A Study of My Parents
Part One: The Last Time Mum Walked Out or The Time Dad Nearly Killed Adrian
MUM: We didn’t fight often, but when we did, if I got too angry, I would leave the house. I would walk away. I could not look at him, couldn’t even breathe the same air as him.
DAD: God, I hated that.
MUM: Yes, this was a particular pet peeve of his.
DAD: Drove me crazy ‘cause it wasn’t like she’d just leave the house. She wouldn’t answer her phone, texts, tweets, FB messages, nothing. She would go completely off-grid. And I never knew for how long she would be gone. Hours, days. And with her passport she could be just about anywhere.
ME: Really? (Addressing Mum) I don’t remember you doing this?
MUM: Well, that’s because I had to stop. Or you guys may not be here today. (Giggles.)
DAD: They would be here. It wasn’t that bad.
MUM: It was that bad.
ME: What happened?
MUM: One night, he and I got into a nasty one over…(looks at Dad) What was it over?
DAD: I honestly can’t say I remember. It’s been so long.
MUM: Well, anyway…
DAD: I lost; I know that.
MUM: Well, I threw on…
DAD: (Possibly speaking to himself, I’m not sure.) Because I always lost.
MUM: (Looks at me shaking her head. Seems to be waiting for him to finish having a moment.)
DAD: (Suddenly, aware of the silence.) Oh, please, continue.
MUM: (Smiling.) So, I threw on a pair of shoes and stormed out the house and I marched to the car. (She makes marching gestures with her arms.) I hopped in the car and took off, with him yelling at me the entire time.
ME: You couldn’t stop her?
DAD: What was I supposed to do? Grab her, wrestle her to the ground? There was one time that I jumped in front of the car to stop her leaving. She drove down the block in reverse and turned around at the intersection.
MUM: That’s true. I did do that. It wasn’t the whole block though.
DAD: It was…
MUM: It was like half.
DAD: Wait. Which time are you thinking of?
ME: It happened more than once?
MUM: Well, he tried it more than once.
(I’m surprised. I’ve never heard this story before. I look at my father who only shakes his head that his wife has yet again missed the point.)
MUM: So, anyway, this night, I get mad and storm out of the house…
ME: Where’d you go?
MUM: Just to a hotel. I think you were a year old at the time. Adrian was four about to turn five. We’d been married for five years.
DAD: Over five.
MUM: Yeah, but not that much over.
DAD: Almost six.
MUM: Oh, I guess it was, wasn’t it? So, almost six years into our marriage and we get into a fight over what may as well have been coffee beans for all I can remember. I go to a hotel and I was there all night and all the day the next day. I came back that following afternoon in time for lunch…
ME: Wait. You left Dad alone with a baby and a four-year-old for almost two days?
MUM: Don’t judge me. I didn’t know then what I learned immediately afterwards.
ME: Oh God…
MUM: Yeah. So…(she takes a moment to hang and shake her head.) I came home…you know how you always hear married women talk about how their husbands just cannot function without them?
MUM: Well, I would hear these stories from friends of mine and I’d think, you know, I’m really lucky. My husband’s attentive, he’s active, he’s, you know, whatever.
DAD: I was attentive, active and whatever just differently.
MOM: Which was why I came home to an unnatural disaster. Legos all over the floor. Blankets thrown everywhere. Looked like your father decided to take Adrian’s decorating advice.
I walk in the kitchen. Your father was feeding you guys lunch. You of course had your bottle. Your brother had spaghetti. Now at the time, your father couldn’t cook…
DAD: …She wouldn’t teach me…
MUM: …He wouldn’t listen.
ME: Yeah, well, you are kind of a kitchen nazi, Mum.
MUM: I am not. He was hardheaded so I constantly had to kick him out of the kitchen.
DAD: (Shaking his head, he mouths, “That’s not true.”)
ME: So, if you couldn’t cook, where’d you get the food?
MUM: He ordered it.
ME: You ordered spaghetti?
DAD: The pizza place we ordered from sold spaghetti.
ME: Why didn’t you just order pizza?
DAD: (Shrugs) Wasn’t in the mood.
MUM: Yes. And let me tell you how him not being in the mood landed us in the emergency room.
So, I walk into the kitchen and you’re all eating lunch. He’s sitting on the counter…the counter. That actually didn’t bother me as much as it normally would because I was trying to figure out where the food came from.
Your brother jumps from his seat, screams, gives me the biggest hug and saucy kiss ‘cause he’s got sauce all over his face. Your father hops off the counter and with a full mouth says don’t worry about the living room. He’ll clean it later.
I’m like, okay. I wasn’t worried about that much either. As I’m looking around…I’d picked up your brother. I’m holding him in my arms; you were in your high chair so you were fine. But your brother says to me, “Daddy ordered lunch.” (She taps my father on the thigh with her fist as she does sometimes.) Your father’s telling me about how the pizza place…(Turns to my father) what was it? Jerry’s?
DAD: (Nods and smiles.) I think so.
MUM: Yeah, so, whatever, whoever it was. I sat your brother down and as your father’s talking; and by the way, you should have seen how proud he was that he’d survived a day of parenting without me. Like he’d discovered gold.
DAD: (Laughing) It wasn’t that bad.
MUM: Ha! I was there. It was that bad. So, I’m messing with what little food your brother had left in his bowl. And I said, “Did you check for mushrooms?”
He paused and you could see all of the color just drain from his face like water down a pipe.
I turn to check on Adrian, but he’d left the kitchen presumably to play with his collection of Legos carpeting my living room. We found him in the living room. Passed out on the floor. Face swollen. Eye swollen shut. Gasping for air. I’m screaming at your father, “GET THE MEDICINE!! GET THE MEDICINE!!” He runs off, swearing the entire time…
DAD: I stepped on a Lego. Every step I took I stepped on one of those damned Legos to and from the bathroom.
(MOM and I laughing)
I go to hand her the medicine and I notice the expiration date.
MUM: It had expired the year before.
(DAD and I laughing as MUM shakes her head remembering that day.)
It was a nightmare. We grabbed him, grabbed the medicine. Took off for the hospital. Lights…hazard lights flashing on the car because he was flying through the city. Although, I don’t think the lights made much of a difference. This is London after all. He was pretty much driving the way everyone does…
DAD: On a regular day.
MUM: On a regular day, yeah.
We get there. Boguard our way past all the other people at reception. A couple of people wanted to say something because we completely cut the line. But your father…(laughs hysterically)
DAD: (Laughing) I held him up and I said, “Look at him. Look at his face.”
MUM: (Still laughing) And your brother’s all (closes one eye and gasps for breath.)
DAD: Everyone backed off after that.
MUM: (wiping tears from her eyes) They backed away. I think they thought he had something contagious.
(ALL laughing. It takes my mother a moment before she can speak again.)
MUM: (After taking a few breaths) Oh God. Ah. So, I’d given the nurses the bottle of medicine and they called some up from their emergency stash…or where ever the hell they get medicine from. And they gave him a shot. Then they wanted to monitor him for a bit…
DAD: As they do.
MUM: As they do. You know, make sure everything was the way it was supposed to be. We were there for what? An hour, hour and a half?
DAD: (Nods) I think so.
MUM: (Turns her head away as she tries to stifle a laugh. She fails. FYI.)
ME: What? What’s so funny? Dad, why is she laughing?
MUM: (Still laughing) Because you weren’t there.
DAD: You weren’t there.
ME: What? Why wasn’t I there? Where was I?
(BOTH shake their heads. Mom still laughing and can’t speak.)
ME: You left me?
MUM: (Nodding and laughing) And the only reason we knew was because one of the nurses…(pauses to wipe her eyes). One of the nurses…we used to have a neighbor named Cindy Stinson. Apparently, she had seen us take off in a hurry so she knew we weren’t home. All of a sudden she hears this baby crying.
DAD: She’d been trying to get a hold of us, but because we were in hospital…
MUM: …And they kill your signal…
DAD: …Our phones weren’t working. She grew concerned and called the police. They broke in the house then called around to all of the hospitals until they found us. The nurse walks in and she… (switches to his old woman voice) “Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, the police are on the phone. Did you leave your daughter at home?”
MUM: We just looked at each other. I was tempted to look around the room for you, but I didn’t want to be that person.
DAD: (shaking his head) Oh God, I had to go…she made me go answer the phone and try to explain to this policeman how we’re not bad parents after…(stifling a laugh) after I’d just poisoned my own son.
MUM: I told the doctor, I said, “Listen, you need to sign him out of here ‘cause we are not coming back here.” So, he signed us out, wrote a prescription and we went home. We got there…Cindy…oh, she was so sweet. She had changed you, fed you, burped you. She didn’t even have kids.
DAD: She didn’t like kids.
MUM: She didn’t even like kids. But she took care of you. (Looks off into space, smiling at the memories.) So, yeah, that happened.
ME: What happened when you got home?
MOM: Nothing. We thanked Cindy for her help, cleaned up. I wasn’t even angry anymore. Just tired. I quit leaving the house after that.
DAD: (shaking his head) No she didn’t.
MUM: Well, quit leaving for as long. Usually, only for like an hour or two. I’d go for a walk then go back home. If this was his attempt to teach me a lesson, it worked better than anything else he’d tried.
DAD: It wasn’t. And actually, if you hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have told you about it.
DAD: And admit that I’m completely incompetent when you’re not home?
DAD: …which you already thought anyway?
MUM: (shrugs) Eh, Adrian would have told me anyway. He was at that age where he felt the need to tell me everything even if I was there at the time it happened. So he’d be all, (using her English accent) “Mummy?” “Yes.” “Remember when Daddy gave me mushrooms?” “Yes.” “And then I had to go to the hospital?” “Yes, baby. I remember. I was there.”
DAD: Yeah, but he had a way of making bad things sound funny.
ME: So, Dad, what would you have done if Mum wasn’t home?
DAD: Same thing I did with her there. Rushed off to the hospital with a dying child in my arms and a daughter screaming at home. So, she really didn’t help much in that regard.
ME: Mum, what would you have…wait. What am I saying? This never would have happened to you.
DAD: Wait. You know, your mum isn’t perfect. Remember the Adrian scandal?
ME: Ha! Yeah. That’s a good one.
DAD: See. That’s the difference between me and your mother. I may make the most mistakes, but they are nothing compared to her mistakes.
ME: Mum? Anything to say?
MUM: (Shaking her head and smiling) Oh…boy.