Triptychs – Chapter 12
I didn’t get to do my reading, though, that night; instead, I had a fight with my mom.
My mom and I don’t fight, not with each other, not really; we never have, and we never will, we love each other too much, and we both have way too much complicated history fighting with my dad.
Mostly alone. Separately, I mean. Which gets back to the shades of guilt that color our relationship; but.
We don’t fight with each other. We confront. Gently.
“I really don’t want to talk about this now, Trevor,” she went. Firmly. “I’d much rather hear about your first day of work study.”
“Mom . . . we do need to talk about it. It’s important.”
We were in the kitchen; of course, the same, turquoise-painted, older, slightly-run-down kitchen that was really the center of the apartment, these days. The center of our relationship, actually; after that last, terrible time, after my dad was gone, my mom and me . . . we’d started hanging out in the kitchen, together. Just to keep each other company; just to offer each other comfort. We eat dinner together, still, most nights.
Well. It helps, that she’s turned into a really good cook, these last two years.
“I’ve got the pictures this time, mom; they’re really clear, we can go for the restraining order – ”
“And do you have any pictures of your father?” She said it abruptly; which just showed how upset she was, usually she’d ignore a comment like that, or change the subject –
Yeah. We confront; but when we confront, especially about my dad, mostly it’s me doing the confronting, and my mom maintaining, and minimizing, and evading.
It’s what got us to this point, the both of us.
Well . . . no, again. It’s not all her fault; it’s equally my fault.
Maybe more, my fault; I should have known.
“We don’t need pictures of him trashing the place, we’ve got his whole history, and Saturday he called you and he threatened you - !” I started to let my voice rise, which would’ve been a big mistake; so I stopped myself, and swallowed, and went on. “He asked you for money, and when you told him no, he – ”
“He hung up,” she went; firmly, again. A short pause. “Do you really want to go to the police and tell them, your father hung up the phone in a threatening manner?”
That note in her voice; a rising tone, that told me how upset she was getting.
“He didn’t say anything, before hanging up? He didn’t say anything, when you told him you weren’t giving him any money?”
She stopped still for a second, at the kitchen counter; facing me, but not looking at me.
“I’m not sure what he said,” she went, at last.
“Mom – ”
“He was drunk, all right? He was drunk; he didn’t mean it.” That rising note even higher, now.
I just shook my head, looking away; not knowing what to say. After all this time, after everything we’d been through . . . “Mom – ”
“Trevor, please!” Her blue eyes half-glaring, half-pleading with me; her empty hands flat on the counter, not even pretending to work. “Please, can we just get through dinner in peace? Can we just get through this one dinner, just the next hour, in peace, please? Please? As a favor to me - ?” Her voice going up and up, now, near breaking, I could so tell –
“All right,” I said, as gently as I could. “All right, I promise.” I dropped down into my usual chair, at the kitchen table. I let the silence go, for a second, still not sure what to say; then – “We’ll decide what to do, after dinner. Okay?”
A long pause, from her. And then, eventually; “After dinner.”
The dinner she’d made really WAS delicious; which was a shame, because my stomach was so knotted up, I had no appetite at all, I didn’t enjoy a bite of it. It was a Middle Eastern dish of some kind; phyllo dough with sugar, wrapped around chicken, with dates and onions and raisins . . .
And since neither one of us felt much like talking, obviously, my mom turned on the little TV she keeps in the kitchen, just to fill the silence –
Yeah. It was another tactic she used to use, back in the days when my dad lived with us. Another memory, another cue that made my stomach clench . . .
I said, that there’s a lot of guilt in the relationship between my mom and me; and that it flows both ways. And it’s true.
It’s because of my father, of course; of course. He was always an abusive pencil-dick, he always enjoyed making our lives miserable, my mom’s and mine.
But not at the same time.
He was really good at that; taking us on one at a time, saying those horrible things to us one-on-one, keeping us off-balance with each other . . . he’d tell me, often enough, things my mom was supposed to have said about me, and though I never believed him, though I never REALLY believed him . . .
The point is – he was an abusive fuck, and he was good at keeping my mom and me apart, keeping us divided.
And that goes to the heart, the absolute heart, of my own guilt.
I should have stood up to him, I should have stood up to him for her sake, years before he left.
I should have bought that garage-sale, aluminum baseball bat, a lot earlier than I did.
I should have stood up to him for my mom’s sake; because I knew he was making her cry, way too often.
“ . . . trick is to lightly moisten one edge of the dumpling seam, before crimping,” went the cheerful voice on the cooking channel program. Into the silence of the kitchen. “Pinch the edges together with your fingers, to make scalloped seams; then transfer the filled dumplings into a non-stick pan . . . ”
Oh, I could make excuses for myself.
The fuck of it was, of course – I GREW UP with the situation, I grew up with my dad making my mom cry, my dad being an asswipe, my dad being an abusive fuck to me . . .
And I’m so ashamed to say it, I’m so ashamed to admit it, to this day – I just didn’t understand. I didn’t get it, that it wasn’t normal. I remember wondering, at ten or eleven or so, watching some bullshit sitcom on TV – wondering, were families really like that? Wasn’t every family, every kid, afraid of his father - ?
No. Not an excuse.
Because I knew he was making her cry, way too often. Because I didn’t tell the whole truth about the situation to anybody, not even to Cole – although Cole’s the one who figured it out, he’s the one who made me see the truth, over time, made me realize how fucked the whole situation really was –
“ . . . the dumplings in hot oil until the bottom edges are slightly brown; like this, see? Mmm, that looks good, doesn’t it? Now, we’ll add the broth . . . ”
My mom’s got her own issues; I have to admit it.
She let the whole thing with my father go on way, way too long; she enabled it, and she sobbed out her own guilt to me, after that horrible day when she finally kicked out my father, she sobbed it all out in front of my uncle Dennis, and in front of Jeremy; she has her own guilt, and I know it’s there, even though we don’t talk about it. Even though she doesn’t admit it, anymore.
But that’s her. That’s who she is, that denial is actually a kind of strength, for her; it’s why she was able to stay with my dad as long as she did. It’s maybe even why she had me, why I’m here. And I can’t blame her, for something that’s such a core part of who she is.
But I know better. I KNEW better. At least, for part of the time, I knew my dad was verbally abusing my mom, and it wasn’t right; and I did nothing about it.
I’ll live with that guilt until the day I die. I can already tell; it’ll always be with me.
Well. I couldn’t do anything about the past; but I could do something now. Tonight.
The phyllo-dough rolls were mostly gone from our plates, and the How To Make Dumplings show was just ending; it was time. I picked up the remote and turned down the sound, on the little TV.
“Mom . . . I’m sorry, I’m really sorry; but we need to decide what we’re going to do about this.” I kept my voice down, and soft, and I shrugged a little, as I said it.
A long sigh from her; and she got up, and took both of our plates, and walked them to the sink. “All right, honey.”
By the set of her shoulders, as she stood at the sink, it wasn’t all right.
I had to go on.
“Mom . . . we really need to do something, this time. We need to go back to the police – ”
“For what, Trevor? Some spilled garbage?” She turned to face me, standing at the little island counter, again; the place, come to think of it, where she’d always been the most comfortable, the most self-assured. “It’s just garbage, honey; and we don’t have any proof your father was involved, he might NOT have been involved, it might have been some sort of prank – ”
“’A prank’?” I went; not believing her. “Against who? The Morrisons, upstairs?” The Morrisons were a sweet couple in their seventies, who looked older; my mom left cooked dishes for them, on their doorstep, a couple of times a week. They didn’t go out much, and they didn’t have a lot of visitors. “Mom, it was him, and we need to do something.”
Okay. My voice wasn’t quite as soft and gentle as it had been, a second ago; and I knew it.
“Do you really want me to take time off work, and do you want to skip school, just to file a useless police report? We don’t even know where he’s staying, or living, Trevor; and we don’t know he’s responsible for Sunday. Do you really think we’re going to get a restraining order against him?” Her voice notching up higher, again; higher, and sharper. “And do you think it would do any good, any good at all, if we did get a restraining order against him?”
“You could tell him about it, the next time he calls,” I went. Breathing a little faster, now. “Or I could. I’d be glad to.”
Silence, for a couple of beats; then she looked down at the countertop.
“I’d rather you didn’t,” she said, finally.
And that’s when I knew.
“Mom – ”
“Trevor. Honey.” She was looking up at me, directly. “I can deal with your father. I’ve BEEN dealing with your father, since before you were born. Can you trust me to deal with him, now?”
Oh, Mom; I didn’t say. Oh, please, no. Instead – “Mom. You’ve been talking to him?”
Her eyes shifted away from mine.
“Do you have a phone number for him? Do you have any way at all, of contacting him?”
“No, honey! No, I only talk to him when he calls; you know that.” She paused, for just a beat. “But when he does call, I TALK to him. I know him; I know how to deal with him. He’s not a bad man, Trevor, not really; and he isn’t dangerous, not the way you think he is. I can deal with him, honey; I can deal with the situation.”
She really believed it; I could tell.
“Mom.” I couldn’t look at her; I just looked down at the yellow-painted table top, shaking my head.
“Honey – ”
“Mom, he slashed the tires on our truck.” I said it low, and evenly; I was afraid of losing control of my voice. “He’s splashed paint on the building, he smeared shit all over the front door, he’s trashed us, what, five times, now? Six - ?”
“Honey – !”
“Mom, please!” I just shook my head for a second, trying to find the words. “Mom, look at us; look at the way we live. We, like, just sit around, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for him to call; waiting for him to pull something horrible. I can’t spend a night away, because I’m afraid he’ll come by; you can’t even leave the house at night without me or somebody else along, because it’s not safe. I sleep at night, waiting to hear the sound of him breaking in.”
She just looked at me, totally stricken, pain all over her face; but I went on, I couldn’t stop.
“Did you SEE the trash bags in the front yard, Sunday morning? He slashed them up with a knife, he really slashed them up, all of them. Maybe he was crazy drunk, or maybe he was trying to scare us – scare YOU – I don’t know. But he slashed them up like he was crazy, and it scares the shit out of me.” Another pause, as I held my hands out across the kitchen table, palms-up, pleading. “Mom, look at us; look at what we’ve turned into. We can’t go on living this way; I’m afraid to even go out to dinner anymore. We’re always afraid; we can’t go on living this way, we can’t!”
Silence, for a long beat; looking at each other, frozen, everything horrible –
And then her face, so stricken, so pained – it just kind of crumpled, her face screwed up, and her hand came up to her mouth, and she was crying. Quiet at first, silent; then, louder, and louder, heartfelt, totally-shattered crying, and her face went down, and she took in another breath, and she sobbed, some more –
“Mom, oh no, Mom,” I went, and then I was up and standing next to her, and I put my arms around her. “Oh, Mom, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, please don’t, oh Mom – ”
And all I could think, as I held her, crying, was – Way to go. Following in my father’s footsteps, in this, as in so many other ways.
“Mom, please, I’m sorry, please don’t cry, we’ll figure it all out – ”
Me beginning to cry myself, now; I couldn’t help it, my voice was breaking, my nose was beginning to run. “I’m sorry, Mom. We’ll figure it out.”
Yeah, I was thinking. Following in my father’s footsteps; making my mother cry. Fuck me, I thought, as I held her, feeling her shoulders shake in my arms. Fuck me. Fuck me. Fuck me.