It’s always the same. Nobody has time for each other in the Tomson apartment in New York. It didn’t used to be like this however. Claudia always had her mom, dad, older brother, Trey, and younger brother, Dee sit down at the table and have breakfast in the kitchen together. That was when she was five. That was once upon a time. Now, it just all fell to pieces. Claudia’s parents just finalized their divorce six months ago. Trey was in Iraq on activate duty. So now, it was just her, Dee, and their mother, Michelle. Even that wasn’t the standard there. Michelle was always too busy to even sit down and eat. She was always getting ready for work. When she did have breakfast, Michelle just grabbed a Kashi bar and rushed out the door. In others words, Claudia and Dee were the only ones at the kitchen table eating breakfast before they left for school.
In Claudia’s mind, things needed to go back to the way they were. She had waited for months for that to happen. When no sign back apparent, she decided to take matters into her hands. So one morning as Michelle cleaning up the kitchen from preparing breakfast, Claudia put down her spoon.
“Momma,” she said. Michelle didn’t pause from her work. She didn’t even answer.
“Momma,” Claudia tried again. “Momma!” Michelle stopped putting the cereal away.
“What do you want, Claudia?” The twelve-year-old girl sat up some as she propped up her head with her elbows.
“When is Trey coming home?”
“I don’t know, baby.”
“Because… the military wants him in Iraq at the moment and he won’t come home until they say he can.” Claudia looked at her mother oddly.
“Why is he Iraq? Didn’t we catch Saddam and there were no weapons of massive destruction, right?”
“So why does the military still want Trey in Iraq?” That made Michelle freeze right in her spot. She turned around to her children and sat down at the table with them. She looked at them both really close. Claudia’s cheeks looked much more fuller than she remembered. Her braids looked like they could use some tightening up again. Other than that, Claudia was growing up to be a fine-looking child. Her daughter was a little bit pudgy was she was a little girl, but now she had slimmed down some. However, Claudia still had those fat little cheeks of hers. Dee himself had fat little cheeks of his own. She saw Trey and her ex, Kyle, in the eight-year-old. Michelle shuddered a bit. It felt like she was seeing her kids for the first time in years. Dee blinked at her.
“What’s wrong, momma?” he asked. Michelle quickly shook her head.
“Nothing, it’s nothing,” she lied. Dee took another bite of his pop tart. Claudia looked her mother dead in the eye. Her secret plan was working. She just needed to keep her mother and brother engaged in conversation a little bit longer before she and Dee had to go to school.
“So why did they still have Trey in Iraq?” she asked again. Michelle unwrapped her Kashi bar as she thought about how to answer that one. Claudia and Dee waited for the answer. Their mother sighed in defeat.
“To be honest with you,” she said. “I can’t really answer that.” Claudia raised an eyebrow at her.
“Why not?” Michelle shrugged at her.
“It’s just one of those things,” she said.
“Like when you and daddy broke up?” Dee asked. Claudia nudged him in the rib cage.
“Ow!” the younger boy wailed. “Momma, she hit me!”
“Claudia, don’t hit your brother,” Michelle said.
“Yes momma,” the girl replied.
“And yes, Dee,” Michelle answered her son. “It is like when daddy and I broke up.” All three went silent. They all remembered Michelle and Kyle’s divorce all over again. It just hurt everyone and isolated them. The children buried themselves in small mischief and school to cope. Kyle and Michelle didn’t cheat on or hate each other. The love was just gone and they decided why bother hanging on? The split was amiable and they still reminded friends. Michelle still loved her ex, but she just wasn’t in love with him anymore. Claudia decided it was time to change the subject.
“So what are you doing today, momma?” she asked. Michelle pulled herself together in order to talk.
“I have to represent the wife in court today,” she said.
“Why is she divorcing her husband?” Claudia asked.
“They just don’t love each other anymore,” her mother answered. “Their relationship just fell apart from there.” Claudia nodded.
“Ah,” she said. She finished up her now soggy Fruit Loops in her bowl. Michelle smiled at her daughter.
“And what are you two up to today?” she asked. Her kids grinned at her.
“I’m going to get my math test back today!” Dee announced.
“Oh really? How do you think you did?” his mother asked.
“GREAT!” the little boy announced. She looked over at her daughter.
“And what about you, Claudia?” she asked.
“We’re reading a play in class today,” the girl said.
“Ooo, which play?” Michelle asked.
“Romeo and Juliet,” Claudia said. “I’m reading Juliet’s part in the class.”
“Who is Romeo?” her mother asked. The girl blushed at that question. Dee giggled.
“Robert Locke!” he announced. Claudia whipped around to him embarrassed.
“DEE!!!” she cried. Michelle giggled at her children.
“Your crush, I assume?” she asked. Claudia looked down at her empty bowl.
“Something like that…” she mumbled.
“Is he a nice boy?”
“Yes.” Michelle thought about this new information for a short moment. Claudia waited anxiously. Her mother finally smiled at her.
“Hm, I’ll have to find out more later,” she resolved. “See you at dinner?” Claudia looked at her slightly confused.
“Huh?” she asked. “What are you talking about?” Her mother smiled at her still.
“I have work and you and your brother have school,” she said. It took a moment for her daughter to grasp that.
“Ohhhh! That’s right!” she said at last. Michelle nodded at her.
“You guys have a good day, okay?” she asked.
“Okay,” Claudia and Dee said nodding. Michelle blew them both a kiss and headed out the apartment door. Claudia turned to her brother.
“Ready to go?” she asked him.
“Yep!” her brother said. As they cleaned up the table before going to school, Claudia reflected on breakfast this morning. Today made some clear progress. Michelle sat down and talked to them today. That’s a good start. All Claudia has to do now was to keep Michelle talking to them at the kitchen table from now on in the mornings. And when Trey and Kyle came home at last, things would go back to the way they are supposed to be. But for now, she had Dee and Michelle to talk at the kitchen table with.
It’s Got to Get Bad Before it Gets Good