At dinnertime Simon pops the macaroni and cheese into the oven to bake. I helped Maddie finish her homework, and then she helped me set the table. Simon reentered the kitchen briefly to sauté the broccoli lightly in olive oil. Transferring it to a platter, he sprinkles the broccoli with a couple of tablespoons of slivered, dry- roasted almonds, and lemon zest. Satisfied with his effort he returned to watch the rest of the game on TV.
Every now and then I jumped when Simon shouted out over a play he felt strongly about, and Maddie would giggle. “Dad,” she says, shaking her head knowingly.
I poured myself a second glass of Chardonnay before the three of us sat down for dinner.
“How’d the interview at Woodman go, Simon?”
“Oh you know. It’s always the same:
‘We’re looking for someone with more experience,’ or, ‘We’re looking for someone with less experience, this position has a limited pay scale.’ It’s all just bull-, oops, sorry Maddie. Don’t use bad language; it’s a sign of poor upbringing. Anyway, there were a dozen other teachers interviewing for the job. At least I have something respectable to write on my unemployment paperwork this month.
“Well, you put it out there. That’s all you can do, isn’t it?”
Simon was laid off seven months ago from his teaching job, because of budget cuts. Seemingly, education ranks right along healthcare as a national priority.
We met in college. Simon was an anthropology major with a minor in education. I studied early child education, and minored in children’s literature. I switched to nursing when I realized I needed a master’s degree in order to earn enough money teaching preschool to make it worth what I owed on my Bachelor’s degree.
We married after graduation with the understanding I’d work as a registered nurse while Simon completed his Master’s in education. Once he hired into a university, I’d drop down to on-call, raise our children, and start a second career from home writing and illustrating children’s books.
It would have been magical.
Unable to get more than substitute teaching assignments in the beginning, Simon dropped out of the Master’s program when I got pregnant with Maddie, and she was born prematurely. Although my health care benefits from the hospital covered most of it, a 20% deductible for emergent obstetrics, and four weeks of neonatal intensive care is a pretty big chunk of change on a mostly single income.
Eventually, Simon found a job teaching social studies in a nearby middle school. His job lasted two years before the budget cuts. The parents of his students signed a petition begging the administrators to keep Simon, but like they say, “It isn’t personal.”
After dinner, Maddie, and I watched a movie on the laptop. Then I read her a chapter of Henry and Beezus before tucking her into bed and kissing her goodnight.
Simon was so engrossed in the game he was watching, he hadn’t turned on the lights in the family room. In the eerie glow of the television, the features of his face appeared alien.
“Is Maddie in bed?” he asked.
He got up to go kiss her goodnight, and then resumed his perch on the sofa.
Despite sleeping most of the day, I retreated to our bedroom at eleven. I’m lucky; I’ve adjusted to twelve-hour night shifts. Many nurses never do. I read a chapter of E.M. Forester’ A Room With a View before falling asleep.
Simon spooning me from behind wakes me from a sound sleep. Wordlessly, he fumbles at pulling my oversized T-shirt above my hips in the dark. When pretending I’m still asleep doesn’t work I become irritated.
“What are you doing?” Even I’m surprised by the fierceness of my tone.
“I’m loving you, baby. You’re so damn sexy. I can’t keep my hands off of you.”
“Simon, what time is it?”
“What does it matter? It’s not like you have to get up early. You don’t leave for work until tomorrow evening.”
“I’m tired Simon. I need to get some sleep.”
“Just a quickie? C’mon, you know you love me.”
Silently, I wonder if I still do love Simon, but I let him have a quickie. It’s the fastest way to get back to sleep, which is what I do as soon as he finished.