You flip burgers. That's how you make your living now.
You, with your twenty hours shy of a degree in Psychology.
Your 3.6 GPA. Your $35,000 student loan debt.
There was a time when high school kids did this job. Now it’s you. Big ol’ balding, fat bellied you.
Big, stupid you.
The man who for some reason, at thirty years of age, just can’t figure it out.
How he got stuck here, in this job.
Or how he lost his wife.
And his kids.
And his house.
His so-called "manufactured home" because, God knows, even in the good times it’s all you could afford.
Not a brick house in a nice neighborhood like the one you grew up in.
A manufactured home on a weed lot on the outskirts of town.
A trailer, just like she said.
No wonder she left.
But god damn, she knew it when she married you. You bought the thing together, and then she never stopped complaining. And then comes the layoff, the temp jobs, the food bank.
And then JD, that asshole.
JD with his drawl and his sly grin, playing his three chords at that Christmas party way back when, crooning and winking and telling jokes. Flirting. In general. With anybody. Everybody.
JD, who knows how to play the ladies, how to make 'em swoon, how to reel ‘em in.
And which one takes the bait?
Ex-wife, I mean.
JD's the kind of guy who flies the stars and bars. You never understood that aspect of southern culture. Say something about it and you’ll get an hour long lecture on southern heritage and the real reasons for the Civil War.
Listening to JD ramble like some sort of Elvis headed professor of American History it’s difficult to remember that he's a plumber. That’s right. A plumber. I mean, Jesus, you could understand Stace's preference if he was some kind of big time money making sugar daddy, but the son of a bitch is a plumber.
“Smart," she says. "Makes way more'n you."
“Makes enough to keep us fed,” she says.
“Got health insurance,” she says. “Ain’t got to worry ‘bout that no more.”
“My job doesn’t offer health insurance,” you tell her. “Only to management.”
”He don’t make excuses,” she says. “He just goes out and gets what we need.”
"Listen, bitch. It’s he doesn’t make excuses. You can’t even talk, you illiterate hick.” You only think that part. You don’t say it. You hardly say anything anymore to upset her. You love her. You love your kids. She gets pissed off and you don’t see any of them for weeks. But she is a bitch for taking them away, and for shacking up with JD.
“He don’t flip god damn burgers for a living.”
She has the last word. Always. I mean, what can you say to that?
What can you say to the truth?
And then you're out, and JD is in. She has the boy. And the baby. And then you see JD Sturkie with your wife and your son and your sweet baby girl just strolling down the street like they own it. Like they've always been.
Like you never existed.
She takes the trailer, then gives it up. She and JD move across town and just let the bank take it. And so you ask her why -- why she didn't let you have the damned thing if she was just going to give it back to the bank.
“You couldn't have paid for it anyway,” she says. "You would have lost it anyway."
“I got nowhere to go, Stace,” you tell her. “I'm sleeping in the car.”
“That ain't my fault,” she says. “You never learn’t to stand on your own. Now you got to. I ain’t carryin' you no more.”
And damn…you could kill her where she stands. You could beat her freakin' beautiful head in -- smash her perfect, porcelain face and leave her bleeding and broken in the dirt.
But it passes.
The shaking hands. The evil, arrogant thoughts that, though secret, make you ashamed.
And you know you just love her, and you love your boy, who is calling JD daddy, and your baby girl, and you loved the house you bought, and you know that the two of you, you and Stace, could have got it paid for, could have owned that tin box and made it a home.
You keep waiting for the thing to come apart but it doesn’t. You know that sooner or later JD will move on, find somebody new. It's been almost a year now. They seem to be holding solid.
You hear that he's out there, playing the field, fucking anything he can get his hands on, but that Stace just tolerates it.
She doesn't have to work. Stays home with the kids.
Who even knew that's what she wanted?
Meanwhile, you've been sleeping in your car, or on your brother's couch when his wife will let you, showering when and where you can, shaving in the rear-view mirror. The boss complains that your clothes are wrinkled.
The boy working the drive through had a chip on his shoulder.
He was just a young punk with a chip on his shoulder, thinking he had it figured out, thinking like you used to think, back before the shit hit the fan, back before your world fell into the crapper.
And you could have let what he said go.
Should have let it go.
But then, in reality, you couldn't have.
Because you'd seen her that morning...you'd seen Stace, and she had been particularly cruel, letting you know she was going to marry JD, and that he planned to adopt the kids, and that, sure, you can fight it, if you can afford a lawyer and think the court is going to give some homeless, burger-flipping asshole any more than visitation, if that.
"You should," she said, "Just let them go. Let a real man be their father."
And when the kid told you that you stank, and called you a loser, you knew both things were true. That you hadn't been able to do more than wash up in the bathroom and probably did stink, and that yes, you were a loser -- a big, fat loser who could make a long list of the many things he'd lost just in the last two years.
But true or not, you didn't want to hear it.
And after you threw that first punch you know you wouldn't be able to stop...that you might beat the boy to death.
And by the time they pulled you off and pinned you to the floor his face -- his smug, arrogant, stupid little face -- was a made of jelly.
A swirl of grape and cherry.
Blood and bruises, snot and tears.
And then you heard the sirens in the distance, and looked around at the faces of shocked coworkers and customers, and you knew that this was just another step in the wrong direction, farther from Stace, farther from your son and your daughter.
Farther from everything you've ever really loved or wanted.