His parents loved to argue. Well, maybe they didn't love to, but they sure had gotten a lot of practice at it. He must have learned a lot about arguing from them. When he was little, he would join in, just so they wouldn't be alone in the company of yelling and tears. He would scream until his little voice went hoarse and cry until his little eyes refused to release tears. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. Sometimes they would stop fighting for a while and tell him that it wasn't his fault, that he was more important than whatever they were disagreeing upon. Sometimes they wouldn't. The two big voices and one little voice screaming in unison was quite a cacophony to behold. Once in a while, a smashed glass or a hole in the wall would bring a night's exertion to a close. He wondered what the neighbors thought, or if they cared at all. As he grew older, he learned to retreat when the voices rose, like his younger brother had always done. Sometimes, he thought that his brother learned things faster than him. Closed doors and television muffled most of the noise, but he would still cry to himself until silence blanketed the night. Stay together for the kids, they deserve a normal childhood.
It was different during college. Better, maybe. Being a little further away helped. His parents seemed to get along better. Maybe they had more space to figure things out. Teenagers around the house are stressful after all. Still, empty nest syndrome led to many phone calls and frequent weekend visits. Once every few months, though, he would open the door to a tension so thick that he could suffocate in it. They would pretend that everything was fine. They would go out to lunch and ask how classes were going, about dorm life. Smile, with honey in their voices. But their stiff interaction and dead eyes gave them away as plain as day. It wasn't fine. He wanted to scream. Sometimes he did. "Stop pretending!" It was worse than the yelling and crying. At least that stuff was real. Now they were just camouflaging their wounds with mud. Smile for the kids, they aren't home that much anymore.
He doesn't want to hide anymore. He never did. He still prefers to stand in the middle of the highway until traffic dies down or crushes him. On the worst days, he thinks he'd rather be crushed. At least he wouldn't have to worry about the tornado just around the bend, waiting to tear things apart. But anything is better than pretending. Pretending is building a castle in the sand. Pretending is putting on a thicker jacket and thinking you are bulletproof. No one wants to pretend, but dodging bullets is tiring. It's easier to close the door, turn on the television, and pretend that all is right with the world. He still curls up and cries silently to himself until silence blankets the night. Pull it together for the kids, you're the grown up now.