A short I wrote.
Merriel never really did understand. Her parents had coldly turned the news on her that they were getting divorced. She asked questions. They didn’t fulfill the expectation in one of the one times parents should indeed tell their children the truth. Well, maybe they did. Janet and Michael Hill, Merriel’s mother and father, called her to the dining table and Janet told her: “We are getting a divorce.” Merriel’s mom didn’t say this at first. At first, when Merriel first sat down, she thought that she was in trouble, but they cheesily glanced at each other and nodded. Merriel sat through some even cheesier explanation of how parents love children and love the family, but sometimes it’s not meant to be for the parents. Thinking back to this moment, Merriel realized some truth to what they said. They’d done a lot for her.
But the only words she could remember were: “We are getting a divorce.” It sounds like a TV drama when I write it like this, but that is how it was. A TV drama ingrained in a fictitious depiction of some convoluted message that I, the author, am trying to portray, only TV-drama-esque because of my inability to wholly express the story I am trying to tell. Reminds me of my memories I wish I could recall as an infant trying to ask for whatever I needed, or wanted.
Or Merriel’s, perhaps.
She was indifferent to the separation. It was beyond her control and there was no point dwelling on anything. She’d talk to her parents only a few times a day. When she did, Merriel never talked to them together — they were seldom together. So, when Merriel saw the two adults were sitting together at the table, she hesitated for a second before she continued to walk towards them.
After ‘the talk,’ she went back to her room on the second floor and opened her laptop and got on Facebook. She messaged Jane the news and read through the paragraphs replied in an attempt to comfort her. She stared at the computer screen with a calm face. The base of her sadness, more so anxiety or distress, was the fact that everybody else boosted the matter way out of proportion compared to how she felt about it. She felt pressured to be sad.
Her mom called her down for dinner a little bit afterward. She came down around 7pm and ate the steak and vegetables that Janet had ordered on her phone, probably while Michael was telling his side of the story during ‘the talk.’ Resourceful thinking.
After finishing her steak, she washed up and walked across the street to tutor Zach, an 9-year-old, mixed ethnicity (to the point of not being able to even know what his parents’ heritage was) boy with black hair and surprisingly at this age, thick glasses. He had trouble doing basic math problems and reading short passages. Many kids his age had similar problems. However, he went to the Terline Academy for gifted students where Merriel was currently a senior.
“Look at this one,” she said gently, “Can you add these two together?” He looked at the problem for about a minute with a determined expression on his face, but looked back up to Merriel and said, “No.” Merriel walked him through the problem, stacking the numbers on top of each other and later adding by combining the corresponding places (ones, tens, etc.), taking into account the overlapped amounts that exceeded the realm of the current place (if the ones place numbers’ sum exceeded 9, you have to add one to the tens place numbers and start back at zero in the ones’, she explained).
She felt good knowing she was tutoring a kid who needed it, but when she was in the act, she contracted a slight depression. She thought to herself, ‘Why can’t you get this? This is simple, wait till’ you get to Calculus. What are you going to do then?’ She felt that if solutions were obvious to her, they should be obvious to others. She expected people around her to understand what she thought even when she didn’t say what was on her mind. That was never possible, let alone true. Merriel knew that helping Zach was a positive thing, or at least the society around her said so. She would contemplate how natural selection should eventually eradicate lesser minds.
She didn’t know this, but Zach had an odd form of blended dyscalculia and dyslexia. Later, when he overcame these issues through work by a doctor turned half-psychologist named Ivan Venkatraman, an Indian-Swedish man who devoted his life to unlocking whatever possibilities he possibly could unlock in the brain, including the possibility of overcoming issues like dyslexia through weathering a person through techniques based on Bandura’s social learning theory, he ended up elucidating the Navier-Stokes Equations at age 19. Merriel could not comprehend his elucidation when she Googled his work after she saw him on the news being awarded a million dollars as well as a Field Medal, later on.
Merriel took credit for his success if he ever came up in conversation. She never mentioned the fact that she often despised tutoring him and in hindsight taught him nothing of any value.
Merriel read a lot, although nobody knew she did. She read on an off-brand e-reader she discovered in a shelf as she cleaned dorm rooms at Clouding University, a nearby reputable school that paid people to clean their dorms for $12/hr after every school year. When she found it, it still had some battery left in it and some books. She read all of them that summer.
She’d arbitrarily chosen one of them, The Idiot, as her favorite. Janet had read the book while she was in college, and Merriel liked to recite her favorite quotes in the most appurtenant moments. She wrote them down in the notebook she almost always carried in her backpack. She often said, ‘Grown-up people do not know that a child can give exceedingly good advice even in the most difficult case.’ It seemed fitting that she somehow sneaked that in this time, in the midst of the divorce and pertinent arguments that often bounced upon the walls of the house, and sometimes shook. But she didn’t feel the urge to.
She rather relayed in her mind another quote, “People never really understand, and sometimes there’s no point in helping them.” Her seventh grade teacher, Ms. Shiel had told Merriel that when the two were in the classroom after school discussing how other kids were being bullied. Merriel placed a lot more weight on that quote than it was probably intended to hold, and in different contexts. Why should she, not the bully, not the bullee, make an effort to explicate her own feelings into something others could grasp just so that they could provide her with half–rarely whole–hearted advice that usually didn’t help her at all and forced her to make an effort to nod and act okay when she really wasn’t, after the release of her emotions ended up overwhelming her into a dejected, lachrymal response. People rarely open up anyways. When Merriel did, she realized, with this statement in mind, that even with an almost instinctive outpour of emotions and thoughts, she instinctively hid things from her listener. So then, she had developed a double-sided shell (or maybe it was a sword) that blocked many ideas from entering or leaving her being and mind.
Her shell wasn’t that serious, though. It was more like a little film. She was still outgoing at social events and even at sleepovers where everybody would gossip and tell stories. She would open up. Just not all the way. It was too hard. She wouldn’t make much effort to internalize even serious advice like on how she should behave and perceive things. She took most new ideas as a grain of salt.
The one thing that should have been taken as a grain of salt, a statement from a middle school science teacher, Merriel internalized as a bowling ball.
Although she did that consciously, she eventually realized that she’d done it already. Everybody else seemed to, too, but she never made an effort to investigate that phenomena much further. She had other things to do. Merriel was very money-driven. Whenever there was a decent-enough paying task, she took it. Tutoring, cleaning, babysitting, you name it.
When Merriel returned from her lackluster session, she went up to her room and washed up. The bathroom connected her bedroom to the guest bedroom, where she sometimes slept because it had a larger bed. She showered for twenty or thirty minutes, as usual. Merriel treated cleaning herself as sacred. She experimented different amounts of soap injected into the loofa to see if it would return different cleaning and bubble intensities. She grabbed the shampoo, body gel, and conditioner bottles with her eyes closed, testing her mental map of the shower. As she brushed through her brown hair and massaged the rest of her body with the loofa with other hand, she held a constant slight smile across her face. Even at the age of seventeen, Merriel blushed when she cleaned her ladyparts.
Merriel wrapped her hair in a towel with a flipping motion. She flossed her teeth before going through her routine of counting to thirty while brushing each section (top-left, bottom-left, top-middle, and so on) to make sure her teeth were squeaky clean (she did a quality check afterwards by rubbing an area on her teeth from each section for a fulfilling squeak — if she did not feel or hear it, she would go and brush that section again).
She, now perked up from refreshing herself, floated towards her bed. She stopped in between the bathroom door and her bed to see her father.
Michael stared back at her with an uneasy, bloodshot-eyed, teeth-clenched, but calm, expression on his face. “Honey, “ he muttered as took his left hand from behind his back, revealing, ever so slightly, his Colt. Merriel stopped for a split second. She realized that running straight back for the bathroom would leave a straight line for him to shoot in, if that gun was intended to shoot her. Her bedroom door was to the right, but he’d take less time to maneuver the gun in that direction since he was pulling it from his left side. Her left side was a wall, though. She ran for the door.
“Why?“ she asked herself.
Janet heard a loud boom from upstairs and didn’t think too much of it. People often think that if they hear a gunshot, they will instantly know that it is. They think that these murders that happen in broad daylight are insane because there should have been bystanders. But, within the confinement of a room or house, it’s pretty hard to discern what loud noise is what. Somebody probably dropped something, or knocked something over, Janet thought. She still rushed up to check on what happened.
Merriel’s door was open. Merriel heard her coming up and ran towards her movement. The bullet had travelled straight in front of Michael, into the bathroom and lodged into the door on the opposite side — the side that opened to the guest room. Michael’s body stood still. Well, it stayed in a similar position for a while after he pulled the trigger while his body grew weak and trembled. Janet, after she saw Merriel running out with a flash of fear in her eyes, she finally understood that everything was not normal or mundane. She tip-toed and sprinted at the same time to the door and peeked her head barely beyond the thicker-than-usual frame.
Janet wept. “Call the police, “ she commanded Merriel. Merriel dialed a couple minutes before.
The policeman who interrogated Janet and Merriel spoke with a soft and solemn voice. The two were independently convinced that this man had been designated and trained to talk to traumatized victims.
“Now, ” he continued, “he only shot one bullet, which hit the bathroom door, correct?”
“Yep.” Merriel responded.
The questions ceased and the police lights still filled the cul-de-sac. Janet did not feel satisfied. She put up a concerned, yet strong front in front of Merriel and everybody else and began her own interrogation. Anybody with the slightest social intuition could tell that she was dead-scared. Merriel watched as she asked the policeman what was going to happen to Michael, what they should do now, if they should stay in the house tonight or somewhere else, who she should call in case something else happens, and a slew of other seemingly unnecessary but albeit normal questions at least from the policeman’s point-of-view, who had indeed handled situations like these countless times. He responded easily and smoothly. When Janet was finished, the two females walked back inside, the lights faded out and the crowd of cars and uniforms subsided.
“Do you want to sleep in my room tonight?” Janet hopefully asked.
Merriel stared at her mother for a second. Janet’s eyes showed that this was a plea for some comfort. She said okay. Merriel used to sleep in the same room as her mother back when her father went out on long business trips in the winters, when his company would hold conferences and training in various overseas headquarters. He worked as a little big-shot in JD, an electronics company whose products spanned from wall-tablets to dishwashers. After he got laid off, he did some consulting for local businesses and made some extra cash via flipping sites, old electronic parts, cars and whatever he could find a good deal on that he could improve that was within his realm of knowledge. Family time was him being home. Merriel subtly envied how many kids went on family outings, like trips to the mall or to the movies. She seldom thought about it consciously, but on occasion she found herself having an odd longing to eat together at the dinner table or watch T. V. together. Her family never did – that is – in a light that made it seem like family time. There would be occasions when they were all together eating or watching something on the T. V., but it would feel distant. Everybody was watching at the same time. Everybody was eating at the same time. However, they never ate together. They never watched together.
Most families in modern times are like this. Merriel saw this. Her generation was ingrained in technology like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Instagram and texting and blogging and Reddit-ing and even emailing (sometimes) to the point where people were more infatuated in their popularity and acceptance in those mediums than in real classrooms and real malls and real social situations. Birthday parties would be lame in reality, where everybody would barely know what to talk about other than new things on their phones or the immediate activities that were planned by the hosts. However, on the social networks half an hour after the party ended and the attendees returned to their computers, the parties would be blown up out of proportion into wild extravaganzas of perfectly posed and edited square photos, videos of the songs sang, and selfies with the rest positioned in a line behind them. Merriel participated in all of this. She took pictures and edited them with three apps before posting them. In the generation above hers, parents and even singles tried to either craft their own personas into this new era of digital-togetherness (which was actually aloneness) or work so hard that they never had to, to support their children to pursue whatever there was to pursue in the mysteriously developing world. She was alone, and so was everybody else in some way or another. Her friends never talked about their parents just as Merriel never talked about hers.
Merriel and her friends had long face-to-face conversations when they needed to. They were filled with weird nuances and pressure to say more and more. When one spoke, it felt like they were just throwing out words for others to catch; they didn’t talk to each other, usually. Of course, some people still enjoyed real conversation, but the population that was growing to see it as a chore was, well, growing. People, old or young, had few friends. Work was the primary focus for the adults and leisure time was doing chores around the house. Merriel loved watching videos and movies on her computer. She could discuss those.
Everything dwindled down to a silence by 11:00pm. Merriel accordingly threw herself on the couch with her laptop and worked on an essay. She didn’t know what to talk to her mother about, who was also in the living room on the opposite corner of the soft grey, sectional couch. These were both of their assumed positions whenever they both decided to not be in their respective working areas. Janet thought long and hard about what to say about what had just happened, but she knew that she would get over-emotional and likely scare Merriel back to her room to work on her laptop. Both of them continued typing away.
Merriel moved her toes forward and then sprung them back into position. She’d made a habit of it when she used to go for long walks around the neighborhood and needed to release pent up stress in her feet. Her mom pointed it out whenever she saw it by doing it herself. Merriel noticed Janet moving her feet in her peripheral vision and looked up at her and smiled. She didn’t stop. Janet did.
“You’re okay, right mom?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
“What are you doing on your computer?”
“I’m seeing how this whole thing is going to affect the whole separation thing.”
Merriel looked back puzzled.
“It probably means that you’re going to stay with me,” Janet said with a hint of joy.
“I’m cool with that,” Merriel sighed in relief. They both smiled.
Merriel began to draw her attention away from the laptop screen, jittery after the short conversation. She turned to the right and looked at the stairs. They looked forbidden now that the officers had placed some tape in a couple areas where Michael had bled. The officers had not handled him easily. She stared at her mom through the corner of her peripheral vision so that Janet wouldn’t think it weird.
It started raining. Wind was strong. Merriel could tell by the scattered thumping and scratching sounds. She never thought about it before but realized the sounds came from the trees rubbing on the outside of the house, not the rain itself. She noticed that her toes had started fluctuating again. Her eyes grew tired.
Janet went to bed at 12:45am. Merriel stayed put. She thought it weird to go to bed at the same time, although she knew she would end up going there anyways. So, she waited.
She stayed up for two more hours. She closed her laptop a few minutes after her mother had gone to bed. Merriel had a quick, young metabolism that incited frequent snack trips to the kitchen. She ate a couple cheese sticks and eventually cooked herself an omelette. Most of the time her snacks would not be this heavy, but it was quite a while since she had eaten. The change of plans that evening had tired her. Merriel ate the omelette with fork and knife. She couldn’t stand the uncooked residue left on the plate when she cut the omelette, so she sweeped and held it against the piece she was bringing towards her mouth with the knife. At her second-to-last piece, she cut her bottom lip with the knife. Merriel moved the silverware from her mouth and clenched her eyes and bit her lip gently and sucked. She liked the taste of her blood — not in a scary way. She dabbed a napkin on her lip and checked it for red. There wasn’t much. She held her bottom lip under her upper teeth for a little longer and finished the remaining pieces of omelette. She made sure to clean the plate with her fork on the last piece.
Merriel placed the plate and silverware in the sink. She looked at the sponge and touched it. She hesitated for a second and just rinsed plate with water. She told herself she’d wash it all in the morning, but in the back of her mind she knew her mother would clean it before she remembered them. She washed up again. Merriel would seldom go to bed if she had gone outside (she went outside to talk to the police) without cleaning. She was cautious this time exiting the bathroom, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. She could only remember a couple instances when she was at camp.
She climbed into bed. Her father had been away for a little while to look at a car collection he was planning on purchasing. He hadn’t slept in that bed for a while. Even in the dark, Merriel saw that the pillow wasn’t crinkled and the sheets were perfectly straight. Janet still slept on the one side out of habit, Merriel thought to herself. It was actually because she knew Merriel would need space to sleep.
She envied the way her mother would always be calm even during arguments. Michael would yell but she would still get her word out. Her presence, even in the bed as Merriel glanced over, dominated. Maybe Janet just seemed this way because she was Merriel’s mother.
Merriel tugged the sheets over from her mother to cover herself completely; she always had to cover herself in bed. Even in the summer, the she’d wrap herself in the flat top sheet. It did make a difference to be tucked in, even if the bedding ended up the same way a minute later. She felt the cotton’s intimate rubbing on her skin. Languor permeated through Merriel as she finally situated herself. She wiggled her toes and feet to tuck the sheets under them. Merriel longed for the sensation of being held by Janet as a kid, as a baby. She wished she could actively remember it. She associated sleeping with reminding herself of things that had happened. She’d read articles on how the brain replays thoughts as one dreams. Sleeping was a way of reminding herself of the abstract comfort of being in her mother’s womb. She looked over again at her mother. Merriel took the sheets off. She walked back out to the kitchen and got a glass of water. She cleaned the dishes and put them away. The rain had stopped and the house grew silent as she turned off the faucet.