You’d Better Sit Down, Kids
“Tim. Susie. Your Mom and I have something to tell you, and I’m afraid you’re not going to like it.”
“What’s wrong, Dad?”
Daddy tapped his newspaper on the edge of the table, the way he always did when he had something serious to say. “Well. There’s no good way to put this. We’re getting a divorce.”
As it usually did when she was frightened or sad, Susie’s voice went all small and whispery, a habit that usually set her brother’s teeth on edge. Tonight, however, he felt his own might do the same. “But – why?”
“Well, Susie, it’s not easy to say this,” Mommy said, sitting down near Daddy, much closer than together than they usually sat. “We know you’ll probably have all kinds of wild ideas about how this happened and who’s to blame, but the simple fact is ... it’s your fault.”
“Well, both of you, really,” said Daddy, giving Mommy his ‘now, now’ look.
“Sure, but be fair. It’s mostly hers.”
“Oh, well, yeah. Granted.”
“Is it ... because I was bad?”
“Ha!” said Mommy, her eyes wide and slightly mocking. “Well, yeah. For starters.”
“But I can be good! I can do better in school and behave in front of company and –”
“No, Susie, you can’t. And that’s the problem.”
“All right, all right,” Daddy patted Mommy on the shoulder, and she relaxed a little. “This isn’t getting us anywhere. Of course she can’t do any better, honey, but dwelling on it isn’t going to help her, and it’s just going to upset you.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry,” Mommy held up her hands in surrender.
“ Look, kids,” said Daddy. “The Lord knows we had high hopes for both of you in the beginning, but the simple truth is, you’ve disappointed us time and time again, in every conceivable way. And ultimately, it’s taken its toll on our marriage.”
Timmy shot his sister an accusing look. “We’re ... we’re sorry, Dad.”
“If only you’d tried a little harder,” Mommy said, in a genuinely wistful tone. “If only you hadn’t made us so angry all the time, with the whining and the bickering and the constant demands. But oh, no. You had to have things your way, and now – Daddy’s leaving us.”
Susie’s voice went from small and whispery to shrill and whining. “Don’t go, Daddy! I’ll miss you. I’ll be lonely if you go.”
Timmy rolled his eyes. Trust her to start blubbering over this!
“You see? This is exactly the sort of thing we’re talking about!” said Mommy. “Everything is all about you, isn’t it? ‘I don’t want you to go, daddy! I’ll be lonely.’ Me me me! Don’t you think your father is upset about this at all? I mean, have you even considered his feelings?”
“And besides, Princess,” Daddy added: “let’s face facts. With that overbite, and those chunky thighs of yours, ‘lonely’ was a feeling you were going to have to get used to sooner or later anyway, don’t you think?”
Timmy turned on his sister in frustration and rage. “Stupid! You ruined everything!”
“Whoa, whoa there!” Daddy interjected, “Hold on a minute, young man. Let’s not forget you had a hand in this yourself. Need we remind you of your performance in Little League this past summer? To say nothing of the mediocre grades, the sullen attitude. And hey – when was the last time a girl showed up around here looking for you, huh?”
“Now, Frank,” said Mommy. “To be fair, that’s not his fault. Girls just haven’t learned to appreciate him yet, that’s all.” She reached out to stroke Timmy’s hair, in that lingering way that had so troubled him in the past. “But they will. Oh, they will.”
“Be that as it may. What it boils down to is that your mother and I have come to realize we’d have been much better off if we’d never had children in the first place.”
“I’m afraid that’s true, kids. I mean, Timmy, we never planned on you at all. Things were pretty strained between us to begin with, and once you came along, they just got worse in a hurry. Your father threatened to leave me so many times I figured I had to do something to hold on to him. And ... well, that’s pretty much where you came in, Susie.” Mommy lit a cigarette and smiled a little ruefully. “Oh, of course I realize now what crazy logic that was. We still get a little chuckle over it every once in a while ...
She and Daddy shared a half-hearted little laugh at the memory. “... but at the time ...”
“Look, the point is, your mother and I admit we’ve made a lot of mistakes. We’ve fought over you, made scapegoats of you, used you as weapons against each other.”
“While we realize now that what we should have done was just got rid of you.”
Timmy felt Susie’s hand slip into his. He was about to throw it off, but at the last second he let it stay.
“We know that sounds harsh,” said Daddy, “but frankly you’d probably have been raised in a more positive and supportive environment and really been much happier and better adjusted in the long run if we had.”
“And it’s not as if you would have wound up in institutions, or anything.”
“I mean, do you have any idea? The demand for healthy, white newborns? And Timmy, you were just a beautiful baby. I mean, let’s face it,” a little tremor shimmered in her voice, “you’ve always been a very good-looking young man.” She gave him that look; the look that always lasted a few seconds too long, and made him want to look away. “And Susie, even you were pretty cute at that age.”
“Oh, forget about her,” Daddy cut in. “He was a boy! When I think of what we might have – Well, we could have bought that boat.”
“That would have been something, wouldn’t it?”
“Second honeymoon ...”
“‘Course, that’s kind of what got us in trouble in the first place.”
“Still, we’ve stayed together for your sake for the last fourteen years. We’ve thrown away our youth, lost our passion for one another, and frankly we just feel that enough is enough. We think we’re entitled to get what little we still can out of life while we’re young enough to enjoy it. And I’m sorry it had to come to this, kids, but ... you’ll get over it.”
“Everyone does,” Mommy pointed out, brightly.
“Oh, stop crying. It’s not that bad.”
“Daddy’s right, sweetheart. I mean, after all,” she placed a hand on Timmy’s shoulder. “With Daddy gone, you can have Mommy all to yourself.”
“That’s true, Timmy-boy. You’ll have to be the man of the house, now.”
Daddy’s lips twitched, and Mommy quickly bit her lip, but it was no use. A moment later they were both laughing hysterically.
“No, but seriously kids. This doesn’t have to be all painful and depressing.”
“That’s right. And it’s important you remember, your Daddy and I still care about each other very much. We’ll always be friends, and we’ll always want to see you two ... turn out all right. In the end.”
When the phone rang, Mommy took her hand from Timmy’s shoulder, and he let go a little sigh. “Can we go to our rooms now?”
Daddy had already opened the newspaper and was a little preoccupied. “What? Oh, sure, you kids go on ahead.”
But Mommy’s face, as she listened to the voice on the phone, was not a happy one. “Uh-huh. Yes, I understand.” She placed a hand over the receiver. “You two just hold it right there.” Then: “Right. I’ll tell them. Thank you for calling.”
She hung up the phone and returned to her seat, arms folded angrily across her chest. “Well,” she said. “That was grandpa. Grandma’s dead.”
There was a moment of awful silence as they awaited the inevitable.
“So. Who didn’t send a thank-you note for the nice Christmas sweaters she sent?”