That’s what they call her, Hockey Mom. It’s a professional identity, I guess, when you take the stage wearing an over-sized hockey jersey and slowly–so slowly, lift it over your head to the tune of “She Shook Me (All Night Long).” Or, if the crowd is good, the Alaskan state song. But she used to be a real hockey mom, and a grade school principal, too.
The jersey is always the same. Mario Lemeuix. It was her husband’s, always wore it to watch games on TV. Their little boy had a matching one, which he’d put on and climb onto his father’s lap, mimicking the wild gestures of his patronage.
Most men in the crowd don’t notice the faint glow of scar tissue catching the blue lights on her inner thigh as the jersey lifts. It runs a good eight inches, but their eyes are elsewhere and watering with anticipation.
When she gets off stage she takes me to a back room, a hundred dollar bill passing from me to her. With her other hand she holds mine, like we are crossing the street, and takes me to a closet-sized booth in the back. One with a tattered red curtain. She removes the jersey again. She talks, as she does every night, about the weather. The chance of snow, monthly precipitation, possible sunny weekends. As if she watches the Weather Channel every morning memorizing every moment of the telecast.
Can it be called irony that the night I left the bar and sideswiped their minivan as they returned home from ice skating, took her family away, was the night my own family had dissolved in front of my eyes?
I knew something was wrong when I pulled into my driveway and the house was dark. My wife, almost to her second trimester, was fond of flipping on the lights in every room she entered during the day, leaving them on like a breadcrumb trail through the house. Everything was quiet and cold. I turned on the kitchen lights and found the thermostat, switched it on. The hum of the antiquated heating system echoed in the static air.
The note was on the fridge, held up by a magnet from our trip to Homer. One with an actual picture encased in Lucite. It depicted a freshly caught halibut being weighed on the docks. You can just make out on the sign the fisherman is holding. 565 pounds, it says. My hands shook as I read her note, “I can’t keep lying, this baby isn’t yours.”
I couldn’t stand the sound of the empty house. I sat in my truck for an hour before starting the engine and driving to The Hook, a bar I frequented on my way home from work.
I kept the newspaper clipping in my wallet for a month before I found her in the phone book and sat in my truck outside her house. I watched her lay on the couch, the TV light flickering around her in the dark. The next day I went to Baxter Elementary, where the article said she was the principal, but the receptionist told me she had quit. “Guess you’re late for your appointment,” she said, clacking away on her keyboard, not giving me a second glance.
I sat outside her house for days and she didn’t leave. Not once. Through the window I saw her rub lotion, languidly, if not tenderly, on her scarred thigh. I saw, too, the first time she shot meth. A man I hadn’t seen before arrived at her house, sat with her on the couch. He used his belt to tie off her arm, then injected her. Her eyes never strayed from the hockey game on TV.
When she started leaving the house I began following her. Watching her had become its own occupation. I sat in the parking lot of the Starlite when she went in asking for a job. Not the Crazy Horse or Crazy Horse Too, Starlite was a seedy strip club, if such a distinction could be made. It was off any main roads, and from the co-workers I’d heard speak of it, only attracted the sleaziest of customers. The kind of men who knew where to go to get away with behavior that wasn’t tolerated elsewhere.
I want to tell her everything. That I took away her family. But every night I fail to find the courage. I sit at the bar until I hear the DJ introduce her, “Welcome Hockey Mom to the stage” and the white sleeves of her jersey poke through the curtain, pocked by tears and holes, into the haze of red light and cigarette smoke.
All I can do in my paralysis is hand her my money, which I know will go to more drugs. And when she sits me in the booth, pulls the curtain behind her, I scan her arms and legs for new marks. I watch her eyes for a sign that she might come back to life. I want to touch her hand, hold it for a second. I want to breathe for her. Want to give her back her name, Beth.
Maybe it’s some sort of penance, this watching. Like Sisyphus, pushing the boulder uphill to no end. Then again, maybe it’s just another truth untold.