Content warning: one swear word and sensitive topics such as abuse and anxiety.
We fill her with bullshit the way we pump water into balloons though we know they’ll burst. We try for what small happinesses we can, and we no longer startle when our delusions pop on us.
Pop isn’t the right word for Mom’s anger though— rather, it’s an explosion of spittle-ridden fury and shattered glass. At times every night is Kristallnacht in our household.
When I pretend until I can’t pretend, I think about college. It’s what Mom worries about aloud— and what Dad and I discuss in hopeful but hushed whispers. It’s freedom, the freedom of distance and forgetting.
I can’t wait. He has all his life to wait. My mom still tells stories of her mother, my grandmother, carving her nails in loving strokes down my grandfather’s face. At least my mom keeps her nails short. Still, I worry that she’ll swallow what’s left of Dad whole. Without his hearing, his music is gone, and he is nothing.
So we fill her belly with sweet words, plug her insecurities with obeisance. But even all our best excuses can’t mitigate the fury days.
That’s where we’re embroiled now.
The broth in my stomach slithers and stumbles with a mind of its own. It knows the familiar scene, Mom’s and Dad’s faces wiped of emotion and shuttered behind wisps of steam.
Mom and I begin simultaneously, then lurch to a stop. Eye contact— no, can’t do that. We return to blowing noodles with vigor and ladling just the right amount of soup for just the right bites.
Dad clears his throat, making us all jump and cast him guilty looks when he notices. His face is too carefully blank to leave any trace of suspicion that he knew what had happened in those few seconds.
I wonder if this is a situation that calls for a Hail Mary. Hail Mary, full of grace. I can feel, with a strange sort of clarity, my mind going haywire. A flat buzzing. Then going dead, as if I were blipping out of existence. There is no grace left for me. Only this buzzing in my ears and the loud silence at this table. All I have ever known.
Mom puts both her hands on the table and stands up. “I’ve had enough. I’m leaving.” Dad doesn’t need to hear to know what she means. Sometimes I almost envy him.
We follow her out without a sound. We are both mute in the face of her consuming anger.
Through the static, through the soup reaching up my throat to choke my dreams, I focus on her nails, smooth and trimmed to a practical length, and I know what I will choose although I have known always. Selfish, I am selfish. I choose freedom.