The perfect family lives down the street from me. The mom is so sweet. She doesn’t judge me when I yell at my kids. They live in the green house with a long driveway. They have a boy and a girl and two dogs. I see the daughter walk the younger dog most days and on occasion the father walks the older dog. The mom acts as the Easter Bunny for kids in the neighborhood and is so friendly. The son, we’ve seen ride his bike past; he seems so committed to his health! The daughter comes off a little aloof and somewhat mean, for she rarely smiles, but every family has one. The husband is quiet, a feat sometimes I wish my own would emulate.
We seem like the perfect family. My mother ever-so the social butterfly. She always scoffs when parents apologize for yelling at their kids. We live in the green house with a long driveway. It’s my brother, me, and my parents. I walk our dog who doesn’t have hip issues almost every day. Sometimes, my dad walks our crippled boy to avoid my mother’s wrath. My mother acts like the Easter Bunny for the kids in the neighborhood, constantly putting on the show so that more people will admire her. My brother rides his bike at dinner time most days, so that instead of more stress at dinner after work he gets peace. I put my walls up a long time ago. It’s hard to get to know me, despite how smiley I once was. My dad is quiet too. I think after 30 years he just doesn’t have the fight left in him.
When the mom invited us over, her home seemed so quaint. It was quiet and clean, something my home has never known. She apologizes for her husband’s pile of junk and her son’s sweatshirt left about, but she doesn’t realize how much worse our home is; hers is like a dream. I suppose as the kids age, they’ll become more like her kids, or so I hope. She has snacks in abundance and the grace of a saint. Her home is big and beautiful, while we stop outside her daughter’s door, the guest room is a beauty I could only imagine. Outside, her husband even pulls out pool toys for my kids as they splash about and turns on the water slide. Joy and peace must live here.
Our house is quiet. Common areas clean. This is how my mother likes it. Each of us is afraid to make a sound, for fear of it setting off my mother. She says she doesn’t mean to yell at us or that she’s not upset with us, she’s upset with the world, but it’s us she screams at. We cannot defend ourselves or object when she screams, a lesson my brother and I learned long ago. When we used to object at the screaming, our mother would ask us if we wanted DCF’s number; she worked with abused kids and DCF, and we were not abused. It was a laughable assertion to her. The only remnants of three disorganized people in this home are my dad’s everything pile and my brother’s sweatshirt never in his room, things that make her yell. The guest room is supposed to be a place for overflow storage for all, a place my dad pleaded to work so he didn’t have to work in the basement during COVID-19, but my mother banned it. My dad smiles around guests, but I can always hear my mom telling him that he’s a shitty husband echoing in the distance. The guest room is only for show. Joy and peace have never even visited this place.
I can’t imagine this family being anything but perfect. They are what you see when you look up suburbia in the dictionary. That’s what I thought, that’s what I knew. I started to doubt that when the daughter walked past our home in shorts and my youngest tugged on my shirt, whispering into my ear “what are those scratches on her leg?” I wasn’t sure that my baby had seen correctly; I was positive it couldn’t be true. They were the perfect family and she was the perfect example of a mother. When the daughter came past again, I looked where my child had looked and I could no longer deny it. A sea of faded white scars explained every bit of aloofness. I gave my innocent little child the angel explanation that night. I told that sweet baby that sometimes angels accidentally make it to Earth and it’s hard for them, because they’re too good and sensitive for the world around them, so they end up hurting themselves, trying to get back to Heaven. It’s not true, but I pray my baby will never know that pain or have to understand how much pain it takes to do that. After my youngest starts to snore lightly, I kiss him on his perfect head and research the effects of yelling on children. I don’t yell ever again.
I started self harming when I was eleven. At first it was just taking the clasp of my watch band and pushing it as hard as possible into my wrist. Sometimes I went as far as pushing my nail into my hand and moving it to try and draw blood. I have two scars on my hand from this. I tried to commit suicide when I was twelve. It was all so much and I was alone and in pain. I didn’t know the difference between real sleeping pills and the melatonin my mother took at night to help her sleep, so I woke up six hours later with a tummy ache. I started cutting myself when I was sixteen. The physical pain eased the ineffability of the emotional pain. It made it easier not to feel all those messy and difficult feelings. I planned to commit suicide when I was eighteen. Everything was too much and I was in so much pain. I planned to take the rope we had been practicing our rock climbing knots with and wrap it around my neck, but we had French book club the next day and I wanted to discuss the ending of Le Petit Prince. I didn’t respond well to the environment where I grew up, but I was blessed enough to feel true love that I know better now. I know the next time I fall, it needs to feel safe and warm as it did with the first, not conditional and harsh as it did growing up. I pray one day, we realize that we shouldn’t yell at our children anymore.