I grew up in a suburb of Cincinnati. I had two siblings, and my parents were still married. So many of my friends had families that were broken up by divorce. It was extremely common at that time. I was lucky, but I didn’t recognize it. They still argued almost every day. It was always loud enough to make your teeth clench. Out of earshot, psh.
One morning, I woke up to my mother screaming. It was a regular occurrence so I thought nothing of it. I stepped out of my room and noticed my siblings’ bedroom doors were still shut. The screaming continued for a few minutes. Then it stopped. An eerie quiet took over the house. I ran downstairs.
My mom was alone, standing there, cleaning dishes.
“Mom, why were you screaming?”
“Oh, I saw a spider.”
“He had to run to the grocery store.”
I knew something felt off. Mom’s hand was shaking with each stroke of the sponge against the dishes. The foam from the soap was dripping onto one of the bowls. She froze, holding the bowl above the sink. “What honey? Everything ok?”
I looked around the room. Nothing was out of place except for a puddle of water on the floor.
“Uh, yup..yup. Everything is fine.” I grabbed a banana and went back upstairs to my room. My siblings passed me as I opened my bedroom door.
“Hey Jess, you’re up early.”
“Yup.” I muttered with a mouth full of banana. “ Hey..if you’re going downstairs, let me know how mom is.”
I could hear Liza talking to my mom downstairs. Their conversation was incomprehensible from my room.
Knock, knock. I was sprawled out on my bed. “What?!” Knock, knock. “Oh my gosh, what?!” KNOCK, KNOCK.
“Jess, it’s about mom.” I threw my banana peel and ran to the door. When I opened the door, Dave was standing there with a blank stare.
“What, what’s wrong with mom?”
“Oh nothing, she’s downstairs watching the news. Do you know where dad is?”
“He’s still not here? He went to the grocery store.”
“Isn’t that just down the street? Maybe he’s picking up my favorite muffins!”
“Dave. You’re not worried about dad? I heard a scream this morning. I thought they were fighting. But, dad was nowhere to be seen.”
“Jess, I’m sure he’s fine. He always spends forever at the grocery store.”
My brother was acting so nonchalant about the situation. “Uh, Dave. Whatever.” I shut the door in his face.
Knock, knock. “Jess.”
“OK, I’m going to go downstairs and watch some TV.”
I walked back over to my bed and laid flat, staring at the ceiling. I began to hear a cluster of noises downstairs. These noises got louder and louder, which created a sense of alarm in me. I sat up, and ran downstairs.
I got to the bottom of the stairs and I stopped. The noises stopped.
I slowly entered the kitchen, where my mom was cleaning the floor. She was scrubbing so hard I thought the wood finish was coming up. Dave was sitting there watching a TV show loudly.
“Dave, Mom, where’s Liza?”
“Oh honey, she went to her friend’s house.”
“Jess, come watch this show.”
“No. I’m OK, I think I’m going to go for a walk.”
I walked out the front door and leaned my head against the front door to see if I could hear anything. Nothing. I began to walk away. I saw my neighbor standing outside.
“Meredith, have you seen my dad or Liza leave the house?”
“No honey. I haven’t. Do you need something?”
“No. No. I’m just concerned.”
“Maybe you should ask your mom.”
“I did. She said they were busy. Thanks Meredith!”
I walked to the driveway and noticed my dad’s car was still in the garage. Weird.
ThI e bushes surrounding our driveway rustled. I turned around, “Liza?”
“Mom said you were with friends.”
“Um, I was. Friends.” She brushed her hands against her pants leaving a brown handprint on her pants.
“Why were your hands dirty?”
I nodded, “Mhm, mhm. In the backyard.” I moved my hands around in a frantic motion, then ran around Liza toward the backyard. Breathing heavily I stopped. What the…
Dirt. Everywhere. I began to walk toward the dirt piles. Creeeaaaaaak.
“Liza, Jess, get inside, I need to show you something.”
Walking inside, I could hear Liza breathing heavily behind me. The lights were dimly lit in the house. Piles and piles of our belongings were scattered.
I slowly walked around the piles. “Dave? Mom?”
“Jess, Mom’s cleaning again. Go help her.” Dave came from around the corner.
Walking toward the dining room, I could hear my mom sniffling. “Mom?”
She kneeled, head down, wiping her eyes.
“YES.” Turning her head she shouted aggressively my direction. “I told Dave not to bother me.” Her veins started to pulsate visibly through her skin. Suddenly, her skin changed to a splotchy red hue. “I’m cleaning.” Her voice deepened, “Go away.” My mom was pulling at her hair in between digging through piles and piles of her belongings.
I heard footsteps behind me. Dave and Liza were standing stoically. “Uh, hello, are you guys going to help me with mom?”
In unison, “Mom, do you need help?”
“What the heck is going on?”
Both Liza and Dave moved to a kneeling position with mom. All three of them breathed heavily.
“Where’s dad? He’s still not here.” I backed up slowly.
Dave whispered, “She’s like him, mom.”
“Like Dad? I’m like dad. Yes, I’m like dad. What did you do to him?”
Liza turned around, a single tear dripped from her right eye. “I had to, we had to. Protect the family at all costs.”
Continuing to back up, I furrowed my brow, my eyes darted around the room. “Protect? Really?” I shook the nearest door handle. Grabbing the keys on the counter, and my mother’s wallet, I opened the door. “You’re no longer family anymore.” I took one last look at their faces as the door inched shut, knowing that was the last time I’d see them. Goodbye.