They’re doing the dishes, all three of them like they do every night, and I hear their voices. Well, I hear two of them. Carter has said something and Colton tries to add a bit to the conversation and Carter won’t listen. He talks over his brother, his voice getting louder. An argument begins, angrier and angrier and I just listen. I should go in and intervene and peace-make this thing that’s happening, but I don’t. I’m so tired of these boys and this argument. I want them to just STOP it already.

It’s too much for me. I look at their dad and he goes in to deal the way he deals. He sends the youngest to his room and tells the other to finish the dishes.

It’s quiet now, but there isn’t peace. There’s just a big, gaping hole where the voices used to be. The dishes are finished in silence, clean and put away and the kitchen looks nice. It looks just fine and ready for the next day, but there’s a big messy pile of invisible anger simmering and my heart hurts.

Colton is wiping the counter top when I step toward him. I open my mouth and words come out. Words like sorry, and I know it’s tough, and I understand what it’s like to have someone in your life who is a “hard” person. I say stuff like you can’t force other people to be different, and unconditional love is hard because it’s about you and not about how the other person treats you, and I tell him how wonderful I think he is. How caring and hard-working and how proud I am of him and it’s all true, but I see his eyes, brimming a bit, and I know the words are not enough.

I just want him to listen to me, he says. He never listens to me. Never. And he shares some more but really, this not being listened to is at the bottom of it all.

I’m listening, I say. He nods, he knows, but this night it isn’t enough. He’s gone to that alone place, that sad place we all visit occasionally and it will take some time.

I wish I could fix it all. I wish I could make everyone be nice all the time. I wish children didn’t feel alone, ever. I wish brothers didn’t fight. I wish it was easier than it is, this living together thing.