He held his son’s hand gently as they walked down the quiet street.
He talked to his son Robby in calming tones – about sights, sounds and smells, about which fire hydrant they were walking to, about the breeze. Robby looked around, sometimes looking at him as he talked, but silent as always. They were walking to the third fire hydrant today. They would walk right up to it and touch it before turning around. Normally Robby’s brother Nathan would be walking with them, but Nathan had decided to stay and play on the computer. It made the walk a little quieter, though a little sadder.
He loved walks like this, times like this, especially since they might become less frequent and more precious very soon. At the same time, he couldn’t stop thinking about what he knew. Robby gripped his hand tighter as a car passed, bringing him out of his head for a moment. He gripped back and smiled at his son, pointing out some flowers. The quiet of the neighborhood was almost eerie. Robby began to hum some tune known only to Robby. He listened and tried to imitate it, and they harmonized down the street.
Inevitably, his thoughts returned to his discovery. His emotions filled all parts of the spectrum – anger, resolve, regret, revenge, reconciliation, ambivalence, longing – but most of all, why? And why now? He had noticed her pulling away, becoming distant, and he had reacted in a way that surprised him. Instead of getting even, or angry, he had tried to live in a more public way, in the way he thought she wanted. He let her see what he did online. He used the computer in the family room, open to anyone walking by. He deleted accounts that might have been questionable to her, and stopped talking to people that may have bothered her, even though he was doing nothing. He had done whatever he could to make her trust him more.
She hadn’t even noticed. He held it in.
But he noticed her. He noticed that she spent several hours in the online world each day, and that her self-image was slipping. He told her he loved her, and told her how attracted he was to her. But she hadn’t been impressed. Not as impressed as she was with her online life. They arrived at the third fire hydrant, and he and Robby both touched it as they turned around and headed back home.
He picked up a stick for Robby to walk with, and showed him how to use it. Robby hummed and walked, happy as ever. He was glad to have made Robby happy, but could not help the bittersweet feelings that accompanied his gladness. Robby might just think of it as seeing his dad a little less often. He had no idea how Robby would take it as he got older. He could only affect what happened when they saw each other – weekly? The dynamics of the situation became overwhelming, and he walked for a bit with his eyes closed, allowing Robby to lead, humming and tapping his stick on the street. With a sigh, he opened his eyes again.
She needed others to be happy. He should let her do that, if that’s what she wanted. He was still surprised at his reaction to the worst of it – the man in town. She was taking her yearly vacation with the kids three days later, and he held it in, not wanting to ruin anything for the kids. That’s what he told himself, but he knew the truth was that he didn’t want to confront it. For the first time, revenge and anger were not options. The only option was becoming better and hoping it was enough that she didn’t need anyone else anymore. So he held it in. Would they see the man at the store, or the gas station, or while they were out together? Would she eventually meet him? Has she met him already? Had he seen the man many times before without a reason to remember? Did this have to be over?
Robby yelled, and he looked around, but nothing was wrong. Robby was just yelling out of happiness. Unlike his brother, Robby couldn’t show how he felt in words, only expressions, sounds and touch. He smiled at his son, picking him up and hugging him tight before putting him back down. They were at the driveway. He held it in. They were nearly at the door. He held it in. They were home.