The Burdens of Love
Some people prop themselves on a moral high ground, passing judgment until the Lord elects to contradict them. Other people, well... they do what they gotta do.
"Goddamn it, Gary," I said as I saw the news flash. I said it softly, silently even, to myself like a mother at her wit's end. Except I'm not his mother, I'm his wife. I sometimes wonder if there's a difference; sometimes I wonder if there should be.
I've been sitting here on the couch watching TV for an hour now, waiting for the six o'clock news. I always watch the news, but a few minutes ago they came on and said they're going to have a story about a bank robbery that happened really close to where we live, only about a mile or two to the southeast, depending on how it is you go, from where I'm sitting right now. There's going to be this story, but all they've done so far is describe this guy as being tall, six-one or six-two, thick, collar-length blonde hair and a mustache, late twenties, early thirties. Nothing real particular, your typical northern Michigan weekend bank robber type. I've always had a weakness for that kind of guy: a little bit of trouble, nothing too dangerous, just enough to keep things interesting. I guess it's not so surprising then that Gary and I have been together for so long. He's exactly like that in the looks department. It's close to three years now, married almost half that -- sixteen months. But now I wonder what's going to happen to us.
We've been through a lot, Gary and me. Not all of it so good you'd tell your friends and family about it, but we've had good times and we've never done anything to hurt anyone else. Not on purpose anyway. At any rate, you can't even call it real bank robbery. Just one drive through, two counter spots, and an ATM. Small time even as bank branches go. Whoever did it had an easy time of it. But robbing banks is big time, no matter how small the bank, how small the chunk of change you get. And you almost always get caught.
After the news we're supposed to go out to eat and then to the Fireplace Inn for a few drinks. They have a great country band out there on the weekends. We're celebrating. Gary helped my brother with a sheet rock job and we finally have a little bit of spending money. Things have been pretty tight since the money from the house ran out. I was beginning to think we were going to have another fire, and I could tell that Gary was thinking the same thing, saving all the extra papers from the Journal route that he runs Sunday mornings and all. That may sound kind of strange, but it's happened before. We lost everything we owned that wasn't with us in the car. I have to admit that wasn't much, but even the little things add up when you have to start from scratch. It's not like we doused the house in gas and lit a match or anything.
What we did was, we started stacking up old newspapers in front of the furnace, and we let the lint build up in the dryer. Little things that add up, you might say. That was when we were living in Saginaw, a couple of months after we were married. Gary had lost his job working the oil rigs and things were looking kind of bleak. I was really sad when he lost that job. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't because of the money, although it was pretty rough being without it all of a sudden like that. I was sad for romantic reasons. We had our wedding ceremony in a clearing in the middle of a cornfield beside an operational rig. We had wanted to have it up on a platform tower, but we couldn't get the preacher -- Deaconess, really; Sister LaTicia Wallace -- to climb up there. So we had to settle for the pump in the cornfield. But I'll never forget it. I'll always have a soft spot for oil derricks.
We were clear across town visiting Gary's mom and dad when we heard about the fire. We rushed back home, fast as we could, but when we got there the fire department had already put it out and there wasn't much left of it but a big wet pile of stinking, steaming wood. The smell of smoke and ruin was in everything, you couldn't miss the finality of it all. We moved into a trailer on Gary's parents' lot and waited for the new house to be built, brand spanking new and owned free and clear thanks to the glories of a healthy insurance policy. Insurance is the one thing Gary and I have always seemed to agree on. I may get a couple of months behind on my utilities, dodging the shutoff notices and recorded messages and all, but my insurance premiums are always paid on time. That's because Gary lost a house once before. Which means an accident here could stir up a lot of trouble and questions from the insurance companies, what with two fires in less than a year and another one only a few years before that. Especially since the insurance was in my name on our last place and it's the same here. They'd start screaming arson so fast, whether they had any evidence or not, which they wouldn't. There can't be evidence of arson if we didn't set the fire.
So anyway, the news finally comes on and the anchor is describing this guy and asking for anyone with any information regarding the robber to call the station to let them know, and then they go to a commercial. For a second I get this scared feeling and look towards the bedroom, but I put it out of my mind soon enough because I doubt they'll get any calls. I don't see too many of us rushing out to inconvenience ourselves over some small time crime that will get us little more than a court appearance. Traverse may not be a really big city, yet, but it's definitely a place where people are smart enough to know that it's better to wait for Missing/Reward or America's Most Wanted, or one of those shows, because at least then you know you're going to get something out of the deal. I watch them both; I'm waiting for a crime that I know something about, but I suppose the chances of that are pretty darn slim. Basically, the community ethic/goodwill thing just doesn't cut it anymore. It's too easy to get hurt doing that trip.
I had an uncle, Uncle Ryan, who got killed doing the good deed activity. Uncle Ryan was a traveling salesman. Bathroom fixtures. He was twisting his way through the mountains of southeastern Kentucky when he got killed. There are these signs down there, all throughout the mountains that say Fallen Rock Zone. They used to have signs that said Watch For Falling Rocks, except you never see any rocks actually falling, and people were spending more time looking for the damn things to fall than they were looking at the road. I guess that's why they made the change. Anyway, Uncle Ryan actually saw a rock in the road. Now, just because people don't actually see the rocks fall doesn't mean that they don't. There are rocks the size of Yugos and all sorts of smaller boulders all along the sides of the roads. It's just that you don't see these things in the road. Well, Uncle Ryan sees this rock and his first inclination is that someone is going to get hurt with that rock being in the other lane like that and there being a blind curve right there and no real way for oncoming traffic to see the rock, so Uncle Ryan pulls his car off to the side of the road as far as he can and he gets out. He walks over, bends down, grabs hold of the rock and starts to lift it. He had enough time to get halfway up with it when a huge coal hauler came hurtling around that blind curve Uncle Ryan was so concerned about and hit him dead center on the grill. Four days later we had a closed casket ceremony and to this day I'm convinced that it simply doesn't pay to go out of your way to help someone else if there's nothing in it for you. That may be a hard thing to say, but I tend to think that these are hard times.
I'm waiting till after the news to wake Gary up. He's sleeping in the other room. I should wake him up and make him watch the news with me, see what he says, but I need time to think. And he needs his rest, though how he can sleep I'll never know. He picked up a quarter pound of weed from my brother-in-law who lives just down the road on the street behind ours. The dope's mainly to sell, of course, but we usually skim off half an ounce or so. Once it's all divided up, no one notices. Still, I have to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn't take too much. I have to keep reminding him that it's an investment. You have to be responsible where investments are concerned. Sometimes I think love is a lot like baby-sitting. But that's okay. Love should be a burden. I've always thought that, at least for as long as I've felt I know what love is.
My mom knew real love. Love was never easy for her. I mean, maybe at one time it was, but not that I can remember. My dad had Multiple Sclerosis, and it was hard on mother the last few years of his life. He had gone virtually blind and was in a wheelchair; he used to say over and over, "I ain't a baby, I can do it." He said it about everything we tried to do for him, but, of course, he couldn't. He'd wear himself out trying, and then sit there quiet with his eyes all wet looking while Mom or one of us kids helped him out. He had been a policeman and had always been active. The MS didn't really start affecting him till he was in his early thirties. My brother and sister and I were all very young. By the time I was ten or eleven, it seemed like he had always been in that wheelchair. His speech got to be real difficult to understand as well. He'd get upset over it. I can't blame him, now. I hate having to repeat myself, and my speech is perfectly clear. Mom had to take care of him like he was a child. And with three little kids running around on top of it all, it was hard on her. That's how I know what love is all about, how it has to be a burden to be real.
When I first met Gary I was working at a country bar called The Roundup, a little north of Thompsonville. He was up fishing along the Platte River and had been driving around looking for a place to get a steak and have a few beers. The Roundup is about the most perfect place around for that sort of thing. Anyway, I was serving him, and I guess I must have been pretty obvious, bending over and letting him have a peek or two at the goods, and other tricks I still haven't been able to stop using since I did a little time as a prostitute. Down in Detroit. I left that all behind. It's been practically fifteen years now since I got out of that life.
It's weird when I think back on it. It hurts, too. Sometimes I want to cry over it, like a black secret I'm always trying to hide from the rest of the world. I didn't do it for long, but it was too long just the same. I don't even know how it happened. I mean, I do, but I have a hard time believing I ever did it. I was in the Navy. I had a good job working as a missile mechanic, which I also can't believe I ever did. I only joined to get my GED and because I couldn't find a job. Anyway, one night I went out with a guy I met at a bar and we got to partying. I was gone the whole weekend, went AWOL, and I was afraid to go back. I couldn't call home. I needed money and it seemed like an easy enough way of getting some. Next thing I knew I was dishonorably discharged and sitting on a bus back to Michigan. I went right back to it in Detroit. I got into all sorts of other bad things, too, including smack. As far as I know there's still an outstanding warrant for my arrest there. For loitering of all things. That's what they bust you for when they can't get you on anything else.
I suppose I'd still be there today if it hadn't been for my brother. He drove down from Traverse City to find me, and when he did he grabbed me and forced me to go home with him. I guess it was kidnapping, really. I hated him for it at the time, but now I'm grateful. I went through withdrawal at home. My mother's new husband wouldn't let her take me to the hospital. He was afraid of what everyone would think if they found out. All I did was cry and hurt, and scream at them. I couldn't keep my food down. Every part of me hurt so bad, all I wanted was to die -- but I didn't. I suppose that if Jerry hadn't come down there for me I probably would be dead now. As it is, my insides were so screwed up that I'll never be able to have children. I had to have a hysterectomy. That hurts me a lot now that I'm married and all. I told Gary it was a congenital thing. He doesn't know about my old life -- all six months of it. I don't know what I'd do if he ever found out. I guess that's just another part of my burden.
Gary's been really good for me. The idea of having someone to take care of has straightened me out a lot. I've done my share of time in the Grand Traverse County Jail since I've been up here. I've been busted for everything from passing phony checks and writing bogus prescriptions to dealing. Gary knows most of that; it's not as if he has a spotless record himself. You can't keep everything a secret. Keeping everything inside will only drive you crazy. I've managed to stay out of trouble since I started seeing Gary, though. I guess it has a lot to do with being so busy taking care of him. I haven't had the time, or the need, to do anything wrong. At least, not until Gary lost his job. That's when we started back into dealing. We only sell pot, though. If I had to go in front of the judge again for speed or acid, I don't think I'd get off as easily as I have before. It's not that I think selling pot is wrong. I don't. A little weed never hurt anybody. There are studies that proved that. The thing I feel sort of guilty about is how we got the money to buy our first stash. We didn't rob a bank or anything like that, but in a way it was kind of worse. What we did was take a bunch of stuff from my mom's house and sell it. That's not something I'm very proud of. It was mostly camping gear and tools that had belonged to my father, stuff that was going to just sit there until it rotted. I tried to make myself feel better by telling myself that, but then all I saw was my father in that wheelchair before he died, all shriveled and depressed by all of the things he could no longer do, and I could see why my mother held on to it all and I just felt worse about it. She needed the memory and I took it away from her.
When Gary and I started going out it was pretty obvious that he needed me. He's a lousy housekeeper and he can't cook, either. He lived on McDonald's and Burger King and pizza. I moved to Saginaw to live with him after only two weekends together. I put his house in order and started buying his clothes for him. I even cut his hair. I had taken a mail-order cosmetology course after I dropped out of high school and I think I'm still pretty good at it, even though I've never actually worked in a salon, or anything. I had to take over paying the bills, too. Gary made good money working the oil fields, but he had no idea how to manage it. Everything was past due. By the time we decided to get married we were living a life I never thought I would ever have. Once you've done some of the things I've done, you almost give up dreaming of the normal life. You kind of give up on love, too. But when I met Gary, I knew right then that it was possible. And it was.
When Gary came in a couple of hours ago with all that money, I couldn't believe it. I didn't think the work he was doing with Jerry was going to be finished til next week, and that was when he was supposed to get paid. But like Gary said, Jerry realized how much we needed the money and paid him in advance. Gary walked in with a fifth of Jack Daniels from the corner store and a grocery sack with that quarter pound in it. At first I was kind of angry, money being as tight as it is, that Gary would be so irresponsible. But we haven't been out in a long time and it's good to let loose once in a while. We've always liked to kick back and have a drink and watch TV. And the thought of going out to dinner and then dancing to a good band sounded real nice, so I went pretty easy on him. Sometimes I swear he's just a kid.
I keep saying to myself that the proof of true love is in bearing the burden, but I have to admit that sometimes I have my doubts. Sometimes I think that Gary could have a decent job if he wanted; he's just too lazy to go out and get one. I know he was offered a job on a disposal truck, but he's too proud to allow himself to be called a garbage man. I don't know what the big deal is; garbage men get paid really well as far as I know. But after losing his job in the oil fields, there's nothing else he wants to do. He loved working the rigs. We've talked about moving out to California, or Alaska, so Gary could work the offshore rigs, thirty days on, thirty days off, but it hardly ever gets any further than talk. It seems that every time we get started, we tell our families, start selling off stuff, and the whole thing just falls through. I don't know if I'd like it anyway. I love Gary and all that, but thirty days without him at a time doesn't seem reasonable at all. How am I supposed to take care of him when he's out there on the ocean in some tower hundreds of feet in the air? Guys get killed out there all of the time. I guess that's why they get paid so much. Not having him around would be like some kind of part-time love, an occasional demand. I'm afraid that somewhere along the line while Gary was gone I'd end up drifting right back into the dead end life I thought I'd escaped.
Lately I've been wondering if maybe we shouldn't take what we can get in the back of the Camaro and just slip out of here some night without telling anyone, without doing anything to jinx it. Skip out on the landlord, cancel our renter's policy and wind off down the road. Listening to the news about bank robbers practically in my own back yard is making me think that that's exactly what we should be doing. We could go to Florida, if not out west. It would be warm; I can feel the winter wind picking up around here lately. It won't be long before the windows are frosted over in the mornings and the leaves will be turning brown and falling. The changes happen so quickly and so suddenly that you can't help but think in terms of time passing away before your eyes.
When the news comes back on with the complete details of the robbery, something beyond the vague description and the request for information, I'm up from the couch and fixing myself a drink. Jack Daniels and orange Slice. I prefer kahlua and cream, or tequila, but we finished both the night before. There's a tiny little bit of kahlua in the bottom of the bottle, and I'm saving that to put on top of my ice cream after the bar. I take a deep swallow of the drink and as an afterthought I fill the glass back up with more whiskey. I'm trying to listen to the story and pick up the living room at the same time. Gary's jacket is draped over my arm and I'm sitting on the edge of the couch, listening and sipping at my drink, which is now too strong to take big drinks from.
Apparently this guy just walked into the Interlochen branch of the Old Kent bank early this afternoon and gave the teller a note that said he had a gun and wanted all the money. A real creative sort. There's no mention if he actually showed a gun or not, so he probably didn't. Those tellers can be such airheads. You wouldn't catch me handing over money to a small town geek with a note. Not unless I could figure out a way to pocket some for myself, that is. But I don't think I have to worry about ever being in that situation. With my record I doubt that I would be hired as a bank teller.
The guy took off on foot across the field behind the bank to the northwest. He was dressed in jeans and had on a tan waist-length jacket and a maroon baseball cap. I look back towards our bedroom and wonder if I shouldn't lock all the doors and latch the windows. I laugh at the thought despite everything going through my head because I'm having a hard time telling myself there's no need to lock anybody out -- Gary's already in. This isn't exactly the kind of place a dangerous criminal would hole up anyway; and I know for a fact I could handle the type that might. No, the only reason anyone would come here is because they live here, or maybe to read a meter or collect for a bill. Other than that, it doesn't hold a lot of promise.
I shut the television off and stand there for a second trying to decide whether I should wake Gary up now or let him sleep a little longer while I get ready to go. I guess I'll let him sleep, that way he won't be in my way. He's pretty much a pain when he's in the bathroom with me. It's almost impossible to put on mascara and curl my lashes while he's trying to squeeze his head around me to get at the sink to brush his teeth. I'll get myself ready and then wake up Gary. That way he can sit on the toilet as long as he wants and I can sit back and relax with another drink.
Standing at the closet I hold up Gary's jacket and inspect it before I put it on a hanger. It's getting a bit worn. Now that we have a little bit of money, maybe it's time I bought Gary a new jacket. Rather than hang it in the closet I roll the jacket up tight, carry it into the kitchen and shove it down into the trash. We'll go to the mall before dinner and find Gary a nice new jacket. Maybe one with some color to it, something not so drab. It's time for a change, I think. A good, lightweight, bright jacket, and maybe I'll give him a fresh haircut. Kind of a new beginning. Because the way I see it, we may be heading west sooner than I had thought.
Chris Kmotorka (firstname.lastname@example.org) earned his MFA at Western Michigan University in June, 1993. He is currently teaching writing at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona. He is married and has two daughters.
InterText stories written by Chris Kmotorka: "The Burdens of Love" (v3n6), "This Lighted Dark" (v4n3).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 3, Number 6 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1993 Chris Kmotorka.