Monday 24 January 2022

Fighting Love,


By Margo Griffin

bitter lemon


Sarah and Jimmy

Their voices are escalating. This is round two in just the past hour and a half. It makes Sarah and Jimmy nervous when it drags on this long. Sarah sits close to Jimmy, so he won't feel scared. She puts her head on his shoulder, offering him support. The last time Mom and Dad fought like this, it went for three rounds. Barbara from next door had called the cops. Boy, was dad ever pissed. He screamed out the window right in front of the cops, "You nosy fucking bitch, Babs!".



Marjorie and Ray

           This is the second colossal blow-out this week. Ray's voice is crackling now, further strained from Lucky Strikes and his interlude with a Jim Bean bottle the night before. Marjorie pleads with him to lower his voice, trying to be heard but with little luck. When Ray gets like this, there is no halting that train wreck. In the beginning, Marjorie would ignore Ray when he went on one of his tirades, but over the last few years, it all became too much for her, especially now that she was working full-time too.

Ray became so angry when Marjorie told him that she stopped over at her friend's for coffee. Marjorie works overnights with Kate at the Post Office. Marjorie drove her home, and Kate invited her in for coffee. Neither she nor Kate could go right to bed when they got home, both needing to make breakfast for their kids, and in Marjorie's case, a husband too, before sending them off to school and work.

Ray despises Kate. He hates the fact that she threw her ex-husband Charlie out of the house. Kate had gone on one date since her divorce almost two years ago, and since then, Ray decided she was a slut. Meanwhile, Charlie was stepping out on Kate from day one, Kate only tolerating it for the sake of her and Charlie's kids. Once she passed that Postal Exam and got called off the list, Kate prepared her exit. Ray convinces himself that Kate wants to encourage Marjorie to leave Ray too so that she isn't the only single mother on the block. "Misery loves company," mumbles Ray to himself.

Marjorie admires Kate's strength and ability to let go of Charlie and the security of marriage with no regret. But, in Marjorie's case, she still loves Ray deeply. She can't imagine leaving him behind despite how aggressive he is when angry. He almost can't control it, Marjorie thinks to herself. She believes Ray doesn't mean it when he calls her a dirty whore. She tells herself that it's her own fault, really, for hanging around Kate.



Sarah and Jimmy

     Sarah's eyes start to fill up. Jimmy hates when Mom and Dad fight, but it seems to bother Sarah more. He can barely stand to see Sarah cry; it makes him feel so bad.

     "Don't worry, Sarah," he says. "You know how Dad gets when he is like this. Mom will go to bed soon, and it will all be over."

     "Yeah, until next time," Sarah replies back, her blue eyes brimming with salty drops.  

Jimmy puts his arm around Sarah's shoulders and rubs them a bit like Mom does to comfort them when they feel scared or sad. He doesn't know if it helps, but it makes him feel a little better. Eventually, Sarah rests her head on his shoulder as they huddle together in the hallway, far enough away not to be seen but close enough for Jimmy to jump in if things get as crazy as last time.



Marjorie and Ray

Ray is terrified Marjorie is going to leave him. He seethes when he knows his wife was with Kate. Why won't she stay away from Kate? Ray furiously asks himself, clenching his fists. He would never hit Marjorie or the kids; he would do some serious damage if he did. His eyes scan the holes in the walls and at the drywall patches, unsuccessfully covering evidence of past quarrels. Eventually, Ray's gaze moves toward the long hallway that leads to the kids' bedrooms, and he begins to feel a giant knot growing in his stomach. He sits down at the table, his shoulders slumping as he buries his face in his hands.

Marjorie feels so guilty when the kids see her and Ray fighting. She feels guilty for keeping them here amidst this craziness, exposing them to so much volatility and rage. Now Sarah and Jimmy will go off to school upset and with empty stomachs. There is no time to get them breakfast now if they are to get out the door in time to meet the school bus.

Marjorie is ashamed to think of what she has been normalizing for Jimmy and Sarah. She tries not to imagine how it might impact their choices and relationships. She feels like she is choosing her love for Ray over her love for her kids. Marjorie walks carefully and quietly away from the table, hoping Ray won't be stirred by her movement. She is counting down the minutes, almost holding her breath, waiting for Ray to go to work so that she can go to bed and get some sleep before the kids return from school. Tomorrow is another day, Marjorie reminds herself. 



Sarah and Jimmy

As they walk toward their bus stop, Sarah asks Jimmy if he thinks their father

really loves their Mom.

"Dad must love Mom a lot, or he wouldn't get so worked up about stuff," Jimmy responds. "He is just trying to get Mom to understand how he feels."

"That doesn't make sense," Sarah states firmly. "You shouldn't scream and scare people that you love. If he loves Mom, why does he push her against walls and threaten her?"

           "Dad never hits Mom. He is just blowing off steam, that's why he hits the walls, and not Mom," Jimmy defends. "If he was hurting Mom, she would leave him, just like Kate left Charlie." 

"Do you think other kids' parents fight like Mom and Dad, Jimmy?" Sarah asks seriously.

"I don't know Sarah. How do I know? But, I am sure some parents do," Jimmy replies. "It's not as if other kids' parents never argue."

"Well, as long as Dad doesn't hit Mom like he almost did last time," Sarah says back curtly. 

"But he didn't, Sarah! He walked away when I ran in and hugged Mom. Dad realized what he was doing and stopped," insists Jimmy.

"I guess so," responds Sarah reluctantly. Sarah cocks her head to one side and looks sideways up at Jimmy, her eyebrows furrowed together. She is quiet, but Jimmy can see her eyes dancing with worry and thought. Then, finally, Sarah asks, "Mom wouldn't let anything happen to us, right?".

"Right!" Jimmy says, trying to sound confident, but thinks "Maybe," to himself.

"Maybe," Sarah lets out softly, quietly saying what they are both thinking in their heads.

Sarah carefully considers what Jimmy said and sighs. The children arrive at their bus stop and wait silently for several minutes, each of them replaying the morning's events in their head. Not long after, Jimmy bends down and reaches for a rock. Stooped down low to the ground, Jimmy turns the stone over in his hands. He feels the smoothness of its flat surface and then runs his finger down the rough and sharp edges, firmly enough to cause a red indent in his finger that eventually fades. Before he stands up, Jimmy wipes his sleeve across the side of his face, attempting to mask a tear that escaped from the corner of his eye. He doesn't want Sarah to know that he is worried and sad too.

"I'm so hungry, Jimmy. Mom forgot to give us breakfast," says Sarah to break the silence, hoping to distract Jimmy, who she notices wiping away a tear.

Jimmy's stomach begins to make a loud and lengthy gurgling sound, causing Sarah and Jimmy to burst into hysterical laughter as they step up into the school bus, putting just another morning fight behind them.

About the author 

Margo Griffin is a 30-year urban public school educator from the Boston area. She is the single mother of two college-aged daughters and adopted mom to the love of her life, her rescue dog Harley.


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