I had gathered no evidence when presented the opportunity over the last couple of years, but that did not shake my conviction that my parents were farting more with age. The initial shock at their frequency had diminished, and my sister and I had stopped making a note of it out loud to one another or to my mother and father when we found ourselves at home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, funerals, or other moments of great import.
I had only started tracking since I had graduated from college four and a half years prior. I’m sure that if I had started earlier in my life, while in high school, I could have compiled a rather robust data set, which I could have then contributed to a medical or environmental journal at the humble price of being cited when the article on human aging, flatulence, and the effects on climate change.
I had been more consciously collecting data not on a physiological, but rather a marital phenomenon: the number of times that my mother and father would raise their voices in front of their two children. I did my best not to take sides when this happened, instead issuing an impersonal, loud Would you two shut up, sometimes introducing the request with the epithet Children, and sometimes adding in a the fuck for flavor, and to see if they would tell me not to cuss so much, a situation which I welcomed but which never arose.
With little success, I had told my mother two summers ago that I didn’t want to hear her talk about my father in disparaging terms or tell me the various ways in which their marriage was failing (each with a corresponding reason as to why she wasn’t actively pursuing divorce (her favorite being the cost of insurance for a self-employed woman in her sixties with a pre-existing condition)), or how she was still waiting for the right moment to move out (the most believable of which was when my sister graduated from College, which had now happened a year and a half ago).
Get divorced or stop talking about, I said. Come to think of it, just stop talking about it anyway.
You’re just like him, she replied, a common response for when I didn’t agree with her (You try living with him, was another favorite. My silent reply was that I did for 17 years).
She had stopped talking about the shit state of affairs to me personally, so in that respect, I was successful. She had taken a very narrow reading of my request, however, as she had taken to narrating out loud, in front of whoever happened to be within earshot. On this particular day after Christmas, it was my sister, her boyfriend, my father and myself, listening to a somewhat minor scuttle about a somewhat unmeasured response to my mother accidentally stepping on a blueberry in the kitchen.
My sister and I had already witnessed heated discussions carried out in front of us on my mother’s sleeping problems and medication regimen, the unreliable nature of her friends, and who took better care of the universally overweight cat population. The day prior, as everyone but my sister made our way through a number of bottles of sparkling wine that we later stopped counting, her boyfriend found that he had front row seats to what was for us siblings a rerun. I’m not certain my sister had primed him on what he would likely observe when he spent more than twenty minutes with my mother and father in a non-group setting. He handled it well, at least publicly.
My sister and her boyfriend were making preparations to leave on the morning of the twenty-sixth. They had to pick up the keys to their new apartment, in anticipation of the movers showing up the next morning. I was to help my father move a bookcase out of my dead grandfather’s apartment. My parents were having trouble selling the apartment, and were apparently furious at the board and administration of the building; at least they were able to unite around common enemies. My father had just plowed the driveway, and was apparently loading the minivan up with trash for a visit to the landfill.
This was apparently the source of great conflict. I had been playing piano and had not heard any commotion. I had received a hand signal from my father giving me a five minute warning before we were to leave. I played one more song, put on shoes and a jacket, and entered into a veritable shitstorm.
My mother and father were arguing about the logic of my father and I stopping at the landfill on the way to move the bookcase. There was also some athletic disagreement on why it was imperative that we dispose of two VCRs and a computer printer on this particular day. It was necessary to raise voices, and for my mother to add commentary that had nothing to do with the landfill visit, inspiring boisterous rebuttals from my father. The electronics would only add on a few extra minutes, she explained. Minutes mattered, however, in his estimation.
I need to get him back here for lunch at one! my father exclaimed, either looking or pointing at me.
Great, I thought. I am now part of the problem. I tried to explain that I could probably delay lunch with a friend in town. I’m not certain he heard me.
The argument spilled over into the garage, as my sister and her boyfriend packed the last remaining items in their car, and then just looked on from the driveway, trying not to make eye contact, for fear of turning attention towards them.
My mother asked me to put two of the items in the car instead of three; she believed this to be a workable compromise (Jeff, since your father is refusing, could you please put the printer and one of the VCRs in the car).
My father yelled at someone: I don’t want those in my car. And then, when the request was repeated, I’m not dropping those off.
I stood frozen between the two of them: he was closer to his van, and my mother closer to the entrance to the house. I was standing between their cars, and was trying to articulate that I was not going to take sides. I think I was only able to lift up my arms in a questioning manner, mouthing inaudible words that weren’t even entirely clear in my head.
Finally, Put them in the frickin’ car, from my father’s corner. I was surprised he did not just say fucking; it could have been because of my sister’s boyfriend, but I can’t be sure. He had certainly not been shy about using the word in front of my ex-girlfriend a few years ago. So I obeyed, and stacked the printer and VCRs in the backseat of the van.
Frickin’ ridiculous, he fumed as he stomped around, directionless for a moment.
My sister and her boyfriend, having seen the making of a fragile ceasefire, decided to seize on the opportunity to make an exit, an intention that they were polite enough to narrate out loud. Everyone shook hands with an awkwardness that bordered on cinematic in its beauty.
I then took a seat in the van. My mother went to get the cookies we were supposed to give to my dead grandfather’s still living neighbor, and my father went with shovel in hand to where a car had just been parked.
I think I’m just going to move to Gramps’ place, she said, referring to my dead grandfather’s apartment which they were having trouble selling. I think that’s the easiest thing to do, she repeated, to no one in particular. My sister and her boyfriend had already left to drive back to Massachusetts and I had closed the door to my father’s minivan. My father was shoveling the driveway where their car had been, likely out of earshot, especially when considering that his hearing was declining, despite his insistence to the contrary. I suppose I was the intended audience. I buried my nose inside the neck of my jacket and put my feet on the dashboard.
I don’t deserve this, she half-yelled, half-sung, and closed the door the house in such a way that fell short of slamming, but was a few notches above civil and orderly conduct.
I’m fairly certain that my father heard neither her conclusion of undeservingness nor the door; it could have been that she wanted only me to hear, in her unflagging efforts to recruit me as an ally. My father returned the shovel, and got in the car, huffing, but was otherwise silent. He navigated the slushy suburban roads, and the car began to smell slightly of household refuse and cat food cans. Neither of us spoke until we were able to change the subject.