Secrets at Home….
The delicate aroma of garlic and onions frying in the saucepan can be smelt throughout the house. Mum enjoyed cooking as she told me it gave her time to think about life. Mum was a people pleaser just like Grandma and one way to make people happy was through good food they both would say.
My Grandma had been adventurous, always trying new flavours and new recipes from every culture imaginable. Mum had been brought up believing every family ate paella from Spain one night, Matambre from Argentina the following night and delicious Turkish desserts like the sweet pastry Baklava the next.
Mum is nothing like Grandma, in looks or personality. Mum’s features are fair and delicate, blending into each other as if fading into a background scene. Grandma had strong features; red hair, fierce eyes and naturally tanned skin, which glowed with health. Mum has none of the courage and confidence Grandma possessed.
Mum is scared of failing as a mother and fearful to leave the comfort of being at home to find a job. She is afraid of disappointing Dad but lately that is happening on a daily basis. She often talks about Grandma and how much she missed her and her advice.
Mum reaches for the garlic and adds another small spoonful, hoping that the garlic would help disguise some of the flavours that may not suit the meal. She fells tired this evening, unusually tired. With so much going on between the twins and I, Mum often wonders aloud when she will ever get time for herself
“Alexx,” shouts Mum, “Come and help me prepare dinner.”
After a few moments without a response, Mum shouts again but this time more forcefully, letting me know she means now, not when the cooking is complete. I groan and stomp into the kitchen with a sulky expression planted on my face showing her that she is being unfair by asking me to help with dinner
“Why do you never ask Bree or Ella to help? It’s always me,” I whine
Mum ignores my comments, handing me the wooden spoon for stirring the casserole. While Mum continues cooking the rice, I continue mumbling under my breath just how much life is unfair at the moment
“You never answered my question Mum,” I sneer agitated she isn’t taking me seriously
“What do you want me to say?” she replies. “You are older than the twins and sometimes I simply need your help, that’s all.”
“I hate cooking though.
Mum stops cooking, slowly turning towards me. She reaches out and cups my face gently in her hands, her love for me seeping into my skin. Her soft eyes glaze over as she pulls me into her soft embrace.
“I’m sorry darling. If you really hate cooking then just go and set the table. Grandma used to make me cook and I think that’s why I don’t like cooking now. I don’t want this happening to you too.”
“Thanks Mum,” I reply, relieved that I is no longer cooking.
As I reach for the cutlery to set the table I lean into Mum, kissing her quickly on the cheek to return the warm feelings.
“You’re the best.”
Heading into the family room, my arms full of knives, forks and plates, attempting a difficult balancing act, I think about what Mum has said. Life rotates in circles, Grandma had made Mum do stuff she didn’t like and now Mum does the same to me. If I complain enough that I hate something I might be able to get out of chores around the house. And the twins would have to do more.
Last week Ella had complained about eating brussels sprouts. “They taste disgusting,” whinged Ella folding her arms across her chest in defiance against the food on her plate. “I hate them and I’m not eating them!”
“Come on darling,” soothed Mum, leaning across the table to assist Ella with her food. “You can at least try them.”
“I have tried them and they make me feel sick!”
“You haven’t even tasted them,” Mum responded, but the insistence in her voice drained away when she realised Ella was going to stand her ground.
Mum had hated brussels sprouts as a child too and hated the thought of forcing her children to eat food she had once hated.
“OK you don’t have to eat the sprouts but you must eat the rest,” she responded with a heavy sigh over being defeated once again.
Ella nodded with a satisfied grin on her face and began devouring the remainder of her dinner like the very hungry caterpillar who didn’t know when to stop.
As I begin setting the table, still conjuring up new ways to have my life a ‘chore free zone’, Dad came home from work throwing the car keys on the bench and kissing Mum hello on the cheek.
“What a long day,” he mumbles inhaling the wonderful aromas spreading throughout the kitchen. “Casserole again huh?”
That one tiny comment made Mum angry, reacting like a little child being told NO, going into meltdown mode with a mini tantrum. I laugh to myself at seeing Mum behave so childlike.
“You said you are going to be supportive,” she screams, making me lose focus on setting the table.
“Hold on there Susan, I just made a flippant comment,” replies Dad calmly.
“A flippant comment! I have had enough of your so-called flippant comments.”
“Calm down,” Dad says, trying to soothe the situation in a civilised manner.
“I don’t want to calm down.”
“Keep your voice down then,” Dad continues, trying to keep their argument a secret from the twins and I
All those noises, terrible hurtful noises echoing throughout the house. I hate this. I hate this. I begin to feel light-headed, dropping a knife onto the floor barely missing my foot hidden inside a bright blue bed sock. I place my hands over my ears, closing my eyes tightly, attempting to remove myself from this situation, from this overwhelming noise.
My head dropping in desperation to shut out the world, shut out the screaming and shut out the nightmares I have every night.
It was around Christmas last year when the arguing began. I was on the phone to Roxie, giggling and gossiping about the day’s events at school. Those were the two things I loved, talking on the phone and laughing with friends. Roxie often made me do most of the talking which didn’t bother me. She was a great listener and I was a great talker.
“I can’t believe Mrs M had such a go at Tommy in class today,” I said lying in the hallway with my legs up against the wall and my back on the floor.
Roxie replied laughing, “Yeah, well Tommy deserved it, he thinks he is so cool.
“He is pretty cool though, don’t you think?”
“Umm, not really, except that he is good at soccer. Can you stop telling me how cool all these boys are? I don’t like any boys,” Roxie said, laughing even harder than before because I always brought things back to boys.
“You know I like Brendon too but he…,” I stopped short when I heard Mum screaming in an unusual tone.
It instantly made me feel uneasy, like being told off by your favourite teacher in front of the entire class for doing nothing at all. Dad shouted back in an angry voice he normally saved for when we have seriously misbehaved. This is wrong, it sounded so wrong. I had never heard them speak like that ever, especially not to each other.
“Alexx, are you there? I is only joking about…”
“Shh,” I interrupted, not really wanting to listen but trying to understand what was happening.
Roxie was unaware of what is going on but from the tone of my voice, she knew to be quiet.
Back and forth went the conversation between Mum and Dad. Shouting, whispering, sniggering, murmurs, undertones, mumbling. I could hear it all but understood nothing. I sat up from lying on the floor, still with the phone to my ear but paying no attention to Roxie, devoting all my attention to the situation in the other room.
My head started to thump like someone is playing bongo drums deep inside of my brain. It hurt, I mean really hurt. The phone fell from my grasp as I placed my hands over my ears trying to drown out the noise and control the intense pain growing stronger inside.
As my eyes glassed over from the uncontrollable flow of tears. The twins were mentioned, their names, repeated again and again. I tried to fight back the tears to listen for my name but they continued flowing against my will. As the screaming grew more intense, I sat in a cradle position holding tightly onto my knees wishing I was somewhere else. The arguing never stopped from that moment on.
Releasing the remainder of the knives, forks and plates I am holding, I sprint to my room, my sanctuary, slamming the door hard behind me, not caring if it fell from its hinges. As I threw myself onto my bed, the pounding in my head began again, like every other time Mum and Dad argued. It is a pounding I believe I must deserve in some way. Maybe it isn’t only the twins’ fault, maybe it is my fault too.
With my head hidden deep under the pillow and my body curled up into a ball, I lay on the bed, trying to escape the noise. This can’t be normal. I have never heard Roxie’s parent behave like this, or my aunt Vicki and Uncle Paul, or any of my friends parents come to think of it. What is wrong with my family?
I had always thought the weird one in the family, other than my annoying little sisters, is Uncle Paul. He is what Mum calls ‘the arty type’. His hair is long, tangled and always looks dirty. His glasses are thick making his eyes look distorted, blending into his face, which is covered in hair, more hair than Santa Claus. He always smells like soaking wet clothes rotting in a corner, bundled up tightly in a ball never having the chance to air out. It is a disgusting smell and unique to Uncle Paul.
He is extremely smart as well, a scientist of some sort, working with decontaminated water or something like that. Mum doesn’t seem to like Uncle Paul as she never wants him in the house but he married her sister so she has no choice but to put up with him.
When Mum talks about the day Aunt Vicki introduced Uncle Paul to her, she pulls horrified faces. She recalls smiling politely when she reached out to shake hands, already making her mind up that this man was just too weird for her sister to marry. Uncle Paul barely speaks to anyone, barely seems interested in anything but Aunt Vicki and himself.
An overwhelming sense of embarrassment races through my body. I suddenly realised how ‘not’ normal my family has become. We used to be like everyone else, normal. Now Mum and Dad can’t seem to be in the same room without arguing or shouting or creating a tension that even the twins could sense. This can’t be happening to me. It isn’t fair. Why me? I am normal. I am one of the popular kids, with lots of friends, great friends, and normal friends. What will everyone think if they knew what is happening at home?
I have to keep this a secret from everyone, especially from my friends. There is to be no discussion about Mum or Dad again. If I am feeling sorry for myself or sad in my heart because of what they are doing, I will just keep it to myself and pretend everything is as it used to be. I am old enough now to keep secret, everyone keeps secrets. Keeping secrets doesn’t hurt anyone, it isn’t lying…just secrets.
Keeping secrets is the same as pretending, just like I did when I was a little girl. I used to pretend I was a mum. I adored my mum, and desperately wanted to be just like her. I thought she is the most wonderful person in the world. There was nothing my mum couldn’t do. I felt safe with her. I knew she would protect me, save me from the monsters and boogy men that sometimes hid in my room at night. Pretending to be a mum made me feel unique, and an important part of the family.
The hardest person to keep a secret from will be Roxie. She is different from my other friends as she has a peculiar ability to really understand me. So many times Roxie and I can read each others thought, like it is a magical connection we possess. It can be a little spooky sometimes how much we really know each other’s inner thoughts.
We don’t always have to talk about things; often the silence between us can be louder than words. Roxie understands me better than I think I understand myself. People wait a lifetime for a friend like Roxie and not only had I found this rare treasure, but this treasure is right next door. I know it sounds weird and a little creepy but some days I think Roxie might be been my long-lost twin sister.
Only recently in maths class, Ms Jenkins is up the front of the class going on about times tables. Poppy was being a little annoying and trying to tell me all about a movie she went to see over the weekend with Bella. I wanted to listen to her but I also needed to listen to Ms Jenkins to understand the work. I had never told any of my friends that I liked maths, that I really liked maths. It isn’t cool to like maths, especially when you are trying to be friends with the popular group.
With Poppy in one ear chatting away and Ms Jenkins in the other, I was being torn between the two worlds I realised my life is becoming. Friends or school, work or having fun, loving maths… or fitting into the cool group.
My head desperately tried to take in all the noise around me, the good noises, the bad noises but this only caused all the noise to become one jumbled forum. It was like being caught under the water with bubbles popping all around, confusing you, trying to make you listen but the constant popping, floating, movement of the bubbles making it difficult to know what to do. I was trapped, caught in the middle of everything and unable to find a way out.
Amongst all my confusion, Roxie somehow could see clearly. She could read my thoughts, see my confusion and saw the bubbles popping everywhere. I don’t know how but she knew at this point I felt like I was drowning. As I looked towards Poppy secretly wanting to tell her to keep quiet but knowing I would never do such a thing, pretending to show interest in her story, a scrunched up piece of paper flew across the room, hitting Poppy right between the eyes.
Then silence. Nothing could be heard and nothing is said. Ms Jenkins stopped abruptly in the middle of reciting the four times tables, assessing the current classroom antics. Poppy’s mouth ceased movement like she had frozen in time, however her eyes told a different story. Her eyes showed contempt for Roxie who had embarrassed her in front of the class.
Poppy was never treated like this, never. No one would ever do anything to embarrass her, especially in front of the entire class. The contempt quickly turned to anger, her eyes glaring at Roxie saying ‘I will get you for this’. I couldn’t help but grin to myself at the look of annoyance on Poppy’s face and the look of complete satisfaction on Roxie’s. It amazed me just how different my friends were!
As I continue to stare at the growing anger and steam coming from Poppy, a look I wish I am able to capture, I realise just how special Roxie’s friendship truly is to me.
I sit up on my bed, devising a plan on how to deal with the fighting between my parents, still listening to them arguing just outside my door. It is constant, never-ending arguing. I never know what starts the arguments and no longer care. All I know was that it is ugly, disgustingly ugly. They are being so selfish. Do they not know what it is doing to me? I hate them! I hate them!
As the anger rose inside, I race to the door bursting through, running out of the house so quickly I forgot to tell anyone where I is going. I don’t really know where I am going; I just know I need to get away from the arguing. Next thing I know I am pounding on Roxie’s front door with such urgency that, when Brendon opens the door he is expecting an emergency.
“Oh Alexx, it’s you. Are you OK?” asks Brendon, concerned by my appearance.
“Oh, I’m fine, just fine,” I lie not wanting Brendon to know my ugly secret
I am hurting, the painful secret destroying me. If Brendon knew he would think I am weak, girl kind of weak. This is not the way I want Brendon to think of me. I want him to like me the way I like him. If he knew about the ugliness which was constantly happening just next door, he will definitely think I am just as ugly as the secret I am keeping.
“You don’t look fine. Is everything…”
“I want Roxie, is she home?” I interrupt quickly, unable to look Brendon in the eyes.
“Yeah, in her room I think,” he replies, moving aside so I could squeeze past.
As I push past him, my arm gently rubs against his, causing me to get goose bumps. I fell a sweet connection between us but when I look back at him, standing by the door he is scratching his arm where we touched as if I had caused a dreaded disease. Maybe my ugliness is rubbing off on him.
In one sweeping motion I knock on Roxie’s door, opened it and simultaneously calling her name before being given permission to enter.
“Rox, I really, really needed to get out of my house.”
Roxie is sitting at the computer desk in the corner of her room, at the foot of her bed, googling something about football. With her back to me, Roxie mumbles for me to wait a minute while she finishes what she is doing. Impatiently, I sit on her bed with a heavy and intentionally loud thud, not happy that she is keeping me waiting. I need my friend and I need her now.
“Nearly finished,” said Roxie unaware of my impatience as she raises her finger in the air motioning she is nearly done. Clicking the small cross on the top computer screen before turning to face me, giving me the long-awaited attention I need.
“There…done,” Roxie said, immediately realising the emotional state I am in. “Hey, are you OK?”
I am angry with Mum and Dad. Now I am angry with Roxie for making me wait while she looks at stupid football stuff. I am beginning to feel like I have knots in my stomach, knots that hurt. It is like my stomach is a punching bag being hit from all directions, the pain intensifying with each blow.
“About time,” I spit out in a nasty tone, more nastily than I intend.
“Hey, calm down Alexx, whatever happened it’s not my fault!”
“Yeah I know, but I came here wanting to get away and you have just ignored me and…”
“I was just finishing something. Don’t be such a sook. Anyway, what’s wrong? Did Bree and Ella do something to you again?”
Pretending to deny anything is wrong, a small tear rolls down my cheeks as I lower my head and look intently at my hands fidgeting on my lap. Roxie moves towards me slowly, confused by my reaction, unsure how to handle this unexpected situation.
“Oh no Alexx. What’s wrong?” asks Roxie, kneeling in front of me, gently reaching for my hands, hoping her touch will make it all better.
As I sit on Roxie’s bed, looking at my friend show genuine concern for me, I realise what I am about to do. By telling Roxie my secret, my horrible family secret I am about to change her perception of me. Roxie thought I was cool, just like I thought of her. If I told her just how uncool I really am because my family are crazy, Roxie might not like me the same way anymore. Maybe I should stick with the original plan and keep my secret. What horrible consequences will happen if I told my secret?
If you want Alexx to tell Roxie about her parents arguing and risking destroying her normal life, go to Chapter 4
Opening up the box of secrets
If you want Alexx to keep her secret about her parents arguing so her life can continue on as normal, go to Chapter 16
Family secrets boxed securely
- “Keeping Secrets” – Chapter 1 (ourparallelconnection.com)
- “Keeping Secrets” – Chapter 2 (ourparallelconnection.com)