By Chris Pais
He was going to leave today. After twenty years of knowing her, seventeen years of living together, fifteen years of being married and twelve years of raising their twins, he had enough. He loved the three women in his life dearly, but he had enough.
He remembers the first time they came home from the hospital, the twins as small as hamsters after spending weeks in the incubator. He remembers how he held vigils outside the neonatal Intensive Care Unit waiting for a hopeful nod from the doctor or for reassuring beeps from the monitor. He brought Laura her favorite takeout that remained untouched as they held each other in prayerful embrace in the hallway of the hospital; her tender warmth and the smell of her hair just as reassuring as during their first days of courtship.
He remembers the early days of childcare and the loss of sleep, the unforgiving continuum of soiled diapers, midnight feedings, visits to the pediatrician and the pharmacy, weekend stints doing laundry and the small victories of hope over despair that made live livable. Laura was a trooper and held it together for them while he escaped to the office for a taste of normalcy.
He remembers their first day of school, the frantic preparation and anticipation ending with unbuckling them from their car seats as they walked away, their backpacks weighing down their gait as he and Laura waved to the girls. He did not realize then that the silence in their station-wagon on the drive home was a foretaste of things to come. The girls grew older and they got busier. Juggling work, schedules, mortgage payments, soccer games, birthday parties and family vacations made it seem like a tornado was rumbling through their little suburban house trying to rip it apart. He and Laura were like buoys bobbing around in a furious ocean, fastened together and touching each other often, but never quite long enough. They had date nights and therapy sessions, made New Year resolutions that were soon broken, embarked on diets together which did nothing but push them further into portly middle-age. They watched helplessly and sometimes with a touch of envy when they saw their friends basking in what looked like romance and marital bliss. He and Laura loved each other, but they slowly forgot how.
Many years ago, he realized he could not do this anymore. Being a numbers man, he woke up every day counting the days remaining before he would leave. When the twins are eighteen, he thought, they would be adults and really would not need him there. Thirteen years and five months to go, he thought at first. As the numbers got smaller, he got more hopeful and the dreariness of his existence became bearable. Ten years to go, he thought. A few years later, he said to himself, eight years to go.
When it was six years to go, he found it really unbearable to continue and decided to leave. He could not do six more years of this. Six years is over two thousand days, he thought. Two thousand days! The twins were twelve. There was no way he was going to make it until they were eighteen. That is six more years, he thought. Six years is a very long time. Six years is two thousand long days.
He did not prepare much. He did not have many needs and the solitary thought of getting into his car and driving into the distance felt liberating to him. Nobody was home when he hurriedly packed a small suitcase. As he was backing out of the driveway, he saw Laura and the girls wheeling their bicycles home.
“Dad!” the twins yelled in unison. “Mom has a flat tire. You have to fix it and join us. We are going back. We found a cool trail we know you’d like”.
He pulled back into the garage and took out his toolbox to fix the flat. As he pried the bicycle tire from its rim, his vision was clouded by the tears in his eyes. Six years is not such a long time after all, he thought. It is only two thousand days. He slowly brushed off the cobwebs from his bike and joined them on the driveway.
* * *
Chris Pais grew up in India and came to the United States to pursue graduate studies in engineering. His work appears in Poetry India, The International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, Wingless Dreamer, Wild Roof Journal, The Literary Bohemian, Defunct Magazine and elsewhere. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where he works on clean energy technologies and tinkers with bikes, guitars and recipes.