Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Enter Only Once
by Diane Fleming

I think my ex-husband lived by the motto, "Enter only once." Well, we know for sure that he entered at least twice because we have two kids. And they are not adopted because I do remember the labor when they told me I was already eight centimeters dilated and I still didn't realize I was in labor even though my water started leaking hours ago. I had become immune to pain.

He lay in bed next to me at night; his back turned toward me, his head on the pillow. One second he was awake, the next he was snoring long bumpy snores.

I hated him. At first, I had good reasons for hate. Reasons other people might understand. He was mean, he was a bully, and he could not give or receive gifts.

But forget those reasons. Now, I hated his snores. I hated his shoes. I hated his socks. I hated his mustache -- that sharp prickly gray thing above his lip that represented everything that was wrong with our marriage.

I hated the tone of his voice on the phone, charming when he wanted something, churning when he wanted something -- either technique worked equally well. I hated his words, "All you think about is yourself," as he drove away on weekends with a thousand dollars in his pocket, off to Atlantic City to gamble because men deserve some time alone.

I lay next to him in bed and leaned into him, by accident of course. I couldn't bear another one of his rejections if I was to try once again to initiate sex. I leaned into his back as if it was a wall. It supported me, unknowingly. He snored.

I was so sad. I thought of touching myself. But I did not, not with him there. I thought of killing myself. But I did not, not with him there.

He woke in the morning, banged his elbow on the nightstand, swore at me, got dressed in his Dockers and his plaid sports shirt and those socks and those shoes. He took the kids to school and he bought a large coffee with milk and two sugars, like he always did, and he bought a racing form and he drove to work where they warned him of losing his job because he treated his employees the way he treated me. Other people didn't put up with his meanness—the way I did. He kept coming home at night though I wished he wouldn't.

I schemed to find him a girlfriend -- me, the passive-aggressive problem solver. But no woman would have him, no one but me. Because he wore a sign on his chest that read, "Enter here only once." And I had already entered and there was no room for more.
Diane Fleming has published a book of poetry, Trip to Normal, and recently won first place in The Austin Chronicle's Short Story Contest (2001) for her story, "Valium."  She is currently a technical writer at Vignette. She is grateful to her writing teachers from SWT and Austin Community College, to her writing group friends, and to her once and future therapists. Originally from the Northeast, she found her true home in Austin six years ago where she lives with her son, her boyfriend, and her hairy dog, Buddy.