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I am sitting cross-legged on a plush, velvety cushion in our den, dumping box after box of photos, each labeled neatly in Mom’s loopy cursive. My relatives, family friends, and old neighbors each tumble onto my striped pajama bottoms, tickling my feet as they fall to the carpeted floor. The pictures are faded, yellow with age. Our project poster is next to my scissors, glue, and markers.
My fingers reach out to the framed family picture that stood on our fireplace mantle. The wooden frame is adorned with macaroni and felt pieces. Inside is Mom, who has her auburn hair hidden underneath her wool cap, a genuine smile plastered on her face, holding my hand. Dad has one of his arms around Mom’s waist and the other hand on my shoulder. His stubble is peeking out from behind his scarf, like tulips poking their way through the grass and soil. Then there’s me. Me, with my homemade pink scarf covering half of my face, looking up at Dad with my toothy grin. The mountains behind us seem to tower over our puny little bodies; I remember being scared that one would fall on us while our tour bus was driving towards the ski resort.
There it goes. I’d just forgotten to forget. And it’s all coming back, that horrible night five years ago that changed my life forever.
“Haley, dear, do you want more mashed potatoes?” Mom asked, tossing her auburn waves off her shoulder. She reached back and readjusted her flowered apron, then turned back to the stove.
I shook my head. My mountain of macaroni and cheese, green beans, and mashed potatoes was being sculpted into a perfect dome, but the beans kept ruining it, their little ends sticking out of the sides. Mom was at the stove, cooking more for Dad, who was, as usual, late coming home from work.
It was the day after our family vacation to Tahoe, where we skied, drank hot chocolate, and slept in a ski resort that Dad had paid for. It was our yearly vacation that always left a gaping hole in the wallet, or rather, the credit card bill.
Suddenly, the door swung open, revealing my tired, over-worked dad. His spotted tie was loosened, his usually crisply ironed shirt wrinkled. He threw his jacket onto the couch and ambled his way to the dining table, where a heaping fresh mound of food was waiting for him.
I ran up to him and hooked my hands around his waist. Cologne stung my eyes and the pungent aroma of coffee filled my nose. He pushed me away, and I could see that his eyes were bloodshot. I knew right then and there that something was wrong.
“Morgan. We need to talk.” His voice was wobbly and gruff.
Mom sighed, and I could see that her worry lines were getting worse. Sometimes, when I would be back from school, I would see her at the kitchen table, shuffling late bills and talking on the phone with her yoga friends. Even though I wanted to stay and watch TV in the den, I reluctantly trudged up the stairs, my hand on the polished banister.
This was how it always worked out. When everyone else my age was asleep at eleven thirty, I would be the only one sitting at the top of the stairs, listening. Listening to the words that my parents shouted at each other, listening to how their harsh voices bounced off the walls like ricocheting bullets. Every night, I would stay huddled in my spot until Mom and Dad went their separate ways; Mom going into her study and Dad falling onto the couch watching late night soccer with a beer in hand. I knew that they would both wake up in the morning and act like nothing was wrong, call me Princess and make me pancakes, because this was their job.
Abruptly, in the midst of yelling and shouting, I heard the sound of shattering glass. Oh no, I thought, not their wedding crystal glass. That was their last one… Many things had been thrown during their bickering. But this was their last wedding crystal wine glass; the first had been broken by me on accident.
A door slammed, making the walls quiver. I leaned my head against the handrail, waiting. But, the suspense, like shards of glass, was killing me. The shards were pressing against my rib cage, cutting through my stomach. Peering into the kitchen, I saw Mom’s back, her hands cradling her face, and her russet hair spilling out onto the table.
An engine started outside, roaring like an agitated lion. Dad’s bulky build was in his car, the dim light revealing a drunk, infuriated man. The outline of the car was fading, and, in my nine-year-old eyes, I could see that he wasn’t coming back. He rounded the corner with a rev of his engine and took off, leaving Mom, and me, a frightened, young girl who didn’t believe in trust.
Mom burst into the darkness like a candle. She held me, whispering that things would be ok, and that Dad would take care of everything.
That wasn’t good enough for me. “Where’s Dad going? Will he be coming back?” My desperate shrieks were not going to help, and I knew it. She never answered my question, leaving it there like an abandoned puppy.
“Haley,” she whispered, “Shush baby, don’t cry.” She held my violently shaking body. Her voice was soothing, but I didn’t want to listen.
“No! I want everything to be back to normal, everything! With Dad here and us on our vacation,” I sobbed, not wanting the threads of my life to be broken, to unravel in such a way that no one could ever weave them back. But the damage was done, and nothing could ever bring him back.
And that’s how it ended. Sometimes, I wish that Dad was still with us. The check he sends us every month shows that he cares, but I need to know what happened that night. Sometimes, I lie on my bed and think how nice it would to hear him call me Princess again, or read a story to me.
Forget, I always tell myself. Forget and move on, leave the past. And that’s how it’s been my whole life. Forgetting, remembering, regretting.