My shift ends at eleven, but I usually don’t come home until two or three. I like to call it “the long way home”. I’m always pretty quiet about it, and you are asleep. I figure you’ve never noticed and don’t think you ever would with how soundly you sleep. It’s not that I’m avoiding you or anything—hell, the best part of my night is crawling under the blankets after taking a quick shower; you keep the bed so nice and toasty warm.
See, I can’t come home right after my shift. I’m sort of revved up, ready to howl at the moon. Usually, I hit a bar or two—sometimes one of those dance clubs downtown. The “face” crowd really fills those places—the “beautiful people”. I still find you plenty attractive; that’s not it at all. Just that something worms into my blood, and I have to wring it out before I come home.
I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t.
You know those love letters stashed under the bed in the spare room? The old shoebox crammed full of the little snatches we used to write each other? Sometimes I think of those letters when I come home and see you all snuggled in the bed. I have a little box, too, only mine is an old cash box, metal with a tiny clasp. It’s buried down by Stranger Creek. I move it around a lot, different spots almost every week.
Sometimes, when I’m watching the crowd dance at one of those clubs and I see a tattoo (all the young girls have them nowadays), I think of those love letters. Remember how we went back and forth on the tattoo topic when I was in Afghanistan? How you said you’d dump me like a hot rock if I got myself all inked up? I see a tattoo sometimes and I think about how jealous I was back then, back when you were going to college and I was dragging my sorry ass all over the mountains in central Asia. I see a tattoo sometimes, and I think about love letters, especially after you had my name inked on your own skin, even though you hated the idea. I still have that picture, the only one you sent in a letter. We exchanged plenty of digital pics, but that one is special. I have it stashed down at the creek with the rest of my collection.
That something in my blood starts to itch at times, and I go home with one of those girls with a tattoo. I never touch them like that—there’s no sex. I’m sure there could be plenty, but that’s not it. That’s not it at all. I never cheated on you, and I want you to know.
It’s the tattoos, really. The little love letters on their skin. My blood boils over with this kind of jealousy, and I have to have the tattoo.
I keep my knife real sharp for the job. I learned too much in the army.
I take the little love letters down to Stranger Creek and slip them into my cash box with the photo of your tattoo. I have your picture in a Ziploc because I don’t want any blood or mud to spoil it. After I find a new place to stick the box, I usually jump in the creek to wash off the dirt and everything. Sometimes, the water is mighty cold, and I’m chilled down into my bones.
The shower helps with the chill and the rest of the stuff I find caked under my nails, but I’m not really warmed up until I snuggle in next to you.
I love you, baby, and that’s why I have to take the long way home.