A Mutual Agreement
By Chloe Kasper
My father is a good person. He’s mild-mannered, agreeable, and always tries to put the needs of others before his own. To avoid confrontation, he travels through life like a ship atop the waves, sailing above unknown depths and dangerous uncertainties. This way, he is less likely to disappoint and less likely to fail. At the corners of his eyes are deep wrinkles from a lifetime of smiling. Yet now, it’s hard to imagine that he had ever smiled so wide or so often to create such wrinkles. He has the kind of eyes that are easy to trust, familiar and safe. Every Sunday, seemingly no matter the circumstance, he and my mother attend the nine o’clock service at Rolling Hills Covenant Church. Every week, they sit in the same pew, listen to the sermon, and leave without talking to anyone. Each of my father’s weekdays follows the same structure and includes the same activities as the weekdays before. He’s dependable and finds comfort in his routines like going to the gym, or the scheduled trips to the same grocery store every Saturday.
I was reminded of my father’s need for normalcy when I came home from school in December. We were headed back from my Aunt’s house in Malibu; my mother was staying the night there. As I sat in the passenger seat of his gas-mileage-efficient car, I asked him how things were going since I had last seen him in July. He told me, “Life has been good. I’ve been keeping healthy and am trying this new Paleo diet which I think has begun to positively affect my energy levels. Other than that nothing terribly interesting comes to mind.” His voice held a nearly indiscernible longing, like that of a former idealist.
I looked over, hoping to see a hint of sarcasm woven into the fabric of his expression. But his face showed no sign of the small, mischievous, and lopsided smile that used to accompany statements such as this. He then asked me about school, and I told him it was going well. He said he was proud of me, and that when he was in college he struggled at the beginning. His grades were not the best and he had a hard time disciplining himself to study. However, eventually, he felt as though he was letting down his parents and himself with the grades he was getting. In the end, he was reminded of the importance of hard work and dedication. As was second nature at this point, I smiled and nodded my head at a story which I’d heard countless times, usually following talk of how school was going.
When he and I talked, the trajectory of conversation was unstoppably headed in my direction and into the goings-on of my life. It was either that or talk of the weather and Paleo diets. That afternoon especially, the weight of this realization felt unbearable. I didn’t want this conversation to be another frivolous one. So before he could ask what restaurant sounded best for dinner, I asked him if he was still happy at his job.
I would like to say that there was some hesitancy, stiffening in his posture, or a tightening of his grip on the steering wheel, anything to show me that he was uneasy or reluctant to answer. Instead, he responded with ease, and without a shard of hesitation.
“Work is going well, actually I suppose I should’ve told you before when you asked me what was new, I guess it slipped my mind. I was offered a position at an aerospace engineering company in D.C. The position is actually a promotion, and although I would rarely consider a drastic change such as this, I did some investigating.” It was as if he were reminiscing; he looked content and happy to have me listening. “Since we never really had ties to California, it would be nice to finally head to the east coast where you are, and where the rest of the family is. I entertained the idea for a little while. The contract was for five years with just as much job stability as the company I’m with now, and it is nearing the end of my current contract. It was definitely within the realm of practical possibility.”
Confused, I responded, “’Was’ as in past tense?”
My father had turned down the job. His exact words were, “It’s the right thing to do, Chloe. I can’t uproot the life we have here and risk your mother being unhappy for nothing.”
My mother is a good person. After the love that’s in all the movies with happy endings has run its course, she’ll continue on in that kind of love’s absence. She’s realistic; she knows that love is fleeting and ultimately a choice, not just a feeling. She believes nothing can endure time’s unsympathetic passing. She finds freedom in what most people feel restless or imprisoned by. For her, there’s liberation in security and predictability. Without faltering, she does what she thinks is right; for her, there is no gray area. She believes that happiness is ultimately a meaningless pursuit. Other people’s happiness as well as her own, was never of paramount importance in her life. What’s important to my mother is stability, and my father thought that so long as their life together was stable, she would be happy.
So as I turned to look out the window, questions formed a traffic jam inside my head like the cars in the neighboring lanes. I knew my mother had communicated her doubts to my father while also making it seem like this was what he needed to inevitably do. Yet, what I didn’t know is that he also knew this. Still, he was happy to talk about something he knew would never happen. Mundanity consumed their days, and I couldn’t remember a time when I had seen them smile while looking directly at each other. I asked him “Are you afraid of taking this risk and it not being what you hoped?”
He suddenly looked tired as he said, “I just want your mother to be happy.” To accept the job would be far too great of a risk for my father. If things didn’t go as planned, my mother would never let him forget, and her disappointed gaze would slowly eat away at my father.
It’s true that their love was a passage re-learned by rote in later years. They made a vow to each other and to God, they were bound by law and mutual acceptance of this reality. They were content with their love existing as an afterthought. They both find security and purpose in what most people would find monotonous.
My parents are good people. They’re like sturdy houses that are average in almost every respect, yet able to endure the harshest of weather. Maybe that is their defiance and triumph, to simply endure.