I remember my parents fighting off and on when I was growing up. It scared me sometimes. I wondered what they were yelling about and if they were yelling about me and if I’d done anything wrong to make them feel that way. I would press my ear against the crack in my door and listen. I was a secret spy in a game, taking notes in my flip-open-notebook with pen and flashlight combo. They didn’t argue much, that I remember. Sometimes my dad would leave and slam the door behind him. Sometimes my mom would go on long walks at night. What I remember at the end of these fights is that they would come in and tell me that just because they argue sometimes doesn’t mean that they don’t love each other.
We used to check out videos after I got out of school. We’d drive to the old Hollywood Video and I – little me – too small to see over the racks, would be in fantasyland. The walls made of memories. I wanted to choose the same ones over and over again and relive them. James and the Giant Peach, or Escape from Witch Mountain. I knew which VHS tapes I couldn’t choose because I’d chosen them before and they were broken, the tape worn from too much use. Sometimes I chose something new and clung on to it like a prize that might slip away if I let my grip loose. It was different then. I had to go through the process of selecting one physical film, one movie, from a whole wall of choices. I would place it by the TV and it would wait its turn. Sometimes I would slip it out of its case and see that it hadn’t been rewound and I’d have to wait even longer, the whirling of the tape while my parents popped popcorn and poured fizzy soda over ice.
I remember one night instead of watching movies we had to return them. It was past my bed time, and my mom was leaving. I was frantic because I didn’t know where she was going and I had this overwhelming sense of dread filling me. I’d never see her again. She’d drive off into the dark and never come home. Couldn’t she wait until morning? I’m not sure if there was any connection here between her leaving and those fights, but it put the same fear in me. At night, I thought, everyone should be home together.
She would get down on her knees and explain to me that it was okay and she would be home soon, but that if some day she wasn’t there, I would be okay, and she’d always be there watching me. I don’t know what compelled her to try and calm a young child with the “ill always be there” speech, but I was mortified. Suddenly going to the store to return some VHS tapes before bedtime didn’t seem so scary.
I’d been informed, quite casually, that one day she wouldn’t be there anymore.