I only put creamer in my coffee on my days off. It is always a sweet and flavored creamer, usually French Vanilla because that’s what my son likes best. Today, however, it’s hazelnut because that’s what he picked out on our last visit to the grocery store. Though he rarely drinks coffee, I buy it anyway. I want it to be there when and if he needs it.
Maybe that’s what it means to be a parent because maybe its a small preparation for things to come. At the time of this writing my son is fourteen and my daughter is twelve. He’s already a high school freshman, and I know that the day is rapidly approaching when he will no longer need me. Even now his paternal and parental necessitation is diminishing and I take what ever infinitesimal opportunity I am afforded to revel in whatever need of me he might have.
When the calamity of separation and divorce comes to a couple there is a tragic division that occurs, and it effects so much more than the vowed bonds of husband and wife. Whether we like it or not the kids are not secluded from the maelstrom of a marital end. I have written at great lengths regarding my own struggle to adapt to this traumatic nuptial rupture. I have not, however, said much, if anything at all, regarding the effects it has had and continues to have on my kids. That’s partly because of a kind of narrative reverence; their story is not mine to tell. I would never dare attempt to transcribe their inner monologues of subjective thoughts, feelings, and emotions. John Green writes that “Every loss is unprecedented. You can’t ever know someone else’s hurt, not really—just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body.” I have no access to the uniqueness of how they may have been hurt or how they may still be hurting. I cannot have any real knowledge of their pain, and thus, any and all attempts to comment upon it would only be a projection of my own suffering upon theirs. And that is a burden that they should never have to bear. I will not appropriate their pain. It is theirs to share or hide as they see fit. What I can say is that they have each displayed a standard of bravery and kindness within the tumult of their mother and I’s dissolution that I myself I have, time and again, failed to achieve or live up to.
When I am with them I am content, feeling something close to normal, and I try my best to provide them with a semblance of stability in which they can feel the same way. I’m eager to come home from work when I know that they’re there. I usually get home from work by one-thirty in the afternoon. I greet them excitedly. Sometimes, during this past summer break my daughter was just waking up. She took full advantage of not having a bedtime, and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning. On the days they’re with me, we talk, laugh, listen to records, and discuss the dinner menu. On Mondays we listen to the weekly playlist compiled by Spotify’s algorithmic recommendations based on the absurdities of our three differing musical tastes. Between about four and four-thirty p.m I start cooking whatever we’ve decided to have for dinner. At about five p.m. we sit and eat together. Topics of conversation wind and unfold in an unwieldy fashion. We discuss everything from punk rock, to the proficiencies of mythical creatures. In one particular evening we analyzed why the pizza crust from our favorite local pizza place is so good. We unanimously concluded that the excellence of the crust is due to unicorns flatulating into the dough; three unicorns to be more specific – Frank, the jaded and disgruntled pizza dough farting veteran who is “getting too old for this shit”, Sparkles, the bright and bubbly, hyper-organized unicorn still wildly in love with flatulating into pizza dough, and finally Timmy, the overly enthusiastic, young rookie eager to rise in the ranks. I promise you I’m not making any of this up.
We clean up after dinner. I take a shower, and by about six p.m. we return to the table to match wits in a session of Dungeons & Dragons, my son’s current recreational obsession. At eight p.m. I prepare to go to bed because I have to be at work at four a.m. I hug them, kiss them, tell them how much I love them, and go over any chores they need to complete before I return home from work the next day.
At two o’clock in the morning my alarm goes off. I get up. I let the dog out. I get dressed, make coffee, and sit at my desk to try to write before I have to leave for work. It is morning but still pitch-black outside. I am tired and already weary from the dread of a work day that hasn’t even begun yet. I feel the full weight of this new life that I desperately want to be done with. The coffee I drink on these mornings is black and strong because I will need this dark boldness to find the will to step into another day. I add two packets of stevia to the shadowed brew because the blackened bravery that is required of me is bitter to the taste and I try to cut it just enough to help the medicine go down. I make more coffee than I will drink so that there’s enough for the kids if they happen to want some, and I make sure that there’s still some of that sweetly flavored creamer there if and when they need it.
I sit at my desk and I write because I’m scared, scarred, and lonely, and it’s the only way I know in which to let that trembling exhaustion and frightened loneliness have a voice, and on so many bleak days I need to find a reason to go on. I persist more out of a sense of obligation than genuine desire. Sometimes that makes me angry and resentful, yet the fact that there are people who need me around is something to hold on to, and I’m afraid of what will happen when they no longer do.
Before I leave for work I crack open the door to my kids’ room, hoping to catch a glimpse of light before I leave. Some mornings they are still awake; my daughter still protesting slumber in the service of weekend freedom, my son, buried and bogged-down with the scholastic demands of his academic advancement. I give them a kiss. I tell them good-bye, and I step out into the world. I am still unstable, but as ready as I’ll ever be.
When my day off finally roles around, I generously pour that sugary creamer, tasting of vanilla or hazelnut, into the nebulous contents of my mug. I watch as the off-white clouds struggle to overtake the darkness. I give it a stir to help the process along. When the sweetness finally touches my tongue I know all too well that one day my kids will, indeed, no longer require my assistance or aid. It scares the hell out of me, but I find a still, small, part of myself that wants to be there if and when they need me.
Maybe that’s not a happy ending, but maybe its something…