I am holding this huge ring and using what feels like every bit of my brain to try and remember what roman numeral XLVII stands for, but light is bouncing off the marble mantle, off my old, framed jersey and everything is messing with my thinking and I can’t get my thoughts straight.
I know that X is supposed to be ten and V is five and I is one, but L is that fift?. So ten fifty five-
I came in here looking for something, and I got distracted by my Super Bowl ring. Now I’m trying to remember what I was looking for, putting myself in the frame of mind that took me from the breakfast nook to this room, but I am blanking hard.
Our long snapper that year was a classics major from Davidson and he explained how roman numerals work to all of us after the celebration champagne had turned sticky and everyone told any camera that would point their way they were going to Disney World!
“Evan,” my wife calls.
Shit. She told me to grab something in here. It's coming back, but not quick enough. Go get the… and then the thought evaporates.
“Baby?” she calls.
“I’m in here,” I say.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”
In our house “Are You Okay?” isn’t a polite question from a wife to her husband. It’s a wellness check. Sometimes I am not fine and she has to come to my rescue. She can tell something is wrong this time, even if it is as minor as forgetting what I came in here for or not remembering how roman numerals are ordered. She is actively trying to figure out what I’m thinking about.
“Did you grab your notebook?” she asks.
“Not yet,” I say. I hold my ring up to her. “I got a little distracted.”
She asks if I blacked out, and I tell her I just had to straighten something out.
We reach an unspoken agreement to play along that everything is still okay and she walks back to the kitchen.
Tori and I met in college. Even then she was my rock, helping me study for high school-level math or checking my conjugation tables when I had no idea when to use conocer. She kept me hopeful and picked me up when I wanted to quit the team. I proposed on Senior night and she cried as I picked her up and kissed her, smearing eyeblack and sweat from my face to hers. My memories of her are the things my brain fights to remember. They are put on a higher shelf than most thoughts, safe from the rising flood that has started rotting other parts of my life.
I see a little green notebook on the chair next to me. I pick it up and remind myself I came to look for this. Of course! I didn’t blackout; I was just distracted. Now I hold the ring in one hand and the notebook in the other. I feel the heaviness of the ring, solid gold outweighing the small notebook. I set the ring back in its case. The overhead light is pointed to make all the little gems sparkle my name back at me like I am a king.
The notebook is full of writing, mostly mine but some of Tori’s.
“Love you, Ev” reads one, and “You can do anything!” is underlined on another page.
A few bulleted lists:
* Get up at 8
* Shower, brush teeth, shave
* Go downstairs for breakfast
Monday: Bacon (4) and eggs (3)
Tuesday: Granola (3/4 cup) in yogurt
Wednesday: Sausage biscuit
Thursday: Bacon and Eggs
Sunday: No breakfast. Brunch with Tori and Abigail after Church.
Abigail is a friend of Tori’s, but she sometimes comes with us to church. She comes every week if I remember right.
On the other side of the page are large, capital letters written by a man who must have tried to be as convincing as possible without giving away how scared he really was:
TAKE MEDS. TRUST THE DR.
“Mommy,” Abigail calls down the stairs.
Tori had a sorority sister named Abigail. My notebook was talking about our daughter Abigail, of course.
She calls again and again, louder and tinnier each time because she is a child and that’s just what children do when they want something. I feel like I must make her stop yelling because I am developing a headache. I can’t concentrate on flipping through this little green notebook in my hands because my eyes are blurring because my head is feeling each pulse of blood my heart is sending through it, so I get angry. There is a forest fire in my brain and the acorns are pop pop popping. Now I am yelling back at my little daughter.
She’s at the top of the stairs and looking down at me as I take the stairs two, maybe three, at a time. I slam my fist against the wall as I go up. Long whole notes of yells with quarter note thumps against the wall.
She screams and runs to her room. My knees force me to stop moving, but they can’t stop me from trying to let the headache out through my mouth by way of screaming. Why am I so angry? It feels like everything would have been fine as long as she said “Mommy” one fewer time. I remind myself that I am a good father, a kind father, but I have to yell so she understands that I am serious about whatever I am saying. I can almost hear the picture frames rattle on the wall as I turn and let one last roar go through the whole upstairs. What am I saying? The back of my throat hurts now.
“Evan, what’s going on?” Tori yells.
She sees me standing at the top of the stairs and Abigail’s shut door.
“What the hell did you do to her?” she asks as she blows past me and starts knocking on her door. “Abigail, baby, are you okay?”
I’m not even close to the door, but I hear sobbing on the other side.
“I don’t know what I-“
I am told to go downstairs and wait. I am a child again, in trouble with mom. She’s taking me out of church for being disruptive, not sitting still, or stealing from the collection basket.
She goes into Abigail’s room as I take the steps one at a time now. My knees force me to be more careful and remind me that I don’t have the explosiveness once listed on my scouting report. I want to look back and see if she is okay, but I don’t.
Tori comes down, and I can’t look at her. I trace the pattern in the kitchen counter with my finger to not have to look up and see her staring at me, waiting for me to start the conversation. I don’t want to see her disappointment. She doesn’t give up her silence and waits on the other side of the island, and I feel my face get hot. I was the one that threw a tantrum, not the child.
“It really scares her,” Tori finally says. “When you let everything get to you.”
The pendulum I was tied to now swings the other way. I burned my forest to the ground and now a river has come to sweep away all the ash. I slap my face, and it hurts like I want it to. I want the hurt to be outside instead of inside.
“I don’t know what to do, baby,” I say into my hands as I feel tears in between my fingers.
Tori takes a step closer, but I pick up a glass and smash it on the ground. She jumps back and puts a hand on her chest.
Oh no. I’ve scared her too.
I sit down, and she slowly walks over and puts two hands on my shoulders. I am a spiraling combination of angry, really angry, and soft.
She puts her head on top of mine and her hair tickles my face.
“Please take your pills,” she pleads. “I think they’ll help.”
I hate my pills, but at that moment I don’t remember why.
“I can’t take it anymore,” I say, and I’m not sure what I am talking about.
The river inside me starts rising and everything is off balance. I want to lay on the floor and curl into a tight ball, but Tori is holding me up.
It takes her only a moment to grab the pills from the cabinet, come back, and set them in my hand. The bottle feels full, and I try to remember how many I have taken and if they’ve ever helped.
I tell her I need to go lay down, and she almost lifts me off the ground on her own. She would walk me all the way to the bed if I’d let her, but I say I can make it.
I am quiet as I walk past Abigail’s room. She has a picture from a family trip to the beach taped to her door. We all look happy and sandy. It was in the downtime between Draft Day and the start of preseason camp. I was almost a different parent then-- I was too busy to get annoyed and lose my train of thought. Almost every day was mapped out where I should be and how I should do my job.
I take two pills and hope they make me feel more like that parent.