Coming from a broken home, I was always used to making things work. Broken glasses, school supplies, you name it, I fixed it. There was only one thing that I found unfixable; my parents relationship. I was adjusted to the alternating weekends, the split holidays, and the awkward family get togethers. Others could argue that I get one on one time with both of my parents but in reality, I prefer spending time together. I always saw those happy families, you know the ones sitting at restaurant tables laughing with one another. That was not us. We were the ones where arguments and fighting filled our household, along with being told things would end okay on the daily. But okay turned to divorce and divorce turned to we’ll make it work. Constant monthly counseling visits and the typical regularly scheduled guidance office calls were basically my label. Teachers and classmates checking in just to make sure I was okay. News flash. I wasn’t okay. I don’t like okay. That is all my life is promised to be, but it never is. At this point, it was my senior year. I was ready to finally be able to live on my own and be the sole director of my own life. Of course that came with college applications, graduation, and the annual senior outing. School was a break from my home life. But the weekends, that was a whole nother story.
With split custody, every little thing had to be discussed upon agreement. When my mom and dad signed the divorce papers, they settled upon my dad keeping the house. Every other week, I flipped houses. One weekend at my mom’s and the other at my dad’s. This weekend happened to be my dads. Eldridge street was beyond familiar at this point, considering it was what I called home for eleven years of my life. My mom aggressively pulled into the driveway, slamming on the brakes as we came close to the garage.
“Bye Parker, be good for your dad. I’ll see you next weekend.” I closed the door, knowing she wouldn't even care if she never saw me again. In her eyes, I was seen as baggage. Looking at me was a constant reflection of a broken family; a spitting image of her ex husband. I walked up the rickety steps leading to the big maroon door, scraped and marked with tarnished memories from a family that once was at ease with the world. Stepping inside, my dad was sprawled out on the grimy couch, asleep. What a surprise. Do you think for a split second that he could keep track of what weekend was his? I continued through the hall, past the broken picture frames, and walked up the stairs into the guest room. Originally, this was my room. It technically still is. But whenever I walk into it, I feel like a guest visitor. I placed my bag onto the bed and pulled my phone out of my pocket. I scrolled through my notifications and rolled my eyes at the text from my mom. “You could've at least said bye.” I started typing, “You could’ve at least tried to work things out” but refrained myself from hitting send. I had enough arguing in my life to fill it with more. I was looking through my Instagram feed as I heard a faint sound of movement come from downstairs. Hoping it was just the house creaking and not my dad, I decided to take a bold leap of faith and to go into the kitchen for a morning snack. As I crept down the stairs, I was met with the face of my father. Great. Exactly what I came down to see.
“Good Morning Parker. Sorry I didn’t greet you at the door. Just so you know, we have to work on some chores today.” First off I know you forgot it was your weekend. Second, I was unaware that bonding with one another meant doing chores.
“What do we have to do?” I tried my best to sound intrigued and helpful.
“Repaint the kitchen table and vacuum the living room.” Painting, easy. Vacuuming, not so fun. I walked towards the pantry, looking for a granola bar of some sort. I wasn’t starving but I needed some sort of pick me up and an excuse to stop this awkward exchange. I grabbed a chocolate peanut butter cliff bar and headed back up the stairs into the guest room. I flopped onto the bed, thinking of all of the things I could be doing instead of being here. In the middle of a thought, my dad shouted from down the stairs.
“Parker! Make sure you are in the dining room to help repaint the table by 10:30. We have to give it time to dry.”
At this point, I was over the whole mending our relationship thing. Our family therapist recommended it be a start but I wasn’t sure if I could. There was always a tiny part of me that thought we could work things out. That we could be complete again. But the years dragged on and nothing had changed. And I’ve come to the realization that it never will. I knew this was my way of life. Whether I liked it or not. I looked down at my phone, hoping I had more time before dealing with my dad. Switching houses every weekend led to the constant questions. How is school? Do you have a girlfriend? What clubs are you involved in? Every question spit out of his mouth was his best attempt at trying to sound interested in my life. When it came down to it, these questions were just space fillers. A way to kill our time together. Time that should be spent rekindling what once was whole. But you know how that works. Well maybe you don’t. But I do. And I can tell you that neither of us felt the need to bond. We weren’t interested in fixing anything.
I glanced down at my bed, the lock screen to my phone reading 10:28. Perfect. I forced myself down the stairs, walking as slow as possible. As I met my dad’s glance, he gave me one of those fake smiles.
“Let’s get this done Park. The table looks like shit.”
I nodded my head in agreement, the table was covered in scrapes, chipped off paint, and various colors from my childhood crafts.
“What color are you planning on painting the table?” I asked, wondering what color would erase our countless memories. That table held us together for so many years. Family dinners, discussions, you name it. Everything about that table was home. Looking at it brought flooding memories that returned in waves, whether they be good or bad.
“I decided on black. I’m sick of looking at chipped burnt red. This table needs more of a futuristic look.”
I was caught off guard, I would’ve never thought that my dad knew what futuristic was.
“Cool. Black is badass.”
Sarcasm? Yes. But he didn’t need to know that. I looked at the table, snapping a photograph in my mind of what it once was, knowing it would be changed in a matter of minutes. I grabbed a paint brush and we began to cover the table with black strokes.
“Remember that time you ate spaghettios and threw up all over the floor?” dad asked with a hint of laughter escaping his body. I glanced at the floor, the memory hitting me like a dodgeball in gym class.
“To this day, I have not ingested spaghettios.” I said with a smirk.
We both looked at each other, our lips forming a smile. I couldn’t believe he remembered that. After all these years, I kind of assumed most of our old memories he had forgotten. Reminiscing on these moments was untouched territory for us.
“I remember that time where you forgot to boil the water in preparation for dinner. We were on such a tight time frame and you screwed it all up!”
My dad laughed, his face lighting up. “We had to stop at Burger King on the way home! I don’t think you were too upset over that one. You would take chicken nuggets and fries over pesto pasta any day!”
I looked down at the scuffed floor, my mind spilling over with everything that was unfolding. For the longest time, I brushed him aside. In fact, I brushed our relationship aside. I never really gave him a chance. Us a chance. Today was the day. I felt the sudden urge to talk to my dad. To further our relationship. Maybe further wasn’t the right word. But rebuild. As soon as he brought back that memory, I felt like we were growing closer. So I thought I would continue to bring back those times. Maybe, just maybe this is what we needed. Who knew repainting a kitchen table might somewhat salvage what I always thought was unfixable.
“Remember that time I was writing in colored sharpies? I forgot to put a second piece of paper under the one I was writing on. They stained the table. Mom was absolutely furious.”
“How could I forget the look that was on your mother’s face. Priceless!”
I dunked my paintbrush back into the can of black. I knew these old memories were just a temporary solution. I had to put my big boy pants on and bring up what I found to be unspeakable. The hardest thing for me to open up about.
“Dad? Why didn’t you and mom find a way to work things out?”
I wasn’t sure if I was prepared to hear his response. But I knew it was bound to come out someday. I just didn’t expect it to be today.
“I wish we could’ve. I hate myself every single day for the temperament I caused this family. I fell out of love with your mom. It wasn’t because of you. Don’t even think for a split second that it was. People drift apart. In ways I am unable to explain. We both love you and want what is best for you.”
For once I didn’t have a sarcastic response. I kind of understood where my dad was coming from. As much as I didn’t want to.
“Why was splitting up the best thing for me? If anything I felt that was the worst thing. You don’t know what it was like for me. I cried every single night, questioning why it had to be my parents. Why it had to happen to us.”
“I know that you don’t see it as the best thing. Your mother and I didn’t want you to grow up listening to fighting all the time. I understand you had to adapt and grow up a little bit sooner than most of your friends but I want you to fully understand the cause wasn’t you. It just wasn't working out. We didn’t want to lie.”
Finally, I understood. Painting this table and fixing it up not only helped the dining room, it helped us. I had the closure I had always sought after.
“We can still make memories Park. They will just be different. Look what we just did. We repainted the table. We may have painted over the old but we are just creating space for the new. Just because our lifestyle has changed, does not mean that we have to.”
I started to cry. Not because I was sad. But because for the longest time I had pushed away one of the few people that had my best interest at heart. Whether I knew it or not. My dad was always there for me. In ways I didn’t understand at the time. I felt awful for not giving him the chance he deserved. For not even putting forth an effort to make him feel like I understood. I obviously didn’t understand. But I didn’t even try. I always walked into the house and headed straight for the guest room, without even speaking five words. Looking at life, I always had that negative outlook. That feeling that everything bad was guaranteed to happen to me. To my family. But I never opened my eyes all the way to see the positive. And to all those people who promised that my life would be okay.. I hate to admit it. But you were right.