Smile and say hi to each person you see
You never know what it might mean to their day.
— Megan Morrison, And Then it Rained: Lessons for Life
Most of us remember a lot of dates — good and bad. For me, I probably remember more than most people (okay, I know I remember more than most people). I can tell you when I graduated high school, when I got accepted to college, when I started my job. I can tell you each of the dates I’ve moved, the date my parents got divorced. And I can tell you the date they told me they were going to get divorced: July 21, 1997.
It’s a date that sticks out in my head every year, one that often brings with it a lot of reflection. Yet the reason for that reflection isn’t the negative milestone. When I think of this date I don’t usually think of the (what-seemed-to-be-at-the-time) catastrophic events that took place with my family; rather, I think about what took place afterwards — how I ended what I’d initially deemed the most horrible night of my life in a good mood.
As a result of the past 15 years of reflection, I’ve gained a better understanding of the cause of my abrupt mood change that night. My being cheered up by my friend and idol then mostly resulted from the lofty and unrealistic pedestal I’d placed her on. But you can’t change effect. You can’t change the fact that I still was cheered up, and so, you can’t change the lesson that even the simplest of actions can affect the mood — and memory — of another person.
*** Chapter 4 ***
My distress over Dad and Vicky intensified when she visited in early June, especially after Mom came home mid-week practically spewing smoke from her ears. “He brought her to the gym! The place where he knows all our friends go. How embarrassing!” Her voice cracked.
“Did you talk to them at all?”
“No, I just got out of there as fast as I could.” She huffed and turned towards the stairs, but then stopped. “Oh, I have to tell you though, Maya was there and she was so sweet. She came up and gave me this huge hug and told me how great she thought I was.”
“Awww.” I wanted to give Maya a hug myself.
Dad made a point to introduce my sisters and me to Vicky later that week. Unwilling to break my loyalty to Mom, I kept it short, reluctantly giving in when the petite blonde with a strong Southern accent asked to take a few pictures of us. What did she need pictures of us for, anyways? Not like she was our stepmom. Not like she was even our friend,really.
The following weekend, Mom and Marie took Kiley, Eve and me along to a downtown venue, where Maya’s cousin was playing in an all-star basketball game. Maya arrived separately with a new guy—new to me, at least. He walked next to her with a confident stride, emphasizing his tall height and athletic build.
I turned to Marie. “Uh, who’s that?”
“Oh, that’s Noah.”
The name rang a bell. “The quarterback of the football team? And the star of the baseball team? The one in the newspaper?”
She looked like the proverbial cat that had just caught the mouse. “That’s him.”
So what is he doing with…. Maya and her dark-haired companion approached us.I did a double-take. Wow, look at those blue eyes. He is so….
Kiley immediately leaned over to me. “Megan, he’s really—”
“Shhh!” I cut her off with a furious nod. “I know.” We stared at him while they greeted our group.
They sat down in the bleachers behind us, and as my confusion and curiosity grew, the ever-bold Kiley turned around to clear things up.
“Maya, is Noah your boyfriend?”
I shook my head at her, equally amused and appreciative.
“Nooooo!” Maya and Noah looked at each other and chuckled. “No, we’re just good friends.”
Right, I’ve heard that one before.
While we waited the next few days to hear more about Noah, an unexpected package arrived from Vicky. To her credit, the pictures had actually turned out pretty well.
I rollerbladed over to Dad’s apartment one night at the end of the month to show him a shot of Molly and me that I’d framed. His patio, just off the living room, faced the street. I rolled up to the clear door and, seeing him inside on the couch, knocked lightly on the glass.
He didn’t move.
I knocked louder.
He continued to stare straight ahead, as though in some kind of daze.
I knocked even louder. “Dad! It’s me, Megan!”
He didn’t even flinch.
Crying now, I took the metal picture frame and hammered it against the window, ignoring notions of disrupting the neighbors or breaking the glass. A few people walked by, looking confused by my screams and noise-making, but Dad….
I turned and started for home, sobbing as my concerns about his drinking mounted.
Mom’s news a week later that he’d enrolled in a two-week rehabilitation program brought them down a little.
“He’s decided to get help,” she said, “facing the fact he has a problem, and—”
“He’s coming home?” I’d nearly given up on the idea by now.
“Yep. He wants to get back together. He broke up with Vicky.” She looked more relieved than happy.
“So we won’t have to move?”
“Nope, we won’t. We’re working things out.”
She took my sisters and me to visit him at the hospital a couple nights later. He met her with a hug as we entered his room, evoking smiles from my sisters and me—Kiley looked as if she’d won the lottery.
Their newfound affection continued during our dinner in the hospital cafeteria. Mom rubbed his back. Dad patted her knee.
He told us how excited he was to come home and be a family again. “I think we should buy a boat before the summer is over. We can take it out on the lake together.”
A boat? I just want two parents who live in the same house again!
I updated my Aunt Colleen, Dad’s sister, during my visit to Minneapolis that weekend. We chatted during our annual shopping trip to the country’s largest mall, which produced a load of exciting new items.
It seemed silly to bring them along on our second-to-last nightly visit with Dad—after all, he’d come home in two days—but I couldn’t wait. I gathered the shopping bags and hopped in the car with Mom and my sisters.
We strolled into Dad’s hospital room twenty minutes later.
His ashen expression froze me in my tracks.
“Hey guys.” He sat on the edge of his bed, hands at his sides, his voice little more than a whisper.
Mom’s eyes narrowed. “Are you okay?”
He got up and sauntered over. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
He remained quiet through dinner, dismissing Kiley’s persistent questions. Mom asked again if he was okay, but he said he was just tired. I peered down at my bag of clothes—I’d show him some other time.
We walked back into to his room, preparing to say our goodbyes. Dad gave us all light hugs and then turned to Mom. “Can you come in for a second?”
She crossed her arms, hardly flinching. “Why?”
He looked between the four of us and bowed his head.
“Vicky and I have been talking again and we’re getting back together. I just can’t help it. We’re in love and I want to be with her. I want a divorce.”
Kiley and Eve started to cry, while Mom yelled at him in a panicked voice.
Her words didn’t even register. Divorced? For sure? That means we’ll have to move. That means I’ll barely see Dad anymore. And what about his drinking? He’ll never get better if he doesn’t come home!
My knees went weak. Mom finished her rant and stormed out down the sterile hallway, a number of nurses and other visitors looking on. My sisters and I somberly followed, tears pouring in buckets from each of us.
Mom sobbed as she drove out of the parking deck, screaming at one point and hitting the steering wheel.
Kiley spoke up from the back seat. “Mom, can I swear?”
Mom would’ve said yes to anything at that moment. Kiley proceeded to drop a few four-letter words she’d never been allowed to utter before, placing “Dad” at the end of a couple. I rolled my eyes, tears still flowing from them. Maybe someday I could laugh at the ridiculousness of her antics, but not now.
We pulled into the garage and hurried out of the car. Mom slammed the door, causing the three of us to jump.
After she went inside, I turned to my sisters. “Let’s ride our bikes to the grocery store to get a sympathy card. Maybe that will help her.”
They agreed, and we set off on our mission.
We tiptoed back inside upon returning. An extra pair of shoes lay to the side of our entry mat—particularly small ones. Marie. Thank God she’s here.
I gently placed Mom’s card on the breakfast bar. “Let’s just go back outside and let Marie take care of Mom.”
The Murphys greeted us at the curb in front of our house, and we all sat down. They offered words of encouragement, things like, “Don’t worry, you guys will all be fine.”
How would I survive without my friends next door, especially with my parents splitting up? What about Mom? Would she get through this? How? How could anything ever be good again?
My sobbing intensified. Lauren rubbed my shoulder—it only made me cry harder. I uncovered my face for a moment, glancing up towards the cul-de-sac, and then down the street.
Two people rollerbladed up the asphalt road towards us, their strides slow but steady. They got closer, and one of their faces came into view.
Adrenaline rushed to every nerve ending in my body.
The Murphys and my sisters raced towards the pair, while I stayed on the curb. They rolled over to me.
“Hi Megan.” Maya offered a smile, which I weakly returned. She didn’t ask how I was—her sympathetic look indicated that she already knew the answer.
The rest of the kids sat back down beside me, while Maya and her friend Chloe stood in front of us. They started up a conversation, asking us if we were excited for school to start soon. I replied, happy to talk about something other than Dad or divorce. Kiley asked Maya if she was still seeing Noah.
My sister and I exchanged knowing looks as Maya turned to Chloe. “Yeah, he’s leaving for baseball camp tomorrow, so I won’t see him for two weeks. Oh well.”
The two friends stayed and talked with us for another half hour. I waved at them as they rolled away, my tears having subsided.