It’s four thirty on Monday afternoon, and Al and I are in Town & Country picking up groceries. We’ve just flown back into Bozeman after a long weekend in Virginia for a friend’s wedding. Our cart has bread, milk, veggies, and a premade pizza dough for dinner. We’re tired, travel worn, bug bitten (something got into my bed at the state park where we stayed, I have painful bites running from my right index finger to my left shoulder; Al has a wasp sting on his wrist), and we’re ready to be home.
In the pasta aisle, Al gets a phone call; it’s our landlord, Josh. He’s calling to tell us that we need to move our truck out from in front of the house. It’s trivial, needless, and at this point in the day and at the very end of our trip, it infuriates and wears us out.
Normally, it would be fine. Except that it seems so completely ridiculous to call us for something so trivial. Especially trivial, considering what we learned about our former neighbors last week. We’ve known for sometime that they’re trouble: twenty something, unmarried, (not much we can say there), possibly former meth addicts with five children. They fight loudly, they drink in the morning, they slam the doors. But so far, their kids have seemed okay. Cheerful, cute.
Last week, they moved out. Last week, our landlord went in the house to clean up the holes in the walls, the torn down trim pieces, the back door so warped it doesn’t close. Last week, he found the closet with a lock on the outside, a chair on the inside, and full of feces and urine.
Which only can mean one thing: someone was locked inside, and my guess is that it was a child. It’s disgusting and painful to think that five feet and a wall away, a child was being abused. We’ve discussed it, beaten ourselves up, thought about calling child protective services. We didn’t, because Al has first hand experience with how useless they are.
But I know with certainty that our landlord never even thought about it, and the call in the grocery store only drives home just where his priorities are. By the time we’ve paid for our groceries and loaded the car, Al has stopped talking, his jaw is set, and I can see the angry defeat working its way across his forehead. I offer to drive; he says he’s fine. When we stop to gas up, I hop out to fill up; when I get back in there are tears rolling down his cheeks. I can see that he’s completely and utterly discouraged, that the world is bearing down on him, and he’s doing that thing where he takes everything that’s ever been wrong personally.
And yet, when I offer, he won’t let me drive. It’s pride somewhere, or an idea that at least he can take care of me. At least, to the best of his abilities, my world is perfect.
Until we’re on the highway, speeding home because his defeat has turned to anger. Suddenly, there’s a deer sprinting across the highway directly at us; we’re on course for certain collision and I’m yelling because he hasn’t seen it. There’s the slam, then the deer is sliding ahead of us down the highway; the brakes are locked and the sliding feeling gives me the impression that the deer is pulling us. But the deer comes to a stop, and we pull over. It’s just a fawn; our grill and hood and bumper are damaged but the car is still running; the groceries are on the floor.
Al drags the deer to the side of the road and we get back in the car because in the end there’s nothing else to be done. In his continuing anger Al runs over the deer as we leave; which terrifies me. But he starts to calm down, and apologizes. Remorse is flooding his face; he has returned to blaming himself for so many things. It’s a vicious circle, but I let it go, because I can’t comfort him. A phrase from a song has come to me, and I can’t let it go: take it, take it all, take all that I have. I have this feeling that it’s taking everything I’ve got to live this life: my energy, my money, my love, my faith in human goodness. I’m putting everything into this life, and I’m only breaking even.
Take it, take it all, take all that I have.