All You Have to Do – Tom Gaffney
“Why didn’t you call? All you have to do is call.”
“I know, I know – I should have – I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to me. You aren’t hurting me. It is just that they would so appreciate hearing from you. It would have been nice if you could have done it under, say, happier circumstances. But it would still mean so much to them.”
I wonder if the reason I never call anyone is because that’s all she tries to do with me – tries to keep me in contact with folks. Sure, it would be nice to talk with people again. I even miss them. But what does it do? How can it help? I know they would appreciate it, but I just wouldn’t know what to say.
Looking out the window as we exit the tunnel, the valley unfolds before me. The quiet fall night settles in. I try to keep my sister at bay. Try to remember to forget. As soon as the train came out of the tunnel, just as we got signal, she pounced. Like she was watching and waiting, just like my old life, my old scene.
“You know, we’re always here for you. When you need things. We may not see you or talk to you for months at a time. But we’re here. Thinking of you. How hard can it be to call? Why is this always a problem?”
The problem is you do not need to worry about me, I should think: leave me alone. That’s not fair, but she is such a pain.
“Do you remember the last time we saw her together?”
“At Georgia’s wedding. I escorted her in,” I add, quickly. Do not have to grope for that one.
“She was so pleased.”
“It was great talking to her.”
I have successfully avoided this ex-spouse protocol for so long. Isn’t being friendly with your in-laws, even as your marriage breaks up, an achievement? Some mistakes are bigger than other mistakes. I’ve done alright since then. I won’t pretend I was ever proud of myself, but I cleaned up, cut loose, and went somewhere where the old stories would not bother anyone. Or so I hoped.
“I have not spoken to Michelle in years. I have thought about her mother more in that time frame than I have her – which is not saying a whole lot. Sure, they’d love to hear from me, but – what good is it going to do? Forgive me – but what about me? I’m going to have to rehash everything in my own head.”
“So. It is what you do. It’s kind.”
“I’ll send a card. I’m not part of the family anymore. You are, but I’m not. It’s sad, but people pass. She had a good life, and we were on good terms.”
“She had a good life. How generous of you. What is it with you? You let me take care of everything. Mom, Dad, your social network. We were here for you then, when things weren’t so good. Are you available for anyone else?”
“Give me a break – I live on the other side of the continent – not just another time zone, another social network.”
“Only five hours away,” she said.
“Only five hours away. With Facebook and chat it feels ever present. You can run, but you can’t hide. I haven’t Skyped with Dad since last weekend. What an asshole I am. Don’t you understand, it’s hard for me to remember? Sure, it’s selfish. But digging it all back up and going over it really doesn’t help. It makes it harder for me today, right now.”
“Aren’t you supposed to face your problems?”
“Is the death of my ex-mother-in-law my problem?”
“She’s more than that. We all grew up with her. You’re just the same as you always were.”
To myself: no, I have changed. You are the one who is the same – and that is why you are angry. Unhappy with your life? I know, I’ll call my brother and ruin his evening.
“What is it you want? Do you want me to move back?”
“Get over yourself. I’m just asking you to give their family a call. It would help them. Send a card. Or something. Just communicate. Participate. Is that so hard?”
Images of the old neighborhood creeping into my mind. All those mistakes, bad decisions. All that work, all those meetings. All that money. I have worked, and I have moved away, but some of it is always with you – you expect that, I guess. It is what is is: it haunts.
“Sure, whatever. Look, I’m tired of talking. I’ll try to send a card, maybe I’ll call – but just thinking about it is upsetting – like I’d rather go to a meeting or call my sponsor than call them, you know.”
“Hey – everybody else forgave you. You haven’t changed. You can’t admit you were a fuck up and move on. You can just admit you were a fuck up and you shaped up: like that’s enough and now it’s gone. That’s the hardest part – and you’ve done it – you shaped up. Remembering it isn’t paying, it’s who you were, and are. You have to keep working on it.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. Look – I’m getting off the train. I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Call them – and take care of yourself. I’ll check-in with you tomorrow.”
Never let you leave home, never let you come back. I’m not even sure I had such a big problem. A failed relationship – by anyone’s perspective. Did the drink come first? Or did it cause it? It definitely caused the car wreck. Who knows? If I could come up with one thing to explain to myself why I am the way I am, I would. But I can’t. It happened. No denying that. And it can still make me writhe in agony, physically flinch. Michelle dumping me was the best thing that could have happened – for both of us. I know that.
I decide to skip the bus and walk home. Fewer people. I stand on the corner looking in at the bar as I wait to cross. I’ve got no problem not walking in. I pass and start up the hill, walking by the playground as I get near home.
Stop and sit in the deserted dugout on the baseball field. I look out on the mud and the weeds. Think about all that I was. Light up a joint, inhale as deeply as I can, and hold it until I start to see spots and colors. Just like when we were kids.
I’m alright. I cough as I exhale.