Dirk almost broke the “new rules” and forwarded a sweet meme he found on Reddit to Liz. A bitter taste came to his mouth. Once upon a time, the instinct to call Liz didn’t exist. Six months later, Dirk was forcing himself to unlearn the behavior. Breaking the habit proved to be harder to implement. It was because he didn’t want to break the habit. He wanted Liz, and Tom, and Bryce back in his life.
Grace popped her head in the doorway. Her salt and pepper hair curved around the sun visor. “Would you mind going to the store to pick up some ground beef?”
Dirk’s mother only cooked with beef from the local farmers. Only one store sold it, Harper’s on Main. The same Harpers owned by Tom and Liz. Thanks to the changes in circumstances, Dirk had no intention of going anywhere near Harpers. Tom had sent Dirk a four-word text declaring him a phallic symbol. If he showed up at the store to buy ground beef, they’d probably club him over the head with the chunk of frozen meat. “Why can’t you get it?”
“I could.” Grace’s body appeared, completing the image of the person. “But you have been cooped up in the house for too long.”
“Filling out applications on the internet isn’t exactly cooped up,” Dirk grumbled. They asked the same questions and took forever to complete. It was boring yet necessary. Still, he accomplished a lot in the time he had.
“Snappiness is a sign of vitamin D deficiency.” Grace gazed toward the open window. It was sunny and still outside. “Or, perhaps you need to get out and go visit Liz and Cameron. When you came home, I thought for sure you’d be over there most of the time.”
It wasn’t a new hint. Grace has subtly been dropping them like cookie crumbs for Hansel and Gretel over the week. At first, it came as a question. Dirk was on the couch flipping through the channels hating everything he saw. Grace had her purse on her shoulder and car keys in her hand. “What’s Liz making for dinner?”
Dirk didn’t bother to look up from the screen. “I don’t know. She didn’t invite me.” It wasn’t a fair statement. He told his mom that they were taking a break, not that they broke up.
“Actually, that makes sense. Cameron is playing over in Hamilton today.” She left saying something about meeting friends for dinner. From then on, he caught the sneaking glances, and the pursed, concerned lips.
Having learned his mother’s bandage approach wasn’t the best for all circumstances, Dirk waited for the right time to tell his mother she was wrong. He wouldn’t be hanging out at Liz’s house, or Tom’s for that matter. But her questions veered toward a more direct approach, and eventually, she’d want a solid answer.
Dirk met his mother at the door and set his hands on each of her shoulders. “Mom, I’m going to tell you something, and you have to promise me you won’t get mad.”
He felt her gaze as her eyes searched his for hints of what he was about to say. “Are we talking I crashed the car into the neighbor’s front wall angry, or I just broke your favorite dish miffed?”
“Technically, I only ruined the garden,” Dirk defended.
When his mother motioned to speak, he stepped in the space between her and the doorway. Her face paled when he said, “Let’s go to the talking chairs.”
The talking chairs. Dirk commiserated to himself. He and Liz should have had the talking chairs. Ever since he was a child, whenever Dirk and Grace had to have a hard discussion, his mother pulled Dirk to the table. At the table, she conducted post principals visits conferences, pep talks after lousy report cards. The chairs also housed the talks that consoled Dirk after the passing of beloved friends and family members. This was the first time, Dirk led the conversation.
Dirk sat on one side of the corner of the kitchen table, and his mother sat on the other. He rested his forearms on the worn edges of the wood table and waited for his mother to situate herself. She swallowed and tilted her chin slightly. “What do we need to discuss?”
“Liz and I aren’t together anymore.” Apparently the remove the bandage method was the only method Dirk knew how to use lately.
Similar to what Liz had done, his mother flinched. “What happened?”
All of a sudden, an itch on the back of Dirk’s neck demanded relief. He rubbed at it. “I thought it would be better if we didn’t see each other for a while.”
“You hardly saw each other as it was.” The lines around his mother’s eyes dropped, making mini frowns beside them.
“Well, you see if I had time to think it through, I would have figured it out. But you told Liz I was in town, so I had to say something to her before I had a plan.”
“So you’re saying it’s my fault?” Grace leaned away from him and observed him from the side of her eyes.
“No, what I’m saying is I didn’t have time to think.”
Pain like Dirk had never seen crossed his mother’s face. “Oh, my dear.” She pressed her forehead into her palm and just as quickly recovered her composure. “So you won’t be going to Liz’s for dinner.”
Ruefully, Dirk said, “Yes.” He never intended to hurt Liz. On his own, he had what he thought was a viable solution. Take some time, work through the problem, and regroup when he could be the man Liz deserved. It pained Dirk to be back in the position of being unworthy of Liz’s love. A man had to be able to provide for his family. Dirk had saved money, but not enough to sustain a family for any amount of time.
An entire story passed through Grace’s eyes. It had a sad beginning, a warm middle, and a resigned ending. Through a grim expression, Grace said, “I’m sorry this is my fault.”
Dirk shook his head and strained to make sure he heard correctly. Sure, in the beginning, his mother wasn’t on team Liz or anything like that. Since then, she grew into the person who had a refrigerator covered in pictures drawn by Cameron. The overwhelming sense that he needed to comfort his mother pushed aside the defensive feeling from earlier. “You didn’t do anything anyone else would do.”
The bill of Grace’s visor dipped slightly with the scrunching of her eyebrows. The cheerful glow he saw in the hall faded to a flicker that threatened to give way to the somber mood of Dirk’s news.
“You were excited about me being home. I get it.” Dirk felt queasy. It seemed that every time he talked to a woman he upset her.
Grace’s eyes bounced to something in the corner of the room. “I did everything possible to protect you. “I shielded you from negative influences. Now that you’re older, I’ll tell you the whole story of what happened with Callie.”
“Yes, Callie.” When you were in eighth grade; the doe-eyed girl with the body of a twenty-year-old. That Callie. She was smitten with you. I may have interfered a little.” She bobbed her head. “Okay, a lot.”
Grace’s soft-hearted smile apologized for what she was about to say. “Mothers can see things. You walked in the cafeteria to line up for the bus and Callie looked at you like you were the last hamburger at a barbecue. I knew then and there; she was bad news. It took a while for her real nature to show. When it did…wow all of what I saw and worse came out. The guy she took up with…the one from Billings could have been you. I didn’t want you to be a teenage father.”
A tsunami flooded Dirk’s mind and receded to leave a mess of emotions, forcing Dirk to reassess everything as he knew it. What else had his mother done to protect him? Was Dirk the reason why his mother hadn’t entertained a serious relationship?
Dirk had been hopeful when he embarked on the unpaved relational territory. Like Cameron, he never had a father. He never saw how parents fought and made up. The skills Dirk possessed came from watching Maggie and Tom.
Liz told him specifically that she didn’t want Dirk around to mess with Cameron’s head. She said, “Cameron is too young to understand a break.” When his absence was work-related, it made sense.” Liz used air quotes when she added, “Your break will mess with my son’s self-esteem.”
Grace wagged her finger at him. “I don’t want you ending up like me. I have the uncanny gift of finding reasons why things won’t work and using it end relationships. I didn’t go through life chasing away women who weren’t good enough for you to end up like me–old and single.”
“Mom, I’m thirty,” Dirk exclaimed. “I have a lot of time before I’ll catch up to you.”
Grace enunciated each sound, “Ha. Ha. Ha.” Then she pressed her lips into a thin line. “I know you belong with Liz. You know you belong with Liz. How are you going to fix this?”
Dirk grumbled his distress, “Too bad it isn’t as easy to apply a band-aid as it was to rip it off.”
Categories: Home For the New Year