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The Birthday Fiasco
By Chris Beddell
“How could you miss Connor’s birthday?” I asked, crossing my arms.
Joe rolled his eyes. “It was just one evening. I wanted to hang out with my friends and see the football game.”
“That’s the beauty of having a DVR. You can record a game.”
We stood in our kitchen right now. Joe faced the fridge while I was by the stove. I had just flicked on the front burner because I needed water to make a cup of tea.
“I don’t know what you want to me say,” Joe said.
My jaw twitched. “That still doesn’t change how you were wrong.”
“People make mistakes, Rhonda.” Joe grabbed a beer from the fridge before opening a drawer and pulling out a bottle opener. The top popped off, clinking against the marble counter. I glanced at the bottle, which was a Heineken.
God. I would have rather drank out of the toilet because the smell of Heineken was enough to make swirling sensations jab my stomach. And, it wasn’t like we were strapped for cash and he had to buy bad beer. Although I never drank beer since it was bad like Joe. Or maybe loathing beer was because it reminded me of Joe. But, wine was a different story. Like Moscato. There was nothing like tarty, peach, and grape flavors jolting my taste buds on a Friday night.
However, I could relish in being different than Joe. Alcohol was only a minor part of my evening whereas Joe still partied the same amount that he did in college and law school. Perhaps his tendency to always have fun in college and then in law school should have been my first clue that we might not have been compatible. But, his antics seemed innocent enough at the time since he never threw up, had run-ins with the law, or flunked out of college and law school.
Joe took a swig of his beer. “Is he still up?”
“I sent him to Dylan’s house after we went to the Cheesecake Factory.”
Joe furrowed an eyebrow. “Why did you do that? It’d be nice to wish my son happy birthday.”
“Then you should have been home hours ago.”
“I was busy.”
“That’s a nice euphemism.”
My eyes shifted to my Chrome tablet on the counter below the kitchen cabinets. It was a piece of shit since it never worked. Yet he refused to buy me an iPad when I asked for a tablet for my birthday last year. Because I would have been fine with the smallest GB one--but no. That was too much for my husband to handle despite how he always bought guitars left and right when I wasn’t looking. Yet another warning sign that our marriage was toxic. There was no guarantee that I would have thrown Joe out on his ass if he behaved so cheaply earlier, though. Then again, I couldn’t remember a time when he spent more than twenty dollars on me. And, the rare family vacations didn’t count because they were for the whole family.
Joe belched after chugging the rest of his beer. “I don’t know why you sent him to Dylan’s house. That kid seemed weird the one time I met him at Connor’s middle school graduation.”
“And, what the hell is that supposed to mean?” I asked, scowling at him.
He shrugged. “Forget it. That’s not important. Maybe we could do something on the weekend to celebrate.”
I bit my lip. “Like you would even keep your promise.”
“I don’t know what your problem is. I give you everything you want.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
The teakettle on the stove howled while steam seeped out of the spout. I turned the switch off before pouring the water into the mug, which already had the teabag in it. My gaze lingered on the mug, making me almost smile. The mug had several lady bugs etched on it, and was one of the many coffee cups Connor bought me since I liked coffee as much as him. Almost being the key word, though. Having an amused reaction would’ve been inappropriate during a serious conversation. Sure. Connor had been calm earlier since he didn’t scream or throw a tantrum at Joe’s absence. But the radiating sadness from his blue eyes was obvious. I was his mother and understood how the subtext was what mattered.
His blood shot eyes bulged up. “What do you want me to do? Because I’m tired of you hating me.”
I pointed my index finger at him. “How about acting like a man and growing up. You never eat dinner with us anymore in addition to me not remembering the last time we had a date night.”
“I’ll make time,” he said.
Please. That was what he always said. Joe would occasionally make a “gesture” like going on a family vacation or a family dinner at the Yacht Club once a year-or twice if I was lucky. But he always regressed the next day and went out with his friends.
Damn. How I would have loved to run upstairs and stuff all his clothes into a suitcase and throw it off the balcony before shoving him out the door. But not before smashing his guitars against the ground.
And no. Thinking about destroying his guitars didn’t make me petty or vindictive because they were easily each worth several mortgage payments.
“It’s one thing to mistreat me, but it’s another to pretend Connor doesn’t exist. He deserves better because turning sixteen is a big deal.” I took the teabag out of the mug and tossed it in the garbage before sipping some my tea. The warmth of the beverage traveled through my body, which was nice. My teeth chattered because of my tendency to always be cold. Although it was winter and a frost coated the kitchen window. But it wasn’t like I could I turn up the thermostat too high. Joe would just turn it down. Yet that action would have been out of spite or because of being frugal was another issue. However, Joe wouldn’t treat me like shit if he loved me.
“I don’t need some stupid woman to tell me what to do,” Joe said.
Uttering a one-liner was all I could muster up even if it somehow seemed inadequate. Telling Joe off about missing Connor’s birthday was one thing. But arguing over every one of Joe’s verbal blunders would’ve been worse than getting teeth pulled at the dentist. Doing so required more patience than I had.
Joe frowned. “I would try acting more grateful, babe.”
Keeping focused on the bigger issue (missing Connor’s birthday) didn’t mean I couldn’t feel shocked by something Joe said.
“I don’t mean to be nasty, but it’s not like you work. No money. No voice,” Joe said.
I pursed my lips. “That’s a blunt way to put things.”
He snickered. “It’s true. You don’t contribute anything to this household financially.”
Fuck. If only I hadn’t given up my job at IBM a year after Connor was born because I could have saved up money and divorced Joe. But no. I got sucked into the 1950’s female trap. Whatever. Beating myself up about the past wouldn’t accomplish anything because I couldn’t go back in time and change everything.
“You’re the one who told me that I didn’t have to work,” I said.
Joe shrugged his shoulders. “Opinions change.”
“That doesn’t seem fair.”
He didn’t respond. Instead, his footsteps squeaked against the wooden tile floor while he ditched standing in the kitchen for sitting down on the living room couch.
“Don’t walk away from me!” I screamed.
I trekked into the living room before hovering over Joe.
He lifted his gaze off the beer bottle. “Can’t I have a moment to myself?”
“I want an answer. What the hell happened to us? It’s not like Connor was an accident. We purposely got pregnant. Being a lawyer, partying, sports bars and playing music isn’t consistent.”
Sure. Staying up late and sometimes playing guitar might have been loud and annoying by causing me sleepless nights. Perhaps he even secretly wished he made it as a musician. In fact, he even danced around it during those rare times we talked. But at least it was something productive because having Joe focus even ten percent more of his energy on his music would have been nice. How he functioned was beyond me, though. Must have been all the caffeine he consumed.
“I got bored, Rhonda. Maybe some people aren’t meant to be husbands and fathers.”
If only he realized the idea sooner. Although Connor wasn’t something to regret even if I was his mother and loved him unconditionally. Connor kept me younger because of having youth present in their lives-as cheesy as the idea might have sounded.
“We’re going to have to start having some serious conversations,” I said, picking at one of my nails.
Joe’s snores echoed in the living room. Great. He fell asleep on me.
I took in a deep breath, counting to ten. Whatever. I knew a lost cause when I saw it, and there was no point in waking Joe up.
I grabbed my iPhone from my pocket and texted Joe’s brother Jeremey about a late-night hookup.
Connor was the only one who knew about my affair with Jeremy. Although not by choice. Connor arrived home from school early one day because of a professional development early dismissal I forgot about. He caught Jeremey and I in bed together. The encounter might have mortified everyone involved. But Connor could keep a secret since he promised not to tell anyone. However, even Connor admitted how our family situation wasn’t black and white since he mentioned how cheating was understandable.
I sighed. “What the hell am I going to do?”
My iPhone beeped.
I checked the new text message. Jeremy was free, and it was okay for me to come over to his house.
I shuffled back into the kitchen and scribbled a note down on a pad to the effect of telling Joe that I was out and he shouldn’t wait up for me (on the off chance he should wake up or wonder where I was at any point).
I grabbed my keys. I then zipped up my parka and wrapped my scarf around my neck before getting my purse.
Sleeping with Jeremy could give me temporary comfort even if it wouldn’t solve my broken marriage. Joe would have been furious if he ever found out about the affair, which was smirk worthy. And that was what I thought about after locking the front door before a gust of wind smacked me in the face.
A deer ran across the thick layer of snow covering our front lawn while I made my way to the car.
Seeing a deer and wondering if it had a better life than me would have entailed rambling on another night.
But not tonight.