“Hey, it’s dad. How are you?”
D.J. seemed a little surprised to hear my voice but she recovered nicely and continued. “I’m good. What about you?”
“Okay, I guess. I’ve missed talking to you. You’re a busy girl. Every time I call the house you’re out doing something.” I threw a laugh onto the end of the sentence to let her know I was sincere, not aggravated.
“What can I say?” Obviously, not much. But I was going to continue to pry a conversation out of her.
“Do you have a few minutes to talk to me?”
“I guess…” Good enough.
“Look, I’m sorry we haven’t had a one-on-one since your mom had her visit up here. I want to make sure you are alright.” The last sentence was greeted with silence.
“D.J.? Are you there?”
“Yes, I’m here, but I don’t know how to answer.”
“Let me see if I can help you. Did mom explain what the current situation is—”
“—oh, I know what’s going on, mom made that clear,” she interrupted. “But that’s not why you’re calling me. You’re wondering how I’m doing, if I am dealing with everything, what my mood is.” Her frustration was evident in her tone. “Do you really want to know?”
“Absolutely.” I guess.
“I’m not doing good at all. This whole situation is screwed up. It feels like you and mom are officially separated!”
“No! That’s not it at all. We aren’t going through some phase leading to a divorce or anything like that!”
“Well how is this any different than what I’ve seen with my friend’s parents around a million times? It looks just like it and it scares me.” D.J. rarely cried but she sounded close. “This was never supposed to happen in my house, even if it happened in everyone else’s.”
“And it’s not happening now, honey, I promise. It’s just an odd time for your mom and I, what with my new job and trying to sell the house and—”
“—that stupid decision you made to dump Jesus!”
“You’re right, that’s played a bigger role than I anticipated, but we can and will work through it. I promise.”
“How? Just what are you doing to get everyone back together? I see mom every day and know what she’s doing but I don’t have any idea what you’re doing to get this fixed.” I suppressed the desire to ask what Ellen was doing, knowing D.J. wanted my answer, not another question. The problem was I didn’t have a lot to tell her. Besides pouting and being angry, I hadn’t put a lot of effort into a resolution because I hadn’t done anything wrong and Ellen needed to get her act together so she could join me, not the other way around. I didn’t want to mention the therapist because it was still too early to determine if it was a viable option. I couldn’t tell if the sessions were going to be helpful or detrimental and I hated to play that card too early, hoping to hold it until it would bring maximum benefit to my cause.
“I’m doing some things, talking to people, staying in touch with your mother… I’m not ignoring the situation, hoping it will go away.”
“Impressive.” She was going to have to clean her phone because of the sarcasm that had just dripped onto the mouthpiece.
“Hey, watch your tone!” I was still dad, after all.
“Sorry. I’m sorry.” She said it with just enough regret to placate me but with enough lingering cynicism to make sure I knew she regretted nothing.
“Look, it’s complicated, okay? We’re each dealing with it the best we can.”
“Oh, I know what mom’s doing. She’s praying for you and still seeing that lady at church once a week. Have you thought about doing that?”
“Seeing someone and talking to them about all of this, like a counselor or something like that.” She missed the sarcasm of my question.
“Yeah, I’ve thought about it—”
“You should do it. It’s really helped mom.” It’s helped her stay away from me, I know that. How much other damage or good had been rendered was hard to say.
“I’ll keep that in mind. Is mom there?”
“No. She’s at the grocery store.”
“Tell her I’ll call her later, okay?”
“Sure… one other thing. I know this has got all of us screwed up right now but I still love you, daddy. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be so mad at you right now.”
“So you’re still mad at me?” It was easy to tell but, for some reason, I needed her to say it for verification.
“I love you too, D.J. and I miss you a bunch. Hang in there; it’s going to work out.”
Was it? I was starting to have my doubts. D.J.’s description of what we were going through had a ring of truth to it. It did feel like Ellen and I were going through a trial separation, taking some time apart to sort through our feelings or some other obnoxious bullshit. I felt myself getting angry again, frustrated that the situation had gone this far. Gone so far that I was relegated to second-class status in my own home, relying on blind phone conversations and imagined facial expressions to keep me in contact with my family. I tried to alter my thought patterns, thinking of positive things like work and… work. Realizing that was the extent of the good stuff steered my emotions back to anger.
But what was new about that? It was becoming an annoyingly frequent pattern with me, confusion followed by frustration and anger. It was sad that I looked forward to being muddled. The one thing I wasn’t confused about was how much I missed my family. The normalcy of the day-to-day interaction, the good and the bad, was a huge vacancy I couldn’t ignore. I missed the wake-up nudges, the kisses goodnight and all of the hundreds of other moments when our circles would intersect. Instead of growing numb to the separation I was growing more aware of it every day, sitting dead center, refusing to be filled by anything else I tried to throw in. It mocked me and its taunts carried an echo.
I had to get home. I was sure that would help everyone’s state of mind, being able to see each other, talking and touching, replacing the voice on the phone with flesh and blood. A weekend together may also prick the kids emotionally, painfully showing them how much they missed me and needed me, and get them to start a campaign toward Ellen to get her moving forward. I made arrangements at work to leave early on Friday and when I broached the plan with Ellen, she was enthusiastically supportive. It was a great idea and thinking about it made me feel better, like the first bite of an afternoon candy bar it served as a boost, a propellant to get me through the week and arrive at Friday rested and ready to restore.
But when the sun broke the horizon on Friday morning I knew I couldn’t handle it. Somehow, as the week progressed, I had managed to convince myself that going home was too big a risk. That I could not afford another slip like I’d had with Ellen during her visit. If I did that in front of the kids I ran the risk of losing them. So I called Ellen and cancelled. She said she understood but her voice gave her away. She was disappointed but, hopefully, willing to try and understand.
This is an excerpt of a full length novel entitled “Back Again.” You can read it in it’s entirety by downloading it from here or you can keep coming back to this site and read it in chapter chunks over time. Your call but, either way, I hope you will read it and, most of all, enjoy it. And leave a comment or two. It lets me know you are out there…