By: Dennis Nguyen
I was afraid. Bright lightning came crashing down from the sky. The bright ray split the clouds into two separate entities and the pelting rain continued. The loud rain hammered down from above as if a war was being fought, and thunder boomed loudly only seconds after the lightning had come down. I was safe from these things; I was dry, warm, but scared. The lightning and the thunder were not what scared me; I had grown up since those days and was now ten. I was hiding from something else, something scarier. In my closet smothered by the clothing hung above me, I closed my eyes and covered my ears. I was trying to blot out the constant shouting that came from below my room. I lived in a house with two floors. My room was on the upper floor, and at the moment, my parents were arguing just below the ground on which I crouched.
The closet that I was in was small, and in this crouched compact position, my legs were beginning to tire and I found it hard to breathe. The closet was filled with a lot of clothing. The clothing was hung above me, and the fabric was covering my nose, suffocating me. The dark enclosed space however, was my best comfort. The enclosed walls blocked out the majority of my parent’s shouting, and the hands that covered my ears did the rest. I heard muffled words at times, words that were strong and loud enough for me to hear. They were ugly words, and they pierced my heart. I wanted to cry, yet the tears would not come. Somehow, my eyes were dry.
My parents argued a lot. They often argued for reasons that I couldn‟t comprehend. Sometimes, I wish I knew why, but recently I had come to realize that knowing the reason behind the warfare that occurred daily would probably just bring more grief. In my ignorance, I cowered. The arguments happened often, but I was never actually in the argument. My parents played a farce when I was with them, pretending that everything was okay. When my parents thought I was out of earshot however, they would begin. I would be half way up the stairs and I would hear their yelling, and the moment I did, I would run. Run to this same spot, this spot that I declared my “safe haven.”
My family hasn‟t felt like a “family” for a long time. When I was alone with my dad, we would do a lot of fun things. Play ball or play at the park, sometimes he would push me on the swings too! It was a lot of fun. In those moments, we were father and son. When I was with my mom, she would read me stories. Sad stories with happy endings, happy stories, and fairy tales. We would also talk about a lot of things; I felt that I could tell my mom anything. In those times, we were mother and son. Strangely enough though, whenever it became father, mother, and son, things disintegrated. Though they tried to act normal, I could tell that something had changed. ‘Why? What changed?’ I would wonder. The thoughts came strong within my mind and suddenly, the tears came. Hot beads of passionate emotion trickled down my cheek. The hot tear trickled down my cheeks, creating a path for the rest of my tears to follow. The tears hadn‟t come while I thought of the argument below, but now as I remembered the past happiness and wondered, why?
The mass of cloth hanging above me seemed to be comforting me. The soft cloth moved back and forth over top of my head like a parent would pat and solace their crying child.
My family hasn‟t been a “family” for a long time, and I feel powerless to do anything.
Two years after that event, I was twelve. I was still a young, vulnerable child and I still felt powerless about my parent‟s situation. I could begin to tell a difference. I had grown up enough and the part of my brain that deciphered scent had seemingly developed enough for me to find the discreet difference. When I ate with both of my parents, the food tasted stale. Yet, if I ate the same dish with only one of my parents, the food would taste marvellous. It wasn‟t anything five-star, but there was a difference, and I could tell. The difference was unsettling and yet I didn‟t know what to do about it. The air was different when I was with one of my parents, and different when I was with both. It was almost as if the air itself could suffocate me. In the presence of both my parents now, I felt that feeling rising back up within me now. The atmosphere seemed cold and there was no conversation as we ate our dinner.
The food tasted stale, I didn‟t like it. Quickly eating what little food remained on my plate, I forced myself to swallow the bitter food. The food slowly slid down my throat as if the food wanted to torture me, painfully and slowly. Bearing with it, I swallowed and excused myself from the table. My mother asked if I had eaten enough, she asked if I wanted more. I promptly declined. I knew that the moment I left the room, my parents would explode at each other. The longer I stayed in the room, the longer the tensions would build up, and the more intense the explosion would be. Lifting my plate off of the table, I hurriedly scurried to the sink. I moved as fast as my small feet would carry me and tip-toed to get a better view of the base of the sink. I set the plate down as carefully as possible, scared that a harsh impact and a loud sound would trigger the impending inevitable explosion. Running the tap to splash the plate with water, I hurried out of the kitchen and up to my room.
Once out of my parent‟s view, I ran. Loud roars boomed through the house. I covered my ears as I ran. I didn‟t want to hear the parents that I loved fighting, I didn’t want to know why they were fighting, I was scared.
Individually, my parents were good people. They cared about me, and I loved them. And yet why? Why? Only when they are together, why? I could feel the hot tears burn down my cheek once more as I crouched down in my closet. The closet seemed to be getting smaller; what if one day, I couldn’t fit?
A few months passed and I had turned thirteen. My closet had gotten even smaller than before and I didn’t fit so well. At the same time though, that was the only place that I could go to avoid the war. I still loved my parents a lot and I believed that somehow things would work out. At the age of thirteen I had spent a lot of time with my parents individually. I loved them both but I didn‟t know what I could do to stop the fighting, the arguing. I was too scared to talk to anyone else about the matter. I was worried that something would happen to my parents if I told someone else. I loved my parents too much to take the risk and I wanted to believe that they would sort it out. Besides, I didn’t really have anyone else to tell. I was very quiet at school and didn’t have a lot of friends. Since a lot of my life was spent hiding from the arguments my parents had, I had become introverted and quiet. As a result, I didn’t approach others, and they did not approach me.
I was out with my mother. She had been watching me play at the park. I was on the swings, moving back and forth. I was pumping my legs back and forth to match the rhythm of the swing. I felt like I was soaring, flying up in the sky among the clouds. My cares were released and my mom watched me, smiling as she watched me. Though I had been on the swings many a time before, it had never felt so exhilarating. My mom watched me proudly as I swung back and forth, soaring, higher and higher. I hadn’t been on the swings for a long time, and this felt so refreshing. Unfortunately, it came time to head home.
Passing through the door, my dad shot a quick glance at me, then gave a harsh look to mom, and then returned his view to me, this time with softer eyes. I greeted my dad and he returned the greeting warmly. After that though, I scurried off to my room. Within my heart I felt a sinking feeling. Though I had just flown higher and higher, gravity had taken hold of me and was quickly bringing me back down. Again I concealed myself inside of the closet. My parent’s voices boomed like thunder, the thunderous roars echoed within my mind. The closet felt a lot smaller today, today more than other days and soon enough I couldn’t bear it anymore. Tears rolled down my cheeks following the path that other tears had already created, my heart was torn. One last shout where my mother had dropped the F-bomb broke me. I felt shattered, as if the words my parents spoke were bullets and I am very thin sheet of glass. Bursting out of the closet, I bolted down the stairs and into the living room. And there I stood. The air in the room felt thick and it was hard to breathe. The viscous hot air seemed to chug slowly down my throat and into my lungs. The air was slow to get to my brain and I didn’t know what to say. The first word that came out,
“Please!” I said, my brain racing to think of the next word to say. Tears continued to roll down my face and my brain just didn‟t want to think. The next words I said were loud. I seemed to almost puke them out. I forced the words out of my body with all the passion and love that I had. “Stop, please… stop!” The words were nothing more than a desperate cry for peace, but it did not come.
“Joseph! Don‟t interfere and go back to your room!” My mother screamed at me. She was still quite riled up from the argument and my sudden appearance hadn‟t given her enough time to calm down. She looked at me and saw the tears continuously roll down my face and moved to me. “Sorry Joseph, I didn’t mean to shout… I‟m sorry.” My mother apologized to me, but the tears were still rolling down my face.
“What are you yelling at him for?!” My dad yelled at my mom quite loudly. Immediately, I regretted coming down the stairs. Now my parents were arguing right in front of me. The carpet below my feet felt uncomfortable almost as if the carpet was burning my feet, telling me to get away, to run. Tears wet my eyes and blurred my vision, blotting out the old family photos that had taken when I was a baby, before I was conscious enough to remember. I could only wonder what those times were like, when my parents and I could smile together and laugh together. The thoughts of how happy I could have felt only brought more sadness. There in front of my warring parents, I cried.
After that day, the closet was never the same. Every day, I was forced to hide within the closet, shielding myself from the constant yelling and anger. Within the small, cramped, and dark closet within my room, I wept alone. The air within the closet began to feel thick and the closet began to become even smaller than it already had been previously. Each time my parents argued, fitting inside the closet became harder and harder. The enclosed walls surrounded me, encased me, shielded me, and carried me away from my troubles, and yet the closet was becoming inhabitable.
I was fourteen. Summer had simply flown by and the seasons changed to an unsettling autumn. I was in grade nine now, my final year of junior high. The cold autumn was settling in and we were seeing a transition to the cold winter. Though the world is continuing to spin and the seasons are continuing to change, my situation is stagnant. The arguments continued to occur daily, and sometimes now, my parents would even argue right in front of me. When they started to argue, I would again go to hide in my closet. The closet was unaccommodating and very uncomfortable. I felt cramped within the closet and my heart always seemed to ache when I sat within its protection. I didn’t understand what the pain was, but I tried to ignore it. I knew to the very least that if I stayed within the closet, I would be safe.
Standing in front of the door of my house, my senses were instantly alerted when I heard the voice of my father blast through the solid door. My parents were arguing again. Any happiness that I felt began to drop just like the red and yellow leaves dropping behind me. The trees shed their leaves in preparation to hibernate over the long and harsh winter. The winter would come and hit the trees hard, but for the trees, spring would surely come. As I twisted the round knob on the front door to enter my home, I realized that I was jealous of the trees. Their spring would surely come.
My thoughts evaporated as my mother shrieked her reply to my dad. Their angry cries shattered my heart. Their words struck me hard as stone to glass, or as winter to a tree. I took off my shoes and slipped by quietly. I didn‟t want to somehow make the argument worse, so I was very careful. Taking slow small steps across the carpet, I reached the stairs. It was then that I heard a shout louder than any other shout that I had heard before. It was from my mom, and it was too frantic. I couldn’t make it out but the loud noise surprised me and scared me. I made a frantic run up the stairs pushing myself as hard as I could so I could escape, back to the confines of my closet. However, my father replied with an equally loud shout.
“No! When we divorce, I’ll have Joseph!” This time, I could understand and hear the loud shout. Immediately I froze, halfway up the stairs, I froze. My left foot that was about to climb the next stair landed awkwardly and I almost fell over. Twisting and moving my body, I sat on the stairs. My entire body was burning up and the carpet below me felt insanely hot. My vision blurred as tears came over my eyes and I cried again. I felt an insane feeling, one of anger and of sadness. I felt determined, but still scared. Both my body and my mind came to a single realization that was so strong, and so passionate, that I knew that I had to do something.
“No.” I said quietly to myself at first. Slowly standing up on those stairs, the determination and anger welled up in me. Those two feelings overpowered my other feelings and I repeated again, slightly louder. “No.” The closet was no longer an option for me, the sweet dream that everything would be okay so long as we continued as a family had broken. At this rate if I stayed within the closet, my spring would definitely not come, I knew that I had to take action but I still had trouble thinking of what to say. The air was heavy and it felt like my brain was not receiving enough oxygen. Despite all this, I knew that I had to do something. Repeating that one word again, this time a tad louder, I ran down the stairs and towards my parents. “No!” I practically screamed at them. The past, where I had spent time with my mother and father separately raced through my mind. It was like I was doing a marathon of a T.V series that played my life. The joy that came when I spent time with my parents was precious. And then vision and hope of the future, a future where I would be able to spend time with both my parents, together and happy. That vision, that image within my head began cracking, and then, like glass shattered. The visual image seemed to somehow have a physical effect, I could hear my heart pumping loudly, and my head hurt like mad. It was then that I said the only thing that I could think of.
“D-don’t divorce! I-I love the both of you too much! I can‟t decide between either of you! If you divorce, I’ll… I’ll…!” I said the words shakily at the beginning, unsure of what to say. The middle was firm, almost angry, and the end was desperate. I didn’t know what to say from then on. What would I do if they divorced? What could I do? Frantically thinking, tears began streaming through my eyes and down my cheeks once again. It was somewhat embarrassing. I was fourteen, and yet I still cried so much. I paid no attention to the embarrassment however as my sadness and anger over the current issue took precedence. “I’ll…” I said in an attempt to continue. Unfortunately, nothing came.
“Joseph, you’re home? Sorry, I didn’t notice you coming in.” My mother said. Her voice was compassionate and caring. It seemed that she had managed to calm down from the heat of the argument while I was puking my demands.
“Sorry son, your… mother and I will stop talking about the divorce.” My father said this time. His voice was somewhat awkward when he said ‘mother’ and something in his tone and my mother’s told me that he meant “for now.” It was as if they were two warring countries that had found a common point of interest. They decided to have a temporary truce to work towards it. That common interest was most likely me. Even though the conclusion felt superficial, as a fourteen year old, I was satisfied. I hugged my mother and then my father and the argument seemed to come to a conclusion.
After that day, the situation did not really “improve.” Though I did not hear my parents fighting anymore, the problem was that they were not talking to each other at all. I still spent time with them and had fun from time to time, but it was always with one parent or the other. I could tell that they were putting in an effort to stay together for my sake, but this “peace” was very fragile, I felt that it could break at any moment.
Then the day came. A few months after I graduated from high school, my parents divorced. I was planning to move out anyway. My plan was to live in the student dormitory at the University that I planned to attend. Since I would no longer be living with either of them, they no longer had any reason to live with each other. I visited them from time to time whenever I got the chance. I would visit one or the other, my father or my mother. I kept the time that I spent with them equal, and whenever I had the chance, I would ask about the past. Eventually, I got all the details from both sides. I was always curious, but too scared to ask. Now that the divorce was done, it would no longer matter. I found out that the arguments were never about anything major. They had always begun over small things and simply built up. In the end, neither my mother nor my father had really done anything wrong. Small misunderstandings and hardships accumulated and eventually, things no longer clicked. After the divorce, I always wondered. What if I had stepped in sooner? What would have happened if I had firmly and resolutely said “No, stop fighting!” before the misunderstandings had become too big? I would never know, but I always wondered what would’ve happened if I had only stepped out of my closet sooner.