When you moved in with me, I didn’t know I was signing up for this. No, I definitely did not sign up to have a baby in the backseat, resisting the heavy eyelids of sleep in favor of screaming, at just after two in the morning. I think I would remember that.
“She said this would help,” I mutter, having believed the advice of the newborn’s mother.
You are in the seat beside me, here for moral support, or the car ride, maybe you just didn’t want to be alone with the dog. Heck, I had no idea why anyone would ever give up the chance to be far, far, out of hearing distance of a hollering child. (Maybe it’s because she is your child, but whatever, a headache is a headache and if you don’t have one, you are a god.)
“Just give it some time?” you offer, but the questioning way you state it gives me no reassurance.
I shoot you a sneer.
“What?” you counter, loud enough to be heard over a particularly loud yell from the kid. “Carl was never like this,” you continue, and then pause, “Or maybe he was, and I missed it because I was working.”
I glance over at you and the look you are wearing reminds me of ice, cold and impenetrable. You avoid my gaze, and I have to look back at the road before your resolve wears thin.
2 Months Previous
I reached behind me to grab my phone as it dinged, signaling a text message from you.
“Your dad said he’ll meet us there.” There was no response to my statement but the quick glance I shot in Carl’s direction confirmed the relief I thought I would find.
The silence was almost awkward. Carl seemed to be ignoring me, but the worry of playing well in his soccer game probably played a larger role in that than I did.
Finally, as I was parking the car, Carl broke the quiet.
“Thanks for everything you’re doin’ for my dad. I’ve never seen him this happy.”
I didn’t know how to respond, and before I got the chance, Carl was gone.
1 Month Previous
“C’mon little brother, tell good ol’ Merle how life’s been. How’s that new roommate of yours workin’ out?” The ever-present smirk on my brother’s face marked his words with the jeering tone I knew so well. I had hoped the ten-month prison stint would permanently remove the irritating stretch from his face, but, no such luck.
Already knowing where this talk of you would go, I bit right to the bone. “Rick moved into your old room. You can crash on the couch for a couple of nights, but,” I continued, talking over Merle’s displeased grunt, “there are rules.”
Merle’s guffaws filled the car, “So I left one jail, just to enter another?”
Taking my eyes off the road momentarily, I responded with a resounding, “Yes.”
I chose to interpret my brother’s silence as acceptance and began listing the laws of living in my home. “No drugs or hard booze in the house,” ignoring the disgusted sound that came from Merle’s throat, I continued. “No friends are allowed to come over. You get drunk, you’re gone. You get high, you’re gone. Watch your mouth around Rick’s kids. You break it, you buy it. You eat it, you buy it. And you need to be gone by the end of the month.”
“Well, goodness, you’re ridin’ me harder than those wardens ever did. When’d you grow a pair?” I chose not to respond to the question, instead focusing on the stoplight ahead of us and Merle continued. “If I gotta follow all your stupid rules, can’t I at least get a bed? I mean, it was my room first, and that couch is worse than the prison bunks. Why’s he get to sleep in it?”
I did my best to send Merle’s signature look back at him and stated, “Well, to begin with, he pays. But it’s mostly because I actually like him.”
Merle paused for a moment before he burst out laughing. “That is what this is all about. You like him. You want to impress him an’ you can’t have your big brother messin’ things up.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
The silence stretches but I figure you need to speak first, so I wait. But I am only human, and I have a finite amount of patience and as Judith’s screaming quiets down to sniffling pants, I speak.
“You know she’s the one who screwed up, right? It was her decisions that got you here.” The snort you respond with tells me that you do not in fact ‘know’.
It is a few minutes of silence before, “The reason we are where we are is because I left.” Your voice breaks. “I left my children. I left my wife.”
“But where you are, isn’t the worst place you could be, Rick,” I interject. “You still get to see your kids, and,” I swallow hard before saying, “You have me.”
I risk a glance in your direction and the ice has thawed a bit. Quietly, as I turn the car for home, you reach out and rest your hand on my knee. It reminds me of how, sometimes, the best conversations are said without words.