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It Happened On A Monday
It was that feeling. That altogether, overly familiar feeling. That feeling when someone wakes up away from home and is confused about where they are for a split second. It’s a bit off-putting, like they aren’t where they should be. The feeling that Dylan woke up to every morning.
It was particularly bad that Monday. The house was as silent as a graveyard and the sky was dark and swampy, like the insides of a jail cell. After he washed up and went downstairs, Dylan saw his workaholic dad listlessly sipping his tenth cup of coffee. The pale blue light of his computer screen highlighted his father’s baggy eyes and it reminded Dylan once again how much his father had disappeared from Dylan’s life into an endless pile of work.
His dad looked up and his eyes rested on the air above Dylan’s head for a few seconds before he turned back to the computer. He was always busy. Quite frankly, Dylan wasn’t sure what his father did all day long. All he knew was that he began to make a lot of money from what he did and in the past few years, they had had more than they could spend. Dylan also knew that the more money his dad made, the more inseparable he became with his computer and his Blackberry. He started to have a ghostlike demeanor. A permanent blue-white glow had washed up on his sleep-derived face.
Dylan’s mother, on the other hand, barely ever slept for entirely different reasons. Having grown up in a poor family on the farm, she wasn’t accustomed to such sudden wealth. She was scared someone would take it all away from her in the dead of the night: the big beautiful house, the fancy clothes, the sleek cars. Marisa was always on the watch for burglars and thieves, as if they could take away this dream she’d been living. That’s why on most mornings, one could catch her sitting stubbornly and adamantly in bed with bleak eyes and tousled hair, watching reruns of Jerry Springer or the Maury Show. She’d always tell Dylan to watch the show for a few seconds and say something along the lines of, “These people. What are they going to do with themselves? It’s all their own fault. Can’t blame anyone but themselves.” There was something exhilarating and ugly about their lives that she was drawn to. It was like watching a fight behind an invisible glass wall. It also made her proud of her own life. As if everything she had now was even slightly influenced by the choices she made.
The blue break of dawn peeped through the master bedroom and stopped short of Marisa’s bed. She watched the television screen, glassy-eyed. A particularly nasty fight was going on between two men of whom one was the father of the pregnant woman sitting between them. There were so many cuss words flying about that no actual dialogue could be heard, and it blurred into a consistent flow of “beep” sounds.
She shook her head and thought to herself how pitiful they were. Sure, it was a bit exciting, but in such a horrible way. What was excitement compared to what she had earned herself? A peaceful, comfortable life in a neighborhood full of cultured and classy people. Not much did go on around there, but at least it wasn’t pitiful. Marisa chuckled a bit as the show suddenly cut off to a commercial, right before the father was to be announced. It was all so amusing.
As Dylan poured a glass of milk, he suddenly remembered. Tonight was dinner with the Amersons. The night he had dreaded for the past two weeks. Ironically, it wasn’t the Amersons Dylan was afraid of. Tom Amerson was his best friend. They’d only met in the current school year, but they had hit it off quite well. Tom and Dylan had a lot in common. Except for their family backgrounds. They went to the same public school, but lived in entirely different neighborhoods.
Dylan’s neighborhood was distinctively known for its neatly trimmed front yards, embellished iron-wrought gates and draping long windows. At least from the view of an outsider. To him, the neighborhood was plain eerie. In the years he’d lived there, he had never heard loud groups of children riding their bikes furiously and shouting at the top of their lungs. He had never seen a casual adult clad in sweats, walking a panting Golden Retriever. The only sounds Dylan ever heard were the sharp slam of car doors, the brisk clipping of hard, polished shoes on the pavement and loudest of all, the oppressive silence that hung gloomily over their heads, in good weather and bad.
Tom’s neighborhood, however, was completely different. The pavements were lined with cracks where small mounds of dirt peeped out and the rows of houses on both sides looked slightly weary and worse for the wear. His house was the first one on the block. The front of his house was spread with a splotchy green and yellow lawn. The dying, yellow patches marked where the sprinklers had broken down and the green patches sprouted long, overgrown weeds that spilled out over the metal fences . Their little white house was only one story tall and framed with faded-blue shutters. Everything in that neighborhood was a bit worn down and unkempt, but it had something that my neighborhood lacked. Life.
Several times Dylan had been over to their house and in those short spans of time, he had heard more from the inside of their house than he ever had sitting in the driveway of his own house. Dylan had heard the loud giggles of children running back and forth along the sidewalk, the intense arguments in Spanish between a mother and daughter, the slow and drawn steps of young lovers under the moonlight. It fascinated him.
“You know, Tom, I really like your place. If I had a choice, I’d live here instead.” Dylan once said to Tom.
“You’re kidding! This is coming from a guy who lives somewhere better than a five-star hotel.” Tom laughed with some broccoli in his mouth.
“No. There’s something different about it. I don’t know how to explain.”
“I mean I like it because I’ve been here my whole life. But to hear you say it, wheww...” Tom joked. We kept eating but Dylan knew what he had said was much more sincere than what Tom may have believed. Whenever Dylan said anything about not liking his neighborhood or his house, Tom would make fun of him and call him “spoiled”. He didn’t mean any harm, but Dylan knew it was one of the topics that we could never talk about because Tom simply didn’t see the negative sides. Not that Tom was sensitive to rich people. Dylan had a feeling Tom was genuinely happy where he was. But Tom had no idea how much Dylan envied that.
Dylan’s mother was always encouraging me to ask Tom over to our house whenever she wasn’t watching her TV shows.
“Sweetheart, ask Tom over more often. I know that his neighborhood is,” she lowered her voice, “not very good. If he ever wants a place to stay and get away from all that, our house is always open!” That was another thing about Marisa. She loved to help others. But Dylan had this theory that she loved to help people because it made her feel superior and proud of herself.
Dylan got that feeling when she told him things like, “Those poor kids at the shelter. They didn’t have enough food, so I gave them our leftovers from last night. You should’ve seen the way they were looking at me! Like I was Mother Teresa, it really warmed my heart,” she touched her hand to her heart, her eyes forever glued to that TV screen.
And he knew this was why she arranged a dinner with the Amersons at their house.
Marisa laid back on her mountain of pillows as the show resumed again. She lifted her head a bit, remembering. These helpless people suddenly reminded her of tonight’s dinner with Dylan’s best friend and his mother. She did feel so sorry for them. To think that she had once been like them, with their plain, non-label clothes and secondhand, beat-up car. The more reason she had to put on a nice display of their lives. It wasn’t everyday that their kind of people had a chance to peek into this lifestyle. It was good for them, like a type of motivation. She nodded to herself happily as she fumbled around in the dark for her earrings. To her great annoyance, she couldn’t find them. A dark paranoia flooded through her as she quickly ran through the list of usual suspects in her mind.
It wasn’t like her to forget a dinner, but Dylan went up to her room that morning to remind her nevertheless. Her door was slightly ajar. Dylan pushed it a bit and went in. Her face was ghostly pale. The flickering blue pallor that he recognized on his father’s face was beginning to speckle hers. She looked a bit out of it today. There was something wrong.
“Mom. Tonight is the dinner with the Amersons. Don’t forget.”
Her eyes turned sharply to Dylan. “Oh. Of course. I didn’t forget.”
“Are you okay?”
“Why shouldn’t I be, Dylan? Don’t I look okay?” Her glare never left his face.
He shrugged and turned to leave when she called him back. “Dylan. Did you touch my jewelry? I’m missing something.”
“Mom. Why would I take your jewelry....?”
“Don’t talk back to me. I asked you a question.”
“Okay. No I didn’t.”
She squinted at him. “Then who did it....might have been the housekeeper. She has this suspicious air about her. All of these housekeepers are fishy. I fired the last one because I just knew she stole our cashews. I hate people who steal, Dylan. I hate them.”
He sighed. Normally, he would just ignore all these ridiculous comments, but Dylan was irritated today. “Mom. No one stole from you. You have no way to prove it. People don’t want your stuff, okay?”
She was just about to turn back to her TV show when he spoke. Her eyebrows swooped down low and a thunderstorm began brewing in her eyes. “What do you know, Dylan? Of course the poor want rich people’s stuff. Why wouldn’t they? Do you know how much this lamp costs? It’s probably the maid’s salary in a month,” her eyes began to bulge a bit now, “Do you get what it is like being poor? Go ask your best friend Tom Amerson! It’s hell!” Her chest heaved up and down as the spittle flew forth from her lips.
Dylan watched her expressionlessly. She had breakdowns once in a while, but this time he felt differently. There was a scratch waiting to be itched.
Before he knew it, the words tumbled out, “How can you say the life we live now isn’t hell! You and Dad are like robots! Look at what this technology and lifestyle has done to us. Technology drew us apart, money drew us apart!” Dylan shouted as if the voice speaking was outside of his body. “What do you know about poor people. Just because you weren’t happy when you were poor says nothing about the rest of them. I’m ashamed of all this. I’m ashamed of you and Dad. You think money makes people want to be like you? Well guess what, I don’t want to be anything like you guys or the people around you!”
She threw her blankets aside and thundered towards me. She parked her face an inch from his and breathed, “If you hate it so much, get out of my house and stay out.”
Dylan looked her square in the eyes and held her glare for many seconds before he turned around and left her room.
He thought about the endless monotony of life here. He thought about the oppressive silence. He thought about the horribly quiet dinners. Dylan knew he couldn’t stay a minute longer. He wasn’t home.
But then he realized he didn’t know what to do. Was he supposed to actually leave? If he did, what should he bring with him? What about his schoolwork? Where was he going to go? Dylan couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t. He begrudgingly packed his bags for school and dragged himself outside. He stomped especially loud when he passed by his mother’s door.
And as usual, his father remained oblivious to all that occurred around him.
That night, dinner was served on sparkling clean china plates, the food was particularly fresh and organic, and the napkins were even folded into various swan shapes. But Dylan dreaded the moment that the Amersons would walk through those doors. It seemed like such a big parade. A parade of big, fat lies.
The night was uneventful. As soon as Tom and his mother came in, Marisa treated Dylan very warmly and asked him dearly, “Take their coats, sweetheart. It’s too warm in here” and directed, “Could you check the oven for the tarts, Dylan? I’m sure they’re ready now”.
He felt horribly uncomfortable for them. He knew they felt out of place in this big, empty house with the shiny, fancy silverware. He knew the feeling conveyed through the awkward smiles they shared with one another. He knew all too well how they felt.
They were more than halfway through dinner.
Marisa looked upon Tom and his mother with a sympathetic twinkle in her eye.
“Eat up! There’s still plenty where that came from,” Marisa touched Tom gently on the shoulder, smiled and said in a lower tone, “I never let people leave the dinner table hungry in my house. So eat all you want. Don’t be polite.” Tom froze for a second then nodded with a polite smile, not understanding what her tone indicated.
After dinner, Marisa insisted that the Amersons stay longer, “Do stay longer!” she sighed a bit, “It’s not everyday that we have company. It gets a bit lonely in this big house of ours.” For a split second, her face looked exhausted and weak behind the well-applied make up and even more intricate mask of happiness. But in the blink of an eye, the vulnerability was gone. All that was left in its place was a sad mangle of pity. The Amersons politely thanked Marisa and declined the offer to stay longer. As they stepped out of their house and walked towards their sad, little car, Marisa patted her hair and smiled sadly. It struck her that she was such a good person for letting them experience the good life, even for one night. What a good deed she had done in shedding that bit of hope in their lives.
The streets were flooded with cool blue shadows, and the balmy night air swayed the trees’ silhouettes. Dylan sent the Amersons to the door and watched them walk outside towards their clanky, old Toyota, their heads bent towards each other, talking quietly. Their light laughter and small chit-chat echoed across the streets. And in that moment, Dylan knew Tom had never known how it felt to wake up every morning and feel that he wasn’t home.