Section P

Oh, my girl. So it has come to this. You and I both know what will come from such a decision. Your girls will grow up detesting you, you who would not protect them from your own foolish decisions, and because of this, they will become you, choosing for themselves men who give them nothing but trouble, and so the cycle will continue endlessly, girl to girl to girl. Isn’t this always the case?

But maybe we haven’t found the right crossroad yet. What if we went back seven years? Back to when it was just you and your three daughters and their father, all living in this same leaky house. All the doors were open and there was so much room to breathe. Do you remember the piano? Do you remember how your girls used to gather around their father and sing as he pounded out “When the Saints Go Marching Home”? You used to get so annoyed by that. Do you still?

You remember their father, don’t you? Not your first love, the one on the beach, but your true love, that good man you met at the party who loved you so much and knew what you needed but still couldn’t give it to you? The one with too many debts?

The girls remember this man, but barely. Mostly they remember his voice, the gravel of it, and his breath that smelled like clams and beer, a warm smell that blanketed them as he read them bedtime stories from the old hardback copy of Grimm’s fairytales he brought home from the bookstore as a gift for you. You told him not to read those awful stories to the girls, but he did anyway, and this is what the girls will always remember of him no matter how many stories they’re told otherwise. His voice and his warmth and his stories that always ended badly but tried to teach them something anyway. But you remember more, don’t you?

You remember how desperately you loved him, how you just wanted him to change, to get better, to pay off his debts and stop taking money out of the bank. You remember locking him out of your shared account, finding the emergency cash missing, finding your oldest daughter’s first checking account emptied of its meager contents. You remember the way he cried into his hands when you asked him about all this missing money. You remember the smell of his unwashed hair as he buried his face in your neck. You would’ve kept him forever if you could’ve. If he could’ve been different. But this isn’t his story, it’s yours, and we don’t have the power to change his choices.

What if we went back to that last day, seven years ago, before he disappeared? Instead of kissing him goodbye and letting him go to work, where the loan sharks would find him, you could make another choice. You could take a road trip somewhere, to Vermont maybe, or Rhode Island. You could insist he stay home, and the two of you could curl up on the couch and watch whatever reruns were playing on TV that day while the girls were at school. You could go out and buy lobsters to boil for dinner as a surprise for the girls. You could go on a walk on the beach, gathering sea glass the way you used to when you’d first met. Maybe you’d find a starfish with all of its legs. Maybe you’d toss it back to sea unharmed.

If we tried enough paths, maybe we’d find the one that would lead to a moment other than this one. We could go back, together, and do it all over again, again and again until we found what we wanted. What do you say, sweets? You in?