Families Unsaid

March 11, 2010
By , San Ramon, CA
Mother prepares and cooks the food and sets it out on the table that Sister set up, Brother comes into the room, out of breath and a streak of mud across his cheek. Sister giggles and Mother chuckles and reaches over to wipe it off for him. He laughs and pulls away from her touch playfully. He doesn’t mean anything by it. He’s just too old for his mother to have to clean up for him. But Mother’s chest tightens anyway.
Sister sits down at the table first and looks down at the food. Tonight it’s chicken casserole because Mother hates tuna. She smiles to herself a bit. She remembers how Daddy made fun of Mother for that.
Mother sits at the table too and Brother comes back from washing his face in the bathroom. As usual, the trio doesn’t say grace because, really, why should you ask for it? As Mother always says, “Either you deserve it or you don’t. There is no gray.”
But there is, Brother thinks. Isn’t there?
Dinner starts and it’s quiet the first, what, ten minutes? Suddenly, Sister feels the need to tell Mother and Brother about what happened at school today. She tells the other two about how Jane-what’s-her-face made this really funny joke that made Jan-what’s-her-face laugh so hard milk shot out her nose. But Sister doesn’t tell Mother or Brother about that cute boy that sits next to her in Chemistry. She doesn’t tell them about how he talked to her the other day and how she has felt like she’s been flying on air ever since. She doesn’t tell them that she’s been sneaking out to meet him every night since then. She doesn’t tell them how good it feels to kiss him, to touch him and feel him against her.
Mother and Brother laugh.
Brother talks next. He tells the other two about what happened at football practice today. He tells them about how Coach was mad at him for fooling around too much. He doesn’t tell them that he’s not on the team anymore. He doesn’t tell them about the pack of smokes at the bottom of his backpack. He doesn’t tell them about how he knows how bad it is but, really, what does it matter? He doesn’t tell them about the stray dog he found outside the alley he was smoking in and that he’s been taking care of it for three and a half weeks. He doesn’t tell them that there is a gray and that he’s found it.
Mother and Sister laugh.
Mother doesn’t say anything. She watches her children as they share and compare and laugh at the stories and laughs when she hears them laugh. She doesn’t tell them that she got laid-off at work the other day. She doesn’t tell them that she can’t afford for them to go to college. She doesn’t tell them that she’s sorry—for being poor, for not having a job, for the loss of their Daddy, for so much more. She doesn’t tell them that she knows—about the boy, what they were doing—about the smokes, the dog, and the gray. She doesn’t tell them about the tears she cries at night.

Sister is pregnant and that cute boy from Chemistry takes off when he hears the news.
Brother has lung cancer and the dog from the alley is dead.
Mother is having trouble finding a job and cries at night.
She tells them she knows and that she’s sorry at dinner.





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