What We Talk About When We Talk About Parental Love

by Cannon Roberts

Steve paused the movie when Megan announced she still slept in the same bed as her father. He knew they wouldn’t be finishing the movie that night. The plan was to eat pizza, drink wine, and watch some action flick that didn’t require too much thinking. Steve even made everyone agree on the movie beforehand so they didn’t spend the entire evening debating their choices. Instead, wine was opened before the pizza was ordered and his wife, Brandy, started pouring shots of bourbon before they could decide on toppings. With wine and liquor and no food, the conversation took over and Steve ordered pizza without consulting anyone. Steve warned Brandy if they didn't decide everything beforehand, they would end up wasting the entire evening. Brandy said that was part of the fun.

Steve and Brandy already knew this weird, disturbing fact about Megan and her father. She claimed they only shared a bed when no other option was available but when Conrad stayed with Brandy and Megan, there were plenty of other options. Brandy offered to share her bed with Megan. Easier than that, Conrad could have slept on the couch. Brandy even said she would stay with Steve knowing Conrad was judgmental and misogynistic, though Megan claimed her father’s opinions were simply old-time religion. Conrad was not hatful, just conservative. He often asked Brandy if she had slept with the guys Megan was interested in even though Brandy and Steve had been dating for two years. But you and Steve aren't married, Conrad would say as justification, suggesting that Brandy was, at best, a swinger but, more likely, the whore of Babylon. The directness ended when Megan came back into the room. With his daughter around, Conrad's comments became more generalized about society and usually involved complaints about America's crumbling values.

Steve and Brandy were somewhat immune to Megan's relationship with her father. They were still weirded out when Megan discussed how close she was with Conrad, how she was comfortable walking around her parents’ house in her underwear when getting ready for church, or how she took her father clothes shopping so he could approve of her purchases. Even bras and panties. They knew to ignore her in these moments. Brad, however, had never heard this piece of personal information. He was Megan's most recent boyfriend who was much quieter and reserved than the rest. Steve found most of her boyfriend’s obnoxious but decided he preferred loud and boisterous over dull and despondent. At Megan's declaration, however, Brad made himself known. He stood up from his chair in the corner and walked towards Megan. The living room was small so his three steps were melodramatic. Brandy dug her nails into Steve’s thigh to keep both of them from laughing. Brad stood over Megan looking angry though the plate full of pizza and soda can he was holding undercut his seriousness.

Steve and Brandy knew the conversation that would come next. They had the conversation with Megan the first time Conrad visited. They watched her have this conversation with two previous boyfriends. Steve suspected that Megan told this story so her boyfriends would break up with her, a self-destruct button that kept her from being the bad guy.

The conversation always had the same flow. The first step was weirdness. Megan revealed that she slept in the same bed as her father as an adult, the conversation came to a halt, and people stated their dismay and disapproval. The next step was creepiness. Megan opened up about the subject and explained how she felt that it proved her close bond with her father. Usually, this part of the conversation didn't illicit much response. People just stared. There tended to be a lot of silent head shaking during this part. The next step was to tell about the last time they shared a bed. Until recently, the latest experience was the time Megan and Brandy lived together, but once Steve and Brandy married, Megan decided she should live on her own and rented a small, one bedroom apartment. Again, the couch was a viable option but Megan claimed she didn't want her dad to get lonely. This story was worse than the previous one. The fact that she was willing to tell this story when no one had to know about it made people go from being creeped out to being concerned. The next step was therapists suggestions. Megan always said the same thing: I am seeing a counselor. Steve didn't think a counselor and a therapist were the same thing. Counselors gave people a safe place to talk. Megan talked all the time. She would open up to a tree that happened to lean in her direction. She needed a therapist who could really get inside her head.

"Maybe it's a good thing that you and your dad acknowledge your physical attraction to one another," Steve said as Brad stood looking at Megan still holding his pizza and soda.

"What the fuck?" Brandy shouted, gesturing with her arms and sloshing wine out of her cup. Everyone was staring at Steve.

"I am not sexually attracted to my father," Megan said.

"I didn't say sexually. I said physically. I don't really know the difference but I think there is one," Steve said trying to form his defense. He was drunk and he should have kept his mouth shut but he couldn't hear the same damn conversation again. He felt it was time to change the conversation and see what happened. Without fully forming his argument he started to explain. "I'm just sitting here trying to think why I would never sleep in the same bed as my mother. Is it just because she's my mother or is it because she's fat and I wouldn't want to sleep next to her?"

"Steven Christopher!"

"I know, I know, I called my mom fat and now I'm the jerk," Steve said looking at Brandy. "But it's true. I would sleep in the same bed as your mom if I had too."

"That's different," Brandy said. "You and my mom always flirt. It's no secret you find her attractive and that's why you’ll never be in a bed with her."

"Okay, fine, that's different, but maybe none of us know what it's like to have a parent who would be physically attractive if they weren't our parent. Maybe there's something evolutionary behind all this."

There was a silence as people rearranged themselves around the room. Brad moved into the dining room, set his pizza and soda on the table, and drug a chair the few feet it took to reach the living room so he could sit next to Megan. Brandy also moved to sit next to Megan as if she were trying to defend her from Brad. They faced Steve sitting alone on the couch. Steve got up and stood in front of the TV. Before he made his stupid comment he had thought about turning the movie back on so he could stand a few inches away and watch while the predictable chaos ensued. Standing, Steve felt as if he were in an intervention. He waited for someone to say that he was the one who needed therapy but people stayed quiet.

"I'm not saying that if my mom lost weight I would be attracted…" Steve trailed off. Trying to explain himself now only made him seem desperate.

"God made me who I am," Megan said. Everyone turned, not sure what her point was. Brad tried to put a hand on her shoulder but she moved away from him. "God made me like this. It has nothing to do with evolution."

"That's what you're upset about?" Brandy asked, her voice strained. While Brandy tried her best to accept her friend's conservative, and often wavering, religious views, there were moments she could not hide her disdain. She felt Megan was too scared to let go of some of her beliefs, which often held her back in her relationships and in her career. Steve, Brandy, and Megan had all met in grad school. Steve and Brandy had been out for over a year, almost two. None of them were in the positions or careers they had imagined when they started but, for the most part, they were happy. Brandy taught history at an alternative school for kids who had been kicked out of the public high schools. She was cursed out on a daily basis and spent most of her time telling kids to sit down. Steve worked in a museum which was at least in their field though he was only a part time receptionist/security guard who answered phones on the weekends and walked the halls twice an hour. Still, he had a foot in the door and could get promoted.  Mostly, Steve sat on their couch and watched the history channel, then went to the gym so he could come home a few minutes after Brandy. This allowed both of them to pretend his days were productive.

Megan was ready to graduate with them but changed her specialty during their last semester and needed to retake most of her classes. Brandy thought it was because she was scared to branch out and start a career. Steve felt that if she wasn't in school or married Conrad would make her move back to Kentucky to teach at the bible college where she had gone to for undergrad or work in his law firm where he mostly defended racist, homophobic preachers and small militias who accidentally blew shit up while hunting on the outskirts of some small town.

"But God could have made us to evolve, right?" Brad said as a way to compromise, a telling sign they were early in the relationship. Megan preferred the boys who argued with her. Though those relationships always involved more fighting and yelling and Steve having to sleep on the couch so Megan could share the bed with Brandy for a few nights.

"That's not how it works," Megan said. "God made us how we are and there is no need to evolve."

"Oh my god, shut up," Brandy said hitting Megan on the leg and standing up. "You are not going to use that line. If you think homosexuality is a sin, you can’t say God makes us exactly who we are. You always use these double standards, Megan. You can't do that. You know Steve has kissed a couple of guys, does that make him a bad person?"

"Wait, why is my sexuality being brought into this conversation? Megan is upset because the theory of evolution exists."

"That's not why I'm upset. You said I wanted to have sex with my father."

"I didn't say sex," Steve said. "I said physical attraction. There's a difference."

"You're splitting hairs," Brandy said sitting down turning her frustration back to Steve.

"Of course I'm splitting hairs. Look at the subject we're talking about. When someone says I sleep with my dad that could mean multiple things. Even saying I share a bed with my dad could mean several things. So, yeah, I'm going to differentiate between physical and sexual attraction."

"I never thought you meant sex," Brad said. Always the compromiser. "I don't even know why you'd say that, Steve. Who would ever think she meant she had sex with her father?"

"Anyone who thinks Conrad molested her as a child."

In movies, when there are tense melodramatic moments, the actors always pause look at each other and then everything blows up. Someone screams. Someone storms out of the room. Someone apologizes or is asked to leave. None of this happened. Brandy and Brad stared at Steve in disbelief. Steve sat silently wishing he had been able to start the movie before everyone started talking, wishing the pizza had arrived earlier, wishing Megan hadn't decided to use movie night to chase off Brad. And Megan was eating pizza. She acted as if the last half hour hadn't happened, like they had all been staring at the paused TV screen letting the pizza get cold.

"Let's watch the movie," Megan said, her mouth half full. They took a minute to rearrange themselves. Brandy and Steve moved back to the couch. Brad went into the dining room to retrieve his pizza and traded his soda for bourbon. Steve looked around for the remote he had set down at some point during the conversation. Megan was the only person who didn't move. She seemed settled and content with her pizza and wine.

Steve started the movie and ate his cold pizza. He hoped the pieces in the box were still warm. He regretted his outburst, but Megan really needed to figure her shit out. Brandy had seen similar behavior in some of the kids at his school. If a parent was called to campus they would yell at their child in the middle of the hallway then leave without really addressing the problem. The next day she'd hear the student defending the parents saying it was okay to get yelled at and smacked around because his parents were cool and they let him do whatever he wanted most the time.

Megan talked the same way. At dinner, her father would say terribly racist and misogynistic things about her past boyfriends and future career in academia. Once he left the table, she would say that he could really be a jerk sometimes but Conrad was actually such an amazing man. There were other bits and pieces that pointed to a history of abuse, things Brandy told Steve though she wasn't supposed to. Megan diagnosed herself with repressed memories about being abused as a child though she couldn't decide if they were real or not. She would freak out if she felt a guy was trying to pin her down on the couch or against the wall as they made out. Little actions that said something big was lurking under the surface.

Steve got up for another piece of pizza and offered to refill people's wine and bourbon. Everyone refused and he sat down with a slightly warm slice and tried to focus on the movie. Megan finished her pizza and took her plate back into the kitchen. As she came back she touched Brandy's arm and headed toward the bedroom.

"Pause the movie," Brandy said, then followed Megan, shutting the door behind her.

Steve sighed and paused the movie. He focused on his pizza then got up to fill his glass one more time. He had a feeling he would sleeping on the couch and decided that if Brandy and Megan weren't out in half an hour he would send Brad on his way.

"So I wanted to…" Brad started to say but was cut off by Steve's upraised hand.

"Nope. No talking. There is no way conversation will make this moment less awkward."

Brad nodded and tried to drink from his empty glass. Just as Steve was going to tell him to get more, Brad got out of his chair. Steve thought about finding something else to watch but that would mean consulting Brad, which seemed like too much effort. Steve checked his phone instead. Twenty-five more minutes before he could send Brad home.

"I think you may be right," Brad said as he sat down with more bourbon.

“Right about what?” Steve asked.

"The physical attraction thing. It doesn't really bother me to think about sleeping in the same bed as my mom. She's an attractive lady for over fifty."

Steve nodded hoping the conversation would end there. He didn't want to talk about Megan's fucked up family anymore. He wondered if he could use the same awkwardness line to stop Brad a second time.

"I just can't think of any conceivable excuse to actually do it," Brad said. "Maybe if the only other choice was to sleep on the bare ground or a concrete floor, but when the hell would that ever happen."

The two guys sat in silence. Both bent over in their seats, leaned their elbows on their knees, and stared into their glasses.

"I am a fucking adult," Brad said, clearly feeling the effects of the alcohol since no one ever heard him curse. "I can't imagine a reason I wouldn't get two hotel rooms if that ever happened. And Megan's dad is loaded. You're telling me he can't reserve a suite if they’re on the road. I need to talk to her."

Brad was up and walking towards the bedroom before Steve realized what he said. Steve waited for the yelling, waited for Megan to become unhinged as she was known to do when drinking. Steve looked into his glass and wished he had better friends. He felt a hand on his arm. Brandy nodded towards the bedroom. Brad and Megan stood behind her looking remorseful.

"You kids don't have too much fun out here," Steve said, but Brandy elbowed him in the ribs, which didn't let his joke land properly.

Steve and Brandy sat on the edge of the bed with their knees touching, holding hands as if they were calmly waiting for some impending doom. Steve could tell Brandy was trying to hear the argument in the living room. She wasn't crude enough to put her ear to the door, but Steve knew he wasn't supposed to speak. He spoke anyway.

"How long are we in time out?"

Brandy dug her nails into his thigh and visibly leaned her ear towards the door. The voices in the living room became audible. Brandy leaned back and looked at Steve. The voices got louder. Then there was the sound of glass breaking and the distinct noise of a hand making contact with bare skin.

Brandy and Steve rushed into the living room to find Megan with her purse in hand and Brad holding the door open waiting for her to walk out. Steve looked from Brad to Megan. He felt it was more likely that Megan hit Brad but he never knew about the quiet ones. Both of them had red eyes and redder cheeks from yelling and crying.

“We’re going to go, guys,” Megan said with a smile that seemed genuine. “Thanks for having us over.”

She walked over and threw her arms around Brandy like it was the last time they’d see each other. She squeezed Steve’s hand then walked out the door. Brad stood awkwardly for a moment, raised his hand as a way to say good-bye, turned to leave, then asked, “Do you want this open or closed?”

“My front door,” Steve said. “I want it closed.”

Brad left and the apartment was silent. Steve and Brandy looked around for the broken glass, finding it in the sink. Steve threw the larger pieces in the trashcan and washed the shards down the drain. Brandy picked up the bottle of bourbon and flopped down on the couch. There were two more pieces of pizza in the box. Steve layered them and shoved as much into his mouth as possible. Brandy flipped through the movie choices and selected the goofy comedies category as she drank straight from the bottle. Once Steve finished chewing and was able to swallow, he sat down next to her and took the bottle. He knew it would be empty before they got off the couch.

“So I’m drunk,” Brandy said which was always worrisome. “But if I die, you can sleep with my mom.”

Steve thought about pointing out that this permission was highly ambiguous, up for interpretation, and possibly disturbing. Instead, he found out how much bourbon he could chug before choking, then handed the bottle back.