“No Dadda today,” Daniel said as I strapped him into his car seat. I looked at him. This was the second time he had said that.
“Sweetheart –” I began.
“No Dadda today!” Daniel said again, half in order, half request. I snapped the buckle shut, looked at my boy.
“Chris, how often do you leave Daniel with Tracy?” I had asked, when collecting Daniel. It was the opportunity I had been waiting for – Tracy was not around.
“Why?” Chris asked defensively.
I had learned over the months that if I had a concern regarding Daniel, I had to broach it carefully with Chris, tactfully. I had learned that his temper needed to be managed and I had to be calm, gentle, placating. If I angered Chris by questioning Daniel’s mood upon his return to me – or even wanted to know what they had done together, Chris was susceptible to tantrums. He might handle Daniel roughly to demonstrate he is in charge – to see pain and anxiety rip through me, then storm off down the walkway of the block of flats, Daniel looking at me over Chris’ shoulder, me feeling anxiety, concern, helplessness. He might sneer or laugh at me for my fears “groundless”, humiliating me in front of Tracy, regarding me as soft, brainless – “You make him a Mama’s Boy!” He might raise his voice, have me cringe lest neighbours complain and Daniel and me be looked upon as trouble in the otherwise peaceful community.
I wished so badly that I could discuss Daniel with Chris and not be met with defence and guardedness – rather, equal concern. But I could not, and inside me burned embers hell hot, of anxiety. Daily I burned deep within where the child in me still cowered, trembled at raised voices, pleaded to not be the cause of a man’s ire.
“Mum has to work, darling,” I said. I have to make money (how to explain that to a child?) so we can buy things we need and want – and pay rent!”
I had left my job as actor at the Police Academy and was working normal hours in a small office. The boss often had an open Penthouse magazine on his desk when he called me in for some reason or other. He repulsed me. I was conflicted whether to tell him to put it away, or resist saying so in case he got some bizarre pleasure out of me acknowledging the breasts and long legs laid open before him.
Daniel was not persuaded. He told me again he did not want Dadda today.
“Because, well, I don’t know Tracy”, I had told Chris.
What would Chris say if I told him that when I was putting Daniel to bed the other night and turned off the light, he began panicking and crying “Tracy in the dark! Tracy in the dark!” I had snapped on the light immediately and ask ‘What?’ But Daniel would say no more, just whimpered, “Tracy in the dark…” as if that explained itself to me.
Could Chris handle to know this, or would he think I was making it up? What if he told Tracy and she got upset, and took it out on Daniel? This is what broken people do to get at others, isn’t it: harm children or animals? Could I risk this potential side effect of me telling Chris why I wanted to know how often he left Daniel with Tracy?
Tracy, a former battered wife who took beating after beating, but when her husband broke their son’s nose – then she left. Tracy, who Chris planned to take custody of Daniel with once Daniel was out of nappies, “Because we got a house, dog, fence, and you got nothing.” Tracy, who told me she knew Chris was having an affair when he met me (and I thought we were starting a relationship), and who forgave his disloyal character “Because he’s been hurt by love”, she’d said, pouring a cup of tea, watching the steam rising. Tracy: someone I had no right to sum up, or judge.
I looked at Daniel’s eyes in the rear vision mirror as I drove. They were troubled: where was he going? Where was Mum taking him?
“We’re off to child care, sweetheart!” I said, cheerfully. “Lots of fun with your friends!” Daniel’s eyes turned from gazing out the window to meeting mine in the rear vision mirror.
I had done well to leave the job I loved, in favour of normal hours. This way, Daniel could be placed in child care instead of with Chris.
But Chris now had established rights as Daniel’s father; a pattern, though haphazard, of seeing Daniel. He did not pay for Daniel’s food, keep or wellbeing – I still needed to construct a response to his appeal against the backpay due to “achieve” that – but he had established rights because when Daniel was born I felt that a father has rights to see their child, bond, assist in raising them. With that idealism, I had availed Daniel to Chris from the very first moment he expressed interest in Daniel – one week after his birth when Chris rang out of the blue near 11 p.m., arrived with a feng shui chart he had drawn up about Daniel and told me I had born him a lucky child “right time and day – not perfect, but very good.”
I had accepted Chris’ bruised fruit offerings, allowed him to display Daniel to his various female accompaniments as they went out for a night on the town (he was not shy to say); I had accepted $100 once, thinking, “That’s not how it’s done: you don’t indulge in hours of fun at thee casino then give to your child what’s left, or lucky left”, my lips speaking nothing, knowing I would be called ungrateful.
I had flung the door open to Daniel’s father for no greater reason than because he was Daniel’s father, and I did not know how to close it again – or no, hold it only ajar, stand guarding the entrance, allowing Chris to pass our threshold only if he followed my rules. With Chris’ intention to have custody of Daniel, I feared going to the courts in case they forced me to hand Daniel over even more than I was now, with growing reservation, doing.
“No Dadda today” Daniel said, meeting my eyes in the rear view.
“Daniel,” I said, “Dadda wants to see you. He wants to have fun with you! I have to let him pick you up from child care, sweetheart – but then Mama will come and get you.”
Daniel did not respond. I repeated, “Then I’ll come and get you.”
He looked away.
“Don’t know Tracy, don’t know Tracy. You don’t have to know Tracy. She my girlfriend!” Chris retorted.
“Chris…” I had to tell him. “Daniel seems to be afraid of the dark – because of Tracy.”
“Lots of kids afraid of the dark! Why blame Tracy?!”
He was irritated with me, did not want this conversation. He didn’t like it when I had concerns about Daniel. I was pure annoyance to Chris.
“No, just – how often do you leave Daniel with her? And Karen? Why do you say you want Daniel but then leave him with your sister or your girlfriend?”
“You just jealous, that’s all!”
Oh no, not that argument: I wasn’t a woman of thought, opinion or concern: I was dismissible jealousy.
“Chris, I’m not jealous,” I said. How could I explain to him there was no way in the world I wished to partner him, as I realized his character more and more every day.
“They got opposing energies, that’s all,” he then offered.
“Just a bit of different. We all different energies – opposing energies.”
“Chris, it’s not an energy thing. Daniel cried out ‘Tracy in the dark!’ when I was putting him to bed. What does that mean? What’s he saying?”
Chris looked at Daniel, annoyed. He looked at Daniel as if he were the reason for this hassle of a discussion.
“I don’t know! He make it up!” Chris said.
Tears came to my eyes. I felt like I had no say what Chris did with Daniel when he had time with him. I felt the horror of not knowing. I felt powerless, engulfed in sadness, fear.
“I don’t want you to leave Daniel with Tracy,” I said through my tears. Daniel in my arms, put his hand to my face, wet his hand with my tears, looked at me curiously.
“You want I help you, you don’t want I leave Daniel with Tracy!”
I couldn’t believe I had vocalized that: I had actually made a rule. It would probably offend Tracy, but Daniel was my child and I didn’t want him in her company any more. I didn’t want to offend Tracy. Surely she was facing issues from what she had escaped from, but I just didn’t want Daniel with her.
“Yes I want help but no, I don’t want you to leave Daniel with Tracy,” I said. Daniel was patting the wet of my face against my cheek. I shifted him to my other hip. “Don’t say it unkindly. Just, if you want time with Daniel I don’t want you suddenly going off because of an appointment. Make your appointments when you don’t have Daniel.”
Chris began steering me toward the door. He did that whenever I reached his limit of tolerance – which was so, so low. He didn’t want to talk with me any more. He wanted us gone – me and my teary face and Daniel who didn’t keep his mouth shut.
“OK, OK, I not leave Daniel with Tracy” he said, opening the wire of his front door.
“Do you mean that?” I asked, incredulous. Had I actually established a boundary?
“Yeah yeah I mean it,” Chris said.
As his body moved forward on me backing out of his front door, I saw Phong, Tracy’s son, in the shadows of the house in the background. I hadn’t known he was there. I wondered what he would tell his Mum, how he would say it. I wondered what he knew.
Minutes later, Daniel and me were driving away from Tracy’s house, Chris behind us. I did not trust what he had said, but felt I should learn trust. It’s just that, Chris had an awful habit of delivering words to you, wrapped in what you wish.
Copyright, Noeleen&Daniel 50/50