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Fall and its Falling
I lied down in the darkness with my piles of dirty clothes hidden from my eyes. I was used to the mess---the crumpled papers, the bags and purses, everything---that covered my pure white carpet and disguised the perfection that was always trying to be conveyed. But at night, there was nothing. Nothing to focus on. Nothing to distract me. Nothing but the voices that managed to slither through the walls and invade the boundaries of my room.
I clasped my ears with my ice cold hands, trying desperately to block out the accusing screams. They never fully went away. I squeezed my eyes together as tight as I could, welcoming the pain that accompanied with the pressure. I tried to concentrate on it, seeing little red spots dance behind my closed eyelids. It was all I had right now to protect me from everything I didn’t want to hear.
“You expect me to believe that I’m the only man you’re seeing right now?” Kyle’s booming voice echoed through the walls. His words were sharp and aggressive, almost as if each one was spat out.
“You are! I can promise you . . . I can swear on Julia’s life and---” I heard my mom yell weakly, bringing my name to her mouth before being cut off by the shattering of her precious vase.
I didn’t want to hear anymore, but I couldn’t sleep. The sounds were mixing with the darkness and together, they were swallowing me. I didn’t know how to escape. I twisted in bed, with my blankets tangling around my body, as if they too wanted to trap me.
I put my headphones on, desperate for all the sounds to be drained out. It didn’t help. I knew what was going on. I knew that my mom was sobbing right now, even if I couldn’t hear her weak cries of helplessness. I knew that Kyle wasn’t comforting her, or apologizing for his jealous outbreaks which never used to exist. I could picture the scene in my head, my mom kneeling on the floor trying to gather the broken pieces of glass as he just stood there, watching her, reveling in his newly gained power.
I felt a gentle touch on my arm and jumped, startled by the unexpected contact. I opened my eyes to see Amy’s soft face crumpled in an unexplainable emotion---hurt, but confused. She still had her childhood innocence---that obliviousness that fades away as time passes---but she knew things weren’t right, even if she didn’t fully understand it.
I pulled off my headphones so I could hear her, but she didn’t say anything. I sat up and remained quiet, waiting for her to open her mouth, but she just stood there in the darkness with that look on her face.
“Do you want to sleep in my room tonight?” I asked her in a half whisper.
Amy quietly, but quickly, crawled into my bed for the third time this week. “Why are Mommy and Kyle still fighting?” I wish she didn’t have to ask, so I didn’t have to lie.
“Well, that’s what people who get married do. They fight sometimes. . . .” I tried to explain weakly, guilt smothering my heart.
She seemed to think about it, trying to understand why what I was saying didn’t sound right. “Mommy and Daddy didn’t fight . . . I miss Dad. I wish he would come back.” She paused, and took a moment of silence to concentrate on what she said. “I don’t like Kyle. He makes Mommy sad and I don’t like it.”
I didn’t answer because she was right, although “sad” was a minor way to describe the way he made our mom feel. It was more like helpless, worthless, and stupid. Ever since our real dad died, nothing had been the same. Not only did he leave Amy and me behind, but my mom, who never dealt well with loneliness. When Kyle came into her life, not only was she happy, but all of us. We didn’t know him long, but he grew on our broken family as he made promises and treated us like we were his world. Mom rushed along trying to fill her heart with the love she lost---the love her shattered heart could no longer feel.
“Sharon,” he’d say, “one day I’m going to make you the happiest woman alive. You’ll see. There won’t be a thing you want that you can’t have.” He had filled Mom’s head so much with the same line told in so many different ways. How couldn’t she believe that somehow, a second Mr. Perfect had slipped into her life? How couldn’t we believe that we were gifted enough to say that we found a second father, who loved us as much as he possibly could?
All of us were so blinded from the hurt that we couldn’t see the man hidden behind the perfection. I don’t know when he started to turn into the monster he is now, or how, but I know that things were never this way, and none of his promises were ever kept. You really can’t trust someone for what they appear to be, because nothing is what it seems. He’s that lesson in the flesh.
I woke up the next morning with light peeking through my closed shades, its late morning shine welcoming me to Saturday. My sister wasn’t in my room anymore, either leaving in the middle of the night or waking up long before me, unable to continue sleeping with her mind so clouded and confused. I, on the other hand, could sleep for much longer.
I slowly got out of bed, unprepared for a new day. I wasn’t expecting to find everyone sitting together at the table, as if it was our usual, everyday routine.
“Hey sweetheart!” my mom said cheerfully. Her cheeks were pale, lacking the red warmth that should have been there. She was smiling, but it was forced---unnatural. She was trying as hard as she possibly could to make it real, but it didn’t touch her crinkled, ocean blue eyes, which couldn’t seem to hide the depth of hurt pooled inside.
“Hi Mom,” I said bluntly, my voice muffled from my lack of sleep.
“What do you want to eat?” she asked, bent over the stove. “We have pancakes, eggs, and I’m making some bacon right now.”
“I’m not really that hungry. Since when did we start to eat breakfast together?” I regretted it as soon as the words came out.
“It’s a new tradition,” Kyle began, “right, Sharon?” He didn’t say it bright and cheerful like he should---like how Mom was pretending. He said it strong and demanding, as if he was making a new law, and what my mom had to say wasn’t important.
“Right sweetie!” she said, too enthusiastic. It was pathetic. “Julia, sit down! I’ll surprise you.”
I listened, not because she told me to, but because I could feel Kyle’s black eyes glaring at me.
Everyone was quiet. The only thing I could hear was the sizzling from the stove and Kyle’s heavy breath. I wish someone would say something since I didn’t have the courage to.
I looked at Amy, whose round face was glazed with oblivion from the growing silence. She looked back at me with her bright green eyes, as if she was unaware of Kyle’s presence right next to her.
“Here,” my mother said, carrying a large circular plate of food in her hand, “just the way you like it.” She placed it in front of Kyle, and waited, as if she wanted his approval.
“This isn’t the way I like it.” His voice was monotone, his expression displaying no emotion.
“What did I forget?” my mom asked, her eyes slightly widening in what could either be panic or surprise, maybe a combination of the two.
“This isn’t the way I like it,” he repeated, in the same expressionless tone with the same expressionless face.
“Well, I don’t see what I did wrong,” my mom began, so helpless and concerned. “I added blueberries in your pancakes, your bacon is---”
It only took one second for Kyle to abruptly stand up and swipe his strong, muscular arm across the table. The plate flew across the room, shattering against the wall with the food scattered all over the floor.
“Cheese! You forgot to add the f------ cheese!” he screamed into my mom’s frightened face, his fists clenched tightly. Without another word, he stormed out, pushing my mom to the side in his path.
I couldn’t move. No one could. We all just stayed where we were, looking at the broken pieces of glass and mushed food that found a way to mix together in the mess all over the floor. Amy’s face mimicked Mom’s: eyes wide in fear, mouth slightly parted in shock, eyebrows furrowed together, and forehead slightly crinkled. I’m sure my expression wasn’t too different.
My mom was the first one to move, coming out of her state of shock all at once. She gently tried to smooth out her shirt, looking down with a slight frown on her face before looking up and giving me a slight smile. It didn’t look right. “I’ll have your plates in a minute,” she said.
I didn’t know how to respond. I could see Amy looking back and forth between the mess and my mom, wondering what she was supposed to do. I couldn’t just keep sitting. I grabbed the paper towels and began to pick up small piles of food and glass, trying not to step on anything.
“Julia, what are you doing?” Mom asked, her head turned away from the stove and frying pans in front of her.
“I’m cleaning,” I said, simply.
“Sit down, honey. I’ll take care of that later.” She was trying to sound sweet, but her voice was strained.
“It’s alright, Mom, really. I---”
“Julia, sit now. We’re going to finish eating.” She wasn’t trying to be nice anymore. Why was she taking this out on me?
When she turned back around, I slowly walked next to her. She knew I was there, and stiffened in response. I waited a moment, then laid my hand on her shoulder, and almost immediately, felt it drop as she turned around and embraced me in a hug. That was the only weakness she would let herself show.
“Why don’t you go somewhere with Amy?” she whispered into my ear.
“Sure, Mom,” I replied, although I didn’t know where I could go.
She released her grip suddenly, as if she just became aware of what she was doing. I still clang onto her, trying to grasp all the comfort her hug gave me, but she was too desperate to escape. Perfect families like ours didn’t need comfort because there was nothing that caused its requirement. To her, as of now, none of this ever happened; she was going to push it to the back of her mind and deny, even though this isn’t something that can be. What she was failing to realize is this isn’t one of her hidden, nightly altercations. The growing tension slipped its way into the sunlight, where it’s been exposed to our eyes. It makes everything different.
“Come on, Amy,” I began, “I’m going to take you somewhere fun!” I was trying to sound enthusiastic, but I knew my attempts failed.
“Where, Julia? Where?” she asked in excitement, her fickle mind letting her temporarily forget.
“You’ll see,” I said, even though I had no idea myself. “Get dressed up in something warm,” I added, feeling inspired.
Fall in Massachusetts always led me outside, where I could look at the colorful decaying beauty and fully admire it. When else do you see something dying, becoming more beautiful? I can’t help but watch the trees as they fight against nature, its leaves becoming red and orange like fire in its struggle. Sometimes, like now, I want to be that strong and fight although I know there is nothing that can stop the inevitable. Every year, the trees fight against the bitterness of winter, never giving up in their battle, yet every year, they always lose. They’re stripped of their beauty, barren to the rest of the world. It makes me lose hope.
“Julia, why do the leaves turn colors?” Amy asked me with her little hand gripping onto mine.
“Because they’re fighting,” I said, fabricating a story out of the thoughts swirling around in my head. I was taking her to the park, giving her a chance to refresh her mind and look at the nature around her.
“They’re fighting? What are they fighting?”
“They’re fighting winter,” I said, trying to explain. “Because winter is so cold, they’re trying to scare it away. See how they’re red and orange?”
“The trees want winter to think that they’re on fire, so it won’t come.”
“Really?” she asked, her face bright with fascination.
“Really,” I said, a slight smile on my face. I loved seeing her happy, her eyes alive and dancing.
She didn’t ask me anything else as we walked the rest of the ten minutes. She looked at the trees, her eyes still bright, thinking about the recurring battle with winter. She didn’t know we were going to the park. Amy just went wherever she was brought, sailing through the obstacles placed before her.
“Here we are." She didn’t look at me, and I couldn’t even say she heard any of the words I spoke.
Her eyes were glazed over in hope and bright with happiness. She sprinted towards the playground, her little legs unable to move as fast as her heart desired. Her head bobbed up and down each time her legs hit the ground, and her short black hair bounced. She hopped in a tunnel, and crawled her way through, disappearing into the wooden maze, lost in the only place she’d ever want to be.
“She’s gonna be alright,” I whispered lightly underneath my breath. And she would be.
I could hear her giddy little laugh and sat down on the grass, smiling to myself. Amy let life take her away like the leaves being blown by the wind. She accepted what came with a passion, which is more than I could say for myself. She was stronger than me, and I just know she was going to make it.