This is a family moment and we are not a family.

We are camping, the thought of which was frightening, but now I’m having so much fun that I’m no longer pissed at my husband for working and leaving the job of Fishing Trip to me. He always does this, leaves me holding the parenting bag. Usually when there is poop in it. He is a successful man, and that is his excuse to work at every opportune moment. But Danny, my best friend’s husband, not mine, is successful too.

“He’s a blue collar entrepreneur. Not the same.” Adam once said, when I’d told him I thought Danny was a great dad.

“They seem to have more than enough.”

“Not the same,” Adam said again.

Being with Danny wakes me up. Especially now that I am hugging my six year old, Eli, from behind and holding onto his hands which grasp a fishing pole that dangles a very large trout.

When Danny sees we have a big one, he wraps his warm arms over mine. It is an intimate embrace but for a purpose, I tell myself. Danny’s six year old son, Tanner, grabs onto Danny’s arm and jumps up and down like a kangaroo, scream-laughing, his large glasses bobbing on his nose. We need Danny’s arm to steady the pole but it’s difficult to squelch the enthusiasm of a boy, especially on a camping trip where a boy’s excitement is the point.

We finally land the hulking fish with a satisfying splat on the dirt beach. The boys fling their bodies in a wild, six-year-old dance, high five-ing and skipping. We are filthy and out of breath and all four exhilarated.
 

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve done something new. This is better than roller-skating, better than my first car, better than any sex I’ve had in the past 10 years.

I look into Danny’s craggy face. We share a laugh.

Guilt makes me shiver. I’m almost flirting, but I won’t. We are both loyal to his wife, and I’m not looking for a catastrophic cliché.
 

 

“You go!” my best friend, Helene had said when she witnessed Adam flake again. Four weeks prior he’d planned a fishing trip with Eli.

“Will Mommy go too?” Eli had asked.

“Mommy hates camping,” Adam told him.

“We’re gonna leave Mommy?” Eli’d asked.

“It’s a boy’s trip,” Adam explained. “Just you and me.”

Eli shrugged but I saw the joy spread across his face. He jump-hugged his father, and I smiled at my husband for the first time in weeks.

We were in Helene and Danny’s back yard for Sunday Swim when I heard Eli bragging, “Mommy’s not even going, cause it’s just us. Just me and Dad and fishing and camping in a tent and sleeping outside and making fire and no girls and no baths….”

Adam looked into his trough of scotch, not nearly enough remorse on his face. He chose that moment, among friends where I wouldn’t make a scene and Eli might not cry. “About that, buddy….” He reached back to ruffle Eli’s hair. “We can’t go this week.”

Everyone stopped and looked at Adam. Eli’s mouth hung open.

“Honey,” I said, “you can’t just cancel.”

“Got a meeting.” He tossed the last of his drink into his throat and headed for the kitchen.

Eli began to cry. Helene’s eyes went wide and mercifully she didn’t hug me. I looked to her for an answer. She had none. Tanner had his arms around my son in a loyal embrace.

“Hey Tanner, want to go camping with Eli this weekend?” Danny said.

“I’m not going,” Eli said into Tanner’s shirt. “My dad can’t go.”

“We’ll go without him,” Danny said, wiping a BBQ sauce covered spatula on his apron.

It took a few minutes and Eli warmed to the idea. “I’ll go if my mom goes. If Mom goes it’s good.”

“I’ll go, of course I’ll go. Me and Tanner’s mom.” I slapped my recruit on the back.

“You’ll go, Mom?” Tanner asked Helene.

“I have Grandma,” Helene said, “but it looks like you have a whole crew.” Helene loves her family but never gives up a chance to be alone. I wondered how much Grandma really needed her. Also, she didn’t seem to worry about sending me off with her man.
 

 

Last year I was fretting that Adam might be having an affair. When I’d whined to Helene she said, “Worrying about your husband having an affair is like holding a colicky baby and worrying about kidnappers. Really, who’d want ‘em?”

I’d laughed then and given up on my paranoia.

“You’d never catch him anyway,” Helene had said. “Men are wily.”

Danny was offering to take them alone, but I knew it was too much. Helene had shared with me that Tanner still wets the bed at night.

“Danny says it’s a phase, but I think Tanner is doing it on purpose. Danny always lies down with him after,” Helene complained.

“Danny could be right,” I told her, trying not to be condescending. We are long over competitive parenting. That was for the beginning when we all had postpartum so bad and we didn’t know what else to do.

“Let’s just support each other and call it a day,” she’d told me once after I’d tongue clucked at her for giving Tanner whipped cream for breakfast. “He hasn’t eaten in three days. At least there’s protein in it.”

I felt ashamed of myself then and instantly I loved her. I would have thrown my arms around her but I still wasn’t sure she wouldn’t gossip about me to others in our group—the ones that breastfed for three years and never got a babysitter or a pedicure.

Helene moved to friend status after that. My depression waned, then disappeared. Her mutiny was my salvation.

We are now those moms. We feed our kids organic vegetables, we praise responsibly, and we got tattoos together while our three year olds sat side by side watching iPads in their strollers. Her ink is a fairy-tale prince’s sword slashed across her hip, mine a colorful hummingbird above my ankle.

“I’m not showing my ass to anyone who doesn’t need to see it,” I told her as she dropped-trow for the hunky tattoo artist.

“Coward,” she’d directed at me but smiled to him.

Shameless. She is the best friend you always wanted in high school. Reckless with common sense.

“Go,” she’d practically yelled at me. “Maybe they won’t come home so smelly this time.”

That’s my girl. She trusts me completely with her mensch-of-a-husband and I won’t take advantage of that. No matter how he looks in his faded flannel, with his stocky bodyguard frame, and his straight white teeth gleaming at our boys.

“Can we sleep in your tent, Linda?” Tanner asks, with his birdlike fingers on my wrist. His gorgeous blue eyes shine behind Mr. Peabody spectacles. What is it about the request of this six year old, my best girl’s boy, that breaks my heart every time? I am able to deny my own child almost anything if it means I might not sleep. The thought of being woken up to a soggy sleeping bag and the waft of ammonia flashes in my mind when I start to say yes.

“That would be ok, I gue…” I begin.

“Linda’s a girl!” Danny looks at his son incredulously, with palms opened. He points to his tent. “Boys room.” Then he points to mine. “Girls room. You guys are with me.”

Saved by male bonding.

“I want to sleep with my Mom,” Eli tells his shoes more than Danny. Then he looks at Tanner. “Sorry. I want to sleep with my Mom.”

The disappointment on Tanner’s face is just a flash. I am sorry for this but secretly thrilled that my baby still needs me. I know one day he won’t let me kiss him in public. He will snub me at the mall or in the school parking lot. Our mutual devotion has an expiration date.

Tonight when I crawl into my sleeping bag, my child will lay his head on my heart and crack it open a bit more. We will fall together into a deep, delicious sleep. Eli is better than Trazapan.

“Suit yourself.” Danny warmly cuffs Eli’s hair. “You and me buddy,” he says to his boy, and I wish Tanner would smile.

It was the fastest I’ve ever seen Eli go down. He was talking up until the last minute.

“Daddy won’t believe it when we show him the pictures. Maybe we shouldn’t have eaten it. Do you think he will see how big it really was? You didn’t text it, right? I want to see his face. Do you think he’ll believe it?”

Daddy won’t give a shit unless there’s a flow chart attached to it’s tail, I don’t say. “He’ll be so excited about your fish,” I do say. The only lies I tell him are about Santa, the Tooth-fairy and Daddy. As soon as he is kissed, he is asleep.

“Drink?” Danny pokes his head into our tent and whispers like a librarian. He was clearly a boy scout, the fire is small and hot. I sit cross-legged. Danny extends his and leans back on his elbows. We both look up and take in thousands of stars. The woodsy, wet smell and his warm smile are intoxicating enough.

“I don’t drink when I’m alone with him,” I say.

“You aren’t alone. You’re with me. What are you afraid of?”

“Just one.” I laugh.

Danny pulls a bottle of tequila from his pack and grabs our reusable Solo cups.

“Not so much, buddy,” I joke when he fills half my cup.

“I’m heavy handed,” he smiles, pouring a lot less into his own plastic bucket.

“Hey!” I grab his cup and shake it.

“I gotta be up for him when he goes,” he says.

“Hmmmm.” I hand it back and begin to sip. “Tastes like the Pike house at State.”

“Tom Ricktman’s bachelor party,” he says.

“Robin Lister’s Bat Mitzvah,” I say.

“My dad’s workshop when I was eleven. Do I win?”

“Oh man!” I snap my fingers in disappointment. “You do. Eleven?”

“Yeah, he beat the tar outta me when he found out, too.”

The way he says it is not funny.

I drink to break the quiet but the lull is too long, “Well sir, I ain’t afraid a nothin’. Not with this here liquid courage.”

“You are!” he announces. “You’re afraid of everything.”

I’m surprised at this. How does he know? I raise my eyebrows.

“Helene blabs when we canoodle,” he explains.

I am stung. Does she tell him my secrets?

“Don’t you have better things to do when you canoodle, like canoodling?” I ask.

“Don’t be mad. I’m sure I don’t know everything.”

“What am I afraid of? According to blabby, Helene.”

He smiles and ticks his fingers, “Dairy, car fires, getting a divorce, staying married, that you won’t amount to anything, Barney, bullies, clowns, a barista at the Starbucks on Kanan and that someone will hurt Eli.”

“I will,” I blurt. Two quick gulps of tequila have soaked my inhibitions—I’ve said it before I can think.

“What?” he says.

It’s the fear I never told, not even to Helene. The one I didn’t know myself, but really I did and it almost killed me. I want to tell. I want Danny to know me. I want him to react badly, maybe even be a jerk. I’m already drunk. I say it fast.

“When Eli was born, I got so depressed and I was afraid of everything and really, I was afraid that I couldn’t do it.”

I look at Danny. He nods for me to go on.

“It felt like I couldn’t be his Mom and I wanted to run,” I look away from him then back again. I can’t read him so I risk it.

“I hated every other mother I saw, because I thought she knew what she was doing. They were so fucking smug and really I was afraid that I couldn’t keep him alive and then I wanted out so bad. I was scared that I might hurt him. I was terrified that I’d hurt my child.” Shame and relief burn my cheeks. I watch him for so long, he gets blurry.

Some other person would have said something stupid. Another man would have looked awkwardly around and put an uncertain hand on my shoulder. If a woman were there she would have felt superior and hugged me. Danny does none of that. He does not look away. He has heard me. He may be judging but I can’t see it. I will the tears back.

“Demons,” he says finally and my longing ignites. I know this will happen if I let it. He smiles at me. A frat-boy grin, mischievous and wild.

“I seem the dark type, huh,” I say.

I want this but not the aftermath. I could love this man, so I say, “Helene.”

“Helene,” he repeats. He has been leaning in toward me.

“It was Helene. She saved me.”

He sits back. “Yeah,” he says, “I get that.”

He sips his drink and we are comfortably quiet for a long time.

After awkward good-nights, we go to our tents. I gently lift Eli’s head to my chest and sink into his smell of dried leaves and sage.
 

 

We eat breakfast—tiny sips of orange juice and Farmer John’s sausage, all that is left at the bottom of our cooler. The thought of a processed pork product would have turned my stomach a week ago, but in three short days I’ve become a camper. No chance for an epic love affair but at least I’ve found the great outdoors.
 

 

It is five hours to home in Danny’s huge truck. We are easy with each other, taking turns flipping stations on the radio. Country music for him, 80’s easy listening for me. The boys sing along when they know a song, although Tanner seems quieter than normal. Danny’s eyes move to him in the rearview mirror now and then.

“Ok, buddy?” Danny asks.

“Yes.” Tanner sounds like a grown man. He is so formal.

“I took lots of pictures of that fish,” I say turning to him from my front seat. “It was so huge.”

His eyes lift to mine for a moment, then drop. I catch Eli’s grin, gap-toothed and pleased. He blows a frizzy curl from his eye. That fish will carry him, like a tiny boat in the most gentle of waves, until his father hears the story.

Be kind to him. Listen without your fucking phone in your hand. Be so sorry you didn’t come. I close my eyes to seal this wish, and I smile at my love.

Tanner makes a small sound like a bird and vomits in the back seat.

“Ugh,” Danny says softly. “You’re sick?”

“I’m sorry,” Tanner cries through orange crud.

“No worries,” Danny says without irritation. “There’s a gas station, right up the road.”

A block later I hop out and open Tanner’s door.

Eli has his arm around Tanner’s shoulder and is holding his hand. My boy will likely catch Tanner’s bug and miss school, but I am so proud of this gesture, I forgive the freedom it may cost me.
 

 

“I got ‘ya,” Danny says.

“Linda,” Tanner says. He looks at his dad. “I want Linda.”

“You puked, buddy,” Danny says.

“I don’t mind,” I say lifting him out from his seat. “Stay here with Danny, Eli. We’ll be back in a sec.”

Tanner weeps in the filthy bathroom. I crouch, careful not to touch the floor with anything but the bottom of my shoes as I wipe pungent muck from Tanner’s clothes with damp paper towels.

“Good thing it’s warm out,” I say.

Tanner is wringing his hands. I’ve never noticed how nervous he can be.

“It’s not your fault, honey, we all get sick.”

“I know,” he sniffs. “I miss my Mom.”

“Me too,” I say.

I pull him to me. His blonde hair is so much softer than my own six-year-old’s. After three days of no bath, it’s like raw silk. I kiss his temple and he holds me tight. I make sure that he lets go first.

I look into his gigantic eyes. “You ok?’

He nods and almost smiles.

We head back to the truck hand in hand, and I try to skip a little to show how cool I am about this. I won’t cheat with Danny, but I want him to want me anyway.
 

 

Another hour and we pull into his driveway. Helene is already walking toward the car. I wave to her, but…maybe she doesn’t see me. Tanner is pulling at the door handle before the car has stopped. Once it does, the child lock releases and he is across their grand lawn. He flies into his Mother’s arms. The rest of us exit slowly, shaking our limbs from atrophy.

Helene’s face is in Tanner’s neck.

“Hey,” I call to her.

She lifts a hand but not her eyes. She stays in her son’s embrace.

Danny is standing a few feet away from them with his arms crossed.

“What’s up?” he asks her.

I grab my bag out of the back and touch Eli’s head. I pretend there is no tension. I walk to Helene. “It was great.” I touch Tanner’s hair and Helene pulls him away. A slight motion but she is upset.

“You okay?” I ask with my hand still in the air.

She shakes her head.

“Helene?”

She looks at me. “I’m sorry,” she says, “this is just…fucked up. I’m sorry.” She is crying. Helene has been my best friend for five years. These are the first tears I’ve seen from her. She turns with Tanner in her arms and walks quickly into the house.

“Helene,” I call but I know not to follow her. I’m paralyzed in their driveway.
 

 

“Let’s go, Mommy. I want to see Dad.” Eli pulls the back of my shirt. I look at Danny. He shakes his head.

I put my hand on Eli’s shoulder. “Say thank you to Danny.”

“I have to say bye to Tanner,” Eli says, running into the house.

Danny follows him while I stand in the driveway like I’ve been punched.

Eli comes out too quickly. “I can’t find ‘em. They must be in the bathroom,” he says.

“Let’s go,” I say. If not for Eli, I may still be standing there.
 

 

We have not spoken in two weeks. Helene is just gone. I go over every possible reason, always landing on the probable one; somehow she knows.

Is Danny in love with me? Does Helene think I’m in love with him? Am I? How does she know? Did Danny text her from camp? “Your bat-shit friend is making eyes at me. WTF? Face With Gritted Teeth.”

You told me to go, I say to her even though she is not there. I wonder if I will ever see Tanner again. Will Eli? It is not fair to have done this to him, but what did I do? I’ve refrained from asking my son about Tanner. I know they play at school but there have been no requests for playdates since our trip. Has Helene told her boy to stay away from Eli? Is my baby suffering because of me?

She called last week to cancel Sunday Swim. She left a message on our landline. I would have missed it if not for a sudden desire to delete all the telemarketing messages. I should have said I never got it and shown up at her door with an inflatable toy and a happy six-year-old. I should have demanded she talk to me but the idea that she wouldn’t see me, that she might ask me to leave…I couldn’t.

We didn’t do it, I say aloud, to no one. I won’t call her. One day, soon but not today. Today I am still infatuated with her husband and the guilt is sure to show.

I’m sitting on the floor of my cavernous closet. I’m throwing out all the clothes that I would otherwise be handing over to Helene.

I love seeing what she does with it all. She will take scissors to anything. Levis or a Prada t-shirt. She shreds and ties and sometimes sews until it is fabulous all over again. Until it is Helene-ized. My old clothes are her playground. There is not a single item I have given her that I haven’t wished for back once it has been transformed, physically or simply because she has worn it. Any Helene original is something to be coveted but I would never ask. I love seeing her in them. The joy they bring her makes me love her more.

Tomorrow I will give these to Goodwill or The Mary Magdalene Society or I’ll take them downstairs to the bin and throw them in with a satisfying slam of the plastic lid.

I’m holding a Chanel skirt that would certainly make Helene swoon, when Adam comes into our closet and sighs.

“Shirts,” he demands.

I point to his side without looking at him.

He walks past me and pulls out a crisp, plastic covered button-down. He examines the collar.
 

 

I toss the skirt I’m holding onto the pile and reach behind some jeans for a blush colored pair that I haven’t worn since last year at the preschool graduation.

Thinking of the long summer ahead, with no school to break the tedium, Helene and I had each had one marijuana laced Tic-Tac before heading over to the school. We ate chocolate cake with our hands while our boys laughed and the other mothers watched with disapproval.

I’m remembering this moment when Adam asks, “Have you talked to her?”

I drop my head and silent tears fall onto the zipper of the jeans. I hear him take a deep breath, then he’s beside me. He puts his arms around me and I sob into his chest.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers into my hair, and the gesture is so kind and unexpected that I lose control. Tears and snot soak his designer T-shirt, and I have the stupid thought that Helene would love to get her hands on it once he tosses it. Which will be any minute now. Adam doesn’t like a mess.

I cry for too long and he kisses the top of my head. A period on the sentence that is my grief, but he doesn’t let go. I release him and lift my blotchy face to his.

“You look terrible,” he smiles.

I laugh a little.

“She’ll come around. No one could leave you.” He pushes himself to standing and goes back to his shirts. I sit in the warmth of the moment and remember how much I once loved my husband.
 

 

It is 2 p.m. on Monday. In twelve minutes I will walk to the corner where the bus drops my boy. I look at myself in the mirror. I’m not sure if it was Adam’s kindness or just time. Perhaps I’ve given myself parole. I washed my hair this morning and curled it with the hot rollers I’ve been using since middle school. My best jeans are loose on my waist but I ate lunch today without feeling sick.

I give my Ugg boots a decisive kick and put on my booties with the high heel. I want to be me again.

If Helene sees me she will know I’m ok without her. I’m not sure why I want this but the idea fortifies me.

It is seven blocks to the stop where I wait with the other mothers. I smile. I chit chat. I am not yet resuscitated, but I am breathing.

Eli jumps off the bus. I pick him up and hug him hard.

“You’re pretty again,” he says, like he says, I have an itch.

“Thank you, sir.” I kiss his nose and free him.

I hurl his backpack onto my shoulder and take his hand. We stroll home. We are strollers. We meander and dawdle. It drives Adam mad but he is not here. The exquisite joy of walking Eli home from the bus stop is mine alone.

“What did you eat?”

“Grapes.”

“Just grapes?”

“And sausage.”

“The menu said hotdogs.”

“It was sausage.”

“Did you have library?”

“It’s day six, Mommy. Library is day four.”

“Sorry, love. I may never get that straight.”

“I’ll remind you.”

“Thank you, honey.”

Eli swings my arm in an exaggerated motion, and I have to put my free hand on his to stop it.

“It’s fun,” he says and swings again.

“I only have two arms.”

I stop walking to quiet the wild pendulum but as soon as we begin to move he’s at it again.

“It’s really fun,” he laughs and yanks my arm so hard, it hurts.

“Did you play with Tanner today?” I blurt. There’s no harm in asking, I decide after.

He stops the swinging.

“Baby?”

“I don’t play with Tanner.”

I want to cry but unfortunately I am the grown up. That bitch. How could she have done this? Be angry at me for whatever reason, but really? The boys?

“Did his Mommy say not to play with you.”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

Eli nods hard.

“Are you mad at him, honey?”

“No.”

“Is he mad at you?” I told myself I wouldn’t do this but I can’t seem to do anything else. I want him to release the pain, so I prod.

“Yes.”

“Do you know why he’s mad?”

“Yes.”

At least Eli knows why his best friend is gone. I stop and face my son. He looks at a snail on the sidewalk, without interest. Translucent brown eyes lift up to me. He pulls his hand from mine and presses a fist to his eye. His chest puffs and falls.

“Why?” I ask.

“He’s mad that I won’t sleep in the tent,” he sighs.

“From camping? Still?”

“I don’t know, he’s just mad.” Eli grabs my hand again and stomps forward. I have to run a little to keep his pace. I squeeze his fingers so he doesn’t feel me shaking. My mouth waters as I recall Tanner throwing up in the car. I swallow the saliva, but the memory won’t go down.

“Why?” My voice is dry and sounds foreign to me.

Eli shrugs. “He doesn’t like to be alone with his Dad.”

I stop walking.

“Come on.” Eli pulls my arm and trots forward.
 

 

My knees give and I stumble. My heart is pounding so hard it’s as if it’s trying to kill me but Eli’s hand is in mine. We are walking the route that we take everyday. Past the weeping willows, agapanthus, and roses. Past the house with only gravel. My boy is safe, in this moment he is safe, and we are walking home.

Pages: 1 2 3 | Single Page