Dinner started out fine.
He’d made lasagna and I’d helped with the salad and made the table. When dinner was served, he sat at the head of the table, and I was on his right. The young one sat on my other side, and the elder one on the other side of the table.
The older one seemed tense, sitting stiffly in his chair, and picking at his food instead of eating it, which was not normal for him. Those kids wolf down their food–I’d forgotten how much teenage boys can eat.
Dad was talking a little bit about his day, and didn’t seem to notice his son looked uncomfortable. He was talking about his experience in court. He thinks having to swear on a Bible is hilarious.
Then, the kid dropped the bomb. And he said it in English.
Let’s just say that he’d gotten himself into a problem. He’d committed a sexual impropriety that could get him into major, major trouble at school.
Everyone froze, and it was only by the skin of my teeth that I avoided bursting out in nervous panic-laughter “Wow! Better you than me, buddy!” There is no way in hell I’d admit this to his father in person. In fact, I wouldn’t even tell him this bad news when we were both on the same continent. I’d tell him from someplace safely far away, like Antarctica.
You could have heard a pin drop. The boys and I were frozen, heads down, staring at our plates.
He put his silverware down, not looking at his son, and said, “Tell me: is this a girl from school, or some random bar slut from the village?”
I sneaked a glance at him across the table, and he looked so anxious and miserable that I felt sorry for him. What he did was stupid, but it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t predatory. He was definitely in a fucked-up situation that needed to be diffused, but it wasn’t the worst thing ever. People make mistakes, especially young people. Frankly, if I was a parent, I’d be considerably more upset if he’d committed a horrible act of bullying or violence, or was caught cheating on his college applications. I’d be more upset if I found out it was drugs, or he drove drunk and killed someone.
I tried to be supportive, because he seemed scared (can’t say that I blame him. I was scared just being there). I said, “Well, that’s bad news, but I don’t think it’s anything that can’t be dealt with. It’s not the end of the world. I’m sure your family can help–“.
“Be quiet, Margo,” said Dad.
I shut up and returned my eyes to my dinner plate.
“Why are you such a disappointment, (Older boy)? I’m glad your mother is not here.”
Well, that’s just plain cold, I thought.
“Uh, this is a family matter, so I think I’ll give you some privacy and go to my room,” I said, my voice a little high and screechy.
(It did not occur to me until later that the reason the older boy chose to break the bad news at the dinner table, with his brother and me there, in English, instead of behind closed doors with his father, was that he was hoping our presence–mine, specifically–might help keep his father on his best behavior. I could be wrong about that, though.)
I pushed out my chair, stood up, and started walking out of the room.
Behind me, he brought his hand down on the table so hard it made all the plates and silverware jump.
“No one leaves the table!” he yelled. And this is not a man who raises his voice often.
I jumped, immediately turned around and returned to my seat.
You could cut the tension with a knife. It was terrible.
The young one on my left reached out and grabbed my hand. His palm was cold and sweating. I carefully avoid any touching after the incident where he picked me up after my stupid decision to play thumb wars, but I did not take my hand away now.
“Well? Answer my question,” said Dad.
I looked up. Dad was tense but otherwise unruffled. The son was twitching…probably a mixture of fear and rage.
Incredibly, he picked up his dinner plate, and, I swear, was about to chuck it right at his father’s head. It would have hit, too, because he was sitting only a few feet away.
At the last second, he changed his direction and threw it against the wall behind him. The food went everywhere. I actually screamed.
“I hate you!” The kid yelled, getting out of his chair.
Oh boy I really don’t want to be here right now, I thought.
“Sit down right now,” said the father, and his voice was serious as a heart attack.
Or what? I wondered. He’s bigger than you now! How can you force a teenager to do anything?
He stood there, red-faced and panting…and then sat back down.
“Margo,” said Dad, softly: “Get a new plate from the kitchen and pick up the food off the floor.”
I immediately got up to do it. I washed my hands and got out a spatula and some big serving spoons. The lasagna was not in one piece, but its remains were in one location. T salad had scattered all over the floor. There was tomato sauce on the wall and on the floor. The plate was broken. If it’d made contact with Dad’s head, it probably would have knocked out a tooth or split his cheek open.
Nobody was talking at the table behind me.
He’s going to make the kid eat it, I thought.
I stood up and stared at the floor and asked if I should throw it in the garbage or down the disposal.
“Bring it to the table.”
“Uh, where? What?”
“It’s yours now, Margo. (Older boy) has given it to you. Have a seat.”
I sat down stiffly and pushed my first meal, barely touched, out of the way to make room for the second plate.
“Bon Appétit,” said the father, who then had a drink of wine, picked up his silverware, and resumed eating his meal as if nothing had happened.
So did I. Thanking God that the wooden floors were clean, aside from whatever polishes the cleaning crew used.
“How is (Older Boy’s) meal, Margo? Does it taste good?”
I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. I just didn’t want the situation to get any worse.
“It’s fine,” I said, mechanically shoveling food into my mouth. But nothing was fine.
“You know, (Older Boy),” he said, conversationally, “I am not the one who is doing this to her. You did this to her. You caused this.”
I looked at the younger one on my left, who was not eating and looked like he was going to cry. I felt terrible for him.
“Don’t worry. It’s okay,” I said, which was a lie, but I didn’t know what else to say.
The meal continued in silence. Dad finished his portion and leaned back in his chair with his wine, master of his domain.
“The meal is over when Margo finishes her plate. How do you feel about that, (Older boy)?”
So, now we have another problem: I do not eat as much as a growing teenage boy. His portion was probably twice as large as mine.
It took the better part of an hour, and by the end I hoped I’d never see another bite of lasagna in my life…but I choked it down.
He told the older boy to clean the floor and wall and to clear the table: “I’d make Margo do it, but I think she might need to throw up.”
I did. I did indeed.
Maybe the kid is onto something, I thought. Maybe this guy needs to be killed in his sleep.
With that, he rapped his knuckles on the table and got up from his chair.
I went straight to the bathroom. When I got out a few minutes later, after heaving and brushing my teeth, I saw the older boy still sitting alone at the table, staring straight ahead.
I went to his father’s bedroom.
When I got up in the morning, the floor, and the wall, were clean.