Stumbling in and out of the mixology bars near Bedford, the new and the washed up all collided in a messy mix of naïveté and hopelessness. The overwhelming everything goes policy makes certain behaviors seem acceptable only here and nowhere else. The newcomers to the city go insane dealing with tendencies and addictions they thought were in the past, rejuvenated and brought back to the light by the excessive avenues of self re-invention. The old and jaded New Yorkers settle in to their bar stools knowing they’ve seen it all and are sitting there waiting to die. Walking along the Brooklyn waterfront became one of my favorite things to do on warm days. The city spring had this way of being cold and hot at the same time. The warmth of the sun would peak through the atmosphere as the biting wind cut it leaving you in a pendulum of heat prickling cold. The sound of the water was being drowned out by the white noise of the city just across from me, where thousands of taxi cabs and scurrying people were all scrambling around on this conglomerate of steel stalagmites. In so many ways, the anonymity NYC created made me feel safe. I didn’t want any relics of my past to find me. Even memories of my Southern past seemed distant and faded. Compared to where I was standing at that moment, it felt like all the other parts of my life had been made up. My radically conservative upbringing, casually mixed with the typical heaping amounts of hypocrisy, vanished from even my subconscious mind. This is what I thought. Looking out at Manhattan across the bubbling, toxic east river made me feel even farther away from myself and all the interwoven memories of my life before New York. Simply being able to exist in this city makes you feel cleansed of all your prior failures and inadequacies. If I can just be here, then I am someone. I am a New Yorker.
New York found me at the right time. I needed to bury myself under mounds of chaos, and leave the grey insular New England life. In the years leading up to my move to Brooklyn, I was living in a hip borough of Boston, a community of mostly artists, musicians, activists, and everything in between. I remember lying on the grass in a wet t-shirt talking to some guy I knew was stoned out of his mind. It was summer, and I was twenty-three. He was traveling around with a psych rock band named “Glory Beast” and was only going to be in Boston for the weekend. We met while I was walking down Centre carrying a bag full of spray paint with the intention of working in my studio all afternoon and finishing some paintings. I had just gotten off the phone with my stepmother who was explaining to me that she just didn’t believe the doctors anymore. She knew that my father’s cancer wasn’t getting any better despite what they said. I had no idea what to say to her, except that maybe they should see another doctor. The man crossed the street towards me and tried to grab my attention, but I had seen both him and our scenario coming from a mile away.
“Hey! Wait, you’re the girl who works at that fancy coffee shop in Cambridge aren’t you? I went there with my band mate last time I was in Boston. How are you?”
“Fine. Yea, I thought I recognized you.”
“I was about to go swimming in the pond, I would love some company. Do you want to come?”
I was going through this phase of being incredibly vulnerable in the face of anyone willing to show me the slightest bit of attention. I was notorious for being the kind of girl you could call up after months of silence and I’d be willing to meet you in anhour. It wasn’t just loneliness, I wanted something. I wanted to accrue as many new experiences, bad or good, as many as it took to begin replacing the experiences of my past. I knew that memory was finite, and, therefore, if I made enough new ones perhaps they would just overflow and start falling off the edge of my brain starting with the oldest memories working forward. I had no choice but to go with him to the pond and let him spew his timeless lines out for me to politely and coyly reject. In love with the strangeness of the moment, I swam in my clothes. We walked down to the pond and he started telling me about all the cities he’d been to with his band, “You know, we sound kind of like Bassnectar but more focused on the lyrics,” I had no interest in what he was talking about, but I kept encouraging him, “next week I’ll be in Pittsburg, you should totally come through on that. We could give you a ride down there and everything. It would be unbelievably intense.” I responded by saying, “No, I’m pretty sure I should stick around here, but thanks for the offer.”
As we were lying on the grass letting ourselves dry in the sun, he rolled over towards me and said, “I’m only going to be here for two more days, I wish I had time to get to know you better.” I didn’t respond, and he slid closer grabbing my knee. He tried to kiss me and I pulled away. “Sorry, but you’re so hott, I got excited. Happens, you know?” I kissed him then, hard. His face backing up from the force, and people were staring. I grabbed his hair and pulled him towards me harder. He pushed me away and got up like he was trying to escape. I got up too and started walking up the grassy hill away from the pond. I was still damp, but I didn’t care and he didn’t follow me.
They couldn’t give us a timeline as to when my father was actually going to die. They said it could be days or a month or more, depending on how hard he held on. The hospice nurse told us to say things to him. Before he lost cognizance completely, which would happen soon, she told us to tell him that is was ok to die. She told us to reassure him that we would all be ok, and that he should let go and end his suffering. We all took turns telling him. I left Boston with a one way ticket heading well below the Mason-Dixon Line.
“Dad…. Dad?” I waited for him to look at me, and I made sure I was sitting where I knew he could still see. Then I recited what seemed to be the right thing to say at the time, but the words felt contrived. There was so much I wanted to say and ask him, and now my role was to, essentially, end the possibility of that ever happening.
“Dad, you can die now. You don’t need to suffer like this. We’ll all be ok and so will you. Don’t be afraid.” he opened his mouth, closed his eyes and cocked his head back and gurgled the death rattle. Then he said in the raspy whisper he’d adopted since becoming sick, “A beautiful woman, gone to another man.”
“Gladys? She’s not going anywhere. She loves you so much, dad. She’ll never be anyone’s but yours.”
He repeated this phrase often. I found it curious, not that he’d be upset about Gladys, but that the nature of his concern seemed so specific. I know that his ability to articulate anything was limited, but that was the only thing he said to me that day. After I tried to reassure him of my stepmother’s devotion to him, he nodded and pushed his
lips together hard. He often did this when he was about to cry. He waved his hand in dismissal and then the tears came. There was probably a lot that he wanted to say, butit took so much for him to put together sentences these days that he was only capable of conjuring little phrases at a time, and that’s the one he chose. She made him happy, and she made him seem more like the caring person we all wanted him to be- more so than any of his other wives. I was there with him now. I saw him sleeping. The last time I came to see him was only a year ago, and I was filled with hope at the thought of him starting over with someone new, someone kind. They bought a new home in a new place and for the first time I had hopes of actually getting to know my father. I felt as though life with him was beginning again, or starting for the first time. In reality, I was merely being given a hopeless and cruel glimpse at the life I always wanted with my father. I remember coming to see him with his new wife for the first time, seeing the new house, and seeing a smile on his face for the first time in years. He wanted to know things about me that he never wanted to know before. Asking me about my life in Boston and the new body of work I was starting made me feel as though his new life had, somehow, given him the ability to see me as worthy of his time.
I walked to my room that evening after telling my father goodnight, I remember slipping as I walked up the stairs. I couldn’t find the light switch and I was wearing my long linen pants that looked more like a skirt because of the how they fell away from the body. The pants caught on the edge of the step, and I banged both my shins on the cold unforgiving marble staircase. I stayed crouched there catching my breath and letting my eyes adjust to the dark waiting until I felt ready to make the climb. Once in bed, I realized that I wasn’t tired, and it was only nine thirty. I called my brother,
“Hey, thanks for picking up,” I said.
“Dad is asking about you. When are you coming down here?” I said in a tone that was trying to be cheerful and encouraging. He never responded. I heard him breathing steadily into the receiver, but after about a minute of silence I told him I loved him and hung up.
Wynn is my brothers name. My father named him that so he would know that he was always a winner. Born a white male, born to win, born my father’s first and only son, Wynn was the legacy my father had disappointingly produced three daughters in order to achieve. The mantra he instilled in my brother and confidently spoke to those around him was that, “if it doesn’t fish, fly, or fuck, then I’m not interested.” Finally, a baby boy who would be taught to captain a boat, windsurf, shoot, and fish before the age of seven. A boy who was beaten for having a speech impediment, and a boy who was later neglected for being gay.
On his sixteenth birthday, my brother was given a broken car. It was a mustang that he was expected to fix himself before he could drive it. As a way of proving that he had absorbed my fathers teachings, a chip off the old block, my brothers right of passage to the world of driving was not only his state administered drivers test, but also my fathers test of technical skill. Popularly known as a “muscle” car, my brother was expected to get his hot rod working before he could leave the confines of our rural home. Deprived of the unconditional love a child deserves from his parents, the car was one of many tests and games my father played with my brother’s life expecting him to live up to his given name. The car sat in the garage for months before my brother finally decided to keep up appearances by getting his friends to fix it for him. His lack ofinterest in fixing the car was a final attempt at maintaining the double life that he was becoming more and more unwilling to hide.
Until the fateful day when my step-mother was cleaning my brothers room and happened upon a rather large sized, wall-mountable dildo. Only then was the conversation had. I didn’t raise a faggot! The classic patriarchal proclamation of a generation who’s sentiments belonged in a museum displayed next to the uniforms of the Third Reich and blueprints for atomic bombs. The broken car and the broken construct that my father projected onto my brother, made him less human in my father’s eyes. A year after the dildo incident my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I think it had been about a year since he’d spoken to my brother, and upon his diagnosis all of his children were filled with mixed emotions. My sisters and I were saddened and angry that my father was going to die before he would ever gain respect for us, assuming that that was even an achievable circumstance. My brother simply sat stoically, surrounded by crying women.
I called him as my father became weaker and weaker, and he never answered. When my father died he was not present. When I called him to tell him we had lost our father he simply acknowledged me by saying “ok” and that was all. I wonder if he will ever regret not saying goodbye to a man who will not be missed for what he was, so much as what we hoped he was capable of being. Maybe my brother will live in regret, maybe he won’t, or maybe the statement that he made was the bravest and most gratifying moment of his life.
Ever since I was about 10 I believed that my mother was trying to kill me. Literally, I thought that one day I would either be killed by her directly or her madness would drive me to commit suicide. From a very young age I knew that if I continued to live I would have to cease all communication with her and live a life of complete autonomy from the war she was waging on everyone dumb enough to catch her eye. Cut off like a rotted dock line, I began my life at 18 without her. I changed my phone number, moved apartments, and did not allow my graduation announcement to be published when I finished college for fear that she would show up. When my father died my step mother hired security to ensure she did not come to his funeral, not only for her own safety but for everyone present. It wasn’t simple with her, evil never is. Constantly in disguise, her maliciousness seemed almost accidental. This was only a testament to her skillfulness; her beauty was distracting and her mannerisms couldn’t be placed in any region or social class. She was mysterious, and people either found her either irresistible or terrifying.
Unless she was nearing unconsciousness, my mother had this unsurpassable ability to remain awake during long bouts of excessive drinking. It was only later that we discovered that she was actually on amphetamines the whole time and couldn’t sleep. She would be awake for days roaming around the house finding things to enrage herself with. The toys that we weren’t playing with were somehow a sign of our ungrateful attitudes towards her, hiding in our closet was how she imagined my brother and I ganged up on her like conspirators, and somehow she was constantly obsessing over how we never brushed our teeth enough and NEVER EVER flossed. “You rotten kids and your rotten teeth, how can you even look yourselves in the mirror! When you smile people think it’s disgusting!” She would yell into the hallway knowing that her echoing voice was being heard loud and clear. The smallest things would cause these outbursts, and often my brother and I had locked ourselves in our rooms prior to this escalation. There were times when she would pass out and we could come out for food or call for help, but mostly she just stood guard outside our rooms waiting for the slightest peep of noise to send her off again. Her paranoia was remarkable in some ways. She was paranoid that we would call someone, maybe a friend or our father, and that people would find out about her drug use. Obviously, most people knew, but few cared. Another wealthy housewife left to her own devices to go insane, husband missing in action, it wasn’t an interesting story.
My father actually wasn’t missing in action, not like some. He was a member of the Heritage Foundation, a group of conservative republicans who formed this organization to research and promote their ultra-conservative agendas. Typical beliefs included the usual focus on Puritanical morality, small government, an end to social programs, securing our borders, racism, Jesus, etc. An all white, all male, extremely wealthy group dedicated to getting their way by paying people to make their dated, out of touch, and self serving beliefs a reality. When people say they got screwed over by “The Man”, it’s possible that they are indirectly referring to groups like the Heritage Foundation. An almost omnipresent group with infinite financial resources and a stick up their ass. Being a part of this group as well as being an avid vintage car racing enthusiast, took up most of my father’s time. His company was practically running itself, and the kids were with their mother. In my father’s mind, things were working out exactly as planned. All part of the quintessential picture of the nuclear American family. It’s possible that he was just as paranoid of letting the cat out of the bag as my mother was. Except, his paranoia wasn’t fueled by amphetamines- worse! He had his conservative ideals to uphold.
For me, as a growing female child surrounded by patriarchy at it’s very finest, surprisingly, my fear of “The Man” was hardly comparable to my fear of “The Woman”. If marrying well looked anything like my parent’s situation, then it was to be avoided. After years of manners classes and nostalgic, southern, all caucasian cotillion balls I still resisted. I was reading Kafka and Virginia Woolf before age fifteen. My father found my intelligence and interrogative personality horrifying. For him, intellectual capital was a waste of time. He grew up when “elbow grease” paid-off and reading was for pussies. My mother thought my appearance was disgusting, and with my lack of modest sundresses and affinity for band t-shirts and dirty jeans I was perhaps more of a liability to my father than my mother was. Her appearance was ultra-feminine with an understated sexiness winking at her taste for luxury and designer apparel.
I recall my mother’s laughable attempts at sophistication, her tight fitting cashmere sweaters in colors like magenta and lemon yellow combined with her floral painted on pants, patten leather flats, and diamond encrusted brooches pinned on every feasible surface. A showering of Chanel No. 5 and she was ready to go to the liquor store. Her hair in a bouffant like puff at the top of her head and pinned in the back with some gaudy clip, while her frosted pink lipstick shone almost as brightly as her massive diamond drop earrings that were more than eye catching in the Georgia sun. She would put on this costume of overcompensation to drive to the liquor store in her Jaguar Vanden Plas, buy a liter of Jose Cuervo, and drink the entire bottle sitting in her car in the parking lot of the mini mart. There were times when she was found there, some innocent farmer buying a six pack after a long day happens upon this. Her outings weren’t always to the liquor store, there were drunken days at the spa and countless hours spent redecorating our house. Her taste in decor matched her taste in clothing. I feel like everywhere I went in our house I was surrounded by tacky and overly ornate sconces and bizarre golden statues, fruit patterned wall paper, and long flowing silk drapes. My mother’s obsession with appearance only made her flaws more obvious. Not to say that anyone came to our house, anyways. With my father’s radical conservatism that made even Georgians uncomfortable, and my mother’s loose grip on reality, we weren’t a hugely popular or well socialized family. It was like putting decorations on the door leading to Jonestown, it’s hard to disguise such obvious madness. Yet, to my mother and father, it was everyone else who was unworthy of their attention. They were simply living up to standards that were far too high for the average Joe to achieve, people were jealous of their life. My father being the perfect example of successful conservatism and my mother and her sophistication combined with her flawless parental skills, they were quite a pair.
Her eye for decor then turned to me. Perhaps, if I, her daughter, resembled her, it would look like I was the proud follower of her good teachings. This, as one can imagine, was met with much resistance and my rebellion became another source of paranoia for her. She wanted to know how I was acting at every moment so she could better control what I did and how I represented her. Then, I was spending much if my time in my room, as many adolescents do. However, what I thought was private time alone in my room became yet another trap. It took me a while to discover the two-way radios she had haphazardly planted in my room. At first, all I heard was a strange echo, then I heard what was clearly radio interference and began looking for the source. She had put one under my bed and one in my bathroom in a drawer I never used. I found the other one in her bedside table drawer. Clearly a testament to her drug fueled insanity, the radios were removed and thrown away and never discussed. After the radios, my time in my room became time in my closet- the last bastion of privacy.
When it came to family vacations, no time was too inconvenient and no expense was spared. We left for St. Barths while school was in session. Though our teachers had no idea how we would catch up on all of our missed assignments, they turned a blind eye as we were in and out of school a lot at that point already. My mother had booked our family an expansive villa in Grande Cul-De-Sac over-looking the ocean. We loaded all of our bags into two Rav-4s and made our way up the mountain using every morsel of power those two tiny machines had. The narrow winding roads were both beautiful and sickening with the manual transmission yanking us back and forth. As we drove up to our villa, I first noticed the bright magenta flower bushes that grew in large pots on each side of the doorway. They perfectly completed the image of the quintessentially welcoming tropical vacation house. When you opened the front door, you immediately saw the infinity pool and the open-aired living room. In between the cushioned wicker couches, there was a huge glass tabletop resting securely on a massive piece of coral. On top of it was an impressively large arrangement of lilies, tropical leaves, and snapdragons. The sound system was playing calypso music, and it triggered in my American brain the feeling that we were really on vacation. The butler was already taking our bags, and I ventured through the house making my way into the dinning room where a massive buffet was waiting for us. I forgot that it was roughly lunchtime and I grabbed a plate, filling it with lobster tails and freshly cut fruit. As my mother walked in and saw me feasting her eyes widened and I put my plate down. In my mother’s life, nothing needed a reason to be bad. Something was bad if she deemed it so, and good if she wanted it to be. Her emotions were transparent in both her face and in the way she moved. When she wanted to show you how she felt, all she did was make you look at her.
“You and your brother will be sharing the blue room. I need you to go unpack both of your suitcases right now.”
“Mom do we have to share a room? There are plenty of rooms and he sleeps sideways!”
“We already discussed this, don’t push me!” my mother warned.
“Can I go swimming now? Did you bring Wynn’s floaties?” I whined.
“No, you can’t go swimming till everyone is settled. Unpack your clothes, and be…” she stopped mid sentence.
As if being pulled by some guiding force, I saw her walk over to the veranda overlooking the mountainside leading out to the ocean. I noticed her gaze veering down the mountain where a house further below us, on a lower shelf of the mountain, was being re-shingled. Her normally anxious expression quickly became the crazed grin of a warrior, as she stepped away from the veranda to grab the nearest phone. I ran to my room before she dialed the number of whoever was being held responsible for ruining her perfect view. I went into my room, and shut the door hard then hid in the closet. My brother had been in the closet all along unpacking his extensive collection of Balsa wood airplanes. They were simple, delicate little things. First, you wound the plastic propeller coiling the rubber band that it was attached to, and once you released the tension on the rubber band, the propeller would spin fast and the little plane would fly then dip down and fall. My brother had at least a dozen of these airplanes, all of which he built himself and all of which had their own unique flying capabilities. Wherever we happened to be, it was normal for him to compartmentalize himself into one room or place. He was just sitting there, in the closet, with his toy planes surrounding him as if he had already accepted our defeat.
It would be hours until it was safe to come out. Waiting and hiding was how I spent what seemed like years of my childhood. Holding my brother still, at times, so no one would know where we were. Caressing his small body in our solitude, not knowing what else to do but wait until I thought it might be safe. He was so beautiful. I loved holding him. When she came into our room I could almost hear her racing heart before I heard her scream,
“How dare they fuck with me after all the money we’ve spent with them? They book me a vacation on a fucking construction site! Kids! Where the fuck are the kids? I swear to god if I find out you guys are ganging up on me again I’ll kill you!”
She paced around our room like a scared insect, grabbed our bags, and then slammed the door as she left. She never found us that day, although I’m sure she could have. After she left we knew we were going to have to find some way of quietly passingthe time in that closet. We just lay down side by side and began whispering to each other.
“Do you think we are going to get to swim today?” I said.
“Not unless she goes to sleep,” my brother responded flatly.
“Maybe dad will lock her in her room and we can leave her there until she gets better? She promised us this vacation was going to be fun.”
“She’ll be fine later though right?”
When we came out later that afternoon we saw her laying on top of all the bags in the oppressively hot sun with her blue eyes nearly closed. Her arms had fallen down awkwardly on each side of her like they were broken. Her left arm was bent upward towards her face, which was also facing upwards. Her cracked open eyes were little jewels hidden in slits staring straight at the sun. We called to her meekly, but did not receive any response. We crouched down on her left side, and I poked her with my index finger. When she didn’t respond to that I shoved her. We knew she wasn’t dead, but she was hardly alive. The amount of Oxycontin in her system left her unresponsive, but made us feel like we could momentarily be out in the open safely. Our father was suddenly standing over us, “You shouldn’t have to see your mother like this. I think you kids should go to your room until your mother feels better. Don’t unpack anything. We’re moving to another villa tomorrow morning.” He said in an exhausted tone. He was clearly oblivious to the fact that even if we wanted to unpack we couldn’t get our bags because she was laying on top of them. Guarding them like a sea urchin, a sessile creature untouchable and helpless.
“Dad, can we swim?” I asked.
“I need to deal with your mother. Go to your room, now,” His tone was frightening.
We went back to our room, Wynn and I. He organized his airplanes, putting them in a line from biggest to smallest. He would then test each one by winding them up until there were several kinks in the rubber band, and then he would let the propeller spin and die out while he held the plane in his hands. Watching him out of the corner of my eye, I passed the day away reading. My brother and I talked about how excited we had been for this vacation, and I tried to hypothesize different possible outcomes of the day. Eventually, when it was dark out we left the room together, me holding my brother’s hand, while we went into the kitchen. The butler asked us quietly if we were hungry, and we were. We both sat side by side on the kitchen counter while the man prepared some sandwiches. For two children who’d spent the day in their room, we were surprisingly still, not antsy. I looked out to the far side of the patio and saw my father in a chair facing the view of the ocean. His left foot propped on his right knee and he was smoking a cigar. I knew this pose. He was completely unapproachable.
My brother and I slept side by side, except, he slept and squirmed and I stayed awake most of the night. He was always a good sleeper, and he often turned his body around from one end of the bed to the next making him completely impossible to sleep with. I fell asleep lightly for brief periods lucidly dreaming about various things. They were those light sleeper dreams that leave you confused, upon waking, as to what was real and what was imagined. That night I dreamed that I was in a cabin, surrounded by a desolate and pristine forest, secluded. I left the cabin, trying to escape an evil man, I don’t know who he was. I ran, but I was in the dark and lost my bearings. He had aflashlight and I knew it was a matter of time that before he found me crouched behind a giant tree. I tried to climb the tree, but I couldn’t get a grip on the trunk- it was almost slippery. Then, I ran again. I hadn’t given up hope of my escape. Extending my arms, I reached out far and began to fly. I wasn’t flying high, but I felt like I was safer from above. Then, as if pulled by an unidentifiable suction, I ended up back in the cabin, and no one was there.
The next day my brother and I woke up late and I ventured out onto the patio. I peered into the living room then made my way into the dining room, and my father and mother were sitting at the table in front of a large display of fruit, waffles, and pastries. The fruit had been arranged in almost a mosaic formation with large pineapple slices creating a little sculpture in the center. The butler brought my father two eggs over easy. My parents were holding hands at the table, and my father was smiling as my mother kissed his neck. I walked over to the table and sat down. My brother was still in the bedroom taking apart his airplanes and reassembling them. There was nothing I wanted to say, so I just grabbed a piece of kiwi and put it in my mouth.
“Look at how beautiful your mother looks today.” My father said.
She was wearing a white bikini and diamond earrings, and, despite yesterday’s episode, her face seemed flawless and fresh.
“Can we swim today?” I asked.
“Well, that’s what this gorgeous pool is here for, lovie. First, your father and I want to talk to you and your brother. ” My mother said with a strong sense of contentment, “Your behavior yesterday was unacceptable.” my father nodded in agreement, “When I call for you and Wynn, you need to respond. I spent over an hour looking for you two, and this hiding business has got to stop. Ok?”
She talked in the tone of someone who was scolding her child for failing a test. She was warning us. We had to find a way to do better next time. For the longest time, I thought she would always win. There was no situation she could not control, and there was nothing she couldn’t survive. As I got older, these feelings remained the same with a few notable exceptions.
My father’s CFO, who was handling his estate, had come over to talk to my stepmother and discuss some issues he was having deciphering my fathers will. We were sitting on the front stoop together waiting for her to return from her hair appointment. It was beautiful outside. The sun was brilliant and the breeze warm and safe. I had never spent any amount of time with Brad before, in fact, until today I hadn’t even met him. He was in a suit, despite the hot sun, and I was wearing a tank top and cut off jean shorts. I greeted him at the door and asked him if he wanted to come inside and wait.
“Days like this don’t come around often.” He said.
“They sure don’t.” I said, trying to match his southern phrasing.
“I’m fine just sitting out here. You’re welcome to join me while we wait.” He said. Our conversation began by him asking me about my tattoos. He seemed congenial enough, and not as judgmental as I had expected someone in his position would be. “It’s good to finally be able to put a face to the name,” he said, “Your father told me you are an artist and living in Boston.” “Yes I am. It’s nice to finally meet you as well.” I politely responded.
“I am so sorry about your father being so sick… who’s that?” he said.
A black town car driven by chauffeur pulled into the driveway. My stomach felt as though it had been hit with a baseball bat.
“Oh shit, it’s my mother.” I exclaimed, panic stricken.
“It’ll be alright.” Brad said.
The car stopped, and I couldn’t see anyone in the back seat. The chauffeur came up to the stoop and said,
“We had to carry her from the charter jet to the car. I think she’s drunk or something. Can you help me bring her into the house?”
I walked, full of rage, over to the car and opened the door. A thin woman, my mother, was lying down on the seat. Her crispy bright blonde dyed hair was covering her face, chunky, broken strands were messily strewn all over the place. The contents of her purse spilled all over the floor of the car- pill bottles, a wallet, tons of cosmetics, random papers, and even a small gun. I shut the door, and said, “I don’t know who that is. Sorry.”
“This is the address she gave us to bring her to.” The chauffer responded, exasperated.
“Well, I wish I could help you. We’re not even expecting any visitors, never mind someone in this condition.” I replied angrily, with a hint of snobbery. Brad was sitting on the stoop acting as though nothing was happening.
“What am I supposed to do with her? She flew in on a jet, and that’s gone now.” He put his hand on his forehead and wiped away some sweat.
“I’m sorry, but I’m really not comfortable with this whole situation.” I said flatly as I began walking back towards the house motioning for Brad to come inside with me.
“Wait… Can you…” The chauffeur yelled, expecting some sign of compassion.
I waved and closed the door. The chauffeur made a few calls on his cell phone and then got back in the car and drove away.
My father was out of town at a vintage car buying convention. He collected vintage racing cars and restored them so that he could rent a track and drive them with a few of his friends that shared the interest. Wynn and I were at home with our mother, and, like a series of dominoes, as soon as my father shut the door behind him, everything fell apart — one catastrophe after the next. She was drunk and on a deathly amount of Ritalin. My brother was casually sitting on the couch watching the history channel, and I was in my room listening to music, probably depressed, who knows. Everyone agrees, being a teenager was hard. I wanted to leave home so badly, but I was only 15. That didn’t stop me from smoking a pack a day and pleading for a later curfew. I heard her scream at him over the blaring music in my room, and I quickly turned it down so I could listen. She was screaming at him about his grades. Wynn barely did anything in school, and eventually the teachers questioned my parents to see if everything was ok. Then dad wrote a check for a new theater wing and the issue never came up again. Nothing sounded too bad until I heard her say, “Go get it!” I ran downstairs and Wynn was just sitting there on the couch while she asked him to go get the crop. When I was little I rode horses, as most girls in my position in life did. We lived in what one might call an “equestrian town” where many people had barns on their property in addition to their houses. The rural aristocracy was coupled with the trailer parks and cow farms that existed nearly everywhere in between, but they were somehow ignored. They and their inhabitants were a part of the landscape. I always wonder how long the South would be fighting the same war. The riding habit I wore, was the most uncomfortable thing I can remember wearing to date- riding pants, a riding shirt with monogrammed collar, a sport-coat, crop, gloves, and boots that I used to have to wedge myself in a doorway to get off. My mother would always try to beat my brother with my riding crop, but I would never let her. It was her new game. Provoke me so she could get me involved. Unless she threatened Wynn she knew that her antics would be without an audience. After Wynn remained responseless, she went into the garage and brought the riding crop out into the living room. Her eyes were bulging out of her head to the point where I seriously thought, and silently hoped, that tonight she would finally have a heart attack and hit the floor, “Pull ’em down!” she screamed, referring to my brother’s pants. I responded assertively, “If you think that you are going to lay one fucking finger on him you’re out of your goddamn mind bitch.” “Oh! Oh! Oh! Look who’s the mommy now!” She said, with a shocked expression on her face, throwing her hands up in the air. I grabbed the crop out of her hand and pushed her down on the floor. The hours upon hours that I’d spent at the barn left me strong. I could carry a bail of hay and a bucket of water at the same time. She seemed disarmed by my strength. I was empowered by the fact that the efficacy of her plan to paint me as the perfect equestrian, like the other girls, was proving disadvantageous for her offensive violence. Wynn stayed stoic on the couch where he’d been all evening. “Try it again! Try it again!” I screamed. She flopped around on the floor for a few minutes, disoriented by my proactive defense. The way I treated her only upset Wynn, but I didn’t know how else to react. I wanted to protect him, but I also wanted to make my anger known. “Wynn, go upstairs and lock the door, now!” I told him. “Don’t hurt her, she can’t get up.” Wynn rushed to the floor to help mother onto the sofa, where she quickly sprung up and lunged for me only to lose balance and end up on the floor yet again. “She is fucked, just go upstairs. Please!” I begged him, but he stayed.
This desire to protect my brother manifested itself in many of my future relationships with men. Most notably my relationship with Daniel,
“Do you want to be my wife? You’re the only girl I’ll ever seriously love, I know that.”
“Love isn’t the problem, Daniel.”
He put his bottle of Jim Beam down on my table that I had constructed of four milk crates and a dirty sheet of particle board. His hand gestures suggested that he was going to make a speech, but then he stopped and laughed. He looked around at our apartment, and the dozens of beer bottles he’d smashed and thrown on the floor. All his paints were lying around, uncapped and drying out. He had slowly moved all of his belongings, one bag at a time, into my apartment. It was only later that I found out that he’d been evicted again, and he either had to live with me or move back home with his parents. I knew he would never be able to hold down a job. He started drinking at noon when he got up, and then he would try to paint. The paintings were brilliant. Following in the footsteps of so many artists before him, he was brilliant at art, but not at life. I lovedhim so much and felt like I should support him in his creative misery. His misery became my misery in watching him self-destruct. He was a beautiful man with a wealth of knowledge relating to all the things that I wanted to know more about. He knew the music of every band that ever existed, he had seen every film by every important or obscure filmmaker, and he understood abstraction in a way that fueled my paintings to shift from portraiture to minimalist abstraction and then eventually a modern take on constructivism. He could perfectly articulate so many complex ideas related to the subjects that interested him, but that tact and intelligence did not translate to the way he talked about our life together.
“Baby, can we just go to bed? We’ll figure it out in the morning.” I complained.
“You never have any energy. You always want to go to bed. It’s so lame.”
“Well, I’m tired. I got a call from my dad today, and he wants to know all this shit about my life now. It’s fucking stupid. I just want to be like, ‘Dad, hello! I’m in college. This isn’t the time to be getting to know me.’ I just want him to leave me alone. I’m pretty sure it’s just my step mom making him call.”
“How old is your dad?” He asked, as if he genuinely wanted to know.
“He’s like 68, I think.”
“Well is he healthy? I mean he’s like super rich right?”
“I don’t think he’s going to die soon, and I’m glad for that because I don’t want my fucking father to die, you dumb shit. He’s a healthy guy, and, you never know, we might work all this out some day. I think I’d be willing to eventually give him that chance.”
I shook my beer can to see if there was anything left to drink. Not even a drop. I had tolerated worse verbal assaults from him before, but when he began to talk about my father it hit me harder than anything else. My father was my last shaky foothold into a life that I wanted rectified. Daniel could criticize my inexperience or my age, and, somehow, I was able to let those patronizing, insults evaporate as they came out of his stinking beer laden mouth. His beard was always drenched with beer, both the current one he was drinking and beers from days past. I loved him and simultaneously had no idea why I wanted to be with him. He was older, and knew things that I didn’t know, and, perhaps, that made him attractive. I stood up.
“He’s my fucking father. You need to be out of here in a month. I don’t care where you go you just need to be out.” I yelled.
“Woa! You can’t just kick me out! What am I supposed to do? I’m just saying, how many actual memories do you have of him? He hasn’t been there for you, so at least you’ll get some money. You’ll never get a dad.” He said, as if I wasn’t at all upset.
“I’m going to bed. Please, turn off the music and clean this shit up.”
I was lying in bed with the spins, drunk and crying. Why couldn’t I take more control? Why did I love him? His love was contingent upon him being allowed free reign over my home, my emotional stability, and my wallet. Not that I had much to give, but whatever I had he found a way to take it away from me. Daniel never wanted sex. I gathered that he had been sexually abused as a child because of the stories he told me about his father. There was one story in particular, it was the story he told me about how his father wiped his ass for him until he was 13 years old. Now, when a toddler is making the jump from diapers to using the toilet for the first time, it is not uncommon for the parent to wipe the child’s ass to account for the child’s lack of dexterity and physical reach. It is unfathomable that a teenager would require the same attention. Daniel toldme that his father did this as though it was completely acceptable and not at all a sign of questionable parenting to say the least. I asked him how many people he had told about this and he said I was the only one. Daniel loved his parents, and I knew that to speak ill of them was out of the question. I tried to hold back my frustration when every time I attempted to seduce him he would begin to cry and become angry. He accused me of pressuring him and putting too much emphasis on sex in our relationship. After a few times, I stopped trying to have any kind of sexual relationship with him at all. I wanted him out of my life, for many reasons, but I also felt bad for him in some way. He needed me, and I just wanted to be loved. Maybe love was just accepting someone else’s flaws.
People reference “true love” like it’s a tangible achievable object. If you find it you can hold it, and carry it around with you to show people what you’ve achieved and how blissful your life is because of it. Years later, I was getting my first tattoo and the tattoo artist was telling me a story about how she used to work in Hawaii giving tattoos to newlyweds on their honeymoons.
“That must have been disastrous.” I said, without considering my own judgment. “Aren’t all marriages disastrous? The tattoo they got on their honeymoon would probably be the least of their concerns, right? Now, they have to coexist side by side forever, supposedly.” She said in response.
“Do you think any of them are going to make it?” I said.
“Nahhh… I don’t believe in marriage. Just find someone who loves you and hang on to them for as long as you can stand them, and then move on.” She said with confidence. “I like that philosophy. You have to be pretty resilient, which, I suppose, is good.” I responded.
Some Kalimba blasted out of a car window that cruised passed me a little too close to the sidewalk. Pulling me back from the series of memories that had occupied my mind for almost the entire duration of my walk home. As I walked, I thought about the day, and wondered what every one around me was thinking about and where they were going that afternoon. My father had been dead for three years, and all my thoughts about him ranged from my memories to me asking myself what had changed since he died. Climbing the stairs to my 6th floor apartment in Brooklyn, I decided to take the rest of the day off. My work these days ranged from large scale installation to simple sound clips. Working in my studio full time was everything I ever wanted, yet sometimes it took a lot of effort just to make small amounts of progress which was frustrating. Upon opening the door of my apartment, I noticed my roommate was home. I said hello, and she told me that a package came for me. I went into my room and noticed a large package. Inside was a medium sized pillow. On the pillow, needle pointed perfectly, was the phrase, “I found you. Love, Mom.”