Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stale Air: Bargaining - Part Three

The local train isn't stopping at Dyckman due to construction, so we have to get off at 190th Street and walk the cold walk to the old apartment. It’s been two weeks since he's come to visit his son, or visit "us," as he sometimes would say. There is a sort of giddiness and warmth to his walk, which is strange for a man who always seems to walk like his mind is tormented by some question. He holds onto the stroller of our droopy son, and playfully races him down Broadway's concrete, through the crisp air of his second winter. This wakes him a little, and his face now has a wide smile painted on it as he sits upright at the front of his seat. I spot the liquor store ahead, where I had found a large bottle of our favorite red wine on sale some weeks ago. I can't remember if I'm running low, but I need back up for the unexpected occasion. We taste some free woody rum sample, I purchase the wine, and he holds the door, but this time I push. No race car sounds or speeding stroller. We only hear the wheels crushing the tiny hard dust that tries to cement itself to the streets of this neighborhood. His walk persists. I'm already lamenting what hadn't yet happened, but I still wonder if it'll change something inside me. Perhaps take me out of my own torment in some strange way.

The apartment is warm and there are shoes scattered in the hall when we walk in, making it harder to maneuver the big stroller inside. He sets his bag down, takes his boots off, and goes into the restroom. I swiftly remove my things so that our boy, now droopy again, doesn't become restless in his layers, still strapped inside the stroller. I strip him down to his diaper and onesie and let him go into the warm, dry, radiator-heated air of the living room before closing the safety gate behind him. He walks towards the scattered toys on his play mat, and picks up a small, stuffed pig attached to a cow by a ring. They both jingle against each other, but he is too tired to exert any enthusiasm. His father enters and sits on the chair squeezed between the playpen and the round wooden table. The table holds up and corners the lamp of mosaic glass dragonflies, but the broken stem still limps toward the table. His slacks are ironed and rested against the crossed legs that hang off his body, slouching off the rigid dark wooden chair. His short Afro has been growing out since he shaved off his locks. I notice how the new look brings out the slant of his quiet eyes. The framing, rough beard contrasts the dark smooth skin that blankets the face that rarely changes expression. Our tumbling boy walks towards him and raises his two hands up. I go into the kitchen to grab the wine glasses and give them some time. I find less than half of a bottle left in the fridge, and fill two glasses up. After placing the glasses and bottle on the table, I move to the bedroom to change out of my clothes. As I throw the layers of wrinkled and worn skirt, socks, and stockings onto the pile of clothes in the closet, I think about what to change into. The satin slip would be too obvious, and I might be wrong about this feeling. I throw on a white tank top and think about just doing the lace panties I have on, but I'm not that comfortable, yet. I spot the grey drawstring sweats and throw them on.

Our son's little fingers are grabbing at his father's bottom talking lip, and he tickles his hand out of his face and toward his tummy. He mentions that he copped some decent bud from someone in Brooklyn. I take a gulp of the cold wine and become more certain about this feeling. Some conversation takes place about his unstable living situation, the progress of his film, and his diet devolving. His eyes move between my eyes and his glass of wine. I try hard to keep a focused gaze, but I look away because I don't want him to tap into the deep pool of love and rage that I'm doing a good job at taming. Our little boy tries to pick up selected toys to show to his father, usually to no avail. He surrenders and throws his hands up at me instead. I pick him up and offer him my breast, and he takes it. I try to keep track of the conversation and wonder if I should bring us up. Certain that he didn't come to have that talk, I go with the flow, lacking the courage to shake the distance between us that safeguards us against each other. He asks how teaching is going, and I tell him it's been difficult. Not much about why comes out, but the weight of carrying the world's burden sneaks into the forefront of my mind. I take another gulp of wine, and slowly bring my tank top down between my breast and our son's open, breathing mouth. I walk him to his crib in the bedroom, and slowly find my way through the stroller and shoe filled hallway and into the now smoky living room. He passes me the spliff. I inhale once, twice, and pass it back. I let go, trying not to cough, but a small one lets out. I wait for something. I close my eyes and the escape only lasts a few moments. I prefer the wine, take another gulp and pour some more into both glasses. My body almost fits into the cold chair with my knees wrapped around my chest. The conversation this time becomes an obvious mask to the screaming, crying, and loving that has taken place between us over the past two and a half years in that living room. I look at the man in front of me that so nonchalantly carries his own traumatic memories, as he does his joyous ones, as if they were all the same clear jellybeans in an unopened jar. I know the habit doesn't do him any good, but I don't know how aware he is of my knowing. The conversation slows and I get up to brush my teeth and wash my face. As I walk into the dark bedroom of our sleeping son, looking for my towel, he shouts from the living room, asking me if I have some sheets for the couch. I tell him I do. I think about how this would play out, with his ego in the way. I wouldn't be embarrassed if he refuses my legs wrapped around him on that chair. In fact, I half want his rejection so that things could be clearer and I'd have less about this night to lament later on.

I'm not thinking about later on when he responds instead with his face buried between my shoulders saying, "I miss you too." His kisses are soft and tainted with his sadness, or mine. I can't tell the difference. We move onto the couch in the darkness, trying not to step on the noise making toys. We call each other's names, and each time I hear mine, my open wounds bleed into my heart. The tears stream onto the outsides of my eyes and into my hair, my ears, and I whisper to him, "you have no idea." He answers back, "I do." We make love to the past, as if offering a last toast to our three years, from the flowering honeymoon phase that was full of hope to the bitter end of our persistence. The pain mixes with pleasure and the wine is in me to ease the guilt and shame. Our wet bodies cling onto each other, and I remember the few times he had held me this way after making love. Usually we would lay face up on our bed, looking at our thoughts as if they hung from the ceiling. We fall asleep in the musky air of sweet smoke and funk.

The sound of a crying baby jerks me awake and I rush into the bedroom. I pick him up and he throws himself sideways against the length of my arms and I offer him a breast. He walks into the bedroom, completing the family. He spreads himself onto our old bed of red sateen sheets, and looks out the window that stands by his old side of the bed. I wonder if he is always honest when I ask him what he is thinking. I wonder why he never asks me what I'm thinking when that same shadow comes upon my face. I dig into some of my pain and decide to tell a half-truth, and ask a question about how he faced his mother's death in his early twenties. My mother's undiagnosed leg and back pain had been stirring fear with the endless loss that continues to empty out the corners of my mind. I miss knowing I could share the terror of losing my own mother, with him. A different, softer silence came onto his face as he talked about his anger at the doctors, his mother being unconscious, the feeling of hopelessness, and the nights he spent in the hospital by her bedside. His eyes were locked into an empty space in the dark air that carried that part of his memory. His ego was down. This space is his empty canvas, the backdrop of his everyday thoughts and interaction with others, his point of reference. When he would visit my mother's house, he would spend the majority of the time in his sketchbook, playing a game on his phone, or perusing the books at the independent bookstore down the street. My mother would read this as impoliteness. I tell him that I never judged his silence. He looks out of his memory and into my face. His eyes seem to have brought with him the sorrow from that past, and his lips are molded into a slight frown at the corners as they give a solemn and sad man's "thank you."

I'm curious of the space I had just walked into. I try tucking in pieces of me, but more comes spilling out than I intended. Our separation had wrecked me. The ceaseless grading, the constant fighting, the intoxicated students, struggling with death, pain, and grief of their own, had steeped me further beneath my own anguish. I stop myself from mentally reliving a work day and think about overcoming this. I mention it'd be nice to do yoga again on a regular basis. With concern in his voice, he mentions the importance of exercise for health and stress relief. I ask what days he has off from school, what hours his classes end. With his eyes tracking the pieces of furniture in the room, he gives me some mishmash of hours, days, and semester breakups that wouldn't make it possible for him to relieve my mom from being the second parent. His ego is back up, and I mentally rub on the still open, and now salted wounds. I assume position looking at the hanging thoughts on the ceiling as he walks into the bathroom to brush his teeth.

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