He Leaves

Melissa Freund

He’s in front of the house. He leaves his car in front of the house. He leaves the keys in the ignition of his 1972, olive green, Dodge Dart, which sits in idle in front of the house. He leaves his courage, stashed in the corner of the glove box, wedged between a smashed can of PBR and his favorite 8-track tape, while he ascends the steps in front of the house. He leaves a short path of indented footprints (more noticeably the back halves because he’s always been a heavy-heal-striker) along the edge of the grass in front of the house. He leaves out the part about his clothes being hand-me-downs that his two older brothers wore, when she tells him she likes his button-up flannel, as she tentatively leads him inside of the house. Though his hands are shaking, he leaves not a moment of hesitation linger in the air between her father’s threats, and his confident reply that he’s sure he wants to take her out of the house. He leaves her angry father, and the faint smell of gasoline, in front of the house. 

He leaves a 25% tip for the waitress, whom he noticed is pregnant, and has an unclaimed left hand, even though she mixed up their drinks and the French fries were cold. He leaves his pride behind the coatrack and rolls his sleeves up to mid-arm, as she drags him out to the middle of the armory floor to dance. He leaves her on the front porch, cheek still tingling in the spot where his lips grazed her skin, watching as the tail lights fade to nothing, standing in front of the house. He leaves a message on the answering machine, the next morning at 9am, with an occasional stutter, asking whether he can come again to meet her in front of the house.

He leaves the attic bedroom—the last of the 3 boys—packs his belongings into his, olive green, Dodge Dart, kisses his ma’ on the cheek, shakes the weather-worn hand of his father, and steers himself north, eyes fixed upon the rearview mirror, as he drives away from the front of the house. He leaves the door unlocked and his key on the counter, when he drives across town, and joins her on the sidewalk, gazing up at the front of their new house. He leaves an echo of his fingerprint on the gold band as he slips it around her finger; a symbol of their unity, which she would later misplace 3 times, once recruiting the mailman to help comb through the gravel in front of the house. 

He leaves the fridge door open and the television on, as they race across town to the delivery room, where he later learns his excessive haste was unnecessary, as he waits there, 22 hours and 18 minutes, pacing back and forth to the waiting room so he can check the score of the Packer game, finally deciding it was all worth it once he’s cradling that, 5 pound 6 ounce, spitting-image of her father, in his forearm. He leaves two little girls, arms waving in the air, begging “Daddy, don’t go!” every time he has a business trip. He leaves a plate full of half-eaten cookies for his “Little Miss” to discover every Christmas morning and the pastel colored eggs hiding in places they’re sure to be found. He leaves the faint smell of aftershave, a musty combination of spices and citrus, every Sunday morning, trailing behind him all over the house. He leaves the mountain of files and paperwork waiting at the corner of his desk because, upon awakening to 8 inches of packing snow, he couldn’t resist the urge to take his snow blower out into the yard to create an enormous pile of snow, which after an entire Saturday, spent bundled up in long johns, mittens and scarves, would morph into a 16 foot long, 7 foot tall, replication of Noah’s Ark, complete with giraffe and turtles, that would take precisely four months and 12 days until finally melting into an incomprehensible mass of slush, sitting in front of the house. He leaves the arrangements of 11 different sets of Legos, including a spaceship with sound effects and a paper bag full of miniature sets collected from Happy Meals—even though he trips over them at least twice a day, lying on the floor all over the house.

He leaves the office—3 hours and 28 minutes too early—with the message light flashing on the answering machine and seven emails remaining unanswered, so he can be to the field in time to take his position in the coach’s box behind third base and signal the runner to keep heading home. He sprints through the leaves and the brush, stop-watch in hand, racing to every mile-marker, so he can call out split-times to his girls, running side-by-side just like when they were young and came running down the driveway so they could meet his car in front of the house.

He leaves his “Little Miss,” barely 18 and the smallest of two girls—the first of the family to move away to college—with a brand new laptop, a dorm stuffed full with anything she might need, a belly full of Olive Garden, and an extra-long bear hug, taking his time because he’s apprehensive of returning to an empty house. He leaves the tear running down his cheek, even though everyone’s watching, as he happily gives away his baby girl because he knows she can’t forever stay inside of his house. 

He left two skid marks in the street, various colors of shattered glass, and an olive green Dodge Dart hugging an oak out in front of a house. He left a garage full of tools and machines which no one in the family knows how to use. He left an empty seat at the dinner table, and a silent void that was previously filled with laughter. He left 9 old-school photo albums spilling over with memories that move chronologically through the past— 2 of which remain incomplete— scattered throughout the house. He left a woman who held the key to his heart, and two not so little girls, arms wrapped around each other, begging “Daddy, don’t go!”