Thursday, November 12, 2009

Second Assignment

I was about 12 or 13 when J ran away. It wasn’t unusual for him to disappear, but one day he was really gone and we didn’t know to where. I admit that I did worry for a moment, until he called from Colorado and told us that he and D had left to get away from the crowd they had been hanging around with and that he was okay. Mom and Dad told him they would send him a bus ticket whenever he was ready to come home and reminded him to keep calling and checking in. That was that for me. I was in junior high had other things to worry about than my middle brother, who may have been infinitely cooler than me but was in no way smarter than me. He would come home. Mom and Dad would handle the worrying. I wasn’t going to miss him teasing me or being obviously embarrassed by me or telling me to go away. I wouldn’t miss the police cars dropping him off in the morning or the green ink stains on the bathroom rug from where he’d tried to dye his hair again. And honestly, it was nice the way the kids at school reacted when I told them my brother and D had run away. Concern, amazement, awe. Finally I had something interesting to talk about.

Eventually he and D ended up in California. They got clean and learned to surf and make bagels. Then when he did come home, he had changed. He was still way cooler than me but now in a way that I actually wanted to be. He was clean and healthy and confident. He got a smart, pretty steady girlfriend and ran for student office and won. What a loser…

Things changed at home, too. Mom and Dad started fighting more. They went to counseling. And when Dad’s contract at the college expired and he got another teaching job in a different state, he moved and we stayed behind. We stayed so J could finish high school and Mom, who had just gotten a promotion, could get a little experience in her new position. The plan was to move to be with Dad after J graduated.

Dad came home for the weekend sometimes. I would come in the front door after school and hear the vacuum running and know that he was there. And I would feel disappointed because that meant I couldn’t watch “Santa Barbara” and that there would be fighting that weekend. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my father or miss him; it was just easier, less tense, when he wasn’t there.

One evening, somehow, Mom, Dad, J, and I were all sitting at the table eating dinner together. My oldest brother wasn’t there, but he had moved out and rarely ate dinner with us. We were eating and talking and the tension was building, like it usually did when we were all in the same place together, and then my dad broke his tooth. He exploded. He swore and then shouted, “YOUR MOTHER WANTS A DIVORCE!”

That kind of ended dinner.

My mom came into my room later to check on me. She had already talked to J; I’d heard her go into his room and knew she’d come to me next. I was doing something random, reading on my bed or lying on the floor or something. She said, “I’m sorry, sweetie. That wasn’t how we wanted to do that.”

“That’s okay,” I said. And it really was.

“Why aren’t you crying? Everyone else is crying?” she asked.

“Everyone?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Even J.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I’m just not surprised.”


The Grandpa said...

Wow. It's good to hear about it from your perspective. One thing. The first call from J was from California. The mother of the family they stayed with insisted that they call their families to let them know where they were.

What was the next assignment?

The Grandpa said...

So where's the next installment? Did you start a new blog and not tell me?

Anonymous said...

indeed it was from CA, because they were one way tickets to SFO. I remember riding that night in the back seat of our friend's convertible down 101s toward palo alto. it was a beautiful night, cool but not cold, but i was shivering, not really cold, but one of those shivers that you just can't shake, where you just can't seem to get warm... it was a large undertaking and i was realizing what i had just done, but it was also amazing, i was in california... that trip gave me more gut than anything that i've ever done in my life before or sense... i mean the kind of gut that makes jumping out of a perfectly good airplane with a pack on your back, unopened, and only the hope that it will open when you want it too, seem like a good idea, or that dropping in on a 15 foot set wave at 15th street in Del Mar seems feasible, even when ever other surfer, most of whom have been surfing their entire lives are pulling back, but the kind of gut that tells you hesitation kills, so you make the right decision at the very right moment and it all works out beautifully, the kind of gut that makes one who has a fear of public speaking allow their friend to enter you as a last minute nomination for student government in the high school auditorium and then get up there in front of everyone and pull it off, the kind of gut it takes to stand up in front of 80 spanish speaking workers and deliver a safety training seminar in a foreign tongue with no formal education in it, and be able to take questions, keep their attention, make them laugh with you and have them come away genuinely interested in being safe at was selfish, but I wouldn't trade it in for the world. I don't know who i would be if i hadn't done it.

The offer was for a one way plane ticket home, but I probably would have taken the bus if that was the offer, that was my parachute and it is one that i will never forget. it was the offer that brought me home... there are parents who shut their kids out in that situation, i'm fortunate that mine did not, there was an open invitation, hope and trust, my parachute opened, and for that I give thanks. when i got back to school, it all seemed so easy, so warm, i don't think i really stopped shivering until i did get home. I remember the broken tooth night, but i remember it a little differently, while it may be true that it was announced at that moment that divorce was imminent, all i remember was the loud cracking sound, like someone biting down on an olive pit, dad holding his check for a moment while we looked in amazement, mom asking if he was alright and him announcing that his tooth just broke. I think about it almost every time that i brush my teeth, and it keeps me at it for a few extra seconds. -j

bel said...

Thank you, J.

Anonymous said...

I meant "cheek", not "check"...

Related Posts with Thumbnails