The power of routine is often underappreciated. The influence of predictability on one's life can be mighty. I found myself a victim to the overlord named habit that particular day when I woke up, got dressed in my business best, and sat in my car scratching my head as flashes of forgetfulness made me immobile.
As I placed my hands on the steering wheel in repose, I finally remembered - I was unemployed. I hadn’t fully digested yet the impact my firing from my place of employment would have on my life. Suddenly I was the useless one around the house. I walked inside to see my wife heading towards the door. She laughed as she realized what I did, and kissed me goodbye as she exited our house. I remember the brightness in her eyes, the gleam that sullied my most horrid dreams. She truly made me a better man.
I kicked off my shoes, unbuttoned my shirt, and turned on the television to indulge in early morning reruns of Full House. As the hours passed, the sunlight dispersed through the house and awoke my daughter. She walked downstairs to where I was, carrying her ‘blankie’ with her. She smelt like spoilt milk, but nothing in this world could have stopped me from drowning her in kisses.
But as delightful as fatherhood was, no one could survive the invasive inquiries of a five-year-old. Her mother and I were never ones to birch her adolescent curiosity, but there was a limit to it. As the sun rose above our heads, I found myself all the more irritated by the constant, never-ending tune of Wheels on the Bus playing on her iPad. So, I dressed her in decent, comfortable clothes and made our way toward the neighborhood playground.
Like everything else in Texas, the playground was massive. I had never seen it so deserted and vacant, but what parent would be free enough to bring their child to a playground on a Tuesday afternoon unless they were unemployed. While I left my little architect to construct her unstable castles made of dry sand, I found refuge on a bench aptly situated under the shade of an Oak tree.
I had always been comfortable with introspection. While most people ran away from their true selves, choosing to put on masks and cloaks to hide their wounds, I was never one of those. I always wore my heart on my sleeve and displayed my wounds with pride. I suspect that was one of the qualities my wife liked about me. I had purposefully left my phone and computer at home that day so that the eventual boredom would compel me to think of a way to advance in life. I had served myself and my family well working as a lawyer, but now that that part of my life was over, I had to formulate what to do moving forward.
My daughter wore bright pink shorts that day. They were so bright, you could see them from a mile away. But that was who she was - warm, friendly, and inviting. I was proud of the way we had raised her. But the more I thought about my career, the more frightened I became about her future. What if I never earn enough again? What if I become uninspiring as a father? Would she still love me even if I couldn’t provide for her?
As my mind submerged itself in such agonizing thoughts, I saw someone approach the bench I was sitting on. As I turned around, I realized it was my neighbor. I didn’t remember his name. He was an acquaintance and nothing more. He was always a peculiar personality. He often avoided gatherings and parties with obviously foolish excuses. So, we never bothered fostering a relationship. And seeing him there, I was conflicted about what to think, and what to say to him.
“Hi! I’m Gabe,” he greeted me saving me the trouble of awkwardly starting the conversation. I nodded confidently. “What brings you to the park?” I asked. He didn’t have any children, so there was little reason for him to be there that day. “I was just on a walk and decided to take a break. I do this often, don’t worry!” He reassured me despite me not voicing my suspicions.
The impression he gave me that day was the stark opposite of what I thought of him before. He was humorous and philosophical. Perhaps, he really was a busy man and not avoiding us. As an attorney, I developed a keen eye for certain details. Whether it be extreme demands hidden in the fine print of a contract or an obvious scheme to derail my clients, I had always been good at spotting the details. It was those very same eyes and keen sense for detail that made me notice his nose.
It wasn’t a disfigured nose. It was … unusual. As slim and narrow as it was at the top, it somehow dilated into a monstrosity towards its bottom end. “Is everything okay with your nose? I hope you don’t mind me asking,” I asked making sure to maintain an over-polite tone.
“Oh, my nose. Yeah, it’s just what it is.”
But somewhere my instincts told me that I was missing something. Something so clear and obvious, that it was escaping my immediate intuition. Nevertheless, I put aside all thoughts of suspicion when I heard my daughter's voice as she ran toward me.
“Daddy, daddy, you need to come with me,” she tugged my hand prompting me to follow her. I excused myself, only to find myself crouched down in the sandbox, looking at my little girl as she explained the different features of her already crumbling sand castle where Prince Eric was going to live with Cinderella. Her eyes shone as she talked about the windows and the stairs and the grand gardens. She was most excited about the little stable where all the unicorn ponies were going to be housed.
But my instincts never lie, and they didn’t that day either. As I looked at her, I couldn’t believe what my eyes were showing me - the very same nose as Gabe. Sometimes suspicions need no evidence. They are truths unto themselves. No tears formed in my eyes, no anger rushed to my cheeks, and no despair filled my heart. Instead, I was disappointed. Disappointed that the girl I loved so deeply, whom I called ‘princess’ was not my own. But it wasn’t her fault. It was her mother’s.
I had overestimated just how intelligent I was, and how well I knew her, for she was just so deceptive with her actions that I thought her a trustworthy partner. But she was just a whore. I didn’t bother continuing my conversation with Gabe. I could tell that the sky was a little lower than it was before, the ground a little more feeble, and the world was slowly turning against me. As I entered my house, I couldn’t feel the cold air from the AC - I was helplessly sweating.
Doubt was something I had despised from a very young age. I still remember the nights when my parents would fight over the most derisory of matters. It always ended the same way. She would call him a worthless husband, and he would call her a disloyal bitch. They never cared to know how their son was doing amidst their fights for if they did, they would have found me in my makeshift ‘fort’ made of towels and a camping tent in my room.
As I rummaged through the cupboards and drawers and boxes looking for something that would reassure me of what I already knew, I felt like I was becoming a prisoner. A prisoner of unfounded suspicion on the person that I loved the most. Of the person that loved me. The one person who made a vow to walk through life by my side in health and sickness.
I crouched down in pain. My body was fine, but there was an aching that I couldn’t place. The answers that I needed were evading me and the more I thought about it, the more my own body was attacking itself. Where would she hide her deepest secrets? A buzz in my pocket alerted me. I unlocked my phone to a notification from Facebook:
It’s Madelyn DeWolls Birthday! Wish her a Happy Birthday!
My feet started to feel cold as I made my way into the study. My vision slowed. My heart was now numb to its own existential purpose. Why would she entrust me with her account’s password if she didn’t trust me completely? What kind of a man am I to doubt my own wife? Is this right?
But the questions never arrived as fast as my fingers were moving. Password, entered. Browser, opened. Facebook, opened. Profile, opened. Friends, and there he was. Gabe McClinton. IT specialist at Bank of America. Single. Can speak four languages. Feminist. Fitness enthusiast.
The blue chat button flashed at the bottom of the screen.
15 unread messages from Gabe McClinton.
I could sense that I was becoming something different in my daughter's eyes. As I sat there in front of that computer, to her I was becoming a stranger. She hid behind the door, peeking at me like I was some sort of an intruder in her father's disguise. Hell, I couldn’t recognize myself either. But my mind was made. I knew what I needed to do.
I saw Gabe again a few days later. That was of course the day I was arrested. I had called the police to come and get me after I had murdered my wife and daughter. I saw him as I was escorted out and placed in the backseat of the police car. His eyes fixed on me, I couldn’t quite decipher what they were carrying - hatred? Surprise? Shock? I could sense that he cared for them. He may have even hoped for a life with them when I would have left them. But I was never one to make myself miserable for someone else’s comfort. So I chose to deprive of him what he deprived of me.
But my first day in prison was the day I finally slept a new, free man.