Control yourself so he doesn’t have to.
You asked for chickens, again. He said no. Too much stress. Too much work and he’s sure he’d be the only one to care for them. You guessed he was right. Chickens are a lot of work. But you argued the important experience for the kids—you all could hatch the eggs as a family, and the kids could care for the chicks—cleaning, and feeding, tending to them until they were old enough to move to the coop you’d build together. You pointed out all the money you’d save on eggs. He told you you’d save money if you just stopped ordering shit you don’t need. If you’d just quit spending money every fucking day, you could afford cases of eggs.
You guessed he had a point.
You did just order another pair of shoes the week before…and two bikinis. And a dress. You don’t even go anywhere anymore. But these things give you a rush. You think, maybe subconsciously, you’ll look like the Instagram models—sunny–tan, white–perfect smiles, palm trees and bicycles. Happy. You dismiss the fact that you live in bumfuck Wisconsin and haven’t breached the sun in weeks. But God when those packages come, you feel something. And then he yells at you again.
You guess you deserve it.
You have trouble getting up again. The kids need you. The dogs. And you just don’t care. You lay in bed, door closed, pretend to be asleep so no one will bother you. You can already hear them arguing over the TV downstairs. You open your phone. Check all five email accounts. Open Facebook. Nothing. Open Twitter. Nothing. Open Instagram. Oh—well that’s cute. You haven’t ordered anything in a few days. If you only order this one thing, he can’t get mad. You are doing better. If he notices the charge in the account, you can just say it was something you ordered for the kids. He gets less upset then. Yeah, that will work.
You say it could be worse. Could be out cheating, or doing drugs, drinking all the time. He tells you that you are just trying to justify a problem. He says you don’t respect him. You tell him it feels a lot like control. You are an adult, and he tells you to act like it then. You guess he’s right. He sleeps on the couch again. You cry yourself to sleep—again.
Next morning, you decide to call your doctor. Tell her you need help. You can’t pull yourself out this time. You don’t react well to medication and ask for something mild. She prescribes you the lowest effective dosage. Promises you’ll feel better, to just give it a few weeks. You guess she’s right. Asks you if you want to hurt yourself.
You don’t tell her about last weekend. He was gone. You laid the kids down and panicked in the dark on your bathroom floor. You couldn’t breathe. Wanted to run. Looked up through the open window above the garden tub and begged the moon for mercy. You wanted to be where she was, so you reached for the bottle. Oxy from the surgery. You fingered the orange plastic and sobbed. In a moment of grace, you imagined your babies crawling into bed in the middle of the night, reaching for your warm body, and instead they find you cold on the bathroom floor. You closed the bottle and tucked it away on the top shelf. You went to bed with burning eyes and stared.
In that space between wake and sleep, you remember what it was like to carry your babies in your womb. You choke on sobs and swallow the fact that you will never again feel the stretch of new life, movement—flutters at first, then elbows and heels in swift jabs to the ribs. You kept them warm and safe, cocooned within your body. You dream of bringing them back inside, to where you can keep them. But you tore their temporary home from your gut, and all that’s left is an echo. He told you it was a good idea; said you’d suffered enough. Hemorrhaging, chronic anemia, pain so severe you couldn’t walk from the couch to the bathroom without shrinking into yourself.
You guessed he had a point.
You brought up wanting a pool again the other night. You were wrong to do that. He said no. It would be too much stress. He just knows the maintenance would fall on his shoulders. You promised it wouldn’t. Promised you’d done the research, worked out the cost, and chemicals. You found a system that made the chemical maintenance a cinch. Promised the long–term cost would be minimal as it would only be open for a couple of summer months a year. He stared at you. You thought you were close this time and continued with the joy it would bring the kids— get them out of the house into fresh air and sunshine in the summer, off their phones and away from the TV. You explained how much family time you all could enjoy together, like you used to before things got hard. He told you to stop asking. You guessed he was right. You should listen.
No more pool.
You needed out of the fucking house, today. Decide to stop for coffee, use the cash that your mom slipped you on her last visit. He won’t find out this way. You are pulled to the furthest chair to the right of the door—emerald, green velvet, warmed by the September sun. It beckons you, knows your soul needs its embrace. You brush the fabric with your free hand and close your eyes, taking in every raised fiber, and imagine this very chair in your own space. You envision all the moments you would have like this one—warm coffee in the sun–kissed velvet respite, surrounded by books, your children laughing down a hallway playing in their rooms, your view from the window—a garden, and free–range chickens make their humble rounds.
You open your eyes, and he is staring at you. You can’t speak. You feel as though you had an affair, the guilt all over your face. He wants to know what you are doing here and who bought the coffee because he didn’t get a notification text from the bank. You explain you just needed a break, some fresh air. He looks away, clenching the pulsing muscles in his jaw, and walks to the counter. You sit in the corner—a child scorned in a now stiff and itchy chair and wait for the repercussions. You expect him to come over and tell you to leave with him, but he looks through you, tells you to enjoy your air, and walks out of the door—you don’t know which is worse.
But he’s probably right, again. You never should have come.
You sit in the car in the parking lot. The now empty emerald chair sobs in the front window, watching you, pitying you—begs of you to make you both a new home. You suck in a breath and hold, two, three, four. Release—two, three, four, five. And repeat as you put the car into drive. You are surprised when you end up at the mall. You don’t remember how you got here—auto–pilot, you suppose, like every other waking moment of your pathetic fucking life.
You walk into the department store entrance and head toward the women’s section. You snag a cocktail dress in every color—Zac Posen black, Oscar de la Renta hot pink, Badgley Mischka plum. Arms loaded you move toward the shoes. Red–soled Christian Louboutin’s have your name beaming above them in bright neon lights. You find the 9’s, and head toward the fitting room. Jessica’s waiting, hands you a glass of champagne, asks you what event you are shopping for this afternoon. On the fly you respond that you’ve accepted a new position as editor for The New Yorker and want to make a boss–bitch entrance. She’s intrigued by your candor. You disappear behind the door, sipping your glass like you’ve earned it.
In the fitting room, you laugh as silently as possible, hands covering your mouth as tears stream your face. You feel a vibrant buzzing in your veins, chest pumping—your now bare breasts heave in the mirror and you can’t remember the last time you looked at yourself—really looked at yourself. You miss her. The one with the bright blue eyes, lively with mischief and excitement, the one ready to make the world her own. You bite your lip and decide to play.
You choose the little black number—the red soles pop in contrast. You feel sexy, and a bit devilish. You shove your old clothes in your bag and take out your phone. Timely, the loudspeaker calls Jessica to customer service “immediately” and you slip around the door. You peek and no one’s yet come to take over watch of the fitting rooms. You walk into the parking lot, head held high like you own the place and every person in it.
Once in your car, you scream at the top of your lungs and get the hell outta Dodge. On the bypass, you roll down your windows and toss the thousand–dollar Louboutin’s out the driver’s side window and laugh. The kids are still at school when you arrive home. You pull into the garage and lower the door behind you—the cement on your bare feet a refreshing renewal. You slip out of the Zac Posen and chuck it into the garbage pail. You don’t bother to remove your clothes from your bag and head straight upstairs to the bath.
You’ve been on the little blue pills for a while now. The night–sweats and nausea have subsided. Some days the brain–fog is worse than others, but you manage. You notice you are much more agreeable now. You guess you are happier. You stop yelling at the kids. Start fucking him again. You feel a little detached but different than before. Float through the day and everything is fine—you guess. You stop asking for things. He seems much happier.
So, you chance it and suggest the Redwoods, again. California. You’ve always wanted to go. You tried to plan a trip before kids, but something always came up. Never enough time or money. Or maybe you just weren’t worth the effort then. But now, things are better. Maybe now is the right time. You ask and explain that it would be the perfect trip for the family. The kids love to hike, you both used to hike all the time. You could rent a cabin and visit the Redwood National and State Parks—a string of forests, beaches, and grasslands along Northern California’s coastline. He laughs you have it all figured out, don’t you? You explain that if you save X amount of money you could fly to California, rent a vehicle with his points from his work trips, and stay in a cabin on the edge of the forest. You can feel yourself beaming at the prospect, your hands naturally clasped at the fingers—a subconscious beg.
His eyes roll no. Maybe in a few years. We have more important things to spend money on. You want new windows, the deck needs to be refinished. Your heart sinks, and the knot grows in your throat to the size of a peach pit. You choke back a please, and surrender. You guess he’s right. You were stupid to think you could save that amount of money by the end of the year. You don’t argue. He seems pleased to be right, again. He kisses you on the forehead and things are quiet.
But then you forget to take the cans to the curb. You remembered; said to yourself you’d do it after dinner. But you forgot, again. It’s too late. The truck already passed and now it will overflow by next week. He asks you why you can’t do anything right. You can’t answer. You don’t know. He guesses he will have to do that too; add that to all the other shit you are incapable of doing. You guess he’s right. He stays downstairs, says he isn’t tired. You go upstairs, take your meds. At least you can remember to do that. You stare at the ceiling and wait.
In that space between wake and sleep, you realize you sometimes miss working. The freedom, the people—real conversations. Returning to school a few years ago helped. You felt alive again. You felt smart, valued. Respected. He always said he supported you, wanted you to be happy. But then he told you he was worried you’d change. Afraid you’d grow without him. You felt guilty. Considered quitting. But it just felt so good—the rediscovery.
He was upset you weren’t home in the evenings. But you still had to be home during the day to cook, clean, get the kids off the bus. You argued this was the only way to do it all. You needed this to feel whole, again. He told you the only thing he needed was you. Said he wasn’t mad, just disappointed that you didn’t feel the same. He said you were growing without him; he could feel it. You told him never; he would be wrong this time. But your heart could feel he was right.
You got a job offer today from the local university. Full benefits, impressive pay. Anything is a step up from nothing. You’ll run the writing center and assist professors—receive full tuition assistance to finish your master’s degree. He was the first person you thought of; the first person you called to share the news—a dream come true. He says yeah maybe for you. But now he will see you even less often. Now he will have to cook more evenings and take the kids to practice. When will you find time to spend together as a family?
You explain the financial gain, how you won’t have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck anymore. He argues you will just spend more now that you are making more. You offer to give him a tour of the campus and reassure him he’s welcome to university events. You will even pay for health benefits now, give him more back on his paychecks for all the years he’s taken care of you and the kids. He tells you he supports you, again, and again—more–so to convince himself, as he sighs do what you want, and hangs up.
The distance is good, you think. Time outside of the home equates to less arguing. You are spending less money now, as your days are filled with students and purpose. Your office filled with books. You replaced the windows, refinished the deck. Your co–worker wanted chickens, asked your kids to help raise them—they do. You sit on his porch, share coffee, and watch them make their humble rounds. You started a garden last month, tend to it daily—the leaves—your green velvet respite. Dirt beneath your nails grounds you and lifts the veil. Your arms—a sunny–tan.
He says you are growing without him—afraid you’ll meet someone else. You promise you aren’t, you won’t. You beg him to trust you; you’ve never given him a reason not to. Loyal to a fault. He vows it will only be a matter of time before you move on, discover he isn’t enough for you—that life with him just isn’t enough for you. You guess he’s right.
Megan A. Pastore is an award-winning poet and fiction writer from Chesapeake, VA. She has works published in fiction, creative non-fiction, as well as poetry. She graduated May 2023 with a BA in English. Recent awards include ODU’s College Poetry Prize sponsored by the Academy of American Poets, the ODU MFA Program, and the Poetry Society of Virginia. Megan was most recently accepted into Old Dominion University’s Master of Fine Arts program this Fall and has been offered an assistantship to work alongside Poet Laureate of Virginia, Dr. Luisa Igloria, where she will manage the Virginia Poets Database, as well as assume the position of Poetry Editor for Barely South Review.