Christa knows that her parents don’t love her. She has known it for a very long time, and though she has grown accustomed to the idea, though she has accepted it as an unchanging fact about her life, she will never be comfortable with it. Like the lingering effects of horrible trauma or the loss of a limb, the lack of love from her parents haunts her. It clings to every moment of her life.
She is filled with an omnipresent, oppressive sort of sadness. There are times when she doesn’t notice it as much, such as when she’s with her friends, and one of them is being particularly funny, and she’s able to let herself relax enough to share a laugh with them. Sometimes, if she gets lost in a good book or a good series on Netflix, she forgets about her sadness for a brief time, becoming invested in the joys and woes of characters about whom she cares more than her own family.
There was a time, from elementary school up through middle school, that she believed her parents hated her. They barely spent any time with her. They didn’t help her get involved in sports or in cool afterschool programs, like band. They never sent her away to day camp to learn about nature. They bought her gifts for Christmas, but they rarely bought what she asked for, and they almost never bought her toys.
She entertained herself with the television and by going to the library. She learned more from those places than she ever had from her parents. She felt more love from the books than her parents ever gave to her, and she idolized the parents of children on TV shows, even though she doubted the possibility of parents like them will all her heart. It was all she could do to protect herself from the reality of the fact that other peoples’ parents do, in fact, love them.
Just before highschool began, Christa came to a realization. Her parents didn’t hate her. There was no ill will in their hearts toward her at all. They simply didn’t care about her. To them, she was just someone who existed in their lives, for whom they were required, by circumstance, to provide care. As she became more observant, she realized that they treated each other much the same way: as objects that existed in life, at times convenient, at times burdensome.
She is accustomed to the silence that greets her, that evening, as she enters her house. Her parents rarely greet her when she returns home. Christa often has dinner at the homes of her friends, not only so that she can escape the heavy atmosphere of her home life, but because her friend’s parents are actually good cooks, and because, even in the homes of friends she has only met this year, she feels love.
Christa, as is her habit, heads straight for her room. The house is very quiet. Her parents are not loud people. They hardly watch television, they don’t listen to music, and they don’t really talk to one another. But this silence holds something more significant. The house feels empty. Christa’s footsteps and breathing fill the space. She becomes aware of every sound that she makes, down to the rustling of her clothes as she walks.
Her parents, it seems, are not home. This fact, by itself, is bizarre. They aren’t the sort of folks who really go anywhere. If they do, they generally care enough to inform her, when she’s not home. They aren’t completely thoughtless, and they don’t neglect their responsibilities as the parents of a teenager. They feed her and keep her safe.
What makes the emptiness of her home feel even more strange is the fact that it seems her father isn’t here. For the past month, he’s been singularly devoted to a single project, to the extent that she has become a bit frightened for and of him. On a table in the basement are the blank masks he’s been carving from wood during all of his free time. The sounds of him chunking away at it are conspicuously absent; indeed, she feels their lack more intensely than anything, even the emptiness of the chair in which she expected to find her mother reading.
In the living room, she halts her advance toward her bedroom. She doesn’t want to care, but she does wonder where her parents might be. Christa sighs. She sets her bag down on the couch. “Dad?” she calls, hoping that one of her parents will answer so that she won’t have to go looking for them.
“Dad, are you downstairs?”
She approaches the wooden steps that lead to the basement. The glow from her father’s lamp bounces up the stairway, bathing it in golden warmth. Her father doesn’t answer her, and she still hears none of the sounds of his carving. She pads down the stairs, stepping carefully so that her socks don’t cause her to slip.
Her father is not at the table, but the fruits of his labor are. Discarded masks sit piled on one edge of the table. His carving tools lie scattered about the center. Between them, soaking into the wood, is a heavy line of blood. It has dripped down onto the cement floor as well. Christa stops, still out of reach of the table, not wishing to draw any closer. The blood is not yet dried. She can tell that from here.
She runs up the stairs, nearly slipping toward the top, filled with a need to verify something. Her parents’ garage is separate from the house. She hits the button, peering through the window set into the front door. As it rises, she sees two sets of tires. Her parents didn’t drive away, though it’s clear her father hurt himself with his carving tools. They didn’t drive away, but they’re not here. Did they call an ambulance?
Christa makes her way to the kitchen, more concerned, now, than she had been. She pulls her phone from her pocket and calls her father’s mobile number. As it rings, she notices something. A pair of her father’s shorts rest abandoned on the tile floor, in line between her and where the sink is set into the corner of the counter. More notably, one of the kitchen knives sits on the floor on the floor near the sink.
She can hear her father’s phone ringing. Her own phone is giving her the tone that tells her she’s waiting for him to answer, but it’s not that. She can hear his actual ringtone, one of the jaunty little default tunes that came with his phone, coming from the basement. She hurries back down the stairs. She leans around the corner, holding the railing with one hand. Sure enough, her father’s phone is on the carving table. She just hadn’t noticed it before.
Christa tries her mother’s phone next. She hits dial, but she doesn’t hold her phone to her ear. She listens to the sounds of the house. She follows the sound of her mother’s ringtone, one that actually sounds like a phone ringing, and discovers it tucked into the side of the chair in which her mother likes to sit while reading.
Her parents are not home, and they’ve left their phones behind. Christa has no other way to contact them. From what she can tell, it seems as though her father has been injured, and that they left for the hospital in an ambulance. She doesn’t know how else to put together the pieces she’s collected, and if she’s honest with herself, she doesn’t really want to put them together too accurately right now. She doesn’t want to know about the knife in the kitchen, or her father’s shorts. She tries not to wonder why her parents’ phones were abandoned in places that make no sense, even after calling an ambulance.
Christa decides to accept the silence of her home. It’s almost comfortable, in a way. The silence of emptiness is more welcoming than the silence of apathy. Her parents will return, with an explanation, and she’ll pretend to care why they were gone. Until then, she has time to herself.