Friday, March 9, 2012

this is the man's world

International Women’s Day had been yesterday.  The day always annoyed him, as did Black History Month, and any other month or day devoted to some arbitrary segment of the population -like they needed constant praise and approbation.  Didn’t he go to work every day?  Didn’t he put food on the table, in his home, every day of every month of the year?  Where was his praise?  Where was his adulation and his glory and his special day of the special month of the-

“Did you shave?”

These were her first words when he walked through the door.  He had just spent all day at work.  He was exhausted.  He just wanted five minutes to himself before she started to list the ailments of her day, most of which started with him and something he’d done wrong.

“No, I didn’t have time this morning-”

“ugh,” she groaned, “The one thing I asked you to do today.  I don’t suppose you stopped at the store either?  We’re out of milk, you know.  I reminded you of this repeatedly.”

He sucked in his breath as an answer to her.

She threw up her hands in response.

“Ooh, great,” she took a deep breath, “no milk either.  Fantastic.  Well, hurry up.  We’re already late.”

“Late-” but he remembered before the rest of the sentence was out of his mouth.  Shit.  The parent-teacher conference was tonight, and he’d already missed it twice.  This was the third reschedule.  If they missed it again, their children would be placed “on the bubble,” along with the other kids whose fathers didn’t care.  But, he did care.

The second time he’d missed and she’d had to call the school, she had muttered under her breath -clearly, so that he could hear her -that she’d switch her status to “single” if she had to, in order to avoid embarrassing “shit like this.”  That had cut him.  He already felt marginal in their children’s lives as it was.

He’d hear her sometimes in the evenings, on the phone with her friends who had more caring husbands, seriously discussing a change in her civil status; going on and on about how little he did for her.  He could almost hear her friends nodding their heads on the other end of the line in solemn agreement, silently whispering their thanks to god that their husbands weren’t total wastes of space like he was.  

She was spending more time with her single friends too, he’d noted.  Maybe she didn’t think he noticed stuff like that, but he did.

“Where have you been?” he’d ask.

“Out,” she’d answer without making eye contact, already busy packing the kids’ lunches for the next day.  He may as well as have been wallpaper.

“I fixed the leaky faucet.”

“Wonderful.”  She was already in the master bathroom, with the door closed.  Their daughter knocked on the door.  It opened, but just enough so that she could enter.  He could hear them through the door, whispering and giggling on the other side.

Resigned to life in the enemy encampment that had become his home, he trudged downstairs, ostensibly to watch TV, but really in search of allies.  First, he ventured into the living room, but it was empty.  Then he peeked out the back door, but no one was in the backyard either.  Finally, in the room that was supposed to be his den but had instead become the family library, he found his son hiding behind a book.

He reached over and ruffled his hair.  The affection was deep in his heart when he looked down upon his son.  “Your mother doesn’t pay you much mind, does she?”

“We’re out of milk.”

The words were like a sword, stabbing him in the heart.  “Ah,” he groaned softly, “so you’re on her side too?”

His son blinked up at him.  “Is there milk?”

He sighed.  “No.  I had a long day; I forgot.”

“You didn’t shave either,” his son noted matter-of-factly, “Mother said she’d file for ‘single’ status if you forgot again.”  His eyes went back to his book.  Well, that explained his son’s defection.  If she was openly declaring her intention to leave him, all the better for her son to be on the winning side -hers.

With renewed motivation, he pulled out his shaving kit, determined to be the one done shaving in the guest bathroom before she reemerged from the master bathroom.  

From the living room came the sound of the television, tuned to the Presidential Address.  He groaned.  No wonder she was over-the-border pissed.  Having to reschedule for the third time meant that everyone -including her and their children’s teachers, as well as some of the school’s support staff -would be missing the President’s Address tonight too.  How had he missed that?

He managed to be ready before her, standing in the living room, watching the Presidential Address while he waited.

“Did you DVR it?” she asked.

“No-”

“Yes,” their son answered, piping in over him.

“Aw, thank you, sweetie.”  She ruffled the hair at the top of his head, her affection for him perhaps tempered ever so slightly because he was a boy.  As he watched his wife, he wondered sometimes if he imagined it, this preference of hers for their daughter.  

“Let’s go!”  she chimed abruptly, her voice filled with false cheer.  He could have sworn both his children glared at him for having to leave too.  They wouldn’t be able to watch the Presidential Address as it aired live and by the time they were home from the parent-teacher conference, all of the highlights would already be out and thoroughly discussed by their friends via every social media outlet.

In the car, his daughter and son sat inert in the back seat, the light of their phones glowing back up on their faces.  He knew they were watching the livestream while txting back and forth with their friends.

“Did you see what she was wearing?” he asked his wife, trying to make conversation.

“No,” she sighed, her eyes fixed on the road, “I’m waiting to watch when we get home.”

Later, as they stood over her suitcases, a child attached to her by each hand, all the words had gone dry in his mouth.  He had never imagined this moment would happen to him.  He had plenty of friends whose wives had left them, but now here he was -and it was nothing how they’d described to him over their beers.  It was infinitely worse.

“It’s really quite simple,” she was saying, as if from faraway through a thick fog.  He barely heard her as she went on.  “The attorney assures me that you’ll keep the house and your salary; I’ll keep the stipend, of course.  In the meantime, I’m going to stay at the Women’s House until my mother arrives -and the children will come to visit with you every other weekend, as their schedule permits.”

“May I see you?” he asked, feeling as though he was choking.

She tilted her head to one side, impatient with the knowledge that the cab was waiting on the curb outside.  “Well,” she sighed, feeling just cruel enough to take the time and answer, “you’ve already served your purpose now, haven’t you?”

He blinked and looked down at his son, whose small hand gripped hers.  There were tears in his eyes when he looked up at his father, but he was fighting them back.  His son was going to be lost to him -growing up in a Women’s House, surrounded by the mistresses of society, the gatekeepers of success.  He was going to grow up as he had already grown up -feeling like a second-class citizen in his own home, where the women made and kept both the known and the unspoken rules, in a country where a woman was the President but a man would never be.  At the very least, in this world of silent and all-powerful female privilege, his son should have his father.

“Our son should stay with me.”

“Nonsense.”  And with that, she turned and scooted her children out the door.

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