I rushed home from school for my lunch break, ready for my DiGiorno frozen pizza, when I saw a stack of paper, thicker than my wrist; I stopped dead.
Though this could be anything, something about the size, the professional font, the big binder clip, set it out of place in my perfect kitchen that belonged in my perfect house to us as a perfect family. I started reading, “Though both parties have decided not to separate …” It looked like divorce papers, it felt like divorce papers, but it … wasn’t? It didn’t make any sense. Why was there this giant stack of paper on the kitchen counter about how my parents weren’t getting a divorce? I heard the screams from across the house. My mom screaming bloody murder at my dad and my dad screaming right back. They kept rephrasing an argument that I didn’t fully understand, going absolutely nowhere.
I walked over to my parents — I knew there was something wrong.
“What is going on!?” I asked.
They looked at me for a moment. My mother’s eyes were filled with both tears and red hot rage.
“Why don’t you ask your father?” my mother retorted, not at me but at him. There was venom in her voice, more than I’d ever heard in my entire life.
I looked at him and he looked at the ground.
We all moved to the mocha couch in the dim light, distant from each other. He paused to recompose himself.
“Well … uh,” he started, “I’ve made some mistakes. I haven’t been happy with retiring, my faith and my marriage …”
My mom snapped, interjecting, “Why don’t you get to the point, Mike?”
“Well … I had an, uh, emotional affair …”
An emotional affair? What does that even mean? Like he cheated? Like he was one of those f---ing cliches you see in movies when men have their midlife crisis? What the f--- is an emotional affair?
“I, uh, had developed feelings for another woman. Just feelings.”
That’s what I thought he meant. But, that’s f---ing stupid. Who confesses to an emotional affair?
“An emotional affair. So nothing … happened?” I looked right into his eyes.
“No — it was never physical,” he declared.
I didn’t believe that. But it was all happening so fast. I came home for a frozen pizza and now I was interrogating my father. I went with the first thing on my mind.
“Who is she?”
He looked down, around the room, then back at the floor.
“Someone from work.”
My mother snapped at this. She had restrained herself long enough, longer than I thought she could.
“He won’t tell me her name. This coward is protecting her.”
My father looked over to my mother with disgust.
“You’re trying to ruin her life.”
“If you don’t sign this agreement, I will call every f- - -ing person I know at your job and find out who she is. I will ruin you, Mike.”
I was so confused. The other emotions were coming, but right now it was just confusion. The agreement, the stack of papers on the counter?
“What is this ‘agreement?’” I asked, not knowing where else to start.
“It divides up the assets in the event of divorce,” my mom shouted.
So they were doing all the paperwork before getting divorced? Like they were staying together?
“Yeah, and your mother is trying to take away everything from me, leaving me without enough money to survive. If I don’t sign this agreement, which doesn’t even come close to how much money I deserve, she will ruin my life and prevent me from ever being able to make money again,” he pleaded to me.
“He’s trying to have his affair and all the money and that’s not how this works!” my mom shouted at me, in a mixture of screaming and crying.
They were using me as a pawn in the argument. They were fighting about money through me, trying to gain my sympathy for their side. My mother tried to have me channel her anger. My father, the man who has just admitted to having an “emotional” affair was trying to get me to pity him. My brain tumbled, thoughts and emotions intermingling into an incomprehensible mess.
“It wasn’t physical? You swear?” I asked again, point blank.
“No, I swear on my mother’s grave.”
I asked him once more after that, to the same response. This was not true, as I would learn later. Knowing that my father can look at me in the eyes and lie to me three times in a row may be one of the most frightening things I can imagine.
“Do you love her?”
He didn’t answer. I think I prefer it that way, I don’t think I could have handled his answer.
The illusion of my parents was shattered. They are people, sexual beings just like I am, which is terrifying. I found out more about my parents than I ever wanted to know. I did not see my father as the strong breadwinner — I saw him as a dirty, disgusting old man. I did not see my mother as the bear protecting her cubs anymore — I saw her weak and broken and raw.
My brain started to process everything, how my life would change. Of course I had no idea how truly worse it would get, but I knew enough. My memories were all tainted a sickly black. When he came in to kiss me goodnight, had he just kissed her right before? When he was on his phone texting, was he promising her sweet nothings? On Christmas morning, did he make sure that she had a present to open from him too? I wanted to vomit. The world spun around me and my breath quickened, panic rising.
I had lost my appetite. I ran out of my house, got into my car and drove. I parked in the middle of nowhere, skipped the rest of school and sobbed.
*Pseudonym used to protect author’s identity.