When I was 9 years old my dad would read "Captain Underpants" to me every night. The voices of Mr. Fyde the science teacher, Ms.Anthrope the English teacher, and the "tralaalaa" of Captain Underpants fell silent when my parents separated. One night I was watching "The Simpsons" when my mom asked if I wanted to go with her to ask my father to move back home.
I turned off "The Simpsons."
Then I put some dirty clothes on and we buckled up inside her faded green Corolla. We ended up in Century City, an upper-class business community where billion dollar corporations like MGM, Sun America, and International Creative Management are headquartered.
I looked up at the skyscrapers that towered above us. "Does he live there?" I shouted and pointed.
My hopes were crushed when my mom drove past glimmering Century City and into a rundown section of Culver City.
We arrived at my dad's apartment building. It was yellow and crusty, as if a million people had been blowing cigarette smoke on it for years. My heart raced as we entered the lobby. Which was the same smoker's yellow as the exterior. Mailboxes covered the wall, and junk mail littered the floor. A glass door barred us from the inside. The vestibule served two purposes; it allowed mail in, and kept people out.
The intercom was a metal box that signified the end of my parent's marriage. I found my last name and punched #72.
"Hello," I couldn't believe it. My father's voice.
"Telegram for Mongo," my mother quoted a line from "Blazing Saddles", one of my father's favorite movies. No answer. All I heard was the sound of the telephone hit its base. We called two more times, still no answer.
I sat in the lobby wondering why my dad had hung up. Did he not want to see me? Was he ashamed of this dump? Did his phone die? What was he hiding? How will I see him again? Five minutes later a middle-aged blond woman with deep bags under her eyes, wearing a stained blouse, lets us in.
The darkness of night covered the open courtyard. We found the elevator; it smelled like aerosol. The door opened, and my mom and I circled the apartment building before we found my dad's apartment. My mom knocked. No answer. I put my ear to the door--"Malcolm in the Middle", I thought. My dad told us that he didn't own a TV.
We walked downstairs to the laundry room. No windows, just rusty gates where the windows should have been. The washers were pale white with a ginger rust coating their edges. Mother opened the washing machines one by one. I wanted to go home. Inside the third machine she found my father's clothes. The load included a pair of damp grey woman's tights.
As my mother stood there crying, and holding the tights, my dad appeared. Instead of his laundry he collected verbal beating of his life. My mom's curses were half in Greek, half in English. The gist of this was "Twenty-five years of my life gone, how could you?"
My father stood motionless. My mom flung a plastic bottle of bleach at his feet, another one at his car as we drove off.
On our way home my mom rear ended a black Acura. I sat in the back silent as my mom sobbed and gave her insurance information to the man whose car she dented.
My mom tucked me in bed, and kissed my cheek. All through the night I could hear her crying from her bedroom. The house that we had left just an hour earlier was now transformed into a battleground. And I was the center of that war that would rage on for years to come.