Word Choice

morgan temple

 

 

 

My family was not entirely poor and yet not entirely rich. We were living between the slums of town, where the sidewalk cracks could reach China and where the towering mansions, with their bright lights, could bring down airplanes.
 
Our home, if you could call it that, stood a measly one story. It was nothing more than a rancher shoehorned between the edge of the street and another raggedy house that was its twin. It was big enough for the small family of four, three now that my brother had skipped off to pursue more exciting things, completely abandoning his room and leaving me stuck with our parents.
 
Ask anyone on the street and they will surely to tell you that my parents, my father especially, were such wonderful people. The neighbors fawned over them, saying that they were so sweet and friendly and always willing to talk. This whole "friendly nature" was true on the outside; however, the truth was they were not the friendliest people.
 
I remember hearing somewhere, possibly in a song that was playing on the school bus or maybe in outdated textbooks at school, that people have different types of faces. Not like that crazy buffalo guy from Silence of the Lambs (a movie my brother practically worshipped for its "artistry"), but the ones that reflect a person's different personalities. Each face, from what I can recall, is meant to be seen by a different audience. There is a face for home; this face is the closest to one's true self. There is also a face for friends: one that held some lies, but had aspects of the true self. Finally, there is a face for work: the complete façade that hid the true you from those with whom you spoke. The changing of these faces, or rather masks, was a skill that I always thought my father had perfected. That is, until I saw his mask crack and the monster behind it reared its ugly face.
 
Just as I turned thirteen, and officially became a teenager, the economy took a turn for the worst. People who used to flash their fat wallets around town were looking for quarters in old, long out-of-use payphones. The financial stress changed my family's dynamic. My mother, naturally the sweeter of the two, became more reserved. She was the type of person to bottle the stress inside, waiting for it to either dissipate or explode. It was a survival instinct, something she learned to do to avoid the angry words that liked to occasionally slip from my father's mouth. Father was a small man, no taller than 5'4. Over the course of his life, he learned that his stature could never intimidate anybody, so he started to rely on his sharp tongue instead. As I became more aware of the personalities that occupied the dump I lived in, I learned how to handle my father's explosive tendencies. I learned to tiptoe around numerous topics, never knowing which one of them would set him off. Any time we spoke about a sore subject—the typical ones being politics, race, and types of cars—my lips once again took on the role of a bomb squad, carefully deciding which words to use, which wires to cut, in order to keep a language onslaught from coming my way. I became skilled at this task and when things got too close, like a spark nearly lighting a stick of dynamite, I knew I could escape into the recesses of my room.
  
This tactic worked well, unless I had no way of dodging the conversation. Rides in the car with my father became a prison. The back seat of our destroyed Jeep composed my cell, its chipped red paint and peeling leather seats reminding me of dried glue on a preschooler's hand. Being the 13-year-old I was, I constantly fought the urge to spit back my own venom against the snide comments my father constantly spouted. Some might say this was because of the hormones in my "changing body." I like to think it was just me growing tired of his bullshit.
 
These horrible types of remarks were especially ripe during the long car rides to visit my brother. He had moved to another state, which was great for him, but horrible for me because it meant that I was stuck in the car with my parents for over an hour. The environment brewed anger and frustration to such high levels it rose like lava boiling at the top of the volcano, seeping slowly over the sides, waiting to erupt. Usually I was able to block out the world with my headphones (thank God for modern technology), but on one crisp winter day, in my 13th year on this earth, the seal on my lips began to break.
 
After visiting my brother at his shady apartment building, we were driving somewhere else (somewhere irrelevant). My father began his tirade on fellow drivers. I heard bits and pieces of words, saying how an asshole had cut him off. Whether or not this was true, I had no idea; I followed my usual routine and I cranked up the volume of my music a little louder. I continued this as our ride went on. I could still hear him screaming obscenities like a wild, angry ape. The volume was so high it was vibrating my face but I could still hear him bitching. I had enough and couldn't keep my lips locked any longer. I felt the words rising, filling my mouth and nearly spilling over. Something had turned on the faucet and my anger began to spill forward. My thoughts raced out, allowing all in my presence, including my father, to hear my outburst. Once the sea of words stopped gushing, I froze.
 
My mouth had betrayed me, had thrown a toaster in the bathtub. There was nothing to get me out of it this time, no bomb shelter, no escape. I turned my head towards the window, trying to forget what just happened, hoping to distract myself by looking at the icy fields on our left.
 
I could always jump out of the car, I thought fleetingly, but a passing glance at the rolling asphalt told me otherwise. All my training failed me, my mouth now a Benedict Arnold to my mind. I shifted my eyes slowly towards my father. Since the words left my mouth, the car had begun to move again and we were no longer stuck in traffic. My father looked straight ahead at the road, his face a contortion of pink and purple gradients. This was it; the dense quiet before the dropping of a nuclear bomb and its aim was solely focused on me.
 
I began to brace myself for the tyrant's rampage, but the eruption never came. The string that had sewn my lips together and held them tight throughout my life had been snipped permanently, allowing words once again to flow freely from my mouth. These new words were snarky, not a retaliation like before. It was like the bomb squad had become the bombers, trying to set him off. Nothing but deafening silence resounded in the crappy Jeep. The ride was torture. How many times had I begged for his silence only for it to come alongside this feeling of regret? I was on edge for the remainder of the ride. The silence continued after we arrived home and even turned the solace of my room into absolute agony. I was used to being yelled at, being spoken down to, but I was not used to being ignored. My candor had brought about deafness to my world.



Morgan Temple is a senior English major with a minor in History. She enjoys clichéd horror films and toy hunting.