“Tell me what to do to fix this,” he says, as though I have an answer for him.
He’s trying to recover. He’s trying to backpedal and apologize. He’s trying to make amends for what he’s done, but he doesn’t know how, because he’s never really thought about what it means to be good to another person. He only thinks about what good he can do for himself.
He’s not apologizing or seeking a resolution for my benefit. All he cares about, that I can see, is fixing things with me so that he can keep using me. He’s used my mind and my love and my kindness my money and my body. Well, that’s enough. I don’t want to give him any more to use.
“Please,” he says. “I just want to make things right. Just tell me what to do.”
He’s only angering me more. He’s demanding yet another favor from me, one for which he has no right to ask. How dare he assume he can fix his? How dare he presume that I know how he could fix it, or that I would care to tell him even if I did? I know that the level of distaste I feel for him now has surpassed rationality, but I don’t care.
“Go fuck yourself,” I say.
I’ve never said those words out loud. I don’t swear, honestly. It doesn’t suit me. It doesn’t fit with how I see myself as a person and it doesn’t work with the image of myself I try to project on the outside world.
Still, I say it. He’s made me want to say it, and — again, honestly — it feels right to say, in this context. It makes this all feel more important. I don’t even like swearing in movies or TV, because I feel like it’s overused, but I can still appreciate their use, when it’s artful and sparing.
He’s never heard me swear before. He’s never heard me say anything as tame as “shit,” so when I utter those words, his eyes go wide. He knows that I’m serious. He knows that I’m well and truly mad.
“What?” he asks, though we both know he’s heard me with perfect clarity.
“Get gone,” I say. “Just leave. Please. I don’t want to deal with your shit anymore.”
There. I did it again. This time it feels more forced. I almost trip over the word. That’s okay. I’m angry. My face is hot. It’s probably red. I get ugly when I’m mad. That’s why I work very, very hard not to get angry. My mom always used to call me out on it — “Anger doesn’t look pretty on girls.”
Well, Mom, everyone deserves to be mad sometimes. I’ve been putting up with this piece of crap for far too long. I deserve my anger, and so does he.
“Come on, baby,” he says. “I’ll make it up to you. You just gotta tell me what I can do to fix this.”
There it is again. This assumption that what he broke between us can be fixed, this disgusting, presumptuous supposition that I want us to try to fix it. I don’t. It’s been cracked before and I’ve worked far harder than he ever deserved to keep it glued together.
“Stop. Can’t you just stop?” I plead. I hate the sound of my own voice, suddenly. The thin, reedy tone, garbled further by my emotions, makes me sound weak.
“Baby,” he says, which just enforces the idea that I sound weak to him. I’m not a child. “We’ve got a good thing going here. Come on.”
By “good thing” he means the fact that I work — I work — and provide for him while he sits at home, pretending to contribute to the life he says we’ve made together. He hasn’t made anything that’s worth anything. I make the money and the dinners. I bought the house. I planted the garden. I made the child that he calls his own, though he’s never shown any love for her and she’s not his in any sense of the term. The only thing he’s ever made in my house is trash that I had to pick up.
Trash, like that woman he brought into my bed. Trash, like the friends he brings around, drinking and smoking and who knows what else, when he’s supposed to be watching my little girl while I’m at work on the weekend so that I can support her. And, by what felt like necessity, support him, because Lord knows he can’t support himself.
“No we don’t,” I say. I try to make my voice sound stronger, but it comes out loose and watery. I want to scream in frustration. “All you’ve ever done is use me. The only good in this relationship is me.”
“Now baby, that’s just not fair.”
He’s holding his hands up, like he’s afraid I’ll strike him. As though I’ve ever hit anyone. I’ll give him credit, though, that he’s never struck me, either. He’s got that one thing going for him. One good credit balancing out all the negative ones.
“You’re not fair!” I say. My voice is stronger now. I finally sound like a human instead of a whining little dog. “It’s not fair I’ve let myself get stuck with you. It’s not fair how you treat me. It’s not fair that I have to wait on you hand and foot, all while you’re off fooling around with other women.”
“Hey now,” he says, backing up toward the door again. He’s never been a tough guy. He’s one of those bone-thin fellows with no muscle mass that thinks he’s a strong, manly man, but who gives ground easily when confronted with an angry woman. “I pull my weight around here.”
“If you mean you pull it between the couch, the kitchen, and the toilet, then sure,” I retort.
“Nah. I mean, hey, I’m a streamer now. It just looks like I’m not busy. It’s a lot of work, streaming eight hours a day.”
“You barely manage four most days.”
“Well, sometimes I get bored…”
“That’s not how jobs work,” I say. “You can’t just give up on them because you’re bored. Besides, you make, what, two dollars a month? You’ve been trying to be a streamer for two years. It’s time to find something real.”
“Streaming is a real job!” he protests, but now it’s his voice that sounds weak and thin, not mine.
“Maybe, but not the way you do it.” My hands clench into fists. This is not the direction I wanted to take with our conversation. “Leave. I don’t care where you go. This is my house, and I don’t want you here anymore.”
“It’s my house, too.”
“You haven’t paid a single cent toward this house,” I say. “You’ve never paid for groceries, or god forbid, even gone to the grocery store on my dime. I don’t think you’ve ever fixed a meal here. You’ve never cleaned the bathroom or mowed the lawn. This is not your house. It’s just a place where you stayed because it was convenient for you. I’m just a woman you used because I made it easy for you.”
“Damn, girl. Tell me how you really feel.”
“You don’t even have anything to say for yourself except to make jokes.”
This is how he’s always been. I see it, now, like a storyboard laid out across the years. There’s nothing much to him at all except a face that, when I first met him, seemed handsome, if only because I was desperate. He’s just a plain piece of paper with a sketch of a personality that just happens to be able to loaf around like a real human being.
“Where am I supposed to go?” he demands.
“I don’t care,” I say. I’ve said that to people before, I think. Maybe not in this exact context, but I’ve definitely told people I didn’t care about their next action when I’ve been mad at them. I never meant it like I do now.
“What about my stuff?”
I scoff. “What stuff? I paid for everything in this house.”
“My clothes and my game systems and stuff. It’s mine.”
A hint of weakness overtakes me. “Fine. Go now. Bring someone back with you later. I’ll pack your clothes up for you. For now, just get out of my sight.”
“Are my daughter’s now,” I say. “I paid for them. I never said they were yours. I just let you use them.”
“That’s not even right,” he says, shoulders rising. “That’s… that’s just wrong.”
“Leave. Get a job. Buy your own.” I point to the door. He’s back away from me enough that, now, it’s just behind him. “Get out.”
Finally, he goes. He slams the door behind him, but he goes, and he’s gone, and I’ll only have to deal with him once ever again. Once he’s gone I let the weakness that’s been building up inside me take me over. I collapse onto the couch, exhausted. I expect myself to cry, but I don’t. I’m not sad or even relieved that he’s gone. I’m just fatigued.
My daughter is going to ask where he is. She might miss him. She never really liked him, but kids have a way of missing things they didn’t care about, if only because of the change the absence brings to their life. I guess I’ll just tell her that he left, and that it’ll just be me and her now. Hopefully that will make her happy.
Hopefully it will make me happy, too.