I was used to men leaving.
When Danaris closed the door behind him, I didn’t cry out, “Please don’t go!”
No one can stop a man from leaving you. The truth is, he had left long ago by the time he put his foot out the door. The signs were all there. Hanging out with his friends more often, leaving the room to read his texts, going to the gym every day, hours unaccounted for. Just last Sunday he said he was going to his mama’s house. I didn’t hear from him all day. He thought I didn’t know he snuck in after midnight.
He took off his shoes as he came through the door, but our house is very old and the wood planks creaked with each step. I should have questioned him there and then. But I didn’t have the energy. Keesha had been throwing up for hours. I had finally got her to sleep when I saw the lights shine through her windows as he drove up. I looked out, praying he wouldn’t slam the car door and wake her. I waited and waited, my eyes squinting through the slatted blinds, peering into the shadowed darkness. He just sat there; his head turned downward as the light of his phone highlighting his face.
His deceiving face.
He was texting…someone. Who it was, I didn’t care. Did it matter? He stayed outside for at least a half an hour. Enough time for me to brush my teeth and climb into bed. I was just about to nod off when I heard the back door open. He tried to shut it quietly, but it was Danaris. He never had a propensity for gentility.
That was a week ago.
I hadn’t expected him to leave so suddenly. I thought he would have waited until after Christmas…Keesha’s first Christmas. I guess his girlfriend was making demands that he share the holidays with her. Should I have demanded more? I didn’t. Because I already knew. He was no longer mine. He had left months ago.
He took all his belongings. It was just two boxes. A half closet of expensive clothes, five pairs of athletic shoes, a fancy watch his mama gave him when he finished appliance repair training, his collection of porn tapes hidden in a backpack, and some framed pictures he kept on his bedside of his father and brother who were now dead. There was nothing left in the house he wanted. Nothing. Not anymore.
He didn’t look back.
I listened as the click of the handle fell back into place and continued folding the basket of clothes that cluttered the couch and coffee table. I pulled a white t-shirt out and folded it neatly, placing it on a stack of the others. I looked at the pile of men’s clothes wondering what I was going to do with it.
Like hell I was going to give it to him!
Bitterness oozed out of my head. Seeped, not poured. My anger never poured out. It sat there, gurgling, churning…into sludge like stew left cooking too long. I would have to get rid of it…someday. For Keesha’s sake. For my sake. I just didn’t know how.
So, it bubbled and brewed.
Little Keesha cooed on the blanket next to me oblivious of her daddy’s action. I wondered if she would remember him. I was nine when my father left. Twelve when my stepfather threw me out. Fifteen when my beloved grandfather died. I remember everything. Especially what if feels like to be abandoned and alone.
“Ah, my little girl,” I looked down at the helpless creature who was wriggling around underneath the mobile trying to capture the lion and the monkey that swayed above her. “What are we to do now?”
She didn’t answer. She couldn’t. I couldn’t.
Her dark brown eyes caught my face and she smiled up at me. Her toothless gums exposed for all to see. I picked her up and cradled her. She smelled like Johnson & Johnson’s baby lotion. My mama used that on me and so I used it on her. It gave me a sense that my mama was still here with me. She never got to meet Danaris. I knew she wouldn’t have approved. He wasn’t a church going man. My mother said that is why my daddy left.
“He had no fear of God,” she would constantly remind me as I tried to make excuses of why I too should not attend church. “You need to be in love with the Lord if you are to make good with your life, Rita Mae,” my mother continued to preach. She put out my red dress with the white collar and my newly shined black patent leather shoes on the chair next to my bed every Saturday night as a forewarning that I was going.
Fortunately, my mother would never know that even my stepfather, whom she met at church, would leave too. She wasn’t around to see him do it. The year my father left, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I can’t say if it was the stress of work to support us, or the sadness that prevailed after my daddy left. But life took its toll on her. My mother was a beautiful woman until the cancer settled in. She became merely a shadow of the robust shape she often complained about as she tried to zip up a dress or tug on a pair of jeans. I wasn’t quite sure how she successfully attracted my stepfather. He was two years younger and was a magnetic man unto himself.
All charm he was.
I thought he would have attracted many women before my mama. But then, even at my ripe age of eleven, I understood why no other woman would have him. He was lazy! If he held a job for more than a few months, it was a surprise. My mother kept working her two jobs until her body couldn’t hold out. It wasn’t more than two days after my mother’s funeral, he packed the few belongings I owned, threw me in his car, and dropped me off at my grandfather’s house. I was never to see him, my mother’s things, or the house that I had so many memories in as a little girl. He did pack my favorite stuffed animal, Chookie, and a few of my favorite books. For that I was grateful.
My grandfather, Biggums, as his war heroes nicknamed him for the large smile he forced upon people, took me in with loving arms. Arthritic and stiff, but warm and accepting all the same. But he left me too…too soon. But that’s another story. Another memory buried and almost forgotten. Until today. Until the feeling of loss took anchor once again in my heart, leaving me bogged down with emptiness, fear, and abandonment.
Where did I go from here?
It sure wasn’t into another man’s arms, like my mother.
I had a job offer just yesterday as my shift was ending at the hospital. It was from an old woman, Mrs. Chazen. Her kids, two power attorney sons, and a CEO daughter, want to put her in a home. She has onsets of dementia. Her kids know it. The hospital knows it. She knows it. But she has money. Lots of money, and they all are playing nice while she has lucid moments. It is disgusting to watch–trying to get rid of their burdens and profit from it at the same time. I told her so. She laughed and then asked me to be her private nurse. I threw up my hands and said I wanted nothing to do with her kids. She laughed again, sweetening the deal.
“You can live with me…I have a huge home in Beverly Hills. I barely use one room. Mostly I am stuck upstairs because I can’t walk down. I’ll make sure Marty Lieberman pays you properly…he can be stingy with my money.” She winked. “It would be nice to have someone around. Someone like you.”
“Like me? What’s so special about me?” I said.
“You’ve got caring eyes. I can always judge a person by their eyes. Never underestimate the power of what lies behind someone when you look.”
“That’s what my grandfather said. Always look at a man in the eyes before you decide to kill him. Spare the ones that have goodness, but make sure you strike them through the heart if evil lurks.”
She looked horrified.
“He was in the war…German fronts,” I explained.
“Oh,” she nodded. “Bless his soul.”
I couldn’t explain to her I had a baby to care for, a husband until tonight. Nursing jobs like that are for the lucky, well connected. I wasn’t either. I wasn’t anybody special. I was just Rita Mae Hadley.
I told her I would think about it. She said things work out if you really wanted something bad enough.
I looked at my Keesha and she cooed again, swinging her little arms up towards my face. She deserved better in life than her loser father. I deserved better. My life wasn’t over because he walked out the door. Have I not survived? Have I not grown up, went to school, got a real good job, and made a home for myself outside of any man? Have I not shown my momma I am someone to be proud?
“You know what, Keesha?” Her brown eyes stared into mine. “I am going to the hospital tomorrow and talk to Mrs. Chazen. God must have a reason why I was her nurse all week. Why not me? Why not Rita Mae have good luck smile upon her?”
Elizabeth Conte is a women’s fiction writer, “Creating beauty for the mind.” She is a writer of poetry, short stories, and novels, with her first book, Finding Jane, due for release in January, 2022, and an anthology, The Truths That Can’t be Told, released Spring 2021. You can find her work published in The Pangolin Review, Platos Cave, Lost Coast Review, Lake Forest Writers Roundtable, Writerfairys, and PennWriters. Find out more at ElizabethConte.com.