I hate myself for it, but I can’t help it.
I pick my daughter up from school, and all I can see are dollar signs.
It started before I got there, of course. My used Toyota Corolla, $125.00/month in payments. Her backpack, $43.00. Her books, G-d knows how much. Dollar signs, everywhere.
With a hop, she was in the backseat. She gives me a cursory smile and a “Hi Dad.”
It’s our custom
I ask her, “You learn anything new at school, or was it another wasted day.”
It’d been years since she’d answered anything other than, “Nope, just another wasted day.”
It was our routine, and she doesn’t deviate today.
As always, I’m worried there’s more than a grain of truth in her answer.
I remember when she didn’t hop. I remember when she was born, and we named her – in some fit of insanity – “Z.” Everybody always thought it was short for something. But it wasn’t, not even for “Zee.”
I could swear it was the day before yesterday.
I look in the rearview mirror and smile. She’s a beautiful kid, and a smart one.
She’s reading something and doesn’t look up.
I stick the car in drive, she sticks her earphones in her ears, and we head home. Silent.
My cell phone rings. As I pick it up, the dollar signs flash once again. $57.00/month. They promised something cheaper, but the fees and taxes seemed to boost it up pretty consistently.
Cathy wants milk, so I stop at a 7-11 on the way home and pick it up. $2.79.
I can’t get the dollar signs out of my head.
What’s the total now? Is it daily, monthly – how do I group things? I put off the question.
We pull into the driveway. I grab my briefcase, Z grabs her books, and we head inside.
Cathy greets me at the door like we’re some newly married couple. Most days, I feel like we are. She works from home, an artist. Her work is penetrating, beautiful and engaging. It is worthwhile, but I can’t help myself from thinking about how little she actually earns.
“Hey dear,” she asks, “How was your day?”
“Just fine,” I say, a smile in my voice.
It’s our routine.
She’s wearing a new dress. I comment on it, and she twirls beautifully, smiling.
I don’t ask what it costs, she hates that. It robs her of the joy of buying it – and of wearing it.
But I guess anyway, and keep it to myself. I can’t help it: $115.00.
Z runs up to do her homework, and I join Cathy in the kitchen. She’s cooking and I’m following her around as she tosses dirty pots, pans, measuring cups and assorted items around the room. I like to keep the place clean – Cathy, she couldn’t care less.
As she measures the ingredients, I count the costs – the cash register in my head logging ever increasing numbers. $20? $30? I don’t know.
Dinner time comes and we, the whole family, go to the table. For a woman with a dirty kitchen, when it comes to dinner, the rules here are strict. If you want to enjoy her cooking, you’ve got to eat it with her. So we sit down for dinner every night.
A bottle of wine, $7.99.
I’m losing track of the numbers. I wish I didn’t care so much. But they are seeming to overwhelm me.
We finish dinner. Z dashes upstairs, saying she needs to finish her homework. Of course, she’s just talking to friends. We know it, and ignore it. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”
Cathy and I share a smile. She grabs a drink from the fridge, and I begin to clean up.
As I’m washing the last dish, Cathy comes up behind me. She’s been watching me.
She gives me a tight hug and in a knowing voice asks, “What’s wrong?”
I don’t know the right time to tell her, so I just blurt it out.
“Cathy,” I pronounce, solemnly, “The company closed.”
She doesn’t say a word, she just hugs me more closely with her $115 dress.
She tries, and I love her for it.
But I can’t forget those dollar signs and I can’t help but fear that they’ll overcome me.