Honey, I’m Home
I walked over to where she stood at the large arched window and bent to whisper, “What do you think?”
She jumped even though my feet echoed against the hardwood in the empty space. “I think I want to rearrange the kitchen.”
I chuckled, “Not exactly a comfortable work triangle, is it… Don’t worry. We’ll get to it. Do you want to leave the brick walls or have drywa…”
“No. In my final. It’s all wrong. Everything’s all wrong.” She’d begun applying that sentence to nearly every idea she’d had. I couldn’t wait for finals to be over.
When I put my arms around her she tensed. If it wasn’t for how scared I was that she’d have a reaction to it, I might have faked my own anxiety so that I could sneak ‘my’ medication to her in coffee. “Sookie… I brought you to Shreveport hoping you’d relax a little. Try to not think about your projects. This is our new apartment. This is our new town… No White trash neighbors or family looking for handouts like at Christmas. No more bartending and bouncing. No more burned toast and runny eggs at the student union. In ten days, we’ll officially be grownups. We’re going to have an actual table to eat at instead of taking turns on the barstool.”
She sniffled. Crying again. “Marble is cliché. Tile isn’t the right scale for an 8000 square foot hacienda style…”
“Why? Why do I have to stop? Why does everyone else get to do whatever the hell they want and Sookie has to ‘stop’? It’s not fair.”
“Fine. What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.” More of her suddenly pessimistic mantra. She used to be so sure of herself.
“Do you want to graduate?”
“Do you want to move to Shreveport and work for Edgington?”
“Then… Am I the part of the package that has you acting like you’re scared to move on?”
“No… of course not.”
“You’re sure? You want to be with me, here, side by side drafting tables, sleeping on a new mattress and boxspring, keeping groceries in the pantry because there’s no student union to pilfer.”
Tears fell from her cheeks and onto my arm. “More than anything.”
“You’re killing me, Sookie. Can I do anything to help? I hate seeing you like this.”
“It’ll be over soon.”
“You think you’ll be fine after graduation?”
“I didn’t say that. I just said it’ll be over soon.”
“Now you’re scaring me.”
“The apartment is perfect, you know? I love it.”
“Sookie. Seriously, what does that mean? ‘It’ll be over soon.’ That shit sounds like I should be calling a suicide hotline.”
“Not like that.”
“Just that things should straighten themselves out. You shouldn’t have to put up with too much more.”
“I’m not ‘putting up’ with anything, Sookie. Whatever you’re going through isn’t like recycling jeans because we didn’t have time to go to the Laundromat or Professor Quinn’s halitosis. This is you. I miss your smile.”
“Don’t be sorry. Tell me how to make it happen.”
“If anybody can, it’d be you. I wish I knew what would work.”
“Take this left.”
Another wrecked memory…
I still couldn’t think of why she’d have left. The hard part was over. If she’d gotten pregnant a year earlier, life would’ve been much harder. Balancing senior year and a new baby would’ve been nearly impossible. We’d known a few people who had too much fun as Freshmen and didn’t return as Sophomores. But the timing wasn’t horrible. She’d have been able to work through the pregnancy, work from home a lot (I would’ve too) and we could’ve easily afforded a nanny once we went back to work. In fact, that’s probably exactly what she’d ended up doing without including the baby’s father as part of the setting.
It accelerated our plans… we wanted to get married after 2 years and start a family within 5… She couldn’t think I’d have been upset, disappointed, angry that we were going to be parents earlier than planned. I’d already told her that I wanted kids, maybe not as many as the trend in my family, but still.
At the time, I’d thought the stress of nearly everything changing so suddenly was pushing her towards a nervous breakdown. It’s why I called her freshman roommate, Arlene… I was hoping to get some clues about how she’d handled moving to a city from Podunk, living in an actual building instead of a soup can, not waiting tables at Pancakes ‘N’ Things for her mother’s cigarettes and having some say so in her life for the first time. Her mother had disowned her for leaving for college because it meant that she’d have to get off her fat ass and get a job to buy what her food stamps wouldn’t. The estrangement only lasted as long as Sookie declaring a major. As soon as Sandra heard through the grapevine that Sookie was going to be an architect, she treated her daughter like a winning lottery ticket instead of ‘the reason her dad left’.
Talking to Arlene was frustrating. Not only was she a Philosophy major on her way to Chakra cleansing and holistic meditation, but as it turned out, Sookie couldn’t have been happier. From the day Sookie moved into her dorm, her ‘aura was alive with wonder and excitement’.
I had nothing. The changes from high school to college were more drastic than what we were going through at the time. Sure, we were moving to a new town to enter the work force, but we’d still have projects and deadlines, bills… and each other. Knowing I’d have Sookie made our transition a non-issue for me.
I wasn’t scared until she said it would ‘all be over soon’. I started watching her like a hawk. Not that she wasn’t already my favorite spectator sport, but I started paying close attention to how long she spent in the bathroom, how much she ate… Her sudden appreciation for peanut butter sandwiches and buckets of chocolate milk should have been a clue since she’d never been a fan of either and I might have smiled when I realized that I got to see at least one piece of the pregnancy. But… she was eating, bathing, keeping up with her course load and we only had three bottles of pills in the apartment and they were mine. I wasn’t worried about my Claritin or No-Doz, but I did throw away the Tylenol PM. I watched the 2 bottles of wine to make sure she wasn’t self-medicating… They were untouched for now-obvious reasons. I did get my hopes up when there was a message waiting on our answering machine from campus medical reminding her about an appointment. Again, I thought she was finally getting some help, but now the purpose for her appointment was staring me in the face… literally.
She left without a trace, knowing that I was worried about her, knowing I loved her, knowing I’d do anything for her…
Eric would have changed things, but Sookie and I had been a couple for two and a half years, inseparable. Eric should’ve changed things, but for US not just her.
I stared at the house… back to feeling too much at once. Scream, cry, punch something, run…
I was ‘commercial’… Big, open, efficient spaces with clean lines… softened enough with curves and details so that they weren’t austere or intimidating.
Sookie was the one who wanted to re-invent the southern Victorian-dollhouse. The yard sale Dustbuster we had was well worth the $3 sticker on the handle because the floor under Sookie was constantly littered with the chunks of foam-core board that Exacto’ed their way out of the details she put into her models. Finials, spindles, gingerbread siding…
The house I was looking at… actually seemed to be looking back at me.
At first (as an architect and Frank Lloyd Wright sycophant) I approved. The house seemed like a respectable homage to the Usonian style… stacked, straight angels, cantilevered balconies on the second story and there was little mystery to the first floor since it was practically all windows (the only privacy seemed to be from the trees on the perimeter of the property).
The distinct lack of landscaping caught my eye though. Sookie, an avid fan of rose gardens and window boxes, had no ornamental shrubbery, no climbing vines, no flower beds… the only decorative thing about the yard was the large pond that hosted a few ferns and water lilies and spanned by a staggered slab walkway.
It was mine.
My fucking design. As a matter of fact, the design was a project for a Styles and Appreciation class we’d taken together. We sat across from each other and built our models… and had a popcorn fight… I’d chosen Wright’s Usonian period while his Arts & Crafts period with Sullivan had been in her comfort zone.
I needed answers.
The faster the better.
She’d removed them both from my life completely… and somehow built a world where the only thing missing was me. It was stupid. It was insane. And it wasn’t fucking fair.
My son went on my road trips without me.
My son saw my accomplishments without me.
My son lived in my house without me.
My son had grown up surrounded by me without knowing it.
“She’s not home.”
I had to shake my head to clear it. “What?”
“It’s only 4. She should be home soon. She’s just out running errands like every Saturday…” He nudged my arm as he started to get out of the car. “I should have time to introduce you to Bob Marley and get a shower. C’mon.” Bob Marley?
There was a sick feeling rising from the pit of my stomach. I was still locked on the façade of the house I’d designed when I wasn’t much older than he was now. I know I still had the plans. I hadn’t lost them or sold them. She’d remembered them. “How long have you lived here?”
He stooped down and laid across the walkway to reach into the water. “Long as I can remember. The door to my room has notches for my height starting when I was 2. One of her old friends mentioned that we used to live in a house across town while Mom had it built though.”
“Yeah. Never anywhere else. When Granny went broke she lived with us for a while, but Mom went out and rented a trailer for her as soon as she smelled smoke in the house.”
“Good for her.”
He snorted. “Good for her? After what Mom did… how… I mean…”
“Eric, there’s more going on than we know. You… I know this is going to sound bizarre, but your mother basically lived her life as though I was on a business trip…”
He stood up suddenly, holding a brown/black fish that was easily over a foot long and held him out for me to take like I was petting a kitten. “Meet Bob.”
“Bob?” It didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that he was out of water other than the way his mouth gaped and closed… he stared at me like he was silently judging me for not noticing the family resemblance when Eric arrived on my step weeks ago.
“Yeah. He’s a koi. They all are… Bob was my first. He’s the oldest…” He took Bob back and gently put him back into the pond and started pointing them out. “The big, fat gray one is King Koopa. Those 2 calicos, well there’s one more… they’re the Fates… they’re usually huddled together and facing each other like they’re up to something. That one over there is so white he kinda glows in the dark. He’s Riddick… the big red one is named Fu because he has one… and the biggest of all of them is Moby… he’s probably been under the catwalk since he heard your car. He’s a wussy.”
“How did you decide on fish as pets?”
He scrunched up his face while he thought about it. “I guess it was 5 years… no, 4 years ago… I started getting computer labs in school. First class was pretty easy. We’d show up for class and there’d be a question on the board. We’d have to research it and type up a paragraph or two as an answer and print it out. Teacher would walk around, make sure we weren’t hunting and pecking, or looking up the Anarchists’ Cookbook… anyway… one day the question was ‘What does your name mean and how did you get it?’ Finding Eric was easy and I just said that my mom liked the name… Gehry was the hard part. Frank Gehry was the only dude I could find with the name and I couldn’t even find how he chose it since it isn’t his birth name… trying to figure it out, I found out that he had a thing for fish. That’s how I talked Mom into letting me get Bob since we already had the pond and when Uncle Jason found out that I managed to keep him alive, he started sending me gift certificates for the pet store so Bob got friends.” I finally knew something about him.
“So… You aren’t farming them for the grill?”
He smiled and bent over again and reached under the bridge. While he scattered pellets over the surface he told the fish that I was only joking about the ‘G-R-I-L-L’. When he stood up again, he had a key in his hand and nudged me in the direction of the door.
The interior was another slap in the face. Every stitch of upholstery, every color, every corner and crevice was exactly as I intended it to be when I turned in the project that suffered a B- for lacking imagination. I argued the grade up to an A- when I pointed out to the asshole prof that if he wanted imagination, he shouldn’t be teaching a class about other architects’ styles.
But there it was. The full scale of the design I’d have to exhume from my dusty boxes in storage to be sure, but was almost certain was 100% correct.
“You should wash your hands. Bob’s a nice guy and all, but he’s pretty nasty… I’ll be right back. I’m going to get in the shower.”
“Does Sookie keep any weapons on her? I don’t think I’m in the mood to be…”
He snorted and skipped steps on way to the second floor. His room was most likely the one on the southeast corner. It was comparable in size to the master, but the closet was smaller and the bathroom was less of a luxury. “Don’t worry. I’ll hurry. Just don’t jump out and surprise her.”
“Is she jumpy?” Still?
He stopped on the landing and looked down at me. “Hasn’t she always been?”
“No. That was new… right before she left.” Something happened.
“Some days are better than others, but considering neither one of us are happy with her, she’ll probably end up on the phone with her therapist… Be right back.” Therapist?