Squeezing between Mom’s chair and the wall to get seated for supper, I realize for the first time how much extra effort I’ve spent all these years for the sake of everyone else’s convenience. My spot at the table, and in the family, has been at the back far corner of anyone’s concern.
I’ve always gotten praised for taking the least amount of space, being the quietest, giving up the good seats for a spot on the floor, eating the leftovers in the fridge, and making use of the hand-me-downs everybody else is too good for. I must’ve gotten so used to it that I’ve picked up the habit of choosing the worst for myself on my own, even when my family isn’t around to praise me for it.
Knock, knock, knock. Toni steals away from the table with her pork barbecue sandwich in hand, leaving her homemade French fries and chocolate milkshake to rest while she answers the door.
I sip my chocolate shake, imagining it’s someone coming with a message for me, a telegram from God saying sorry we made a mistake and a swift correction is in order. We’re taking you to your real family now. But Toni comes back to the table as quickly as she left, with half of her sandwich gone already, announcing with her mouth still full that it was just the neighbor kid looking for her lost dog.
“I hate kids,” George laughs, looking out of the sides of his squinty eyes like we’re all in on some joke. “They always come to your door right at suppertime.”
Toni and I lock eyes. Hate kids? That makes me want to take my plate and my shake and go eat in my room, but that would mean I’d have to suck in my breath and squeeze behind Mom’s chair again. I look at Grandma to see her reaction to what George just said. She’s sitting sweetly in her own world, looking mighty thin actually, and pale, eating a few bits of pork with her fork.
Mom laughs along with George who just said he hates kids right out loud.
“Toni and I are kids, too you know,” I want to stand up for myself, “kids who are sitting right in front of you if you haven’t noticed.” But instead, for some terrible reason, I laugh along with him, too. I don’t know why I do it except that “I hate kids” is the first thing he’s sort of said to me since he moved in a whole half hour ago. And so I should encourage him. After all, it’s a start.
Watching TV is next on the agenda, the best way to avoid after-dinner conversation. With a static ‘chink,’ the TV comes to life, somehow sucking more of mine away. I remember when it used to feel different after dinner. A long, long time ago my Mom and Dad would take us outside in the grass to digest our meals.
Me and Toni would sit still on their laps after supper, filled with food and feeling full of life. Sometimes when the light of midsummer still blanketed our late evening neighborhood, they’d carry us on their shoulders to the playground and push us on the swings for a spell. I just could feel their hearts wide out in the open in those days. But like I said that was a very long time ago.
George stops clicking the remote control at the worst possible place -- a crime scene with dark crimson blood on dirty city streets, death brought to life by spinning blue police lights. I look at Mom with wide eyed anxiety, waiting for her to tell him to change it.
George, change the channel, will ya?
I try to send the message telepathically.
I focus my eyes on the bits of lint and string that have landed on the carpet since I last vacuumed so I don’t have to see the people in terror on the screen. But the TV just seems to boom louder when I look away. The screaming and cussing swallow up any possible feeling of peace that the room had the chance of giving me. And the hum of the dramatic violins and high pitched horns are sure hints that more atrocities are yet to come. My heart pounds hard. I close my eyes, cover my ears.
People aren’t built to watch crimes. They’re meant to stop them. This TV show feels too real. Because it is real. This stuff really happens in the world. I want to stop the crimes that are spilling into my living room. But I don’t know how. So I’m left with a filthy feeling in my veins.
George, Mom, aren’t your hearts pounding, too?
No don’t tell me.
I don’t want to know.
Because I already know.
Jenna, fight or flight?
Part 3 | (Part 4)