There were a few years when it didn’t feel like I had a heart any more, there was just a lot of broken glass in there that cut me up when I thought about my life. But then Cassandra happened. When I met her I knew within ten minutes that she was the one I’d never get over. If I didn’t marry her, I’d spend the rest of my life wishing I had, and comparing every other woman to her. When I see her I feel a lurch in my heart, every single time.

My daughter Caitlin was born six months ago and she is a healthy noisy life-changing miracle. Things aren’t perfect but we’re building a good life. We’ve got a jump on the houseful of kids we want, Cass is finding her way as a writer, her lifelong dream. And for the rest of it – well, I’ve still got a few things to figure out.

I get home to our tiny house, in the Fields of Concorde village in the mountains of western North Carolina, pull into the driveway, get out of my truck and up onto the deck and I’m just taking my boots off when she comes out to say hi and she tips my face up to hers and kisses me. There’s that jumping in my heart because she’s glad to see me too and we go in and I lean against the kitchen counter and let her kiss me for a while, and I let her start to pull my shirt off and I have just slid my hand up her back to unhook her bra when right on cue, it’s like clockwork, the baby starts crying. She has some special sense about when we start messing around. I can watch a war movie with machine guns and bombs and airplanes and she’ll snooze through it but the minute I start to get a little loving her mouth is wide open and she’s yelling her lungs out. So that’s the end of that.

I take a shower, Cassi’s made dinner, there’s a pot of something bubbling on the stove and it smells good. I look at it, it’s got that fake chicken that I hate but she gives me a plate of it and I’m hungry so I eat it, it’s not as bad as I thought, and I have seconds and then thirds.

I’m doing the dishes when there is a tap at the door and it’s Adam from next door at Tech Heaven. There is a little compound of techies who write computer games, they have a sweet little setup with their tiny houses in a group with a big deck in the middle where they hang out. We go over there a few times a week for beer and pizza and everyone plays computer games where you try and kill your friends with swords. They’re good guys, Adam and Zach and Roz and Raj. When Cassi was still into being a techie herself, she worked for Zach, before I got her pregnant, married her, and talked her into writing a novel instead of all that dumb gamer shit about dwarves and elves with magic rings or whatever.

Adam’s got his iPad with him and some printouts of artwork on glossy paper, which he shows me and I have to admit it’s damn good, this kid is impressive. One of Cassi’s current projects is a children’s book she’s writing about an unlucky leprechaun who falls into a well, Adam is doing the illustration. If I don’t watch myself, I could get really jealous of the time she spends with this guy. Adam is good looking in a way that I’m not, he’s got a wiry frame, straight black hair pulled up into a messy top knot, like it’s no effort at all, his clothes always clean and hip, his face so perfect it’s almost pretty. Nothing like me. I’m ripped and tattooed, green eyes and red hair that’s unruly at best, a beard that I keep trimmed short – if nothing else, I refuse to look like a lumberjack. But then, my nose is crooked from getting hit in the face with a baseball, my knuckles are always skinned, my teeth are kind of crooked too, and nobody will ever mistake me for anything but a working-class Irish street punk from South Boston.

Cassi comes out and they talk about rasterizing and vector graphics and SVG and lot of other stuff I don’t understand, she asks questions and Adam shows her things about his illustrations and I’m beginning to feel pretty stupid and out of place. Once I go that route it’s hard to pull back. I wander into the kitchen, pour myself a shot and toss it back because why the hell not. That wakes something up, so I have another, and it needs some company down there so after a while I have another. While Cassi is concentrating on the iPad Adam looks up and asks, to be friendly, what I did today and I say, I dug a hole. A really nice one.

Which is true, I’m a plumber and one of my three jobs is here at the Fields, where things are always breaking down and going wrong, and today I had to dig up a pipe to do a repair. The kid laughs, he thinks I’m making a joke, he has no idea what it’s like for me. All the techies think I’m a riot and I do up the Irish accent which they love and they don’t realize what it feels like to be working class around all these white collar upper class dudes with their straight teeth and their rich-kid prep-school accents.

They finish what they’re doing and Adam stands up to leave. I can tell he doesn’t want to go, the kid is lonely, so when he walks past me I stick out my paw and give him a fist bump, which makes him way too happy, and he trots off.

Cassi smiles slyly and asks me to tell her more about what I can do with a hole, she’s flirting but it makes me miserable again which she sees and she reaches over to the bookcase and picks up the set of wood-carving tools that she got me for my birthday, because I said I wanted to make a crib for little Caitlin and carve animals into it. When are you going to learn how to carve, she says, thinking she’s being helpful, I bet the crib will be beautiful.

She tosses the box to me, not hard but it always pisses me off if someone throws anything at me except a ball. The whiskey is humming away in my brain and before I even think or know what I’m doing, I catch the box and throw it against the wall. She freezes for a second with her mouth hanging open, then goes into the bedroom and slams the door.

I can hear her, muffled crying, she’s really upset, I know I shouldn’t have done that but I can’t bring myself to go in there. What would I even say? That I’m sorry? I wouldn’t mind if she just yelled at me. Growing up, everyone in my family yelled at each other all the time and it didn’t mean anything. When I make her cry like that I wish I had just died instead. It’s just that I can’t stand feeling like a failure in front of her. I can’t bear it, and I don’t know what to do about it.

I pick up the carving set. The wooden box is cracked and the tools are on the floor. She bought it for me as a surprise, even wrapped it up, when I showed her a sketch of what I wanted to do, giraffes and pandas, and she loved it. Maybe she didn’t even care about the the damn crib, she just got me the tools because she thought it would make me happy. I don’t know why that makes me feel sad, but right now it hurts that she loves me. That broken-glass feeling is grinding away again.

Sooner or later she’s going to have enough of me. Angry fucking drunk digging ditches for a living. I’ve finally found someone I can’t live without but I can’t stop fucking it all up. What the hell is wrong with me. I don’t know what to do. If I go in there I’ll make it worse. But if I don’t, that will make it worse too.

All I really want to do is get in my truck and drive away. Just drive. I don’t know where I would go but it doesn’t matter, I can’t stay in this house feeling like this and listening to her cry. I start to grab my keys and then I remember they’re in the pocket of my other jeans, which are on a hook in the bedroom. I can’t even make a big exit slamming out the door now. I’m such a fuckup it’s actually funny and I start laughing, bent over and tears coming down my cheeks, and then dammit I want to cry for real, and all I can think of to do is get away quick so I go out to the driveway to just sit in the truck and for some reason I’ve locked it, which I never do, but now I can’t even open the fucking door and I start kicking it and yelling SHIT, over and over.

She rushes out onto the deck and then trips and falls over backwards right onto her ass and I run up the stairs to help her up and she sees the look on my face and I can smell fear on her, like she thinks I’m going to hit her or something, and that sets me off and I grab her arms to tell her it’s ok, I’m ok now but what comes out of my mouth is, what the hell is wrong with you will you listen to me what the fuck is wrong with you.

I see myself doing this and now I really have to leave because I feel like I’m losing my mind. I go into the house to get the keys but the baby is screaming herself raw, she’s terrified, and it’s all my fault, I’m supposed to be protecting her and instead I’m screaming like a banshee and scaring her to death. I pick her up and hold her to my heart, kiss her sweet little face all screwed up in fear, just rock her against me, my sweet baby girl, I am so sorry. Daddy’s ok. You’re safe. Don’t cry little girl. I won’t yell any more. Shhh, shhh.

Cassi comes and takes her out of my arms, she sits and wraps herself around Caitlin, I can feel her love crackling through the air and I feel something coming up from the earth like tree roots growing up through her feet and around the baby and back down into the ground, just flowing through both of them. I sit on the floor next to them, because there is nothing else to do except wait.

Finally Cait is cried out, and so is Cassi, and she quietly tucks her into her bed, so tenderly it hurts to watch. She goes into the bedroom, gets my keys and drops them onto the floor next to me.

— You’re going to leave me aren’t you. You want to drive away and out of my life. Maybe you should just do it now, get it over with. Give me a chance to stop hurting over you.

I think my heart is actually breaking inside my chest and something slides out from under me.

— I never learned any other way to be, except getting angry, getting drunk. I don’t know how I’ll do it but I’ll change, before you get around to kicking me out. I swear to you, Cassi, I’ll change. This isn’t how I want things to be, I won’t do this to you again. On my mother’s grave, I swear I won’t.

All the fight has gone out of her and I pull her down onto my lap and rock her, the same way she rocked our baby. I just hold her like that with my eyes closed and she finally relaxes and I breathe out. I’m remembering another night, when she told me to go away and not come back, and then she stopped me. Because she wants me in her life. I don’t know why, but she loves me.

I pick her up and carry her into the bedroom and make love to her as gently and sweetly as I can, because it’s the only way I know to show her how much I care about her.

For once, the baby stays asleep.

* * *

I close my eyes but I don’t sleep a wink all night. I want to be done feeling like shit about myself and making such a mess of everything all the time and I need to figure this out before another day goes by. Maybe it’s something about it being dark, now I can see it clearly, what Cassi saw – I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that when things fall apart, I can bail and go somewhere else. It worked for the five years I was living on the road in my truck, before I met her and fell in love, before I was married with a kid and what the hell was I even thinking, that I could be married and still have an escape route mapped out. I get up and go really quietly out onto the deck and sit there looking at the night sky for a while, and then because my wife always does it when she needs to solve a problem, I take out my phone and start making a list. It’s her voice in my mind saying, break it down.

As soon as it’s light out I go inside and get dressed and make coffee and put it in a travel mug. Cassi wants to know where I’m going and she looks worried so I whisper into her hair, I’m going to make you proud of me.

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