Words flood into my mind. Words that leave echoes of memories behind three simple words. Three simple words that changed so much.
I had woken up in the middle of the night. Something dragged me from my slumber that would haunt my nightmares. Devil-like glowing red letters yelled 3:43 AM. My eyes screamed at me to go back to sleep but my ears held onto faint whispers on the other side of the wall.
Slowly, the mumbles turned into words that would always be caught in the back of my head like a mouse in a trap.
“I can’t do this anymore, Kathy,” my father’s deep voice said, cracking, choking on his sobs. “I can’t do it.”
“What are you going to do? Leave?” My mother’s voice answered. Despite the evident despair in her voice, she still held up a challenge.
The pause that followed seemed louder than when they were yelling. I wrapped my hands tightly around my waist, gripping onto my skin like it was the only thing keeping me on this earth. I tried to quiet my hitched breathing, but to no avail. My lungs felt like they were on fire, and my heart had a lion clawing it apart.
“What about Riley?” My mom asked, her entire tone changing at the mention of me. I could almost see my Dad’s eyes drift towards my room, conflict clouding his usually sparkling green eyes.
“She needs you…” my mother begged, voice wavering at every syllable.
“What about you?” Dad’s voice growled. “Do you need me? In all 14 years we’ve been together, have you ever needed me?” His voice surged, causing even me to want to cower in a corner.
“I thought I did,” mom responded, her voice fading until I didn’t think it was even there. Lost in the ocean of words spat in each others’ direction. Slowly growing louder and louder and louder like a time bomb ticking down to your imminent doom. Until…
They stopped. I lifted the pillow off my ears that I didn't remember grabbing in the first place.
And then my Dad spoke three words that could never be taken back. Three words that could never be washed away. Three words that ripped my heart in two.
“I hate you.”
A small choking sound escaped my mouth. I covered it with my hand, and stuck a hand over my heart, wanting to stitch my chest back up. But I couldn’t. There were too many shattered pieces, each a memory of happiness. Memories that now didn’t seem real.
“But…” My Dad’s voice returned, sending hope through my body. “I’ll stay. If only for Riley.”
Then there was silence. Silence that would not be broken until the next morning. I assume they went to sleep, lying on opposite sides of the bed, so close to the edge they could fall off.
I did not go to sleep. I lay awake, wondering how a single conversation could change my entire life.