A few days late…
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CHAPTER FIVE – THE FIGHT
Jackie and I had just settled into my room when we heard the shouting. Jackie’s overnight bag was on the extra bed and we sat side by side on the floor, surrounded by a pile of magazines. We were sipping icy Cokes, singing to the radio then boom, our carefree summer night became something else.
Mom and Dad were fighting. I shook when I heard their words. I couldn’t understand why Dad was so angry. Jackie sat with me and we pretended not to hear. I stared at the open magazine on my lap.
I heard their shouts and my body was still but my mind raced back in time as I tried to remember if there had been another argument between Mom and Dad I could compare to this one. I thought about times when Mom said she wasn’t feeling well. Or when Dad came home late. Were they fighting then? Was there an argument when Mom sat and read a book instead of talking to us? Or when Dad watched television by himself in the den? I didn’t know! It was too much to recall. My stomach flipped and I looked at my arms and hands to see if they were shaking too.
All this time, Jackie was quiet. If she noticed the changes in me, she didn’t say and I was grateful for her silence. I wondered if her parents had ever argued like this. I guessed they had, but I didn’t want to compare my parents to hers.
Through the music I heard Dad shout, “How could you have forgotten, Anne? How hard is that to do? I mean, all you do is go down to the gas station and they do it for you! Would it have been too much for you to say, Can you check the oil for me?”
Mom said, “Dammit Glen, I forgot, okay? Are you perfect? Don’t you ever forget anything?”
“I don’t forget to take care of my car. God, Anne! The whole engine’s wrecked! The car’s done now. I wasn’t ready for us to get a new car. Do you think that now we just go down and buy a new car, just like that?”
Mom yelled, “Stop yelling at me, okay? I’m sorry, Glen! Don’t you get it? I just forgot. What more am I supposed to say? How can I explain it any more than that?” I thought about who was right. I thought they were both right, in a way. I wondered what I would do if someone was shouting at me. Or would I be the one shouting?
“It was your responsibility to keep up with that car. I can’t do everything around here! That engine could have blown any time, on the highway, while you had the kids in the car. Did you think of that? You are damn lucky it happened in town and no one got hurt.”
It was quiet for a minute and I thought they were through, but then I heard more shouting. I didn’t care anymore what they were saying. I didn’t want to hear them. And as I sat there frozen in thought and action, Jackie got up and turned up the radio. She looked at me as she sat back down on the floor and said, “This is a great song, but you have to play it loud.”
When I opened my mouth to thank Jackie for that small gesture, my throat tightened and the words froze in my mouth.
I thought of Tommy who was playing down in the woods with his friends. I wished I were down there with him. I wanted to not know about this fight. I thought of how sometimes it is better never to know about a thing and, with this thought, I felt a part of my childhood fall away. To go on simply not hearing an argument. And at the very moment I realized this, it was no longer a possibility. Minutes before, I had no knowledge of their fight, now it was there in my head.
I could still hear both of them, then it was quiet. I heard Dad come upstairs. Just a half-hour before, everything had been so normal! Now I just wanted to go back to that.
A few minutes later Dad went back downstairs. I heard the back door open, then slam shut. I looked out the window and watched Dad pull out of the driveway in his car.
The house was quiet when I went downstairs. My voice cracked when I called out to Mom. I found her sitting at the dining room table. She looked up at me. Her mouth was turned down and her bottom lip stuck out. For a moment I thought it looked just like a sad baby’s mouth and, in my nervousness, I almost laughed at the thought. Mom looked out into space.
She didn’t turn to me the way she might have done on a different day and I was hurt by the change. I pulled out a chair and sat down next to Mom. I asked, “Mom, are you okay?” She turned her head and looked at me. I hoped she would smile at me and say everything was okay, that she and Dad had argued but that they made up and that Dad would be right back to have dinner with us.
Mom looked at me and said in a small voice, “I’m okay, honey.” Her brow tightened and I knew she was thinking hard about something. I only wanted her to make me feel better and felt cheated when she didn’t try. If I had been younger and understood less, I was sure Mom would have pulled me on her lap and comforted me. I didn’t want to know this new thing about my parents.
“Okay Mom. Jackie and I will be upstairs. You remember Jackie’s sleeping over tonight, right?” Mom said, “That’s fine.”
“Mom, when is Dad coming back?” Mom straightened a little and said, “I don’t know, dear. But I’ll get dinner together in a little while.”
Dinner was a frozen pizza and some cut up vegetables. Mom said she wasn’t hungry and Dad did not come home for dinner. After dinner, Tommy and Jackie and I went into the family room and watched TV. Tommy had not heard the fight. I decided not to tell him. I didn’t want him to know. It was better not to know. His fight with Jackie over Capture the Flag was long forgotten and he made us laugh by making fun of the commercials. I thought of how easy it was to have a brother like Tommy.
At the end of a long string of shows, we climbed the stairs in a sleepy daze and headed towards our rooms. I got into my bed, and Jackie got into hers. She punched the pillow and turned on her side to face me. “My dad would sometimes leave after a fight too. I’m sure your dad will be back soon.”
“Thanks. Hey Jackie?” I said.
“Thanks for turning up the radio before.”
“No problem, Em. Hang in there.”
I turned to face the wall. My eyes filled with tears and I squeezed them shut, glad to be out of view. I had lost something that night. I hoped Dad would come back soon, but if he didn’t, Jackie would know what to do. She always did, didn’t she?
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