He sat quietly in his chair, desperately holding back his emotions as they threatened to boil over. How could he answer the question in a way that would make her understand? What could he possibly say that would quell the coming storm?
The question was so simple, and yet it wasn’t. He could see into its very depths, could pick apart the intricacies that comprised it.
“What is wrong with you?”
Ever since this morning, he had been withdrawn. He had seen the end of the day before it had even begun and was helpless to do anything about it. It was as if an invisible vice had closed the passageway between his thoughts and his mouth, allowing only the words from his heart; the stupid, angry words of his heart, to come forth.
And so they would.
And, so they had.
But it all began sometime before that. What was wrong with him, indeed? It was something that he felt he didn’t have to explain. It was something that she should know without him uttering the first two syllables.
It was something that he had struggled with for years; finding himself. At first they were just dreams. Even in the beginning, it was hard to find something that he liked to do. For the first few months, he struggled with the move to her city; away from his family and friends for the first time in his life.
Time is the great divider, and before long he was able to stand on her side of a chasm which had divided his current and former lives.
He hated the kind of work that he was only ever able to find. It was hard work; backbreaking work. And indeed, over the years, he’d had several injuries on the job. In one instance, he suffered a severe injury to his right ankle and was bedridden during the recovery. Coincidentally, and most unfortunately, this was also during his wife’s maternity leave with one of his daughters.
Another, while not technically ON the job, had been a lower back injury. Okay, he wasn’t being paid at all for his work that day, other than in good feelings and karma, but he had found himself helping an industrious family move into their new home. Now, by industrious, I mean to say that they moved very quickly in everything that they did, and not always safely. As such, while they were trying to pull the household’s entire collection of furniture from the moving truck, in an hour no less, he threw out one of the lower vertebrae in his back.
To this day, the pain comes in both parts of his body when the weather changes, as neither have ever received the medical care or rehabilitation that they had probably needed.
There were only two things he was ever good at, but neither seemed like they were in reach; gaming, and writing. When he wasn’t conquering the newest game on the consoles he owned, he was dreaming of the stories he could write that weren’t already being told.
Finally, the opportunity came and he was able to pursue one of the two in the form of Game Software development. He left his (then) job, with its seventy mile commute, and found something closer to home so that he could attend to his studies.
The work he found was grueling, but nothing harder than what he was used to. During the day, he built the interiors for railroad signal houses, while at night he studied such subjects as Algebra and C++ design.
When a boon came in the form of a layoff, he eventually switched studies to nights, where he could attend his online courses without the worry of being interrupted by his family life.
And so it would be for the next four years.
His studies ended during another time of struggle in their life; something that would change the nature of their relationship forever. During the time that this conflict took place, they stood steadfast at one another’s side, as any loving couple would, but when it ended, each were worn and broken in their own way, as was the connection between them.
Both agreed that they couldn’t pursue a future away from her family. While he’d left his friends and family behind years ago, hers had become hugely important to them both.
And thus a dream would flounder, stranded like a fish caught upon the sands as the tides lowered, to slowly bake beneath the sun.
He began to look for work once more and found something that would allow him to keep his years old schedule. Not only this, but with the tremendous amount of debt now on their shoulders, it would be easier for them if he worked nights while watching the children during the day; to cut down on childcare costs.
Time would pass, as it always does, until he would rediscover a passion as old as his love for games in the form of a manuscript he had once written for a class project.
It lay before him, forgotten, beckoning for him to once again open its pages and become a part of its story; to tell new parts that had yet to be written.
So it was to be. A flame was rekindled in his heart. Over the next three months, he transformed the thirty-three page manuscript into a two hundred and forty-eight page book.
Because funds were so tight, he opted to edit, self-publish and promote his work himself, which was a bigger undertaking than he ever thought possible.
But he wouldn’t be daunted. He had found himself in his writing, more than he ever had during the years he spent learning game design, and he’d flung himself into it with all his heart. He created a Facebook fan page, as well as redesigned his twitter account to better reach his intended audience. He also created a Pinterest account to display the covers of his work!
It wouldn’t be long before he was well into writing his second book.
But things weren’t going to be as easy this time around. For one, the job he had taken, which was only supposed to be part-time, began giving him more and more hours. Writing slowed to a crawl for weeks on end and he was left to think of other ways to work on his craft.
He began writing a blog. This seemed like the logical course of action, and while all the promoters of writing say that this is a great way to get your name out there, he just didn’t have it in him to ramble on about this and that all the time. He just wasn’t that kind of person. So what to do with it then?
Ah-ha! Use it to give away free samples of his writing; as an outlet to allow readers the opportunity to discover if his work is right for them.
Before long, he was back to his normal part-time hours, and in just a little over twice the length of time it took him to write the first book; the second was finished.
It was a good place for him. He knew that what he was doing was the right thing for him. But, was it right for his family?
“Are you going to answer me, or just sit there?”
He came back from his thoughts with a start. He had to answer her, or they would be arguing for the next few hours, or days, depending on the level of severity that it got to.
“You act like you’re mad at me,” she prompted.
“I’m not mad at you,” he finally huffed. “I’m just resigned.”
“What do you mean, resigned?”
This had started early this morning, when he had been looking at his work schedule. The next two weeks were on and each had been scheduled with full time hours, something that he wasn’t happy about. He didn’t want to work forty hours each week. This would only give him two days to work on his current book, at which rate it wouldn’t be done for years, rather than months.
Angry, he opened up a job search and it was then that she came downstairs and saw what he was doing.
“Looking for a job,” she had asked.
“Yeah, I need to find something else. I’m sick of this place jerking me around.”
They searched through pages of available jobs, only coming up with three that possibly matched his schedule.
“So what, just because they gave you forty hours? Did you at least get your days off together?”
It was a viable question. His days off, as of late, had been scattered across the week.
“Well yeah, but…”
He was getting mad at where her questions were leading this conversation. He knew that they needed the money, but this was also why he was writing as well. He believed that his passion would translate through his efforts and that he could get a large enough fanbase to make a career out of it. But, he needed time to make it happen.
He wasn’t getting any younger either. At thirty-five, and with nothing to show for it, if he didn’t make a career choice soon, he was doomed to doing work that made him less than happy.
“But what? We could really use the money, you know?”
Of course he knew that. It was like a constant cloud over their heads. It was the beast that had stolen from them their honeymoon. It was the creature that didn’t allow them to go beyond the boundaries of groceries, gas and bills and their need for money was the monster that stole from them every vacation her sibling’s families enjoyed several times each year. How could he not know they needed the money?
“It’s nothing, just forget it.”
And so it had been for most of the morning. She had gone to work while he stayed home, attending to the children’s needs and piddling around on his social networks. All the while, beneath the shadow of their constant oppressor.
He was angry. At life in general, but at her and at himself as well. He was angry that nothing seemed to go right for them. It upset him that she couldn’t see the bigger picture that he was trying to paint for their family, and he hated himself because he couldn’t describe in words what his fingers could do in writing.
“I’m not mad at you, dammit. I just feel like the only thing you’re concerned about here is the fucking money! Well if that’s it, then, fine! I give up! I fucking quit; there, you happy? I’ll go to work at this goddamn job that I hate, full-time, and you’ll fucking be rolling in it. Is that what you fucking want?!”
Well that escalated quickly. Not only that, it was not what he’d meant to say, either. He had spent the last twenty minutes formulating a response, only to have it trip up on that breaker between his brain and his mouth, and this is what had come out. Just great.
“Do you honestly think that’s what I want,” she retorted, hurt. “How do you think I feel, anyways, knowing that your family is nothing but second rate to you? Every time we want to go do something, you don’t!”
“Bu-what? Second rate? That doesn’t even make sense. When was the last time you wanted to go do something? For that matter, what the hell are you even talking about” he sputtered angrily.
She did have him to some degree, but he felt that in his defense; most of the times she wanted to go out as a family were right around his bedtime. There wasn’t much that their schedule allowed them to do as a family, with him rarely having weekends off, and when they did share a day together the event conflicted with his sleep.
Which, come to think of it, was another thing that bothered him. It was something that she simply couldn’t see. On his workdays, he rarely ever got more than four hours of sleep. On some days, like today (in which he had to drive his children up to their grandparents), he would be lucky to get three. Going full time meant that he would be doing this up to a possible seven days in a row before having a day off, the latter of which would be recuperation and leaving little time for anything else.
He sighed angrily.
“Whatever. I don’t want to do this with you. This is why I didn’t want to talk about it. I’ll just go full time, you’ll get your money and you get to be happy.”
“It’s not even about that! All I want to do is pay the fucking bills!”
“Fine!! You’ll be able to do that too!”
Nothing more was said between them as each shed their own hot, bitter tears and she soon left for work.
Later, she texted him, hurt.
“What you said, it made me feel like you think I’m a gold-digger. All I want is to be able to pay the bills. I shouldn’t be put down for that! If I wasn’t proud of you, would I have bragged you up to my coworkers, family and friends?”
She was right, of course, and he was sorry. But he no longer knew how to say it. Everything he had done for the last few years had been for their family’s future. From going to school, to writing his books, and he knew that he would have to work harder with the latter to make it into a success. It wasn’t going to be easy for them. Nor would it be an instant cure to their problems, but it was the only thing he knew how to do. It was the only thing he loved to do that didn’t require them to abandon their roots. He knew that if he worked full time, he would never fulfill the potential that he had, literally, at his fingertips.
He would return to the forty (plus) hour grind and when he did have time off, he would spend it relaxing for the next heave-ho.
He sighed miserably and shook his head. He was a writer, he knew it, but he felt like a failure. After a decade, he had given nothing to his wife that he had promised. There was no better life. There was no financial security. There was only this…this living beneath a cloud that at any given time during the week would rain; and when it did, a utility would be shut off, or there wouldn’t be enough groceries in the pantry, or the threat of foreclosure would knock at their door.
How could he tell her he was sorry, when he had taken away her life in exchange for this?