Easter Sunday afternoon, 2010
Caron walked into her childhood home and tossed her coat over the arm of a never-used chair. “Hi, Mom,” she said as she leaned over the kitchen island to kiss her mother’s cheek, the oven-mitted hand patting her arm.
“Hi, honey. I’m just about ready to pull the ham out of the oven. We should be ready for dinner any minute.”
Caron glanced at the three place settings. “No Kayla?”
Ann’s voice dropped low. “No, Dad hasn’t heard from her since that new job started filling up her schedule.” Caron nodded in understanding right as Jim walked in.
“Hey, kiddo!” He smiled and patted her shoulder, “How’s our scholar?”
“Hey, Dad. I’m good. How are you?”
“Oh, not too shabby. Tired but keeping myself busy.”
The incomplete family moved to the table, Grandmother’s rarely-seen dining set making an appearance, a liturgy of the china cabinet announcing a resurrection of its own. A disproportionate amount of traditional dishes gathered around the ham before the trio sat down at the same seats in which they always sat down, Kayla’s chair left empty at the western end of the surface.
“Shall we pray?” Jim asked rhetorically as he folded his hands and bowed his head low. These days, Caron usually prayed with hands held open to receive, her eyes focusing on whatever the sun happens to put a glimmer on outside the nearest window, but she did as was expected of her in this place.
“Heavenly Father, thank you for the food before us and the many gifts you bestow upon us. Thank you for the turn in weather. And on this day above all other days, we thank you for sending us your Son to pay for the debt we’ve incurred with You. Forgive us our many sins. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.”
Jim reached for the carving tools and allotted portions of the honey-baked sacrifice to his wife and daughter, all three taking pieces of the many gifts bestowed upon them. The tiny clinks of forks and knives clanged as loudly in the empty dining room as church bells on a crisp winter day.
Caron was moving leaves of her salad around her plate when she blurted, “I want to have a better relationship with you.”
The silverware chimes stopped as she made eye contact with her father.
“I know we’ve never been close. You were always so much closer to Kayla, and there were real reasons for that, and that’s fine.” The words were coming out with such speed they slid together like cars on an icy interstate. “I just want to have a better relationship with you. You know, going forward.” There was no slowing down the pile-up, so Caron focused on her shallow breathe as she anticipated her father’s response.
Jim sighed and lowered his knife and fork. “I don’t know what you want me to do, Caron. I can’t change the past.”
She shook her head, “I’m not asking you to. I know you can’t. That’s not my point at all.”
“Then what is your point?”
“Growing up,” she began, shakily, “you compared me to my alcoholic, drug-addicted, promiscuous, anorexic——”
“Even with all that, “ Jim growled, “she was still easier to deal with than you.”
Caron nodded, feeling a different and equally familiar wetness on her cheeks; not the cleansing baptismal tears of that morning, but hot shamedrops reddening her eyes. “I tried so hard to be the perfect—No, it’s ok. I can accept that. I know I was sometimes——”
“Her issues were all on the surface, at least. You, we had no idea what we were dealing with. It was all so hidden.”
Ann tried to be helpful in her most soothing tone, “We couldn’t read your mind, honey.”
“Did you ever think to ask me? Ask me what was going on?”
Jim snortlaughs. “Please. You were so stubborn, you wouldn’t have told us.”
“So you didn’t even try?”
Jim’s shaking his head and smiling so Ann steps in again, “We paid for your counseling.”
Outsourcing relationships doesn’t work, Caron nearly says, but stops herself in time and remembers her priorities. This isn’t about arguing over the past. If she moves directions, she is not absorbing debt but throwing out the ledgerbook. Another deep breath. “Look, I’m just saying, I want things to be different going forward.”
“I can’t change what happened.”
“I just want us to have a friendship. I want to invite you to that.”
“There’s nothing I can do about any of it.”
Caron sighs and looks away at the remnants of the carved ham. Jim matches her sigh as he leans his elbows on the table.
“Look,” he begins. “My parents didn’t plan on having me. I ruined their retirement plans. In junior high, they would go antique shopping for weekends and leave me five dollars, told me to walk to the burger joint if I got hungry.”
“Was that when you were out on forty-fifth?” Ann cut in, “What was the name of that joint?”
“They got me a motorcycle even before I could legally drive one. And I’m grateful for it, I have good memories of that bike, friends I wouldn’t have otherwise had.” He paused before remembering his point. “They never said they loved me or were proud of me, and I tried really hard to always tell you that much.”
“I know, Dad. I just want more than just those words. I want a relationship with you, just like you always wanted more from them.”
“The difference between me and you, is I got over it. We didn’t have to talk it through. I just absorbed the debt, and I moved on.”
“I want to move on, too, Dad, but I want to move on to something different. I’m sick of this pattern. I don’t want you to pay a debt to me, and I don’t want to pay the debt for Kayla’s mistakes, and I don’t want us to be against each other keeping track of who owes what to whom.” She can hear her voice sliding out of control on this icy patch again, but she knows her brakes will lock, there’s nothing but to slide through it. “I want a relationship without debts. I want us both, us all, to be able to look at what happened and say ‘that sucked, let’s do something different, let’s find some better way to do this.’ Can we do that? Can we all acknowledge that it sucked and find a better way to do this?”
A cardinal hits the window, and all three turn to the east at once, together for the first time, to notice the anarchy and the glory of spring’s arrival.