“… have a choice…let it go…it’s in your control.” – Elsa Kennedy
“Footsteps. Part Four”
Fiction. Based on a True Living Space.
This journal entry is inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional
I told Eric about how well my work was coming along, and he asked to read it. Overcoming the whole “art in progress” insecurity, I let him. He sat at my writing desk, and I paced the floor with my fingernails between my teeth. The sound of arguing caught my attention, and I went over to the secret window.
The kids were playing basketball in the yard. I watched as the argument intensified. They couldn’t do anything without arguing. I wondered why. Eric grunted. Turning to look at him, I could see his jawbone clinching. Something he’d read had displeased him. I didn’t want him to take it personally, because it wasn’t for anybody but me. It was fiction, compiled of things I’d thought or dreamed or heard. Writing was the root of my heart but the fruit of my imagination. I couldn’t get him to understand that.
“New game,” I heard my son say. “Seven deadly sins.” That was their favorite anime. I thought they could imitate their ideal characters without an argument, so I sat down away from the window.
“Where’s the rest of it,” Eric asked.
“I’m not finished,” I replied.
“Naw, you can’t do that,” my son protested.
“Why not,” one daughter demanded to know.
“You’re cheating,” proclaimed my youngest.
“What are you gonna do with it after you finish?” I walked back over to the window half answering him.
“Publish it, I guess. Do y’all kids have to fuss all the time? Don’t y’all know how to play together?” At the sound of my chastisement, they cut their eyes at each other. The relationship I’d had with my children since their birth flashed before my eyes. Of course, they didn’t know how to play together. I’d never taught them the value of teamwork. All they ever saw me do was work, cook, clean, pray, repeat. And when I wasn’t working, I was looking for work, cooking, cleaning, sometimes crying, then praying, and repeating the process again. It wasn’t wrong what I’d done, but they needed more. They needed to know how to enjoy life. They needed to know that we were a team.
“I’m going outside to play with the kids,” I told Eric already halfway down the creaky loft stairs. Something whispered an enthusiastic “Yes,” in my ear, and I smiled at its approval.
The next few weeks were the best. I worked on my novels during the day, and in the afternoon, I put them away and spent intentional, quality time with my children. We fought on the same team against the invisible Holy Knights that in the cartoon, weren’t so holy at all. I blindfolded them and taught them to use their other senses to follow my voice, or…follow the sound of my footsteps.
It was an exercise my Daddy would do with us girls. Except he’d take us on walks along the old, dusty road with nothing but the moon and stars as our guide. We’d have to follow the sound of his baritone in the darkness. As I became an adult, it was this practice that had helped me find God. Things like that should be passed down from generation to generation. Now it was my turn to pass it down. And I was ready.
Eric was pretty much the same. I was used to that. Still, he paid the bills with no complaints, and he had my respect for that. But he’d fallen back into the “hang out phase.” He was always over at someone else’s house or inviting them over to ours. There was never any quality time between he and I, not even between him and the kids. I didn’t expect him to be me and do what I did. But I did expect him to watch Odd Squad with us at least once a week.
But he couldn’t stand it. He’d go into another room and stay there until we all went to bed, or he’d sit there with his head in his phone for hours and halfway hug the kid’s goodnight, never taking his eyes away from his gadget. People are like that now. Maybe I was too. But I wanted more. I wanted to be present in life, and in the lives of my children. And forgive me, Lord, but I wanted a mate who wanted to be present with me. I prayed, and I waited on him like I always did.
I only began to draw the line when he slowly began to desecrate my sanctuary. He and his friends would stomp up to the loft and hang. Then slowly, a couch appeared, then a tv, and gaming systems, and a fridge stocked with beer. When he was at work, I had to maneuver my way around to get to my writing desk. At night, he and his friends were loud, and the smell of booze and smoke would fill the whole house. It was disrespectful, and I told him so like I always do. Still, nothing changed. It only got worse. He piled more and more things into the loft and soon, I couldn’t get to my desk at all, and one of my manuscripts was missing. I was angry.
For two days, I gave him the silent treatment. It’s childish I know, but it’s all I could do to calm down and not curse or fight in front of the kids. But my coping mechanism was always his breaking point. He wanted me to talk to him whenever he felt like talking to me. Never mind if I was upset. My duty as his woman was to ignore how he’d made me feel. I was to laugh at all his jokes, and I refused to do that this time.
“There’s no need for an attitude,” he declared.
“I’ll keep my attitude this time,” I said, childishly standing my ground.
“Then you can leave,” he replied. The kids were sitting on the opposite couch. Their eyes were on TV, but their ears were on us.
I humbled myself. “Don’t say that,” I whispered. “You know I don’t have nowhere else to go.” He felt his power over me growing. He repeated it.
“If you’re gonna keep your attitude, then you can leave.”
“Eric,” I pleaded, as I had always done. He stood up from the couch and for once put his phone away.
“I pay the bills here. This is my house. You can pick up your bags and go back to your parents house.”
With that, I looked to my children who were by this time staring at us both, and I said gently, “Y’all get your stuff together.” They didn’t say a word, but walked to their rooms and began putting their things in bags. Eric furiously walked out of the door, got into his car, and drove away.
I went up to the loft and begin climbing over his things in an attempt to gather my manuscripts. Tripping over the cord to his PlayStation, I hit the floor with a thud. That’s when the tears came. I sat, and I cried as I heard my son explaining to his sisters that we had to go to grandma’s house and that it would be okay because my sister’s kids were there and they could stay up and watch YouTube all night. They are so resilient. I cried harder. I thought it could work this time, I really did. I still loved Eric despite his flaws. And…I loved the house. I didn’t want to leave.
Just then, I heard footsteps creaking up the loft stairs. My fear returned, and this time, Eric wasn’t here to distract me from it. With wide eyes, I watched in horror as a shadow approached me. A familiar voice asked, “Why are you crying?”
Despite my fear, I answered. “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen.” The shadow came and sat down beside me.
“Yes, you do. You’re going to keep going like you always have. You’ll cry and be hurt for a little while and then you’ll grow, and get stronger like you always do.”
“How do you know?” I asked. My fear slowly being replaced with wonder. “How do you know what I’ll do? How do you know me at all?”
“Because I’ve watched you. All your life I’ve been with you. I’m your fear, your anger, your doubt. That’s what I came to tell you, but I was too afraid to speak until now. All your life I’ve watched you be victimized. I didn’t stand up for you like I should have, and I’m sorry. I watched you try new things and fail repeatedly. I never encouraged you, and I’m sorry. I came to tell you that I’m not afraid anymore. You gave me courage. You gave me peace. You gave me hope. Now come on,” said the shadow. “It’s time to go.”
I stood up and dried my eyes. “What about Eric?”
“His shadow hasn’t come out of hiding yet,” the shadow replied. “It will, but you won’t be here to comfort him. It’s time for you to leave.”
So me, my shadow, my children and their shadows left behind the footsteps of where we’d been. Marching like soldiers, we blazed the trail to where we were going. Just us and our shadows together walking in God’s Grace.