Essay/Commentary

A Portland Parable

Based on a recent LA Times story

By Aris Janigian

They’re 14 and 16 years old boys. Smart, but lazy, always griping, never grateful. The parents have always given the kids more or less anything they’ve wanted but, starting in the 6th grade, nothing ever seemed enough. Now the parents are getting a divorce.

She feels the divorce is bringing to light some of the deeper reasons for the kids’ sullenness, impulsiveness, general unhappiness.  It started with the way they rightly sided with her—big time. Dad is a fucking asshole, and always has been! An egomaniac. Racist. Sexist. Workaholic! Always had stupid fucking rules that apply to us but never to himself!  Always about him! Him! Him! You should’ve left him way back when, mom. The way he treated you! 

Suddenly, those spoiled kids— who were frankly spitting in her face every other day—seem imbued with uncommon insight.  Clearly, for years, they’ve been victims of the egomaniac themselves. It’s no wonder they were “acting out” in all sorts of inappropriate ways.  They’re troubled, yes, but not without some inner wisdom that she never saw in them before.  It’s kind of a revelation.

The boys and the mom live together for half a year as the divorce proceeds. When Dad occasionally comes around, they tell him to “get off the fucking property.” They call him an asshole for wanting to sell the house and leave them out on the streets.  

Twice, they actually threaten to beat the shit out of him. In terms of custody, they write letters to the Judge that make the father look like a monster. In fact, in those letters they actually call him “A Monster.” They tell the relatives of what they were made to endure as kids!  They make some things up; even intimating shit like they were molested. “Can’t talk about it, but it was bad, I mean, really bad—when we were kids.” They throw so much chaos in the air that some of Dad’s own family members keep conversations with him short.  

Now that the old man is gone they ditch school until they’re forced to drop out;  their dark friends dressed in dark clothes come over and they stay up until 4 a.m. 

They hate “coffee house” music and instead listen to artists like Ghostemane and Death Grip and Queens of the Stone Age. RATM—eternal, timeless. They smoke a fuck load of pot and occasionally shoot dope. Buy a couple of guns.  They’ve taken over the house.  Mom is okay with all of that, kind of.  The stress of the divorce, she reasons, all the anger that The Monster had made them suppress is rising hot to the surface. Give them room to vent, to heal. 

The divorce is finalized.  Mom gets most everything she wants. What allies the boys have been!  They had to exaggerate some, sure; some of it their father will probably never live down, but the end justifies the means, so to speak.  She’s so happy to be done with it! Finally, she has a chance to breathe and get back to normal.  

Only thing is: the house is filled with friends of the boys; friends of their friends.  Sleeping bags and empty Cheetos bags strewn everywhere.  Sour patch candy stuck in the carpets; burn marks in the bathroom linoleum.  Inexplicable holes in the walls.  A couple of windows busted; haphazardly duct taped so that air doesn’t blow in.  All of this, of course, was happening during the divorce. Almost like it was the price to pay for eradicating the Monster from their lives.  But somehow now, now that it’s all said and done,  it’s beginning to turn her stomach. Honestly, the whole scene is unsustainable.    

She has a sit down with the boys.  Boys, she says, thank you so much for being there for me.  The Monster’s hold over our home is over!  Look, we’ve succeeded in ridding ourselves of the Prince of Darkness forever!  But now that we have—well, we need to get our lives back in order.  We need to do a deep, deep cleaning of the house; set some new ground rules, and, most of all, get you back in school!   

They nod.  They’ve worked together, hand in hand, to get rid of their father, and now they’ll work together to put their home back in order.  That’s what she’s thinking when suddenly they chuckle, sadistically.  “You fucking kidding us,” they tell her.  “Home?  What the fuck is a home?  She’s shocked to the core. “The one you and dad supposedly made!  The one that ruined our lives!  So now, just like that, you’re telling us how it’s going to go down.  After six months of us beating that bastard back! Without us, he’d be sticking it up your ass!”

Their language is foul. So foul.  But what they say is not without some truth.  Maybe they can compromise? But before she can think of a compromise, much less offer one up, they tell her, “To us, this is a house is all. A crash pad. Where we come and go.  We can do what the fuck we want here and we can have over whoever we fucking want.  As for school? Fuck school.  You think you’re going to deposit us back into the system?  The place where they teach you how to kill your brain!  Come to think of it, mom.  It’s your turn to leave!  What you’re preaching is bourgeois shit!  This place is ours!”  

Bourgeois what? This is my home!  I pay for it.  I clean it.  I do the wash!  

Go fuck yourself bitch, they tell her. We’re not going anywhere. Fact is, we’re not quittin’ nothin’. Fact is, we’ve barely just begun.

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