Being married is hard work, but I’m afraid that I haven’t been working that hard at it. Elaine and I were always fighting. It was easy to just retreat to my workshop where I could immerse myself in my latest project.
Often I got so caught up in what I was doing that I didn’t come to bed until Elaine was already asleep. It was easier to just crawl in next to her than to talk to her. I know that’s cowardly, but it is what I was thinking.
I wasn’t the only one using work as an excuse to avoid our problems. Elaine did it too. She’d come home from work and set up her laptop. She was working on a book—a biography of one of Twinbrook’s wealthier citizens.
Now that the children were in school, they were more independent. This made it easier for Elaine and I to avoid each other, too. When they’d been toddlers, Anne and Rachel had been the one thing both of us could connect over. We used to have quiet conversations as we rocked the girls to sleep, for example.
Or I’d tell Elaine all of the things that the girls had done during the day. She missed out on a lot of their cute firsts because she was at work. As the parent working from home, I was the one who got to experience those moments first-hand.
Even sharing meals together, Elaine and I would just sit. I knew that if I didn’t do something about it soon, we’d be miserable forever, or we’d end up getting a divorce. Despite everything, I still loved my wife, and I wanted to do anything I could to prevent that from happening.
So one morning, I sent the kids off to the park with their cousin, Rilee. It was time for Elaine and I to talk.
“I know you have work to do,” I said, “but can we talk for a minute first?”
“Ferris,” Elaine sounded weary, “I don’t want to fight today. I have a deadline for my book, and I have another blog to publish. Not to mention the fact that I’ve got to do a bit more research on that Hidden Springs article before Monday.”
I sighed. I wanted her to stop thinking of work for just a minute. “Elaine, we need to really talk. You work so much that we never have conversations anymore!”
“You work, too! You’re always out there in that shop. There’s always some new invention or an update to one of your widgets you’re working on. Don’t accuse me of being a workaholic. I’m not the only one!”
And thus it began. It was the same fight we always seemed to have.
“Listen to me, Elaine! I am not arguing about this anymore. We both work too much. That’s what I wanted to talk about.”
“I’m not giving up my job, Ferris.”
“I’m not asking you to. I don’t want to give up my work either, but we hardly see each other. And when we do see each other, all we do is fight.”
“I’m stressed at work and when I get home, you are always telling me to spend time with the kids. You make me feel like I never see them.”
“I don’t mean to.”
“I don’t think you’re much better, Ferris. The robots spend more time with the children!”
It was true. Lately, Zap and Whiz both had been spending more time with the children. I justified it by programing the robots to help with the kids’ homework. I told myself that it was cool that they were the only kids at school besides their cousins who had robots for friends.
But the P.A.L.S. were not supposed to be substitute parents.
“You’re right. I have been working more and letting the robots interact with the kids. It’s just that I’m about to make a break through!”
“What break through? You never tell me about your inventions anymore. What are you working on? It’s not like you to be so secretive, Ferris.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t really get into what I was working on with my wife. As a reporter, she’d be put in an uncomfortable position. I was working for the military designing a device that would potentially change the world—it was a time traveling machine. Initially, when approached with the idea, I’d been skeptical, but the government scientists showed me their formulae and calculations and I had to admit that they might be on to something. I agreed to work on a proto-type.
“Elaine, I told you that it was top-secret. The military would be upset if you found out. You’d want to report about it, I know you would. I don’t want to loose this contract!”
“I would not divulge any information you gave me Ferris! I am not asking about your work as a reporter. I’m asking as your wife!”
“I can’t Elaine. I’m sorry. I don’t have authorization to talk about it. I promise I’ll tell you everything when I have completed my work. You can have the scoop for your paper.”
“This is just ridiculous. I keep telling you I am not after a story. I have more than enough to write about. You say you want to talk more, but you won’t talk about what you’re doing. All you do is talk about the kids, and only then to make me feel guilty because you think I’m a terrible mother for working so much!”
“I don’t think you’re a terrible mother! I never said that.”
“You don’t have to. I see it in your eyes.”
“Elaine! I don’t think you’re a terrible mother. Come on. That’s not fair.”
“Well, you didn’t want me to take my book deal. Ever since I accepted it, you’ve been mad.”
“I told you I thought it would be a lot of work. You are always saying how much you do at the studio and for the paper. I just didn’t want you to be this stressed out. And I was right!”
“You’re always right, Ferris! You’re right and I’m wrong. I’m always the bad person. Well, fuck you, Ferris!”
Elaine stormed off, leaving me standing there not knowing exactly how the discussion went so wrong. I wasn’t trying to make her feel bad. I hated that she felt guilty. I honestly didn’t think she was a bad mom. Why would I have wanted more kids with her if she hadn’t been a terrific mother?
In an effort to show Elaine that I had heard what she said about working too much myself, I forced myself to stop working after the kids came home from school. Elaine had been right about Zap and Whiz being closer to the girls. I was determined to be a better dad.
I helped with their homework and ate the little muffins and cookies they made in the play oven that Rilee had given them.
I even got up early to make breakfast on Saturdays. I remember that my mom used to do that for me and my brothers. It was a family tradition that I wanted to resurrect.
“What are you doing daddy?” Anne asked me the first time I got out the ingredients for pancakes.
“Should I put the waffles back? I just toasted them.”
I looked over my shoulder to the plate of toaster waffles Anne was carrying. I felt bad that she had learned to fend for herself for food every morning.
“If you want pancakes, you can put the waffles in the fridge. If you want to eat them, you can. The pancakes can be for later.”
“Awesome, Daddy! Thank you.”
Elaine didn’t get up that first morning until after I’d made breakfast and gotten dressed myself.
“What’s this?” she asked when she spotted the left-over pancakes.
“I made breakfast,” I said. “I was going to bring a tray up to you if you’d stayed in bed any longer.” I smiled, hoping that she’d sense that I was teasing her, not accusing her of working late and then wasting the morning sleeping in.
“You made these?” Elaine asked, taking a few pancakes for herself.
“Yeah. My mom used to do it every Saturday. I decided that it should be a Fields family tradition. We need more traditions in our lives.”
“That’s sweet. Thank you, Ferris. I’m starving. I think I could eat the whole plate!”
I figured my efforts to work less and be more present for my family were working. I stopped working late, and Elaine and I went to bed at the same time. Because of this, we were able to have late-night conversations and be more intimate. I have to admit that it was nice sleeping next to her and being able to cuddle at least a little. For awhile there it was like we were both on separate islands even though it was the same bed.
As Elaine wrapped up her book, she had more time to spend with the children, too. I was happy to see her making an effort, and I know that the girls appreciated spending more time with their mom.
It was nice seeing my wife doing more than sitting in front of her computer or texting on her phone. Now, instead of being annoyed at her, every time I caught her eye, I smiled. What was even better was seeing her smiling back.
As disgusting as it might be for them to witness, I was pretty sure that the girls were happy to see their parents being more intimate, too. No matter how much Elaine and I tried to hide our fights from them, sometimes we didn’t succeed. They heard us arguing and they knew that sometimes Daddy had to sleep on the couch.
I’m sure seeing your parents kissing in the kitchen is a lot better than trying not to hear them fight in the living room.
Of course those intimate moments weren’t just public displays of affection.
Unfortunately, our more frequent intimacy had unforeseen consequences. I know I wanted another baby, but I had resigned myself to having just the girls. Elaine certainly didn’t want another child. When she realized that her frequent nausea and vomiting meant she was pregnant, she was not pleased.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” she said to me after we left the hospital where we’d just confirmed what we’d known all along.
“I’m sorry, Elaine. I know this isn’t what you wanted. I’m not sorry that we’re going to have another child, though. You know I always wanted another one.”
“I know. I wish I could blame all of this on you, but it was my fault, too. I wasn’t as careful as I should have been.”
“I don’t think we should blame anyone. My mom and dad believed in fate. Maybe we were always meant to have another child.”
I could tell that Elaine didn’t share my family’s belief in the divine and fate. But she tried to keep a positive outlook. I was grateful because I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm for this new baby.
I reminded Elaine that she had loved my brother Adam’s youngest son, Ryan. She had thought Elyssa and Adam were crazy to have a baby when their oldest was a teenager, but Ryan was precious.
“You’re right, Ferris,” Elaine said. “Ryan is great. Adam and Elyssa don’t seem to be that bothered by the difference in their kids’ ages.”
“Rilee and Rico love their little brother.”
I also reminded Elaine that my other brother, Carter, had recently become a father. We’d both been shocked when Carter told us he was getting back together with his old girlfriend, Jade Greenwood.
When they eloped with each other, I was even more shocked. But the reason became apparent when Jade showed off her baby bump.
“I can’t believe this, Carter!” I exclaimed. “I never thought you’d be adding to the family tree!”
“I know. I didn’t either. But Jade is special and I couldn’t be happier!”
Carter and Jade’s daughter, Liza, was born just before Elaine went into labor with our son, Alton. We’d gone and visited them and I reminded myself what it was like to hold a newborn with my little niece. Liza was so small and perfect! It reminded me of what it was like when the girls were born.
“I can’t wait until the baby’s born,” I told Elaine when we left.
“I’m nervous about it,” she confided in me. “What if we have twins again? What if something goes wrong? I’m older now. Something could go wrong.”
“Nothing will go wrong. And you know we aren’t having twins. They checked. Only one heartbeat.”
“It could happen, Ferris. You never know.”
I remained calm about everything until Elaine when into labor. I’m afraid I didn’t act very calm at that moment. I remembered all of the fears she had voiced, and I suddenly pictured all of them coming true. Luckily, I did manage to get us to the hospital where Alton came into the world with no fuss at all. I actually think giving birth this second time was easier than the last, though I didn’t think Elaine would have agreed.
The first year of Alton’s life was a sort of blur. Although Elaine went back to work as soon as she could, she made an effort to always be there for Alton.
“It’s easier with only one,” she confided in me. To a certain extent she was right. But I also knew that we were really trying. We didn’t want to descend into the same destructive patterns that we had when the girls were little.
So even though Zap and Whiz both helped with Alton, I didn’t let them do everything.
The trouble is, even when you try your hardest, even when you know not to fall into old habits and behaviors, sometimes it just happens. And then suddenly everything is as bad or worse than it ever was.
Again, it started with a book deal. Elaine’s first biography had done well. She was asked to do another one.
“I can’t turn it down, Ferris. It’s good money and it has allowed me to develop a reputation for myself both as a reporter and as a writer.”
I couldn’t tell her not to do it. I just hoped that she wouldn’t lose focus on what was really important.
I had good reason to worry. Elaine started working all the time. Once again, she seemed always to be on her computer or her phone. Even when we were getting together with my brothers and their families, Elaine didn’t turn it off.
“I’ve got to get this,” she’d say apologetically. She seemed sorry, but she never refused a call or ignored a text.
“It’s my agent, Ferris,” she’d say. “Do you want me to ignore her?” If it wasn’t her agent, it was her boss, Ralph. Once again, work took precedent over our family. I was really disappointed.
Just like before, I tried to save our marriage. I tried to talk to Elaine about how she was spending so much time on the book and work that she never spent anytime with us. I tried not to be accusatory or make Elaine feel guilty, but that was sort of inevitable. As before, our discussions didn’t go well. Elaine would get upset and accuse me of wanting her not to achieve her dreams.
“I just wish you’d choose one dream, Elaine,” I finally said. “Pick the book or working at the paper. Which do you want to be? An author or a reporter?”
“I can be both!”
“At the expense of your family?”
Elaine gasped at that. “That’s not fair,” she hissed at me.
“I know, but it’s what’s happening. You’re going to lose us. It feels like we’ve already lost you.”
I had hurt Elaine’s feelings, but I had hoped that she’d at least think about what I’d said and try to be present more. Unfortunately, she didn’t. Oh she tried. For example, she cleared her schedule and promised not to work on Love Day so that the two of us could have a night out together.
“It will be romantic,” she said and smiled at me for what seemed like the first time in years.
I don’t know what started the fight we had on our date. I thought we’d been having fun. We’d gone to the festival where we’d danced and hunted for eggs like we were kids. Then Elaine decided to try out the Love-o-meter. It came up just before the “True Love” level. I think that level was called “It Might Be Love”. I think I might have made a comment and Elaine took it the wrong way. Like I said, I don’t remember.
What I do remember is that the date ended badly. We went home and I ended up sleeping on the couch again.
A few weeks later, Elaine came home from work late. I was annoyed that she hadn’t even bothered to call me and let me know.
“You always get mad, Ferris,” she said when I confronted her. “I had to stay. It was the big story that’d I’d worked so hard on. I couldn’t leave.”
“You could have called.”
“Well I didn’t want to,” she said. That of course got me even angrier. We started in on the same fight we seemed to have over and over. Finally I got sick of it.
“Listen, Elaine. This has to stop. Either you want to be a part of our family or you don’t. If work is more important, then I think you really don’t.”
“How dare you!” she pointed at me. “You’re so self-righteous! Just because you make enough money that I really don’t have to work, doesn’t mean I should stay home and cater to your every need! I am managing work and family just fine.”
“No, you’re not.”
“The girls never complain. Alton doesn’t either. They understand that Mommy has a job.”
“They understand, but they don’t necessarily like it. They’d like it more if you were home with them to play or help with homework.”
“I guess nothing I do is ever enough!” Elaine shouted.
“Elaine…” I tried to calm her down. She was taking things all out of proportion.
“No Ferris. Maybe you are right. Maybe I have to choose. Maybe we should separate or divorce. I hate that I come home and we always fight. I hate that you make me feel so damned guilty. I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“I’m not trying to make you feel that way!”
“Yeah, well you do.”
“Elaine!” I shouted as she slammed out of our room. She ran down the stairs and I ran after her.
“I’m going to Irene’s!” she said as she headed to the doors.
“Wait!” I said. “You can’t just leave.”
“Yes I can! I’m done with this argument and I’m done with you!” she shouted, not even caring if the kids could hear her.
“No, Ferris. I can’t do this anymore. I am going to Irene’s, and I will contact you later.”
“What about the kids?”
“I don’t know. We’ll deal with it later. Just let me go.”
What could I do? If I tried to stop her, I’d make things worse. As it was I knew that both Anne and Rachel had heard Elaine say she was leaving and I knew they understood what it meant.
I watched silently as Elaine stepped out of the door. I didn’t know what would happen next. I didn’t know what I was going to say. I just stood there helpless as the door closed, the soft snick sounding as loud as a gunshot.
For a moment there was silence. It felt like nothing was moving, no one was breathing. And then Alton began to cry. I turned to him; I didn’t have time to greave over the wreck of my marriage.
I had kids to deal with.