it’s my father’s birthday and
my mother wakes up too cheerful,
pretending to like him
or maybe love him,
it’s hard to tell.
she makes reservations for dinner
so we can order our food
and sit in uncomfortable silence,
pretending to be a family who likes each other,
or something like that.
I have been feeling sick all day
the after effects of their fight yesterday
are making me nauseous-
I don’t think I can stomach sitting at a table
playing a sick game of charades for no one in particular.
I say I might not go, that I love him,
but I don’t feel up to it.
He tells me I have to come; asks me how I would like it
if everyone skipped out on my birthday.
outwardly I nod my head, but inside I can’t help thinking-
to have a birthday that doesn’t feel
like a row of dominoes ready to topple,
where my dad doesn’t ask the waiter
to take a phoney family photo
where for three seconds, we love each other,
a celebratory dinner that doesn’t turn
to screaming on the way home-
I think I could live with that.
either way, it doesn’t matter.
in the afternoon,
my mother gives my father a new watch.
he gives her a squeeze
and a thin lipped smile;
we both know that this gift is the product of her guilt
for telling him yesterday that his present would come
in the form of divorce papers.
we both know that she’s absolved herself,
that she will say the same kind of thing tomorrow.
sensing the insincerity,
my mother becomes upset
and I escape to my bedroom
as their voices raise to screams.
later, my father dials the number of the restaurant,
cancels the reservation.
my mother takes the suitcase that sits half packed in her bedroom
like a murder weapon waiting for use
and slams the door behind her.
no one eats dinner;
our appetites collectively vanish
along with the illusion that anything is alright.
my father locks himself in his room and makes phone calls.
I take the dog for a walk and don’t notice I am crying
until some kid asks me if I’m okay.
nothing is okay, and I cry harder.
this home is a carousel of horrors. everything is black and white and grey and nauseating and painful
and I am too old to pretend it’s going to get better.
I’m on my last ride around;
soon I’ll be getting off but right now,
when my parents spit fire
and the painted horses go up in flames,
the smoke still finds a home in my lungs
and my heart becomes burnt and charred
and it aches
because when I was just a little bit younger,
I had a dream that my father would call my mother
and tell her that he couldn’t sleep without her there at night.
that she’d come home and he’d kiss her
and she’d unpack her bags
and promise to be quieter from now on,
to be more quick to love and slower to anger.
that at Shabbos dinner we’d eat together
and rather than sit in tense silence
we would talk easily, and laugh.
but dreams are just dreams,
and every piece of my family is broken,
and even when I’m gone
they will still be broken,
and my parents have spent eighteen years married
to someone they don’t love,
or at least
don’t love enough, and
their daughters are in agony,
and today my father is fifty seven years old and falling asleep alone
on the couch next to the dimmed light of the muted television,
not ready to confront the empty side of their bed,
his new watch and unopened birthday cards gathering dust on the kitchen table and
weighing down the whole house as they
contemplate their role in this newest episode of never ending anger and blame.
passing them on my way to get a drink of water,
I talk to them the way I’d like to talk to myself, whispering
it’s not your fault,
it’s not your fault.
this would hurt the same way
with or without you.
I’m so sorry your home is crumbling
and you are caught in the rubble.
I am not really talking to the watch.
its two hands keep moving
and in my home,
nothing changes at all.