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The Family and the Furniture
The ceiling leaks. It blisters and puckers as the water permeates through the plaster and paper. There are yellowed circles where the water sits and waits until the weight is too much to bear.
Everything leaks, not just the ceiling. The sink in my bathroom, only steps away from where I sleep, drips without ever taking a break. At first, it kept me up at night, the noise making it impossible to fall back to sleep. My mother could hear it too, even though her bedroom sits all the way down the hall. Now, it has become part of our lives. We have gotten used to the constant and familiar noise, and it sings us to sleep; our watery lullaby.
The kitchen is gone. It has been ripped apart, destroyed by our command. It is useless; just kitchen parts distributed across an empty space. There is an oven, a dishwasher, and a microwave, but all have been disconnected, now worthless. They didn’t serve much purpose in the first place. They were all old and defective. The stove took a half an hour to boil water, the sink no longer supplied us with the water to boil in the first place, and the dishwasher left food and spots upon the dishware and stemmed wine glasses. Now, appliances are strewn across the room, counters have been disassembled and cabinets have been torn from their living spaces. The kitchen is now just another empty room: another project to pour what little money we have left into.
In this home, nothing works, and as our house falls apart, so does our family.
My mother rises earlier to calm the exuberant dog, barking away in her cage. She should have been allowed to sleep in our beds by now; she is no longer a puppy, yet she still has not been fully house trained. Maybe it is our fault that she cannot control herself; some mistake we made in the beginning. Maybe we got lazy, didn’t pay as much attention as we should have. Instead of lying in the warm concave spaces of our bodies, she sleeps in a crate, a prison cell with a blanket and a bone, because she still cannot be trusted. Mom rises early to stop the shrieks and howls of the dog, and then begins her hardworking, never-ending day.
My father is difficult to read into. He is defined by his work. When you walk into the office, you see two desks. Bookshelves encircle the room: a library of manuals, textbooks, and books pertaining to Jewish studies, psychology, special education, and oncology. My father is an oncologist, a researcher, who lives to crack genetic codes. He himself is a code to be deciphered. It is impossible to know what will make him tick; the most innocent of words can set him off. He is set in his ways and firm in his step. He is confident and stubborn. He has a round belly and a scratchy beard. A Jewish Santa Claus. He has smiling, wet eyes, a red nose, and salt and pepper hair with an almost unnoticeable thinning bald spot in the back. He hoards and hides frozen and unhealthy food, afraid but almost hopeful that we will discover it. While he is a doctor, he chooses to ignore his own weight and health. He acts as if he will live forever, no matter what, and no matter how we try to tell him otherwise. He listens to what he likes on the radio: NPR or classical music, and puts up with nothing else. Whatever I want to listen to is poison to his ears, and he will not try anything new. He is smart, a Harvard graduate, and expects everything from me, although over time he has tried to hide that fact. He loves to make jokes. They are funny the first time, but not the twenty-third, even though he still cracks up as if had never been heard before.
My mother is sad. You can’t tell by just looking at her, but after living with her for my entire life, I know it. Life has given her lemons, and she feels responsible for it all. Everything must be in its place, and every room must be spotless. She repeats herself and doesn’t enjoy it. She works at a school for children with special needs. She refers to them as “her kids,” which used to make me upset. I felt as if she cared more about pleasing them than she did about making me happy. She works very hard, and she is dedicated. She puts her heart into everything she does, and almost always succeeds. She should be happy, but it is never enough for her.
I like photography, but something I have yet to master is capturing the glitter. I am unable to photograph the sparkling stars sewn into the black night sky, or the shimmer of the snow in the sunlight. Glitter eludes my photographs, and it is frustrating to come out with the same dull shine each and every time.
When disaster and challenge strikes is when the weak ties that hold our family together are tested and strained. Last weekend there was a blizzard that left us with two feet of snow, no power, no heat, or water. The monsters and anger came out of all of us, and any communication between the three of us was rarely pleasant. As usual, my mother put herself into overdrive. She made a fire, she set up a cozy room and saved the food that she could. I abandoned them on the very first night. I couldn’t take the cold and slept at a friend’s house. My mother was hesitant to let me leave; for some reason I sensed jealousy, but I left anyways. My parents spent two nights in our cold, lonely home, while I slept out. After the second night, we gave into Mother Nature and went to stay at a hotel. When we finally were able to return home, it was a disaster, and we began to confront the aftermath, physically and emotionally.
Now our days are spent trying to recover. The landscaping has been ruined, the ceiling is on the verge of collapse, and we cook in a makeshift kitchen complete with a crock-pot, single stove burner, and a toaster oven. We wait until our kitchen is once again usable. We wash our dishes in the bathroom sink and clean around the mess. We use temporary solutions that are only that: temporary. Placing containers under the leaky ceiling only catches the water and does not stop it from coming through, like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. We get by, but only for so long. Soon enough, it all will come crashing through.
That’s how my parents solve their problems; they patch them up little by little. They use words like “sorry,” and phrases like “it won’t happen again.” They storm out on each other and yell and scream like ten year olds. They put Band-Aids on gushing bullet wounds and hope that it will help for the time being. But like the ceiling and everything else that falls apart in front of our eyes, they can’t keep covering up the problems. The gush of water and debris is a trickle compared to the storm that will soon arrive.
You can see the sadness in their eyes when you look closely, and hear it in their voices when you listen carefully. With my father, it’s more obvious. He is older and broken down, the damage has become too much for him. You will rarely hear his silly jokes that were once so tiresome. That’s the real red flag that tells you when things are bad: the jokes. The jokes are a small, often bothersome part of our lives, but when they disappear, it is as if the entire house has faded away.