My parents remind me that it’s much better to be alone and happy, than paired off and miserable. It’s not that I think of leaving my partner often, if at all. It’s that I already know leaving is a remedy for pain.
Maybe, because I have been the third person in my parents’ marriage, I won’t ever have to leave mine at all. I’ll be so spent from leaving my parents—or watching them choose one another over me—that I’ll be too tired to leave the couch in the house I share with a man who has never done anything to warrant my leaving. Maybe, by the time we are old and graying around the edges, I won’t feel like I have to leave anything at all.
What’s in the running, for me, is safety. Who will I be when I don’t have to leave anymore? Packing my car in the middle of the night, leaving California for the unknown of another state. That chaotic slipstream of cool air that weightlessly carries my car across six lane highways and through intersections and into neighborhoods I might inhabit if I was staying in my hometown. There is the look on my best friend’s face when she opens her front door, sees my manic eyes and my anxious dog and my baggage. She knows I am leaving and that I cannot return. She sees our future. The rest of our lives, transformed into a million cross country fragments. The next decade contorted. The two of us driving to meet at picnic tables in front of cold water lakes under big skies, hugging goodbye and not wanting to let go. There is how she always made me feel like I was home, though I otherwise felt lost.
The day we became friends was Parent’s Day. We were eleven. My mother said she wasn’t bringing me a lunch from somewhere just to sit in a cafeteria with other parents she didn’t care to know. So I packed my lunch and was the most obvious outcast in what would be a sea of McDonald’s bags. My friend, the best I’ve ever had, asked what my parents were bringing. Upon finding out I would be alone, she called her father. “What kind of McFlurry do you want? You’re eating with us.” A million thank-you’s, still feels insufficient.
The point of all this is to say, there was a moment I recognized it was a problem. I taught myself how to not feel it. There is a point where the rains in California show up right after a fire, and water beats down on black charred earth until it’s a mudslide. A school counselor would let me come to her office when I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t often cry. Instead I simply told her, what was happening to my life. If I did cry, it was always at the end when all of it had been laid out at her feet, thinking that nice Mrs. Freeto with her kind face would tell me how to get out from under it all.
This only lasted for a moment, but I was thankful for that chance to empty out.
Mrs. Freeto told me my bucket was overflowing and I could only carry so much in it. We both knew there was nothing she could do and nothing I was capable of either. Since I couldn’t escape, and it would likely follow me for the rest of my life, she would just write a memo to tell all my teachers there were problems at home, please be aware. As if they needed to be reminded.
My parents couldn’t simply divorce like the other parents, they had to engage in an all-out dog fight for dominance that bled into everything I did. Even in their incompatibility they were hopelessly deadlocked. I had to live in this limbo with them. There was the weight of each of their own over-flowing buckets that sat on opposite ends of a yoke around my neck. Every time I left Mrs. Freeto’s office, we both knew I would be back in another two weeks, to relay the next chapter in the saga of my parents who could not parent. These parents who took for granted I could understand this didn’t negate the idea of their love. My hyperbolic mother and my hiding father. When the door to Mrs. Freeto’s office closed on the way out, I would wrap up all of my feelings, put them in a little box, and shelve that box in the back of my mind.
They keep telling us Californians that fire season is important. Without destruction of the old, new life cannot grow. It is a natural, oftentimes unnaturally triggered, cleansing of trees and brush. Without all that foliage being ushered into its afterlife, there might not be a chance for those young trees to be spread, planted, and grow. What those droplets and the charred earth they fall upon create is the slipping of mountainsides. These silent giants simply cannot hold themselves up anymore. It is out of their control. Mountains are hard to move but once they are in motion they are unstoppable. The day I started to cry, I could not stop myself. I cried at dogs on the street, my partner’s eyelashes moving in sleep, a man speaking about his daughter.
I did not start out this way.
I was closed off and funny. I had jokes. I was angry, and I was safe in that anger. It protected me like a shield, a glorious invisible cloak of rage that I would put on in the mornings and never take off. It propelled me through my days. Now I cried at HGTV home-makeovers. Those shows where everything is pretend. I sat with my eyes filling for an infinite amount of television hours, as people found the homes they’d always been searching for. I gorged myself on their joy. They just wanted to make their children happy.
They say that one day the overachiever will look around from the highest mountaintop, and spy another peak more desirable across the range. I woke up one day in a life full of great things I built for myself and saw what I had yet to conquer. It offended me to admit it how it might not be normal for parents to forsake their child as many times as mine had. How it was not okay that a father left his child to care for the woman he himself could not handle.
Where do they push all the remnants from a mudslide? They spend hours sifting through them, recovering bodies, pieces of metal, blown out frames of cars. Then, there’s things they cannot recover: all that has been pulverized on the way down the mountainside. They push into a pile the inanimate mush that once was someone’s home. And they haul it away.