THE SOLUTIONS TO BEN'S PROBLEM
Bonnie Jo Campbell
While Connie is at the store buying formula and diapers, load up the truck with the surround-sound home entertainment system and your excellent collection of power tools, put the baby in the car seat, and drive away from this home you built with your own hands. Not to your mother's, because that's where Connie will come looking. Expect that after you leave, she will break all the windows in this living room, including the sliding glass door, which you've already replaced twice. The furnace will run and run. Then she will go to your mother's house, curse at your mother and possibly attempt to burn that house down. Connie has long admired the old three-generation farm house for its big windows and cupola, and the thought that she will never live there will infuriate her.
Wait until Connie comes back from the “store, ” distract her with the baby, then cut her meth with Drano, so that when she shoots it up, she dies.
Put the baby to bed in her crib, then sit right here on the living room couch until Connie comes home. Before she even has a chance to lie about where she's been, grab her hair and knock her head hard into the fireplace that you built from granite blocks that came from the old chimney of the house your great-grandfather built when your family first came to this country—blocks you gathered from the old foundation that sits in your mother's woods. Don't look at the wedding photos on the mantle. Don't look at Connie's wide smile, or the way her head tilts back in an ecstasy that seems to have nothing to do with drugs. Don't let the blood stop you from hitting her one final time to assure you have cracked her skull. Put her meth and her bag of syringes and blood-smeared needles in her hand so the cops find them when they come. You will tell them it was an accident, that you were arguing and the argument escalated because she threatened to shoot meth into the baby.
Just go. Head south where it's warm. After a few hours, pull over at a truck stop, and call your mother to warn her to watch the perimeter, to call the cops if she sees Connie. After that, pretend not to have a wife and baby. When put to the test, Connie might well rise to the occasion of motherhood. Contact the union about getting a job with another local. Resist taking any photographs with you, especially the photographs of your baby at every age. Wipe your mind clear of memories, especially the memory of your wife first telling you she was pregnant and how that pregnancy and her promise to stay clean made everything seem possible. Do not remember how the two of you kept holding hands that night, couldn't stop reaching for each other even in your sleep. She lost that baby, and the next one, and though you suspected the reason, you kept on trying.
Blow your head off with the twelve gage you keep behind the seat of your truck. Load the shotgun with shells, put the butt against the floor and rest your chin on the barrel, and pull the trigger. Let your wife find your bloody headless corpse in the living room, let her scrape your brain from these walls. Maybe that will shock her into straightening up her act. Let her figure out how to pay the mortgage and the power bill.
Call a help line, talk to a counselor, explain that last week your wife stabbed you in the chest while you were sleeping, that she punches you too, giving you black eyes that you have to explain to the guys at work. Explain that you're in danger of losing your job, your house, your baby. Tell them she has sold your mountain bike and some of your excellent power tools already, that you have been locking the remainder in your truck, which you park a few blocks away from the house now. Try to be patient when the counselor seems awkward in her responses, when she inadvertently expresses surprise that you are being abused by a woman, when you admit that Connie's only five foot four. Expect the counselor to be even less supportive when you say, hell yes, you hit her back. Tell the counselor that it's the little things too, that at least once a week Connie rearranges things in the house, not just the furniture but all your financial files and the food, all of which last week she moved to the basement, including the milk and meat, which you then had to throw away. Then realize that the counselor probably has caller I.D. Hope that the counselor doesn't call social services, because a baby needs her momma. Assure the counselor that Connie is a good momma, that she's good with the baby, that the baby is in no danger.
Make dinner for yourself and your wife with the hamburger in the fridge. Sloppy joes maybe or a goulash with the stewed tomatoes your mother canned, your mother who, like the rest of your family, just thinks your wife is moody. You haven't told them, because it's just too much to explain, and it's too much to explain that, yes, you knew she had a history of this when you married her, when she got pregnant, but that you thought you could kick it together, you thought that love could mend all broken things—wasn't that the whole business of love? Mix up some bottles of formula for later tonight when you will be sitting in the living room feeding the baby, watching the door of the bathroom, behind which your wife will be searching for a place in her vein that has not hardened or collapsed. When she finally comes out, brush her hair back from her face and try to get her to eat something.
A person I love called me and told me his wife had locked herself in the bathroom and was shooting up meth. He asked me what in the hell he should do.