by Diana Odasso
He hurries into my room in the dim early light. I can see he’s upset from the way he stands: his knees hyperextended, fists clenched at his side. Even in the semi-darkness, his eyes are intense, his brown irises glow black.
“I dream you take my donut,” my three-year-old says.
“You had a bad dream, baby.”
I have low blood pressure and mornings feel like waking up from a coma. My joints ache. With two children under five, I’m always tired. I dream of falling back asleep and not waking for a long time, maybe never. For a little while now, I have been worrying about depression.
“You take my donut.”
“It was just a dream…”
“Bad.” His lip trembles as he spits out the word.
“Come here.” I lean over the edge of my bed, open my arms wide like a child swan-diving into the shallow end of the pool. He hesitates but instead, with his characteristic tenacity, which I usually find so charming but not this early, he doubles down.
“I want it back,” he says.
Light-headed, I lean onto the pillow. “I’m sorry, honey. I don’t have your donut.”
“I hate Mommy,” he screams with all the rage a three year old can muster. Temper tantrums too often to count these days. The play therapist is helping him with his anger, I hope.
Recently, I had to go to the DMV to change my last name. The young woman behind the desk rolled through the accompanying paperwork: a court order that allowed me by law to reclaim what’s mine, and a new social security card that proved, in the eyes of the government, that I was continuous with my former self. She stared at me as we waited for my driver’s license to reprint with my new-old name, my maiden name. She was pretty in a Sunday morning way, with caramel skin and an easy smile. She apologized several times, both for the computers, which were running slowly, and for my divorce.
Her large, concerned eyes were still attached to my face when she leaned in and lowered her voice. “But do you think you will be able to start over?”
I laughed. I wanted to tell her that life often offers the unfortunate illusion of stability. I wanted to tell her that I started over when I borrowed his last name and acquiesced to have my children named for a distant, unknown family. I wanted to tell her about the divorce, about the psych ward, and the emergency custody order but she seemed too nice.
Could I start over?
When I married, I fought against a gradual tide but it finally overtook me: the urge to disappear into a man. And so I took my ex-husband’s skin and glued it to the underside of mine, like a graft that takes root and grows, an invasive vine that blankets a house, protects it from rain and snow, then tears it down. Once it had grown into the crevices, under membranes and pores, I had become a thin surface, a balloon inflated by him.
My son is still screaming at the top of his lungs. The therapist tells me he is directing blame from Daddy’s disappearance onto me.
Daddy didn’t just leave. He left: one wife, two young boys, a mortgaged house in Lake Worth, unpaid bills, one lawsuit, one lien, two upside cars. He left: an encyclopedia of lies. What he took with him: a wad of cash, mine and others’; his good watches; his suits; my luggage. He also made off with the underside layer of my skin.
My little boy bursts into tears. I collect him into the bed, curl him against my aching joints, tucking in those no-longer baby limbs. He softens, his features calm, he sheds the last few tears for his lost donut. Sometime after the tears dry, he’ll tell me he loves me and grip me hard in his shame.
I’ll whisper, “I love you too.”
And he’ll reply, “Good Mommy…”
Diana Odasso is currently an MFA student at Antioch University Los Angeles and managing editor of Lunch Ticket. She has translated French texts (published in Jim Harrison’s The Raw and the Cooked), ghostwritten for an autobiography, and written for The Huffington Post. She has work published in Lunch Ticket, Waypoints Magazine, and upcoming in Burrow Press. She recently attended the Disquiet International Program in Lisbon on scholarship. She lives in South Florida with her two young boys and Boston Terrier.