“So what brings you here today?”
Marguerite, as she told us to call her, was one of those confident women who left you with the impression they always had it together. I was pretty sure I didn’t like her already. Marguerite. Who names their kid that anyway.
Charlie cleared his throat like he always does when he’s irritated. “Why do most people come to a marriage counselor, Marguerite?” He didn’t even bother to hide his irritation. I wasn’t embarrassed this time though.
Marguerite’s half smile and lowered eyelids clearly stated, ‘Oh goody; it’s going to be one of those sessions.’ I watched Charlie to see how he was going to handle it. He looked down at his scuffed brown work boots and picked roughly at what looked like some dried white caulking on the knee of his jeans. That’s Charlie. He’s great at letting you know how unhappy he is, but only with me and the boys does he yell why.
Marguerite looked at me and smiled a genuine smile. I tried to smile back, but who knows how it came out. “How about you?” she asked me encouragingly. “What would you like to talk about?”
I wanted to ask her how she kept her figure and if she kept a hairdresser and makeup artist in the back room. I wanted to ask her how much her manicure had cost and how often she had them. I wanted to ask her if she knew what it was like to have two mortgages, two kids, two dogs, two jobs, and no energy. I wanted to ask her if she had ever gone a full week on approximately sixteen hours sleep total (and that was a good week). I wanted to ask her if she ever lost a minute’s sleep worrying about anything at all, and how much she paid her housekeeper, but I didn’t. I just sort of shrugged my shoulders and wondered if I should’ve tried to put on some concealer to hide the dark circles under my eyes. That thought made me self-conscious, so I kept my eyes on Charlie’s scuffed boots most of the time after that.
Marguerite shifted slightly in her seat and crossed her legs. “Whose idea was it to come see me today?” She was all perfect patience.
I waited for Charlie to answer, but he found what looked like some dried red paint this time on the side of his right leg and was busy. I just nodded my head towards Charlie in answer. He still hadn’t looked up. I knew he eventually would though, and then she’d hear plenty. I should get my side in first. I knew that.
I tried to organize my thoughts and find the beginning. It was so hard to think now, which was so weird. Twenty years ago I was one of the smartest kids in my high school. I made good grades, had friends. I had dreams back then, had a plan. Who knows what happened. What ever happens. I hadn’t gone to college right away. I had planned on working for a few years to try to save up some money for it. My parents let me know early on, if I wanted a degree it was all on me. I wanted to work in a lab somewhere. I loved the idea of microscopic organisms and living things broken down into their most basic components. Biology was my favorite subject in school.
But then I met Charlie. Everyone’s ultimate dream is to get married and have kids, right? The family, dog, white picket fence, happily-ever-after thing, so I thought, okay, I’ll skip the middle and go straight for the ultimate. That was eighteen years ago.
The mortgage came first, then the kids, one right after the other, and then the dogs, one for each kid. Charlie’s hours were cut when his company downsized, and then he eventually lost his job altogether. I was still working as a secretary for Baynor Construction. I was so excited when my boss, Jerry, offered Charlie a job as a crew supervisor. It took awhile to convince him though because he thought the job was beneath him. Charlie had just graduated from college when we married. Charlie got his degree.
Anyway, Baynor didn’t have a medical insurance plan back then, which meant that one of us had to find a different job, and since Charlie was making more than me, he decided it would be me. I started working at Seal Parts, which was the only place hiring. I work on the line with about a hundred foul-mouthed men and women who just live to hook up, break up and then tear each other apart; plenty of meat for Marguerite to get her manicured designer nails into. The atmosphere is terrible, but the pay is decent and the medical insurance can’t be beat. Especially with my two boys. They spent their first five years eating anything and everything that would fit in their mouths and the last few years trying to learn to fly. They call Dr. Mancino Uncle Mario now.
Then mom had a stroke.
She and dad divorced 30 years ago and I’m all she has, so that meant doing some things differently and taking on new responsibilities. Namely, mom moved in. Which meant our two-bedroom was no longer feasible. Which meant new house and new mortgage. The guest room is now uncle Mario’s room.
Mom has always been, to put it nicely, difficult. She’s one of those people who looks for what she considers a defect and makes it her personal mission to correct any and all she finds. Except for her own, of course. The kids and Charlie are miserable after only three years with her. They should see her from my memory-bank lens.
Anyway, she eventually regained all her faults, but she’s not well enough to live independently and not bad enough to live dependently elsewhere, so she stayed with us.
Charlie couldn’t take it anymore and decided to build a mother-in-law suite onto the back of the house. Enter second mortgage. Hence, second job for me. After all, Charlie said, she was my mother.
I started working cleaning offices after hours about a year ago. I actually thought Charlie would help around the house since I was hardly ever there anymore. Especially after he almost doubled the size of it. Silly me.
I come home after my shift at the factory, which is shortly after the boys get home from school. I have just enough time to make an easy dinner and see to mom and her needs before I grab the sweeper and cleaning bucket and head out for the night shift. That’s five days a week.
I like to sleep in on Saturday because by then I’m so tired I can’t even come up with my middle name without a hint, but Charlie likes for us to spend our Saturday mornings together “talking,” so he usually gets me up earlier than I want.
“Since when is a can of meat substitute and instant mashed potatoes a fit meal, Carrie?” That’s how our conversations usually start. I’m usually too tired to argue so I just let it go and try to bury my head under the pillow, too tired even to get angry. Charlie lets me know how the boys had to wear the same clothes two days in a row because everything was dirty. He wants to know why everything is such a mess and when am I going to get some food in the house. By this time he’s stirred up enough by my seemingly comatose state that he pulls the pillow off my head. I hate the light now.
“Answer me, Carrie.” He’s usually pretty loud by this time. I muster up all the strength I have and say, “Two too many.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
I think of all the energy it would take to explain it. Then I just shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know.” End of conversation. I bury my head under the covers and try desperately to reconnect with sleep in the darkness.
Charlie usually storms off and disappears for the rest of the day, but I don’t get to sleep. All his yelling wakes the dogs, who bark and wake the boys.
And my mother.
“Carrie? Are you with us, Carrie?”
“What?” I asked dumbly, reorienting myself to the present.
“Can you tell my why we’re all here today?”
I looked at Charlie, who was still furiously picking at his jeans. I looked at Marguerite, who actually wanted to hear my side, but I was just too damned tired to go through it all again. Let alone out loud.
I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know.” End of conversation. I covered my head with my coat. I really hate the light.
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