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Uneven Pizza Slices
“We’re here,” Dad announces as we pull into the pothole-filled parking of Francesco’s Pizza.
I let out a weak sigh. After a huge argument about where to go for dinner, my family, which comprises of me, my mother Vivenne, my father Adam, and my younger brother Milo, were going out to eat for the first time in months. Now that I’m thinking about it, when was the last time my family went out to dinner, or do anything together as a family, for that matter?
We drove around the parking lot in our dilapidated Honda Civic, looking for a space. The parking lot is literally packed to capacity, so now we’re hoping to get lucky. I observe a car that looks familiar as we roll pass it. It is a gray elegant Land Rover with, ironically, a tarnished license plate with the Mackinac Bridge at sunset on it.
Now, on the inside, I’m panicking! It is my crush, Brian Kenny’s, car! The hottest boy in my eighth grade class! He’s probably here having dinner with his normal, affectionate, peaceful nuclear family! I don’t want him to see me with my erratic, distant, wild dysfunctional family!
Mom, Dad, Milo, please don’t act up tonight! Don’t embarrass me in front of Brian, or better yet, me in general for that matter! Please don’t defame the Langley family name, even though the damage was done hundreds of moons ago! Please, no fighting, no yelling, no gaslighting! None! Please, I beg of you!
It’s wrong to be embarrassed of your family, but sorry, I am embarrassed of my family!
We finally get lucky and pulled into an empty parking spot in the front row of the lot. Beyond the lot was an alleyway and then the back of the restaurant, with the back door as the main entrance. A handful of people were crossing the alley and heading towards the door, hungry for some pizza.
As I unbuckle my seatbelt, my purse tumbles to the bottom of my seat, spilling out its contents. My pack of tissues, wallet, and my strawberry kiwi lip gloss end up tumbling and rolling under the driver's seat. I grumble and bend down to pick up my stuff, feeling really annoyed. Why does stuff like this always happens to me? Meanwhile, my family already have their seat belts unbuckled and were exiting the car.
About a minute later, I finally got my purse together. I sit up to open the car door.
The car door was locked.
I whirl around and witness my family walking to the restaurant without me through the back windshield.
I slowly turn back, feeling helpless all of the sudden. It’s nothing new, I’m used to this one particular feeling. It’s obvious my family forgot about me and doesn’t seem to care about me. In psychology, children in dysfunctional families end up adopting a role because of family misbehavior. In my dysfunctional family, I’m the “lost” kid, as in, I’m on the sidelines, rarely comes out to be social, and doesn’t take part in the conflicts in my family. And I also seem to be forgotten when it comes to my emotional needs, even though I’m introverted, but parents should still care about your feelings, no matter how social you are. My parents sometimes seem annoyed by my behavior and hobbies, because I don’t talk a lot and I’m more artsy. But they seem to admire my brother more, because he is more outgoing and plays sports, unlike me. I’m just a burden, (Which is ironic, since I’m the first born.) I’m not my parents perfect, popular, sociable daughter that they want me to be.
Tears start to stream down my face. I want to punch the side door window, breaking the glass, and scream at my “family”, “HEY, YOU FORGOT ABOUT ME!” To show I’m not some lost cause and that I’m tired of dealing with this behavior! But on second thought, it’s better if I didn’t say anything at all. I don’t want to start the 1,234th Argument of the Day….
I hear the car door unlocking, and my mom throws open my door.
“Why didn’t you tell one of us that your goddamn door was locked?!” Mom yells at me, her blond hair messy, brown eyes wide enough to shoot daggers, and barring her semi-crooked teeth like a rabid dog. “Madeleine, you’re fourteen! You’re not this f***ing dense! Grow the f**k up!”
“Okay, jeez!” I snap back at her.
We walk quickly to the entrance of Francesco’s Pizza, with a steaming air distancing us.
Dad and Milo were waiting for us outside the door. I peak inside and notice two groups of families ahead of us, one of them giving their name to the hostess, and I don’t know what the other group was doing….
“Did you get our name down for a table?” Mom asks, with animosity in her voice.
“No,” Dad replies, his icy blue eyes looking coldly at Mom, with his always-greasy brown hair intimidating her. “There’s a line, so we have to wait.”
Mom peeks inside and looks at the “line”, which was now the two groups standing off to the side. Some people in the hallway and some people near the register. It wasn’t even that long of a line to begin with!
“Uh, I don’t see anyone in line! You were just too goddamn lazy to give our goddamn stupid name!”
“There was a line, with two large groups, so Milo and I had to wait,” Dad shoots back, with his temper rising in his voice.
Mom looks at Milo, miffed. “Milo, what happened?”
Milo, who is only thirteen, looks panicked. His brown eyes dilate with fear, along with a piece of his brown hair falling in his face. He’s the one with the spotlight on him now. He’s the one with the world on his shoulders now. He’ll either defend the Earth or eradicate it. “Well, we all walked up to the entrance, and Mom, that’s when you noticed Maddie wasn’t with us, so you went to get her...the two groups were heading through the door when me, you and Dad got here. After you left, Dad told me to go inside and give our name, but I wanted him to come with me, because it’s cold and I wanted us to wait inside. But he kept insisting that I go in by myself, because Dad's words, I’m “thirteen and should know how to do this”. And then you guys showed up-”
“-I said no such thing!” Dad interrupts.
“Yes, you did!” Milo shouts at Dad.
And now, my “family”, except me, is at it. They are now in the middle of a noisy fracas. I backed up a few steps away from them. I’m officially in sideline mode now. Some people were starting to stare at us and a few notice me in the boonies. I give a look that reads, “Don’t worry people, I’m not with this wild family!” I really didn’t want to be associated with my “family”. Why is my life like this?
“That’s it, we’re going home!” Mom announces.
“What? No!” Milo and I exclaim.
“We’re already here, lets just go and eat!” I say quickly, one of the few things I said this evening so far.
“Fine,” Mom sighs.
We walk into the warm pizzaria that is Francesco’s Pizza, thankfully out of the February evening chill. We give our name to the hostess, Vanessa, at the register. (All that drama over giving our last name to the hostess!) and we go and stand in the hallway that starts at the door and goes on for about another sixteen feet and ends at the restaurant area. The hallway was about eight feet wide, and was filled with awards, newspaper clippings, pictures of the owners and their immediate family, and Italian memorabilia, all against a green pepper-colored wall. The bottom half of the wall was dark brown hardwood, and at the border was a red-and-white checkered pattern. This interior design went all around the restaurant. The restaurant part was smaller than it looks, with families and friend groups of all shapes and sizes packed together tightly like crayons in a box, to the point of chairs on opposite sides on different table islands completely touching each other. It’s also very noisy, since it's a Friday evening so there was the sound of people talking and eating along with forks and glasses clinking. Along with the sounds of waiters dashing around taking people's orders and the clacks of stacking dirty plates. The bar took up the entire left side of the pizzaria. Every beer on tap you can think of filled the bar from end to end, along with every brand of alcohol. Every stool in the bar was full too. There were flat screen TVs in each corner, each on different sports channels with closed captioning. Now the smell of the mixture of cheese, meat, and tomato sauce on the pizzas and cheesy garlic breadsticks wafers my nose and now I’m suddenly hungry. There is also dim lighting, which actually felt a little soothing for such a rambunctious place.
Vanessa finally calls our last name after about fifteen minutes of waiting and grabs four menus. We start to follow her towards the back of the restaurant.
I bump into a chair and stumble, but I manage to catch myself.
“Hey Maddie! Are you alright?” I turn my head around and see Brian. I have bumped into his chair! I feel my face turn burning red, along with my blond hair slowly falling into my face. I know my blue eyes are wide with embarrassment.
I hoist myself up. “Hey Brian. Yes, I’m fine. Nice seeing you!” And I rush back to my “family”, kicking myself for making a fool out of myself and then sounding like a doofus.
The entire right side of the restaurant is a line of booths, and our booth is in the far upper right hand corner of the restaurant. Very few people are in this part of the restaurant. I don’t know whether to feel relieved or nervous. Relieved, because no one will really notice or care if nothing goes wrong, or nervous, because people will notice us when something goes wrong, and we already look like the odd family out due to the stupid arguement outside the pizzaria earlier. I just want dinner to be over now.
On one side of the booth is me, the first one in, and then Mom. Then on the other side is Dad, the first one in, and then Milo. We take orders for our drinks, and then look at our menus.
I look up from my menu to take a quick peek at Brian’s table. It was him, his normal mother, his normal father, and his normal younger sister. The Kenny’s are a dictionary definition of a normal nuclear family. All of them brown-haired and brown-eyed, happily eating their pizza with...pineapple and ham as their toppings?! When I saw Brian five minutes ago, they were just starting to eat, so I have about fifteen minutes until I can breathe again.
My “family” and I finally gets our drinks, and we order a pizza with green peppers, olives, mushrooms, and pepperoni, of course. Our waitress, Amber, a perky, cheerful college student, takes our order to the kitchen.
I actually breathe out a sigh of relief. So far, no arguments! Milo is telling Dad about how basketball season is going. Mom apologized to me about yelling at me earlier, and sounded like she meant it. One thing I don’t get about Mom is that she takes her anger out on me, and then always apologizes later. Most of the time, the apologies sound sincere, but can she also learn how to control her anger?
Now Milo has taken out his phone and was now playing a game. Mom now did the same exact thing. I feel tempted to play a new game on my phone, but I shrug it off. I gaze at Dad. Dad is looking pretty pissed off now, and honestly, this is one of the few times I really don’t blame him. I mean, we decided as a family, after a million years, to finally do something together as a family for once. And that’s why we are at Francesco’s Pizza tonight, to “spend quality family time”. Did we forget?
“Jesus, can you guys go five minutes without having your goddamn phones shoved in your face?” Dad snaps out of nowhere.
Mom and Milo turn their gaze up at Dad. “How about you mind your own f***ing business, Adam?” Mom snips back.
“How about you all act like normal people for once, and not like a bunch of self-entitled, oversensitive, lazy-ass, Facebook people?” Dad yells out loud. (Why am I now afraid of Dad going on his usual long rant about how much he hates today’s society? He’s not wrong, but it’s tiring to hear it every time he opens his mouth.)
“Dad, how about you shut up?” Milo yells at Dad.
How about I go use the bathroom really fast? I wanted to say, and make my escape. I was already sliding out of my booth and now was standing off to the side, but I couldn’t escape capture. My “family” is officially at it now. My worst nightmare this evening that I didn’t want to happen. To be fair, they already had a fracas outside the restaurant, with people staring and all, but the people all went about their business. But having a fracas inside the restaurant is just more humiliating, because it’s with tons of people around who stop and stare. Along with Brian, with his family now getting their dinner check.
I take a quick peek around the restaurant. Oh, no, people were starting to glance in our direction. At least there are no horrific looks from people, but there were looks of curiosity, bad curiosity. They are behaving in the “societal” way, as Dad would say it. The pizzeria is getting quieter, with more and more people by the second snooping to see what was going on in That Random Booth in the Far Corner of the Restaurant. And it’s not going to stop until someone says something, or until my “family” finally shuts up! As my dad said, “People will stop to look at a car wreck, but won’t go help the victims.”
I see Brian and his family are paying their dinner bill in the middle of this mess. They even stopped and stared to see what’s going on with Madeleine Langley’s fam-no, her jailers. Sorry, my family are my jailers, always have been, always will be. I know in all this mess, I have a deer-in-car-headlights face posture, that face is also as red as the tomato sauce on the pizzas. Brian looks up and we make eye contact. I give him a “Help Me!” look, and he looks away, his facial expression showing he doesn’t have a care in the world right now. And it looks like as well. his family doesn’t care either. Another stupid, lazy, “societal” family! Dad’s right, f**k society!
“Hey, hey, hey!” I hear a voice roar over my jailers commotion. It’s our waitress, Amber! Thank God, Praise the Lord, Hallelujah! She has our pizza! So that means we can all shut up and eat and pretend nothing ever happened tonight!
Amber put the giant tray of pizza on our table. She gives my family a stern stare. “Calm down the ruckus! Everyone can hear you! You all went out to dinner together as a family! How about enjoying spending time together, and never take that for granted!” She yells in a stern, but lower voice. “I wish I had a better relationship with my family!”
My jailers were officially silent, thank God. They gawk at her in bewilderment. I was secretly cheering for her on the inside.
Amber turns around halfway, to witness me still standing awkwardly next to the booth. “And it looks like you’re also scaring your’re daughter from your family clash,”
“Oh don’t worry about Maddie, she’s always like that,” Milo says casually, out of the blue.
I cock my body in Milo’s direction, in complete shock. It feels like an electromagnetic pulse just went through every vein and artery in my body. I am frozen, but more importantly, I am helpless. I am so shocked that my “brother” said something so sinister! Yes, siblings fight and all that, but this is the next level.
I don’t want to be helpless, but I’m not sure if I can. I shoot my brother a mean look and bark at him, “What did you say about me?”
“You heard me,” Milo retorts. “Maddie, no offense, but you’re just so shy, so timid, so quiet, and you hate social interaction. You also spend a lot of time in your room. Maddie, you're just weak. Sorry, but it’s the truth.”
My face is now a burning fire, my body is a burning building about to collapse. I am about to faint. Milo’s right, I am weak! The fire burns in my heart.
My family isn’t defending me, Amber isn’t defending me, no one in the restaurant is defending me!
No more being silent. I thought, that phrase echoing in my mind. It’s just a basic phrase.
Just a basic phrase.
“You know what, Milo?” I yell, finally talking for once. “F**K YOU!”
Milo looks intimidated, and my jailers are in complete shock. That fire hit the random room in the center of the burning building filled with oxygen tanks and corrosive chemicals and caused an explosion. That random room is my heart.
“And…” I begin to say, and with one quick swipe, I knock the tray of pizza to the floor, I look at my mom and dad and yell, “F**K YOU, TOO!”
The restaurant patrons, if not all, are gasping in complete shock now. But there is no stopping me now! I’m not the shy and timid girl my family wants me to believe!
I gaze at my family, feeling powerful, and start to yell, “Listen, I am damn sick and tired of all the fighting! I’m sick and tired of the passive-aggressiveness! I’m sick and tired of the gaslighting! I’m sick and tired of always being on edge and walking on eggshells! I’m sick and tired of this dysfunctional family! I don’t care what you say now! I’m telling the truth! I AM DONE! Can you all stop for one night? Can’t you see the effects it has on this family? And guess what? I am no longer a victim of your abuse!”
I quickly dash out of Francesco's Pizza, tears coming to my eyes. I think I heard Brian yell, “Maddie!”, but f**k him, he’s not the right guy for me. I heard Vanessa yell “Darling!” and Amber yell “Sweetie!”, but I’m not worried about them. I don’t care anymore. I’m starting to feel a sensation I never felt before.
I am now in the cold, dark, outside world, on the other end of the parking lot. I look around at my surroundings, and all I see is suburbia. Cars, people, houses, and small businesses. I decide to look up at the stars. All I see is glitter, shine, and luminosity. Really beautiful and complex things.
No I know the sensation I’m feeling. I feel like I can reach the stars. I now feel like I can act the way I want for once. I can do anything I can put my mind to. I really can do anything! But most importantly, I am no longer chained to a pole of revolving abuse.
I can be myself now.
I turn around and see in the distance my “family” leaving the restaurant. They have spot me. I know I’m going to get yelled at and grounded tonight, but for once, I don’t care. I know this feeling will go away tomorrow, but tonight, it's just me and the stars and the feeling of:
Being at peace with myself and my life.