You never know what the heart requires. Even when you leave, you think, always, in the back of your mind, you should have stayed. And then, when you come back, you think, always, in the back of your mind, you should leave.
But this time you’ve been away for quite a while, longer than you’ve ever been before. Away from your husband, away from your son, away from all that you’ve known as your life for the past 62 years. You know it has been a while by the way the airport in your hometown smells. It smells foreign, dirty, dusty. You want to sneeze, but you don’t. There’s no actual sneeze in your nose, just the sense that you need to get the air from this place out of your system as quickly as possible.
“Psychology,” you think to yourself. “This is just psychology.”
You are not allergic to your hometown. You are not going to be sick from breathing the air here. You ex-husband is not actually going to drive you insane.
These are just delusions.
But still, you can’t fight how these things feel. You can’t convince yourself that you do actually want to be here, in this place with this man.
As you deplane, you wonder these things, over and over as you take in the dry dusty smog of the airport. You think about Vancouver. Wreck Beach. Coming alive on the shores with your kindred spirits. Nothing but the clean salt air and the cold bite of the Pacific Ocean to clothe your 62-year-old body. You feel peace. Or you felt peace, while it lasted. But that’s gone now.
Roy is hopeless. He called to tell you that he has lost his job. And this time it’s not likely he’ll find another. He’s thinking about filing for SSI. He hasn’t eaten anything except kimchi and rice since you’ve left.
“Not my problem,” you told yourself.
But it is your problem. He is your problem. You swore to love and care for him all of your days. How can you turn your back now? After all he’s done for you. Or at least after all that he has tried to do for you. If intentions counted for real blessings, Roy Ruskin and all those he loves would be the most blessed of all mankind.
But intentions don’t count, do they?
As you walk towards the exit doors, you see your son John, waiting for you, standing next to his illegally parked truck, smoking a cigarette. It’s not just Roy. Coming home means dealing with John too. So many lost boys. You, so tired a mother.
John doesn’t see you. You choke up a little bit, for just a second. Then turn around and head back towards the ticket counter.
I’m not mad. I swear. It’s not anything I would lie about. I mean, I think I’d be justified in being mad if I were actually mad, but I’m not. And, much to my credit, I’m not taking this opportunity to blow off steam in a self-righteous moment of indignation.
This is me being a good guy for once. And, I must admit, it feels pretty good.
So, this is the deal, I’m at the airport. I’m here to pick up my mom. I wasn’t aware that I was going to pick up my mom tonight. Actually, about 2 hours ago, I was in bed. Then, my step-dad Roy calls me up and tells me to go to the airport to pick up my mom.
Mom’s been in Vancouver for the past six months. She split. She was sick of Roy’s idiotic antics. She was about 20 years too late, if you ask most people.
But, even a ridiculous old man’s antics can be forgiven, I suppose. After all, despite all the frustrations that come with living with Roy Ruskin, one thing everyone can agree on, when the shit hits the fan, he never ever bails.
There’s been a lot of times he’s been there for me. Every single idiot time I got drunk and wound up in some mess: wrecked car, fights (which means mostly getting beat up and left for dead) and then that one time I inadvertently ripped off the head honcho of the local chapter of the Mogs. Not a big deal, I thought. I didn’t realize who I was dealing with. So I figured I’d get him his money back and we’d be square. But that’s not exactly what the Mogs were thinking. They were thinking about something a little bit more, how can I put this, permanent.
Anyways, I’m bound and blindfolded and God knows what’s gonna happen, when Roy shows up. He’s been tracking me for three days. I didn’t even know I’d been missing three days. And he catches up with the Mogs.
Dude is smooth when he’s gotta be. He’s got with him a bottle of 40-year-old Scotch from his family distillery in Scotland. He’s been disowned, so this booze is special to him. And the Mogs know their booze. And even if they didn’t, this thing is in a gold hinged rosewood case. They crack it open and pass it around. Civilized, of course. Every one drinks from the bottle but no one spills. Roy makes a deal. I don’t know what he offered. But they accepted. Later when I ask, he says it’s between him and the Mogs. He never mentions it again.
That’s the kind of guy Roy is.
That’s not exactly the kind of guy I am. But, given the opportunity, I am the kind of guy that knows when he owes someone a favor.
So, when Roy calls me in the middle of the night to drive two hours and go pick up my flakey hippie dippy mom at the airport. I go. And when I get there and wait around for another hour for her, I don’t complain. And, after all that, when it turns out she never shows up, and I just wasted my night like a first class chump, I consider myself lucky that I have dude in my life that’s been so good to me that I feel it’s the highlight of my week to get out of bed at 1:00 in the morning and spend five hours on a pointless errand on his behalf.
Kimchi is not meant to sustain a man for six months. It is said that a diet consisting primarily of this fermented and spice infused Korean pickled cabbage can lead to the early onset of stomach cancers, this due mostly kimchi’s abundance of nitrogen oxide compounds. But such are not the concerns of Roy Ruskin.
Following one of Roy’s favorite axioms, the 80-20 Rule, he has concluded that he eats kimchi and rice every meal for two reasons.
One: he is too poor and lazy to eat anything else. This comprises 80% of his reasoning.
Two: he is doing penance.
This second reason makes up 20% of Roy’s conscious thinking about his diet. He is punishing himself for all the pain he has caused the woman he loves. The woman that he would give his life for. The woman that he drove away with his countless unfulfilled dreams and unrealized potential.
Barbara. A saint among saints. Wise and patient and supportive, carrying a heart that seemed willing and able to be broken in every way that a human heart can be broken.
His last epic swing for the fences finally compelled her to leave. It was not a simple decision, made out of anger or even from self-preservation. It was, even then, an act of compassion. She saw, finally and clearly, that she cannot help Roy. That, in fact, her kindness and forbearance denied him the tension and desperation that he needed to be successful. She honestly and truly left for him.
Roy understands this. At least in his own way he does.
“80-20,” he thinks to himself. “80% for me, 20% for her. That’s why she left.”
But despite all this, Barbara has come back. He watches her from the far side of the luggage claim. He’s sitting on a bench, his baseball cap pulled tight over his teary eyes. He sees John, his step-son, outside. He doesn’t know why he called him to come pick her up. He doesn’t even know why she has come back. But he does know that this time, there is no chance he going to mess this up. Whatever obstacles may come, he is certain, he will do right by her. He will devote every ounce of himself to her. And not just some illusion of what he wants masquerading as what she wants. He will submerge his will, and choose, from this day forward to follow her lead, to serve her as his mistress and as his captain, as his goddess.
Roy watches Barbara stand for a moment at the doors. She’s looking at John, their son. She hesitates and then turns and heads back into the airport. He rises, brushes off his shirt and pants and takes off his ball cap. He leaves it on the bench and walks towards her, his strides quickening until he’s at a full sprint.
“The Arrival” a story from the collection THREE: Stories Told In 3 Parts. Find more stories from THREE [here].