I am standing in the kitchen after dinner pulling the meat off the carcass of a chicken, dropping the bones into a stockpot. My husband and two sons are in the living room playing Old Maid, my youngest determined to pull himself out of loser status where he landed, twice, this afternoon while playing with me. (I play by the rules and never fix the game.) My youngest rises, triumphantly, into first place, or maybe it’s second. I’m not sure because my husband is shouting just as jubilantly. (Apparently, he takes the game more seriously than I realized.) Oldest son is not jubilant. He’s now standing next to me, his head on the counter, his shoulders shaking from crying. He was not a winner tonight. I gently nudge him with my elbows out of the kitchen and up the stairs, and he acquiesces without a fuss, his body responding to a need for sleep.
My husband is upstairs now with both boys, beginning the bedtime process. I go back to my carcass as my mind, unintentionally, rests on a troubling, sad thought. I’ve lost a friend today. I recall Jr. High School where the silent earthquake of someone turning their back on me shifted the landscape of my reality, taking me by such surprise. As children, we didn’t have the emotional maturity to use words to resolve a dispute. We used other tools that left scars, wounds that resurface even after all these years. The slumber party of my best friend is a vivid memory. For a reason I was never to learn – or for no reason at all, or just because kids are naturally mean – the group of girls turned on me and I spent the whole night crying in my sleeping bag, the bag pulled over my head, while the girls called me names and taunted me relentlessly. In the morning, I got up early, went up to the kitchen, called my mom who came to rescue me, and I slipped out of the house without saying goodbye. How I remember my mother’s soothing words as I sobbed in the car on the way home.
I wipe the tears from my eyes, leaving a smudge of chicken grease on my cheek. It’s possible some of the tears end up in the stockpot. Doesn’t matter. I’m convinced they’ll add flavor. I force the teenage thoughts away – those painful years that have resurfaced, triggered by this recent event – and listen to the sounds coming from upstairs.
They are all laughing again, and I’m relieved. Yelling is a more typical nightly sound as my husband tries rounding up the urchins who will not behave and who could drive even a saint to want to tear at his hair. I know. I’ve been there. (Not the saint part.) Suddenly my youngest is beside me telling me what caused the laughter. He had let out an excessively loud burp. He’s beaming up at me, telling me of this new triumph. I manage a smile, and he dashes back upstairs.
Stock simmering on the stove and dishes done, I stand in the dining room. Computer? TV? Book? Computer? TV? Book? I stand for several minutes, gazing at nothing. Book, I finally decide and am glad for a time to lose myself in the pages of other people’s lives.
I switch off the lights. I lock the front door. I bring a cup of water upstairs and put it on the table by my side of the bed. I brush my teeth, wash my face, and put on my pajamas. I walk quietly into my boys’ room and kiss them. I walk back into my own room and get into bed. I lie down with my eyes open, intensely focusing on my husband’s breathing and the drip, drip of icicles melting outside our open window.