She screams at him. He screams back. There is a pause. I call her into the next room but she doesn’t come. He screams again. And this bellow rises up from my belly, zooms around my heart before it can be caught, and explodes from my mouth. I scream at them and the world is silent except for my booming voice. I stop and the echo still rings in the air between us.
“We can’t imagine you screaming!” my friends said on a recent girl’s night out. I smiled. Good. I don’t want you to imagine it. But they were happy to hear that I do. We all want everyone else to be human too.
I can’t imagine any of them yelling either. These are the parts of ourselves that we don’t show to just anyone. We don’t parade about with the decibels our voices can reach or the contortions our faces can make for just anybody.
No, we save those for the people we love most.
Only my kids have heard that bellow. Only they know the volume my voice can reach when I call upon every last ounce of me to carry out anger. When I’ve reached my limit and I want to be damned sure that everyone in earshot knows it, my children are the only ones around.
Only my kids have seen how my face looks when my voice bursts out in a complete loss of control. I don’t even know. Is my face red? My eyes huge, as if about to pop? Do I have one of those veins they caricature in cartoons? Does steam rise out from the top of my head?
Only they know.
Only they know the silence that follows. As the echo fades and we’re left, the three of us, staring at each other. What now?
And, of course, it’s not fair. It’s not fair that the people I love most in the world see me at my absolute worst. The people I love with every last breath in my body are the ones who don’t have to imagine me screaming to believe that I am human. They can remember and know that it’s true.
We reserve the worst of ourselves for the people who we love most of all, the people we believe love us unconditionally. We all do it. After all, I am the one who knows their loudest voices and their ugliest screams. They treat me to their worst behavior too. I can teach them better. We can work on it together. We can strive to always bring the best of ourselves. But we are human. It will still happen. And it should. They are my people. I want to see the parts that they don’t show to you. I want to be welcomed into to all of the spaces in their hearts. Even the ugly ones.
We’ll work on it and we’ll try, and we’ll do our best for each other. But it will still happen.
And when it does, we will apologize. Because love is not unconditional.
We want to believe this love between parent and child is special. That the gift of life between us carves into stone what otherwise could be washed away by the rain. But it’s not true. We are human. We yell and bellow and we have a worst side that we show to those we love the most. And we can tear away at this love until all we see are conditions.
Only my children know that apology. The one that follows the scream. The one that breaks the silence and ends our staring contest. Only they know that moment when I answer the question ‘what now?’ When I kneel down in front of them and I look into their eyes and I lower my voice to its softest place, which is never as soft as I want it to be. Only they know the quiet of the air as I say to them, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I let anger get the best of me but I love you. I screamed and I yelled and I showed you my worst, again. But I love you.”
And she smiles. He smiles too. I wrap them in my arms and I squeeze and tickle and they giggle and this laugh erupts from my heart. Only my children know that laugh. Only they know how it feels when I love them as if it’s not unconditional.