We broke up right after the baby was born. I’m not sure who broke up with who. We might’ve just agreed at the same time, but for different reasons. He probably broke up with me because he didn’t want the responsibility of being a dad. Any other time he would’ve been fighting for our relationship while I’d be the one threatening to call it quits.
For me, I couldn’t take the cheating anymore, and I was sick of the hopelessness he carried around. He depressed me. When he was around I didn’t feel like dressing; I didn’t care much for anything. Everything I did seemed to require more energy than I had only to end fruitless. We couldn’t seem to accomplish anything. And when we were together, we didn’t…except for Kira. She was the only good thing that came out of our relationship.
Marcus didn’t like to work but he could get a job anywhere, doing anything. He got jobs people wished they could get, but he never kept them. Most times he didn’t even stick around long enough for the first paycheck.
So I knew breaking up with him was the right thing to do. And since I did, I began taking online classes and secured a job at Barnes and Noble and this small apartment. My mom watched my daughter while I worked but I had to pay her. It was hard making ends meet but I was getting by.
Marcus came by every now and again. Recently he got a job as a forklift driver at a lumber yard. He’s been there for a month. Pretty impressive. That’s long enough for at least two paychecks!
This evening he came by and asked to hold the baby. It was the third time he held her in his arms since she was born three months ago.
I saw the look in his eyes as he beheld her sleeping frame and it warmed my heart. Kira had all of Marcus’ features, none of mine. I wished she looked more like me, then I wouldn’t have to see his face all the time.
Because he seemed to be in a good mood, I figured this would be a good time to ask him for the money to get diapers. My mom helped me out the last time, with a warning: “I am not your personal piggy bank. Kira is yours and Marcus’ responsibility.”
Today was the first time I asked Marcus for money for Kira. In the past when I asked him for money, no matter the amount, he’d rant that money was all I wanted from him. I still didn’t know where he got that idea since he rarely had any. And when he did, he always had the luxury of spending it on himself.
But the look in his eyes watching Kira emboldened me, so I said, carefully choosing every word, “Marcus, I was wondering if you could spare a few dollars. Kira needs diapers.”
His eyes waxed cold and when he carefully laid Kira back in her crib, I knew the visit was over. My mind started calculating. My daughter had only four diapers left. I’d stretched them as far as they could go.
“I couldn’t have five minutes with my child without you hitting me up for money,” he complained.
I glared at him incredulous. “Your child has needs.”
“If you were taking care of business, her needs would be met,” he replied.
I went off. “I’m the one taking care of her. She needs more than just you holding her every now and again.” I started counting off on my fingers, “She needs milk and diapers and—“
“Don’t tell me what she needs!” Marcus shouted, then started flailing his arms around ranting about how everyone just wanted to use him and how no one ever cared about him and what he was going through.
I shouldn’t’ve been shocked but I was. I couldn’t believe how self-centered he was at that moment. Kira stirred in her crib, but remained asleep. I sighed relieved. I didn’t want her hearing us argue about her.
Summoning all the humility of the universe, I said meekly, “I’m sorry, Marcus. I know you have a lot going on in your life, but—“
“There is no but, Jessica,” he said sourly. “If you care about what’s going on in my life, you don’t negate it with a ‘but’.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” I said, my voice even, but my fingernails were digging holes in my palms. “I only meant to say that it’s really hard buying everything all by myself. I’m just asking if you will help me. You don’t have to give me the money. You can pick the stuff up yourself so you’ll know it’s really for her.”
Marcus regarded me silently and I thought he was considering my idea as a good peace treaty but it turned out he was just searching for a way to wiggle out of responsibility. “If I start picking up stuff, then you won’t,” he answered finally. “You just trying to drop the whole responsibility on me. Just like you to try to trap me.”
My eyes burned with tears I refused to shed and my body shook with rage. If I had something in my hands… Marcus was still ranting and raving making it all about him, but I couldn’t hear him anymore. I was so done with him.
“What you shaking your head at me for, like you feel sorry for me or something?” Marcus demanded.
I shook my head and scoffed. It was reflexive; I didn’t realize I had done it until after I did it. I guess the slap across my face was reflexive too. He stood before me fuming while my face was inflamed. It was not the first time Marcus had hit me, but I was about to make it his last time when Kira whimpered and drained all the rage out of me.
Marcus huffed and puffed like the big bad wolf, but I wasn’t running away like a little pig. “You’re right, Marcus,” I told him. “It’s all about you. The whole world is against you, but you won’t have to worry about me anymore. Kira either. You’re free.”
He narrowed his eyes gauging my words. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
I left him standing in Kira’s room. He followed me. I led him to the front door and opened it for him. “We don’t have to do this anymore, Marcus. You don’t have to do this anymore. You don’t even have to come by here anymore,” I said resolutely.
He stood before me with a bemused expression, then reached in his pocket and pulled out his wallet. I raised my hand to stop him.
“No. I really mean it, Marcus. You are free. Keep your money.”
“Didn’t you just finish telling me my baby need diapers?” he asked sounding exasperated and confused. “You telling me she don’t need them anymore? Or were you lying to me the whole time?”
I gave him a tired smile because truthfully I was tired. “It doesn’t matter now,” I told him. “Please leave.”
Marcus didn’t leave. He studied me silently for long intense moments. I sighed and waited.
“How you gone get the diapers?”
I didn’t know. “What do you care?” I asked and pushed open the storm door, but it whooshed back and Marcus remained.
“Is this some kind of trick?” he asked putting his hands on his hips.
I sighed, losing my patience. “What do you want from me, Marcus?”
He hesitated, then said, “I want you to be straight up with me.” I shrugged. “Does the baby need diapers or not?”
“I’ll take care of it,” I told him. “She’ll have what she needs one way or the other.”
He scratched his chin. “Here,” he said pulling out two one hundred dollar bills.”
I hid my shock and waved the money away. Marcus had never given me more than five dollars at one time. And I had to pay it back. What would I have to do for two hundred?
“Look, girl, take the damn money! I ain’t gone have my baby running around with no diapers.”
This time I was the one bewildered as I received the cash. We remained at the door staring at each other, then Kira whimpered. Marcus headed to her room; I followed him. He surveyed the small room, and picked up the bag of diapers and peered inside. Then he dropped it and started going through the dresser and the closet.
All the while I stood at the doorway watching him and Kira remained asleep, a bubble of drool between her sweet little lips.
“I thought you said you were taking care of business,” Marcus said. I raised my eyebrows, mildly amused by this interesting spectacle. “Our child is poor.” Then he pulled out his wallet again and withdrew another hundred dollar bill and thrust the money into my hand. “Don’t you dare refuse it, Jessi. You go out and get what she needs. I want to see toys and clothes and diapers—“
“Three hundred dollars won’t buy her the world, Marcus,” I said sardonically, stuffing the money into my pocket.
Kira awoke crying. Marcus picked her up with haste but was unable to console her. After a few moments, he handed her to me and watched me lay her down in the crib to change her diaper. Then he followed me to the kitchen where I prepared her bottle. He peered into the milk can which was half full. He appeared satisfied when he saw two more large cans in the cabinet.
“It won’t buy her the world, Jess, but we got to start somewhere,” he said finally and headed to the door. “Be back next week,” he said as he pushed out the storm door.
As he walked out into the night, I stared after him wondering who that man was and if I’d ever see him again.