On the day he moved out of our house for good, she was crying in the master bathroom and staring down at the opened tank of the toilet.

It was broken. Some kind of drainage problem, where the water wouldn’t fill and the flush wouldn’t go. The tank was pale, sickly white, yellowed like the edges of an ill person’s eyes, thanks to the dingy light bulb.

He was loading his things up in the back of his red pick-up truck. He’d gotten it somewhat recently, with the money from after his mother had died. JO BO, the license plate said. It stood for Joann Bohannon, his mother, my grandmother.

He kept walking down the long, L-shaped hall, into his room, where all his Pepsi memorabilia, golf knick-knacks, old faded clothes, spent workout equipment, and his sprawling, creaky bed lived. It was right across the hall from her bedroom, with the master bath with the broken toilet.

For years they’d slept apart. At first she’d said it was because of her bad back. That might have even been true. But soon the reasons deepened and multiplied and then, finally, the chasm between them expanded from a small scrap of hallway to a span of two miles, to another corner of town. A little white apartment with beat-up stone walls and no garage for his nice, new truck to live in.

He finished packing. He went to leave and she went after him. Would he please take a look at the toilet, now? Could he take his big red toolbox out of his car, bring it back through the garage, this one last time, to tighten this or let out that, to fiddle with the flush mechanism, to refill the tank, to fix it?

She was not usually a crier. I have seen her cry less than a dozen times, certainly. But then she was crying, hard. If he couldn’t fix it, she plead, could he at least call the repairman he knew?

He stood over her, chilly for once in his life instead of red-hot and pissed.

“You’re going to have to do these things, now,” he said, almost gently. Like he was scolding her for her own good. “You’re going to have to learn how to do them.”

Later, in his truck, he would tell me that this was the moment when she finally grasped what divorce meant. That he suspected she wanted to take it back, once his room was empty and his truck was loaded up and the toilet was failing to run.

But she didn’t. And he wasn’t exactly the most perceptive guy, so I can’t vouch that he was right. I think something did strike her then, and it filled her up with sorrow and stunned her with the enormity of her loss. I think she loved him again, or never ceased to, and I know that even when I’m leaving town for a week or five days loss can loom and rise up above me, seeming insurmountable, and frightening, even. I can imagine roughly what it’s like to finally rid yourself of the sloppy, rude, undercontrolled, self-destructive being who has haunted you for twenty years, only to discover in that final parting that of course, of course, of course you still love him, even if you don’t want to, of course you do, how could you not, when you spent so much time trying to help him.

But she took his words to heart. She was in charge of the house now, the only one who could oversee its functioning and maintenance. It was probably the only sensible thing he ever said to her in his fucking life.

She got a small black toolbox of her own. Filled it with the things she needed; hammers, allen wrenches, an electric screwdriver with a pretty purple hilt. A small green lawnmower and a shovel for the snow. She got the toilet fixed the next day, without another complaint. I took charge of mowing the lawn, folding the socks, trimming the hedges, keeping the newly emptied spare room bare and clean. She took care of everything else. It wasn’t even that hard to absorb all his evacuated duties, in the end. Just a bit scary at the start.

— — –

The first 100 Ohio Portraits are now available for $2.99, forKobo, Nook, Kindle, and all other ebook formats.

Originally published at erikadprice.tumblr.com.

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