The Dinner Table
I came home to the worst part of my day; suppertime always seemed to be filled with constant yelling and bickering. There was never enough food and always too many people. It was as if there had been a drought and the only food left was placed in front of a bunch of fierce predators. I was the little bird waiting patiently on the sidelines to see if I could get some scraps. Most days I would fail at doing so adequately, but today I got lucky. One of my brothers was at a hockey game with his friends. They managed to slip past security and steal some food as well. A part of me admired my brother’s risk-taking, and another part of me often wondered if it was just pure stupidity. He did get to eat and see an NHL game for free, while I was sitting at the dinner table with the rest of the predators scraping over the last bits of food.
I have three brothers and three sisters, and I am number seven. My parents don’t believe in birth control. According to their religion it is a sin, but to me, having seven children and not being able to feed them or give them appropriate attention and abusing their spirits is a much bigger sin. The two oldest, 20 and 19, are both boys. The next two, 17 and 16, are both girls. Number five is 14 and a girl, and number six is 13 and a boy. If those two were switched, then maybe I would have someone to confide in, but a 13 year old boy in the middle of two pubescent girls a parallel universe is created amongst us. I am the youngest at age 11.
My mother is a stay-at-home mom who never stays at home. Now, don’t get me wrong, most of the time she is home, but to me she is somewhere else, somewhere with a drink in one hand and a jay in the other. I sometimes pretend I am watching a movie star who is driven by the inspiration of her dysfunction and addiction. When I look at her this way, she becomes entertaining to me, instead of a slug squirming around at the bottom of a barrel.
She makes me laugh, dancing around the room, swearing and complaining about my father. She tells me he thinks he’s God, but he can’t even perform in bed. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I’m sure it’s something about sex. In that case, thank God he has problems or I would have even more demons running around me. Secretly, he probably believes it to be a blessing as well. My mother on the other hand loves to have her audience, creating a different reaction every five minutes. One minute, she is making you laugh, the next she is making you cry, and then she is making you think you are going crazy, as she spins out of control.
At least my mother can be entertaining; Father is just enormously scary. We never know when he is going to crack, never know when he is going to show up in our room, or even know when he is going to come home. So, we have learned to always be prepared, always be on alert and to always be guarded.
Today was no different than any other, perhaps even worse. Just when I was about to reach for the few pieces of chicken left on the table, my father yelled, “What the hell do you think you are doing?!”
“Nothing, I just haven’t had any chicken yet.”
“Your brother is the one who will need to keep his strength for the big game. He needs to be the best damn hockey player this country has ever seen. The rest of you are useless, never doing what I ask, never contributing to this family; you are a bunch of low lifes like your freeloading mother!”
I watched my oldest brother, Jamie, as he stood up for the rest of us, who sat speechless. His eyes pierced like knives as his face grew redder than blood and he rose from his chair and snapped, “Screw you Dad; I work every day to bring you money! Matt is the only one who you ever give credit to just because he can play hockey. He doesn’t even work; he just goes out with his friends all day. Like tonight, you have no idea where your so-called perfect son is now, do you?!”
That was a big mistake. After that, everything was mostly a blur. I heard a lot more yelling, cursing, and punching. By the end of it, the door slammed behind my father and tires squealed as he drove out of the driveway. My brother lay there, covered in blood, and I thought he might die this time. My mother scrambled for the phone to call the family doctor. She would not take any of us to the hospital for fear that the community might find out what our family is really like. That realization seemed to be more frightening than the fact that her son was beaten half to death by her husband.
The family doctor was also a creep. He attended the same church as us and his daughter, Stacy was one of my only friends. We told each other our deepest and most disturbing secrets, mostly regarding our families. I guess our friendship was one good thing about being secretive, although what we truly desired was to live happily, rather than to suffer in secrecy together.
Before the doctor left, he advised my brother to stay inside-not to heal- but to hide what had happened. My brother agreed at that time, and said he would call in sick to work for the next two weeks, but I knew he could not last that long being in this house.
I decided to have a few words with Jamie, as he knows better than anyone to keep silent when dad is in one of his moods. “What were you thinking, you big dumbie?”
“I just can’t stand the way he undermines us like that, especially you. You out of all of us don’t deserve that. You always do everything that is expected of you. And it is so frustrating how he always talks about Matt, like he’s God, when he’s the most useless.”
“I know Jamie. I appreciate you sticking up for me, but I don’t need you to, I can handle it. Now look what you have gotten yourself into; you’re out of work, and- stuck here. You might not get to leave for longer now.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean. I know you’ve been saving up to get out of here, and you deserve to.”
“Thanks, sis but, like you, I can handle myself too. I will find a way, don’t you worry.”
I just frowned, while a tear rolled down my face, and whispered, “I know. I know… Just be careful…I love you.”
My mother punished me for starting the whole thing. She figured I was to blame because I was the one who got father mad in the first place, and the one responsible for Jamie’s outburst. She said I should always ask before taking food from the table, especially the last of it, which was new to me because no one ever asked. Yet, I agreed because I did feel guilty; I hated to see my brother like that.