Enduring All Things
by Tameko L. Barnette
While I prepare to celebrate a much anticipated thirty-fifth wedding anniversary party, I suddenly realize I don’t remember much about my parents since I moved away from home almost ten years ago. Although, the sounds of the intense love making and the disturbing arguments caused by constant power struggles still echo within me. I wonder to myself often, exactly what did my parents have to celebrate after thirty-five years of mixed emotions, alleged infidelities, slamming doors, broken hearts, and lack of soothing communication?
I remember a time when I was their reason for staying together. I was fourteen years old enjoying my rebellious, hormone-driven moments away from home.
One evening, I returned home to find our living room destroyed beyond recognition. My father walked out the front door. My mother sat at the kitchen table with her face wet from all the tears she cried before I entered the house. Silence decorated our dysfunctional home. I began searching for answers making sure I asked the right questions. “What’s wrong this time?” Good question, bad choice of words.
My mother became enraged once again. Yet, this time I was the target that she aimed her fury towards. “What the hell do you mean ‘this time’?” I quickly moved back a few steps just in case she felt the need to physically retrieve an answer from me. Our family history taught me that fact the hard way.
“Mama, all I meant was...”
“I know what you meant, Lynn. You think it’s my fault?”
“Huh? What are you talking about?” Now, I was enraged by her accusations.
“Don’t you raise your voice to me, young lady. You think it’s my fault he left us. Just admit it.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. I just wanted to know what happened tonight. That’s all.”
“Uh-huh,” she rolled her eyes at me and went upstairs.
To this day, I have no idea exactly what happened between my parents that night. All I know is that it only scratched the surface of their tension and discomfort with one another. Naturally, a few days later my father came back home and they both proclaimed that understanding and cooler heads had prevailed. And they were true to their words. Well...for at least a year anyway.
On Christmas Eve, mother and I were in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a ham, a turkey, and a list of desserts we were going to prepare for the family dinner.
“Well, we got the ham and turkey in the oven. I’m going upstairs to take a bath. You make sure you get all the ingredients out for the cakes, cookies, and pies, okay.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I responded as I watched her walk upstairs seemingly in good spirits that night.
The front door opened and my father came bursting in full of holiday cheer and vodka. “Hey girl!!! Merry Christmas!!! Hahahaha!!! Come here and give your daddy a hug, girl!!!”
“Do you have to yell, daddy?” I hesitated for a moment, but I gave in to the hugs and kisses. I couldn’t argue with the fact that he was happy. Maybe a little too happy for his own good, but happy all the same. He sat down at the kitchen table pouring himself a drink of spiked egg nog.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” My mother frightened me for a second. I didn’t realize she was standing there in the living room watching her happy, drunk husband, who was a couple of hours late for dinner. Mom and I had eaten already. The fire in her eyes spoke of how disappointed and hurt she was because he didn’t show up for dinner. “I really wanted all three of us to eat together tonight. It’s Christmas Eve. I thought you would want to be with your family tonight.”
“I am with my family. Come here, baby,” he was blowing kisses in my mother’s general direction reaching for her waist with his hands, but she moved out of his way and he fell to the living room floor.
“You sorry bastard!” Mother walked to the kitchen table and sat down. Dad stayed on the floor. A few seconds later, we heard him snoring while lying down in front of the Christmas tree. Flashes from the clear lights on the tree reflected all over his body. Mother started to generously dip her cup into the egg nog. As usual, I pretended not to see or hear anything and began to make the desserts.
Christmas Day, I was awakened by the glorious sounds of my parents arguing about the previous night. What a way to spend Christmas break from school, I thought.
I ran downstairs to the living room. They were in the kitchen pointing fingers, exchanging cuss words, and rolling eyes at one another. As soon as I decided to be the voice of reason, my mother used every ounce of energy she could conjure to scream at the top of her lungs, “I hate you!” Suddenly, she reached up and slammed her fist into my father’s favorite Christmas cake that I had made for him the night before.
“You’re crazy, woman. Just damn crazy. I’m out of here. I’m spending Christmas with my mother and brothers today. To hell with this crap,” he grabbed his coat from the sofa. As he was putting on his coat, he looked over at me trying to smile. He kissed my forehead and caressed my cheeks with his huge yet gentle hands. “I’m sorry, baby. I just can’t be here with her today. You know, you’re always welcome at my mother’s house. You want to come along with me?”
“No thanks, daddy. I think I should stay here with mom.”
“Please don’t be upset with me.” He wrapped his arms around me stroking my hair. “If it weren’t for you I would’ve gone insane by now. I love you, baby.”
“I love you, too. Merry Christmas, daddy.”
“Merry Christmas, baby. I’ll call and let you know I’m on my way home, okay.” He walked out the door.
Remembering all the unhappiness that we endured over the years, I stand in amazement at the party in honor of my parents for thirty-five years of marriage.
To see them smile at one another while raising their glasses in a toast make me wonder about how they managed to stay together for such a long time. Was it patience? Faith? Love? As I began to ponder these questions, my father answered them.
“I’d like to start off by saying thank you to all of you who joined my wife and I tonight to celebrate the best thirty-five years of my life. Also, I want to say that through all the trials and tribulations the two of us have dealt with over the years, I don’t regret one damn minute of it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. When I look at my wife I realize that I’ll never be alone in this world. And as long as I have breath in my body, she will never be alone either. I love you, baby.”
“Oh, I love you, too.”
They kissed each other with a profound passion that reflected a sense of restoration and renewal of their feelings.
Everyone including myself began clapping our hands as we watched my parents. The music was playing. Al Green’s Love and Happiness got the party going. They danced until they couldn’t stand anymore.