After dinner, I wash dishes and listen to music. Lately it’s been a lot of minimalist stuff. Ambient music. Uh, who? William Basinski, this tape loop guy who Antony Hegarty slash Anohni—Anohni now, her how—she recommended in this interview I read. And Willamette, who I found through this record label I love.
So, I was super-low energy and I was in the mood for something different. I put on De La Soul’s The Grind Date and skipped to the last track, Rock Co.Kane Flow. It’s amazing. One of my favourites. Plus, it was my introduction to MF DOOM.
So there’s this line, “Everyone cools off from being hot/It’s about if you can handle being cold or not.”
I mean, I know the line. I knew the line. I rapped the line.
Sometimes, though, something hits you, right? Well this hit me. Ah, what a cliché. Man, this wiggled right inside me and tried to push my heart out of the way. This landed behind my eyes and started wringing everything out of my tear ducts.
I’m crying into the dirty dish-water, this fabulous track, this banger that I used to blast in the car and rap along with, pounding at my feelings.
I hear a shout. One of those shouts that you can tell is not the first, but only the most recent in a series of, you know, ever louder attempts to be heard. I went and paused De La.
“YEAH?” I shouted.
“COULD YOU TURN THAT DOWN!?”
“YEAH.” And of course I apologized. “SORRY.”
I put on Willamette. The music seems sad. I mean to me even it seems sad. But it, I don’t know, it fills me up. It calms me down. I went back to washing the dishes, these big beautiful chords comforting me, the sounds of my wife bathing my kids coming muted through the kitchen ceiling.
Only I can’t stop crying because I’ve cooled off and I don’t know if I can handle being cold or not.
I’ve been taking work shooting commercials and PSAs.
The house we bought with a lot of help from the bank and some money I made shooting music videos, the money I made when I was making money? The floors are too creaky, the walls are too thin, the rooms are too hot or too cold, the basement is wet, it was built before fuel costs were a concern so there’s no insulation. And I’m not even able to afford it on the pittance my infrequent commercial work brings in, so my mom is helping us out.
Of course, Mom’s also encouraging me to go into teaching, like I’ve got a free year to just go back to school and never mind the time it takes to apply or the time to get a job.
Sure, I guess a college might take me as an instructor, but I don’t have a Master’s.
No no. Fuck that. No. I’ll be back on top. Soon.
“YOU ALMOST DONE DOWN THERE?”
I still had a pile of dishes, so I dried my eyes and did them, then went upstairs to help get the girls to bed.
It was good. I was in a good mood. Sometimes I’m nasty. Impatient. But reading with my oldest, who is happy and healthy and so totally not worried about any of this bullshit, that was a nice break from thinking about it, for sure.
Once they were down, I packed and took my bag downstairs. I got my camera out, made sure I had all my lenses, that my batteries were charged, that I had a few empty memory cards. Eric called and we went over the details of the flight and the shoot and then he got going to me about Joey and their office bullshit and blah blah blah and by the time I finally got upstairs Jacqueline’s asleep with her thumb in a book and her bedside light still on. I could see that she had on one of her nice bras and, honestly, I figured that maybe she was washing her other ones.
When I sat down, she opened her eyes and, trying not to sound annoyed, said, “How’s Eric?”
“What time do you leave tomorrow?”
“The flight’s Eleven something.”
“In the morning?”
“I’ll still have time to get the girls where they need to go.”
“Good.” She stretched, shook her head.
She put her hand on my thigh.
“It’s okay. You go to sleep.” We do normally try to have sex before I go away.
Jacqueline pulled the sheets back. She was wearing the underwear to match the sexy bra.
So we did. We had sex. Check it off the list.
We used to fuck. With all the thrill and energy that word connotes.
Let me explain something that I wish I could tell every future father. There were lots of clues. You told me how infrequently you were getting any action. A mid-wife, many mid-wives, at prenatal classes and various of our appointments, marveled at teenage couples who were having sex nearly right after the baby was born. Each time it was brought up, it was in response to someone asking, delicately, about what sex would be like or, more often, whether or not a breast-feeding mother would require contraception. What no one said in response was, “Forget contraception. You will have sex with a frequency that at one point would have been inconceivably low, would have been relationship destroying. You will have sex so rarely that you and your wife will speculate on the genius of affairs and open relationships then go up to bed separately so you don’t have to lie there feeling awkward and needy or apologetic, so you don’t have to go through the sad process of rejection again and again and again, each and every night. Guys, you’ll be lucky to get a hand job. And when you do you will experience this strange mix of gratitude and guilt.”
Obviously, everyone’s experience is different. Mine was that.
It was complicated by that fact that through watching birth, I became a great admirer of the vulva. Not only is its structure marvelously functional—my partner was lucky enough to have the vaginal birth she hoped for—but through it came first one person, then another, whom I love more than I love anyone else in the world. Which makes it all sound like some intellectual enthusiasm I experienced. It wasn’t, though. Watching my first daughter be born, I experienced a visceral adoration for what someone in an Ina May Gaskin book, maybe Gaskin herself, calls “The Gates of Life.”
That feeling has passed, so frequently would I feel a surge of it and have it replaced by disappointment.
Gradually, the sex comes back, though I’m still waiting for it to return to what I once considered normal. Not that there’s time for what used to be normal, not with a pair of kids. Saturdays stretching out before us with nothing that needed doing, nothing but free time. Time to ask the question, “What do you want to do?”
In the morning, I made oatmeal while four-year-old Sarah tried to draw a dog for Leah, who’s 19-months now and talking so much, Leah who was stealing Sarah’s markers and making Sarah scream. Jacqueline came down before her alarm usually goes, before I had her coffee ready, and said, “Good morning. How’s it going?”
“We’re fine,” I said.
“Leah’s taking my markers,” Sarah said.
Leah snatched the marker Sarah was holding, held it out for Jacqueline and said, “Mama.”
“Okay,” Jacqueline said. “Thank you.” She took the marker from Leah. Sarah reached for it and started jumping up and down and crying for it. “Whoa. I’m going to give it to you,” Jacqueline said, “but you need to calm down.”
“Uhhhh,” Sarah shouted.
“Take a deep breath,” Jacqueline said.
Sarah glared at Jacqueline. Jacqueline handed Sarah the marker.
My wife came into the kitchen. “How are you?”
She touched the small of my back and stretched up for a kiss. “Bet you’re looking forward to a few days off.”
“I like my life.” I kissed her.
We kissed again before she left me with the kids half in their snowsuits. Our daycare provider told me she thought that our cloth diapers might be giving Leah a rash and that maybe there was something about how we were washing them, or the detergent maybe. As I was walking Sarah to school and texting Jacqueline about the diaper concerns, Sarah, probably because I’d been ignoring her for a few seconds, collapsed onto her knees and told me she couldn’t walk anymore. Eventually I coaxed her up, but she pulled against my hand and dropped down at least two more times before we got to he school, where she was disappointed that we weren’t late enough for a late slip.
I took transit to the airport. Eric liked when I took a taxi, but transit was slow and I could be alone for a while and read. I was late, though—late for Eric’s taste—and he started texting me just as I sat down to wait for the airport shuttle. I made a rule that I would only answer after every three texts, but then I was checking my phone all the time anyway. Eric implored me to take a cab from the station. I lied and told him I was on the bus already. It was scheduled to arrive in five minutes or whatever, the same time it would take me to walk outside and call a cab. “See you soon,” I wrote.
I looked at my book and took a deep breath to try and calm down. The bus arrived. When I sat down, my camera on my lap, my luggage at my feet, I pulled my file on the shoot out. A Hepatitis PSA with a bikini-clad woman sunbathing then going into the water to cool off. Eric took the work for the location—a beach shoot in wintertime. I pulled out my phone and checked the temperature in Varadero. Highs of 28 on Tuesday and Wednesday, partially cloudy Tuesday.
Out the bus window, the cars, the highway, the factories, the office buildings, the malls were all steaming and coated with salt. I pulled out a screenplay I was working on. My main character’s gun had been knocked across the floor and a villainous woman in tight leather pants and a billowing red blouse was straddling his chest and pointing her gun right between his eyes. I crossed out the word “right.” Now she was pointing her gun between his eyes, but the scene was still derivative shit. I’d been aiming for a feminist, genre challenging, post-modern action flick, but was pretty sure I was failing.
When we got to the terminal, I let everyone off the bus before me then walked slowly towards the Sunwing check-in. Off in the distance, I saw Eric racing away from me his head swinging wildly from one person to the next, this woman in leggings chasing after him. I let them get further away from me, knowing that soon, Eric would turn around. When they did turn around, they were still too far away for me to see the woman’s face. Honestly, I didn’t know who she was. In all our phone calls and texts leading up to the trip, not once had Eric mentioned about anyone else joining us. I came to the aisle of check-in counters where Sunwing was, Eric still far away. I considered waiting and waving him down, but queued up to check in, instead. A tiny woman in a navy skirt and short-sleeved jacket was going up and down the line saying “Is anyone here for the 11 a.m. to Varadero?” I waited for anyone else to put up their hand before she looked at me and I raised mine. “Please come over here sir.”
She rushed me over to a desk where a very tall woman with big hands, wide eyes and a large mouth took from me my passport and a sheet I had printed on my nearly toner-less printer. I turned and see Eric going past in a frenzy and saw that the woman with him looked perfect enough to be the woman in the PSA. I stood back from the counter. “Eric!” He didn’t hear me at first. A little old lady with enormous sunglasses brought her boney shoulders up as if to cover her ears. I cupped my hands over my mouth and shouted again. “Eric!” He turned and stomped towards me, the girl startled that they’d broken their rhythm took a second to figure to change course, then had to rush to catch up.
“Matt,” Eric said.
“Mr. Arnold,” the Sunwing woman said. “We really do have to hurry.”
Eric was desperate to chastise me, but he heard what the lady said and held his tongue.
It was as we were heading to security, as Eric told me to just take a taxi next time or catch an earlier shuttle, that I introduced myself to the woman we were traveling with. “Hi. Matt Arnold. I’m the camera guy.”
“Stephanie Silva. Steph. I’m ‘Woman.’”
“Hear you roar.”
“‘Woman’ from the script.”
“I figured. Nice to meet you.”
Continued next week.
Toronto, Jan.-Feb. 2016
Emoji sequence: writer, director and music video maker Scott Cudmore
Story: Lee Sheppard