two MARGARET part 1

photo: J.R. Schaefers

< back to chapter one

THAT WAS THE DAY I LEFT THE APARTMENT FOR GOOD.

The moment it became clear I’d put faith and trust in someone who obstructed my development? Prevented me from connecting crucial dots? I didn’t need a self-help book with a sternly worded title to understand I was living with a fucking bum and it was time to execute a remedy.

I delayed the arrival of that hard truth using all the tools in my child-of-divorce skillset.

A criminal talent for twisting the truth, honed through a lifetime of master classes taught by my mother. A carnival barker’s smiling knack for sensational promises and ripoff marketing inherited from Dad.

That was a constant and demanding hustle. Dressing up an old act with a fresh wrapper, new lighting and selling myself another season ticket to the same shitty show. Pretending the years I spent waiting for childish hopes to harden into something real weren’t squandered, but wisely invested.

If you can lie to yourself and make it stick? That’s how you know you’ve earned your black belt in bullshit.

Nothing is more effective at blurring or burying the borders of the real, authentic You than feeling responsible for someone who gives back like a black hole. That’s the power of denial. It creeps up on your critical thinking, gets it in a cozy Stockholm headlock and chokes reason out cold.

Escaping that delusion was like surviving a deadly disease. Instead of walking into the white light I woke the fuck up, immunized against further infection. After that it was impossible to justify the cost. I’m talking about the cost of me, spent day after day in big sums and small change.

Sound familiar? Not sure?

Then you better run the numbers. Make an honest evaluation.

A personal profit and loss statement will reveal connections that generate worthy returns on your investment of self. These are the parts that press together tight in all the right places to turn your hustle into special sauce, that fuel that wakes you up and makes you go.

A thorough audit will also identify negative sums written in red ink at the bottom line.

These are the things that take and drain. Paths and choices, individuals and organizations unlikely to convert the life you live now into the shiny new scenario you dream of waking up in someday.

Once you identify a deficit, you’ve got choices to make. And you’d best keep it scientific.

Dad was indicted the summer before my senior year. That fall I was sent to boarding school in Ohio where nobody knew I was the girl whose father was convicted at trial on charges of racketeering, insider trading and wire fraud. Those were the days before the Internet, when a thousand miles of distance could shield a kid from the fallout of a parent’s public disgrace.

My mother had faded from the picture by then. Dad sent his attorney to stand in for him on Parents’ Day and I introduced him as Uncle Evan when we met with my academic advisor. Evan referred to a list of questions typed on Dad’s corporate letterhead and as he filled a legal tablet with scribbled notes, I realized Dad knew he wouldn’t be at liberty to attend this meeting. He knew it all the way back then, before the feds seized his corporation and froze his domestic assets. He was well aware his time was running out.

I flew to Boston on Spring Break. Met Uncle Evan coming in from Dubai and we left Logan International in a rented car to tour colleges. When we stopped for lunch he rubbed his tired eyes with the heels of his hands, pushed his steak salad aside. Opened his briefcase and placed a folded sheet of federal prison stationery beside my plate of fries.

It was my father’s offer, written in his kinked block lettering, each line a picket fence of plucked staples and pulled nails with Roman numerals and punctuation.

Dad’s proposal specified only one condition. I could study any major. Choose any school and live comfortably off campus so long as I picked one of the Seven Sisters colleges.

Your father appreciates the value and power of these brands, Uncle Evan said. If I were your attorney, or your actual uncle, I’d advise you to accept his offer.

My mother was a poetry major until she met Dad and dropped out of Bryn Mawr. I chose music at Wellesley and minored in poetry to piss her off. Rowed crew as a freshman novice and damn near made varsity as a sophomore before I quit to join the sailing team.

I loved being on the water but I didn’t care about silver cups and regattas. I dreamed of going to sea where there are rules. Rules that matter, that everyone understands and agrees upon because they serve only the cold logic of survival. Those rules made sense in the days of Spanish galleons and three-masted schooners. They made sense when sails gave way to steam and they still make fucking sense today.

Paperback volumes of Forester’s Hornblower series crowded my nightstand. I carried lengths of cotton clothesline in my purse and taught myself to tie a bowline on the bus. Practiced under my desk in class and mastered the sheepshank, mast hitch and cut splice. Found a thrift-store copy of Knight’s Modern Seamanship and made flash cards of naval terms and definitions. Began committing the 1889 International Rules of the Road to memory.

I never found the word ‘maybe’ used in those procedures and protocol, nor in Horatio Hornblower’s adventures. In fact and fiction, survival at sea demands a route from evaluation to action that is clinical and binary, a decision-making process that cuts quickly to execution.

The difference between jetsam and flotsam? That’s like a test marked Pass or Fail.

Jetsam refers to anything thrown from a sinking vessel in an effort to keep it afloat. Jetsam is evidence of a calculated response meant to avoid a catastrophic outcome at sea.

Flotsam is debris that remains afloat after a vessel sinks, like cargo and equipment. Excluding remnants of the ship itself, flotsam consists of the very items that could have been, should have been jettisoned to prevent the ship from sinking in the first place. Flotsam is evidence of a miscalculated response, or a complete failure to accurately assess the situation and identify the potential for peril.

To save a vessel in distress, you must first recognize the vessel is in danger.

True rearview? With the exception of the music we made together, most of my time with Vincent was wasted. I let those years slip by while grasping tightly to a ticket. Standing at the back of a very long line.

And that’s totally on me.

part two >

©2017 J.R. Schaefers — all rights reserved.

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