In the Doghouse by Teri Case; Originally Chapter 19
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
John sat in his car outside his old apartment. After work, he’d driven there as if following a homing device. Though the days were long in June, two days of rain had darkened the sky, and there was nothing more John wanted to do tonight than to make his way back into this apartment and Lucy’s life, to curl up with her on the couch, have a glass of wine, and watch a movie they’d seen a thousand times together before finding their way to bed and making love.
Less than a week, and he missed her. He missed her incessant planning and list making, including how she intended to spend her hypothetical money from a future lottery ticket. He missed her tendency to screw up clichés such as “nip it in the butt” or “add lipping.” He thought about how excited she got when talking about the patients she helped that day, her sense of humor about some of the cases, and her continuous running tally of enemas she’d given since she’d become a nurse. “Keep your defibrillator close and your enemas closer,” Lucy always joked.
He ached for the sense of being home—the odd anticipation of smells and temperatures, and knowing which furniture he was apt to stub his toe or bruise his shins on during a midnight trip to the bathroom. He missed crawling into bed with Lucy and being surrounded by lavender while she pressed her petite, cold toes against his warm shins and snuggled her heart-shaped bottom into his groin. He missed their sex life—how she felt beside him, under him, all over him. He missed her confidence about their future together, a future he had agreed with, one that used to seem effortless to move toward.
He dreaded walking into his furnished, temporary apartment that was sterile and devoid of memories with Lucy. No Skip greeting him at the door. There wasn’t a fiber of dog hair anywhere. Who’d have thought he’d miss dog hair all over his clothes?
Despite the drizzle, John turned off the engine and stepped outside, leaning against his car door. He stared up at the window. The lamps were dim, and he could see the halo of light only a television puts out. He imagined Lucy curled up with Skip as if he’d never been there. Someday, she’d meet someone new . . . he shook his head. He couldn’t think about that, about Lucy with someone else someday. Another man touching her or knowing her the way he did. Another man wanting to hook up with Lucy the way John wanted to hook up with other women. He was such a fucking hypocrite.
How long would it take Manny to make a move? Lucy hadn’t liked his hoarding, but Manny was a good-looking guy. And he had women coming and going to prove he had a way with the ladies.
The jealousy clouded his already clouded head even more. Just a few steps, that’s all it would take. He could be up there in one minute and put this angst and self-doubt behind.
Or could he? Only one week in, and every night he had regretted leaving her; but each morning, each new day, he’d woken up with a sense of vitality, virility, and purpose as if there was nothing he couldn’t accomplish. No one he couldn’t conquer. And in the light of day, he wanted to maintain his new life.
Yesterday morning, he’d laughed aloud while showering. Colors seemed brighter. Sounds louder. Tastes stronger. His blood felt hotter, his wits sharper, and he was noticing everything, especially women. He’d always appreciated women. He’d looked but never touched, but now he could act on the smile, or the eye contact—more of which seemed to be coming his way. Fantasize about the what-ifs and the proximity to being with someone new. Someone different.
He was motivated by the hunt during the day. Driven by loneliness and the fear of regret at night.
He’d promised Lucy he wouldn’t tell anyone about their breakup until she was ready, but he’d told Cecilia, and he’d asked his dad to meet him for a beer last night, and he told him he’d left Lucy.
The irony that he’d had the first non-superficial conversation with his dad in years thanks to the failure of his own relationship was not lost on John.
Talking about the women in his life—Lucy or his mom—with his dad had been a taboo subject for John ever since his dad had an affair and tore apart their family fourteen years ago. The avoidance had started out due to John’s teenage anger and resentment toward his dad for dividing their family and causing weekend visits. His mom had handled the divorce better than John had, or she pretended to. His mom had begged him to maintain a relationship with his father. “You will regret your anger someday. You become who you hate, you know,” she had said. He’d sworn he would never be like his dad, could never be like his dad.
So John and his dad had stuck to neutral topics to avoid explosive confrontations and saying or doing things that couldn’t be taken back. The compromise that started when he was seventeen had continued well beyond a healthy expiration date, and their relationship carried on at a superficial level. His mother had remarried, they had all moved on with their lives, and John’s anger had gradually gone away, but the tone of the relationship was familiar and comfortable. It worked, so neither seemed in a hurry to dig up the past.
Their relationship consisted of talk about John’s cases at the firm, the sociology courses his dad taught at the University of San Francisco, or his dad’s travels and projects in his woodshop. Shortly after his parents divorced, his father bought a new house, including a workshop where he started building beehives. John had no idea if his dad was single, if he dated, or if he ever had a relationship after the divorce because he’d never asked, but he knew his dad built beehives. And when John met Lucy, he offered few details to his dad about Lucy and his relationship, and so his dad never asked.
Don’t ask, don’t tell. That was the unspoken rule between him and his dad.
Now the only person he wanted to talk to about his breakup was his dad.
“Feeding the bear” was what Lucy would call it—something her mom used to preach. “We know who to go to when we want validation, though we won’t be able to control getting unsolicited input in the future.”
His dad was the one person who might lend insight, the one person who might tell John if he was making the biggest mistake of his life, and the one person who might have more advice than John was ready to hear.
So he’d called his dad and arranged to meet him at the Bitter End on Clement Street.
Both men were awkward, not knowing how to start a discussion that had long been off limits. John kept looking at the dartboard in the corner. His dad was fiddling with a wet napkin. The bar had dark wood floors and walls. The lights were dim, appropriate for two men who had trouble making eye contact.
Finally his dad said, “You said you wanted to talk, so it’s best you start.”
John leaned back in his chair, balancing on the back legs, his knees bouncing. “I left Lucy.”
His dad’s eyes widened, and he leaned forward, elbows on the table. “When?”
“Almost a week ago.”
“Work or a woman?” his dad asked.
John knew what his dad was implying, and for a moment, defensiveness and fury knotted his gut and clenched his jaw.
His dad sighed. “Why else would you want to talk to me about your relationship after all these years?”
John glared at him, feeling like an immature teenager. His dad was right.
Before he said anything, his dad threw his arms up in surrender. “Give me some credit, Son. Man to man.”
John leaned forward, allowing his chair to rest on four legs. He wanted to argue that he wasn’t like his dad. Instead, his shoulders dropped, and he rested his elbows on the table. Rubbing his face with his hands, John said, “I didn’t cheat, but I met someone. At the dog park. I couldn’t—can’t—stop thinking about her.”
The server delivered two more beers, and John waited for him to leave.
“I started feeling anxious months ago. The wedding is—well, was—in five months, and I woke up one night, and I couldn’t breathe. I was claustrophobic, suffocating, sweating. Scared the shit out of me, so I saw a doctor that week.”
His dad nodded with understanding.
“The doctor prescribed anti-anxiety meds. I didn’t take them, and a week later, after Lucy and I met with a travel agent to book the honeymoon, I had another attack. I wanted to blame the firm, my partnership, but I knew work wasn’t the problem.”
“You didn’t tell Lucy.”
“No. I couldn’t. All she wants is this wedding. That stupid honeymoon. I couldn’t bear to have that conversation.”
His dad sighed.
“I’ve never been alone. I never dated around. I went from a girlfriend in high school to Lucy. Fuck.”
“The other woman . . . you’ve stayed in touch?” his dad asked.
The other woman. That rubbed John the wrong way. The way his dad said it, it made his attraction to Cecilia sound so sordid. But, hell, maybe it was sordid. Maybe the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
John moved his pint of beer in circles, spreading a wet mess. “Yeah. While I was with Lucy. I stopped by her dog bakery a few times, but nothing happened.”
“Does Lucy know?”
“No. I told her I needed to be alone. It’s true. She asked if I cheated, but I hadn’t. At that time—a few hugs, nothing more.”
“A technicality,” his dad said.
“A technicality,” John said.
“Does anyone else know?” his dad asked.
“Skip.” John laughed dryly. Poor Skip. He must be so confused.
“Good thing dogs can’t talk,” his dad said.
“Good thing dogs can’t talk,” John agreed.
“What do you want from me, Son?”
“Tell me I’m not making the biggest mistake of my life.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Then tell me I am making the biggest mistake of my life.”
“Can’t do that either. Time will tell.”
“What about . . . what about you?” John had officially opened the gate. “Do you regret Mom? Having the affair?”
His dad sighed. “I regret hurting the two of you,” he pointed to John and then himself, “and I regret the limits it put on our relationship. I loved your mother. It was never about love.”
John looked down. More understanding of this statement than he might have had even a year ago. Sex.
“Sometimes I reminisce, but it’s fleeting,” his dad said. “I try not to look back.”
“How long did your affair last?” John asked. He’d never thought he wanted to know. Now he did.
“One night. Hardly an affair. But it was enough.”
“Enough to know I didn’t want to be monogamous anymore.”
John nodded. As a man, he understood this at a primal level. But he hadn’t understood as a son. His dad was a sociologist with a profound respect for biology. Many of the papers his father had written focused on the influence of society and the pressure of monogamy against natural instincts, procreation, and sex. Not that he’d ever talked to his dad about his articles. Now, though, maybe he would read some of them.
“Does your mother know?”
“When will you tell her?”
“I don’t know. She’ll be disappointed. She loves Lucy, and I don’t want to dig up painful memories.”
“Give your mom more credit,” his dad said.
“I’ll let you know when I tell her,” John said.
“Have you seen this other woman—what’s her name—since you left?”
“Cecilia. Yesterday, I met her for lunch.” He’d gotten a hard-on as soon as he was within two feet of her. “I’m so attracted to her I can’t think straight.”
“Yes, that happens. Biology.”
“And I miss Lucy so much I can’t think straight,” John said.
“And that’s society’s influence, companionship,” his dad said.
“I’m risking my life with Lucy to be with other women.” John laughed out loud like a madman. “What the fuck am I doing? I’m losing my mind.”
“Life is a risk. You can’t go about life being risk-averse. That wouldn’t be fair to you or to Lucy. And, Son?” his dad said, meeting his eyes. He seemed more confident as a father after this brief talk. “If you’re going to move forward, be careful about rushing into another relationship. You won’t be doing anyone a favor, especially not yourself.”
The rain increased, bringing John back to the present outside Lucy’s apartment. The