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Dec 28, 2005

They might just as well've been closed.
In please, with this question:

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?


Dec 28, 2005

They might just as well've been closed.
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

1000 words

“No, Dad, sorry, we can’t make it,” Beth recited into the mirror. “Alex has a field trip that week that he really can’t miss.”

No, he’ll want to know where to. Then he’ll ask for pictures, or worse, ask Alex about it. She couldn’t expect her 8 year old to keep up the lie.

“No, that week doesn’t work, Mike can’t get the time off work.” She shrugged her shoulders apologetically, trying to sound convincing.

Maybe, but then he’ll want to know why I don’t just come alone.

“I checked the prices, and well, it’s spring training season, flights are crazy. I just don’t think it’s in the budget,” she tried.

No, that’s worse. He’ll offer to pay, and then I’ll owe him.

Beth sighed and leaned against the bathroom wall. She looked down at the unanswered text from her father.

“Call when you can, I have a proposal.”

Thanks to a quick call from her brother, she already knew the “proposal” was everyone flying in for a family reunion in a few months. She wouldn’t mind seeing the rest of the family, but neither side had put much effort into keeping in touch. Beth wished them all well and hoped they were leading happy, fulfilling lives, and that they thought the same of her. But the thought of traveling back “home,” seeing them all, dealing with her father, dredging up the past... It was enough to make her practice lies and excuses into the bathroom mirror.

Beth wondered for the twentieth time if she was being unreasonable. Now nearing his retirement years, her father was generally an upbeat, happy man, well-liked, who spent most of his free time hiking with church friends. He remembered Beth and her brother’s childhood fondly, through some very rose-colored glasses, although he did admit they sometimes had “disagreements.”

But… the “disagreements” were much more dramatic in Beth’s memory, and she had spent many years since in therapy, working to undo the damage they had caused. All the more reason why she felt so annoyed that a simple text from him could disrupt her day so fully, turn her right back into an anxious teenager. She had worked hard to process her memories of holes drunkenly punched in walls; of her father tossing their bedrooms as though they were prisoners, searching for drugs or booze but only ever finding Harry Potter books or wrestling magazines, which were swiftly confiscated and thrown out; of her brother kicked out of the house and homeless just three months before graduation. Their father wasn’t a man who thought critically, his Bible and his pastor guided his choices. Except for the time Beth had broken down and tearfully told the pastor’s wife about her home life. The pastor tried to meet with her father privately, which had ended with her father red-faced and shouting. They switched to a new church on the other side of town the very next week.

Throughout her childhood, she watched her brother fight back and stand up for himself. And she saw where his strength and resolve landed him: a black eyes, a bloodied lip, humiliated, eventually on the streets. Her own response was the opposite: do whatever is asked, never get upset, survive. Years later, she was still unlearning this. Hence, the reason her brother could so easily blow off the invitation, where Beth had to come up with something at least halfway convincing to get out of it.

She knew her situation wasn’t unique. Parents and children fight. All families have their own dysfunctions. Everyone has their own battle to fight, their own trauma to overcome. She didn’t begrudge her father his now seemingly perfect life or his all-smiles personality. What truly hurt was how he had never once apologized or owned up to any of his actions. If this were a 12 step program, he’d skipped straight to the spiritual awakening without any of the messy, ugly work of actually making amends with anyone.

Still unprepared but at least ready to get it over with, Beth squared her shoulders and dialed the phone. A nice combo of lies 2 and 3 might do the trick.

Five minutes into the pitch, she was already worn down with guilt.

“And your grandparents! They would be so surprised to see you. They won’t be around forever you know…”

“Mhmm,” Beth mumbled.

“I keep telling you it’s important to keep in touch with your family, I know you don’t want to hear it anymore…”

“Yeah, I know.” Maybe I should just go, at least then he’ll get off me about it.

She paced up and down the hallway, staring at the floor tiles while listening. A sharp bark brought her to the window. Out in the backyard, her son sprinted through the overgrown grass, their dog Henry close behind and nipping at his heels. Words still streamed from the phone, but Beth had stopped paying attention, instead watching Alex and Henry tumble and play. She smiled, thinking of all the things she could do instead of making the trip home. Camping. The water park. Hell, staying home and helping Alex with his homework -- any of it would be better than wasting time and money to be uncomfortable.

Will I always be a deer in headlights around him? I don’t owe him anything. Not time, not a lie, not even the truth. I don’t have room in my life for this poo poo.

The thought had always been there, in the back of her mind. But now, in a moment of clarity, she made the choice to listen to it.

I. Don't. Have. To.

A weight lifted, the muscles she had been holding tense relaxed. She broke in mid-sentence.

“You know what Dad? We can’t make it. Sorry, sounds great, but we just can’t. I’ve got to go, talk to you later.” Her voice never wavered.

She hung up and headed towards the backyard, somewhere she actually wanted to be.

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