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I remember it vividly. I was twelve at the time. I was only twelve when I lay bundled up in my bed, wincing from the shouting echoing off the kitchen walls. The scene I witnessed was not new to me, but every time I heard the words proclaimed and sentences thrown at each other, it hit me hard in a way nothing could ever compare to.
It started when I heard the front door slam. The house in California we were living in was about 150 years old; whenever someone stomped up the stairs or slammed a door, the entire house shook. The books on my shelf rattled. The lamp on my night stand buzzed.
It had only been about eight when I climbed into bed that night. My mother had been out for all of the evening, so my father and I ate in our silence. I knew it was going to be one of those nights, though. I left my dad sitting at the kitchen table, fingers pinched against the bridge of his nose, waiting for my mom.
I heard the door slam at around 11:30. At 11:30, an entire new era began. It began and never ended.
“I suppose you know,” my father said from the kitchen table. I heard my mom drop her purse onto the table, and a few seconds later it plummeted onto the floor. I didn’t expect her to pick it up.
“I called you, but your phone was off.”
There was a pause. Her voice seemed off when she answered. “I wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone.”
“Not in the mood? Or not in the condition?”
I heard an intake of breath. My dad never crossed my mom. Especially not on such a sensitive subject.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Grant.”
My dad’s voice got louder. “I’m the sober one, here. I think I have a better grasp on what I’m talking about.”
“Screw it!” My mom smacked her hand on the table. Hard. The house shook again.
“Cynthia, I know you’re upset about Thomas. You didn’t have the best relationship with him at all—”
“Of course I’m upset!” she interrupted. “My father died!”
“But do you really want to get yourself into a bigger mess?”
“Is that what you think I am? A mess?”
“I never said that.”
“Darn straight you did.”
I could picture my mother then. Red around the eyes, slightly crazed, lip turned up into an almost snarl. It’s terrifying seeing someone you love looking like a monster. It’s even more terrifying admitting that they actually are.
There was a long moment of silence. Then my dad said slowly in a low voice, “You know what will happen if you start drinking again.”
“Of course I do! I know what I am, Grant. I live and breathe it every day.”
“Then why are you doing it?”
My dad repeated, “Why are you doing this to yourself?”
There was an entire minute of silence before she answered. Her words were slurred, as the entire conversation had been, but they sounded different than before. Almost like she couldn’t keep it together. Like she knew she was slowly going insane.
“I need to,” she said with biting force.
I didn’t hear anything more for a long time. Neither of them said a word. The last thing I remember hearing was the sound of my mom’s bedroom door slamming, shaking the entire house into an uncomfortable, miserable slumber.