I took a risk and got married because I wanted a better life for myself.  I wanted to experience the things we are taught to strive for all of our lives: stability, commitment, reciprocity and a legacy.  What I never knew was how, when you reach out and take a bite out of life, it can bite right back at you.

At six a.m. the alarm goes off.  I’m already awake.  The numbers roll into sound, alerting the pressure valve in my stomach that it is time to release the slow drip of contempt that will fill the hollow that is slowly becoming me.  Predictably, it will weigh me down throughout the countdown to the end of the day.  Elan’s rustling is next, followed by rising, showering, shaving, buttoning, zipping, belting, tying and exiting.  Kelly has spent the night away again, so when Elan leaves, I am truly alone, eyes open and floating on the canvas of subtle ringing that is perfect silence.  I haven’t moved in    three hours.  Today, I’m missing work.

I rise from my bed like a specter, leaving any remains of me undisturbed and beneath the sheets for safety.  In the kitchen, I transform into a series of previously assembled movements with wooden automation and a stiff, slow moving agenda.  Insert water here.  Flip switch to on.  Punch keys on phone, cite from list of pre-constructed reasons for missing work…again.  Fill cup, season, sit.  In the last three months of my life I have become mechanized; I can smile when I don’t feel like smiling, laugh when I don’t feel like laughing and I can feel when I don’t feel like anything.  Stagnant silence immobilizes me in the kitchen booth as my coffee cools, untouched.

After an hour I carry myself to the mantle for what I hope will be asylum from the nothingness to which I’ve grown so accustomed.  Family pictures remind me that I’ve been living as the summary answer to a list of statistical equations.  Add my statistical marriage to sixteen years of motherhood, minus a career, plus four nightly hours of anxiety and I am constructed.  Subtract it all and I cease to exist.  There is a picture of Kelly from the sixth grade that I haven’t yet graduated to the basement archives of outdated images.  It is the only thing that can perforate the numbness that shrouds me and deactivate the disdain in my belly.  It is replaced by a dull and lonely craving to make our relationship better.

In the morning, my daughter hates me.  By noon, I miss her.  At dinner I’m confused and by midnight I hate her back.  At 4a.m though, I love my baby and there is nothing on TV but an evangelist preaching to the tortured souls of the midnight hour, of which I am one.  His life and mission are familiar to me now and I am grateful for our relationship, though he’d never suspect why.  With his help, I’ve grown to realize that I don’t need God anymore than he needs me.  I take down Kelly’s picture and climb in the mouth of the overstuffed chair in the corner, allowing it to swallow me.  I trace her face with the pads of my fingertips.  Sixteen years old.  She’s begun high school, noticing boys, basking in insecurities and developing distaste for the cattiness of girls her age.  I hope that’s what she’s doing.  I am saddened that I really don’t know.

My role as mother to my daughter has been eclipsed by a taxing preoccupation with Elan’s affair.  Months ago, I came to the regrettable reality that I do not possess the confidence to assert myself both as a mother and an exploited wife.  Ironically, I’ve chosen not to play either role too incredibly well, but to instead dissolve in daily sessions of brooding and alcohol.  My beautiful daughter has been left to fend for herself in high school while fixation slowly melts me away.

I pour vodka and then orange juice, the order reversed less than a month ago.  On the back porch it is cold, though the sun is out.  I drink in gulps and curl into the padded patio chair.  The backyard reminds me of an abandoned work site, mysteriously left and dying for unknown circumstances.  A spade leans against Kelly’s jungle gym, which has about six months left until weeds have it fully consumed.  Nine dollar gardening gloves lie just slightly north of where I left them this summer.  Last week I crippled the swing by clipping the thin chain links that hold it and allowing it to fall into the grass…where it still lies.  No longer would it antagonize me about the revolving threshold between my past and future by aimlessly blowing back and forth.

On days like this, but only in the morning, I’ll admit to myself that my skill set in the dating world has always lacked.  I never kissed anyone until college.  My first real experience was with a boy named Tad in a dormitory closet during the first week of school at UCLA.  We shared a bottle of rum in the neighbor’s room, sitting on the floor between beds with a group of five others, playing a game about rhymes and reasons to drink.  I felt dizzy and hungry for a new life in college.  One by one, the group folded into sleep until it was Tad, my roommate Cecily and me alone in the room…and Cecily was sleeping.  He leaned into me with a boozy clumsiness; my first kiss was blotted somewhere between my left ear and jawbone.  More wet blotting until we finally moved into the closet so as not to shake the bunk beds where Cecily was snoring.  I wouldn’t call it rape.  I was drunk and unfamiliar with anything that was happening to me.  But I wouldn’t call me much of a participant either.  Enough said.  The next time I saw Tad was a semester later in the Physical Science building.  His eyes dropped first.  I think he thought mine would have, but I’d forgotten about him much earlier than he’d misplaced me.  For me, he’d become anonymous once the closet door had closed.

That’s where sex began, and with the help of being generally uneasy around men, that’s where it stayed.  Over the next ten years I had twelve more partners, each with their own simple preamble and each meaning slightly less than the last.  I never got past the quiet belief that physical allocation wasn’t for the weak hearted, and that’s what I’ve always been.  And without having a relationship that lasted for more than three days in a week, or more than four weeks in total, or in more than one room in the apartment, I never much had the venue for a change of opinion.

At noon there is a pocket of bourbon sealed tightly between my tongue and the roof of my mouth and I’m prepared to discuss with myself a more practical way of dealing with the predicament I’m in.  I head to Elan’s study for the third time in a week, hoping again to find blameworthy evidence so I can smack him in the face when he arrives in the evening.  But I find nothing new, nothing of interest.  Some unopened letters from Kelly’s school, excerpts I’m sure from a list created during one of his fatherly reminder periods.  Things to do when you’re a dad – answer mail from daughter’s concerned teachers. The postmarks are four months old.  I put them in the pocket of my robe and continue snooping.  He’s always been a detailed man.  Elan’s day is scripted in lists and plans, outlines and ideas of things that will help expedite life.  The process itself is entirely complicated and not worth the energy.  Sometimes he becomes so mired by the process of organizing that irony creeps into our unspoken glances.  He coils and waits for a public mocking from me.  I stay quiet, knowing I don’t need to say anything.  But it’s the process that drives Elan and it was one of the quirky behaviors that drew me to him.  On our first date he outlined the rest of his life on the back of a cocktail napkin.

Dusty pictures sit catatonic on his desk.  In them, frozen images of people I recognize, that I think were once smiling but now look terrorized.  Minnie, Derek, Elan…someone who used to be me.  The picture was taken on a boat, before we really knew each other.  Elan and I met on a cruise for singles.  I was against the whole idea, but was coerced by Minnie, my best friend who, in deliberate strides, would find Mr. Right again, and again, and again.  In the wake of her crushing separations (usually three times a year) my life would become a project of elevated importance to her.  My efforts at finding happiness would be her deconstruction and rebirth, a healing process for herself with a hold-harmless clause; I would become Minnie’s rough draft for her own life.  But when her next tryst began, I would be left as I had been found:  Incomplete.

That’s what I’ve always been until I met Elan.  My husband had a way about him when we met that made my life make more sense to me.  We sat on the Aloha deck of our ship and within fifteen minutes he confided to me everything about his life that was unsatisfying…how he longed to be a painter, but was constrained financially by his work as an accountant, how being on a singles cruise made him nervous and that he’d never met a girl he’d felt truly comfortable with.  It was a therapy session, and I was watching it unfold through one-way glass.  I think for many people that may have been a turnoff; women like strong, apparent men.  But I felt validated.  As he spoke, I filed alphabetically the things about my life that I wasn’t comfortable with, right alongside of his.  Summer and sunlight.  Lemonade and vodka.  Friendships and marriages.  Twenty-seven and single.  He asked me to marry him at Che’ Rive.  We’d been dating exclusively for one month.  Seventeen years later, I’ve never seen Elan paint a thing.

I pass by Kelly’s room looking downward, into her room without turning my head.  A few steps more and until I backtrack and step inside, feeling like a trespasser.  She’s never outgrown pink, I think, looking at the walls and ceiling.  I’m certain she never will.  At the foot of her bed is a tight ball of sheets and her comforter.  I consider taking them, washing them in spring scented fabric softener so that when she comes home her bed is fresh with crisp sheets and cool pillows.  She’s been doing her own laundry for months and I feel certain that what I long to be a gesture of caretaking may be illfully received as insincere and an attack on her independence.  Instead, I lie on her bed and notice a growing web of cracks in the ceiling.  I think of the cold space that hangs between my daughter and I like a frozen wall of lead and hope I leave no signs that I’ve invaded her space.

Weeks ago I made a similar mistake.  It was a day when she surprised me by coming home mid-afternoon and finding me drunk and asleep in the den.  At first I was embarrassed because earlier that morning I had risen and acted purposeful, as though I too had plans to rack up a day’s accomplishments.  But when the door closed behind Kelly and I was alone (Elan, of course, had exited hours earlier), the silence clubbed me from behind and knocked loose a collection of insecurities that had taken me hours to put away.  The anxiety from seeing them all together quickly became insufferable.  I dug between the vegetable bags in the freezer, where I keep the vodka, and spent an hour crying my head quiet on the couch in the den.  When Kelly came home early, I tried to jump up and dust myself off.  I was still a little dizzy, but the vodka had coated me with a temporary confidence, so I teetered into the kitchen where she was nibbling on a plate of apples and sat down across from her with a big smile.  Probably too big, I think now.  I hadn’t seen her in awhile.  My poor baby was bent over her apples like a little mouse protecting a crumb, zipped to the collar in an old winter coat.  I sat down and she stopped chewing and sat still.  For the first time in months, my daughter didn’t seem repulsed by me.  A door in the lead wall had unintentionally been left open and I could see in her eyes that she was arbitrating between her curiosity and my intentions before slamming it shut.  She began nibbling again, letting me know that the silence was mine to fill.

“So you’re out of school early,” I slurred.  “Me too!”

She stopped fiddling with her food, eyes narrowing.

“Kelly baby, why are you wearing your coat inside?”

At once, the look of disgust returned.  I got the message loud and clear:  If you were any kind of mother, you wouldn’t be asking! She stood, and the little nibbling mouse grew into a struggling fawn whose legs were stuck in rising lava.

“I hate you!” she screamed.

“Kelly what’s wrong!” I sobbed.  “Why do you hate me?!”

She capsized the plate of fruit, sending it careening up and over the table where it crashed into bits on the floor.  I collapsed on the table for fifteen minutes before hearing the front door slam behind her and then returning to the couch.

Since then, I see her in the hall, and her eyes move laterally, they slide away from me.  We pass each other in silence.  Unless she has to, Kelly doesn’t talk to me.  She doesn’t talk to Elan either.  Though he’d never notice, I believe his affair has even taken bites out of our young daughter.

Her diary…something I gave her privately on her fourteenth birthday, sits on her desk, opened to a page from months earlier.  It’s a weak smile, but I push it across my face because I’m proud of my daughter.  I’m proud that she has the introspective interest to document the goings-on of her teenage years.  She wants to grow, chronicle it all and reflect on victories and tragedies alike to earn strength and confidence for the future.  It’s a characteristic, thinking, that her father doesn’t have.  It’s what is swallowing me now.  The diary is bookmarked with a letter from her counselor.  Similar to those in Elan’s desk, it’s addressed to the parents of Kelly Dahl.  The date is more recent though – from just weeks earlier.  It’s been intercepted by a girl embarrassed of her cheating father and weak, drunk mother.  Her counselor’s name is familiar, Michael Shockley.  From time to time I hear him leave a message on the machine for Elan or me to call him.  I haven’t called back, but make plans to after the mess is all settled and done.  For the first time, I wonder what mischief my daughter’s gotten herself into at school.  I close the diary without letting my eyes rest on any intimacies and back out of my baby’s room

Back on the couch, the time has arrived once again for the hour of dread.  This is the part of my day where I replay events from the past because I’ve drunk enough to believe I am brave.  I remember what’s gone on and search for new details that will possibly vindicate my husband.  Or maybe I want to hold my hand over the flame and see if enough scar tissue has been amassed yet to warrant a true life conversation.  So far neither has proved to be true.  Three months ago, I had a swelling suspicion that something wasn’t right with my husband.  I couldn’t quite place it, and Kelly’s growing pains were coming into full fruition so I didn’t much try to place anything at the time.  But he came to bed later than me on a Wednesday night.  I felt him crawl in beside me.  Hours later, my eyes opened at 1:41 a.m., he was gone.  I assumed him to be downstairs at his desk, creating a list.  From our room his study window is visible and I could see that the light was off.  Elan has organized himself into exhaustion and fallen asleep on the couch, I thought.  Not uncommon.  The six a.m. alarm awoke us together and, for a moment, I felt for Elan.  I knew how tired he must have been.  I planted an unannounced kiss on his mouth and stopped.  His eyes jolted open and a current shot through him and into me.  He quickly jumped up and into the shower.  I lied back on the pillow, my stomach rocking like a soon-to-be-sinking ship.  It used to be that my lack of hard evidence would shame me.  It’s true – I still don’t have a face or a name of the woman that he’s sticking it into.  But what’s also true is that a woman knows what she knows.  That morning, I woke up and kissed my husband and I smelled another woman on his face and he knew it and I knew it.  And it goes way beyond any kind of carnal fragrance.  It has to do with circumstance.  It has to do with three months of subtle discomfort, knowing something is not right.  It has to do with knowing what Elan likes in the bedroom, what we do in the bedroom and the shock on his face when I kissed him.  And that he disappeared in the middle of the night.  I do concede that I still make some assumptions.  I assume that she is a corporate piranha, and I assume that she is a low maintenance, business class fuck.  I assume that she is everything I am not.  But after that morning I would no longer assume the possibility that I may be wrong.  I will not allow my lack of confidence to persuade me that Elan’s affair exists only within the walls of my head.  A woman knows what she knows.

The woman that Elan is sinking into is driven.  She’s a headhunting cunt with lips as cold as winter and bayonets for tits, I’m sure of it.  Whether or not she is physically attractive is less interesting, even to Elan.  She may not even have a face, which wouldn’t matter.  What matters to him is that by noon she has earned the respect of his colleagues and wouldn’t ask for a sequestered Sunday afternoon.  What matters to me is that I’ve emptied the bottle of Johnny Drum bourbon that I keep above the sink.  I go to the kitchen and sort through the bottles in the cabinet beneath the silverware drawer.  She’s got statistics, a husband, children of her own, a line-item ledger of the things she’ll fearlessly accomplish by sundown, not to mention a forehead as pointed as the Manolo Blahnik daggers on her feet.  But, unlike me, at the days end her equation doesn’t leave her drowning in red.  Not too much idle time on her hands.  No time for questions.  I think she, Elan and I would all concede that she is an efficiency fuck, but we would disagree on what that means.  No Johnny Drum.  Fine.

What does Elan think of all of this?  Well…sadly, I believe my husband does not think.  The things that occupy his mind are tangible, things he can touch.  The abstract and the philosophical he does not comprehend; they assume no merit in his never ending list of priorities.  It’s something I’ve grown to believe about my husband – that one day the need for order and plans and priorities will become unmanageable.  In one of my favorite nightmares, the forces of the universe misalign render Elan helpless to create his daily list.  He begins to rupture from disorder and the insistence that he must begin to think, then care about and consider things.  And then I wake.  There is no happy resolution you see.  In the dream, Elan doesn’t begin to think and then I smile and sleep past the six a.m. alarm.  That’s why it’s a nightmare.  But the idea is attractive.  That’s why it’s my favorite nightmare.

I tip back a tumbler of Glenlivet and feel suddenly empowered.  I decide that tonight is the night that the madness will stop.  And I may become nothing.  And I may be nothing. But tonight there will be a crossroad for Elan and a bridge for me and my baby.  Who does he think he is?!  Who does he think I am?  I won’t sit at home and sulk for another night.  No, tonight I will tear the face off this horrible nightmare and expose him as the adulterer he is.  He may stay a whorehound.  But he will no longer be the hostage taker of me and my only daughter.  When it is over, Kelly and I will leave together.  We will skip school tomorrow and instead shop for shoes and have tuna stuffed croissants for lunch.  I will apologize for allowing Elan’s lack of urge management to corrupt me as a mother.  I’ll need to spend some more time explaining how I’ve been weakened.  She’ll hear all about her father…how he cheats and…how his lists are truly symptomatic of a confounded insanity.  We’ll feel sorry for Ms. Efficiency Fuck, but no ill will.  Hers is a fate realized over several decades, when she and Manolo Blahnik are seventy with swollen bank accounts that no longer outweigh a lifetime collection of emotional wreckage.  We’ll go to the counseling office of Michael Shockley later in the week, holding hands and talking about our bond.  He’ll be assured that whatever fissures are found in Kelly’s school work are really just lesions left by her double-crossing father.  We’ll show him our own scars and he’ll marvel at our strength, leave school envious and compare his family with ours when the almighty silence hits his beloved breakfast nook.  There are tears of joy with me now.  No bond has ever been stronger than that between a mother and her daughter.

I run to the den and gather all the lists I can find…shopping lists, to-do lists from work, schematics and meeting agendas.  I toss them all into the center of the room and tear through the house on the hunt for others.  I return with what I have found.  It is a massive stack of loose leaf paper, receipt tape, envelopes and legal parchment.  I tear into in it with the voracity of a feeding shark, laughing and crying and ripping each and every inventory, each reminder, each piece into shreds then holding them high above my head and watching the scraps rain onto his desk.  No more order!

When I awake, the first thing I see is the flashing blue numbers on the VCR – which are never correct.  I pad to the kitchen to check the microwave.  1:31 a.m.  After spending a minute trying to orient myself, I begin rummaging for aspirin to treat a splitting headache.  I find a half empty bottle in the junk drawer, unscrew the lid and tap four into my hand.  They taste like licking an ashtray’s residue but I chew them anyway to give the numbing process a jump start.  More than seven hours have been lost.  Elan’s car is in the garage.  Back in the den, the shreds of paper have been picked up and thrown away, along with an empty bottle of Johnny Drum and another of Glenlivet.  Of course.  I assume Kelly has returned home as well.  Returning to the overstuffed chair helps punctuate the true lack of inertia in my day.  I’d spun an entire revolution in my head and woke up to be, again, completely unrealized.  Instead of a vigilant woman reclaiming her sense of self, my husband and daughter found their pathetic wife and mother passed out on the den couch.  I was in the same robe, the same chair, in the same room…the same predicament.  There was no way to stop the tears.

Seven times I start notes to my family.  In the yellow breakfast nook I first scribble to Elan about my lack of confidence.  After a minute I rip it up, shoving it over the edge of the table and I start a letter to Kelly.  It too is on the floor within seconds.  Then I write to them both about motherhood and misplaced plans, a future Kelly might have if Elan wants to end his affair.  Anger hits me and I throw away that letter, replacing it with one a bit more appropriate for a dislocated wife.  By 2:15, I have started and stopped so many testimonials and apologies that all of my feelings have me webbed and immobile.  The discarded papers at my feet have started to look more and more like kindling.  I get out of the kitchen, quick, before they ignite.

As I rise on the stairs, Kelly’s door comes into view.  She’s awake, so says the white bar of light beneath her door.  In the dark hallway, walking a straight path to her room is difficult.  I detour into the hall bathroom and click on the light.  With it, I can see that my own bedroom door is open, unlike when Elan is home and asleep.  I dip my head inside to find that, though it’s been slept in, our bed is empty.  Elan is not home.

I become confused and continue on towards Kelly’s room, where muffled sounds can be heard from the hall.  Radio, I think.  But when I am only inches from her door, the sounds clarify and become recognizable.  She’s crying.  I put my palm to the door while my own eyes swell.  I believe Elan’s philandering has begun its swan.  While he is outside lurking in the shadows, his wife and daughter have turned into zombie insomniacs, smashed to pieces and festering in seclusion without any assurance that things will ever get better.  Everything is disconnected from the outside in, I think.  And it’s time that it all comes to an end.  I take in a breath, push my hair out of my eyes and tuck it behind my ears as I prepare to reclaim my daughter.  I push the door open slowly, to not scare her but to also send a message that I come gently, the way a mother should.  I step inside to comfort my baby, but instead I watch as my daughter’s anger, my stray husband, and my oblivion all crash together inside that God-awful pink chamber.

Elan’s eyes are wild.  My nightmare has come alive and disorder is around him, swirling and biting at his skin where black sin begins to pump out of his body like a hemorrhaging oil derrick.  Beneath him Kelly, my fawn, is crying because the lava isn’t rising quickly enough.  It’s stopped around her ankles.  Eminent destruction had been replaced by unremitting torture.  Her eyes have fossilized and judging by the ashy tint to her skin, her body will soon follow.  I’m clear now that she doesn’t want a mother anymore because the one she had didn’t keep her safe from the monster in her closet.  The one she had abandoned her for selfishness.  Now she only wants to disintegrate.

I back out of the room slowly, closing the door, though I’m not sure why.  In the hall I begin to hyperventilate, sucking in small, rapid breaths but never enough air.  The stairs collapse beneath my feet and I fall for what must be minutes, landing hard on the wood floor downstairs.  I turn to my back, aware that I’m suffocating and wondering where in the fuck is Manolo Blahnik when you need him.  The house is as dark as a tomb.  All I can see are the glowing numbers from the microwave in the kitchen.  I begin to swim in their direction, promptly sending the coat rack crashing on top of me with my first stroke.  When Kelly’s winter coat hits my face, I begin vomiting uncontrollably.

There are sounds from above.  It’s Elan and he’s unleashed and angry.  It’s a shocking realization that I am treading in the torrent of my own nightmare.  Now is the part when Elan ruptures in the face of the uncontrollable.  But as bottomless as some nightmares are, there are no images and no ideas to express what the uncontrollable may be behind the eyes of my deranged husband.  In my dream he should begin to think and to care.  I gag and wriggle towards the kitchen tile, fueled by the fear that I’m no longer sheltered by a dream and he is no longer Elan.

I reach the kitchen tiles when Kelly starts to scream from the top of the stairs.  Rapid pounding follows as his feet hit each step.  I know he is coming after me and begin to cry and try to crawl faster.  His voice blasts through the dark, faster than I can move.

“Linda stop!  It’s not what you think!”

I reach the cabinet and struggle to stand.


When I spin around, Elan is in the kitchen doorway.  The only light comes through the picture window behind him, and his sinister black shadow is framed against it.  Somewhere above us both, Kelly’s hysterical cries echo through the house like the ghastly soundtrack to a horror movie.

“It’s not what you think.”

“Get away form me.”  My hands stumbled over the countertop behind me.  “You get away from me.”

“Ok just stop!  We need to talk.  I can’t even see you Linda.”

The light was by his shoulder.  He didn’t reach for it and I knew why.  This battle wasn’t going to be fought by Linda and Elan because it wasn’t between us.  It was between two interior souls who, before tonight, had never met.  There are no longer faces and bodies in our house, only a dark sea that is pitching and rolling two phantoms; Elan was struggling to keep his degenerate beast caged, and I was just swinging the door open to let mine out.

“I don’t care,” I said coldly, into the space between us.  “You are a sick mother fucker.”

His breath started pumping.

“You fucking bitch.”  He took a step closer.  “You fucking pathetic bitch.”

My hands stumbled over the counter behind me.

“Who are you to even talk to me?  This is your fault Linda.  You’re a failure.”

When I felt the wood block where the knives live, I knew that Elan had made his last list.  I closed my eyes and wrapped my fingers around a handle and thrust a ten inch serrated blade into the void.  The knife slid through his skin as if it were slicing through warm butter.  I had surprised him and his body went into shock immediately, shaking.   A cool glaze quickly crept over him.  Elan made a gurgling sound as his knees buckled.  He slid down, past me and onto the floor.  The storm of screams that had been raining down from the stairs quelled almost immediately.  All that could be heard was Kelly’s light whimpering from upstairs.

I’d be lying if I said that in the last year things have gotten better.  My daughter and I left the house that night and never returned.  She’s been with my mother ever since, north of here, in a smaller town.  We see the same therapist, on different days though.  With God’s will, there may be a time in the future when the two of us can be partners in healing.  Until then I use the daylight for walks and writing in my own journal.  Night time I leave alone.  It is always light in my new house.  I spend more money on electricity and light bulbs, but I’m not ready for night yet.  I never saw his face again, that night or any other time…even in dreams.  I killed my husband and left him where he lived, in blackness.