Inherently Different

Breakfast in America

That morning, I woke up late. Even though I lived less than three blocks from school, I would be late if I didn’t hurry. It didn’t dawn on me until much later, that my mother, who usually woke me up for school was not at home. My father, who worked two jobs, wasn’t usually home that early in the morning, so his absence wasn’t as surprising.

I quickly washed my face, jumped into my school uniform and dashed off to school. I remember being off that whole day, as if waking late had somehow thrown off everything I did. I failed a math test, dropped my tray at lunch, forgot my English homework, and struck out playing softball at recess. At 8 years old the “worst day of my life” was constantly being replaced by a worse day, but that particular day still sticks with me some 33 years later.

When the final bell rang and I was free to begin the short walk home, I still felt uneasy. I couldn’t know it, but the year ahead would present plenty of opportunity to redefine daily how much worse a day could get.

Even before I got to the front door I was aware that things were different. My father’s car, which usually didn’t take up its place in the driveway until well after 7 pm every night, was there, the engine still ticking as it cooled.

I opened the front door and my father was sitting at the kitchen table, an unopened beer in his hands, and a look of complete defeat on his face. I knew something had happened, but my small mind had yet to make any kind of observation that would be helpful. I set my book bag down and climbed on his lap.

We sat there together for 20 minutes. He too uninterested to say anything to me, I too scared to ask for fear the answer would be something horrible.

“Mom left.”

I turned to see my older brother in the hallway, leaning against the doorway to his room.

“She at school?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“No, stupid… she left. She isn’t coming back.”

My brother walked up and pointed at the note on the refrigerator that had evaded my search for clues to the mystery.

It was in cursive and might as well have been greek for all I knew. My brother pulled the note down and read it.

“I don’t know what else to do, so I am leaving. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t know what I want, but I know this isn’t it. You can keep the kids.” He put the note back, like it was one of the drawings we brought home from school, or a test we got good marks on.

“She’s not coming back. She left us. She is giving up on us.” My brother said as he turned and walked back to his room.

My father finally stirred. He pushed me off, gently, and walked to the living room. He looked confused for a moment, like he had forgotten where he was, then stepped up to the large stereo and started flipping through the records until he found one he wanted.

In the previous years, music and dancing were a large part of our family time. The stereo, purchased only a few months ago, replaced a simple record player with a tin-sounding single speaker, but the records were the same ones we had listened to over and over since I could remember. The Beatles, Jim Croce, ABBA, and Super Tramp all took turns entertaining us, but for my father, when he chose the music, it was always ELO.

No Answer was the album he had just now chosen. My father rarely shared his feelings and I wondered about his choice. Was he telling us something?

To Be Continued…