- Your “Well, Look Who It Is” Thursday Evening Open Thread – August 6, 2020
- Your “And In The Distance, A Light Flickered…” Saturday Evening Open Thread – August 1, 2020
- Your “Don’t Spend It All In One Place” Wednesday Evening Open Thread – July 29, 2020
Sunday morning – a quiet suburban household before breakfast
Each person in the house dreaded those words. No one likes talking about their feelings ever, unless there are cameras and a paycheque, and the situation is always worse when the person at the perceived centre of the tension refuses to participate. But when mom calls in that voice, you have no choice but to respond.
“Mom, I don’t want to do this,” the elder son proclaimed. “Can’t I just head out with my friends?”
“If he gets to leave, then so do I,” said the younger son.
“Now boys,” the mother quietly insisted, “we owe it to your father to try and work this out. After all, if we reach a compromise, then I think the trip will do him some good.”
It had been relatively quiet in the house over the holidays. The usual number of cards came in the mail, replete with best wishes and family updates that the mother knew she could not equal. New relatives were eager to stop by, no matter how they irritated the father with their social media and constant typing. There were wistful intentions of phone calls to relations close or distant. And there were the usual family tensions, made obvious by an empty pair of chairs at the dinner table.
But the family did try & put a brave face on things. The annual Christmas card featured Dad showing off his new Christmas sweater,
and for the most part, the family conducted themselves as best they could under another year of the same trying circumstances.
But it was now January 2020, and – dammit – the mother was not going to let another year go by without trying to see if she could get all of the family to reconcile. She loved her sons equally, but the strife between them, and her attempts to placate the one felt wronged, created the conditions for jealousy she’d strenuously tried to avoid during their upbringing. There had been prayers to God and conversations with her pastor. She’d read the stories about Jacob & Esau, Isaac & Ishmael, and Joseph & his brothers; if God would find solutions in each of those cases, then surely He would have an answer for the silence that was the family crisis. So, just home from church, this was the meeting she wanted to have.
“I think we should try to reach out,” she said nonchalantly, wanting to initiate the conversation. “Maybe he’s reconsidered.”
“Fuck him!” the older brother bravely proclaimed. “It’s his responsibility. I’m tired of pussyfooting around just because he’s a little sensitive.”
“LANGUAGE!” the mother corrected. “I will not tolerate such words in my house.”
“Well, maybe you should, mother. Every year it’s the same thing – ‘he’s coming to town’; ‘we should go see him’; ‘why doesn’t he call?’; ‘how did I cause this?’ – and frankly, I’m sick of having to kowtow to his emotions. Why is it our job to accommodate him? He’s the baby.”
“I kind of have to agree, mom,” said the younger brother. “It’s not like we haven’t tried. He just doesn’t care.”
“Listen you two,” she said sternly, “this is not just about him. It kills your father that the two of them lost their connection. And never mind that he wants nothing to do with either of you! Over what – a girl? It’s not like you two have been paragons of virtue when it comes to dating.”
“That’s not fair, mom!” said the younger son. “We’ve tried to forge our own paths, but it’s difficult when people look at you and always draw a comparison.”
“And whenever we lean into that comparison,” chimed in the older son, “we get castigated for ‘riding on coattails’. We can’t win for trying.”
“Damned either way we are. Look – I’m done knocking myself out,” snorted the younger son once more. “If Dad wants to give it a shot, I’ll do it for him. But beyond that, I’m done trying to curry his favour. I’ve got my own life to live.”
“That’s all I’m asking for, son.” The mother’s tears could no longer be restrained. This topic always turned into an argument. The boys were right, of course, but to acknowledge that would be like giving up. And she was a fighter. She was fighting for the very soul of her family. This was about all of her sons, not just the one who she feared was slipping away. ‘Heaven is my judge’, she thought to herself, ‘not my sons’.
From the corner of the room, settled into his place on the couch, the father now wanted to say his piece.
He continued. “I’ve got a good feeling about it. I want to make the drive.”
That was it then. The old man always took his time coming to a decision. The silence was his way of absorbing the argument. He had heard everybody’s point, but the call was his to make. He knew how the boys felt, and the cost his choice would put on his relationship with them. But his heart was on his sleeve. Once he’d made up his mind, he said what he said and expected everyone to fall into line. These were his sons, she is their mother, and this was his family. He had faith in her faith, and that was all he needed.
“Let’s get in the car then, boys,” the mother said jubilantly. “It’ll take about an hour & a half to get there. Don’t want to be late!”
“Can we bring the girls?” the younger son plaintively asked. He knew what her answer would be before the words left his lips, but he owed it to his girlfriend to at least try. Constantly being left out of family functions due to his brother’s emotions was having a strain on his own personal relationship, yet his love for her was what made him so attractive to others. She was so willing to accommodate, but he knew that eventually, as she’d chosen to be with him, there would be a point where he’d have to choose between his family and his love.
Right now, though, mom would always get her way.
“Sorry. It’s just going to be us,” she said with a depressed enthusiasm. It was aging her just to contrive the lie she wanted to believe. “Besides, I don’t think there’s going to be room for everyone today anyway. This seems like a much bigger deal than the last time we tried. I don’t want to push things.” The younger son accepted her lie – “Okay, mom” – because he loved her enough that he didn’t want to force her to admit the truth – even though he suspected she already knew what awaited them down this familiar road.
The trip always started the same way, much as they had back when the sons were children. Everyone piled into the Land Rover for the drive, and even though they were grown men, the mother still asked if anyone had to pee before they left. Even though each of the boys knew the route, and had better dexterity because of their age, they still let the old man drive. They both agreed that even though they figured this attempt would be just another failure, at least their dad got to be a man again, piloting his family on another road trip.
They pictured him reminiscing on family trips of yore, hoping those memories were bringing a smile to his face, but not tears to his eyes.
They had made this drive dozens of times over the years – the college games; the party weekends; the big dates. Yet all those good times were swallowed up by the enmity of what had come between the brothers over the years. Deep down, the brothers resented their kin, for his selfishness was the thing driving the family apart. It had gone beyond simple sibling rivalry and evolved into actual hatred. As their mother hummed a Beatles song, and their father tried to find the traffic station on the radio, each of the brothers silently nodded at the other & thought to themselves, ‘this is the last fucking time’.
The weather changed the closer they got to the coast, almost emulating the mood in the car. The cold sunshine had given way to patches of rain, which did nothing for the air but did make the streets a little more dangerous. But their dad knew the road well-enough that no one in the car was worried about not making it there in one piece. And dad was driving like a champ – he was humming “Me & Julio” by Paul Simon while weaving in & out of the thickening traffic.
No honks & no cussing; why, even at this speed mother was cracking a smile, hoping that this mood would turn into the victory she had long prayed for.
It took the expected ninety minutes to reach their destination. “We’re here!” the father proclaimed. As they pulled into the parking lot, the old man’s enthusiasm was becoming contagious. The resignation of earlier in the day had given way to a modicum of hope – “would today be the day?”
With the car parked, they followed the burgeoning crowd towards the entrance.
It was a long walk from the rear of the parking lot, but they didn’t mind. They hadn’t expected to be close to the entrance and, besides, a long drive required a stretching of the legs. The rain had let up, giving the air that coastal freshness they didn’t have in their home town.
The people around them were excited, and likely more than a little drunk. There were the usual whoops & hollers that accompanied a large crowd. These strangers all correctly assumed the family was there for the game, but they didn’t know whose side they were on. In the concourse, affiliations did not matter, so long as you weren’t being obvious about it. The family had taken care to wear neutral colours, and were thus able to blend in. Still, it helped that everyone was in a supportive mood.
It sure made a difference as they approached the offices. A nervous tension hung in the air as each of them hoped that today was the day, and they could start putting their whole family back together again. It’s funny how, in a group setting like that, all the men were praying in some way for the mother, and the mother was praying for the family. Her optimism had infected the father, and in turn it encouraged the brothers to let down the guards they’d vowed to maintain.
Reaching for his wallet, the father withdrew his identification and proudly asked,
“Anything for Rodgers?”
In one swift motion, the family had their answer:
Inside the visiting team’s locker room, pre-game rituals were being performed. It was the NFC Championship game, something the team had not been back to since 2016, so tension was high. The team were 7.5 point underdogs, and had been waxed by their opponents once already this season. A mustachioed man relaxed in his game uniform, flipping through his messages prior to kickoff. There were the usual interview requests, encouragements from colleagues & former teammates, and a special note from a special lady. At the top was a message listed simply as “Jordan”. He hesitated for a moment before clicking “open”.
Coach Lafleur walked by as the man read the message. “Everything okay, Aaron?”
The man looked up at his coach. As a wry smile crossed his lips, he simply said, “Perfect.”