I came by to talk. Figured it was time to fix a few things. But since I can tell you're not alone in there, I'm just going to write this letter and leave it in your mailbox. I'm not looking to make a scene. Swear.
By the way I'm assuming that's his truck in our driveway. The hood was hot when I touched it. Guess he didn't beat me here by much. You two are probably inside now, aren’t you? Probably watching some television or playing spades, halfway through a box of that pink wine you like. Maddie’s asleep by now, so I guess you two are having a nice quiet evening, aren’t you? I know what you're thinking and, no, I didn't sneak around back and look in on you. After the Independence Day incident, I gave you my word I would never do that again and my word-- not the restraining order and not your prick brother's passive-aggressive threats-- is what's keeping me in this car. I made a promise and I’ll abide by it. Don't worry about me. Enjoy your evening with Randy.
By the way, tell Randy-- and I'm only assuming it's Randy Phelps in there with you because of the American Legion bumper sticker and the fly fishing gear in the cab, not because I've been asking around or spying on you two-- that I'm sorry about the tire. I slashed it in a moment of weakness. It was not a very Christian thing to do and I realize that now. Tell him I'm ashamed I let my temper get the best of me and that if he is willing to bring a receipt to church this Sunday, I will gladly reimburse him.
Also tell Randy that I'm not shedding any tears out here, so he doesn't need to apologize to me for taking you out before the divorce is finalized or worry that I'm going to track him down and do something crazy. I'm sure you've told him what I did to Jeff Conroy, but that was different and I've moved on. I’ve grown. Plus, from what I've heard, you can hardly even see those scars on Jeff's face anymore.
No, tell Randy he's alright by me. He must have reasons for doing what he's doing and, next time I see him, the two of us will have an adult conversation about those reasons. The tire, though, was just plain tacky on my part. No excuse. I'm looking at it right now and, to tell you the truth, I feel pretty awful about it. Hopefully you'll get this letter in time and he won't blame one of the Shepherd boys or that gothic girl with the all those piercings who's always walking around the neighborhood taunting dogs and looking evil. She passed by my truck about a half hour ago and I tried to wave at her, but she just hissed at me, made some devil sign with her hands, and walked on. Weird, that one.
Speaking of which, Maddie hasn't been doing anything like that, has she? I sometimes worry about how our separation has affected her. I know she's just four and not old enough to provoke dogs or make devil signs, but still. Kids these days are different. Things start earlier. I’m looking at her window right now and-- who knows?-- maybe she's up there feeling some kind of sadness neither of us can understand. Maybe-- and I'm not pushing it here, I'm just saying-- she's up there praying for Daddy to come home. You ever think of that? It’s not outside the realm of possibilities, is it?
I'm sure she's told you that we run into each other sometimes. Now before you make assumptions, let me assure you that it is just a coincidence that her pre-school's playground borders the softball field where I like to exercise. What can I say? I've been really into exercising. I've lost seven pounds and increased my core strength too. Not bragging, but you should see my arms up close. But, you know, sometimes in between sets of pushups and suicide sprints, I’ll spot Maddie over at the fence and then we catch up. That's all. If she hasn't already, please remind her to give you the note I slipped in her jacket pocket last Tuesday. There's some real sweet stuff about you in that one and, even if you don't care to hear it, I also wrote down my workout routine. Figured you, too, might want to increase your core strength.
Not that you need to, though. You look great. Love the new haircut. I know a lot of women who would look like a dyke if they cut their hair that short. Not you, though. You look like a yoga instructor or a health food store employee or a celebrity or something. I mean all of these things in the most positive way imaginable. You look different, but beautiful, is all I'm really trying to say. And are those highlights? Sometimes I can't tell. Five hundred feet feels further than you think and it’s not like I’m using binoculars to follow you. The highlights, though-- I bet they really bring out the brown in your eyes, don’t they? I bet they look great and I hope Randy has told you as much and if he hasn't then maybe you need to leave him and hold out for someone who will appreciate you. Not judging. Just saying. Give it some thought.
But I'm rambling, Tess. Forgive me. None of that is what I came by to say. I had a little and you know how that stuff makes me ramble. Hold on, hold on, hold on. Before you think what I know you'll think, just know that I didn't drink it for me. No sir, I happen to know that Jack makes me ramble and that this letter was supposed to be a quick one. I drank it for you. No lie. Let me explain.
I didn't want Randy to look out here and see me and feel scared and not be able to drink pink wine and play spades, so I killed the engine, but then it got cold and instead of cranking it back up-- you remember how loud my truck is, don't you?-- I decided to take a few sips for warmth. Just a few sips and just until I finished this letter. But it dragged. The letter, I mean. And I now I'm good and buzzed and thinking maybe it makes more sense to stop writing and just go inside, to bang down that old door and tell you what I came to tell you. Would that really be so bad?
I know what that little piece of paper says. And I can only imagine what your friends and family have said about me. But tell me, Tess, in the end, what's so bad about a man wanting to walk through his own door, sit down at his own table, and have a little talk with the woman who carried his child? Tell me, now, where’s the crime in that?
Okay, okay, though. The point. You want the point. Well what is the point? The point is this. The point is what happened tonight at Freedie's. I was up there having a drink-- trust me, trust me, I have that under control now and it's nothing like it used to be-- and we were just sitting there, like any other night, when this song came on the radio. And you know me, not too big on music, so at first I wasn't half-listening. I was just shooting the shit with Freedie and watching the game. But the whole time I'm sitting there, this little song was behind me, just playing and building, and playing and building, and before I knew it, I was hooked. See, that’s the point. The song is the point.
I know how this must sound, Tess, but I swear this little song, this stupid little song, came as close to anything I've ever heard at explaining the mess I've made between us. Can you believe that? A song in a bar. Don't ask me what it was or who sang it because I honestly can't remember. The song was country, I know that much. Kind of folk too. Old-timey, in any case. And it was a woman singing. She sounded black. Does that make sense? That someone can sound black? This, too, I can't explain but mean in a positive way. But that’s not the point. The point is that she was singing and there wasn't hardly anything playing behind her. Maybe a guitar and a banjo. No drums, I don't think. But her voice, that was the important part. She was singing about wanting to go back and change things.
Actually, I do remember one of the lyrics because that was it: "I want to go back." That line was basically the whole song. She said some other stuff too, but that one she kept singing, over and over, almost to the point where you thought the record was skipping. But I knew the record was fine because even though the words stayed the same, her voice was changing. Each time she sang it, you could feel her losing strength. And it was the strangest thing, because if you listened closely, you could tell she was getting louder, as if someone had told her that the loudness could overtake the emptiness. Of course it didn't. And she knew it. And I knew it. And I could feel the fight dripping out of her like water from a cracked cup.
"I want to go back, I want to go back, I want to go back" she kept singing. “I want to go back! I want to go back! I! Want! To! Go! Back!”
And me, just sitting there with Freedie thinking about how simple and impossible such a thing was. Me, sitting there alone, thinking how, no matter what happens now, I can never go back. The one thing I want is the thing I can’t have. Ever, Tess. Ever.
I want to go back to the day Maddie was born. You know I still remember seeing her face, all blue and perfect and dripping in blood? Think about it all the time. You remember how I wept that day? How I knelt on the hospital floor, you laid up in that bed and those nurses like white angels floating around the room, and I swore, hand outstretched to heaven, that I'd give it all up for the two of you? I remember that. I remember that so much.
I know, I know. You say leave Maddie out of this. I can't though. She's part of me, can't you see? She's part of us. But that's not even what I'm trying to say. That's not even the point. What’s the point? I know, I know, but the point is this: that moment was that moment and this one is this one and I'm not trying to use it to make up for other ones or to ignore what's happened since. I'm just trying to say that, right then, in that moment, I meant what I said, okay? That's all. That’s it. Can you just trust me when I say that? Because nothing was, or ever will be, more important to me than you two. I watched you holding Maddie and felt my heart fill up with so much love I thought my ribs would crack. I thought, that day, my whole chest would explode from all the love that was in it. Love that day burned brighter than any longing I've ever felt. And it filled me, every part of me, with its fire. I knew then and there that the two of you were a gift I didn't deserve but needed to spend my whole life protecting. Knew it.
"What happened then?" you might ask and, because of what I've done, rightfully so. What happened was this: I couldn't find a way to take that belief and stretch it out. It emptied itself and couldn’t make it real for all the other days and all the other moments. I couldn't find a way to make that fire inside me last. Not that I tried and failed. That's not what happened. No, back then I didn't know enough to try. I didn't know the trick. Because that's the trick, I think-- digging deep to remember the things you once believed were true and holding on to them when you face the moments that make you forget.
And that’s the point, Tess. That you can't just forget. Not now. Now’s the time to dig deep and hold on. That's the whole point, the reason I came by, the reason you need to open that door and let me in, to call off the divorce and rip that restraining order into pieces, to pay Randy for his tire and send him on his way, to pack everything up and load up this truck and drive with me to a place where we can start again, where nobody knows our names, a place where we can look back on this night and laugh. Tess, I want to be in a place where we can look back on everything and laugh.
The singer was right. We can't go back. We can never go back. But who says we can't go on? Tell me that, Tess. I know that things can get worse. And, with us, they did. But who ever said they couldn’t get better? Who ever said that once things have fallen apart you can't pick up the pieces and build something even better than the first?
Answer me that and I'll leave you alone.
PS: While writing this, Hushpuppy came up to my truck looking hungry and sad and, against my better judgment, I fed him some beef jerky. I apologize for that. I know how that stuff messes with his stomach and if he throws up on the carpet, that's on me. I just have a soft spot for the little guy is all. He looked so sad and hungry. He looked so pitiful, I swear.