I still don’t understand so many things. Relationships. Love. Family. Once upon a time—a long time ago—I thought I knew what those things meant. I thought everything could be nailed down to simple black or white, right or wrong, innocent or guilty. For me, there were no intervening shades of gray—only two absolutes that infallibly showed one thing or the other. I didn’t know or care to think about the nuances of human nature, of life itself, which could produce such interminable variations in the color on life’s complex canvas. If I had known then, I might have asked about the lack of display of affection between my parents, or why they chose to remain together all their lives even though the very act of doing so was paradoxical when measured against their conduct.
One thing I do know, for sure, is this: my parents’ relationship, however they or anyone else defined it, provided the impetus that helped mold and initially nourish their children’s own relationships with each other. We loved each other; I never doubted that. But, our love was not the type of unconditional love that is sung about or lectured on by people who desperately want it from others, but are not willing or capable of delivering it themselves. There were conditions that weighed heavily on our sibling relationships; conditions that were unspoken, unwritten, to be sure, but they were as real as the invisible scars we carried from our parents’ frequent battles. They were the hobgoblins that lurked in the secret places of our hearts, bringing us together only to drive us apart time after time after time.
A wrong word, phrase, or act. That was all it took for the invisible wall to come crashing down between us; for the naked hostility to assert itself once the word, phrase or act was interpreted, or, rather, misinterpreted. Sometimes, though, the cause that produced the hostile effect was intentional—payback for an earlier transgression. Then past misdeeds, real or imagined, would be dug up like dead, rotting things and given new life. And we used those misdeeds to club, cut, and slash each other’s flesh and hardly flinched as our blood flowed. We couldn’t escape this familial conflict; it was as unavoidable and familiar as the reconciliation that followed time’s slow erosion of our anger and hurt after each confrontation.
Author’s note: The preceding is an excerpt from the story “One step ahead” from the novella, “House of Tears”, now on Amazon kindle