“If you’re so unhappy with me and the kids, then why don’t you just leave?” She struggled to keep her voice steady as she spoke. They were her words, but they obviously weren’t the ones she wanted to say. My mother never cried, and this was on the verge of a sob. My nine year old heart broke for her – for me – as I heard the confusion and hurt in her voice. I sat up in my second-hand trundle bed and wrapped my arms around my bent knees trying to contain the nausea I was feeling. I knew I shouldn’t have been listening in on the fight, but it was late and the rest of the house lay in silence; there was nothing with which I could distract myself. Their confrontational words had become my lullabies, and all I could do was sit and wait until the story ended. And of course, an ending was coming.
In the mornings I would wake to a family of three rather than four. Dad had gone to work early or had to go on a last minute field trip or to a teaching conference. Mom was left to make up the excuses even though she was not the one leaving. I knew the truth of the situation thanks to my late nights awake in the room just above the area in the basement that seemed to receive preferential treatment during arguments. But I kept that to myself. Why put her through more pain than she was clearly already in? All that would change would be the location of fights. They’d still be happening every night. I’d still know of their existence. I just would be ignorant to the pain of my parents and when they pain would ultimately break them. I wanted to be prepared for the hurt, so I kept it my secret.
Within just weeks my brother and I were called to the family room. I had been making a friendship bracelet in my room. My stomach sunk knowing exactly what I was about to hear. As my father began to speak, my hands shook and I fumbled around with the bracelet. I knew I wouldn’t be able to steady myself to actually make any progress on the gift for my cousin, but I had to pretend. I’d been pretending all along. I couldn’t stop now. With my eyes down concentrated on the strands weaved between my fingers, I heard dad say it would be “Okay” for us to blame him for the divorce. Damn right it’s your fault, I remember saying to myself without letting my anger touch my face. I’d heard it all, and from what I could gather, it seemed more than okay to lay the blame on him as my mom sat on the other side of the room, choking on her tears. My brother and I made the obligatory rounds for hugs and “I love you”s, after which he quickly and casually asked if he could go back to his room to play.
I was left in the room with my two parents and the heavy truth only I knew. And a deep seated sense of irony that my family just fell apart in the middle of the family room.