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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety

Timothy Coral Mair

August 14, 2016

David couldn't tell her exactly how relieved he was that she and the kids were home safe.  He'd said it four or five times but she didn't know the extent of it all.  They all had trouble since that night they'd slid in the freezing rain.  Wounds healed.  They had scars.  Sarah didn't wear anything but long skirts anymore.  She said that David was lucky because his facial scars were just subtle enough to make him look rugged.  It was kind of true.  Their daughter, Lisa, had the least having been in the middle in the rear facing car seat.  Daniel had to have multiple surgeries on his broken femur to set pins and later remove them but he was good now.  It'd been 3 years.  Lisa didn't even remember.  Sarah had gone with David to counseling when the panic attacks started.  PTSD they said.   The medication worked wonders.  Everything was ok, except when they were in different cities.
David didn't dare tell her.  It didn’t matter whether he was traveling for his pharmaceutical sales job or if she was visiting her widowed mother in Oregon, once they were separated the panic started.  His inner demon forced him to imagine an officer banging on his door at night and giving grave news.  He could feel his own screams of pain even in silence.  Real tears fell from his eyes.  The anxiety wouldn't allow him to stop until it played out.  He called family.  He called their Bishop.  He wouldn't allow the inevitable droves of "helpers" to touch his and Sarah's room or the workshop/office where they built sets for the local community theater.  These people wanted to cleanse their own pain by helping him cleanse his home but these 2 rooms were his and Sarah’s mess and he'd do it on his own.
He could hear himself mumble responses to these imaginary phantoms and it would remind him to eat. But it was only temporary.  He couldn't get over it until it resolved.  Funeral plans.  Calling her work.  The kids’ school.  He'd be angry that she'd left him alone.  He'd wish it had been him.  This time her mother's birthday was close so he planned the funeral away from that day.  He couldn't do that to her.
Sarah was the youngest of 9 kids and her oldest Brother, Jared, hated David.  David had never been good enough for the family.  Jared had been 20 when his Dad died and both helped raise his siblings and put them through college.  Sarah was supposed to have gone on to medical school but switched to Theater and met David.  She didn't like Jared controlling her life and had chosen to change to spite him but was too kind to say it to his face.  David didn't like it either but biting his tongue for years had left him with a sour disposition which is why he rarely went when Sarah visited her family.  At the funeral, Jared would inevitably say something tactless and without Sarah, David no longer holds back.  David has a gift for finding where people are hurting which makes him want to help but when angry he can't control it and always finds the weak spot.  He and Jared may never speak again and David knows that someday he'll regret it but he doesn't care.  It feels good to get the poison out that has festered for so long.
Then, he's alone, but resolution doesn't come.  He begins to clean out her things.  Her shoes, the red, high-heeled, suede pumps that he bought her for Christmas.  They're gorgeous, they really show off her calves, but they're a bit too tall for her.  She loves them.  She loves them because he bought them and she knows that he loves her calves.  They're special occasion shoes.  Everything there has a memory.  He boxes each memory up and puts them away.  His bed isn't right so he buys a new one, with new sheets and comforter.  He goes to the local doughnut shop because he hasn't eaten for 24 hours now and the car just seemed to drive itself there.
The girl that has worked there for 6 years eyes him, "Oh it's you!"  She says with mock scorn.
David realizes that his usual sarcastic response seems a little too much like flirting without Sarah there to laugh at him and say that she can't take him anywhere.  He's single now, yes, but he buried his wife and kids the day before, this girl is barely 21 and he's 38, it's just too gross.
David looks, instead, at the floor and sheepishly says hi.  Shelby, the young lady who greeted him, gives him a funny look and asks where his wife is today.  David stumbles on the words but holds it together and doesn't blubber as he gives the short version of his week just passed.  He doesn't know how it happens but this young lady who he's never seen anything but the top half of has come around the counter and embraced him.  He attempts to sound sincere and act sincere as he returns the hug and expresses gratitude but touching especially women who aren't his wife always makes him feel uncomfortable.  He orders his regular.  They refuse to let him pay.
He returns home to eat himself into a carbohydrate coma.  But still no resolution.
The days go by faster.  He returns to school to get a second Bachelors in classical voice.  He takes on the daughter of a divorced former classmate, Linda, from high school as a voice student for a project for school.  A few lessons in he's at Linda's home when her ex-husband walks in. He's not supposed to be there without a court supervisor but David doesn't know this.  He introduces himself as he tells Linda and the ex about their daughter's progress and thanks them both for letting him teach her for his class.  He tells them all goodbye and walks out to his car.
As David grabs the handle he hears, "Hey, Teach! Davey, wasn't it?"
David turns to see the father of his student doing a light jog to catch up to him.
"I think it's great what you're doing for my Michelle and Linda says you're doing it free, you gotta let me pay you."
"Actually, I can't, I had to take a student for a pedagogy class and teach them for free."
"Oh, so you're not a real teacher then."
David could tell he was being manipulated. "I have teaching experience and you would consider me sort of an apprentice, this class and degree will help make me like a journeyman."
Awkward pause as David realized his simple answer wasn't the emotional response the man was looking for.
"Linda says your wife and kids died."
"Yeah..."
"That's gotta be hard."
"I have my days."
"Yeah, well, I know you’re Linda's friend, whatever she's told you is a lie.  Don't be turning my girl against me.  My kids hear enough from their mom already."
"My job is teaching singing.  It's building you daughter up.  She's made up of both of you so I can't have an opinion about either of you or it will hurt your Michelle.  It's not my place to be in the middle.  She loves to sing and she works hard. I owe her that.  If you excuse me. I have to get home. It was good to meet you, sir."
"You too Davey!"
David got in his car and drove away but easily spotted the crew cab one ton driven by the father in his rear view mirror. He made a few random turns casually to test and sure enough, it was following. David got on a road that was a lower speed but very long.  Hit used Bluetooth to dial 9-1-1.  The dispatcher and he coordinated until he could pull into a neighborhood and a cul-de-sac with police waiting at the end and police quickly blocking the exit.  The father was smart enough to give up but not without spewing threats and calling his ex-wife a whore and telling David not to keep trying to take his family.
At the police station, David filled out the report and Shawn, his cousin on the force, helped him get started with the process of a restraining order. The judge knew this father already and had fast-tracked other orders like this.
"Then if you leave Linda alone he should stay away!" Shawn said.
"It's just curious that he'd show up breaking his custody orders today."
"He only has once before but he has a good lawyer, he also seems to know the right people in family law circles.  Being a high-end contractor has perks I guess."
"Yeah but today still seems convenient, he seems too smart to mess up unless he thinks it's important.  Can I talk to him?"
"Why?  That doesn't sound smart.  You aren't likely to intimidate him.  I mean you're not the type, even since you started working out.  You're just too much of an artist.  No killer instinct"
"I don't want to scare him.  But if I sign in I can talk to him through the glass on the phone right?"
"If you want...but...do what you want."
David kept his cool as he waited by the glass.  When he saw Michelle's father sit down in front of him, David waited for the smiling man to pick up his phone first then picked up his own.
"You know I'm gonna bail out tomorrow don't you, Davey?"
"Yeah, and I will be pressing charges and since you've done all of this before you know the restraining order will be in place before you get out.  You don't have to answer.  Here's what I'm going to say, other than you and me and the legal system, nobody is going to know about this unless you tell them.  I'm not into tearing you down in public especially not so your kids find out. But you should know.  Your daughter works hard and loves to sing so I'm still going to teach her.  She deserves it.  You love her you know she deserves it.  Just so you know."
The man on the other side said nothing just continued the stare down that he'd started when he sat down, only now he wasn't smiling.  No expression.  Michelle's father hung up his phone and got and walked away.
At Michelle's next lesson David made a point to ask if her father would be joining us like last time to fulfill his promise of pretense that nothing happened.
From The doorway to the living room, where the piano was, Michelle 17-year-old brother chimed in, "I thought you said he couldn't come when you taught her lessons?"
"Did I? That doesn't sound like something I'd say."
The boy realized he'd spoken out of turn and left to tromp downstairs to his room.  Now David understood what had happened but he only had 3 more lessons to teach and then they would do a mock lesson in front of his instructor and he'd be done.  Once his daughter sang in a recital maybe he would realize that David was just there to teach.  That he wasn't a widower/old boyfriend trying to move in on his ex-wife.  David didn't even know if he was ready to start thinking of himself as single yet.  His mind still said he was married.
Next lesson came and David didn't see the brother.  Michelle was doing well.  13 years old and her voice was still soft as it should be but she was patient.  She wasn't rushing.  Her tone was clear though and her phrasing on Britten's Ash Grove was simple but still emotional.  David was just praising her on her performance when her father opened the door and entered with the same emotionless mask on his face as the night behind the glass, but his nostrils flared ever so slightly as he breathed ever so slightly more than necessary for someone trying to not show their hand.
David handed his cellphone to Michelle.  "This is locked so you can't sneak and play Pok√©mon but would you mind plugging it in on of you family's chargers.  No matter what happens do not make any calls.  Promise me. Ok?"
Michelle nodded and walked to the corner end table and plugged the phone into the charging station there and sat in the wing chair next to the table.
David stood and took a step toward the father. From here he could see Linda and her 16-year-old daughter doing homework at the kitchen table.  They were quickly joined by the older brother who had just rushed up the stairs and was glaring at David.
Turning his eyes back to the father David said, "Well, I guess we both knew this was coming."  He spoke loudly so Linda could hear.  She stood up and came to the doorway from the kitchen to the living room and her eyes widened the two teenagers trailed her.
"I caused you trouble so I had this coming," David said calmly.
The Father didn't advance yet but clenched his fists and his neck muscles strained at the tension.  David thought how bad that posture was for singing.
Linda began to pull out her phone but David's words halted her.
"No, Linda, Don't call.  It's ok. Please." Turning back to the father and advancing David guaranteed he was completely between the man and the other occupants of the house before he began to talk.
"I made the trouble for you.  I'm not calling the cops, take your shot I won't fight back."
"Stupid Davey! I told you!"
David had prepared mentally for a face shot but his ribs were in pain and he couldn't catch his breath. In between gasps he still managed to squeak out, "...don't...call..."
That act seemed to buy him enough sympathy for a full breath.
"Who else did I make betray you, you need to make me pay for that."
This time the face shot came and probably broke David's nose as Linda's ex screamed out her name.
"You're right I tried to turn her against you and...."
"My Michelle...."
Upside the head and David couldn't see for a second.  He stumbled but managed to keep his feet, even if he lost ground a little.
Mad and raging but also gaining confidence as he beat his submissive opponent, the father laughed.
"You have a real death wish."
"I guess, I really don't have anything else in my life."
"You think you can get sympathy just ‘cause you lost your family?"
"Not really."
The father took a step forward.
"No dad, he's had enough."  The 17-year-old boy said from the doorway he still occupied with his sister and mother.
"No son," David said, "don't ever go against your father."
"Don't tell MY son what do!"
Uppercut to the jaw, instinct made David try to block but this just made David's arms get caught up in the momentum of the rage of the blow helping send his upper body up slightly and back a lot, leaving his lower half flailing for purchase.
If that first body blow hadn't broken his ribs, then landing on the well-made coffee table surely did.  Then it gave way and they both crashed to the floor.
"You come into my house..."
"It's not your house!" Linda cried.
"I paid for it, I built it.  You kicked me out!"
David yelled as much as he could in his condition.  He had to get the attention back on him.
"It's my fault.  He's right I came in here.  I knew he didn't want me to.  Now, sir, I'm bleeding all over your floor and I broke your table but I'm going to need help getting out of here, I think.  You can finish with me outside if you want."
From the still-open, front door, "Hands on your head!"
For just a moment it looked like the father would resist but he changed his expression to frustrated and reluctant acceptance while slowly complying.
As the officers, who seemed to multiply like rabbits, subdued, restrained and zip-tied the father, Linda and her children rushed to David beating the paramedics by seconds.
"I promise I didn't call..." Linda apologized.
"I know," replied David, "your boy did."
The 17-year-old turned away ashamed.
"Yes, but I also was the one who called Dad."
"I know that too. It's ok.  You love him.  You tried to be loyal.  Sons do that."  David had gambled that the son would call 9-1-1 if pushed far enough.  He read people pretty well, he was lucky he was right and not dead.
Nobody seemed to know what to say.
"You people throw terrible parties, I've been here for 2 hours and no one has offered me anything to drink.  I need some water."
Awkward laughs.
"My voice teacher is going to kill me.  I broke my ribs last semester."
More laughs mixed with tears as the paramedics now were securing David to a back board.
"I better get an A for this."
"Stop, David" Linda laughed through tears.
Secured they lifted David, board and all, onto a gurney, only then did he notice that they'd secured each side of his head with foam he was throbbing so much it was numb to touch sensation.  They started an IV and got a saline drip running.
"Finally, something to drink. Michelle practice and plan on a lesson next week."
The officers began talking to the family as the paramedics started to wheel David out. Once outside Shawn's face shot into David's view.
"I heard the call and knew it was you.  I told you not to keep coming."
"I needed the grade."
"He could've killed you."
"I didn't have anything to lose Shawn.  I miss Sarah and the kids so if he did then I just get to see them sooner.  And I hate bullies."
"I'm sorry, David but you know Sarah wouldn't want this."
"I know.  I couldn't just let him terrorize that family and keep that girl from singing.  I really didn't think it would go this far."
"Well, you need to rest."
They were both in the ambulance by now.  David hadn't even noticed the transition.  The doors closed and Shawn rode with the medics and David to the hospital.
The anxious obsessive imagery skipped ahead.  Linda and the kids visited his hospital room. David's voice teacher was just leaving and she was still annoyed that he'd broken his ribs again but glad he was on the mend.
"The bright side is I was finally forced to get my deviated septum fixed."
Laughter and eye rolling ensued.  Each child thanked him and they brought him Toblerone the big kind that comes from the airport.  On the way out Linda thanked him and grabbed his hand to give it a squeeze.  The moment their skin touched David realized he was single.
Resolution.  Finally.  The anxiety began to die down.  His mind had created that narrative in the empty spots of an entire day of work along with a light rail ride and a short car commute home.  He could eat.  For the moment, he knew Sarah and the kids were alive and they would come home.  He ate a protein bar and a yogurt and took his medication.  Finally, he could sleep.   The next morning he woke late.  It was a Saturday so no work.  But the anxiety started almost immediately.  The worry that a call would come or an officer would visit.  An empty day meant he would make it through 4 or 5 narratives this time.  He turned the TV on for distraction but it was little help.  This time he went back to school again but met someone there much younger.  Then again but lived a life completely alone.  Each story a new resolution but each one he lost his family, fought with Jared, bought a bed, and had doughnuts.  After the 5th story resolved he slept.  He woke up Sunday and repeated the process.  Even at church, it played out.  He tried to focus.  He tried to avoid talking to anyone.  People made him nervous. He could feel them judging him.  They made him nervous normally but like this, extra.
It was terrible to live like this.  He couldn’t function alone, like when the pharmaceutical company sent his team on that sales reward trip to Italy last May.  By the end of the trip, he was stuck in his hotel room.  He missed most of Rome imagining his family dying with him half a world away.
By Sunday night he was a wreck.  Sarah's flight was delayed and since she had left her car at overnight parking, David was to wait at home.  She was supposed to call if there was a delay.  She was to call when she landed.  He began freaking out.  He looked at the airline website and saw the delay and wondered if something happened on the way home from the airport.  He took a shower to try to calm down.
So many stories.  Some repeats.  They went more quickly.
Maybe he should call the highway patrol dispatch.
He looked at local news reports
The front door opened.
He expressed his anxiety and asked what happened why hadn't she answered when he called, why didn't she call?
She apologized.
He apologized for being anxious and just said that he gets worried.
He couldn't tell her.
He kissed her, the kids were sent to bed.
Sarah and David prepared for bed again.  As they climbed in bed he held her and kissed her forehead.

He let her turn over and drift off.  She was tired.  As he watched her chest slowly rise up and down he wished he could tell her what he went through when they were away from each other.