Stop Laughing

Ethan’s parents liked to laugh at him. They would stop by and comment on his life and laugh. Ethan lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in Belle Pointe Apartments near the interstate. His apartment was cluttered, probably a reflection of Ethan’s ongoing depression and social anxiety and the self-hatred that came from dealing with his depression and social anxiety. He wished he could be outgoing and popular like his parents, but he’d rather spend time alone with his thoughts and papers and books.

“We’re surprised you answered the door.” Ethan’s mother said. She laughed. Ethan usually didn’t answer the door. Ethan knew to look through the peephole before opening the door, but he always felt nervous that the person outside could tell he was looking through the peephole. He felt like the person outside was laughing at him for looking through the peephole rather than just enjoying the surprise and fear that came from opening the door without looking.

Ethan’s parents pushed their way into his apartment. Ethan was jammed against the wall. He slipped on some magazines and fell down. The magazines were a pile of old Life magazines that Ethan had been keeping for their lovely photography.

“Careful, there, buddy,” his father said. He laughed. “Can’t stop this train.” He shook Ethan’s hand as Ethan remained seated on the floor. Neither parent helped Ethan. Ethan sat for a while, then he got up. He stood near the door while his parents rode roughshod over his apartment. He tried to smile from time to time. He put his hands in his pockets. He took his hands out of his pockets. He sat down again.

When they were inside, they looked around at Ethan’s apartment. Ethan could tell they didn’t approve of his lifestyle.

Ethan’s dad marched over and opened the curtains. “Christ, let some light in here,” he said. He laughed. “Feels like I’m in prison.” He laughed again. He told a prison rape joke. Both mother and father laughed.

“I love that one,” Ethan’s mother said.

“I know you do, Sweetie,” Ethan’s father said. He winked at her.

Ethan looked away.

Ethan’s mother inspected Ethan’s kitchen. “I can only imagine what you’re going to catch in here.” She laughed. “You’re going to catch the creeping crud in here.” She brayed.

“That bad?” Ethan’s father said. He went into the kitchen. He whistled. “Wow.” Ethan’s parents laughed. “Glad we got our shots before we came over.” Both parents laughed. “I’m glad the clinic started offering booster shots,” Ethan’s father said.

Ethan’s mother put her hand on the stack of cookware in the sink. The stack toppled onto the floor. “Oops,” she said. “I’d pick that up, but I’m afraid of catching something.”

Ethan’s parents returned to the living room. They moved around the room and continued to look for Ethan’s deficiencies.

Ethan seldom vacuumed his apartment; at home, his mother vacuumed twice a day. “Oh, looks like you vacuumed today.” She laughed. She gave her husband a knowing look. He winked. She sat down in a rickety chair. Ethan’s father sat down in another rickety chair. They both laughed.

“How could you vacuum with all of this crap everywhere?” Ethan’s father said. He kicked some of the trash on the floor. “But in some places you can even see the floor.”

“Things are looking up,” Ethan’s mother said. She laughed.

“Every cloud has a silver lining,” Ethan’s father said. “Floor! Floor! I can see it!” He clapped his hands and laughed.

“He has bigger problems,” Ethan’s mother said.

“Vacuuming would be like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound,” Ethan’s father said. They both laughed. Ethan’s father rubbed his hand through his hair.

Ethan looked forward to masturbating after they left. It kept him from thinking of sticking his head in the oven and turning on the gas.

“Hope this chair is safe,” Ethan’s dad said. “Hope I don’t die in a chair in my son’s apartment. Can you imagine having to tell the folks down at the complex that I died in a chair in my son’s apartment?”

“I don’t want to think about that,” Ethan’s mother said. “My chair doesn’t feel safe either. It’s going to kill me.” She laughed. “Think you’ve got enough newspapers? It’s worse than Grandpa’s in here.” She referred to the four-foot-high stacks of newspapers along the wall and Grandpa’s penchant for collecting newspapers.

“I don’t think anything could be that bad, could be as bad as him,” Ethan’s father said. He laughed. “But in this case—”

“Worse,” Ethan’s mother said.

“At least he hasn’t burned the place down yet,” Ethan’s father said.

At least.

Ethan’s father stood, and his chair collapsed. “That was lucky,” he said. “I was almost a goner.”

“Oh, dear,” Ethan’s mother said. “We might have to sue our son some day. If he keeps trying to kill us. He’d wish he’d never been born.”

“I can see why Shawn ran away,” Ethan’s father said. He was speaking of Ethan’s cat Shawn, who ran away shortly after Ethan took him in. Ethan had found Shawn hanging around the apartment complex and brought him in. Ethan tried not to think about Shawn because that usually sent him into a depression.

Ethan felt like he was in the cage with two wild animals, maybe two panda bears. They looked approachable—they were his parents after all—but don’t get too close or they’ll tear your arm off. Ah, what a cute panda. Then: Hey, let go of me. Then: Hey, that hurts. Then: Hey, you’re tearing my arm off.

“I was talking to George yesterday, and he says to me that I could borrow his backhoe,” Ethan’s dad said.

“What do you want that for?” Ethan’s mother said.

“For the rock wall by the living room,” Ethan’s father said.

“Oh, OK,” Ethan’s mother said.

Another time, Ethan’s mother and father showed up with a huge box. It was a 42″ plasma TV. They carried it into Ethan’s apartment. Ethan felt so excited. He felt bad too because he didn’t deserve such a nice gift from his parents. And he felt bad for maybe not being such a great son.

“We got you a TV,” Ethan’s father said. “Where should we put it?”

Ethan didn’t know, so he shook his head.

“This thing is heavy,” Ethan’s father said. They put the box down. “Why don’t you open it?”

Ethan started to tear open the box until he realized that it was empty. By then, his mother and father were laughing.

“The TV is on our wall at home,” his mother said. “No one would have such a nice TV in this disaster area.”

Ethan drove them to lunch once. As he was rounding a corner, he hit the curb. Ethan’s mother laughed. Ethan felt sweat dripping down his back.

“Hey, don’t kill us,” Ethan’s father said. He laughed. “Maybe I should take over. I don’t want you to cut my retirement short.” He laughed again.

At the restaurant Ethan ordered a gyro sandwich, but he pronounced it wrong. Ethan’s mother laughed. “It’s pronounced hero,” Ethan’s mother said. Ethan’s father laughed. Ethan nodded.

Ethan said goodbye to his parents in the parking lot, and he hurried back to his apartment.

“Look at him go,” Ethan’s father said. “It’s like he doesn’t want to be seen with us.”

“I wish we had a nicer boy,” Ethan’s mother said. Ethan could hear everything they both said. He resolved to be nicer, so they’d like him more.

As Ethan ran toward his apartment, he felt around in his pocket for the key. He wanted to be ready to put the key in the lock. He hated standing on the porch fumbling for his key. He felt too exposed there.

Ethan felt relief after he returned to his apartment. His breathing returned to normal.

Ethan tried to stay positive after his parents’ visit. After all, this time he only cried for an hour after they left. But he still knew he could never share any of his true self with them.

Ethan wanted to make them happy. He knew if he just tried harder, he could keep his apartment clean and make them happy. He could get rid of all of his rickety chairs, toss out all of the junk. Then they’d be happy, and they’d like him. That was what mattered. He knew if he just maybe bought some books on cleaning and organization. He could go to one of those stores that sold storage solutions. He knew he could make them happy.

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