9. Broken

February 19, 1994

I was in the den watching Saturday morning cartoons when my parents started fighting in the living room.  I quickly turned the TV off.  I didn’t want them to know I was in the other room.  I worried that the noise might provoke them further, and that if they discovered me I’d be dragged into the row somehow.

My first instinct was to retreat to the safety of my room, but there was no way to do that without going past them.  I was trapped.  And scared.  While I’d heard them fight before, it was always from behind closed doors.  I’d never heard them out in the open, and never at such a level of anger.  They were really screaming at each other, and just when I thought the fight couldn’t get any worse, it ticked up another notch.

It all started when Dad noticed Mom’s new decor for the living room.  A few weeks prior she showed him some beautiful seashell lamps in the JCPenney catalog and said she was thinking of getting them.  He simply shrugged and said okay.  But once he saw them atop the end tables, he went berserk and starting ranting and raving about the money she spent while he was over $50,000 in debt.  He threatened to break them if she didn’t remove them from his sight, and to prove he meant it he picked up one of her vases and hurled it against the wall.

I heard it shatter and I jumped up from the couch and hid in the corner of the room, shaking from head to toe.  The house was unusually quiet and empty apart from the two of them going at it – where were all my brothers and sisters?  But it was precisely those times when nobody else was around that Dad would lay into my mother.  Sometimes he would even fake going to work and loop back around and enter the house through the side door and start in on her:  “AND ANOTHER THING…!”

That was the other problem.  Mom had recently announced she was going back to work.  She wanted to get a job as a home companion looking after the elderly.  The pay was shit, but she would be sure that the ones she looked after weren’t being abused or taken advantage of.   But Dad took the fact that his wife was getting a job as a slap in the face, as if she was telling him that he wasn’t good enough.  Then he said her place was at home with the kids.  Although, at nine years old I was the only real kid left.  Patrick was the second youngest and he was already 15.  Everyone else was out working, hence the empty house that morning.

A few minutes after Dad broke the vase, he stormed out of the house.  I heard him slam through the side door, and a minute later his truck roared to life and peeled out of the driveway.  Mom slinked into the kitchen and fell into one of the chairs at the table, sobbing.  She was very close to where I was hiding, so I made my way out of the corner and cautiously began to creep past her. I was afraid of how she would react when she saw me.

She heard me going past and lifted her head from her arms. She was red-eyed and her face wet from tears. She reached out and pulled me into an embrace, holding me so tightly that I could scarcely draw breath.  I was extremely uncomfortable with this display of emotion.  No ten-year-old boy wants his mother crying all over him.

I stood there awkwardly for several minutes until I finally said, “I’d like to have breakfast now.”  She released me and held me at arm’s length.

“Okay,” she said, giving me a watery smile.  She ruffled my hair and started bustling about the kitchen.  After a while she calmed down, but I was still uneasy.  I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to offer words of comfort, or whether I should say anything at all.  I just ate my cereal and toast in silence, musing all the while that more bad times lay ahead.


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