The sun filters in through the chinks between the dusty curtain panels, landing square on my face. I squint, grimace, then pull the covers over my head. As a final insult to the blast of sunlight, I turn my back on its offensive attempt to wake me.
Why do mornings always seem to arrive too soon?
Not long after, I hear the usual tentative stirrings coming from the little-boy-themed rooms down the hall. Mason’s is decorated like a dinosaur shrine, complete with murals of T-Rexes and triceratops painted on the walls, while a myriad of statuettes and similar toys could be found littering every horizontal surface. Discarded clothing and other boy-related junk have also made his sty---room--their final resting place and now lie strewn about and dormant. Brian’s wasn’t any better. There are mornings when I go to wake him and can barely find the scrawny body underneath all the blankets, toys and stuffed animals crammed into the bed with him. How does he sleep like that? I always wonder. And when he does awaken, his eyes red-rimmed and sleepy looking, I conclude, Obviously, not very well. But he refuses to abandon his treasures, and so he goes through his day like a cranky, bleary-eyed sleep-walker.
I continue to listen to the morning sounds, zooming in on the blaring roar of the shower as Mark prepares for his day. At least he gets to escape this zoo, I think before I’m distracted by the high pitched moans and groans of the boys as they realize they have to get up.
I finally open my eyes and scan the room. Dust particles float through the air, wafting in and out of the shafts of yellow sunlight. Our room is tidy but sparsely furnished. Since the boys were born, we haven’t spent much time in here. Dusky shadows fall across me like a favourite blanket. I welcome them. Shadows don’t burn the eyes like the sun does; they are comforting, welcoming. I can hide in them while, like a dusky veil, the truth of my miserable life is hidden from me.
At last I accept that I must get out of bed. If the kids miss the bus, I’ll have to drive them to school which is a feat involving a whole other set of problematic logistics I don’t want to face. So I throw on my robe, stick my feet in my old, tattered slippers and race downstairs to begin the familiar, mind-numbing morning routine I have done every day for the last number of years. Routine. Some say it is essential to keep a household running smoothly.
I say it’s essential to driving a person crazy.
On the way to the kitchen, I stop to look at myself in the hall mirror. Dishevelled slightly greying hair, eyes still caked with sleep, and skin creased with sleep lines reflect back at me; a demented parody of the hottie I used to be.
Crazy. I smile crookedly at the circus freak staring back at me in the mirror, then slink into the kitchen.
"Hey, Meg," I say into the phone two hours later. "They’re finally gone." I sit at the kitchen table, my coffee patiently waiting for me while one hand slowly unclenches my tousled dyed-brown hair as the quiet of the house finally signals to my mind that I am alone.
The house is a mess. It’s always a mess. No matter how many times I pick up the clothes, organize the mail or clean the dishes, there is always more to be done. This morning, spilled milk sits in white puddles all over the kitchen table, while Cheerios are scattered in clusters on the counter and on the floor. Dirty dishes smile wickedly at me from their pile in the sink, while the remains of last night’s homework project lie unfinished on the kids’ work table.
"Mason'll will get a D because you weren’t able to help him finish last night," it hisses at me.
"Shut up, damn you!" I almost shout back but remember I’m on the phone and squash the reaction.
"How you doin’?" Meg is an old friend. We’d met while in the hospital after delivering our oldest boys. She is a stay at home mom like me, and since we both experience the same kind of stresses, out of desperation we have become even closer, sort of latching on to each other like two drowning people, each using the other as leverage to escape the fatal tides of our lives.
I sigh. "I have no idea. I’m so tired, Meg. Tired of staring at these bloody walls, at picking up the same crap day after day. I…sometimes I wonder how much longer I can take it." A hint of my secret impulse starts to raise its head, but I firmly repress it.
She doesn’t answer right away. I’m not sure if it’s because she feels the same way or if it’s because my words have panicked her. Suddenly feeling exposed, I hastily add, "No, I don’t mean that, really. Things are kinda tough right now. Mason’s having trouble at school; he’s being assessed by the psychologist tomorrow. And Brian…well, you know."
We’d just found out that Brian has been bullying some kids at school. When we ask him why he did it, he remains tight lipped. No one could make him talk, not even Mark who, through outings to the batting cages and trips to Dairy Queen, could usually could get him to open up. Now, every time he enters the room, I watch him with a growing sense of hollowness in the pit of my stomach as I realize that the child I had carried inside my own body, who I had tended to and raised for all these years, was now a total stranger to me. He's only 8.
Unnoticed, my hand had resumed its hair-clutching, and I jerk it away when pain jolts through my scalp. Better cut that crap out or I’ll be bald by next Tuesday. I drop my hand and grip the coffee mug instead.
"I’m getting worried about you," Meg’s voice suddenly whined at me through the phone. "Maybe you should talk to someone."
I laugh. "After all this time, after all the stuff I’ve shared with you, you’re only worried about me now?" Then I sober. Should I talk to someone? But the thought of lowering myself to ask for help irks me. I’ve never had to before and I certainly wouldn’t start that nonsense now.
"Hey," I answer, forcing a lightness into my voice. "I said I was joking. Seriously, I’ll be fine. I think I’ll go take a walk. That should help."
Yes, and maybe I’ll keep walking and never come back. There it is. The secret desire, suddenly revealed before I could beat it back down into submission. The compulsion triggers an image of me walking outside in the open air, free, unburdened, alone, which ignites a sense of giddy delight. But also of crushing guilt. I couldn’t do that. They’d never forgive me. I’d never forgive myself.
…I couldn’t really do it…
D. Forde (October 2011)