Written by: Frank Cormier
“Thanks for staying over,” John said without emotion.
“No problem baby,” she replied blithely as she got dressed.
“Give me a call and let me know you got home okay.”
“Sure, when am I going to see you next?”
That was the perpetual puzzling question in his mind. He didn’t know if he wanted to see her again, at least not in the way she implied. She was one of a half dozen or so woman he could call for intimacy. He didn’t want commitment, just companionship.
“Well I’m with my son this weekend, so I guess it will be sometime after that,” he said dodging a direct answer.
“Well when he goes to bed I can come over and be your big girl.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Okay sweetheart, just give me a call if you change your mind,” she said as she leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. God how that made him feel like a child each time she did that, he hated it but would never complain to her for fear she might stop coming over.
Once she was gone, he rallied himself out of bed and dressed to start his day. It was already nine o’clock. “I’ve got to stop being so lazy,” he thought. So, to make himself feel more productive, he picked up some loose articles strewn about the apartment waiting for the coffee maker to chirp “ready.” The sound was music to his ears, and just like Pavlov’s dog, raced into the kitchen and poured the life-giving elixir into a mug. He sat at the small round dining table, hovered over the mug, while breathing in the fresh aroma trying to clear his mind. “Why don’t you taste as good as you smell?” he asked the coffee stained mug after taking a long pull.
John’s life wasn’t as complicated as he made it out to be in his mind. He ate when and what he wanted; slept with who he wanted; cleaned up when he wanted; and came and went as he pleased. He had everything he wanted except one thing; his son.
When Johnny was born his life suddenly had meaning and direction, everything was brand new. He moved in with the mother so he could spend every waking moment with his son. She was inconsequential in his mind, so he never married her. She wasn’t up to his standards even though he was not even sure what his standards were, or if they were even realistic; he just knew she didn’t measure up. How often he would try to hit the moving target, never a direct hit, always believing he was close, and figured the main reason was that no one truly knew who they were on the inside. He often wondered if he did.
The phone rang bringing his thoughts back to the present. The caller I.D. displayed a number outside of his area code. It must be a work call he thought, and answered the phone after the fifth ring. He offered a few monosyllabic responses and then hung up. “Thank god it’s Friday,” he reminded himself. Spending time with his son was the only thing on his mind lately. He needed to plan the weekend’s events, always being mindful to not repeat the same activities they did on the prior visit.
“Why does it have to be a ‘visit’?” he would mull over and over. “I am his father. I am a parent.”
It was now five o’clock and his workday finished. He called ahead to make sure that Johnny was ready to go, looked around the apartment to ensure everything was tidy and left.
“Hi Johnny!” he enthusiastically said in return.
They hugged each other with the fervor of a P.O.W. being reunited with loved ones after many years of captivity. The analogy was apropos. His son always acted as if he were being released when they first saw each other, and then by the end of the visit, longed for the comfort of his known prison surroundings. Only in Hollywood was the prisoner completely healed from the many years of captivity, never blaming their country for abandoning them. He believed his son blamed him for abandoning him, though he never qualified his feelings.
Johnny was only eight years old and not mature enough to understand the complicated world of adults. Hell, even he felt that he didn’t totally understood this world either at forty-two. His parents had committed a disservice to him by coddling him until he was in his early twenties, never fully seeing the world as it is now or was back then. He couldn’t help but think he was doing the same thing to his son and felt powerless to stop it. All he wanted from his son was unconditional love; a love he was not willing to share with anyone else for fear that it would compromise his relationship with Johnny.
“So, Daddy, what are we going to do this weekend?”
“Well, I figure we can go and see a Red Sox game tonight! I have two tickets right behind the third base dugout.”
“That sounds cool daddy! But isn’t that where the other team sits?”
“Yes, it is, but we will be able to look right into the Red Sox dugout so you can see all of the players.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right!” he said suddenly realizing the enormity of the event.
John’s own parents never brought him to see a Red Sox game, in fact, any professional sport growing up. “Boston was too far away,” his father used to say, “and I’m not going to spend my hard-earned money to watch a bunch of millionaires playing a child’s game.” He made the mistake of pointing out to his father that if he didn’t drink as much beer or smoked so many cigarettes for one month, that he could save enough money for them to go see a game. His father boxed him about the ears and told him not to talk about things he had no idea about what he was saying.
They loaded up Johnny’s small overnight bag and drove off to begin their weekend. John was thankful that he didn’t have to talk with Diane. Their relationship was strained at best. She was always trying to control every aspect of Johnny’s life and made the simplest of requests the most difficult to negotiate.
Negotiate; how he hated that word when it applied to his time with his son. He took her back to court a couple of years ago, because she was so unwilling to compromise on any of the parenting rights he had been granted. She would block any attempts he made to swap weekends if something personal came up. It was always “his problem” and if he missed time with Johnny due to traveling for work, he had no one to blame but himself.
Thankfully a judge saw it differently and ordered her to be more cooperative with his requests. He had to give her at least a one week notice for any requested change to the parenting schedule. It was a little bit better, but she still got her digs in when she would remind him that Johnny was her full-time responsibility and that he needed structure, “something you don’t have in your life.”
“Daddy, that was the best game I ever saw!” proclaimed Johnny.
“Yeah it was a lot of fun buddy. It’s too bad they lost”
“It’s okay Dad. You win some and you lose some. What are we going to do now?”
“I got a hotel room nearby and we can stay the night. Tomorrow I figured we can walk around the city. What do you think?”
“I think that’s great. I didn’t want you to have to drive all the way back home tonight anyway.”
John didn’t want to drive back tonight either. He spent enough time in his apartment so a night away was more welcome to him than it was for his son.
The next morning, they got up early and walked over to Faneuil Hall Market Place and had breakfast. Afterward, they strolled about the market area going in and out of the various shoppes and watching the street performers. One performance, in particular, involved a magic show while the magician rode around on a unicycle. Johnny was captivated by the act and asked to watch the show again and again.
“Okay, we can watch it one more time. I would like to go to the Public Gardens and take a ride on the swan boats too.”
“The swan boats?”
“Yeah, I think that you’ll really like them.”
“Are they real swans, Daddy?”
“No, just boats that look like swans. I always wanted to ride them when I was your age, but never got the chance.”
They watched one more performance and this time Johnny got to be part of the act. He talked all about his role as they walked over to the Public Gardens. His son skipped merrily the whole way snapping his fingers, John just grinned from ear to ear.
Their day came to an end, and they started the trek home. The game and the day were a success, just what he wanted it to be. No one could take that away from them.
“Dad, how come you never married Mom?” he asked in a voice more mature than it should have sounded.
John knew this question would eventually be asked and still didn’t have a reasonable explanation that he felt his son could understand. He knew his reasons why and wondered if Johnny had asked his mother the same question and what was her answer. He loved her at one time and was certain that she loved him.
“Sometimes people marry for the right reasons and sometimes they do it for the wrong ones. I guess I didn’t want to make a mistake.”
“Why would it have been a mistake?”
“It’s hard to explain. Maybe when you are older we can sit and talk about it.”
“How much older do I have to be?” he pressed on.
Oh, how he needed a drink. An act that he wouldn’t conduct in front of his son for fear that Diane would somehow use it against him. He hated living in fear of her but couldn’t help himself. She had warned him that if he screwed up, she would take him back to court and have his parenting rights revoked. There was nothing to fear because he knows he is a good father, yet somehow still convinced himself that he was powerless against her wrath. He was on edge with her ever since taking her back to court. There were times he thought she was over it, but then all hell would break loose and they got into arguments. He would never argue with her in front of Johnny, and she wouldn’t either. At least they had that in common.
“How about when you’re eighteen?” he offered.
“Okay,” he said through a yawn.
Johnny was tired and fell asleep the rest of the way home. John was left with his own thoughts to keep him company. He would steal looks at his son through the rearview mirror from time to time and imagine they were living together. How much better his son’s life would be if he was the one raising him and she had to visit, he thought. Thankfully her negativity hadn’t crept into his personality, but this was only a matter of time, he believed. He needed to take her back to court and fight for equal custody before it was too late.
Sunday was uneventful. They sat around in their pajamas most of the morning. Johnny played a few video games while John read the morning newspaper and drank coffee. Around lunchtime they went to pick up a few items at the grocery store. Johnny wanted to cook on the grill for dinner, so they picked up some steaks and vegetables. He was a great helper when it came to preparing a meal; he would set the table, pour drinks, and help clean up after they finished.
His mother would be coming by in about an hour to pick him up, another thing the judge told her she had to do. John moved closer to where she was living so that he could spend more time with his son. He hadn’t fought her when she decided to move closer to her parents. What was once a five-minute commute turned into a two-hour trek in one direction. He cut the distance by more than half and she took this as an invasion of her privacy. She told him he had no right to live so close. If he wanted to see his son it was up to him to provide the transportation. He tried talking with her about it and she again told him that it was his problem not hers.
When they had gone to court, Diane said to the judge, “that she was being cooperative and didn’t know why they were in court.” Fortunately, the judge saw through her thin victim’s veil and ordered her to split the transportation. She had a renewed contempt for his presence. One day, he thought to himself, she would finally let go of all her hostility and do the right thing.
“Johnny, your mother is here. Get your things buddy,” he called to his son from the living room.
“Why can’t you ever have him ready before I get here?” she asked tersely, after opening the door without knocking. John had watched her park her car and make her way to the apartment from the balcony.
“He is ready. His bag is packed and he is brushing his teeth.”
“At least his teeth are being taken care of.”
John didn’t bite. He had no strength to get into another pointless argument with her and let it ruin his weekend. Johnny came bounding into the room with a huge grin.
“Hi Johnny. Let’s get your things. We need to get on the road. You have a busy day ahead of you at Granny’s tomorrow.”
“Okay, Mom. Bye Daddy! I love you!”
“I love you to buddy,” he said as they hugged. “See you in a couple of days.”
He handed Diane the overnight bag as she walked out. Johnny followed and was telling her all about his weekend as they made their way to the car. John watched from the glass sliding doors with a small tear in his eye and waved.
John knew his day would come soon; she couldn’t make him pay forever. He only wanted to be with his son and nothing else mattered. He wasn’t going anywhere and wouldn’t allow her to take any more time from him. He was absolutely sure of this, and believed she knew it to because she got Johnny to look up at the balcony and wave bye, and she finally waved to.
Copyright (C) 2017 by Frank Cormier. All rights reserved.