I was a lot younger than anyone would like to admit when shit hit the fan. Although to be completely honest, it was hitting the fan pretty much from the moment sperm found the egg and I fatefully implanted into the uterine wall. All of this went down as a result of other people’s misdeeds. I just happened to be stuck in the middle of it, audience to a train wreck, with no way to stop it.
It was a warm summer night, our home’s windows all open to promote some kind of cross-breeze that barely existed. I may have been twelve, maybe younger, at the time. It was before I was 13, when I got my first of many diaries. It was dark, the hour late. My parents fought a lot in those days, often about money, often in front of us.
After supper, when we could no longer play outside due to the surrounding darkness, my brothers and I would often hole up in our rooms, watching TV or playing video games until bed time. My mother came into my room, closed the door, and sat on my bed. She seemed like she wanted to talk, but I wasn’t in trouble. I don’t really recall what she wanted, but soon we were interrupted by my father.
Clearly, they’d been having an argument and she’d come into my room in search of refuge. They were yelling at each other now, my mother pushing me in front of her as a kind of human shield. He kept asking if she thought he was stupid, that he knew what “that” smelled like.
I had no idea what they were fighting about, just wanting it to end. My mother kept pushing me in the back, until I finally yelled at my father to leave her alone. He looked at me, disgusted, muttering “fine” as he left. I don’t remember much after that, only the argument was over for now.
My mother was probably crying, but maybe she wasn’t. I think I just want to remember it that way, that she was capable of feeling, of remorse. As I would find out later, much later, was that my mother was having an affair. The “that” he had found was the stained pantyhose she’d worn home from work and carelessly tossed into the laundry.
He must have suspected her for a while to go through the dirty clothes like that. In all the years up until that moment, he’d only done laundry once and even then it was only because my mother got fed up with him leaving it as a pile on the floor and not in the hamper. She’d “taught him a lesson” by not doing his laundry. But only his. He only realized it late Sunday night that he had no clean clothes for the week, staying up well into the night, running his laundry, grumbling under his breath.
My mother was so proud of her victory, in that moment. But it was just one of those mean and petty things that unhappy married couples do when they no longer like each other, swatting like petty roommates stuck together until the lease is up. The lease in this situation being the time until the kids are grown and out of the house.
Things got worse after that, the drinking escalated, moving from habit to coping mechanism. Each of them began to poison us kids against the other, mostly taking shit, but at times openly questioning whether the other actually cared about us at all. What none of us realized at the time was that my mother was gearing up to teach my father the “lesson” of a lifetime. By the time we would finally realize what had happened, it would be too late.
Deny as she might, my mother was indeed having the affair of which she was accused. As family history would document, but we children were unaware, my mother was no stranger to stepping out on her husband. (Ironically, this was how I came into being in the first place.) Her current love interest was a man from work, her boss, who in exchange for sexual favors, gave her carte blanche to clock as much overtime as she pleased.
As round after round of layoffs yielded dozens of her colleagues fired, she nearly doubled her salary by going in to work before sunrise and coming home late. The increase was so substantial that the year prior to this, our family’s low income qualified me to attend a college preparatory program for “underprivileged students,” but two year’s later when my brother applied for the same program, he was denied because we made too much money.
My mother had thought she and this man were in love, which may have been true in her bizarre understanding of the word. Still, when the topic of divorcing their spouses so they could be together came up, he would hear none of it. Can you blame him? By maintaining the status quo, he kept his home life (not to mention his financial life) intact, all while getting the milk for free. But in our home, the secret was out and in spite of being caught by my father, my mother continued to have her affair, all the while denying it to us. But she had a plan, one that could have easily been lifted from a Lifetime screenplay, to get rid of my father for good.