i arrive home to a fire.
not the physical kind, although i am unsure whether to be relieved about that or not. no, this is kind of fire that i have been hoping for; the kind that scorches throats and chars hearts until the truth emerges victorious from the minds of each victim. this fire blazes loud, smoke replacing air in a battle for sanity and peace. this fire is the fire that starts when an argument does. i never thought i would feel this heat.
i can already hear the snap of my parents' voices from the hallway, like the crackle of flames in a hearth. i am so used to the silence that all of this action astounds me. stopping in front of the living room door i listen to the noise from inside. there is a twisted sort of curiosity curled up inside of me and only now is it stretching itself out; it sends adrenaline rushing through me, willing me to stay just a little bit longer. i wanted something more and now i've got it; why would i walk away now? with my ear to the door i try to silence my pounding heart, hoping to catch something of this blaze before it burns itself out.
i'm sick of this! my mother is saying. i'm sick of pretending!
where's the pretence? my father shoots back, each syllable a bullet that taunts her with tiny wounds. i almost thought you had convinced yourself by now.
my mother sounds as if she might break at any moment. convinced myself of what? she asks, her voice cracking under the pressure of trying to sound like she can keep it together. my father launches truths that pierce my mother, leave her breathless, and i am breathless too; this is not what i was expecting. how did it get to this? i always hoped for something more than silence just to break the boredom, but since my parents' first fight the night before my exams began, i never thought those sparks would become anything more; i thought they would turn to embers.
my thoughts are interrupted by more deadly truths: have you convinced yourself that we're okay? my father yells. and that our lives aren't ruined? that charlie isn't some broken child we can't fix -
i jolt back at the mention of my name, and the word that comes with it: broken. is that how they see me? am i simply a cliché, an object thrown around in conversation watered down with pitied tones? i have never seen myself like that. i always thought of myself as someone who panics, someone inhabited by demons - i never thought of those demons as things that broke me. i am weak, and i am hurting, but surely i am not broken. not yet.
confusion rises inside of me, boils over, turns to anger. if they see me like that, why have they not tried to help? maybe the only reason why they see me as broken is because they are the ones who broke me.
broken? my mother echoes the word circling in my mind. patrick, at least i tried to pick up the pieces!
well maybe it's too late for that! my father roars. goddammit, it's too late for everything!
the words leave me shaking, winded, shocked. it's too late to help me? it's too late to try and get things back to normal? questions collide in my mind; i can feel the demons invading, everything going into overdrive as i try to make sense of it all. panic fear confusion panic anger panic guilt -
guilt: i wished for a fire but i never thought about what it would mean to be burned.
in a split second of blind spontaneity i burst through the door of the living room. heat and tension hangs in the air like smoke, and my throat feels as if it will close up. shakily my gaze does a sweeping panorama: my mother's face, ashen, her eyes wide; my father, with his head in his hands. but what shocks me is not the tears on my mother's cheeks, or the way my father sits as if has been defeated. it is what i see in both of their eyes; something i never expected to see from two people who are so quietly drifting from each other. beneath the anger and the fear and the worry is something far more heartbreaking: desperation.
this surprises me because i had always assumed that there was nothing between my parents. i looked at them and wondered how they ever called their almost - separate existences beside each other love. i thought that they chose the silence because they had given up on whatever had come before - the volume and the colour and the happiness was all in the past tense, so they lived out their nows in a greyscale world with no excitement, no adventure. i thought neither person really cared for the other.
because to me, love has depth; love has meaning. love is one thousand different kisses all in a language that is reinvented every time Mo's lips touch my skin. love is her warm fingers that fit so perfectly in the spaces between mine; love is her eyes and her cheeks and her neck and every inch of her, a person so fascinatingly beautiful that i cannot ever comprehend it. love is rediscovering this every time i see her: finding something else beautiful about her every time we meet. maybe my parents have run out of reasons to rediscover; maybe they have run out of rediscovery itself. maybe they settle for emptiness because they cannot find in each other anything else which will make them feel whole.
and perhaps that is naïve of me to think or perhaps those calling it naïve only do so because they themselves haven't experienced the love i have for Mo. but i never believed that my parents would argue; let alone argue in desperation of holding onto each other. i guess i thought they would accept separation if it ever came about; because, in a way, they have already separated. so it makes sense for me not to think about the possibility of them actually wanting to save what they had - if they ever had anything at all. yet here they are, throwing words at each other, but i can see what they are trying to do: they are trying not to lose each other. and for that, it must mean that at one point, at least, they had each other; they had love, when all i thought was that they had never loved at all.
there can be only one explanation.
my parents have fallen out of love.
at first this seems like a rather small realisation in comparison to the tragic scene unfolding before me. but i know that parents are supposed to set an example and i am suddenly, overwhelmingly terrified. is this what i am destined to? is this how it ends? will my love turn to radio silence just as my parents' love has? will i be left helpless at the scene of a crime, wondering how something so murderous can ever happen despite the blood being on my hands?
i bolt from the room, running wildly down the hallway as the demons scream. i try to fight them off, thinking our love is more than that and if it feels right surely it won't go wrong and there can't be an end. imaging life without Mo is like picturing a black hole: nothing. and to think there might come a day when i am alone, and she is near me but no longer part of my life, loving someone else, someone different...
i find myself in the kitchen, failing to catch my breath. everything seems to have sped up. my eyes are drawn to the one thing i know will slow me down: alcohol.
with shaky fingers i climb the kitchen cupboards and reach blindly for the bottles i know are hidden at the top. above the dust there is another surprise: empty space. one of the bottles is gone. i guess one or both of my parents finally realised that sorrows can be drowned by intoxication. that, or they used the wine to fuel the fire. cool glass greets my fingertips after what seems like years of searching and i slide to the floor, my heart performing a funeral march in my chest. i drink cheap wine this time, nothing special; it is only cheap alcohol that can fulfil the purpose of replacing the darkness behind my skull with grey. this is what i've become, i think as the bitter liquid slips down my throat: a carcass, with worry and doubt etching markings in my bones, using poison to conceal the cracks. i am a human paradox who gives love and expects only love in return, when in fact my heart has been charred beyond repair and i am not sure if there is anything left anymore. a carcass; a mathematical anomaly on the distance - time graph of the universe.
after half the contents of the bottle has been consumed i begin to realise that there are places other than the kitchen floor on which cheap wine can be drunk. and so it is that my parents watch, stricken, as their child ignores their pleas and stumbles out into the night. i carry the taste of white wine and regret on my tongue.