Red, Blue, Green

I’m hungry and Mommy and Daddy are fighting. They’re in their room and they’ve been in there for a long time. They aren’t yelling, not all the time, but they always close their door when they fight, so I know they’re fighting. That’s just what they do. It’s hard to hear what they’re fighting about, because they aren’t yelling, but it’s probably the same fight they always have. Mommy once said to me that Daddy wasn’t there for her when she needed him, and I tried to say that that was because he worked, because that’s what Daddy said, and then Mommy got really quiet and didn’t talk to me till dinner. That was a bad day.

It’s close to dinnertime now. No one’s started to make anything. Usually, Mommy will take something like a pack of chicken or turkey at the start of the day and stick it in the sink in some warm water to melt it so it’s ready to cook close to dinnertime, and when she doesn’t do that then that usually means we’re going to go out and get Chinese food or burgers or something, but we would normally be on our way by now and we’re not because they’re still fighting.

I’m also bored. I can probably watch TV, but I’m now allowed to watch TV during dinnertime, and I feel like if Mommy and Daddy are fighting and I turn on the TV, they’ll get mad at me for turning it on when it’s so close to dinnertime. I don’t like getting yelled at. It’s usually Daddy who’s the yeller. He talks loud a lot, but when he gets mad, he gets louder. I once caught Mommy’s cheek in a chip clip and hurt her bad on accident. I wasn’t trying to grab her cheek, though: I thought it would just pass over the cheek and the teeth wouldn’t bite her. But it did bite her, and even though I apologized, Daddy yelled at me for hurting Mommy and for not thinking like a smart person. I was on timeout after that. I sat in the corner and thought about what I did. Mommy’s cheek was pink the rest of the day.

I like it when Mommy and Daddy are a team. When they’re on the same side and they agree and smile at each other. Even when I know they’re mad at each other, when they work together, it makes me happy, because that’s what mommies and daddies are supposed to do. My friend Ben’s parents aren’t married anymore, and now Ben lives in two houses. I think that would be pretty cool to have two houses, but the part where Mommy would live in one and Daddy would live in the other and we wouldn’t get to go back and forth between the houses together as a family doesn’t sound too fun.

Ben thought for a long time that his parents would get back together, but I could tell that was never going to happen. When they were living in the same house and I would come over to play, his mom and dad were always not talking to each other or one would leave the room when the other entered or one stayed in their bedroom or office for the whole time. The couch was usually made up to look like a bed too, with blankets and pillows.

I think Ben was mad at me for a while after his mom and dad stopped being husband and wife. He never wanted to come over to my house to play. I don’t think he liked seeing a mom and dad who were together. I think it made him sad, and then that sad would turn into mad and he would be mad at me. I didn’t get mad at him for getting mad at me: I knew he was going through something hard and just wanted him to be happy again. That’s all anyone should ever be: happy.

I’m not happy right now, probably because I’m hungry. I could get a snack, but I feel like Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t like me having something that would spoil my appetite. Even just one cookie or graham cracker could get me a timeout. Mommy and Daddy really have a lot of rules. Things I can do and things I can’t do, and if I do them then I get a timeout. I want to be good, though. I feel good, but sometimes I can be bad.

But aren’t Mommy and Daddy being bad right now? They have to know that it’s dinnertime. They have to be hungry, too. But they’re still in their room. They’re still fighting. I think not giving your son food would be a big rule to break. It’s like they’re forgetting about me. That hurts my feelings, and that’s definitely a rule you shouldn’t break. I never try to hurt anyone’s feelings, even when I really feel like it.

I should tell them this.

I go to Mommy’s office and I take a slip of paper from her printer. Then I grab one of my crayons and in big, red letters, I write, “I’M OUT HERE REMEMBER?” The red should make it important, like a red alert in space. Then I head back to their bedroom door and slip it underneath through the crack above the floor. I back away from the door and stand there, arms crossed, waiting for them to open the door and make dinner. I put on my pout face so they feel bad when they see me.

Nothing happens.

The door stays closed.

I go down to the floor to look through the crack and I can’t see the paper with my letter on it, so they have to have it. Did they get it and read it and throw it away? That’s really mean. I know grown-ups have grown-up things to fight about and talk about, but I don’t think that means they should pretend their son isn’t there, waiting for them to stop.

Some of their fights have lasted for days. They would be in their room for a long time and come out and still be mad at each other. They’d go back in their room more times after that, always closing the door. It’s easy to tell when they’re fighting even when they’re not fighting. They don’t look at each other. They don’t touch each other. They don’t really say a word to each other. Or to me. It’s like their anger spreads out from them and keeps going and I get caught by it, like someone is spreading mayo on bread for a sandwich. I hate mayo.

I shouldn’t think about food. My stomach hurts.

I don’t get in trouble when they’re angry at each other. I just stop being real to them. If I ask one of them to play with me, they say they’re too tired (Mommy) or say they’re too busy (Daddy). The whole house feels darker and it’s like no one has ever smiled ever in the universe. Everything’s bad. So I guess it is kind of like I’m in trouble, only everyone else is in trouble, too. We all have to sit in the corner, but the whole world is the corner.

I go to the kitchen. Even if I was allowed to eat a snack, I don’t know if I can get to them. They’re in the cupboard and I’m too small. I can take one of the chairs and climb it and get to the food that way, but I know I’ll get in trouble for that. That’s a different kind of trouble. That happens because they get worried that I’m gonna hurt myself, like I might fall off the chair and crack my head open. That’s never happened before, though. I did hurt my wrist one time when I fell off the monkey bars at school, but that was different, and that wasn’t too bad. It got a little purple and hurt to move, but that’s it. Ms. Miller gave me an icepack and sat with me till I stopped crying.

I need to try, though. It feels like my tummy is being stomped on. It’s hot in there and there are bubbles popping and it’s growling at me like the neighbor’s dog. I don’t like the neighbor’s dog. It’s always chained up and never leaves the front lawn, but it always barks when I walk by it and the barks are loud and scary. The neighbor loves his dog, though. He’s usually playing with it, throwing a ball or wrestling it. The dog doesn’t seem scary when this happens. It seems happy. It likes the neighbor, but it doesn’t like me. I think it thinks it can eat me. I think it wants to eat me.

Now I’m thinking about eating things again. Everything ends with food.

I grab one of the kitchen chairs and push it over to the cupboards. It makes a whiny noise on the floor. Mommy and Daddy have to hear that. I don’t care if they come out and see what I’m doing and get in trouble. At least I got them out of their room. Then they can make me food. And if they don’t come out, then at least I’ll have food, all by myself. I think Daddy calls that a win-win.

I put my knees on the chair first and grab the top of it to stand on my feet. Even with the chair, I can just barely reach the cupboard. People say I’m small for my age, but this is the first time I’m really feeling it. Small. Tiny. Like an ant. I know seven years old doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be giant or anything, but when I look at all the kids in my class, even Ben, I’m looking up at them. I’m always looking up and everyone is always looking down at me. I’ve never cared until now. Or maybe I always cared and tried not to think about it because it would make me sad. It hurts, almost as much as my tummy.

I stretch my arm up and up. My fingers can just touch the knob that will open up the cupboard. Maybe if I put glue on my fingers, they’ll stick to the knob, and then I can just pull it open. But then I’ll have glue on my fingers, or I might wind up stuck to the knob forever, or at least until Mommy and Daddy come out of their room.

This is hopeless. Mommy uses that word a lot. Hopeless. I’m not sure what it means, but she’s always sad when she says it. She says it to Daddy a lot, calls him hopeless. Daddy gets really angry when she says that, but she keeps saying it. You’d think Daddy would find a way to not be hopeless, then Mommy would probably stop saying it.

I climb down off the chair and move it back to the kitchen table. I look back at Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom door. Maybe I was too mean with my note. Maybe it seemed like I was mad at them. I am mad at them, but maybe that made them mad, so much so that they don’t wanna talk to me. Or maybe it made them sad because it was like I was yelling at them and they remembered they forgot me, so they’re hiding to not get in trouble. Mommy did that once to Daddy. She went into their bedroom and actually locked the door. Daddy knocked and knocked, but Mommy wouldn’t let him in. Before she went in the bedroom, she tucked me in and kissed me on the forehead and said, “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.” I didn’t know why she said that, or why she wouldn’t let Daddy into their room. Daddy got really mad and he punched a hole in the wall. I slept with the covers over my head that night.

The hole in the wall is patched up now. Daddy took care of it the next day after he punched it. Nobody talked about it, he just fixed it, or tried to. It looks funny. Sometimes it looks like a face, a face that’s laughing, like the face knows it looks funny, or it’s laughing at Daddy, making fun of him. He always scowls when he passes by it, like he can hear it laughing at him and it hurts his feelings. It’s a different color then the rest of the wall. The rest of the wall is white, but the place where the hole used to be is like only sort of white—

A different color!

That might work. The red crayon would definitely make my letter seem mad. I should use a happier color. Or not a happier color, but something that doesn’t look like fire. Like blue. Blue is like water. Water is nice, so a letter written in it should also be nice. Water is also in tears, though, which are sad. But that could work, too. It’s a happy color to look at, but it shows that I am sad. I grab another piece of paper from Mommy’s office and take a blue crayon. I write, this time not in all capitals and a little bit smaller, “Please, I’m hungry.” Then I slip it under their door.


Any second now, they will come out. They’ll put the fight on pause and come out and we’ll eat like a family. Then I’ll go to bed and they can keep fighting. I’m okay with that. As long as I get to eat.

The door is still closed.

Nobody’s moving inside.

Nothing is happening.

This is getting really stupid.

I go into the living room and turn on the TV. I don’t care what’s on. I just want them to hear the TV. It’s on a Seinfeld rerun. Mommy and Daddy won’t let me watch Seinfeld, but I know what it is. I one time peeked through my bedroom door when I was supposed to be asleep and watched them watch it without them knowing. My bedroom door doesn’t close all the way, so I can peek through it and see the TV. I’ve never been caught. I make sure to be really quiet when I do it. I even hold my breath sometimes so they don’t hear me breathing. It gets hard when something funny happens in Seinfeld or whatever show they’re watching, and I hear them laugh. I don’t really know what’s funny in the show but hearing them laugh makes me laugh. One time I tried to hold in the laughs and I snorted like a pig. I got really scared they were going to hear it, but they didn’t. I went back to bed anyway just so I didn’t do it again and ruin everything.

I don’t care if this ruins everything. I don’t care if they put me in time out for a million years. I turn up the sound on Seinfeld all the way. It’s very loud and I have to cover my ears. I go back to Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom door and the sound is a little quieter over here, but it’s still loud—I just don’t have to cover my ears anymore. There’s no way they can’t hear it, though. They have to hear it. It’s impossible for them not to hear it.

But the door isn’t opening. No one is coming out.

Ben once told me about this time his mom and dad were fighting. They told Ben to play outside, so he did. He played pretend like he was a knight and was on a quest. He likes to play knights and dragons and stuff like that. I don’t really like it as much; I’m always the dragon and he’s the knight and he always slays me, which means I’m dead, which isn’t fun. But I like Ben, so it’s fun to play it with him. This one day, though, he was outside playing for a long time, till the sun went down. His mom and dad never came to get him. He tried knocking on the backdoor a bunch of times, but they never opened it. It was like they forgot him. He was really mad, even after they finally got him and apologized. He said he’d never talk to them again. He did talk to them again, but I get it.

really get it now.

So fine. If they forgot about me, then I’ll just have to do it myself.

I can’t reach the cupboard, but I can reach the fridge. That’s easy. I don’t need to use the handle to open the fridge. I can just dig my fingers into the crack under the door and pull and it will open. So that’s what I do. I dig my fingers into the crack under the door and pull it open. A bunch of cool air lands on top of me and it feels kind of nice.

I can’t get anything that’s on the top shelf. Maybe if I use the chair, this time I could grab something. But there isn’t anything there I want to eat anyway. Stuff I want is on the bottom shelf or in the veggie drawer. I could eat some vegetables. I don’t mind vegetables. I like cucumbers and broccoli. A lot of kids at school think I’m weird because of this. It’s not like they’re my favorite food or anything, but I’d rather eat them then fruit. I hate fruit. Even strawberries, which is my favorite Popsicle flavor. Strawberries the fruit are different from strawberry Popsicles, though.

I don’t want to eat just vegetables, though. I want actual dinner. I want a meal. Something with three things I can eat, like the vegetables, but also chicken and rice. The rice is in the cupboard, so I probably can’t have that, but that’s okay. Chicken is the important thing. But there’s none that’s been melted and is okay to cook. There’s only milk and juice and some dressing and a half-empty jar of peanut butter and some tupperwares with leftovers inside, but I know those are old leftovers, ones Mommy keeps telling Daddy to throw out, so I can’t eat those or else I’ll get sick.

I feel sick now! My tummy hurts more now! How long can Mommy and Daddy stay in there and not think about me?

Maybe I need to write another letter and do both things. I need to be mad and calm at the same time so they get what I want but don’t get mad about it. Yeah, that might work. I can be in the middle, like Monkey in the Middle. I don’t really like that game, but I don’t really like being hungry either, so maybe it fits?

I grab another paper from Mommy’s office and this time I use a green crayon. Green isn’t the mix between red and blue—that’s purple. But green is my favorite color. Mommy and Daddy know this. Writing it in green will show them how important this is to me. This is coming from my heart, which is red and not green, but red didn’t work and it isn’t my favorite. I’m going to write in all capitals again, though. Something serious, something that will get their attention. I write:


I underline dying seven times. I know I’m not actually dying, so I guess I’m lying to them, but I don’t care anymore. I don’t care anymore about doing something wrong and getting in trouble. I have to do something, or maybe I will start dying. I don’t know what dying feels like. That’s a good thing, I know, but that also means I won’t know when it starts. Is it quick? Does it last a while? Grandma died last year and she seemed to be sick for a long time, pretty much as long as I knew her. When she visited, she always had the bottle of air with her to help her breathe and a long tube, almost like a straw, stuck up her nose and connecting to the bottle. I was really sad when she died, but Mommy was really sad. Mommy and Daddy fought a lot after Grandma died and Daddy spent a lot more time at work. There were some nights when he didn’t come home. I always pictured him sleeping on his desk, which I don’t think would be comfy, but where else could he sleep? Maybe he had a sleepover at a friend’s like when I have sleepovers with Ben.

I slip the new letter under their door, but this time, I’m not gonna wait for them to open it. I’m done waiting. I said I’ll make dinner myself, so that’s what I’m gonna do, and I’m not gonna make any for them, only for me. I grab the same kitchen chair I used before and put it up against the fridge. I can just reach under the freezer door part of the fridge and open it up. I can’t see a lot, but I can reach a little inside. It feels like I’m in reaching into an igloo. I almost imagine a penguin is going to peck my hand, but I know that’s stupid: there aren’t penguins in the fridge.

I feel something hard and smooth and cold. I think this is it. I grab it and pull it out. The chicken thighs. There isn’t any time to melt them, though—that takes a long time. But as long as it’s cooked, that’s what matters, right? I close the freezer door, hop off the chair and move it next to the oven. I get back on the chair and reach over the stove to get to the oven spinner thing, the thing that turns the oven on. My armpit hurts as I stretch and stretch to get to it, but I do it, and I turn it all the way up to the highest number, 500.

I hear the oven click on and then there’s a hissing sound like a snake or like it sounds when I slurp soup, something Daddy tells me not to do. I back up a little on the chair and grab the oven door handle. I can open it, but not all the way because the chair is in the way, but that’s okay, because there’s enough room for me to throw the chicken thighs in, so I stick a fingernail into the plastic cover and rip a hole in it. I take the plastic off; it’s kind of like taking dry glue off my fingers, which always makes me think of dead skin, which I’ve also taken off, only the glue doesn’t hurt. I take the chicken thighs out of the little tray and toss them into the oven. They all land on the bars with the same ca-clunk sound.

I look back at Mommy and Daddy’s door. Like I thought, it’s still closed. I wonder if other people’s parents fight like this. Ben’s parents did it in their way and my parents in their way, but do other parents have their own ways? And do all parents seem to forget their kids when they fight? Do they forget that they’re parents? They just become one person yelling at someone else? How do they change back? When there’s a winner to the fight? It doesn’t feel like anybody wins. Mommy and Daddy don’t always seem happy when they’re done fighting. They’re nicer to each other, but there’s still something bad going on, like they know they’re just going to fight again later. Is that how it is for everyone? When I grow up and have kids, am I going to just go from one fight to the next fight with my wife and forget everything else? I don’t want that to happen, but maybe I can’t stop it.

Something inside the oven crackles. Maybe the ice on the chicken thighs is melting.

Ms. Miller told us a little about her husband a while ago, almost around the same time Ben’s parents were divorcing. That’s the word she used: divorcing. Divorce. She had a divorce, and when she saw Ben was having a hard time, she talked to the class about it. She had her divorce a few years ago. She didn’t have any kids, but she did say it was a hard time and that she was really sad after. She got better, though. It still hurts sometimes, she said, but she’s doing okay, and that’s what she said to Ben, that he would be okay, and all of us would be okay if our parents got a divorce.

There’s a fizzing sound, like the bubbles in soda popping.

I like Ms. Miller. She’s really fun and pretty. I’ve never gotten in trouble with her and I think she likes me a lot. She also likes Mommy and Daddy. When Daddy comes to pick me up from school, he talks to Ms. Miller a lot and they always smile and are happy to see each other. Mommy used to smile at Ms. Miller, too, but the last couple times she’s picked me up, she hasn’t smiled, even though Ms. Miller still smiles. I think Mommy is just tired.

I feel a little tired now, but I’m still hungry. Something smells like sour and burning. The kitchen feels hotter . . .

Oh no!

I didn’t close the oven door.

It’s not open all the way, but it’s still open, and the smell is coming from it. I climb on the chair and peek inside but can’t for too long because the oven blows hot air into my eyes and it hurts to keep them open. If I just close it, I’m sure it’ll be okay. I step off the chair, but my eyes are still closed because of the hot air, and I slip off the edge and I land on the floor and OWWWWWW my hand squishes under me and it feels flat and dead and OWWWWWW.

I scream louder than I’ve ever screamed before. I roll onto my back and grab my hand with my other hand, but it hurts to touch. I’m crying and crying and my nose fills with snot. I can’t move my hand. It’s dangling and it wobbles. It reminds me of silly putty, stretching it out and out until it’s really big and then you can hold it and swing it back and forth, or like the cheese off a pizza when you take a slice out of the box and some cheese sticks to the other slices. That’s my hand: my hand is the cheese.

“Mommy! Daddy! Help!”

I just want them now. I don’t care about food and I don’t care about them not reading my letters and I don’t care if they’re happy or sad or mad or fighting or not fighting. I just want them. And they’re not coming. Their door is still closed.

I try to stand up. I have to hold the chair so I can stand up all the way, and while I’m near the chair, I push it on the oven door to close it. The whole kitchen smells hot and gross.

I walk over to Mommy and Daddy’s door and I knock with my not-cheese hand. I yell their names again, “Mommy! Daddy! My hand!” I keep knocking and keep knocking but nothing is happening.

So fine.

I reach up for the knob. It takes a little jump, but I grab it and turn it and open the door.

“Mommy, Dadd—”

I can’t talk. I just can’t. I rub my eyes with my good hand and sniff up snot and drop my hands down and just stand there, looking at nothing: just a bed, a dresser, the windows, the curtains, the clothes in the closet, the TV, the laundry and the pictures on the wall.

Mommy and Daddy aren’t in the room.

Nobody’s here.

My notes are under my feet on the floor. One on top of the other on top of the other.


Then blue.

Then red.