It Was Only Today

It began as most every other day begins – opening the door just before, or exactly on the stroke of midnight. He could always tell the time because the clanging bells from an old church gonged faithfully, and steadily each hour. This time, there were three gongs left as he locked the door behind himself.

A chill escaped from the region of his lower neck through his upper back that caused him to shiver ever so slightly as he took off his coat and hung it up. It was the date, he knew. That date had come again.

Rich in self-loathing, he muttered an “Oh God” and drew on a freshly lit cigarette while he stared down at the empty street. He thought of the semi-celebratory opening of a beer, but was tired enough to deny the impulse. Standing in the shadows and grappling with a bout of ennui were to be the circumstances of the moment. He knew that today would not be unlike many of those days in the past. The past that alarmingly seemed to be distancing itself from his memories.

The church bells had gonged one AM before he realized how long he had been staring at the night zenith and mulling out of focus, listless in his stance with his broad shoulders drooping.

Sleep was alternatively deep and on occasion, frustratingly light – waking for no reason and without even a remnant of a dream sequence that might have caused him to awaken so sharply. Bright early morning came with the reminder that because he hadn’t slept his normal and consecutive hours in a row, he would probably take a late afternoon nap. A reminder that the date was just another to later tear off of the daily word of the day calendar.

Moments came that would bring capricious bouts of apartment cleaning spasms, but flickered and were extinguished within minutes. A brief, forced march to the outside world and through a local park had made him shower, dress and reintroduce himself to the warm sun above. The white noise of the busy city washed his brittle thoughts, and people watching as he sat on an empty bench handed him distraction.

The bells of the church gonged twelve times, each stroke deeply resonant and uniform with the last and the one after. The day was moving forward and already half had been lost forever.

“Is this how alcoholics begin?”, he wondered as he sipped on a long-necked beer back at his kitchen table. The growling that had begun as a plea had now grown to a snarl and he peered into the freezer for a morsel of microwaveable late afternoon snack. None called him to attention so he grabbed the closest package, heated it and gobbled even as it sometimes burned his mouth causing him to suck in air sharply to cool it off quickly.

Even more frighteningly than spending the day alone was the thought that if the opportunity presented itself, he was comfortably within the frame of mind that he would politely refuse. It would have seemed forced and would have come out of pity. The invisible barrier between his determination to make it alone and the unsettling shouting of loneliness had eroded to gel thin. What he wanted did not coincide with what he needed.

Six in total were the distinct reverberations of the gong. That meant six in total left. Six more to mark in sequence before it ended, lost to waves of eternity.

The inevitable call came later. First on the line sounded upbeat and he could almost touch his smile through the voice box. Second came, and with some enthusiasm expressed happy thoughts of love. Third spoke and uttered in teenaged monotone. It always happened the same way during this act: he asked more questions in order to keep the conversation flowing then they did, he always told them what a wonderful day it had been and that no, of course not, there’s more planned for later. “I Love You” to each having been dispensed, the line was vacated once more.

Inspiration to venture out once more was doused. Enthusiasm was strained from the nakedness of the phone call. It would have been a sham to drive somewhere random, find a seat at the bar, order a beer, have a small meal and smile. He felt that his thoughts would have been on display as if continually flashing on a rolling, red-lettered neon billboard circling above his head. Better to lazily lounge in the environment in which he was at ease with. One that knew the widening boundaries of his frustration and self-pity. One that knew with certain clarity what was stealthily bubbling up ever so incrementally and would be erupting soon enough.

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Unlikely Proposition

Who wouldn’t want to hear those words, I thought later?

She started off by telling me “You have lovely eyes.” I smiled and said “Thank you.” She then said that she bet that a lot of women had kissed my eyes romantically. Well, sure, I thought to myself, and they were tender kisses, laid down by velvety lips. Flash memories brought wonderful thoughts of encounters gone by.

I caught her looking at my butt when I was turned away from her and I flushed red.

With her smile still etched she said “You have a strong body for someone so thin.” I felt awkward but told her that I exercise a lot. Her eyes widened again and blurted “I’d like to see you with your shirt off.”  That stopped me short. She went further when she told me that she’d like to see me dance in front of her. This time it was my eyes that widened!

I gazed quickly at the picture of her that was in a thin, black frame on the wall. She was ‘a babe’ in that picture. Her trademark cover-story gleaming smile, her hair in a fashionable flip, a dip in the front of her dress that hinted at what lied beneath and a hem that was short, but even shorter due to a gust of wind that just happen to pass at the moment the picture was snapped and waved her dress slightly up and to her left. She was holding a sun hat, wide-brimmed and yellow that she held in front of her with both hands. Her petite figure was framed within the sun that was the background on the shoreline where she stood and it reminded me of a photo that might have been used to publicize a romance novel. Sweet, and very alluring.

She went for broke and whispered, just barely audible, “I want you in my bed.”

That was the line that shocked me. Although I’m not easily shaken, that pronouncement sent a shiver from my brain to my gut and caused me to involuntarily stand bolt upright. I heard what she said, but reeled with amazement at her bold verbal strokes. I felt the redness in my cheeks radiating heat down to my neck and became flustered.

Calmly she said “Come on, it will just be me and you having fun.”

I blinked, aghast at her words. I turned and walked away as I thinly smiled at her and said “Good night Mrs. Smith.”

Mrs. Smith is seventy-four years old and has progressing dementia.

Eye Candy

There’s a post by Merissa over at the Immature Matron that I read a short while ago which inspired me to write. In her post she wrote, and featured pictures, of both males and females who she feels are ‘hot’.

Nothing wrong about leering over a photo or video or movie and taking in the refreshing scent of a few select beautiful people. Look no further than me to see a party guilty of looking over a lithe, waif-like model du jour. But that’s the problem for me – the vast majority of those female models and pretty boys are so quick to be deleted from public consumption and recent memory. They’ll survive on looks for a year or two, maybe more, survive a few more on cosmetic surgery and scandal, but for the most part, they last as long as a heat shimmer on a cool day.

Though I appreciated the media favorites, even as a little kid I appreciated even more the art form of someone who as an adult, looked great. Someone who had maybe done their time in a lingerie spread but is way over their ‘best if used by‘ date. Someone who had flashed a lot of skin for the cover of a sports magazine, but who has traded that in for the life of a parent. Someone who despite what flash in the pan the paparazzi happens to be zeroing in on today, has attained dignity and grace of spirit. Someone who has not only retained youthful beauty, but through gradual maturity, has somehow found a way to add to that beauty. “Someone who has aged well”, to borrow a phrase.

You can keep the flavor of the year. I want the mellowed blend that has gone from within impulsive easy reach, to classic top shelf.

Here are a few that I feel look better now than they ever did:

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The Amount Of Time – Turned

It’s mainly about grasping the gift.

Before I even turn the knob and open the door inward, before I pull the key out of the lock I have a smile that tightens my face. Stepping in I take note of the pugnent apple and cinnamon candle scent that remains still alive, drifting lazily throughout the apartment. She had brought it over with a red bow tied around its girth and placed it center on the table and lit it right away. Tonight there was a note leaning against it, a folded sheet of expensive parchment that when spread open announced “This weekend can’t come soon enough”.

The warm, illuminating lamp light revealed the scores of changes, many of them subtle, that she has made since we’ve been dating. Irregularly spaced framed photographs have been replaced or rehung in new locations in order to mix tastefully along with new artful prints, and a newly installed corner shelf holds an African Violet that she had saved, newly budded with red points and a tender, new ivy plant, its vines full and cascading. Bright and boldly ornate contemporary throw pillows have been strategically placed on the sofa, love seat and chair giving them a new look and a quick glance make them appear not my own.

The windows are graced with thin, white horizontal poles, newly installed also, upon which hang differing lengths of shepards canes that hold plants of all colors – some I had never seen before, a new rug centered and fixed attention to the living room with its red and light brown pattern and a green wire room divider had been chosen for the wide space of white, near the door, and had a leaf pattern that now hold additional hanging pictures, in framed lockets, of my children.

It had taken some getting used to, the orderly yet comfortable ambiance that had taken hold here. The new and inexpensive backsplash gazing from the stove, the countertop that was converted from a catch-all to a colorful and functional area of culinary inspiration, the bed was given additional height by the twelve inch posts put under each of its four corners, the shiny and satiny feel of six hundred thread sheets made me feel more comfortable with the fact that they were a shade of deep, heart red, and the wide-eyed astonishment that I first had as she laced and looped the multiple tails of a vividly adorned kite (of all things imaginable) between drop-ceiling tiles, was replaced with excitement and contentment at being led out of my stulted knowledge of decor as she tied tiny strings to the body, which let it hang and float just inches from their anchor.

The note, still held in hand, had a post script. It said “Turn on the TV and play the video”. I noticed that the disk player was open and a disk placed into it was labeled in black marker “Play Me”. I sat on the couch, the middle cushion, the one with the most comforting give to my frame, and with the remote control, pressed ‘Play’. She had turned the recorder to herself and I could tell from what she wore that it was recorded the night before. I could hear water sizzling in the background and knew that it was recorded while I was in the shower. She was giggling as she spoke.

“I want to tell you that I am so happy that we’ve met. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve laughed so hard and for that alone, I thank you. I find myself thinking about you all the time now – at work and at home. I guess that I simply want to tell you how much you mean to me and that I’m glad that we have each other. And I’m looking forward to seeing you this weekend. Bye!”

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The Amount of Time

It’s mainly about trying not being alone.

It’s tiring and deflating to walk in after midnight, open the door and see everything clouded in darkness. When the first light is turned on, the shadows around the disarray seem longer and rough edged. The stillness is loud and has a wry grin. The air is limp and never forgets that I will sigh loudly while I take off my coat and have an internal debate about whether I’ll hang it up in the closet or simply let it lie on the chair where I sit to take off my shoes.

The refrigerator light that engulfs me as I open the door seems the open eye of a witness who takes note of my late night slouch, my weary countenance and my disregard of civility as I pull out the gallon jug of iced tea and swig greedily.

I can look mere feet from where I stand and notice the dishes that need only to be placed within the grill of the dishwasher, the socks that make dramatic splashes across my bedroom floor, the unmade bed awash in wrinkles, the spot where a plant fell and still has beads of soil that need to be vacuumed up, the stack of pages, letters and mail that is opened, or needs to be opened, the shameful dust on the bookshelf, the stark white walls interrupted only briefly with photographs, the half filled storage bins with their covers scattered, the cabinet doors left open which look like broad wings in the darkness and the couch blankets that have been thoughtlessly tossed and are spread wide open.

The couch can attest to the lonely moments. I sit on the middle cushion, slightly hunched over and close to the edge so I will not sink in and stare at a random object. Not for the sake of study, or contemplation of some matter, but an effortless and blank gaze without the whirring of thought.

Sometimes the distraction of a TV channel causes mild focus and my mind blindly adheres to the chain of conversation or story on the screen and a half hour has gone by. A commercial interrupts the bland interaction between us and I stand, stretching out my arms, back and legs and the thought of lying down occurs. Not out of exhaustion, but out of boredom. Most nights it”s right there on the couch, the oldest inanimate object in my apartment – one that was given to me, where I surrender, without benefit of taking off my work clothes, to the loveless ennui and close my eyes not for weary eyelids, but for lack of emotional stimulation.

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Supporting Them

 

When I became divorced, there was never an issue of supporting my children. While I am aware that a lot of men have issue with paying, or the pay amounts, I chose the opposite. My lawyer gave me a figure that stated the amount that she was going for and because I didn’t know any better, I agreed to the sum. Later, I began reading online and found a calculator provided by the state as to general guidelines. I filled out the form and found to my astonishment that I could be paying more!

I approached my lawyer at the next meeting, provided her with the material and said that I wanted to pay the maximum amount by law. She advised me against it, but after all, they are my angels, my light, the reason for trying to achieve a better future for them and my only family on earth. Why wouldn’t I want to give them as much as I can? The order was changed to the maximum amount and I’m proud to tell anyone that I pay faithfully, and on time, each and every week.

When I was out of a job last fall into winter, I let the ex know what was happening and that I was struggling and would pay her what I could – even as I edged closer to homelessness without a weekly  paycheck. I did payed what I could – an over payment, an underpayment, but I tried to keep it going even as I was unemployed. Even as I went out on endless and unproductive interviews. Even as Thanksgiving and Christmas were creeping closer and becoming unavoidable.

Then, she notified Child Support and told them she was not getting child support. A further move by her that caused me heartbreaking grief and wrenching disgust, was that she decided to not tell them of the amounts that I had given to her by hand. As far as the ‘system’ had been aware, I had simply stopped paying anything at all.

One morning early last month, I woke up, fixed a cup of tea, and sat to check bank balances. I was stunned to find that my account was frozen – a lien had been enforced by the state division of Child Support. I could not even withdraw money to pay for gas which would allow me to travel to work 22 miles away. I don’t have sick time accumulated yet. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Without pay I can not meet any financial obligations – rent, phone, electricity, basic cable. Child support.

I declined to put up a post at the time about the tale of having my assets frozen. It’s humuliating having that done. It’s a desperate situation that stops your heart and has you thinking lunatic thoughts. It’s embarrassing knowing that you are unable to gain the necessary money to support your children. And mostly, it was a deepening of the chasm that seperated me and the ex because she had verbally said to me that she would be fine with repaying the back amount on a weekly basis as I could afford it while I was searching for employment.

Plans for children do not stop. There are sports to be paid for, gas for two and three times a week pickups and drop offs, groceries to be bought and entertainment for them. All while unemployed.

Then she notified child support.

I was devestated.

Thankfully, I now have a job. I have a paycheck that again has my child support taken out automatically, I have weekly taxes to pay and I have a new health plan that decimates my weekly check. All this on less money – much less money, than I was earning at my last position.

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OK, Half-Full

Among the many lessons I continually repeat to my children is the one of the glass being half-full.

Dad (after sadly looking at the time): I only have forty-five minutes left with you.

Son (smirking): Dad, it’s not half-empty! Look at it as you have forty-five more minutes with us!

Dad (stunned): ”                                  ”

Sure, I’m lonely as could be right now while writing this, doing nothing, but I received an additional forty-five minutes with my kids today.

And that’s made all the difference.

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