It’s two in the morning and my Dad and I are screaming at each other in the light of the bathroom. The other end of the hallway is dark and quiet, but on our side we declared war. My Mom, tired of listening to us, has gone to sleep in the basement – a house divided. We never fight, but judging by the way we are now, you would think we’re professionals.
A flood of mascara dyed tears run down my face and sting my eyes. The tears make it hard to see him, but his words make it impossible. This isn’t him. This isn’t the man who ran behind my little two-wheel bike, the only one I trusted to pull out my loose teeth, the hero who caught my puke in his bare hands when I was sick in a fancy hotel room. Ahh, the joys of parenthood. Imagine loving someone so much you would catch their puke in your bare hands? “You would do the same for your kid,” they always tell me. I gag at the thought of it…must have been a really fancy hotel.
The three of us are a team. We stick together through the puke and the pain and the mess of it all. But tonight the team is broken and I’m afraid it’s my fault. My words crossed the line first, aiming straight for his jugular and, much to my surprise, he dished it right back. I know he didn’t mean what he said. I know his words are the empty kind, the ones you yell when you have nothing left to say. And although they hurt, the worst part of all is knowing I meant what I said.
My words were heavy and intentional. That one sentence I mumbled, just loud enough so he could hear, wouldn’t cost me a penny in a swear jar, but I would empty my bank account for a time machine so I could take it all back.
Sadly, some nerd has yet to invent a machine that breaks through the constraints of space and time, leaving me stuck, sobbing on the second floor of the house I grew up in. The monster under my bed that used to keep me up at night is so much smaller and blonder in real life. Holy shit, the monster is me.
If a time machine existed, we could go back a few hours and spot the glitch in the matrix that screwed everything up. Part of me wants to believe the glitch occurred sometime after we opened the third bottle of wine and I could end this essay now. “The story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” The other part, the writer part, dry swallows the red pill whole…then obsesses over this decision for hours.
It all started last summer on my runs which were more like speed walks down memory lane. The route took me past my elementary school playground, middle school basketball court, high school parking lot; and with each step, I felt like I was running out of space. My feet moved, but I didn’t go anywhere. Wake up, go to work, go on a run…maybe, go to bed. Repeat.
“Do you think you need a change?” My doctor asked while I fidgeted with the crinkly wax paper on the table. I looked at her, confused, what did change have to do with anything? I was there to find out why I was so tired all the time. She looked at me the same way my Mom does when she knows she’s right, then handed me a requisition form for blood work. I took the form home and stashed it in my basement.
The days got shorter and mornings got harder. “Hey Bear, get up,” my Dad called during his routine pep talks, “I cleared the snow off your car.” When animals can’t find enough food in the winter, they hibernate. I also solve my problems by hibernating and so for months I buried under warm covers; the form buried under piles of scrap paper.
I pressed snooze on life, until Mom offered a deal I couldn’t refuse. “I will take you to the clinic and buy you McDonald’s breakfast after.” Like any good Mom, she knows my weakness. In this case, she leveraged one weakness – carbs – over the other – needles. Damn, she is good.
“C’mon Button, wake up.” Her firm, yet patient voice coaxed me out of bed at an hour too early for the sun and we made our way to the clinic. She sat next to me in the waiting room while I watched the time count down, ten minutes, seven, five, shit. “Electrolytes,” she said, handing me a bottle of Gatorade from a small cooler bag she must have packed the night before.
The nurse called my name and I peeled myself off the plastic chair with the agility of a napping geriatric. Mom stood up and began to gather her things – “hey, Mom, it’s okay,” I said, then headed to the treatment room alone; hands bunched in tight fists instead of holding onto hers.
When my results came back a few days later, it turned out my thyroid was running slower than I do. I was sent back for more tests and in the meantime diagnosed myself with three auto immune diseases and syphilis, probably.
Alas, the new results arrived, an impending doom would have to wait. My doctor confirmed I was going to live, recommended I eat more sushi, and politely declined when I asked for a sushi prescription. She also noted, if I choose to have children I will have to go on medication so their tiny brains don’t melt or something. She was right all along, I did need to eat more sushi. Okay fine, I needed a change.
A bedroom on the main floor of a three story house in Little Italy was the cure I had been searching for. After weeks of plotting my escape in the depths of questionable kijiji ads, this one was gently placed in my lap with a giant tag saying: “pick me, you idiot.” A good friend, who lived there for two years, was moving out at the beginning of April and I would take her place. It was almost too perfect.
For the first time in awhile I was excited about something. Still, the exhaustion creeped in. I was tired again, stuck in this purgatory between where I was and where I would be come spring time, and I blamed my parents. An eye roll here, a snide comment there, I chipped away little by little, until one of them snapped.
It’s two in the morning and my Dad and I are screaming at each other in the light of the bathroom. The other end of the hallway is dark and quiet, but on our side we declared war.
That one sentence I mumbled, just loud enough so he could hear, wasn’t a group of words containing nouns and verbs, it was a punishment. According to me, Dad and Mom were guilty of the following offences:
1. Excessive use of coasters.
2. Constantly asking what time I would be home.
3. Banning farts in the kitchen.
I had it with the questions and the coasters (seriously, I could bring a guy with a neck tattoo home and my parents would be like, “this is bad…but not as bad as that time you didn’t use a coaster in 2007”), this hallway, this place, everything! I hate it here. Why couldn’t my parents Leave. Me. Alone.
They couldn’t. I’m pretty sure it’s their inherent duty on this Earth to not leave me alone. I made it my inherent duty to be a jerk. I accused them of smothering as they helped me get up. I guess it’s hard to see when your eyes are closed.
Our screams turned into apologies and raspy I love you’s. We made up, found peace on our pillows, and soon went our separate ways. I packed up my little bedroom and moved out…sort of. I spent my first month in the city commuting back home every other day, after all the pushing away, I wasn’t quite ready to go.
Slowly I acclimatized to my new surroundings, no, that’s not an earthquake, it’s the subway, and yes, that was a real mouse. The unfamiliar walls weren’t too white and I barley noticed the creaky floors. It was time.
The tiredness still creeps in, moving to a new place didn’t fully get rid of it and sometimes I wonder if it lives inside my head, instead of the tiny gland inside my neck, but I’ll worry about that after dinner. It’s Friday night – steak night – and I took a bus, the subway, and another bus to eat free food that doesn’t taste like burnt chicken and disappointment.
I listen to my Mom recite her list of things to do while taking a tray of perfect “smashed” potatoes from the oven. I watch my Dad scoop ice cream from the carton like a little kid. I smile at them from across the table as they tell me in unison to use a coaster. I don’t need them to hold my puke or my hand anymore, I just need them to be there.