The John

Maureen Moynihan

© Copyright 2023 by Maureen Moynihan

Photo by Wesley Pacífico on Unsplash
Photo by Wesley Pacífico on Unsplash.
It’s easier to get a turtle out of its shell than a husband out of the bathroom. I’ve found pounding on the door while hollering “Isn’t your ass cold?” is not an effective strategy. Sliding notes under the bathroom door also yields poor results:

Hello! I’m the trash. Please take me out!”
Hello! I’m your dog. Please take me out!” 
Hello! I’m your wife. Please take me out!”

What irked me the most is I knew exactly what Nick was doing in there. He was RELAXING, God dammit it. Worse yet, he was RELAXING between the witching hours of 5:00pm-7:00pm, when the head of every child between ages of 4-6 begins to spin around like self induced exorcism.  I believe any parent who engages in such self-centered, egocentric behavior should lose their phone privileges and be sent to bed without any supper.  

Short of striking a match to the door, dinner was the only event that inspired Nick to emerge from the bathroom.  Nick loves food. I mean he LOVES food and talks about it like a teenage girl processing her first breakup: incessantly and lacking any linguistic structure. The presentation, flavor, texture, aroma, presentation, and post-coital meal bliss all get tossed into Nick’s culinary monologue, which usually falls on unappreciative ears. 

How did you prepare this?” Nick asked, chomping into the leg of Rotisserie Chicken fresh off the Meals-To-Go tanning bed of the deli department.

After whacking it over the head with my butter churn, I plucked and basted it in a rich buttery sauce. ” I replied.

Nick is a natural in the kitchen. He opens the refrigerator door and just sees a recipe waving to him from the confines of the compartmentalized drawers. Measuring cups and spoons are not required tools for Nick as can intuitively “see” how much salt to add or “smell” when the bacon is about to transition from crispy to burnt.  

Cooking is not intuitive for me. A recipe must include explicit directions; preferably a video.  If domain specific vocabulary terms such as blanch or puree are in the instructions, I do not make it.  I also do not poach things, albeit an egg or an elephant. How or why I became in charge of our family dinners is beyond me. But I do enjoy a generous glass of wine or three while cooking.  Here’s what I think happened:

One day, in the Garden of Eden, Adam was hangry.  Having grown tired of his incessant complaining, Eve plucked an apple from a branch to shut him up. Hell, I bet she would have preferred to pick a Bud Light so he’d really be happy, but her resources were limited.  Throw in the fact that women are biologically engineered to feed humans and SHAZAM!!  Women evolved into walking Wholefoods Markets. 

Flash forward a gazillion years later…

I’m submerged in the couch, Day 2 post Chemo. My treatment plan is in full swing and I woke up that morning without eyelashes. Once again, my self-image takes a blow as I mourn the loss of another alluring feature of my femininity and I wonder if I’ll ever feel pretty again.   TV women who want to lose weight and I hate them. 

Nick strolls into the living room and asks, “What is for dinner?”  His words trigger a savage instinct in me: I decide that I must kill him. 

I leap from the couch, 121 pounds of flying Adriamycin, and strangle my hands around his neck. If Paclitaxel and Docetaxel hadn’t destroyed my fingernails, maybe I would've gotten the job done. 

 Nick swats me away with the ease of a fly and I splat on the kitchen floor. The tile feels cool against my flush cheek until I notice a film of dirt on top of the grout and realize I’ve just discovered something else that needs to be cleaned.  Nick steps over my body, mumbling something about cancer taking my sanity, and opens the refrigerator door, oblivious to the opera rumbling inside of me. 

It takes all my strength to summon up enough energy to sit up and lean against the kitchen cabinets, grateful for their stability. Nick’s back is facing me while most of his body has been engulfed by the refrigerator. He’s opening and sniffing containers of food with the intensity of a K9 canine making its way through airport security. 

I’m piqued by a question that’s been looping around in my head for weeks, one that my mind will not shut up about. Usually, I can summon enough restraint to brush it aside or swallow it whole but not today. I take aim at the back of Nick’s head and let it rip. 

 “Why don’t you ever go to chemo with me?” 

Because your sisters do that.” He takes a swing of  orange juice from the container knowing it drives me crazy. I bite my tongue.

I think it would be nice if you’d go,” I say. 

Fine,” He says, wiping his lips with a sleeve. “I’ll go, if you can just ask the Meal Train people to send something other than chicken. I’m about to grow feathers.”

I shrug my shoulders. “It’s what the girls like.” 

Why is it always about girls?” he growled. “Or your fuckin cancer. I’m so sick of it.”  

He’s talking to the refrigerator with his mouth full, spooning in heaps of fettuccine alfredo from the casserole dish. 

I’m sorry if my cancer has inconvenienced you,” I grit through my teeth. 

He slaps the lid back on the container then pulls a drumstick from a bowl of fried chicken. 

You have to admit your cancer has turned our whole fuckin lives upside down.” He waves the drumstick at my face as if he’s conducting an orchestra before ripping a bite of the leg. 
What are you, a Nedrathol?”  I cringe at his shameless lack of manners, which he applauds with a grin. 

Believe it or not, I didn’t not sign up for cancer. Having my breasts removed, losing my hair, most of my sanity and being drained of every ounce of energy has not been fun.”

Don’t forget you lost your job too,” Nick points out with the drumstick.

Oh…thanks for the reminder,” I seeth. 

You’re welcome,” he says with a full mouth. “And by the way we need to refinance the house.”

Why do we need to refinance the house?”

Because you're not working.”

Because I have cancer.”

The bank does care if you have cancer.”

Why can’t you get a second job? You work from 10:00-2:00 and take a two hour lunch.”

You’ve always resented my sales hours,” he says. Besides, who would take care of you and the kids if I got a second job? ”

Exactly how are you ‘taking care of me and the kids?’”

Hey, I’m the one who found the cancer. If it wasn’t for me you’d probably be dead by now.” He wiggles five fingers in the air and points the drum stick at me with the other. 

You’re welcome.”  He slams the refrigerator door louder than necessary and leaves.
I don’t dignify his comment with a response. Instead I retreated to the bathroom because the shower is the best place to cry in peace.

My stomach turns cartwheels until the water pressure drums away enough steam for me to stand.  Anger and grief pour out of my body, spiraling down the drain into God knows where.  I only know it will show up in some other form because that kind of energy never goes away, it just finds another person to sink its teeth into. 

The bathroom is safe because the ceiling fan whirls at a breathtaking velocity that would even panic a starved seagull off the beach.  No one can hear me thinking as I unpack all the derogatory language my husband has been using with increasing volition. 

What’s that faggot have to be so in your face?” he said, when Gus Kenworthy shared a victory moment with his boyfriend. 

His argument about the use of the N word, “Blacks use it amongst each other. It’s racist if I can’t use the same word.”

The Holocaust. “Genocides happen to every race. Why can’t the Jews move on with their lives.”

When I addressed his homophobic, racist or discriminatory language he’d become more defensive. “Relax, it's only words.”

All acts of dehumanization start with words,” I’d tell him. “And I don’t want those words flying around our house, getting into the sofa, clinging to the curtains, especially in front of the kids.” I’m particularly boiling with rage because he’s rekindled his devotion to the Catholic Church since my diagnosis.  

 “Well it’s my house too; I can say what I want,” he’d tell me. 

What would Jesus say?” I’d remind him. 

A cacophony of shrieking noise shatters my emotional breakdown. Even more concerning, the sound is growing louder and stronger with each passing pitch,  headed right towards me, the mutilated, very naked person in the shower. 

The door flings open in a fantastic sense of urgency as my daughters marched into the bathroom:

Damn that Eve. 

The John is not a private place for mothers, I remind myself.  Again. Children are hard wired to hunt down caretakers and are fundamentally opposed to knocking, unless it’s time for Trick or Treat. One of the best things about being a working mother is the euphoric feeling of locking the bathroom door and not having to worry about anyone crawling under the stall. 

I peek from behind the shower curtain and notice Julia is toting a recorder while Sienna’s arm is engulfed by a box of Cheez-Its. 

The 4th graders got recorders today,” Julia reports. “We’re going to play them at the spring concert.  I have to practice. Every day.” She gives the recorder a little toot in the spirit of repetition. 

 “Oh! That’s exciting,” I say from behind the curtain, contemplating what to do to preserve my modesty, though it’s not my naked body I don’t want them to see. It’s my naked body that looks like it went through a meat grinder.  One thing I know is true; they have no intention of leaving the bathroom without me. 

I shut off the shower just in time for Sienna’s daily report. 

Jimmy Babarosa threw up in gym class,” she informs me.

Ewww!” Julia interrupts her practice session to contort her face in disgust.

Sounds like he had a rough day,” I said. Behind the curtain, I strategized the best route to the towel rack and go for it, hoping Jimmy Babarosa’s stomach bug is enough of a distraction for me to grab cover.

Did they have to put the sand on the floor? Julia asked. 

Yeah!”  said Sienna. “His puke went everywhere. There were chunks of food in it.”

His mother must pack a great sandwich,” I said.

But I was not quick enough. They saw me; eyes big as moons, wondering what in the universe happened to their mother’s body. 

Ouch Mom! That looks like it hurts,” said Julia. 

It looks worse than it feels.” I lied.

Did the cancer do that to you?” asked Sienna.

I nodded my head.  “It’s what I have to do to get the cancer out of my body.”

Are you always going to look that way?” she asked. 

No honey. My body will heal but it will look a little different.” Sienna savored this  idea alongside a Cheez-It.

That’s OK.,” said Julia.

 Recorder practice commenced again. 

Have a Cheez-It Mom,” said Sienna. “They’re really good.”

I squatted down so she could pop a chip in my mouth.  She wrapped her little arms around me and I buried my face in the softness of her neck. They saw ME, their mother, not a cancer patient.

Can we have S’ghieti for dinner?” Sienna asked.

Sure,” I said, gobbling up their strength like Adam did that apple.

 “Let’s go make some dinner,” I said. 

We marched out of the bathroom and into the world; a harmonious procession of unconditional love. And the band played on. 

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