M

CNF: Their Marriage

by Andrew Stevens

 

Months before my mother’s mental breakdown, she found my father’s suicidal scribblings tucked away in the garage. She was delving through documents, digging up dirt before their divorce. Always too absent-minded to hide anything properly, this wasn’t the first time my father had left the closet door open with a spotlight shining toward the skeletons inside.

When I was thirteen, I found out about his third DUI when he left his lawyer’s information in the backseat of his car. He’d been cockeyed on cabernet when he carelessly crashed into a cop car. Technically, it was only his second offense. He wasn’t charged the first time — the police said his pain was punishment enough, his bones pulverized in ways that would never perfectly heal. It was 1981 — a different time; he’d be imprisoned, if it happened now.

He’d been training to be an Olympic cyclist; instead, he needed a hip replacement before he turned 50. He never rode a bike again. His hip surgery was performed by my former uncle — former, as my father’s sisters are about as successful at maintaining marriages as he is. My mother’s side has the opposite problem — they dig their digits deeper into their dead marriages, even decades after their undeniable demise.

Before my parents met, my mother’s parents separated for a short time — my grandmother left for New York. As she crossed the street en route to a Jewish singles meetup, she was struck by a car, instantly shattering any semblance of normalcy her life would ever have again. Brain-damaged, a shell of her former independent self, she returned to live with her estranged husband until the day she died. Each of their children internalized the same superstitious sentiment: “Never leave your spouse, or something bad will happen.”

My parents were only married a year when they got into their first big fight. Storming out, my father didn’t return home that night, leaving my mother panicked and perturbed. When a phone call from a jail cell confirmed he’d let the liquor take the wheel, my mother internalized a new strategy: “Never fight with him. Don’t make him angry.” That thought would worm its way into their marriage like a passive but penetrative parasite, slowly sustaining itself on the spirit of their withering affection and their cooperative, comfort-based cowardice.

I was born a year later. Having children sometimes allows you to put problems on hold. But beneath the surface, the leering leeches linger, lying in wait to escape in reenergized resentment when the nest empties.

My father idly threatened suicide several times during my parents’ year of so-called separation. Though the dissolution of their union was looming, they continued to live together in the house I grew up in. She made him breakfast every day, despite the disapproval of her friends and family.

I’ve held back from telling my father exactly how I feel, fearful of my honesty being the proverbial straw that breaks his back and ties his noose. Logically, I know his death wouldn’t be my fault, but logic doesn’t always get a say.

On a November night, I sat at home, stoned and dissociative, when an unknown number called. One of the neighbors had found my mother sitting on the porch in her robe, refusing to speak. She hadn’t been eating, drinking, sleeping. Her veins protruded, bright and blue, under her pale, malnourished skin.

Weeks later, with her attorney’s assistance, the divorce was finalized while my mother hid under blankets in the mental hospital, staring silently at the wall from her bed.

 

Andrew Stevens is a Seattle-based writer who specializes in self-deprecating flash nonfiction and marketing pieces about insurance. His work can be found nowhere else, due in large part to long-standing depression, insecurity, and laziness.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Their Marriage”?

There’s no chance I would have written this piece if it weren’t for the Assembly Literary Open Mic in Seattle – it’s an independently run open mic (and the only one I know of with the concrete, excellent rules of no stand-up, no slam poetry, and no snapping). I started attending last year and it provided me with a reason to start writing creatively again, something I hadn’t done in a long time. I decided to write about the most personal, potentially uncomfortable parts of my life, so I’d be forced to read those pieces out loud in front of an audience, because I find that to be cathartic, and because my life and family are a seemingly endless source of material.

News

Congrats to Christopher Allen for having a work from HOUSEHOLD TOXINS being chosen to appear in BSF 2019 from Sonder Press.

Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

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Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions is now CLOSED. Check out our new category triptychs! The next submission period opens September 15, 2019; submit here.

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