In those days, he often had trouble sleeping. He’d wake up, toss, turn and most times if he did it long enough, he would find sleep again. Not this night though. This night would turn out to be a night he’d remember.
His throat was parched and he decided to go downstairs for a glass of water. Getting ready for the long trek towards the kitchen, he threw off his Spiderman-patterned covers and tapped his feet on the floor, trying to find his slippers. Then he slowly opened his bedroom door, trying to minimise the creaking noise so as not to wake up his parents. Their bedroom was located opposite his. Most nights the door was open just a crack. Tonight though, it was wide open. He shuffled through his doorway and found himself on the upstairs landing, staring into his parents’ bedroom. There was no one there.
Did they go out tonight? Sometimes they would go out to dinner parties with old college friends. He was such a good kid and they trusted him implicitly, he usually didn’t have a babysitter anymore. Only if they’d be gone for a full night, then they would call on the girl down the street to sit with him. He vehemently disliked her. She never paid him any mind and spent her time talking to her boyfriend on the phone, yammering about how much she loved him and didn’t he love her just as much? Thanks, but no thanks. He preferred his evenings all to himself, if that was going to be the case. But tonight, there was no babysitter. Did they go out? He couldn’t be sure. Then he yawned and decided it didn’t matter. He was thirsty.
As he walked down the stairs, he again noticed something odd in his sleep-deprived mind. There were voices. Hushed voices coming from the kitchen. He took a moment and realised they were his parents’ voices, sounding panicked. What could they be arguing about at this time of the night? Even at the ripe old age of 11 years old, he knew that 3am in the morning wasn’t a normal time for his folks to be up, arguing about God knows what. They rarely ever argued to begin with, so this scene was strange indeed.
He silently stalked towards the kitchen door, which connected to the hallway he now found himself in. From there he was able to make out his mother’s anguished voice and his father’s controlled rage towards her. He stopped his quest for water and stood still, trying to make out the words.
“You know it is the only way, Beatrice! We have to put a stop to this, right now.”
“And then what?”, his mother pleaded. “How will we face every day beyond that, knowing what we know, having done what we did?”
“It doesn’t matter! I will not let you bring us all down. You are out of control. I have been more than patient. All this time, I have been waiting, hoping, even praying that you would come to your senses yourself, but tonight was the last time I stood by you. If you are adamant to continue down this path, be warned, my darling, that you will be going down it, alone.”
“Please Patrick, please understand. Everything I have done, I did for us. For you and for Michael, for all of us. I would never willingly…”
“Stop. Just… Stop.” His dad sighed. “I don’t care anymore what you willingly did or didn’t do. The fact is that it’s done. And it can never, ever happen again. You have to stop. We have to stop. Do you understand that?”
A long silence followed.
Then her voice was soft, so soft, like the caress of a whisper across damp skin. Like a promise unspoken, but powerful nonetheless.
“OK. I, uhh, yes, I know. I know it can’t continue. I wish I could take it all back. I never wanted you to be involved in any of this, in any of my… Pursuits. If I could do it all over again, you know I would spare you any connection to this. You know that, right?”
His father took a few paces towards the hallway, away from his mother and closer to where he was standing. He held his breath as he waited for his father to come out of the kitchen and discover him standing there in the middle of the hallway, lurking like a common thief. Instead, he turned back to his wife: “Maybe one day I would have. But now… I don’t know anymore.”
“Please, Patrick, please I need you to believe me. I know I screwed up, OK? I know. I’ll do anything. For you. For Michael. If you can believe one thing, will you believe that?” She sobbed.
One sob, actually. It wasn’t long or drawn out like he’d seen those women do on the reality tv shows his babysitter liked so much. It wasn’t loud either. But he still heard it, that sob. It felt like it came down from deep within his mother’s inner crevices, spilled out for his father to hear. For his father to forgive her, whatever it was that needed to be forgiven. He couldn’t understand much of what was going on, but he knew that at least.
“Fine. Yes. Yes, I do know that. But never again, you hear me? After tonight, we never speak of this ever again! If you so much as even breathe in the direction of… We are done. And I will take Michael with me. You hear me, Beatrice? I will take our son. So you better be damned sure that you can do this. Starting now, you get what I’m saying?” The anger had left his father’s voice. He sounded like a kid who had lost all of his former bluster, who was once the greatest bully on the playground, but then got his ass kicked so badly that he was forever doomed to be but a mere fly on the wall. And without that anger, he just sounded… Scared. Terrified, even. As if his mother’s answer would determine the rest of their lives, which, he supposed, it would. Michael held his breath, not knowing what he’d want her to say next. He was too young to comprehend the scene behind the kitchen door. They were his parents. He loved them both equally. What were they talking about? He waited.
After a long time, his mother finally inhaled deeply, as if to get ready for speech: “We will never speak of this again. And it will never happen again. I promise you. On our son, I promise you.”
His father let go of the breath he was holding. Deflated, Patrick put his arms around her and together they staid like that. He didn’t know how long it lasted, maybe long after he’d snuck back into his room. Maybe long after he fell back asleep, dreaming about what this unspeakable truth was his parents so anxiously discussed late into the night. All he knew was he never found them like that again. He never heard them pass so much as an angry word between them. For the rest of his childhood, they would be his parents who would lovingly kiss when they thought he wasn’t looking. They would take him on holiday and try to teach him the value of culture over videogames. They would sigh when he would break curfew after he’d try to sneak in, like the typical teenager that he was. Their lives returned to normal. For all intents and purposes, their lives would always be normal.
Until today. And despite how he still remembered that night, never in a million years did he see it coming.