"There's something I feel like I have to talk about. I know who the guy is, okay? Both of you are going to lose your jobs if the plant closes down this year. That's right, isn't it? I'm concerned that maybe you're thinking about leaving town if that happens. That makes a real problem for me, you know? Because I'm not going to let anything separate me from my kids."
"Nothing's been decided yet."
"What's that mean?"
"Nothing's been decided yet."
"You're telling me that you and this guy are actually already talking about moving out of town."
"It's just talking."
"You have got to understand...let me be as clear about this as I can: we have joint custody...there is no way I'm going to permit you to take my kids away from here."
"So you're saying that if something good comes up in...in California, I have to turn it down!"
"No, I'm not saying that."
"Well what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that I'm not going to let you take my kids away from me. If you decide you have to move, that's your decision. But you're going to have to give me custody of the kids nine months out of the year. Through the school year."
"You'd take my children away from me?"
"That's what you're talking about doing to me, isn't it?"
"They need me."
"They need me."
"I'm just saying that I'm not going to let you take my children away."
"Todd, he's a good man, and he loves the children. And they really like him. He'll be a good father to them."
"They don't need a good father. They already have one."
"I don't mean to replace you, I mean in addition to you."
"That's fine by me, as long as it's here in town. Understand me, I'll do whatever it takes to keep this from happening. If I have to go to court and spend myself broke, I'll do it."
"Then we'll go to court!"
"Okay, that's the way it is. But I'll fight you with every cent I've got. It's going to be long, and it's going to be miserable, and you're probably going to lose. So think of that when you're thinking about San Francisco. "
"You're just pissed because I've found someone, you bastard. All you want to do is spoil this for me!"
Jan...Jan, listen. These last two years... I didn't know loneliness could feel like this does...like being physically sick. I don't wish that on you. I wouldn't wish that on anybody. I just don't want the price of your relationship to be for me to lose my kids."
"All I wanted was for you to work on it with me... to come up with some different arrangement."
"I don't see what there is to work on. You take the kids to San Francisco, they have to be there for the school year. So you get them nine months, I get them three, right? That's just not acceptable to me. They need me. Don't you see that...can't you even admit it?"
"They need you tangentially."
"Why San Francisco, anyway?"
"Bobby's got a once-in-a-lifetime offer...well, it's just perfect for both of us...I'm sure I can find something there, too. And it's a great opportunity for Mike and Gina."
"Jan, look... if this guy loves you like you think he does, he can find something else to do here when he loses his job. What you're asking me to do is give up my kids so that some guy I don't even know can have just the kind of job he wants, you know that? I think that's a pretty rigorously logical statement of what you're asking. You know, I'd've never done this to you. When we split up, I made a commitment to stay here until the kids were grown. No matter what. I'd pump gas if I had to. I guarantee you, sixteen more years and I'd have never hit you with shit like this."
"You can say that. It's different for a man than it is for a woman."
"You're a fucking professional; it's reasonable for me to expect you to stay employed in this goddamn town."
"All the years we were together and you never cared about the children then. You didn't do a damn thing with or for them, then...why all this concern now?"
"It's not just now, it's been two years. I've had Gina half-time almost all her life, you know that? She needs me! And I was a better dad then you think I was when we were together. You look at me through shit-colored glasses..."
"You're not capable of taking care of them! You don't know what you're talking about..."
"What the fuck do you know about me? You haven't lived with me for two years...you don't know anything about me! And you didn't like me for a long time before that...you haven't liked me for years. You fucking hate me; I'm your bogeyman. You don't know shit about me!"
"I know you better than you know yourself. Todd, you'll remember this as one of the times that you really fucked up. You can't do it. You can't care for them. You're going to fail, you'll fail, you're going to fail..."
She's using this gypsy voice now. The many-scarfed soothsayer behind the crystal ball. Ghostly, distant, removed. As soon as I realize this, I realize also that it used to be really effective. A bull's-eye jab at the insecurity button. Now, to my surprise, the gypsy voice just seems funny. This distinguishes it from the rest of the conversation, which isn't funny at all.
"You're not thinking clearly," she says.
I take a deep breath. "What you are asking me to do...again...and you still haven't acknowledged it, is to give up my kids so that another guy I don't even know can have just the kind of job he wants."
But the line is dead.
"Look...I'm begging you. Please figure out some way around this. If we go to court, it's going to be nothing but bad for the kids. This can't be an either/or situation. There's got to be some third alternative."
But it's only more of the same. From me and from her. And after a while she hangs up again.
Outside, under the stars, I fill the dog's bowl and scratch his shoulders. I say, "hup!" and he jumps and rests his paws against my chest. "Off," brings him back to the ground, and he wanders over to inspect his dinner. I stare at the stars a while then pray in a halting manner that I think is probably common among the theologically challenged such as myself.
"God, please help me get through this...please help us get through this. Please help me see how to get through this thing in the way that will be least damaging to my kids."
I used to pray a lot. Now those parts of me are reluctant from disuse.