“You’re hardly trying,” Millie said to me last week on the phone.
Come on, I think – but don’t say out loud. I send her a food package every week — good stuff, Whole Foods, all the things she likes — and I visit whenever I can get away, which is at least once a month, and sometimes more. I leave money, I leave books. It’s not enough. Never enough.
I am, I said. Trying I meant.
“You’re my brother,” she went on, “and if I can’t count on you…”
I’m trying, I said again, but she wasn’t convinced.
I’ve got a job for Christ’s sake, and my last year-end evaluation wasn’t exactly a happy moment for me: “You seem distracted,” Sims had said flatly. “Exhibit more energy with clients. Focus.”
Exhibit more energy? That job has been sucking the life out of me for seven years — 8 years in July — and I’ve burned energy I never knew I had. Physical. Mental. Psychic. Spiritual. Maybe the key word here is “exhibit.” Okay, I’ll be the Energizer Bunny, I’ll be Krazy Kat, I’ll be Clarence the Clown. I’ll exhibit energy.
I’ve learned to address Sims with accurate and demonstrable information — he always wants the facts. How can you quantify that? Or, how could we measure that? That’s his mantra. I’ve learned to speak to him in units; he speaks to me in froth and abstraction. I should have told Sims to go fuck himself, but he’d have automatically ordered me to quantify it — beyond my job description I’m afraid, worse than unpleasant. Unpleasant is my default on the job, so I agree with his evaluation and vow to improve.
The divorce hasn’t helped, and I never wanted it. Okay, yes, the marriage was shitty, a catastrophe almost from the start, and I’m pretty much the problem. It was what they call a loveless marriage, pretty much sexless although Margo is almost 6, so there is that. She’s not taking it well — wetting the bed, sucking her thumb again, things like that. “She’s regressed to a safer place in order to gather strength for what’s to come,” her therapist had said solemnly in an attempt to reassure. At that moment I felt like asking the therapist if I could sit on her lap and hold her bosom, but I simply muttered that I understood.
Kate wants me to man-up and move on. “Stop whining,” she said to me on the phone this morning when I told her I couldn’t pick up Margo from school. I didn’t think I was whining, but I said I would. Stop whining that is.
“And that check for after-school had better be on time this month,” she continued without a breath, without a pretense of hearing me.
It is, I said. It will be, I mean.
Here’s how I see it: Sims needs me to generate more business and more money, get the big cash register singing; Kate needs me to be a cheerful adjunct daddy figure with a steady flow of happy cash; Margo needs Kate and me to be a couple again, to fly back in time and magically annul the divorce and everything that followed; and Millie needs to get out of prison with her sanity intact and a bit of future worth having in hand, and in the meantime — in the 25 years to life meantime I mean — she needs me to be a connection, a fragile thread of hope.
I can see each of them clearly, I can agree with them all. I can even quantify it:
- Margo wants my love.
- Kate wants my balls.
- Sims wants my body and what little is left of my brain.
- Millie wants my life.
And what do I want? I want everything, and I want nothing at all.