This is something I wrote about six years ago. It is fictional but pretty closely based on personal experience. I can’t sleep and I’m knee-deep in academic writing so I thought this throw-back would be interesting.
Bum, bum, bum, bum. I allowed its steady, faithful rhythm to absorb me, constantly waiting for that next beat, enjoying having nothing to think about but just that noise and the discomfort of my position. I sat there for a good twenty minutes, alternating between eyes closed and staring at the dark and light grains immediately in front of me to the point where it began to seem as if that was all there was and I would never have anything to think about again.
“Hey, dumbass, mom is calling for you.”
Dum, dum, dum, dum, dum. That’s all I wanted to hear.
I looked up, a little dazed not out of flakiness but rather out of the unattractiveness of my present situation, a situation over which I had chosen the drumming of a dishwasher.
My older brother just rolled his eyes and looked at the kitchen door as he opened the fridge. He grabbed an open can of beer from the top shelf, took a long, loud swig from it, crushed the can, and burped. He opened the door to the basement where his room was and tossed the can in the trash on his way down, muttering, “Fucking nutcases.” He turned left into his bedroom, the one with mold on the ceiling and dirty, damp clothes all over the cold floor, and started blaring some shitty rock band that clung to a false sense of martyrdom.
I watched after him, no longer pacified by the dishwasher, its drumming beginning to taunt me to move on out of the kitchen and let it go about its business of cleaning what plates weren’t lying broken on the dirty, currently off-white linoleum.
There was a creak in the living room. I braced myself, looking at the door onto the patio. But it was the last week in December and I didn’t have my jacket. Oh well, I thought, sliding out of my chair, doing my best not to upset it or make any noise.
As I turned around the chair, I made eye contact with a figure in the living room. It wasn’t my mother. Judy, mom’s latest husband’s sister. Average looking, forty, never that friendly when things had been going well but civil. She, like the rest of them, had only ever been concerned with talking to their side of the family at holidays, parties, what have you. I’d always been kind of invisible so I wasn’t quite sure as if she’d bother to grace me with her attentions then.
She averted her eyes and then, as if changing her mind about ignoring me, gave me a half-hearted, half-interested wave.
“Hi.” She looked about her and began to fidget with the strap of a duffel bag she had set in front of her feet. “I’m just here to get some of Bill’s things, you know.”
“Well he’ll be expecting me.”
I watched her attempt to slide out the door, banging all of the luggage and duffel bags into it as she tried to force through, obviously determined on only making one trip. I stood behind her as she left, pulling the screen door shut and staring at the red pickup parked along the road, next to our empty driveway. He was in it next to John, Judy’s conceited, haughty, falsely narcissistic, bigot of a husband. John was laughing. He’d just got his buddy back for Sunday night football or whatever day that showed. Why wouldn’t he be laughing? He wasn’t the one who had lost anything.
I wasn’t sure whether or not I expected some movie-style, slight, meaningful, silent, melodramatic wave, or something really cruel like a glare, like I was with her or against her and was definitely, determined by blood, with her. But nothing. He’d seen Judy walk out. He’d seen me behind her. And as soon as his clothes, his pictures, his guns, had banged their way out of the door, he was no longer concerned with what stood behind it.
I’d known this was coming for a while. It would have taken an idealistic idiot to not have seen it. I’d been around the block. I knew how the drill worked. But when things were good, when I was supposedly, like a daughter to him, I never would have expected that he would turn his back on me. Her, yes. She’d called him names. He’d called her names. But I was just in the middle, like I always was. Every marriage, every divorce. But the joke was on me because this was the first time I’d ever allowed myself to get emotionally invested. And for what? I thought back to the plates on the kitchen floor, broken, fractured, thrown across the room as a result of someone else’s fit of anger. Then left there because they were useless, no point of being picked up. Definitely, best to pretend they aren’t there, walk around them. Pick up everything that is yours and leave the shards for somebody else to figure out.
I wasn’t sure if it was vomit or a sob but whatever it was, creeping up my throat, I swallowed it and shut the door, standing in front of it and watching the red pick-up out of the window as it drove twenty yards down the street, turned right, and disappeared from sight. And that was that for Bill. Well for now at least. It was the calm before and after storm in a battery of upcoming bad weather. The divorce. The drama. The fear. It was all coming and quite frankly, I was tired.
“Oh good, Mom, Mom, he just left.” My mother came out of her bedroom clutching a white phone in one hand with the other on her hip. She was excited, hyped up on the drama and the misery. This was her show and it was opening night, her best historically. “Yeah. I know. That BASTARD. I KNEW it. I KNEW he would do this. And on Christmas. Ruined it. For me. For my kids.”
“He even took some of their gifts back. Yes. Yes, Mom. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Judy said he bought them and she took them in a box with some of his other things.”
I let the news sink into me as yet another blow. Absorbing it, silently. Unable to even shrug my shoulders, probably because at least I had remembered my one rule, don’t get excited about anything in advance. Too much room for disappointment and hurt. If you don’t care, then it was nothing lost should it come apart.
“All because he had to go out and get drunk last night with John, that lying, cheating bastard. He hasn’t slept in the same room as his wife for the last few years and she’s been sleeping in the room with their sons so since he’s unhappy, he has to go take it out on everybody else. Smug, son of a BITCH.”
And she started crying. As her daughter, I probably should have turned around, stopped staring at the door, and comforted her. Clearly that’s why she knowingly came into the same room as me, crying. But I just couldn’t. My feet were rooted to the floor and I just couldn’t pretend to care anymore. I couldn’t care anymore. Too many times.
She sat down on the couch with her head in her hands and rocked back and forth. “Take the phone, talk to your grandmother. Tell her, tell her what happened. I just can’t.”
She forced the phone at me. I could feel it touching the back of my hand and I let it rest there for a moment before I resigned, grabbing it and turning around to face the window.
“How are you?”
“Your mother told me what happened already.”
“Did he really shove her?”
“I-I don’t know.”
“She said you were sitting right there at the table.”
“So you didn’t see it?”
“I’m not sure what I saw. It just, it just happened.”
“Another man. Another abusive man. I told her he was having a breakdown and not to push it.”
“Ok well stay with your mother. Tell her I’m coming over there as soon as I can get dressed. I was making sauerkraut salad, the kind your grandfather likes, so I am going to put all this away and head over.”
“Okay. Love you.”
“I love you too. Bye-bye.”
I turned off the phone and put it on the stand, staring at the floor between us. She was curled up on the sofa, sobbing. “This was my last chance at happiness. My last. I thought I was done.”
I didn’t understand a lot of the things my mom did or said or when she nagged. But I understood this. I thought we were done too. I picked up some picture frames that had been swiped to the floor. The black one was face down, I picked it up. It was a picture of us at the amusement park last summer. There was a crack, right down the side, putting me on one side, separated from them on the other.
I left it there and walked into the kitchen, carefully picking up shards glass plate from the floor and tossing them into the trash. It smelled like spaghetti sauce from dinner and made me sick to my stomach. In spite of how careful I was being, I managed to cut my thumb. Wincing, I put it against my lips and then took it off, watching blood bubble up.
The glass door did me the mercy of muffling most of the noise coming from the living room and the wind took care of the rest. Staring out into the grey sky, I noticed some white dropping across my field of vision. The first flurries of the winter. I guess it is Christmas, I thought. I let out a long sigh. I don’t know whether it was out of necessity or if it was because I wanted to see my breath hanging in the air. It was really cold. That wasn’t shocking given that it was December. But goose bumps weren’t enough to drive me back inside either.
A house sat with its back to our yard, a fence separating their yard from ours. They had kids too. A little younger than me. Six and eight I think. Their lights were on. Probably the dining room and kitchen as they were cooking Christmas Eve dinner. A little ham, fudge, waiting to break out the big stuff for tomorrow. There was probably Christmas music on and a tv playing all of the specials, probably A Charlie Brown Christmas, that was my favorite. Who was to say that their Christmas Eve wasn’t peacefully perfect? But then again, who is to say it was. I’d never seen a perfect one. Not in a while at least. Maybe they didn’t exist anymore. Maybe they never did. Maybe just being so young I was too naive and distracted by shiny red wrapping and big, red bows to notice all of the unpleasant things.
Maybe there was a moment, an age, when everything just changed, distorted, so that nothing could ever be completely happy or functional again. Peter Pan knew what he was doing when he left home.