Peek Through the Windows
I wrote this story a long time ago when I met a woman recovering from surgery after she was admitted to the hospital with broken ribs and serious internal injuries. When I mentioned to her how nice it was seeing her large family at her bedside, she told me a little bit about the life in her “picture-perfect” family. It made me realize how often we get jealous of people we think we know, even though we don’t really know much about their lives.
What if you could view people’s lives as if it were a big house with many small windows? What you see when looking through only one window doesn’t necessarily give you the right picture of what’s going on in their lives. But when you peek through all the windows, you will be surprised how much your first impression of them had fooled you.
We all look at other people’s lives with some degree of envy, when we know them only on the surface. We all wish our life would have turned out differently. Who are we kidding? We all carry baggage and we all have skeletons in our closets. We all wish for a perfect family, but none of us have a perfect family. Are you ready to peek through some windows?
You see a happy family sitting around a big table having Thanksgiving dinner. Peter’s parents and his two brothers and three sisters, and there are Cathy’s parents and her two brothers with their wives sitting at the opposite side of the huge table. The table is set beautifully with gold-rimmed fine china and freshly ironed napkins held by personalized glass rings with the family member’s names etched into them. The centerpiece is magnificent, decorated with colorful leaves, miniature red berries, apples, tiny ears of corn and fall colored flowers. There is not a single wrinkle on the tablecloth that matches the serving dishes perfectly. Light piano music is playing in the background, candles flickering soft light on the mashed potatoes, salad bowl and peas.
Peter is pouring red wine for everyone, making small talk in turn. He is telling his wife Cathy how perfect the turkey looks that she has just placed in front of him to carve. He smiles at her lovingly, and she blushes while sitting down by him. Cathy’s mother wipes a tear from her cheek and smiles, thinking how perfect her daughter is. Peter’s mother looks at Cathy feeling satisfied that her baby found the perfect wife. The kids are looking like little angels dressed up pretty, sitting around the smaller table. Now there is a picture-perfect happy family for you. All smiles, having a good time enjoying each other’s company. You wish your Thanksgiving dinner with your family would be this perfect, don’t you? Wait, there is more. Let’s go behind this nauseating perfectness and see what’s really in there.
In the Kitchen
Peek through the kitchen window, you see Cathy taking the pumpkin pie out of the oven. Peter walks in; he tells her how much he hates her family. She starts crying. He hits her ribs with his fist, ordering her to be quiet. He never hits her on her face or any other visible parts of her body, no way! He projects the picture of the perfect husband. He doesn’t want anyone to find out that underneath the handsome surface, he is a cruel monster who enjoys inflicting pain.
His beautiful hands could caress her arm ever so gently one second, and then deliver a painful and cruel punch the next. He apologizes after every blow he inflicts and assures her of his love.
Cathy is confused by this fluctuating ice then cozy warm treatment. When he’s warm, oh it feels so good. When he becomes the icy monster, his cruelties make her want to hide and get away.
He began to take control of every single aspect of her life slowly, right after they got married. At first, he praised her for doing things exactly the way he liked them. Soon he started hitting her if she messed up with one tiny detail. After some time, she began to believe it was her fault when he became angry and hit her, so she tried harder and harder to please him. She believed she was a worthless wife, a bad mother and a dumb person. She also believed that she wouldn’t survive without him, because she didn’t have the skills and the means to live on her own. She didn’t have friends anymore. She was allowed to have visits with her family, but only when her husband closely supervised. Hmm… are you still jealous? Wait, there is more.
In the Bathroom
You peek through the upstairs bathroom window; you’ll see Cathy’s brother eagerly kissing a woman’s neck. The woman is Peter’s sister. He can’t ruin her makeup by kissing her lips, but she doesn’t mind the grappling hands under her skirt and the hungry mouth on her neck and breasts. He tells her between noisy and wet kisses how hot she looks and that he can’t wait until he meets her in the motel next week. He begs her for a “quickie” right there in the bathroom. She locks the door, panting heavily, and they steam up the mirrors, quickly banging each other into the sink and the hamper. Their spouses are in the dining room not suspecting a thing, but that makes their tryst even more exciting.
In the Dining Room
Let’s give them privacy and go back to the dining room window. You can see the kid’s table. They are smiling, telling stories and exchanging school gossip, but taking a closer look you can see that two boys are playing a game under the cover of the tablecloth. Girls about fourteen are sitting side by side. Brittany, Carl’s daughter, is holding her small laptop under the disguise of the tablecloth. She is flushed and excited. She had secretly installed a small button camera in the bathroom before they gathered in the dining room for the usual family dinner. The little creep enjoys watching people in their private moments. She saw Nancy entering the bathroom earlier and wondered why she was acting so peculiar. Instead of sitting down on the toilet or touching up her makeup, she took her panties off and waited. Brittany couldn’t even imagine in her wildest dreams that the person sneaking into the bathroom shortly after Nancy would be her father Carl. She had been suspecting her father was having an affair; she'd overheard him talking on the phone with someone about meeting at the usual place. She hacked into her father’s computer and she read their steamy emails, but she still didn’t know who she was.
She’s thinking excitedly that now she could blackmail her father with the video she’s recording. Brittany catches Ashley, Nancy’s daughter, watching the small screen, astounded. She draws in a noisy breath and she can’t take her eyes off the screen. Brittany half closes the top of the computer and hisses at Ashley angrily not to butt into her business.
“Grandma is watching!” Ashley warns her, smiling and hissing under her breath.
“Your Mom is a slut. This is disgusting!” Brittany whispers.
“Duh! Look who she is slut-ting with! That makes him… what?” Ashley leaves the question open.
“He is a guy. What else are you expecting? They’re all dogs.” Brittany sighs.
“So, it’s okay for your father but not for my mother?” Ashley fumes under her breath.
Brittany shrugs her shoulders. “If your mom wouldn’t take her panties off, he could hump the hamper. And because she’s willing, he takes advantage,” she acknowledges stoically.
“Seriously!? I’m not even going to argue with you, but what are we going to do?” Ashley whispers.
“Nothing! Absolutely nothing for now.” Brittany winks at Ashley. “If it comes out, everyone would divorce. Just let them do their thing and we can get a new computer out of it,” Brittany decides with a bitter and ready-to-compromise old woman’s wise reasoning.
Ashley thinks it over and makes her decision, smiling sweetly at Brittany. “Hope you can give me a copy. I have my heart set on a new iPhone.” Brittany gives her a hidden conspirator’s high five under the tablecloth. Sweet fourteen-year-old teenagers, aren’t they?
The dining room is empty now. Everyone has left and the kitchen is spotlessly cleaned. Cathy took her time scrubbing everything, putting away the dishes perfectly aligned, hoping that by the time she goes up to the bedroom Peter would be asleep. Her hopes are shattered.
You peek through the bedroom window and you see him sweating and swearing on top of her. He can’t perform and he’s accusing her of being unattractive, fat and ugly. He tells her between grunts, no wonder he doesn’t have desire for her. She’s afraid to cry; she knows it could provoke his twisted sexual fantasies that she loathes. She prays quietly and lets him do as he wishes, hoping the sweaty torture will be over soon.
Peek through another window and you see their nine-year-old son kicking his sister because she forgot to do his math homework. He learned that girls needed to be taught to behave the “right way,” because they’re stupid and they need a strong hand to guide them.
Had you only looked through the first window, you would have seen the happy big family having a wonderful time at Thanksgiving. You could have been envious of them, seeing the picture perfect and happy family you never had, and you always wished for. You wouldn’t have seen the abused wife and cheating family members or the little monsters in the making behaving like little angels because they learned what kind of behavior is expected of them. No, you would have seen a happy family.
Aren’t you grateful for your noisy, annoying and dysfunctional family? Be happy with them and hug them every chance you get. At least they’re honest and don’t put up a show for each other. You can be yourself; you don’t have to hide behind a sweet looking smile.
Yes, Aunt Julia will tell you that your pie sucked, and you will hug her for her honesty. Uncle George will burp and fart at the dinner table and you will again pull straws with the whole family to decide who will sit next to him. Your niece might show up ready to pop out a baby, but you will buy her a baby stroller and love the little not-knowing-who-the-father-is baby. And yes, you can spill your coffee, have toilet paper stuck on your shoes or have cranberry sauce on your face. They will make fun of you, but you can still live your life without being afraid of being ridiculed. You don’t have to fear punishment or cruelty and you can always find a shoulder to cry on or someone to laugh with. They will tell you as it is, they will call you a moron sometimes, but they will love you, nonetheless.
Copyright © Erika M Szabo, 2018
This story is part of a short story collection:
Rainbows and Clouds: