Photo Art by Michael Dooley
I hadn't been doing well since the divorce, delivering pizzas, living mostly off my tips; plus a friend said I looked like I'd put on some weight, something no one ever likes to hear. And of course there was the baby. You can see why I might be a little depressed, so I decided instead of dwelling on my depression or fantasizing about the babysitter, I'd focus on the baby.
Call it a parent's intuition, but when there is something amiss with your child, you feel it. You just know, and to be sure, smoking is just not right. This required research, facts culled from voluminous studies. The baby needed facts if ever I was to reason with her. As with all brilliant minds, there exist elements of self destruction. History and literature abound with examples. Genius, despite its rewards, can poses a kind of inelegance.
The evidence was incontrovertible. I began to see burnt sienna tobacco stains between her little fingers. Her room reeked. Nearly as alarming, I learned the anxiety of quitting smoking might compel her to become even more distant from me, or compel her to smoke even more, something I would not be able to endure. So I moved the baby's crib into my bedroom, beside my bed. I knew enough of addiction that, as with vampires, it could not stand the harsh sunlight of public scrutiny.
That night I lay facing her and my bedside clock. I smelled it, keeping my head perfectly still. The bedside clock read 3:21 AM. I heard the sibilant, labored breathing mingled with the smoke, I could smell her fear, her shame, yet at the same time, just how much she feared being detected. I could almost hear her heart vibrating as she pursued her subterfuge. I was afraid. I was afraid I was dreaming, yet even more so, that I was not.
She lay on her back, perfectly still, spouting and puffing cigarette smoke like a Lionel Train.
I wanted to shout. I wanted to warn her of the dangers of smoking, to impress upon her that she was all I had and how desperate I was for her love, just as I loved her mother despite her love no longer being reciprocated. I knew all along she never truly loved me due to what she called my "issues." Still, we both had issues. Hers were she had repeatedly been abused as a child. This compelled her to seek out men with whom she could have sex devoid of intimacy. As she explained it, it was her way of regaining some control over men through sex. I have to admit, she had been honest. I'll give her that much. No matter how painful it was to me, she related details I both did and didn't want to hear. It was heartbreaking and painful, but I saw myself as her savior, someone who understood and could support her. And love her anyway. But it all backfired, despite my understanding and repeated forgiveness.
She only desired more distance... to pursue her activities. When the baby arrived, I hoped all would be well, that it would create a new closeness for us, real love. Soon enough, though, her words escalated into name calling and accusations, and eventually she abandoned the baby and me for a guy she'd met at a grocery store, leaving just a hastily scrawled note.
The next night I moved the crib into my room. I considered the baby's problem may not be smoking as much as a kind of preadolescent willfulness, that she may in fact simply be rebelling, though it did seem a little premature. Looking down at her I asked, "Do you hate me?" My question was only met with a stare, blinks, and a smile. How could I ever really know? Did she hate and blame me for her mother no longer being around ? Perhaps she hadn't been smoking at all. Maybe I was only desperately imagining. Nothing's impossible. Still, I pondered... 1:43 PM, cigarettes, matches, a lighter... something, anything that could allow me to know it was real. In tears I went to weigh myself in the bathroom, then returned to my room. Two more pounds. I was definitely gaining weight.
I retrieved the farewell note, hoping to discover something I'd missed a hundred of times before. Anything to do with smoking. Wondering if, as a baby, my wife had smoked as well. The guy she'd run off was the assistant to the assistant manager. He ran the produce section and was semi in charge of inventory.
To be honest, this is a lie. I made it up. As far as I know, he just worked at the store, in what capacity I have no idea. But I do know that like most all things, impulsive decisions never work out. In tears I went to weigh myself in the bathroom, then returned to my room. Two pounds. I was definitely gaining weight.
I retrieved the farewell note, hoping to discover something I'd missed a hundred times before. Anything to do with smoking. Wondering if, as a baby, my wife had smoked as well.
Unfolding the crisp and yellowed note, I once again read her words. "Dear Pond Scum..."
At the time, I'd considered those words to be hurtful, but had I, in my despair, been too hasty? Had I overlooked something... a clue? After all, pond scum, from what I'd later read, is actually a biological term for forms of life that are animate, vital, and interdependent, whose very existence, like our understanding of reality, even life itself, lay just below our ability to perceive, just beyond the reach of our limited senses, entrusting it all to our faith and imagination.