They yelled at each other for a while. Knock-down drag-out stuff. The details don’t matter, I guess, or I would think I’d remember it better. I curled myself up in a ball in the seat I was in and tried not to hear any of it. Maybe I partly succeeded and that’s why I don’t remember.
Courtney tried to introduce logic to the argument a couple of times, that I remember. Like she pointed out that Will, the writer from St. Louis, gave Remo the ride back from Claire’s, so it wasn’t like Remo and Claire had snuck off alone together. Mel wasn’t hearing it. To her that just meant Will collaborated on the effort and therefore even more people knew that her husband had no respect for their vows.
Court ended up leaving the argument after saying to Remo, “If I’d known me driving my mother home would’ve kept her from going cuckoo I would’ve. But I don’t think that’s it at all. She’s just out of her mind.” She went and got in a bunk or hid in the back or something. Meanwhile the driver had closed the pocket door, so it was like me, Remo, and Mel were trapped in a room together.
I should’ve just gotten up and climbed into a bunk. But I couldn’t move. Every attempt Remo had made to get Mel to take the argument to a more private space had failed and if I had been able to move I could’ve made it happen anyway. But I was paralyzed, and they were too deep in their argument to pay attention to me anymore anyway.
I’ll be honest. I keep trying to write out some details of things they said, and then I worry that I must be misremembering, getting it mixed up with the kind of ugly things Digger and Claire used to say to each other. I’m pretty sure Remo and Mel were nowhere near that cruel to each other but that’s still how it sounded to me. And I’d thought I’d successfully forgotten all of the bullshit Digger and Claire used to fling at each other. Nope. It all came rushing back, which if I wasn’t already nauseous and dizzy would’ve made me so.
But whatever. There I was melting down in my own little flashback whirlpool of hell while they had it out with each other.
Eventually Remo sat down across the bus from me and forward a ways, whether tired out or actually defeated I don’t know, and Mel crumpled to the floor with her hands over her face, crying. She was much closer to me than to him. In fact she was practically right at my feet.
I don’t know what brought it up but a had a different flashback then, to a fight Ziggy and I had years ago. He’d asked me a question I couldn’t answer. I had been trying to answer it ever since.
“Mel,” I said, my voice weak from the pain in my head but audible, “what do you want?”
She looked up at me for a second with tear-stained eyes and then crumpled again into sobs. Remo’s chest puffed up like he was going to march over and find out what I said to hurt her but as he leaned forward like he was going to stand up she gave him a serious death-glare. He stayed put.
She coughed and I handed her a couple of tissues from my jacket pocket. (They were actually fast food napkins but she used them as tissues.) “What do you mean?”
“It’s not supposed to be a trick question.” I dabbed my own eyes with my sleeve. “I really want to know. What. Do. You. Want.”
“I want to stop being so miserable,” she said, and blew her nose.
“Okay. That’s fair. Are you so miserable you wish none of this had ever happened?”
“By ‘none of this’ do you mean… do I wish I hadn’t had the baby?”
“Or hadn’t met Remo in the first place?” I asked.
“Because I will never regret having the baby. Ford is the light in my heart.”
I tried not to roll my eyes at the cliché and/or the melodrama. Meanwhile, Remo looked a little wounded at what she said–I guess not liking the taste of his own medicine or something. But at least when she was answering me, no one was yelling. That encouraged me to keep going.
“He’s great. But I still don’t know, what do you want?”
“I don’t want to be playing second fiddle to a load of road hussies, of course,” she said, somewhat indignantly.
Yeah, of course. “That’s what you don’t want. What do you want?”
She was silent, but she was thinking hard. I couldn’t tell if she couldn’t come up with an answer or if she had come up with too many answers and couldn’t decide what to say. I was looking at her through a kind of viewfinder of my hands, shading my eyes because I guess that helped.
“How about let’s narrow it down.” This, I realized as I said it, was one hundred percent a Jonathan tactic. My voice sounded like his. “What do you want Remo to do?”
“Right now, you mean?”
“Well, I’m pretty sure right now the answer is go to hell…” I paused as what I said made her snort suddenly with laughter and she had to blow her nose again. “But how about tomorrow and next week.”
“Is it too much to ask for him not to do things that make me feel like a steaming pile of shit?”
“Uh uh uh,” I warned. “No judging what you want. Just say. Nothing’s ‘too much.’ But I should point out that’s another don’t-want right there.”
Her brow creased like she was trying to solve a puzzle. I hadn’t really stared at her face very much in the time I’d known her. She had wide, high cheeks, and eyebrows so thin they had to have been tweezed that way on purpose. “Yeah.”
“I know it can be a tough question. I’ve failed to answer it a couple of times myself.”
“Yeah?” She folded her arms on top of her knees and rested her head, almost the same position I was in, except she was on the floor. “I guess part of the problem is I keep coming up with, like you said, things I don’t want instead of things I do. I’m…just a spare wheel here.”
“That’s the nature of a tour. You think there’s going to be plenty of downtime but really, it’s like if you went with him to his office, you can’t expect to be dictating stuff there. He’s at work.”
“Yeah, but most guys do not go to the office for six weeks straight.” Her voice sounded normal now, like we were just talking. Like Remo wasn’t sitting right there a couple feet away, hanging on every word. “I guess it’s almost like being a military wife. Except if he was in a war zone I wouldn’t be worrying about groupies hitting on him every night.”
“I used to make myself sick worrying about things I couldn’t change or do anything about,” I said. “Okay, I actually still do it. But I try not to.”
“I’ve tried,” she said. “But it’s like there’s a new thing I can’t control every single day.”
“Yeah.” All I could do was agree. So much for me giving advice.
No one said anything for a couple of seconds. I heard the bus shift gears. Felt like we were on the interstate. Then fresh tears leaked out of her eyes.
“I just want… him to love me,” she finally said.
Remo couldn’t sit still anymore. He got down on the floor with her. “Oh, Mel, sweetie, darling, I do. I loved you before the baby and that hasn’t changed.”
She leaned into his arms and I breathed a sigh of relief.
“If you didn’t think I loved you, you never would have told me, would you,” he said, hugging her somewhat awkwardly from her side in the narrow aisle.
“I wasn’t gonna, remember?” she said with a wet sniff.
“But you did. And I don’t regret that you did.” He held up her hand with his, their wedding rings matching. She still wore her engagement ring, too, right next to the wedding band on the same finger. “I didn’t do this because I felt sorry for you or to lay claim to the child, you know. I did it because I love you, and to prove to the world that if anyone’s laying claim, it’s you to me. This should be all any decent woman needs to see to know I’m off limits and any one that doesn’t think that was never worth my time in the first place.”
Shit, is Remo the most sincere person I’ve ever known? Probably. He really means it when he says stuff like that. Jonathan had a sincere streak, too, but he would mix in some irony and some self-deprecating analysis with it. Remo just lays it out there.
“I’m still mad about Daron’s mother,” she said, but in a very mollified tone of voice.
“S’okay, so am I,” I said, but more to myself than to them.
“Let’s go in back and talk and let Daron get some sleep,” Remo said.
“It’s about time to feed Ford again anyway,” she admitted.
“Your head doing okay?” Remo asked me as he got to his feet.
I rubbed my eyebrows. “I’ll live. I should crash.” I accepted a pat on the shoulder and then watched them extract the baby basket from Mel’s bunk a few feet away and carry it into the back.
And then I was alone in the front lounge of the bus and it felt like a miracle. I sat there for a long time just listening to the sound of the wheels on the highway, and at first it was good–you know, I got some quiet time alone. But eventually the things I was trying not to think about came bubbling up.
I was not the kind of kid who fantasized about fixing my parents’ relationship. While listening to them argue, while lying awake or trapped in the back seat of the car while they fought and drove, or wherever, I did not wish for the magic words that would make things all better between them. I don’t think I even had a concept that I could affect my parents that way–or that anyone could–and by the time I was old enough to understand what was going on my older sisters had learned to stay out of it, too. But it gave me a sick, uneasy feeling to even wonder, what if? What if I’d, just once, been able to help my parents kiss and make up the way I just did? What might have been different?
I eventually resolved that the reason it made me so queasy to think about that was that my father and my mother were both terrible for me and if I had somehow made sticking with them more livable it would have only meant even more damage to me in the end. But wishing for a different past–I understand that as a kind of anti-hope. It’s a wish that can never come true because the past is already done, so it’s a toxic wish. I think Mel was plagued with a lot of toxic wishes. I thought about myself, though. Yeah, a lot of things had sucked about my childhood, but did I actually wish it had been different? I didn’t, not anymore, because I was focused on what I had in life, where I’d gotten, what I’d achieved. If I’d had an easier time of it, who knows who or what I might have become?
I’d be busing tables at the Ground Round for minimum wage four nights a week. If I was even still alive.
I never did get to sleep that night. It was four hours to St. Louis. I’m not sure Remo and Mel slept either. As I was picking up my stuff to get off the bus when we got there, Mel stopped me with a soft hand on my arm.
“I wanted to say thanks,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” I said automatically. I didn’t feel like I deserved thanks but whatever.
“And, I know it’s not my place to give you advice, but I…” She took a breath to get her words in order. “Don’t let another six years go by before you see your mother again.”
That was so not what I thought she was going to say I almost didn’t understand the words. But I understood the serious, almost-pleading look in her eye, and the sincere way she squeezed my arm to emphasize it. And then she headed off the bus and I was left trying to figure out what that was about.
(Kickstarter update! I’ve had the flu so I’ve literally just been lying in bed for almost a week now unable to do anything, but I did sign off on the final layout for Omnibus III! Woo! I’ll get shipping information soon, and then plan a packing party! -ctan)
(If you don’t know the blues guitar work of Jeff Healey, here’s a good example that charted in 1991. Song written for him by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. -d)