The chairs in the dining room were old and dark and graceful, and to me as a kid they were a marvel.
A circle of sedate respectability, second-hand from another era, in the middle of my life.
There were probably six or eight at the start, expertly turned and joined and sitting there genteel and worthy. A testament to an existence in which beauty mattered.
They were strangers in our home.
Out of place, and I guess, looking back, ill fated.
I think two had been broken by the time of the peanut butter.
Mostly they splintered when the shouting broke into mad, slapping wrestling and together they fell over against the table or a chair, and slipping back the wood cracked beneath them.
A clear high pop that carried to the bedrooms above.
Everything carried to the bedrooms above. Certainly the noise, and usually the fight.
And the foaming hatred and the monotony of blows that came in a flagging thud, thud, thud against your back or your arm or sometimes your head. There was a humiliation in crying that was the unspoken objective, and you knew it would feed and grow until you cried, but you resisted anyway.
And the next morning at breakfast there would be one less chair.
It was always in pieces outside the back door and come Friday it would go in the bonfire.
And you walked home from school in the afternoon hoping they were at the bar and that somehow they would have enough money to stay there until you all were in bed and could pretend you were asleep and lay there immobile until they passed out.
The peanut butter was there a long time.
There was a shelf on the wall with lanterns and models and knick knacks, and one night in a fury of profanity a big glass jar was thrown. And its shards stuck in the wall and splattered across its face.
And it stayed that way.
In that room with the chairs.
We were taken to an uncle's house one night when the .22 was fired, and we weren't there long but the cops kept the guns for a while anyway. I never saw where the bullet went but they talked about it for months.
Like the time when they were in the back yard and he was on top choking her and we were all shrieking and I ran to my tackle box and got a folding filet knife with a yellow plastic handle and ran back and told him to stop.
He did but that was the beginning of the end.
Not long after was the only fight of my life and I held him back and grappled him down and had to leave after that.
But that was almost 40 years ago and I seldom think about it anymore.
Except lately it's been harder to ignore. I seem to see reminders everywhere. Saturday night on Cops there was a screaming mother who brought it back and Sunday, while I was doing the dishes, there was a call on the scanner for an ambulance, to the scene of a family dispute.
And while I stood there at the sink wondering what that ambulance would find I thought about those chairs.
There were just two when I moved out, and on the odd Sunday when I came back for dinner, I would sit in one and he would sit in the other.
And then there was one and years later when I came to visit there were none. They each in turn were piled outside the back door and consumed in the bonfire.
The bonfire that burns all things tender.
But like I said, that was almost 40 years ago, and I guess it's silly to waste time mourning a bunch of chairs.
Though I do it anyway.