Alphabet Soup

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Stupid. I hate, hate, HATED it. I could only describe my feelings for the divorce using those words or words like them. I glared into the bathroom mirror at my waterlogged swollen owl-eyes and furrowed brows. The faucet furiously gushed water around my hands and I splashed my pale and distressed face. Mom had screamed again, making it about her. As a rule I refused to talk to her when she yelled...and she had been yelling a lot lately. When I did occasionally open the curtain on my clandestine thoughts, the discussion would explode into shouts—a situation which favored my mother. My two-cents weren’t worth crap, let alone getting in trouble for, so I learned to fasten my feelings away. Except this time…shame on me. I had been ripe with things to say and I burst, leaving the sticky peach juice of my emotions everywhere. Before the divorce I was an invincible and free teenager. I hated what I had become since: unstable. I was like a werewolf: whenever the divorce would flaunt its full moon, I would become something alien—a wild, howling wreck, dangerous and unpredictable.
Whenever I lost control, I would always retreat to the nights on our back deck. This gave me time to get out and morph back into me. I snuck the halls to the kitchen, swiftly releasing the sliding door and slipping into the ironed sheet of crisp black. My skin absorbed the night and I felt as if I’d popped out of a chimney all covered in soot like in Mary Poppins. Chim, chim, charoo. Stars were like thumbtacks poking holes in the sky, and I wanted to play connect the dots with them, making constellations out of the cuss words I didn’t have the guts to say. Sucking in a breath of the cool black air, I was more alone than ever; I wondered what life would be when my parents died. Lonelier than this, I admitted. But I almost wished death was the culprit dividing my family—almost.
Ignorance was bliss, I told myself. I was better off ignoring what I had become: a statistic—another child of divorce. The divorce had switched off summer fun and I was like a slot machine: everyday was a gamble. Would I win or would I lose? I never seemed to hit the jackpot. I felt pressure to be an adult, to stay ahead of the conflict, to be a rock. Nobody cared about how I felt or what I wanted—it didn’t matter that I needed somewhere safe to organize my thoughts, to recover who I was as the daughter of a black and white piece from the chessboard of divorce. While I believed everything happens for a reason, I struggled to figure out what the reason was for the divorce. But I do know the little things matter much more now that our family is fractured. The silliest, overlooked details of our old life found their way into my psyche.
Exhibit A: our fish tank. It sat quietly discarded in the basement, the size of a refrigerator-packaging box filled with filtered water, small pebbles, and myriad of Jewel Cichlid fish. A poster of smooth river stones clung to the lens of the tank’s back wall, a credit to my nature-loving dad. He sensibly chose this over the reverse side, which displayed an outrageously bright, tropical scene. Turquoise gravel and fist-sized, brick-red rocks (oddly resembling human hearts) lined the bottom of the tank while the setup hummed shyly.
No one in my family acknowledged the tank except for Dad. He always rested in the same blue folding chair, watching the fish play tag and settle deep within the indigo crevices of the rocks. He used to ask that I join him, like a philosopher inviting me on his quest of enlightenment; I always mumbled a “no thanks” and left him hastily, feeling guilty. But today I decided that ‘fish-watching’ indeed had appeal. Just when Dad and the big tank exited my life, I needed to fish-watch—maybe I could learn from the fish. My sister’s new beta fish called U.S.A. blithely orbited within his bowl, his plum tresses caressing the water and his eyes bulging out freakishly. U.S.A. was a replacement fish, something I was familiar with. In fact, our alikeness excelled beyond just that: ever since the divorce, people would squash their noses to my fishbowl and comfort zone, to check on me in my new water temperature. Was I sinking or swimming? And I couldn’t tell them a thing, apart from “gloop-gloop.”
There were plenty of other metaphors for how I was feeling. Last month, my father and I took a journey along the riverfront trail. We strode along the path, always looking ahead at the road of pretzel twists leading to new views. The tall majestic trees still wore their summer wardrobe despite the chilly autumn bite, and a snappy wind pulled wisps of hair into my eyes. I sipped my warm Aztec hot chocolate, letting the sweet cinnamon rest in the hollows of my spongy tongue; the drink was almost velvety seeping down into my stomach and I felt for that moment, content. My hands cradled the cardboard sleeve around it, and I gazed somewhere past the ten little pink sunrises of my nails, wishing for the awkward silence to end.
“I miss seeing you,” Dad said, ending the stalemate. I noticed he looked different. A cottony patch stuck to the outside of his brow, looking just like a cloud. Underneath the bandage was a dime-sized skin cancer healing, and I couldn’t help but stare at it. To me, the cancer was a symbol for our blemished EX-family. A balloon inflated in my chest as one deflated in my throat and I took another swallow of hot chocolate and let my steamy breath knock into the shrill air. My gaze caught a valentine-shaped leaf on the road; it was a sour-apple green with one small tear, a tiny rip that threatened to spread like crazy spider legs. Picking it up, I showed him like a child…just as I had as a little girl.
“Look.”
He turned his head and smiled at the leaf. I wonder if he saw it as I did…my broken heart on a stem, the heart he created and the one he helped break.

My summer was filled with many moments like these, but it wasn’t until I made myself a bowl of alphabet soup did I realize I was going to be okay. I was stirring my spoon around in the alphabet soup, thoughtfully gazing at the letters; they looked like little buoys bobbing freely throughout the tomato sauce. I use to spell out my name in the soup when I was a kid, probing through the desired letters, pushing all others into a ring around the bowl. Here I was, doing it again—déjà vou. It suddenly hit me that I was U.S.A. the fish, prodding the bubbly noodles gently until L-A-U-R-A was in a row. The alphabet soup filled my soul and my stomach, writing the story of my life with its divine inspiration. I glanced down at my soup; subconsciously, my spoon tapped the last letter into place, finishing a word-- my word….revealing what I had to do. It was in my heart all along, but now it was reflected in the healing powers of the soup. So simple, so profound, bringing the reassuring news that I was okay.
G-R-O-W.





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