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Patrick McGinty

Final Letter from a Crossing Guard

This is about us and not Jim, but this next part is important, Jeffrey. It’s four days until Halloween and a month before you turn six. You’re asleep down the hall in your little raft of a bed when Jim turns to me in our big one asking what would happen if I were struck by a car. He wears white athletic socks to bed but slips them off before sleeping, hooking them off around his heel with a big toe so they float at the bottom of the bed. When I change the sheets Wednesday morning there’s a half dozen socks down there, like the squiggles of that gray toy brain you love taking apart on the rug. I pretty obviously mean the socks look like my brain. Or what Jim’s worrying has done to his.

I am leaving Thursday. Have already left, actually, and am writing like this so you know what happened.

When Jim is kind enough to share these thoughts about a car ending my life, I say there’s nothing nicer than a husband and wife reading silently together in bed. The bed is more like two canoes than a raft. I’m reading a good book about decision making, the vaguely clinical kind of which I’ve read many: white cover, black font, no gimmicks. They don’t tend to work. Jim holds a newspaper. His therapy is on Tuesday afternoons. Tuesday nights: therapy recaps in bed. And so:

How was it?

We never accomplish anything.

Did you exercise today?

I did.

Good. It takes 21 days to form a habit.

I got the spiel too, Linda.

Leading us to: what if you got hit by a car, which is the one reasonable thing he’ll often say given my profession. My “medication roulette” concerns him, he says. Along with other standard problems in our marriage this has led Jim to become somewhat depressed and me to become somewhat happier. He’s salty that I no longer want to be needed in the variety of ways Jim needs me. I’d rather meet simple needs like making a sandwich or taking a pill, manageable things I can do with my hands. I’ll miss my Lincoln Elementary students, who only need me to raise a stop sign. They call me Mrs. S because they can’t say Salamacchia. The name is a nice blend of salad and macho and chia and I encourage you to keep it, Jeffrey. I call Jim “Mr. Salamacchia” to turn him on, which I do around ten on Tuesday night. By 10:10 or so we get in our canoes.

The meds just mess with me.

I know, Jim.

I wish they didn’t.

I know.

Then when I’m in the right frame of mind, like tonight, it’s just been … too long.

I understand.

You know what’s really messed up? When I’m trying to not come I think of my parents in caskets.

Please don’t do that.

And what if I’ve code-switched it, and when my parents die I get a hard-on?

Don’t think of your parents in caskets.

It’s too late. I’m going to be aroused at their viewing. I’m going to need porn at my parents’ funerals.

 

Sometimes I write down our conversations from memory. I read them aloud to remind Jim how funny he is. But Jim’s counselor called to scold me. My psychiatrist says counselors can’t do that. Crossing guards get union benefits through the municipality and Jim works as a sales rep from home with shit benefits, which is why his shrink is shitty. We recently switched Jim to someone better. She’s going to have quite a project on her hands at next Tuesday’s meeting and if she’s good, she’ll see that Jim needs a fresh start.

So now Wednesday morning, Jim dressing to take you to school, his sock brain at the bottom of the bed and me unfolding new sheets before work:

What do you have planned today?

I have some calls.

How about an early lunch?

Here?

Sure.

We don’t have groceries.

Can you go to the store, Jim?

Maybe.

Maybe?

Maybe.

Where I work matters to me. My intersection is a perfect cross where north-south Woodman meets east-west Kennedy. Stop signs at each entrance. Woodman is yellow brick and Kennedy is skillet-black. Pavement beats brick where the streets overlap, which I call Bermuda since the square between four crosswalks is, technically, placeless. On the Northwest corner is the oldest tree in the county, a maple with a knotted, bubbled trunk, aircraft-carrier large and majestic, birds bombing off its many-limbed runways that stretch three-quarters across the intersection and red-orange leaves tumbling overboard, big as my standard-issue handheld, scarlet stop sign. The crossing stripes are perfectly laid rectangles of white so natural that they don’t seem painted on so much as grown. I park the car just south on Woodman so as not to clutter the intersection, then snack on a Lexapro. The yards I pass are the same manicured green because it’s that kind of town. I love fall. Spiders are suctioned to first floor windows, pumpkins flank doors, that kind of town. I walk up Woodman crunching the crusted-over leaves fallen from the S.S. Bermuda. Nothing beats crunching a fallen leaf. I still practice the marching band roll-step from high school, where you plant your heel and roll the outside of your foot down into a flat position. I haven’t had an orgasm in years but crunching leaves is a better release anyways and is certainly better than anything I produced through coitus or on my alto saxophone.

By the way, I left you the jazz collection in the closet. It’s underneath your in-progress Spider-man costume.

Jim and I make love to those records but now Marsalis and Davis and Coltrane make me sad. It’s that odd multi-tiered sadness over the dissolution of things you fall for in high school jazz band and later rediscover with your husband. When they fall from you, it’s not one but many memories that tug your breasts down a bit. I roll-step one more Wednesday-morning leaf and it’s the last panic-free bit of the day.

The kids generally cross from 8:30 until 9:00, when school starts. It is 8:15. Here comes Bobbie Sue and her jean jacket. She’s in fifth grade and will be the first student at the crosswalk after school, too, so she can run home to start her homework. She runs from northeast to northwest over Woodman with a stiff forward lean, pushed forward by the enormous pack of books and pulled ahead by homeroom, tilted like one of those big-ramp ski jumpers. Five minutes later, a pack of kids approaches the crosswalk from the southeast as a car comes from the south. I extend my stop sign at the car just as another comes from the north. I stop the new car with a bare palm, each arm extended, one north one south, freezing the cars while the children cross from southeast to southwest over Woodman. Another car comes from the east on Kennedy and I stop that too. So: three cars, from the north, south, and east, a pack of students crossing along the southern point, and now stragglers are coming from the northeast looking to get to the northwest. And the southern group still needs to come from southwest up to northwest. I make eye contact with each car, hold them in place, and wave the kids along. But Sam Butler has stopped to tie his shoe in the stripes of Woodman’s northern crosswalk.

The drivers look at me as though I’ve taught him these manners, as though I have the motherly impulse. Listen: I do not feel as if I would suffer unduly for you, and I haven’t felt that way since your shoulders pushed through that awful slash above my bladder. I could have been a dumpster mom pretty easily. And the thing is: the perception of being a dumpster mom is worse than what I’d actually feel if I was a dumpster mom. Leaving a shrieking child in an oversized metal bin would not bother me. What would just end me is if as I walked away someone saw me. I’m obviously also talking about leaving Jim now and combining a number of my other issues. There was discussion of electroshock at one point. None of this is about you.

Sam finishes with his shoe and darts down the sidewalk to his gang moving their little legs along Kennedy’s northwest side. They make a nice group. There are still three cars at three stop signs who have been waiting an unreasonable amount of time. I am still standing out in the street watching the boys. Was I thinking about the boys on the sidewalk and how tomorrow, starting with the after-school shift, it’d be open season on them without a crossing guard? Was I thinking about whether I’d have time to finish your Spider-man outfit in time for both Halloween and my departure? I was certainly not thinking about the cars. The north one honked, then east. The driver to the east, obviously looking south only, shot across the black strip without so much as a glance at north, whose punchy honk caused east to make a much-too-late swerve as he barreled on, not enough to send the car off-road but enough to make a crossing guard spot the kids twenty yards up ahead on the Northwest sidewalk and think: mercy.

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