Free the Puddles


BRIAN’S REACTION TO HER COMMENT about his brother was slow. His shoulders rotated first, head following in a deliberate turn. His stare was frozen on her. Right arm stiffened, raised gradually in a point, then his finger curling to join as a fist until his knuckles went milky white. And just as slowly his first returned to his side as he turned away.

“I’m sorry, Brian, I didn’t mean that,” Allison said.

“Sorry.” It was his turn to interrupt. “Sorry.” His face looked pitiful as he paced in circles, knowing the floor was his. Emotion and temperament can blindside the best of folks, releasing uncontrolled words like an angry lynch mob. His tone rose, breathing fire into his words.

“Want to talk of brothers? How about your oldest one? He’s making more money than all of us put together. He stays in touch with your family just to put them down. He leaves you and Lillian in tears every time he calls.”

“I appreciate you going with me to the counselor,” she offered slightly apologetic as she gestured for him to sit on the couch.
“Dr. Feldman says he credits you for being a strong man.” She completed on the tail of a smile, “But you’re stubborn.”

Brian grinned. “Some call it tenacity.” Stubbornness was a trait he incorrectly associated with strength.


“I take it you’ve a point to make?” as he slumped on the couch.

“Well, the counselor says you’re too stubborn and too proud to seek advice or help.” Quoting the opinions of others, she believed would strengthen the reason he should agree with her.

“I ask for their input but their words don’t make any sense,” Brian said. “I ask for directions in a strange land and they tell me about landmarks I’ve never seen. I ask for verbs, and they give me nouns.”

“He says you ask because you have to know all the answers. Not knowing allows you to remain stuck, to make you look like you’re trying.”

“Sure, I admit I need the reason why when someone gives me an answer they expect me to accept blindly. Folks telling me to trust, yet their own lives are in chaos. You, and I quote the counselor, are afraid of the unknown. That’s the destination we’re heading into, a big unknown. Fear of the unknown kept my mom with my dad.” He dropped his forehead into his open hand. “The unknown had to be better.”

“We’re not like your folks.”

“We’re headed there. We’ve begun to argue, not just discuss. We bicker and we fight. At least we all seem to agree that we don’t communicate.”

Allison inhaled deeply as she sat up straight, not liking to look inside herself. “Fine, you’ve walked into the darkness more than I have. And I don’t see a future with us apart. I admit it’s easier for me to move on when I see something in progress and know the direction I’m going in.” She gazed at her own reflection, wishing it were Queen Grimhilde’s magic mirror in Snow White.

Admitting faults didn’t come easy for Allison, admitting her own faults anyway. She struggled, “I handled relationships that way, making sure I had a backup. I only fought with my sister when I had someone else to play with.” She looked to her feet. “I overlapped boyfriends when I knew one was going sour. I just couldn’t be alone. Even when we started dating, I didn’t get clear of my last boyfriend until I knew I had a chance with you. Todd and I were on the way out but you didn’t know a thing about it.”

He chewed on this factor before tossing, “So, go date.”

She swiveled as if he’d slapped her. Early in their relationship, his never acting jealous hurt her ego. He encouraged her to remain friends with her old boyfriends, which her mother said wasn’t normal. And to be comfortable with his lady friends was considered foolish by her sister and mother. Now once again, Allison began to replay the old tapes, the tape of her believing that he really didn’t care.

“I couldn’t date. I won’t,” she said defiantly. “I won’t give up. This marriage is going to work. I’m committed to you even if you aren’t committed to me, even if you want to date around.” The jab was unnecessary.

“Allison, I don’t want anyone else. Right now, I don’t even want me. I’m afraid, afraid I’ll taint anyone I’m around. Afraid I’ll hurt them.”

“Like this doesn’t hurt?” She prepared to lay a guilt trip on him. “I’d think you’d at least want to stay together for Benny.”

“Benny? Stay together for Benny? Like my mom did for me, right?” His laugh was vindictive. “Look how well it helped me! See how well adjusted I am?” He waved his arms. “Hell, Allison, Benny’s only four years old and he knows what’s going on.”

“How could he?”

“Just as I did. I remember the vibes, the energy, the anger between my folks. Their silence was as loud as their yelling. Same with my father and brother even if I couldn’t put it into words back then. Once Benjamin was gone, I knew something was wrong with my folks being together even if I didn’t know the words for affair or separation or divorce. By six, I definitely knew I wanted something different, something to make my mom happy even though I didn’t know what the hell was going on.”

This was the reason Brian communicated so well with little children. He remembered what he felt and how he saw things at their age. So what if they were just kids? They were still people, little people with emotions, feelings, and brains.

“But if Benny sees us together, how could you…”

“Why lie to him? Why try to make Benny think all is well with me lying there in bed, lying in more ways than one because we’re not really together in there.”

“But I want to be together, to make love.”

“But I don’t. I mean, it’s not you.” He knew she had trouble believing this fact but he was getting to the point where he was tired of her lack of self-worth, especially as his was eroding. “It’s not you. I just don’t feel attractive. I can’t even get myself to do something about the fact that I’m starting to disgust myself.” He poked at his belt line.

“I think you’re being too harsh on yourself. Besides, I love you!”

His face came within inches of hers. “And I love you, but it isn’t enough.”

She longed for his touch. “If you’d just…”

He straightened up. Being needy repulsed him. Whether true or false, it was his belief and his truth. “Just try making love and it’ll all be okay? That’s what an animal does. It might be okay for you but it’s too hypocritical for me.”

“But… ”

“But right now, I just don’t feel sexy, so making love or screwing or even making out isn’t even on my mind. I don’t like being with me, so I figure no one else would want to either. And when you say you do, it makes me wonder what’s wrong with you.”

He stretched his arms, knowing they’d had this conversation before. “Darlin’, what little I am and the little I’ve done are due to my faking it. From the time I was picked on by the big kids until I got a lucky punch on Ray Wazzack.” He had a tendency to fall into telling stories and caught himself. “It’s just that I learned to fake being tough and faked being tough ever since, until I believed it.”

“So fake it now,” she pushed.

“It’s gotten to the point…to a point that I can’t tell when I’m faking it anymore. I’m so tired of it all. Lately I’m wondering if that’s all I’ve been doing my entire life, faking it. I don’t really trust myself anymore, can’t hear my intuition, don’t trust my behavior or my instincts. Some days, I just feel plain dumb.”

“I know the feeling,” she offered, wanting to understand. “When we bought the new computer, I couldn’t even fake it. I felt so stupid.”

“You’re not stupid.”

Her eyes glistened. “My dad used to call me stupid and my brother still does.”

His voice was soft to hide the anger he felt for any parent who would act so foolishly. “Your dad didn’t mean it.”

“Then he shouldn’t have said it,” as she wiped at fresh tears.

“I know. To do that was stupid of him. As for your brother, he’s an insecure asshole.” He rolled his tongue against his lower lip before he spoke. “Folks show love in weird ways, like me cutting you free. It’s just because I love you, you and Benny.”

She didn’t see it that way.

He tried to console her. “I don’t want to take you down. I think I’ll make it, but I don’t know. And it’s not fair to ask you to wait, especially when there’s a damn good chance I’ll fail. I don’t want that for you, or Benny.”

“What about me? I shouldn’t even be a parent.”

He felt their son so blessed to have her as his mother. He cherished watching them together, feeling it so unfair that she and his mom had never met. His reply was brief. “Why?”

“I’m afraid to have another child,” she looked away.

Having another child was the furthest thing from his mind. “But, you love kids. Love those cards by Anne Geddes. You love babies.”

“I love chocolate and Kit-Kats, too, but they’re no good for me.” Her face wrinkled as she forced a smile.

“Couldn’t tell it by me,” he eyed her in a flirtatious manner.

“I’m serious.” She stomped her foot, an action to drive points home that only resulted in his chuckles. “Benny listens to you more than me even though I’m around him the most. You know how to play with him, and I only imitate you.” She felt fear in her throat. “I’m afraid he’ll turn out like me.”

“I pray he does.”

The words shattered her. “Then why don’t you want me?”

A long pause ensued as he looked at the tall plaster lamp with the vine pattern, cheap attempts to make a sterile room feel homey. They should’ve hired Allison to decorate, he thought. He broke the silence in his guise of humor. “It’s not a case of not wanting you. I just feel like your checkbook, over-extended.”

He sighed as he sat on the edge of the table. “It’s me and my environment. I mean I didn’t need some Dr. Phil or some bald bouncer cop-turned-counselor telling me that I’m not responsible for Benjamin leaving or Mom dying.” He tossed his head back. “The first blunder goes to my dad and the second one to that stupid surgeon. God, I wish she’d gotten a second opinion.”

She patted his hand.

“I just don’t know how to be a parent or a husband and barely know the way to be a businessman.” His eyes darted as if telling a secret. “I was lucky in the people I hired. Lucky with you and then we had Mary Jean to figure out the books.”

Her tears preceded his words.

“I really want to know the right way.” He sucked on his lip. “I pray for miracles, just a small tip-off or partial realization. Even to find out I’m wrong would be a relief. Maybe then I’d know the opposite thing to do.”

“You’re such a good man with such a loving heart. I see that. Everyone does.” She grinned mischievously. “Even my mother.”

He blinked back the moisture welling in his own eyes. “I know I’m a good guy.” He took his hand back. “I’m a good guy who doesn’t know the answers.”

She gingerly reached for his hand again. “Are you worried what you’ll look like?”

“Yeah some, I used to deny it, but Mister Counselor won that round. He helped me see that aspect.” Brian tilted his head in a futile effort to release the tightness in his neck. “I’m afraid I’ll look weak, unskilled, or dumb. Then folks would find out I’ve been faking it even more than I was aware of. Then, they’ll lose trust in me.”

“So,” she prodded, “why leave me and Benny?”

“Because I know what it feels like to be left and alone. And if I can’t prevent it, I don’t want to prolong that pain for both of you. It’s the difference between using a butter knife or a scalpel to remove a poisoned limb. Waiting makes it worse. I could even keep faking it, until you woke up one day and found me out.”

“I’d never leave.”

“No, because of Benny and you’ve been taught what’s normal. What a wife’s supposed to do and your dogged determination to get what you want at all costs.”


“You and Benny would find it even harder down the road to leave. You’d think like my mom and so many other mothers.” He raised a defiant fist. “Gotta stay together for the kid. Gotta stay together because of all the time invested.”

She saw she was losing the battle.

“Time is all we have, Allison. And your time would be wasted when you awoke one day to find out I wasn’t giving you all you wanted, all you deserved. You’d see all the opportunities you’d missed. Some pain now would be far worse later.” He fiddled with his wedding ring.

“I look into the future, and I can’t see being without you,” she said.

“I’m looking and all I see is the reason it isn’t working.”

Anger altered her approach. “So, you just want to give up? What about Benny? Is that what you want to teach your son?”

Brian’s eyes popped. “Good. That’s very good. My son. Like garage sales and vacation bargains, you know how to get the most even in the guilt trips you lay!” He stepped away to shift to gentler gears.

“I want to teach Benny when to quit and try another path rather than uselessly banging his little head against the wall. Teach him if he plants corn, not to expect alfalfa.”

“Please. Haven’t you learned anything in counseling?” she baited.

His hands went to his head, dragging through his hair. He forced his clenched jaw wide as his palms pulled the skin taut across his temples. “I know my limits. I never did before.”

“So teach him to be a quitter,” she said through her tears.

Brian spun around as if someone was holding his child hostage. “Quit laying it on Benny! What do you really want, Allison? Do you want to be a smart quitter or a dumb loser? I want to teach him not to remain stuck. You’d have us all stand on the ship’s shifting deck in a sing-along so we could sink as a family rather than leaving me and climbing into the damn lifeboat with Benny to save you both.”

She sought to calm the torrid sea. “Want to get some coffee and talk?”

“I’ve had enough, of both. Besides, I have to check on the jobs.” He shook his head, revealing the truth. “I just need to be alone for a while, to chill.” He read her mind. “Not to get away from you, just to be alone. Don’t take it so personally for once. I’ll see you later at the house. Enough struggle.”

The air-release mechanism on the door sighed. “Clever,” mouthed Brian. “Can’t slam the door.” It didn’t matter in this instance. Anger had drained away his energy. To slam anything else would be too much of an effort.

Allison sought clarity about the difference between his wanting time alone versus his not wanting her around. She sank back into the couch, her long blonde hair engulfing the pillow as she crushed it to her chest, doubling over and crying. It took no effort.

Read Chapter 2 of Free the Puddles