8. Car Radio
Another Saturday makes its way to me as I stare up at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep. I’d turned on some music to soothe me into sleep, but that didn’t work either. So instead, I count the eyes on the wood above me. If this house could talk, I wonder what it would say. Would it yell at my parents and brother, or would it tell me to keep my mouth shut? Would it be mad at me for not telling anyone what’s going on?
I roll over and look at the time. It’s eight o’clock. My mom has already left and my dad is no longer home either. Tobiah is probably asleep, dreaming of cannabis and smoke. Or maybe he’s having a nightmare that he ran out of money and can’t supply his addiction and he’s going insane because of it.
I sit up and place my feet on the cool floor.
What will happen today?
I make my way downstairs and prepare some oatmeal for myself. Halfway through the bowl, I hear someone on the steps. Tobiah sticks his head out from behind the wall that leads to the dining room to look at me.
“Morning,” he smiles sheepishly.
I nod and look down at my breakfast, my appetite gone.
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry for the other day,” he says, stepping out into the dining room.
“Like you’ve done for the past week,” I mutter, standing up to take my unfinished bowl to the kitchen. “I’m fine, Tobiah.”
“No you’re not,” he says, looking at a nasty bruise on my arm. “And I’m sorry.”
“No, I am. And I want to make it up to you. Today.”
I sigh and turn around to face him.
“I said I’m fine.”
“My friends and I are going out bowling today. I want you to come.”
“Nope. You’re coming. Go get ready or whatever because we’re going. My treat.”
I sigh as he looks at me with hopeful eyes. He really wants me to go doesn’t he?
“Okay. Fine.” I nod. “What time are we leaving?”
I finish getting ready and send a handful of texts to John, who is about to go help with a carwash for his soccer fundraiser. He’s been on the soccer team since seventh grade, and he’s really good at it. He loves it. It’s so much fun to watch him play because he puts all of his heart into it, and with him it’s all or nothing, win or lose.
Three knocks on my door.
“Ready Amabel?” I hear my brother call through the hatch that I call a door.
“Yeah. Be right down.”
I’m not wearing anything fancy. It’s just bowling, after all. I have on dark jeans and a yellow t-shirt, with my hair tied back in a braid and minimal makeup on.
I wonder who all is going to be at the bowling alley. Are there going to be any girls to talk to, or is it going to be all boys and then me?
I shove my wallet into my pocket and lift up the hatch that leads to the stairs.
It’s warm outside and the sun is shining down happily as I step out into it. There are no clouds to be seen and the wind blows gently against my skin, as if trying to embrace me in a hug.
We get into the car and he starts it, pop music playing softly through the speakers. He lets the wind fill his car as he keeps the windows down, and I’m glad my hair is up in a braid.
Tobiah parks just in front of the bowling alley and we get out. I can hear the thumping of the music through the walls and the laughter of the people inside as the door opens.
Lights flash everywhere and the sounds of the bowling balls hitting the wooden alleyways click through the air sporadically, and I smile at the smell of pizza and food wafting from the concession stand. It’s been so long since I’ve stepped foot into a bowling alley. I’ve just never had the time.
Tobiah leads me to the group of his friends, and I recognize them all as football players. He introduces me, and they all tell me hello or hey and that they know who I am. I smile and laugh and we start the game, which I learn that I’m pretty good at. I’m ahead of them all.
They playfully tease me about it and I laugh and tease back. For once in my life, I’m completely at ease. I’m happy.
And then I see my brother handing money to one of the guys and receiving a bag with green stuff in it.
We head home after bowling one game. I don’t talk to him; I don’t even look at him.
The only words that come out of my mouth are ‘thank’ and ‘you’ before I head up to my room.
Not long after flopping on my bed, I hear the front door open and close twice. My dad’s off early. My mom’s home.
I decide not to move, and to let the comforter hold me in place. One day I’ll have to talk to them. One day, but not today.
I pull my phone out of my pocket and open up my calendar app. I set a reminder to go off every day at four o’clock in the afternoon, which is the time I get off of school. In the title area, I type in Tell Family Everything.
I hear steps coming up to my room and soft knocking before the hatch opens. My mom pokes her head through.
I grumble into the bed.
“Are you okay, hunny?” I hear her step up a few more steps.
“Yeah, mom.” I sigh and sit up. “I’m fine.”
“Okay, well dinner will be ready soon.”
I nod and she goes back out, shutting the little door behind her.
I text John, who is now finished with the fundraiser. He calls me and tells me all about it and how much fun it is, and for a moment I’m okay and not bursting at the seams.
I tell him about the bowling alley, minus the part about the drug hand-off between my brother and his friend. He tells me we should go bowling and I like the idea, aside from today souring my taste for the activity.
At the dinner table, my parents shift nervously in their seats, and Tobiah’s eyes are glassy.
How do they not see that? I ask myself.
“Kids, we have something to tell you,” my mother says, glancing quickly at my father.
My dad clears his throat and looks each of us in the eye. “Your mother and I have decided on getting into a divorce.”
“What?” I cry, standing up. My stomach twists in knots and I feel tears starting to fill my eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“Amabel, honey, calm down,” my dad breathes.
“No, I will not calm down, honey,” I shout in a mocking tone. “You don’t even believe in divorce!”
“Amabel, it’s for the best—“
“For who, mom? For you? For dad? For me? For Tobiah?”
Tobiah looks up at his name, his eyes glassy and wet with tears. Does he understand what’s going on? Does he see what’s happening?
“For all of us, hunny,” my mom says calmly.
How can she be so calm?!
“Why? What’s your reasoning behind the divorce? Why are you doing this to yourselves—to us? Don’t you care about your kids?”
“Amabel stop it right now or—”
“Or what, dad? You’ll go sleep with the girl you’re cheating on mom with? And then mom will get drunk and throw me around, giving me fresh bruises and telling me not to tell anyone? And then Tobiah will go get high off of weed and drugged on meth? And what will I do? Starve myself to death to make you see what you’re doing to me—to US? Do I go and kill myself, dad? Huh?”
The table is silent and Tobiah stares at me, half present and half angry. He stands up in a huff and leaves the room, muttering and I hear the front door slam shut. My parents stare at me.
“I’ve had to deal with your stupid mistakes my entire life, but these past months have been worse than ever. Mom, you’ve always had an alcohol problem, but it hasn’t been as bad as when dad started cheating on you. And dad! Mom was right by calling you a hypocrite. We’re all hypocrites, dad, but you’re the worst of them. Show up at church like you do NOTHING WRONG, and then tell all of us you’re going to work so you can do your coworker? Really? I’ve seen her. I’ve seen the pictures on your computer. And both of you, for the sake of me and the sake of Tobiah, MAKE IT FREAKING WORK BETWEEN YOU! I don’t know why you do what you do, and I don’t know why Tobiah does what he does, but I bet it has something to do with you. Pay attention every once in a while!”
I storm out of the dining room and grab my keys off of the entryway table, my wallet still in my back pocket. My parents don’t follow me, and I hear my mother crying where I’d left her.
The car comes to life immediately and I back out of the driveway.
I drive and drive until I reach John’s house.
Tears soak my face by the time I reach his door and I knock on it and ring the doorbell until he answers the door.
I fall into his arms, sobbing. He shushes me and asks me what’s wrong.
Everything comes out in one blob of a run-on sentence and I have to suck the snot back in a few times. He tells me to hold on and he disappears back inside for a brief moment.
When he returns, I’m trying to control my breathing and stop crying. He wraps me in a hug, his jacket smelling like his cologne.
“Here,” he says, handing me a pink bunny stuffed animal. “I got it for you. I wasn’t going to give it to you just yet, but you really need it.”
I hug him again, a few more tears falling down my cheeks.
“Do you want to go for a drive?” He asks, pulling me back a little bit.
I smile a little.
“But I just drove here.”
“I know it makes you feel better. And we’ll listen to your favorite song over and over if we have to.”
I smile and pull him closer. He kisses my head and I sniffle.
My favorite song is actually pretty strange. It’s not really popular or even in my favorite genre. It actually has a bit of screaming in it, and I don’t listen to that.
It’s Car Radio by twenty-one pilots.
It’s stuck on replay as the road reaches far and wide in front of us. John doesn’t talk much, and he doesn’t make me talk except for when he asks if I want to hear the song again.
“…Sometimes quiet is violent…”
I say the words along with the track, bobbing my head in the sections where there is only music.
“…Cuz somebody stole my car radio and now I just sit in silence…”
It plays a few more times and I wrap myself up in John’s jacket, letting the song and the smell distract me.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He says quietly during the end of the song. “I didn’t know any of this was happening.”
I take a moment to find words to say.
“I didn’t want to drive you away and lose you.”
I hear him chuckle.
“You would have never lost me.”
I look over to him and smile. We pull up to a red light and he leans over and kisses me.
The light turns green.
“…Cuz somebody stole my car radio—”
A truck slams into us.
“—and now I just sit in silence…”