“Could you put the forks pointing down when you load the dishwasher?”
My mother gave this seemingly innocent request to my father one evening.
My father gave an unconvincing “Yes honey” in return.
My mother paused, apprehensive, but didn’t say anything. Neither did he. The conversation was over.
But it wasn’t over. It was just the beginning–the beginning of the end.
The next week, my mother agreed with gritted teeth with my father on how much to tip at the restaurant.
The week after, neither of them held back. They weren’t afraid to let the other know that they didn’t agree. Innocent requests turned into criticisms.
Every week after that it was something new. How my father didn’t fold my mother’s shirts correctly. How my mother wouldn’t stop backseat driving. How my father was late coming home that one night she wanted to go out. How my mother rolled her eyes whenever my father cracked a joke.
Months dragged by of my parents making something out of nothing.
Now it wasn’t an issue of leaving the toilet seat up or having one too many glasses of wine. My father said things like “controlling” and “manipulative.” My mother said things like “lazy” and “impulsive.”
I woke up early one morning before school to find my father sleeping on the couch. I stand there for a minute, taking it in. I leave before he wakes up so he doesn’t know that I know.
My mother curses under her breath whenever she finds something she disapproves that my father does. She thinks I don’t hear her. But I do.
My father took his wedding ring off to do the dishes. All of the forks are pointed down. But he never put his ring back on.
“Let’s take road trip,” my mother said one morning. She usually isn’t one for spontaneity, but part of me saw this coming. I knew my mother wanted to take one last trip.
So we drove to the beach, blasting The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel for all 247 miles. We told jokes and made up stories and laughed–really laughed–for the first time in a long time.
At the beach, my father and I ran toward the water and splashed each other and my mother and I collected shells and it was like the past year hadn’t happened.
I sat by the shore, letting the waves caress my toes before retreating back to the ocean. I listened to my parents talk in hushed tones behind me, thinking that I couldn’t hear them. They said things like “Let’s just enjoy today” and “Let’s try not to fight.”
I steal a glance at the two of them sitting side by side on a beach towel. It’s the closest they’ve been to each other in the past year. Their idle hands are pressed into the sand, almost touching. But not quite. They think I don’t know what’s going on. Part of me wished they were right. Part of me wished that I was blind to their deteriorating relationship.
That day the three of us existed in a bubble–an alternate universe in which everything was okay. It was a last hurrah, one final good memory of my parents together.
It was the end.
The end of the end.
The next day, everything was real again.
They sat me down with solemn faces and bad news one year in the making.
They said things like “Things will be different from now on” and “It’s for the best.”
“It’s for the best.”
The house was calm after that and for the first time I felt like this wasn’t the end.
It was the beginning.
The beginning of the beginning.