Day of Surprise

A short story about family problems.

“That’s so cool!” I exclaimed. In my hand was a Valentines Day card which folded to make a spaceship. I was in a Hallmark card shop with my father, looking at cards for the upcoming holiday. “If I got you that card now, then it wouldn’t be a surprise later,” my father logically stated. “But it’s neat! See, it folds into a spaceship.” “I’ll get it for you but… just act surprised for your mother when you open the card.” “Okay dad,” I answered as we walked up to the counter. My father paid for the card and we left the store. It was a week before Valentines Day in 1987. I was nine years old and intensely anxious. Expectation for February 14 had overcome every other thought I previously had. It might seem funny to some that I held that one day with such great esteem, but to me it was unlike any other holiday. On Valentines Day I felt loved by everyone. On that day, I would obtain the card that I had picked out from my father. Classmates would give everyone Valentine cards. Some extremely generous kids would even attach candy to the cards. It didn’t matter if you hated each other, on Valentines Day everyone put aside their differences and even presented cards to the children nobody liked. That one day of love seemed to unify the worst of foes through love and forgiveness. I could hardly wait for that day to come. As the night before Valentines Day had rolled around, anticipation had escalated to an all time peak. Nevertheless, it was all set aside as my parents once again started to fight. My brother and I were sent to the car in the garage so that we would not witness them fighting. We knew the routine. I was scared and I could still hear angry voices dueling back and forth. My brother was a senior in high school and even he seemed frightened when they fought. Although he tried to hide his fear, I knew he was afraid when my father would go on a rampage. An hour passed by and my brother and I decided to go back inside. The house was still. A pin could have dropped and we would of heard it. My father had gone to lay down in his bed. This action was suggested by the marriage counselor that my parents had been visiting. Whenever my father got angry, he was supposed to rest until he calmed down. The problem was that he would lay down after he had let out all his anger, verbally or physically. My mother came downstairs. She had gathered some stuff together. “Come on, get your jackets and get in the car.” After we went to our rooms to get our coats, we went outside and got into our old station wagon that my brother used to drive to school. My brother put the car in neutral and coasted out of our driveway and down the hill. At the bottom of the hill he turned the ignition and drove to a friend’s house to stay for the evening. My mother called my father from there. I was down in the basement with the two children of the family, talking to them. I mentioned that my parents might get divorced, but in my stomach I knew they wouldn’t. How could my parents even discuss such a thing on Valentines Day? Besides, we were talking about my mother and my father. Divorcing only happens to other kids parents. I felt comforted as I drifted off to sleep. The next morning when I woke up, I was sick to my stomach. My allergies to the family’s two Siamese cats must have acted up. My mother told me we were going home so to get dressed. We arrived home shortly. As we drove into the driveway I noticed all of the curtains were shut. We opened the door and stepped into the dark house. I looked around for my father but he wasn’t there. I had learned that my father went to stay with a coworker. Where did Valentines Day go? Had I missed it? The whole idea of Valentines Day is to celebrate love and togetherness. Yet the decision to separate had come on this day of unity. I felt nauseous. My mother comforted me and told me my father’s move was temporary. However I now knew what was happening; this change was permanent. “It’s for the better,” my mother told me. No it wasn’t. To try to help me adapt to the situation, my mother invited my father back to the house that night for dinner. We listened to the sounds of silence as we ate. Nobody felt like discussing what had gone on, I think we all knew this was the last meal we would have together. After dinner I sat down with him on the couch to watch television, but the couch was uncomfortable. My father eventually decided to leave and said goodnight. I walked him to the door and watched as he slowly walked to his car in the darkness of the night. After I watched him drive away, I looked at the fireplace where a Valentine sat for me. “Aren’t you going to open it?” My mother asked. “No. I picked it out. It’s a spaceship.”

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