Here's another humorous, childhood story.
Here’s another weird, childhood story about what it’s like having mentally unstable parents. Living with them was both confusing and explosive, like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich stuffed with incendiaries.
I woke up to a commotion in the kitchen downstairs. It was morning. It so was so bright the sun shone through the kitchen window like orange bars, as if the sun was just right outside, five feet away from the aluminum siding, ready to evaporate us all.
I had wandered down there, in only my nightgown, because I was four years old, and no one else was upstairs.
Before me, my mother stood on my side of the kitchen, wearing a terrycloth bathrobe over pajamas, facing my father, shouting at him and pointing furiously. He was on the other side of the table, hunched over the counter, with his hands inside the toaster, which had been partially taken apart. The reflective, mirrored side lay flat next to the sink. He returned her vinegar and spite, in quips and forced laughter, as he vigorously scrubbed the dull, inside pieces of the machine.
My head tilted sideways as I watched him, his elbow moved quickly up and down, his face was red, and his eyes were glued to the confines of the toaster.
Then, I heard my mother’s booming voice rise to higher amplitude and I only caught three words among the chaotic sputter of insults and accusations: “…that’s her toothbrush!”
I thought to myself, “whose toothbrush?”
If someone were to rewind again, but instead show the incident from my father’s perspective, we could maybe understand his rationale. Without an ability for him to admit that these events happened at all, we are left to speculate on what did or didn’t occur before the scene progressed to the calamity I witnessed.
He shot out of bed and ran full speed towards the toaster, ready for action.
Apparently, the toaster must have been broken or he was merely convinced it was in need of repair. Perhaps he just thought it was dirty.
In an industrious attempt of frugality and mechanics, he retrieved the screwdriver from a kitchen drawer. Then, he removed the four screws holding the faceplate onto the toaster.
He may or may not have even unplugged it. Familiarity with his carelessness nature led me to believe he probably didn’t unplug it. He could have laser-like focus on whatever irritation he was experiencing, but ignore anything not within his immediate attention.
For whatever reason, he became stumped. He found the inside of the toast-making apparatus, but he didn’t have the tool he’d need to complete the job. He must have thought to himself something like: “Okay, I need to clean this out to get it to work,” or “these toast crumbs in here have really been messing up my toast, I better remove them… for better toast.”
There was only one thing to do: he had to search for just the right doohickey, in that 2000 square foot house, amidst all the junk and crap we kept, to finish the job.
What I want to know is, did go down the hallway, climb up the carpeted staircase, poke his head into the pink, hallway bathroom, and specifically pluck my little, yellow toothbrush from its resting place, or did he look around for something else to use first?
Did he think, “Where am I going to get a child-size toothbrush at this hour?” followed by, “Ahah! I have a child, and she has a child-size toothbrush of which I have immediate access?” Following this, did he proclaim, “We’re saved!” do a jig back down the hallway, and happily sing shanties until he woke up my mother with his resounding joy?
Or, did he look around the entire kitchen, looking for anything usable, only to be left empty handed and hungry, from lack of toasted bread? Then, with his options running out, did he search the basement, only to, again, find nothing remotely usable? Did he, with a sallow, swollen frown, finally climb the stairs in heavy defeat, only to linger at the hallway bathroom, while the glint of the yellow toothbrush caught his eye? Did he mistake it for a tiny scrub brush used to clean really small parts of the bathroom?
For whatever reason, it’s really important for me to know whether he tried to find something to use or if he just went straight for my toothbrush. In some ways, the answer to this must speak to his character. Had he intended to clean it off afterwards and return it?
He tossed it aside on the counter and attempted to pop the face plate to the façade. The plastic, yellow stick no longer looked like my toothbrush, but instead looked old and all used up. I barely recognized it, as the brush was full of black grease, crumbs, and the bristles were curled and frayed.
However, I did recognize it. The realization and gravity of the moment hit me then, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time.
She continued to dog him, hurling word after word, until he strutted towards her, bowl legged, with his hand in his bellybutton. The toaster was left on its side, open, and in pieces. He held the toothbrush over the garbage can and dropped in one swift release of two fingers. It fell vertically into the trash. He sashayed towards the hall, while his fat face and mouth puckered into the shape of an open-mouthed kiss, and he declared that he was: “done.”
That’s almost where the memory ends. I probably had questions that were probably answered to the best of my mother’s willingness and ability. I most likely got a new toothbrush pretty soon afterwards.
In the same morning, I confirmed, with a look in the bathroom that, yes, my brush was actually missing from its holder. I looked more than once, as my tiny brain tried to process everything I had witnessed. I know I felt a twinge of loss that didn’t amount to much.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s probably I that I shouldn’t have ever been surprised when he was mean after this, except I was just a little kid, so I was super surprised, every time.
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