“Dinner was great, Mom,” I catch Dad’s gaze one more time before I lose him to his dinner plate again. “Can I be excused?”
“Sure honey, did you get enough?”
The look Mom gives is the same look she gives every night at dinner. She always makes too much food, always serves me too much and always asks if I have had enough.
Like a song left on repeat in my playlist, it is always the same. Her words and mine, always the same, leaving me to wonder if she was catering to my hypersensitivity or if we had officially fallen into the dull drums of life. Probably both.
“Yeah Mom, I did. Thanks.”
I push away from the dining table to stand, collecting my plate, silverware, and cup before leaving the room to enter the kitchen.
Like Pavlov’s dog, I am well trained. Ask for permission to leave the table, wait for said permission to be granted, clear my dishes and put them in the dishwasher. A monkey could do it. Or a dog, if he had thumbs.
I stand over the sink, rinsing the rest of my half-eaten food down the disposal and leave the water running while I load my dishes in the dishwasher. After washing my hands, I grab the faucet handle to shut off the water when I hear his voice. I freeze in the kitchen, getting an uneasy feeling of being talked about when I listen to Dad’s murmuring.
“Fran, have you spoken to her yet?” His voice is low. I would accuse intentionally low, but it is always low, sometimes barely audible.
“No dear, I haven’t.” Mom’s voice is intentionally low, and my stomach tightens. That is something to worry about. Mom never lowers her sing-song voice unless she is whispering a secret or shushing me for gossiping about someone. Both annoy me, but this time it sickens me.
“You need to talk to her. She’s seventeen.”
Talk to me about what?
My mind creeps to the door, wanting to ensure I am hearing them correctly, but my feet are bolted to the floor in front of the sink, unwilling to move.
Eavesdropping on conversations doesn’t happen in my house. It would require my parents to talk to each other, and that doesn’t happen at all. I assume they speak in bed at night since they share a bedroom but I have never heard them talk to each other, only me. Mom always talks to me, Dad rarely does. That’s why I don’t know how to act when I hear them continue their whispered conversation.
What are they talking about? Why is seventeen so important now? I’ve been seventeen for many, many months now. In fact, I’ll be turning eighteen in a couple weeks, while I am off at school. Do I leave the kitchen or do I stay and listen?
“Honey, I know she’s seventeen, but I’m concerned. She’s sensitive. I just don’t know-“ Mom starts before Dad interrupts.
“Frannie, she leaves for college in a week. I expected you would have discussed this with her sooner. You’re out of time.” Dad’s words are ominous, a warning as such.
Out of time?
I feel queasy.
I shouldn’t be eavesdropping. I should have walked upstairs to my haven like I did every night and continued living in ignorance.
They assumed I had. They wouldn’t have started talking about me if they knew I am within earshot.
Why didn’t I leave when they started talking? What are they even talking about? What does Mom need to speak to me about? Yeah, I’m seventeen, I’m leaving for college and what?
Wait a minute.
I should have known.
All the signs are there.
They are getting a divorce.
Yep, I nod my head as if the question warranted a physical acknowledgment. The distance that grew between them over the years, it’s bound to happen. Sure, they would wait till I left to tell me. They are the type of parents that would stay together for the sake of the children. Well, one child, me actually.
They would do the noble thing and wait till I leave them to start my new life, unwilling to leave me first. With me off at school, they are free to leave each other. That’s got to be it. My parents are getting a divorce, becoming a national statistic that commentators debate on television when covering the moral decline of the family unit.
I thought about it once. Actually, I agonized over it for a few months when I was fifteen. I decided then that it was inevitable and started steeling myself to the fact that some long-term marriages end in divorce and that’s okay.
I laid the emotional groundwork for this already, seeing it coming a mile away. I am ready. If they are getting a divorce, I will be prepared for the change.
Flexible, well not exactly flexible because a leopard can’t change its spots but I won’t fall apart and have a panic attack when they finally tell me. I’ll handle it like the adult I’ll be next month.
I hear Mom’s voice, unable to make out the words before they stop altogether. The sudden shuffling of dishes signals my escape is imminent.
I silently sneak up the back staircase, falling back on my bed to look at the stars on the ceiling like I always do when I need to contemplate life.
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