Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Memory: How Parents Divorce

When it is summer, when it is Sunday and you are five years old and your storybooks are too predictable and the TV is damaged/decorative and the radio only offers piercing chords of whistling cracks and your favorite colors in the crayon box (red, green, purple) are left at school or broken, sometimes you are quite bored with talking to yourself so you listen to your father's sweet phone voice calling someone sweetheart (not you) in the other room.

From one tiny, copper-colored, bare foot to the other, you shift your weight in celebratory dance. And when your mother comes home from work, smelling like carrot cake even though she's been cleaning porcelain hotel toilets for the past 12 hours, you wrap your shiny, skinny arms around her neck and say, "Mommi, I liked it when Papi called you sweetheart this morning."

You expect her to show off her gold-capped teeth in delight, but she frowns and asks, gravely, "When did your father call me sweetheart?” because, indeed, it had been extraordinary (which is why you did that dance). So, throat stiffening, you hesitate, but then whisper-repeat, "This morning,” and your mother gently shoves you off her lap. Her feet fall heavy as she charges into the other room.

Her demanding soprano and his defensive, quaking tenor compete to penetrate the walls of your ugly city apartment. You point your head outside a window and wave to the chubby, gold-necklace-wearing boy across the way who sometimes has sex with his cousins on his third-floor back porch. He does not wave back, so you stick your tongue out; and he sticks his middle finger up, so you shut the window tight.

After you shut all of the windows, you crawl into the queen-sized bed you share with your mother. You take a nap that skips away when your father slams the front door behind him. You will never live with him again.