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The Evening After
By Monica McKayhan
Kimani PressCopyright © 2007 Monica McKayhan
All right reserved.
Saturday Night Live.
That’s what I called it when he’d stumble into the family room smelling like a distillery and ask, “Why you just sitting there looking stupid?” Every Saturday night, like clockwork. And if I had to listen to Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” one more time, I was going to scream. But that was the routine.
I was wearing a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, my legs folded underneath my bottom, sipping a cup of hot tea and curled up with a novel that was too hot to put down. I smiled as I read about a woman who was getting more love than I could ever imagine. Books like that did wonders for a woman who hadn’t felt the warmth of a man’s embrace in longer than she cared to remember.
It had been years since I’d felt Don’s touch. After he realized that my womb was barren and I couldn’t give him the son he’d dreamed of, his interest in making love to me was long gone. And after twenty-one years of marriage, two failed pregnancies and no hope of ever I was a young bride, forced into marriage because I was seventeen years old and pregnant. Despite the fact that Don was a third-year law student and broke, my daddy was from the old school and insisted that we marry. His philosophy was you get a girl pregnant, youmarry her. No questions asked. “And what’s love got to do with it, anyway?” he’d asked. Needless to say, Don and I were victims of a shotgun wedding, with Daddy holding the gun in a cocked position, ready to pull the trigger if Don even looked like he wanted to run.
Three months after our small courthouse wedding, I had a miscarriage. Thought my world had come to an end.
“Baby, we’ll get through this. We’ll just try again when the time is right.” Don tried to comfort me, but I wasn’t convinced that I’d survive the ordeal.
“You want a divorce now?” I asked him in between tears. “I know you only married me because I was pregnant in the first place.”
“I didn’t marry you because you were pregnant, or because your father held a shotgun to my head.” He laughed and then pulled me into his arms. “I married you because I love you.”
I smiled, but knew that we needed more than just love to survive. My young husband had taken a part-time position as an intern at a prestigious law firm while he finished school, but the pay of an intern was just barely enough to make ends meet. After graduating law school, he was hired on as a defense attorney with his firm. We were able to move out of the one-bedroom matchbox we’d been calling home, and into our first real home in Alpharetta, with the manicured lawn and a homeowners association that actually enforced its rules. Three bedrooms: one of which would become the nursery for the child that was then growing in my stomach.
Don kissed my stomach and rubbed it with the palm of his hand. He was beside himself with enthusiasm.
“How’s my linebacker doing in there?” he asked.
“Girls don’t play football.” I smiled at my husband whose face was glowing.
“I have a feeling this is a boy,” he said, trying to convince himself that the football, baseball glove and toy train he’d invested in wouldn’t have to go back to the store.
“What if it’s a girl?”
“Then she’ll be a great football player.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I don’t care what the sex of the baby is. I just pray that he or she is healthy.”
He kissed my lips and at that moment I was certain we’d be just like the Cleavers, and live happily ever after.
My world came crashing down the morning I awakened to the sight of blood-stained sheets.
Again, depression found me.
Depression found Don, too. Things became different between us. It was as if this time he blamed me for not being able to carry a child to term. “What do you think the problem is?” he finally managed to ask one morning over breakfast. “Will we ever have a child, Lainey?”
His question begged for an answer that I just didn’t have.
Months of testing confirmed that I would never be able to carry a child to term. That’s when I almost stopped living, breathing. Depression found me yet again, and I found a sympathetic ear and compassion from a man who belonged to my little Baptist church where I grew up. I’d never had an affair, and I felt as if I was betraying Don by even sharing intimate conversations with Lamar Peters, a man so full of charisma. He was so easy to talk to and began to fill the void that Don left behind as he began to lose himself in his work and started working outrageous hours. I hardly saw him anymore. He started taking on the difficult cases that no one else wanted; cases that demanded a great deal of his time and energy. We lived in the same house and shared the same bed, but were strangers.
As I exchanged giggles of intimacy with Lamar on the telephone, I completely lost track of time. I hadn’t even heard my husband walk into the room as I expressed my heartfelt feelings for another man; a man who I’d romanced only on the phone. He’d known all the right things to say, and had known when just to listen. He’d healed my dying soul and mended my empty heart. Was it so wrong to find comfort in such a man? Don lost it, accused me of having an affair, when the truth was I was only guilty of having a conversation…a few conversations that were leading me into the arms of a man whose charms had won my heart. But nothing ever came of it. I ended all communication and vowed to find happiness in my marriage again. Don drifted further away, and so my challenge was to draw him back.
Although Don’s salary, which was well into the six figures, afforded us a lifestyle that didn’t require me to work, I still needed something to do. I went back to school, finished my degree and became a public relations manager for one of Atlanta’s top advertising firms. A career that demanded long hours and soon filled the void of my empty marriage and helped to diminish the depression caused by my barren womb.
I’d lost count of the number of times I’d planned on leaving Don, simply taking my half and moving on; to a place far away from his neglect and verbal abuse. It was a plan that had never materialized, but was merely a discussion that I’d had with myself on many occasions. I’d become too settled; too used to my life just the way it was. Silly me, I’d never given up hope of restoration. I dreamed of a day when I’d find my husband again, in the midst of all the chaos we called life.
I heard the rumble of the garage door ascending; the engine from his Suburban continued to run for longer than necessary. Eventually he turned off the engine, but the music was pumped so loud, I was sure the neighbors would call and complain. But they never did when Don blasted his music. Just smiled and said hello when they caught us pulling in or out of the garage.
Soon the kitchen door slammed and my smile vanished. My peace was shaken.
“He’s home,” I mumbled to myself, no longer able to focus on my book. I placed the bookmark inside, closed the book and pretended to have fallen asleep. The uneven, slothful patter of his size twelves on the kitchen hardwoods gave me confirmation that he’d been drinking. Again. Don had become too acquainted with the bottle, his drinking beginning every Friday night and ending way into the wee hours of the night on Sunday. But by Monday morning he was dressed in one of his tailored Italian suits, clean-shaven, smelling like the men’s fragrance counter at Dillard’s and ready to save some poor soul from life in prison.
I could hear him stumble over to the stove to check out the pot of chicken chili I’d prepared for dinner that day. The pot rattled as he removed the lid to take a sniff. I could just imagine the frown on his face, nose turned up at the sight of it, and the slam of the top that let me know he wasn’t interested in tasting it.
I closed my eyes tighter as his footsteps approached. He appeared in the doorway of the family room, his six-foot-two frame falling against the wall. The smell of alcohol greeted my nose before he even opened his mouth to speak.
“Hey!” he rumbled, and I tried to ignore him. “I know you ain’t sleep. And I know you hear me callin’ you.”
Eventually I looked up at his bloodshot eyes. “How many times I gotta tell you I don’t eat that mess you got in there on the stove? I’m a meat and potatoes man, Lainey!”
I chose my words carefully, thinking how it’s almost impossible to debate with a man who’d undoubtedly found his home in a bottle of Cognac, his drink of choice.
“There’s a steak and baked potato in the oven for you, Don,” I said calmly.
“And why you just sitting there looking stupid?” His famous phrase. I almost smiled, because I was expecting it.
“I was reading.”
“Reading what?” He snatched the book from me. Observed the cover; lost my page. Threw it across the room. “This is stupid.”
I stared at the television to keep from looking directly at him. A newscaster was giving the latest on the weather in metro Atlanta.
“Flights at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport are being canceled as an ice storm threatens to sweep through the city tonight. More when we return.”
My interest was piqued by the headliner and I couldn’t wait for the commercial break to be over to hear more about the storm. I’d heard reports that an ice storm was expected and as a result had stocked the fridge and shelves with food and bottled water that would last us for several days. Atlanta’s ice storms were hardly predictable and often left residents without electricity for several days. I needed to be prepared for the worst. * * * “You’re stupid. That’s why you read stupid stuff,” Don said, and his words cut through my heart as I stared at the Ford commercial advertising their new Five Hundred sedan, and immediately critiqued the ad to see if it accomplished its goal of making me want to buy a car. In advertising, you often became absorbed in your work; your creative juices consistently flowing, even while simply watching a commercial on television. I missed advertising. Don had convinced me to quit my job, claiming that he made enough money to carry us, and then some. He wanted a wife that would keep his house cleaned and have a piping-hot meal on the table when he came home from work. That is, when he came straight home.
I’d grown accustomed to Don’s verbal abuse, and calling me stupid was mild compared to the other descriptive words he often used when he drank. I was afraid of leaving him. Who wants a woman who can’t even bear children? “Nobody else will give you the time of day, Lainey,” Don often proclaimed. I believed it. Not only that, I wasn’t getting any younger.
My non-responsiveness bored him, and I was relieved when he stumbled out of the room. I heard the uneven patter of his feet again, across the kitchen hardwoods and then into the living room. Suddenly the bass from the stereo caused the sofa where I sat to vibrate and I literally felt the throbbing in my chest. I was sure that Marvin Gaye, his artist of choice, certainly had more than one song on that CD. But it was something about that track, “Inner City Blues” that made Don want to play it over and over again.
Just as the newscaster was filling me in on the details of the ice storm, Don appeared in the doorway again.
“By the way, get dressed. We have a party to go to.”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
We never went anywhere together and I wasn’t up for it tonight.
“My office Christmas party is tonight, and we’re going. And I’m not taking no for an answer.”
“Don, I’m not in the mood for a party.”
“You’re never in the mood for anything. All you do is sit around reading books and moping around here complaining about everything I do.” He waved his half-empty glass in the air. “I’m not asking you to go. I’m telling you to go get dressed. You are not about to embarrass me by not showing up at this party like you did with the barbeque last summer. I have a reputation with these people, and they’re expecting to see both of us.”
“We don’t have to stay long. Just long enough to make an appearance. We’ll be home before midnight,” he said.
“Get dressed! And wear that red dress I brought you back from Honduras.”
He was gone again.
Excerpted from The Evening After by Monica McKayhan Copyright © 2007 by Monica McKayhan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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