You’re a carefree, bouncy kid
who still enjoys the little things like
the sticky summer season every year
and riding horses and fishing
at the old docks past sunset.
Every year, your family goes on vacations
and you genuinely enjoy every second of them.
Your parents go on date nights now and then,
they hold hands in the front seat of your Yukon,
and your family feels undoubtedly like it’s yours.
Then, you notice things start changing.
Family game nights dissolve into nothing—
the Monopoly board is stowed in the
hallway closet like it’s unthinkable.
You’re sure that family movie nights only existed in your head.
The nights get longer and longer because
the yelling and arguing through
paper-thin walls put a pit in your stomach that fuels insomnia.
Most of your heart-wrenching summer nights are spent
staring at the ceiling, the clock flashing 1:00.
It’s painted the color of pessimism.
You spend those pitiful mornings afterward
explaining to your impertinent brothers that
it was nothing—just mangy conversation.
You wonder how this became your job.
The pancakes taste like an enigma.
The tension at your breakfast table is so thick,
you could cut it with a knife and the
hard truth that your parents’ marriage is
in shambles would come spilling out of it.
Your parents can barely stand the insanity anymore, and neither can you.
For an hour before, you’re hiding in the hallway bathroom,
shaking, because every part of you knows it would always
come down to this—an unassuming Sunday evening.
You tread on eggshells to the corridor.
They sit you down in your congested living room,
the fear clinging to you like sweat. The air is
stiff and unbreathable here because the truth is lingering in the corner of the room,
like a ghost, watching your skin turn pale
and your words slur into liquid.
You’re holding onto the tattered sofa for dear life,
your fingernails making deep impressions in the leather,
because you feel like your house is only seconds away
from being completely engulfed in flames.
Your impatience is a lump in your throat.
With soft voices, they tell you the things that you already
know, but hearing them out loud and from their own
mouths breaks your heart tenfold.
“Nothing is really going to change, Darling.”
Seven p.m. on a Sunday afternoon turns into
a teary-eyed teenager, belittled into a sobbing puddle
on the hardwood. Your brother says that you’ve
traded the chaos for the quiet.
You wonder why there couldn’t have been an in-between.
You don’t quite remember the next few months, just that
they’re dreary and you’re completely distant
from yourself. You’re going through the motions, while
the consciousness of yourself hides under the bed,
its eyes shut tight like it’s watching a horror movie.
At some point, you move half of
yourself into your grandparents’ house.
You paint the walls with the fever that won’t break,
and set the desire you have to
deteriorate on the bedside table, like a houseplant.
You make a point to never call this place
home because it can’t be farther from it. Really,
your heart belongs somewhere situated between two forever-moving
people, whose favorite game becomes
tug-of-war with the way you feel.
Dinner eventually turns into three-hour therapy
sessions. Family feels more like a game of house that you’re
stuck playing. The same mantra you’ve attempted to live by,
“Nothing’s really going to change, Darling …” is
beaten to a pulp and tossed in the trashcan with leftover dinner.
The next few years go by in what feels like
a montage. You’re watching yourself grow up in blinks, trying to
compensate for the sudden loss of childhood.
You feel like you’re still
grieving every part of yourself.
You think you deserved a funeral after that day in August,
and you never got one.
There’s an empty grave somewhere with your name on it,
and you’re stuck carrying around the
skeleton that belongs in it.
Your parents try their hardest,
but neither of them is around as much anymore. It
becomes your responsibility to raise your brothers and
it becomes your responsibility to raise yourself.
You overwhelm and you break yourself in the process, but
you aren’t allowed to cry because everyone
around you needs you to be completely solid.
You feel like you’re holding onto the kid you used to be
while everyone already sees you as
an adult—like you grew up the day everything ended.
You feel like you’re splitting down the middle trying
to make yourself belong to two people
who couldn’t get farther apart. With time, you realize
that the insanity was never really put to rest. It was only diluted,
like water on a grease fire.
You’re a mother.
You’re a sister.
You’re a teacher.
You’re a role model.
All the while, you’re a kid.
Why do you like to write poetry?
Jaylee Marchese: “I write poetry because it feels natural.”