This is Chapter 3 for my attempt at National Novel Writing Month. This chapter is shorter, as will the next one. Both of them will explore similar themes within the divorce narrative. Feel free to leave a comment below.
Collin sat on the reclining end of the couch in Raf’s living room watching a UFC fight. It was the only couch that remained. Earlier in the day Collin rearranged the living room. He threw out an old couch that one of Raf’s previous boarders had left him.
“Ah, man. You got rid of the bouncy couch?” Raf said mildly disappointed. He and the hippie boarder dated for a short time. The couch held some sentimental value.
“Yes, it was disgusting. Plus, it cluttered the living room.” Collin responded.
“Ok.” Raf basically kept out of Collin’s way while he went about cleaning and organizing the house from top to bottom. Collin was on a mission. Raf was much more blasé about cleaning and decorating his house. His family were farmers, and he didn’t feel that a home needed to be antiseptic. In fact, a little bit of dirt and bacteria was probably better for improving the immune system of him and his children in the long run.
Additionally, Raf was a writer and possessed an artistic spirit. He cultivated creativity in himself and his children. If things got messy along the way, that’s fine—that’s the nature of play. For example, he kept a basket of sharpies near the dining room table in the kitchen. It was a rectangular diner-style table with a speckled white surface. Raf, his children, and his house guests all liked to sketch and doodle on the table, and it became a palimpsest of all of Raf’s post-divorce social gatherings.
Then while Collin was cleaning the kitchen in an overzealous manner, he sprayed a kitchen cleaner with bleach on the table to scrub it. The impromptu mural was washed-out.
“Dad, what happened to the table?” Quentin asked when he returned from his mother’s.
“Collin cleaned it.” In fact, Collin cleaned and organized the entire house while they were one weekend. When they came back, most of their dad’s stuff was still there, but it had been rearranged and organized. Plus, there was Collin’s stuff now. In their bedroom that he took over, there was an Ikea bunkbed for his boys, a flat screen tv, and most surprisingly a PS3. Even though the boys would be sleeping on twin mattresses on the floor downstairs—which they kind of preferred because they always felt that their room was haunted—there was a new video game system for them to play, so Collin moving in was so far win-win for them.
Collin didn’t know why he was watching the UFC fight. Raf had cable and watching two men brutalized each other seemed like an acceptable form of entertainment in Collin’s current disheartened state.
He had just called and said goodnight to his boys and had an off-putting epiphany: he realized that he could no longer take for granted that he would be sleeping under the same roof as his boys.
It was bad enough that he and Lyla were now on different paths of life now, but now the boys would be intermittently be on his. This didn’t seem fair to Collin. He hadn’t wanted the relationship to end. He tried to everything he could do to save it. He had respected Lyla’s decision when she finally ended things. Now he would only see his sons when they visited him. He was starting to slip into a dark place when he received a phone call.
It was his friend Tatiana. She was now back from her summer break.
After Collin had cleaned and organized Raf’s house, he turned his attention to the backyard. It was overgrown on both sides where the neighbors’ fences bordered his property. There were plants that had taken root and were now were becoming small trees.
Raf hadn’t bothered trimming back the weeds along the fence or digging out the root systems of a bush that would grow back every time he chopped it down. He simply mowed an area where the boys could run around, and he could sit and read.
At the end of one weekend, when Lyla had picked up the boys from Raf’s place, and Collin had invited her inside to see where the boys would be sleeping. He was especially bothered by this interaction.
“Are you happy?” Collin asked Lyla.
“I’m getting there.” Lyla responded. She smiled.
Lyla’s response filled him with rage. How did she get to be happy when everyday he was so miserable? After she and boys left, Collin went outside and started cutting down all of the stupid overgrown weeds that he could.
Collin started by using pruning shears to cut the stupid thick stems. When those stupid plants were cut from the stupid chain-link fence that bordered the left side of the stupid yard, he retrieved a hacksaw to cut through the stupid small trees that had popped up along the stupid wooden fence on the right side of Raf’s stupid yard. Eventually, Collin sawed through all of these stupid trees, and cut them into smaller stupid stupid segments that he piled at the back of the stupid yard.
Collin was sweating by this point from the exertion. However, he was still angry, so he set his sights on a more difficult opponent.
In Raf’s yard, there was the gnarled trunk and root system of a shrub. Raf’s wife had cut down the shrub but had never managed to dig out its root system, which was a sprawling network of fibrous roots that was like an underground hydra. Raf had tried to dig out the roots with a shovel, but he lost interest in the task. Despite being cut down several years ago, the prolific plant base was starting to shoot up new branches.
Collin retrieved a shovel and axe from the garage to take down the resilient plant creature. He first dug out areas around the plant’s roots and tried to chop them with an axe. However, the roots were too springy, and the axe would simple bounce off. After several failed axe swings, he became frustrated and smoked a cigarette—which he was trying to quit.
Ah! Then he had an idea and went inside.
Raf was sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea and reading a sci-fi novel. Tobias was sitting there too. He was grounded from video games for the week because of a behavioral issue at the public pool over the weekend, so he mindlessly sketched on the faded kitchen table. Suddenly, Collin dashed in the house, went upstairs, came down with a case, grabbed the long extension cord, and headed outside. This seemed much more interesting to Tobias than watching his father read, so Tobias followed Collin outside.
Collin plugged in the extension cord to an outlet and started unraveling it. He then opened the case he carried from his room upstairs. It was his Sawzall. Sweet, Tobias thought.
Tobias in his excitement grabbed an axe and wanted to take some swings at the shrub Collins was trying to remove. He stepped in the dirt—and, by the way, he wasn’t wearing any shoes—knocking the dirt into the hole that Collin had dug. Then he swung wildly, with his blows bouncing off the shrub like he had struck a car tire. This shocked and irritated Collin.
“Are you trying to cut off your foot?” Collin snapped. “Put that fucking axe down.” Tobias, not used to the strange angry man that was now living with his father, complied sheepishly.
Collin immediately regretted the outburst. It wasn’t Tobias’ fault that Collin was angry. Collin took a breath and then added, “If you want to help, go inside, and put some shoes on,” which Tobias did—but he didn’t tie them.
Collin gave Tobias the shovel and had him use his weight to lift the shrub into different position. This provided Collin with more room to maneuver the reciprocating blade of the Sawzall into better angles to cut at the roots. After cutting several of the major roots, Collin and Tobias were able to pry the shrub out of the ground.
By this time, Raf wandered outside to survey Collin’s yard activity. There was a gaping hole where shrub once resided. Next to the hole was the shrub trunk. It looked like a dirty paralyzed octopoda.
“Dad, can we burn this tonight in the firepit?” Tobias asked.
“No,” Raf answered, “I think it will need to dry out for a while. Put it next to the garage.” He then turned to Collin who was sweaty and covered in plant stains and dirt. “Thanks for taking care of all the yard work, man.”
“Thanks for letting me take care of all your yard work.” Collin responded.
“You feel better?” Raf inquired.
Collin rubs his blistered palm. Yeah, for now he did.
Collin took the call with Tatiana. “Hey, pal!” she greeted. His mood lifted hearing the sound of her voice.
“Hey, Ana.” Collin replied. (Only her friends called her Ana.) “How was your summer?”
“Can’t complain.” She paused. “Better than yours.”
Collin exhaled. “What can I say?”
“I read your Facebook post. I am so sorry.” Collin had posted on Facebook a couple weeks back that he and Lyla were separating. “I wanted to reach out to you, but I thought it would be better to talk with you when I got back. How you doing?”
“I moved out of the place with Lyla. I’m living with Raf now. I’ll cover my half of the expenses for the rest of the year.”
“That’s really generous of you to help her out like that. And, you’re living in Wanetta with Raf? That’s great, we’ll be working and living in the same city. We’re going to have so much fun!” Ana had just completed earned her master’s degree from WSU. She started in a graduate cohort the year after Collin and Raf’s. Now she would be working as a freshman writing instructor in the English department, like Collin and Raf.
During her first semester in the graduate program, Collin had introduced himself to Ana. He was trying to be friendly and helpful to all the grads. Why is this guy being so friendly and helpful, Ana wondered? Ana was a curvy and confident woman in her twenties, and men were usually nice to her for one reason.
Collin later explained to her, as she slowly let her guard down around him, he had such a tough time his first semester that he would do whatever he could to make things bearable for the new crop of grad students during their first semester.
Collin stayed true to his word that first semester. Ana talked to him about her problems juggling the workload of the semester, about issues she was having with some of the pricklier professors, about her problems with her family, and about the distance that was growing between her and her boyfriend in another part of the state. He always was available to listen, and even if he didn’t have an answer for her problems (which usually he did), he took the time to listen. This had a huge impact on Ana (which Collin didn’t realize), so when she graduated during the previous spring semester, she asked Collin to hood her. Now she was reaching out to Collin in his time of desperation.
Ana and Collin talked for about 20 minutes. By the end of the conversation, Collin was feeling better than he had going into the phone call. Maybe being recently single wasn’t going be that bad—now that there was the possibility to pursue other woman, like Ana.
Collin had the last of his stuff loaded in his car. He was waiting at his soon-to-be-former home. With this last trip, he would be moved in at Raf’s place in Wanetta. He was waiting for Lyla and the boys to return from their trip. They had agreed that he could take the boys out for lunch and spend some time together before departing for Wanetta.
Collin was filled with a combination of sadness and nervousness at seeing Lyla again. It had been months since they had been together.
Collin was in the downstairs bathroom brushing teeth after just smoking a cigarette when he heard Lyla’s blue Saturn pull in the driveway. Car doors open and closed exuberantly, and two boys rushed into the homes. Collin rinsed out his mouth and stepped out to see his two sons, Zak and Ryk. They were tanned from being outside and must have just gotten a fresh set of haircuts. Zak had a fauxhawk. He was starting 6th grade and was becoming more conscious of trends amongst teenagers. Ryk’s hair had been cut quite short. His hair was naturally curly, so his shortened hair looked like puppy hair. Collin hugged and kissed his sons on the head.
“I missed you two turkeys.” He said. “Did you have a good summer?”
Zak began to tell Collin about their grandpa’s dog scared Lyla’s black and white tuxedo cat. Then Ryk jumped in and ruined the ending. “Yeah, and Wallace was frightened, and his tail puffed up like a cattail.”
“Ryk, you butt!” Zak blurted, “I was telling Dad the story!”
“That’s ok.” Collin said trying to diffuse the situation. “You two hungry?”
“Yes,” Zak quickly countered. “Mom wouldn’t let us stop for food. We only could snack on apples and cereal.”
“Where would you like to go to eat then?” Collin asked.
“I don’t care.” Zak said. “Just not Subway. I hate Subway.”
“Oh, why is that?” Collin inquired.
“I hate a Subway sandwich because we ate there last week, and mom took us swimming, and the sandwich made me throw up.”
“I want to go to Culver’s,” Ryk blurted.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” Zak confirmed.
Just then Lyla walked into the house with two cat carriers. Her hair was styled differently. She had a pair of sunglasses in her hair. She was wearing a tank top with a pair of cut off jean shorts. Collin’s heart sunk.
“Hey.” She said trepidatiously.
“Hey.” Collin responded. He could feel the waves of emotions welling up inside him, so he used the boys to distract himself from his sadness. “I’m going to take the boys to Culver’s and the park.”
“Ok.” Lyla responded. “I’m going to unload the car and take a shower.”
Collin ushered his boys out of the house. On the way out, he passed close enough to Lyla to smell her body lotion.
At the Culver’s the drive thru, Zak ordered a cheeseburger, and Ryk ordered a chicken tender meal. However, Ryk was more concerned if he would be able to order one of the ice cream mixers. He wanted an Oreo mixer. That was fine, his dad informed him. The teenager working at the drive thru window gave Collin a number and told him to pull ahead, and they would bring him his order.
Having his two boys with him made Collin feel good. Still, now was as good a time as any to have a tough conversation with them.
“You boys have fun this summer?” He asked.
“Yeah,” Zak answered, “we did a lot up north with mom and Grandpa George.” (That was Lyla’s father.)
“How about you, Ryk?” Collin inquired.
“Yep. We had ice cream every night. One time I even put gummy worms in my chocolate ice cream.” Ryk enthusiastically recalled this detail.
“Oh, really?” Collin responded. “That’s awesome.” He paused and took a deep breath. “Your mom told you two that her and I aren’t staying together?” The mood in the car immediately fell.
“Yeah.” Zak somberly answered.
Collin became emotional. “Listen. I’ll be living in Wanetta with Raf, you remember him, right?” The boys nodded. “I have the room all set up for you two. You’ll come visit me on the weekends. Also, during the week, I’ll come stay with Grandma Mai, and you will two will come over. I’ll help you with your homework and take you to school the next day. It’ll be different at first, but you’ll get used to it.”
Collin thought about when his parents got divorced and how the rawness of his parents’ emotions as the fought leading up to it and their hostility afterwards made him uncomfortable. Things eventually normalized though.
“Listen, boys…” Collin added. “I tried to make things work between your mom and me. I really tried. I never wanted this—” Tears were running down Collin’s face, but he stopped himself from going into too much details for the sake of his sons. “Things will be different. Some things will sad at first, but some things will good. The one thing, though, that will not change is that I love two, and I will do everything that I can to spend time with you both.” Collin sobbed, took a breath, and looked at Zak. “You know that, right?”
“Yeah, Dad.” Zak answered quietly. He was crying a little too.
Collin turned to face Ryk who was sitting in the back of the Matrix in his booster seat. “Ryk, you know that I love you, right?”
“Yeah.” Ryk answered. He was quiet as well.
The three of them sat quietly in the car until a teenage girl brought them their to-go order in two brown bags and a drink carrier.
After eating lunch and playing at the park, it was time for Collin to bring his boys home and face Lyla. He pulled into the driveway, and the boys immediately rushed into the garage to retrieve their scooters so that they race to see their friends in the neighborhood.
Collin entered the house. Lyla was sitting on the couch going through the mail that he had stacked and organized for her. She was looking at her fall schedule for the CNA program that she was trying to complete at the local private university.
“Hey.” Collin said as he entered. He stood in the door.
“Hey.” Lyla responded. She put down the schedule.
“Can we talk?” Collin asked.
“Sure.” Lyla responded. Collin sat on a loveseat perpendicular to the couch Lyla sat on.
After a long pause, Collin said, “I missed you.”
Lyla shook her head, “Please, let’s not talk about this anymore.”
Collin became livid. “Why? Just because you stopped loving me doesn’t mean my feelings just stopped. I spent 10 years of my life trying to make this work. For what?”
Lyla put her face in her hands. “Do you know how hard this has been for me?” She asked. “Do you know what the past month has been like for me?”
Collin impassionedly responded, “Well, at least you knew what was coming. At least you had the boys. This fucking blindsided me. And I had to deal with this all by fucking myself.” This information made Lyla cry.
Collin moved to sit next to Lyla. He put his arm around her. He moved his hands away from her face. He looked at her into her wet eyes. He kissed her salty lips. She didn’t resist. “I still love you.” He said. “Please don’t do this.”
Lyla grabbed him by his shoulders and firmly said, “No.” Then she paused. “I’ve made my decision.” Another pause. “I think you should go.”
The anger in Collin left him and was quickly filled by the pain of rejection. He stood up from the couch where they sat and walked robotically to the door. Without turning around, he said, “Would it be ok if I picked the boys up this weekend to come stay with me?”
“Yeah.” Lyla quietly affirmed.
“Thank you.” Collin responded. Then he walked out of the door and drove to spend the first night of his life on his own at Raf’s house in Wanetta, MN.