You need some familial drama at the beginning of your summer weekend, right? well, here you go…
….. ….. ….. ….. …..
Here I lay
Still and breathless
Just like always
Still I want more
- Passenger, Deftones
IV – CELL
The room is clean. Four walls. King bed. Unoffensive abstract painting hanging above it. No doubt purchased in bulk from a Taiwanese art school. Plain geometric furniture. Flat colors, square lines. Completely without personality. I throw the laptop on the desk and my Location bad on the bed. Stand there between the two bags, trapped for a moment by indecision.My usual pattern on checking in to any hotel is to unpack. Throw a liner of paper towels in the bottom of each of the dresser drawers. Socks and underwear in the top drawer in rows. Shirts the next drawer down. Pants and sweats in the third drawer. Bottles of meds lined on the left of the sink. Toothbrush and toothpaste resting on a folded washcloth on the right. Razor and shaving gel in the shower. It’s a habit that goes back years. Helps me feel in control when I’m travelling, keeps a sense of familiarity to my surroundings, no matter how foreign the location.
I’m fighting doing it here. Unpacking feels like admitting I’m staying… whether for a day, a week… I’m staying. When all I want to do is grab the first shitty flight out of here, and head back home. Be with Elispeth and the kids. Put a couple thousand miles between myself and this place. This melodrama. The last of the light fades. Darkness falls. I’m still standing here. Paralytic. Frozen between here and escape.
My cell rings, the jangling tone snapping me out of myself. Startling me with an charge so intense that every nerve and muscle twitches, like I’ve been hit with a police taser. I’m trying to slow my breath, bring my heart rate down before I thumb the answer key on the phone’s surface. Glowing above the digital button, the caller ID tells me who’s calling. A picture of El with the kids. Grinning and covered in chocolate batter. A moment captured during an attempt at family cake baking. The simple white font reading one word below the picture. “HOME”.
I sit on the edge of the bed, and pull out my cigs. Lighting one and taking a deep, painful drag before tapping the button. Exhaling as I hear the bouncing chatter of my daughter Layney’s voice. “Daaaaddddy!! Areyouthere? Why did you take so long to answer?!” I have to smile at the logic of her 8 year-old mind. She’s calling me. I should answer immediately. There no reason why I shouldn’t. “I’m sorry Layney, Daddy was busy doing stuff. Important stuff.”
She’s not buying it for a second. “Daaad… you always say you’re doing important stuff but you’re usually just sitting there doing nothing!” I stifle a laugh. At 8, she already has her dad dead to rights. I’m terrified of what she’ll be like when she reaches her teenaged years and dating. “How was your plane ride? Have you seen any cows or horses? Mom says there are farms up there, so does that mean there’s chickens?” Rapid-fire questions. Whether it’s genetics or being around her mother and I, she’s got the family trait for rapid info acquisition. “My plane ride was fine honey. Yes, I’ve seen cows and horses and chickens. In fact, they put a chicken in my room to keep me company.”
There’s a moment of silence, and I can see in my mind the expression on her face as the wheels spin in her brain… trying to figure out if her Dad is pulling her leg, or if I really have live poultry running around in my room. “Daaaad… there’s no chicken in your room. I don’t hear any chicken noises. You’re being dramatic again.” I laugh and tell her it’s a ‘very quiet chicken’, and tell her I love her and miss her oodles and boodles. She asks if I’m coming home tomorrow, and I sigh and tell her no, but soon, very soon. She’s not happy about this fact and tells me that her and Jake think I’d better come home ‘sooner than soon’, because the house isn’t ‘right’ when I’m not there. I’m fighting tears, and I tell her it’ll be “very soon”, and to give her little brother a hug and kiss for me, and to let me talk to ‘mom’. She sighs… adult exasperation compacted into a little girl form and says “Fine… here’s Mommy.” Before slipping back into daughter mode and whispering “Love you Daddy.” As she hands off the phone.
Elispeth is laughing as she takes the phone. “Chickens? In the room?” I chuckle, telling her that “maybe Jeff can set it up as a sequel to Snakes on a Plane.” Just hearing her voice makes me hungry, longing. Like a junkie in desperate need of a fix. A fix that is too goddamn many miles away. “Have you unpacked yet?” I hem and haw a bit, which she cuts short. “I know this is hard on you, but you are going to be there for awhile, and you will go bonkers if you don’t unpack and get organized because part of you thinks ‘I’ll be leaving any moment.’ So… unpack, you!” I’ve been caught, and she knows it. I unzip my bag and start arranging things as we talk. I ask her if Gotham has called back about the script, and she tells me yes, but only to say that they are still talking to different producers, so there’s no progress on that front. The documentary she’s working on starts editing tomorrow, so she’ll be tied up most of the day for the next few days. When I start to say that I’ll catch a flight back so that one of us with the kids, she cuts me short. “Already ahead of you love, Mum is coming in tomorrow morning. She’ll be here with the kids while I’m over at the edit bay.” There’s a moment of silence that she breaks with a chuckle “Sorry dear, you’re not getting to escape that easily. This is something you need to do…” she let’s the moment linger then asks “have you seen him yet?”
Deep sigh. Deep drag on the cig. Clatter of meds as I place the bottles in a row next to the sink. I was never able to obfuscate or misdirect with El. One of the reasons I fell in love with her… once I came to realize that her calling me out on things wasn’t ever born of malice, but of love. It sounds weird to say, so I don’t say it to anyone… not even my closest friends… but part of why I fell so deeply in love with her is that I trust her. “No, I haven’t been over to the hospital yet. I went by the apartment, talked with Suzette a bit. Just got to the hotel a few minutes ago.”
Her voice softens. Even though she doesn’t really ‘get’ the relationship between my father and I, she knows this is painful territory for me. Painful enough that even she and I haven’t talked about it in any detail other than the very basics. “How did that go? You haven’t talked to her in ages as well, right?”
Location bag emptied, I start on the laptop case. Pulling out wires and chargers, looking for outlets closest to the desk “I guess it went ok. She seems to have mellowed out a bit… wasn’t blasting Def Leppard or Sammy Hagar anyways. Hon, you should see the apartment though, you ‘would’na’ believe it. I don’t think either of them has bought a new piece of furniture or decor since the late 1980’s. It’s like some alternate world where the set of Freaks and Geeks becomes an actually living environment, except that it’s worn and aged. Shit, the Lay-Z-Boy is being held together with Duct tape!”
She’s gives a slight laugh at that, then says in that serious way… the chiding made more palatable by her British accent. “Well, that’s neither here nor there… it’s not what’s important Jack. You need to go see him, and you need to be open when you do. Try not to get your hackles up. OK?”
Sitting on the bed, pushing the fingers of my free hand against my temples. Trying to subdue the throbbing by force and pressure. Trying to not cry. Trying not to miss her so goddamn much. Trying not to scream at how fucked up the world is that I have to be hear instead of being with her and the kids. Trying. “I… Ok, I will. I just wanted to try and get settled in. Get my bearings. Visiting hours end at 8pm, so I’ll head over around 7. That’ll give me a reason to make sure the first time seeing him is limited… so I can ease into it. Easier to control myself that way.”
She’s quiet for what seems an eternity. “I love you Jack. You know I’m there with you, in your heart. You’ve got the edit bay’s number, so you need me, you call. On the cell or the main line. We miss you and love you, and this is only for a moment. Try to remember that.”
Tears are rolling down my cheeks. Silently. “I will hon. I’m going to call Michael, see if he wants to get together later tonight, get a beer or 10 after I’m done at the hospital. You want me to call you after I get back to the hotel?”
She laughs “G’wan you… I have an early morning, and if you think I’m going to be exhausted for the first day of editing because you’re wanting a bit of naughty talk in the wee hours when you’re all tipsy? Well, I think you’re mistaken, my love!”
She’s good at making me smile. I wish more than anything that she was in my arms right now. “OK hon… it’s your loss you know. I’ll call you tomorrow. You have sweet dreams, hug the ‘bairns’ for me.”
“I will, and remember we love you.”
“I love you too.”