A friend of mine owns a rental house and I’ve been known to help him out when I can. I went to reset the alarm code in it a few months ago and the wife half of the marriage promptly send me down in flames by telling me I reminded me of her grandfather, who had died of old age. It wasn’t like I was hitting on her but I must admit to enjoying the view because she was wearing almost enough cloth on her body to cover a Chihuahua with an eating disorder. Clearly, she enjoyed letting me know while she might have been uncovered she certainly wasn’t unarmed, at least cerebrally, and she has a wicked sense of humor. I like that in a woman, even when it hurts.
I’m fifty-six. The number of women under the age of thirty who are attracted to me can be counted on my thumbs, on my right hand, minus three. Moreover, I know women who have daughters that age and they pretty much think a man my age hitting on a woman that age is made entirely of the truly creepy. Or as one woman put it, “At that age they’re going to let you know if there are interested and if they aren’t they likely see you as someone about to slip into the grave.” So I know better. It’s also getting the point where any woman under thirty looks nineteen and anyone under nineteen looks twelve.
Still, when my friend asked me to go see what the hell was going on with the alarm I went, half hoping she would be there and mostly wishing she wouldn’t. She is pretty, very, yet she is still married. She and her husband are both under twenty and they have a baby less than a year old. He asked me if I knew where he could get a job the last time I spoke with him and when I mentioned I have a friend in construction he seemed interested until I mentioned the urinalysis test. That’s another problem on top of being unemployed. No one is going to support your pot habit and it’s hard to get weed and a paycheck and keep a baby happy.
I pull up and see the guy under their car, jacked up into the air and sitting on cinder blocks. Dude, no. It’s the clutch, he tells me and he asks if I ever worked on a clutch before. He hasn’t. He’s playing it by ear by looking at the old one and seeing how it went on and then he’s going to put the new one in. I tell him I think there’s a little bit more to it than that and he allows that he may have overestimated his ability with a wrench. Do I know anyone who could help? For free? I tell him I’m there to reset the alarm and that’s when he tells me that she threw his X box through the window last night. Okay. No resetting the alarm until the window is fixed.
Then the story comes out. He tells me they took the money she saved up for college to find a place of their own after the baby was born and he was supposed to get a job but it has been six months since his father-in-law fired him and nothing has come up. The car broke down and when she got home last night she threw a fit and a game system. He had some friends over and he forgot about the dishes, the clothes, the floor, but dammit, it’s not like any of that stuff is going anywhere, right, I mean, it will get done, there’s plenty of time. He’s looking at me and I can see he’s just a tall kid, old enough to vote. His eyes seem innocent of the magnitude of what’s happening but there are signs.
I can hear it in his voice. I can feel it in the way it talks and his body language. This is more than just making a fifty on a test in high school or backing into the neighbor’s truck with the lawn mower. This isn’t the same as calling in sick when you stayed out all night drinking. This isn’t like losing a hundred dollars in a poker game when you just got paid. This is a very young man who is beginning to understand what it’s like to fail at something important, really important. He’s disappointed her and now he’s trying to bring it all back by attempting something he can’t do on his own and can’t find help for. It was all so nice, the plans they had, but now this. He pulls himself out from under the car and he’s sweating buckets. He didn’t have the sense to push the car under the tree in the yard. I can see it in his eyes now, clearly; fear. He tells me she took the baby and walked off. He fumbles with the idea that she might have just left him. She left, I mean, I didn’t mean she left me, nothing like that, she’s just not here, you know, gone. But last night’s screaming match and shattered window is something he’s never seen at ground zero.
I know someone who works on cars and I call him as I leave. What? A clutch? Gee, Mike, are you serious? I don’t have the time for it and you know that. Yeah, okay. And two or three miles down the road I pass her, baby strapped to her back, phone out in front of her, talking to someone, and she is a woman, still beautiful, but what she’s doing is more than just a metaphor, even if she doesn’t realize it yet. She’s got on jeans now, and a long sleeved shirt, the baby is wearing an oversized hat and this is a woman putting some distance between her and the man who has failed her. She’s calling her father, likely, or a friend, or maybe she’s burning a bridge right now, putting this thing out of reach and calling an old boyfriend. She may be about to put a bullet in it. She might just be willing to end it all, with a finality as certain as death, and even at my age I do realize there is an irrevocable amount of damage that can be done to any heart, to any faith, to any love, and age doesn’t matter when that point has passed.
Left in her wake is a very young man who is trying to figure out a problem that’s too complex for a set of open end wrenches and a hammer. The idea that he has failed as a husband might be sinking in but the fact he’s failed as a father is coming home to him soon, too. Good pot and some beer one night led to this point in living but it can’t make it go forward. There’s a metaphor to be had in the actions of two people in this, and I cannot help but wonder how it will end, or if it has already.