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Masquarades of Perfection
That’s not my name, jerk.
“What!?” I spun around to come face-to-face with my boss. In other words, my eyes set on a very uncomfortable scene. His eyes were small, the kind that were really intimidating when they gazed at you with the intensity that they did then. His hair¾ well, he didn’t have much. He was squat, barely reached my shoulders. And boy, was he fat. He always had an undershirt on, although he owned an estate and about five convertibles. To make matters worse, the undershirt was always a bit too small for him, causing his monstrosity of a stomach to bulge out from all sides. I backed up and rubbed my eyes, attempting to erase that disturbing image that still haunts me to this day.
“Kyle… or whatever your name is.” he said gruffly. “Pizza delivery.” He dropped a box in my hands and walked off at a very slow pace, probably due to all the fat that he had to carry around with him all the time.
I adjusted my hat on my head that bared the name Pizza World, and thrust my arms into my jacket. I checked for my car keys in my pocket and hesitantly trudged out into the bitter cold. Opening the door of my way too crappy Chevy Metro, I wished for the zillionth time that I didn’t have this job. But also for the zillionth time, I answered myself by repeating the fact that this job was keeping my family together. But trust me, it’s not rare for a twenty-one year-old to be the bandage of his family’s overflowing financial problems by working at some pizza place.
I drove through the Saturday evening rush of the downtown streets with the radio tuned to the country station at full blast. But the music was the last thing on my mind at the moment. My cell phone rang and its shrill ring tone shattered me out of my trance, bringing me back to earth. I opened it, not bothering to check who was calling.
I cleared my throat as I put the phone to my ear.
“Kyle? Hi, honey. How’s my boy?”
My blood rushed to my face.
“How many times have I told you to¾?”
“¾Stop calling you at work? Honey, you know I just want to know how you’re doing.” There was a pause. Her voice dropped. “Listen, I’m sorry about your father last night. He had a lot to drink and then he came home a mess. He’ll change, you’ll see.”
I softened up a little, realizing my mom had once more called to apologize for something stupid that my father had done.
“Mom, it’s not your fault. But you’ve told me that same thing millions of times and the same thing happens.” My voice broke and tears sprung to my eyes, blurring my vision. For a split-second, the steering wheel went out of control and the jerk behind me honked his horn. Fortunately, I was able to straighten it before anything happened.
“I just d-don’t understand why he w-would love his d-drinks more than us,” she whispered, in between broken sobs.
“There are no explanations for acts of stupidity,” I mumbled. “Anyways, I have to go. I’ll see you, okay?”
“I love you, Kyle,” she said, her voice softer.
“I love you too,” I muttered, but she had already hung up. My mom loves me for who I am, however corny that sounds. She regrets¾ and will always regret¾ the time when my father’s problems put me under a great deal of pressure.
A few minutes later, I pulled up into the driveway of the family that had ordered pizza from the worst pizza delivery place in history. The house was small but brightly lit. I could imagine the family inside having fun and enjoying life, oblivious to anyone else’s hardships.
Knocking on the door, I straightened my collar and got the receipt in hand. No one answered. I knocked again, almost hoping that they weren’t home so I could leave. But a girl of about five opened the door. She had pigtails on either side of her head that were carefully tied with pink bows. How typical.
“Hey. What’s your name?” I asked cheerfully, crouching down to her height.
She grinned. “Katherine. What’s yours?”
“I’m Kyle the Pizza Man.” I stuck out my hand for her to shake. “It’s nice to meet you.” She shook it vigorously. Behind her appeared a woman of about thirty or so¾ obviously the girl’s mother. She smiled at me, revealing pearly white teeth that you usually only see on toothpaste commercials.
“Hello, Kyle the Pizza Man.” What a perfect mother. She was probably the kind that made fresh dinner for her family every night aside from weekends and cooked up the best lasagne. She probably did the laundry flawlessly, and folded clothes to perfection. Perhaps she was the kind that made milk and cookies for a bedtime snack and exquisite ham and omelette for breakfast. If so, she would most likely be a woman with no worries, one that was carefree. You know, a good job, good kids, a good husband. What more could she ask for?
“Hello, ma’am. Your pizza,” I said, handing her the pizza that I had nearly forgotten about completely.
“Why, thank you.” Taking it, she steered her daughter away from the doorway, and turned back once more to sign the receipt, hand me the money, shoot me one last quick smile. And then she left.
I stood there for a moment, immobilized. Unsure of what to do, I looked around. No one. I walked over to the window that’s windowsill levelled with my forehead. I stood on my tiptoes and was able to see the family sitting at the dinner table together. Apparently, they had a son too, and he was gobbling down the pizza as if nothing else was more spectacular. You have bad taste, kid, I thought. The little girl Katherine was seated on her father’s lap, jumping up and down. They were all eating pizza like nothing else existed, as if the pizza’s feelings would be hurt if their undivided attention and concentration didn’t go to it. I don’t know why, but the father looked nervous, as if something was going to tear his family apart any second. None of them were speaking, like a normal family would be.
But in my mind, they were perfect.
“Play with me, Daddy?” she asked, her voice as innocent as ever.
“Maybe later, Kathy. Daddy has a lot on his mind at the moment.” Katherine’s expectant grin instantly transformed into a very disappointed pout. What kind of a father was I? My children probably thought “later” meant in a few hours, but in my mind it was in a few months.
“Why don’t you go play with Zack?” I suggested, but she had already run off to play with her Lego blocks.
Katherine’s face was so carefree, as if nothing in the world mattered anymore except for the blocks that were sprawled on the floor in front of her. I sighed, secretly wishing that my life was as cheery as a child’s, and that I had absolutely nothing to worry about. No loans, no mortgage… no divorce.
I leaned my head against the back of my beat-up recliner and closed my eyes. What would become of Zack and little Katherine if Lily and I got divorced? I didn’t want to tear up the family into a million little pieces. But I had obviously made the wrong decision of marrying a girl that I didn’t have the faintest idea about, aside from the notion that I had fallen in love with her. And now, here I was, realizing that it’s just not the same anymore. The awkward silences have increased immensely, making the whole “family environment” very uncomfortable, though Kathy and Zack may not realize it. Lily and I hardly talk anymore, and no matter how hard we try to start a decent conversation, they are always the same; “How was your day?” is always her question, and “Fine” is always my answer. It’s not like I don’t love her. I do and that will never change. But what’s the point in spending years and years with someone that you know is just not right for you?
Tears stung my eyes and the world swam before me. I jerked my head aside, hiding the fact that I was crying from Kathy and Zack, who glanced at me every few seconds, as if to just reassure themselves that I was still there. When Kathy looked up at me for the second time, I somehow managed to crack her a crooked smile. That effortlessly conveyed the false message to her that everything was just handy-dandy. I leaned over with a sigh and rested my head in my cupped hands. What is wrong with me? I thought. Filing a divorce might just make matters worse. Aside from the fact that the kids will probably be emotionally scarred for a very long time, the depression that Lily and I will probably face after the divorce might be even worse than the tension we are feeling now.
“Jack?” There it was. The voice that allured me in grade school, when she would sit beside me in Chemistry. The voice that would speak so lovingly to me, soothing me when my fears and problems reigned. But now, it was the very voice that I was considering to leave behind in an old life, while I started a new one.
I turned my head and looked at her. I didn’t say anything; I just looked. I looked deep down into her hazel eyes, searching for something, anything. But, no. I told you, nothing worked anymore. And she looked back. I almost felt embarrassed, allowing her to peer into my soul, the way she stared so intently back. For a second, I saw those eyes blur with tears. I tried to manage an answer, but only a rude grunt escaped.
“The pizza’s here.” And with that, she turned around abruptly and walked briskly back into the kitchen.
I continued to stare at the place where she had been standing. Using my knees to stable myself, I hesitantly stood up and walked into the dining room. I pulled up a chair to the table and plopped down on it. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Lily standing in the doorway of the washroom and wiping her eyes vigorously. I sighed, knowing that I was the reason for her shed tears. And she was the reason of mine… to put it nicely.
Zachary and Katherine came in racing through the dining room. Persuading my brain to let go of the matter and enjoy the “family” dinner, I picked up Kathy and put her onto my lap. Lily placed the plates on the table, glancing at me from the side of her eye. When she caught my eye, her cheeks flushed pink and she abruptly averted her eyes.
When we were all seated peacefully, it was as though everyone was expecting a conversation to start anytime soon. But it didn’t. Frankly, it was far from a “conversational family dinner”. In fact, it was beyond uncomfortable; I don’t recall why exactly, but I felt nervous. Aside from my unexpected anxiousness, I couldn’t help but glance at Lily. As much as I wanted to permanently erase the frowns on both our faces and make everything right again, one fact kept crushing my hopes in its fist. The fact that that would never happen.
The world toppled before me as tears once again swam in my eyes, threatening to make me feel even worse. I used to think life was hard because my parents wouldn’t let me take the car out, or buy a nice dress for the prom. But now, I am fully aware of how stupid I was. Now I know for a fact that life is seriously difficult for reasons far worse than any other notions I had before¾notions that eventually come to everyone around the teen ages.
And why is life so difficult for me? Because my life is about to crash into a brick wall. Because I am about to ruin the life of my two young and beautiful children. Because I am about to make the most difficult decision of my life. Divorce.
I know what you’re thinking. That I want to get divorced? Well, erase that thought completely. I love Jack, and I always will. But I can’t live with him for the rest of my life, forced to always push the thought of our relationship breaking apart to the back of my head.
I continued to stare at the photograph pinned to the refrigerator with numerous alphabet magnets. Jack’s face is so smiley, just as I remember it in grade school. His arm is around me. My eyes linger on my own face. The person I am looking at is entirely different than who I am now. I am a mess. A complete mess.
A loud knock at the door caused me to jump. My conscience rung out, telling me that it was the pizza man. As usual, I told it to shut up. I stuck on my fake smile for the pizza man, attempting to make it look slightly convincing. As I walked slowly to the door, I stole a glance at Jack. Oh, how miserable he looked. He had his head in his hands, as if restraining it from exploding into a million little pieces. I sighed. Perhaps this whole mess was entirely my fault.
I reached the door to find little Katherine standing in front of it, talking to some stranger that was crouching down in front of her. The delivery boy looked to be in his early twenties. He looked as if he had no worries, living a carefree life. He smiled at me warmly, handing me my pizza. At that moment, my heart throbbed, longing more than ever to be young once again. I wished so strongly that I could be able to go back and fix all the mistakes that I had made, and go on to live a life that I could actually be proud of.
Signing the receipt with a flourish of my wrist, flashing him my very best fake smile, and dodging Katherine who was jumping around my feet, I was somehow able to set the pizza on the kitchen table.
The only reason I had ordered pizza for dinner was because I couldn’t cook. Not in the sense that I didn’t have the ability to or that my cooking was horrid. I just didn’t have enough energy to cook something with the hopes of enjoying it as a family. Why? Because I knew that we weren’t one.
I wiped my damp eyes with the back of my wrist and walked briskly out of the kitchen. I attempted to make my voice sound as composed as possible, but it came out squeaky and broken. How foolish and childish I was acting. I was acting like a second grader told to give a presentation in front of the entire class.
I couldn’t bare it. I just couldn’t. The way he gazed into me with those depressed eyes convinced me that I was to blame for everything. Despite my efforts, tears sprung to my eyes. My heart flooded with sorrow. I didn’t want to leave him, not at all. But the problem was, I needed to, and if I didn’t, God knows what this family would turn out to be. It eventually came to the point where I needed to escape the suffocated surroundings of my trapped heart.
“The pizza’s here,” I said, nearly whispering. I suppose I was afraid that if my voice rose, it would shatter any hopes of everything healing itself. I guess I’m going psycho. And with those few words, I walked briskly back into the kitchen.
At that point, I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. They just ran down my cheeks uncontrollably. I stepped into the washroom, grabbed about five tissues, and dabbed my eyes with them. Not that it made a difference. The tears came so rapidly that whenever the tissues soaked up a few, new ones replaced them.
Finally, after about ten minutes, was I able to recover from my sobs and step out into the real world. I walked into the kitchen and picked up four plates from the kitchen counter. Keeping my eyes on the plates, looking unnaturally interested in the floral design painted on them, I placed them on the kitchen table. I could sense Jack watching me and I couldn’t help glancing at him from the corner of my eye. The second my eye met his; I regretted that I had looked over at all. His eyes were so unimaginably sad. All the blood went to my cheeks and I averted my eyes abruptly, trying to focus once again on the plates.
Eventually, we were all seated. In some weird way, it was both funny and sad how Jack and I paid such close attention to our pizza, as if our life’s goal was to finish it. Zack and Katherine, on the other hand, were as blissful as ever. They didn’t even know how much tension was in the house at that very moment. I sighed. Lucky children.
We ate in silence, apart from the kids’ constant blabbering. Jack and I kept our eyes on our plates, not exchanging glances once.
Oh, how I wished we could both go back and fix everything. I longed to love Jack with joy and not with pain. But my conscience got the best of me, reminding me that it was too late to fix anything.
Far too late.
I don’t know what’s happening. Everything in our house is so sad. Mommy and Daddy used to make jokes and have fun with each other, but now they hardly even talk. When we were eating dinner, I thought that they would talk to us like they usually do, but they kept quite the whole time. Zack and I are both so confused.
We try to act like everything’s okay, but we know that something is wrong. When I was sitting down in front of Daddy’s chair, playing with my Lego blocks, I saw Daddy crying, with his head is in hands. He turned his head away from me to hide his tears, and I tried to pretend that I hadn’t seen anything.
Right before the pizza man came over to deliver our pizza, I saw Mommy wiping her eyes in the washroom. Her eyes were all puffy and red. She was mumbling Daddy’s name under her breath.
I know why Mommy and Daddy were crying. They both hate each other. Every night, when Zack and I are in bed, pretending to be asleep, they’re always screaming mean things to each other. I don’t even know some of the mean swear words that they say to each other.
When the pizza man knocked at our door, I answered because I knew that Mom and Dad were probably too busy being sad. The pizza man’s name was Kyle. He was really nice. I began to wonder if his parents hated each other too. But then I told myself that someone so nice could never have bad parents. I wish him so I wouldn’t have to live with such bad parents.
And then I cry myself to sleep because I know that our family is broken.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Park City, Utah
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