You and Laura are the ones who fucked up our happy little home, and you and Laura are the ones who should be banished for it. Not Tommy. Not Sara. And definitely not me.”
“I understand your frustration,” Miggs says. “But I want you to understand, this is in no way an attempt for Laura and I to try to steal the house out from under you. In fact, we plan to offer you a fair settlement that reflects …”
“Fuck your fair settlement, Miggs,” I say, slamming my hand down on the table. “This is my house. Period. You can stock the fucking fridge like it’s a kosher deli, if you like. You can stink up the den with your Churchill Cigars. You can even sleep in my bed and spoon my wife, if you like. But it still won’t change the fact that this is my fucking house. And it always will be.”
I am pacing back and forth now, bouncing from wall to wall.
“Y’know, I have no idea what it is about you,” I continue, talking to the back of Miggs’ head. “I mean, for a while there I thought it was just some reverse penis envy thing that motivated you to covet every little facet of my being. But now I think it goes beyond that.”
“Oh, please,” Miggs says, pushing his chair back from the table, then wheeling round to face me. “How dramatic can you possibly be? With the exception of Laura, when have I ever tried to covet something that belonged to you?”
“Meghan McKenzie,” I say, standing my ground.
“MEGHAN MCKENZIE!?” Miggs says, putting both hands on his head. “Jesus H. Christ, Bobby. That was three fucking lifetimes ago! We were fucking teenagers, for god’s sake. You’re honestly going to bring that shit up again now? You have got to be fucking kidding me.”
“What do you mean ‘again’?” I say. “I’ve never brought that situation up before. Never. Not once. Ever. Mostly because you never had the balls to man up and apologize for it … or – at the very least – you never had the integrity to admit what you had done.”
“Apologize?” Miggs says, now close enough that I can smell the pepper on his breath. “Apologize for what? Fucking some poor little rich girl who dumped you after a three-week nothing? Some girl who spent the bulk of that summer blowing you off? I’ll tell you something, Bobby Lee. And it may come as a surprise. But the night I had sex with Meghan McKenzie, she told me fucking you was like fucking a homeless dog. She pitied you, Bobby … Pitied you. And now you’re gonna tell me you’ve been harboring resentment over a girl like that for the past 18 years? Holy fucking Moses, man. Where do you get the chutzpah?”
“Get the fuck out of my house,” I say. “And take your fucking country club cigars with you. I’m tired of my kids growing up in a house that smells like a bordello.”
“Wow,” Miggs says, shaking his head. “You really do have a gift, you know that? I mean, you’ve basically alienated every person who’s ever made the mistake of caring about you, and somehow you still muster the guts to point a finger. I guess you won’t be happy until you’ve set fire to just about everything around you. Just remember, Bobby Lee … Sooner or later, you’re bound to smother beneath the weight of those flames.”
“Get out,” I say.
“Oh, I’m leaving,” Miggs says, grabbing his keys from the dining room table. “But there’s one more thing you should know before I go, considering you’ve gone out of your way to make me feel like a complete asshole. Your agent … Ben Butler? He represents me now. He called me last week. Said he loved the proposal for my new book. Says there’s a huge market for this type of thing, especially since I’m already an established name in the field. Says we can push to make the book a required text on college campuses all across the country.
“Anyway, he mentioned the two of you had severed your business relationship, so I figured there’d be no conflict of interest. He told me some other things as well, but I really don’t see any need to piss all over a guy when he’s down, so I guess we’ll just leave it at that for now. You have a nice weekend, Bobby Lee. Be sure to tell the kids Uncle Monty says hi.”
With that Monty Miggs turns, picks his keys up off the table, and walks down the hallway toward the front door.
He does not pass go. He does not collect 200.
Tick tock. The ticking of the goddamned clock.
I am not bothered by Monty Miggs’ comments.
Nor am I bothered by the fact that Ben Butler has chosen to represent him.
Two weeks of sobriety have had a calming effect on me. The first few days I experienced some turbulence, like a rocket settling back into the earth’s atmosphere. Since then I’ve felt much sharper, as if I’m three steps ahead of everyone around me, which is why I knew Monty Miggs would send his manuscript to Ben Butler, much like I knew Ben Butler would eventually agree to represent him.
It was not difficult for me to stop drinking.
I am a binge drinker, after all, not an alcoholic.
Once I commit to having my first drink on any given day, it’s an absolute certainty that I will continue drinking until I pass out, black out or nod off in my soup. But I’ve never felt an irresistible compulsion to drink, nor do I feel any type of physical dependence on alcohol.
Once I decided to stop drinking, the most difficult part was determining what to do with the sudden rush of energy I felt. As a rule, I do not write when I’m drinking … Well, I do not write prose. Poetry I can handle, mostly because there is a mystic ambiguity to poetry that simply does not apply to long-form prose. But I am not a poet. I am a writer. Or – at the very least – I was a writer at one time, and I remain confident I could be a writer again.
My sobriety has precipitated a constant flow of new ideas – rough sketches mostly … ethereal plotlines drifting just out of reach. The ideas are there. This much I can assure you. Now all I need to do is extend my grasp and rein them in. To that end, I keep a pen in my pocket at all times, which I use to scrawl notes on the back of cocktail napkins, boarding passes, receipts, menus … anything that’s within arm’s reach at the time.
I have no earthly idea what I might do with all of these notes. I only know that they matter – unlike the handwritten notes I consistently found in my pockets during my drinking days … illegible stalker scrawl with no discernible rhyme or reason. I had no recollection when or why I’d written most of those notes. And I generally disposed of them immediately after I discovered them (Rather than confront the fact that entire pieces of my life were literally being washed away by alcohol).
Here is what I’ve discovered over the past 10 years: Blackouts – by and large – are only a plus when there are entire pieces of your life you’re willing to have washed away.
The irony: Even if there are entire pieces of your life you’re willing to have washed away, blackouts won’t erase them. They’ll only render those pieces static, like dark clouds looming on the horizon. Sooner or later, the storm is bound to hit. When it does, you need to be prepared for the very real possibility that everything you’ve spent years trying to avoid may, in fact, swallow you whole.
My storm hit approximately six months ago.
I’ve been trying to bail my way out ever since.
Tommy and Sara are happy to find me on the back porch when they arrive home from school.
The dynamic of our relationship has changed as a result of the growing distance between us. I am more like a bad uncle now, less concerned about spoiling my children than I am about gaining their approval.
We order pizza for dinner. I allow Sara to eat in front of the television. I allow Tommy to bounce a soccer ball on his head while sitting at the dining room table. It’s irresponsible parenting and I know it. But no one gets maimed or killed, and it’s an effective way to avoid the inevitable “what-about-you-and-mommy” questions that are bound to arise once Tommy and Sara grow bored.
There is a late-winter snowstorm approaching from the west, and Tommy spends most of the evening parked in front of my laptop, watching the system as it creeps its way past Harrisburg on the local radar. The kids have already taken their sleds out of the garage and propped them up against the back porch.
Tommy and Sara are determined to stay awake until the first flakes begin to fall, and I do very little to discourage them in that regard.
It is just after midnight when Tommy and Sara drift off to sleep on opposite ends of the couch. The entire house is quiet now, save for the occasional pop and crackle of the fireplace, the metronome swing of the grandfather clock. I put on a pot of coffee. I lay out all the handwritten notes I’ve accumulated over the past few weeks.
There are more than 50 notes in all. Some have tremendous merit. Some do not. .
The ideas laid out in front of me are rudimentary at best – disconnected and non-linear. I’m still not making all the necessary connections. But that’s OK. The narrative thread will reveal itself to me in time.
For now, I have all the tools I need to get started.
1 AM. Outside, the first flurries are beginning to fall.
I sit down at the dining room table to flesh out my ideas.
By the time I’ve finished typing my first page, the snow is coming down in sheets across our backyard, blanketing all the usual cracks and whistles that permeate the night. I am clear now, oblivious to the world around me. I am identifying angles, creating symmetry. I am confident and I am free. I am connecting the dots.
I am seven pages deep when Tommy comes charging through the dining room at dawn. He is screaming Sara’s name as if the sky outside has fallen … And in some ways, I suppose, a part of it actually has.
Soon, both Tommy and Sara are pressed up against the back-bay doors, their breath creating steamy busts along the glass surface. This is exactly the type of thing that would drive Laura insane. She goes to great lengths to ensure the back-bay windows remain immaculate. But there’s no way I can bring myself to reprimand the kids right now.
It’s a victimless crime, I think to myself. And it’s nothing a little Windex won’t be able to fix.
Once the initial wave of excitement subsides, Tommy turns to ask if the three of us can go sledding.
“Sure,” I tell him, prompting both kids to dash up to their rooms and get dressed.
There are wrinkled, half-folded scraps of paper strewn about the table. My notebook is sitting wide open in the center of them – margins littered with edits, chunks of prose stitched together by a series of hand-drawn lines and arrows.
Sara returns to the dining room several minutes later. She climbs into the chair across from me. She does not seem to notice the mess.
“You look like you need to be tired,” she says.
“I do?” I reply, playfully.
“Yep. You look like you need to be tired, alright,” she says, sucking on a grape.
“Maybe you’re right,” I say, laughing.
But Sara is not right and I know it. In fact, she’s never been more wrong.
I am wide awake. It’s morning. And there’s a foot of snow on the ground outside.
So I shut down my laptop and I gather all my notes.
I tell Tommy and Sara to grab their winter coats and bundle themselves tight.
My work is done for the night.
It’s time for the three of us to go sledding.
©Copyright Bob Hill
(Next Friday: Subhuman: Volume One, Chapter Eight)