Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ray

It was a beautiful summer afternoon and I was sitting in my usual spot – draped across two chairs on the screened-in porch with a book in my lap. Mom was frantically running around getting ready for a date my godmother, and next door neighbor, set her up on. Every few minutes she would stand in front of me, demanding my attention and opinion on the latest outfit change. After the fifth or so interruption I was ready to let her have it, but I thought better of it and held my tongue – she’s very sensitive and I knew that, after her last failed relationship, she was more fragile than usual.

While I cannot sympathize with her decision to stay with an abusive husband for 25 years, I can appreciate how hard it must have been to rejoin the dating world after a soul sucking divorce. And just to add insult to injury, the first man she dated was a complete and utter lunatic. If she ever liked anything about him, beyond the attention, I would rather not know about it.

My father was a difficult man to live with and an even harder man to love. I know what it’s like to love him, to hate him, to crave his attention, to wish him dead – and I’m only his daughter. When I ask myself how she could care for the man, the only answer I can come up with is that I should take my feelings and amplify them times 10 – but that’s really not an answer at all and I know I’ll never completely understand.

So instead of yelling at her to “stop bothering me, I’m reading”, I helped choose her outfit, jewelry, and makeup. I complimented her on her shoes and straightened her hair. I’d done those things for her often enough (sometimes I feel more like her stylist than her daughter), but that afternoon I was nicer about it. I didn’t sigh every time she asked me a question and I didn’t yank her hair and demand she hold still. Instead I asked about their plans and assured her she’d have a good time.

When her date arrived she brought him to the porch for introductions. While mom went inside to finish up, he sat down at the table. My cousin, sister and I grilled him like a cheese sandwich. After the last guy caused such an unwelcome stir I was determined to weed out any psychotic tendencies right away. I was in complete obnoxious mode, but he just sat there smiling, laughing, and taking it all in.

He was a big bear of a guy with a casual smile and demeanor. He talked fishing with my cousin, laughed at my jokes, however inappropriate, and when mom returned he seemed content to stay and chat. They ended up leaving an hour later and I remember saying to the others, “I think I like that guy.” His name was Ray.

Over the next few weeks they went out constantly – we rarely saw her at all. He played in a pool tournament every Tuesday night and she started accompanying him. On the weekends they went to dinner, movies, and parties with his friends. It was a big deal, a huge change from the way her life had been – stuck waiting at home wondering where her husband was, never allowed to do much of anything, not being able to keep friends because of the way he behaved. She was having fun and we were happy for her.

My godmother had known Ray for a long time. He was a quiet guy, never volunteering much about himself, so we gathered our information from her. He’d been in a long relationship with a woman, I think about four years, and they lived together. She cheated and he left her. When he started dating mom he’d been single for a year or so. After leaving his previous girlfriend, his father started having health problems so he moved in with him to help out.

By the time he and mom were a thing, he was ready to move out of his dad’s house again. My godmom was newly divorced and renting the house next door. She needed a roommate and thinking it would be pretty cool to have mom’s boyfriend living so close but not living-in, she asked Ray. He said yes.

Over the next several months it was chaos. Ray couldn’t stand having to share the TV with my godmom’s preteen daughter, and vice versa, so we sometimes found him passed out in front of our TV with the remote clutched in his hand. Football, fishing, hunting, racing, and repo shows – that was Ray’s standard fare.

He wouldn’t sleep over, unless it was on the living room floor, so mom spent a lot of nights next door with him. That suited us just fine as she had the most comfortable bed in the house and we would take turns taking it over while she was gone. He ate with us, he went to Sunday dinner at Grandma’s with us, and he started attending my sister’s cheerleading functions.

After one too many mornings of tripping over his bulk on the way to the bathroom, I finally shouted at him, “No one cares if you sleep in her bed, Ray! For the love of god!” He officially moved in shortly after that.

It was anticlimactic, as most things with Ray are. One day he was sleeping on the floor, the next we were clearing out drawer and closet space, and instead of sports programs being on only in the late evenings, they were on constantly. There wasn’t really a period of adjustment – he just fit right in with our odd, all female, group.

The fights between my mother and I are legendary, especially in relation to the raising of my daughter. One of our biggest issues is that she undermines my authority - undoing any disciplinary action I’ve taken, whispering remarks in the kid’s ear and mocking me to make her laugh, allowing her to do things I wouldn’t normally. When Ray came along, I finally had an ally. He was usually quiet, but whenever he saw mom pulling her shenanigans, he called her down. And though she would never listen to what I had to say, she certainly listened to him. It was brilliant, and though we still have a way to go, I can honestly say things have gotten better because of his support and occasional interference.

He would sit on the couch wearing his standard evening fare – tube socks pulled up as far as they could go, grey sweat shorts, and a Clemson t-shirt – while we screamed at each other across the bar. Without pausing in his patting of my cat Nugget, who’d switched loyalties and became Ray’s most adoring follower, he would shout, “That’s enough!” Then, “Alright, this is the way I see it...” and using his hand palm out like a flight attendant, he’d point at each of us in turn and say who was right, who was wrong, and to what degree. Often mom and I would find ourselves so amused by his simple breakdown of our longest, most trying battles that we’d simply give up and laugh.

He and I bonded long before he and my sister did. We were the ones snickering in a corner at family dinners and making jokes about the men at the recycling center. We’d stand, shoulder to shoulder, in the kitchen and peer into a pot of mom’s latest concoction, look at each other with half smiles and raised eyebrows, saying “huh uh, I’m not eating that” without uttering a word. He’d watch my TV shows, complaining for the first few minutes then forget that he wasn’t supposed to like them and start firing questions – “Who is that? What’s she doing?” In turn, he got me addicted to football in a way I’ve never been – to the point of actually knowing the name of a play or what a flag was thrown for before it was announced. He became my friend.

I can’t pinpoint when he became more like a dad. Maybe it was seeing him wear the parent’s t-shirts to support the cheerleading squad and my sister every single weekend during competition season, showing up to every football game and sports banquet. Maybe it was hearing him shout “Hey Hanny” every time Hannah and I walked in the door in the evenings and watching him help her with her homework. Maybe it was hearing him sing his made up song every morning to wake us up when our alarm clocks wouldn’t (“Everybody! Everybody! Everybody in the house get up!”). Or maybe it was when, after being gone for a week to Oklahoma, my sister and I returned well after midnight and crawled into the bed with him, each of us settling into the crook of an arm. And it felt like the most natural thing in the world.

But of course, like any other family member, there are days when I want to throttle him. Days when he’s eaten the last of the cookies or drunk all the Pepsi, days when we fight over control of the remote because we want to watch our reality shows and he wants to watch the fishing channel, days when he can’t pick up on my bad mood and teases me past the point of sanity, days when he is so stubborn and opinionated and such a...southern man...that I can’t stand to be in the same room with him.

Yet all those things I listed make me smile, because honestly, when I look at the big picture, having a dad that irritates me and hogs the remote is a great deal easier than having one that’s an alcoholic and a borderline sociopath. I will always love my father, but the majority of the reason I do so is, sadly, because I have to...because it’s what my blood dictates. Loving Ray hasn’t just been easier, it’s been healing.

For the past year, of the two Ray and Mom have been dating, everyone kept asking me when they were getting married. I’d asked both of them that question myself, together and separate. Together their answer was, “We’re not”, or a joking, “When the other one asks me”. Separate, their answers were more definitive. Mom definitely wanted him to ask and he seemed scared to death of the idea. While mom had been married for over 20 years, Ray had never been. (He’s actually 34 to her 44, which I’m sure made a difference.) The only answer I could ever give people was, “I have no idea. Maybe they won’t.”

Then, just two weekends ago, they went on a trip to the mountains in Tennessee. They came home that Sunday afternoon laden down with gifts from the outlet stores and restaurant reviews (which, as far as our family is concerned, is the most crucial aspect of any vacation story). Hannah and I sat on the couches pawing through our bags of goodies and waiting on my sister to return from cheerleading practice so we could paw through hers too.

When she got home Ray told us that he’d bought us both Christmas presents and if we wanted, we could have them early. He was visibly excited, while mom was visibly exasperated. Apparently she’d tried to rein him in, make him wait until the holidays, but he simply couldn’t help himself. It was endearing.

“Is it electronic”, I asked.

“No. Why”, he said.

“Because if I open it, it has to be something I’ll want to use a lot between now and Christmas. Otherwise, I’d rather wait.”

He laughed. “No, it’s not electronic.”

“Can I wear it?”

“Alyson”, mom shouted in reproach.

Ignoring her, I soldiered on. “Is it black or brown?”

“Why only black or brown? It could be purple”, mom replied.

“Nope. I have a feeling it’s one of the two.”

“Do you want it or not”, Ray asked, avoiding all of my probing questions.

“Yes!”

He brought them out one at a time, grinning from ear to ear. And they were, of course, Coach bags. Beautiful brown Coach bags (though mine is bigger and more beautiful than my sisters. Ha!).

But while we were oohing and aahing over every zipper and compartment, mom left the room unnoticed. It wasn’t until they were both standing in front of us and Ray said, “And look what I got your mother”, that we looked up.

Expecting to be outraged by a handbag larger than my own, my jaw dropped. She held out her left hand and wiggled her sparkling finger. For a minute there was silence – then utter chaos. My sister and I vaulted off the couch and rushed not mom, but Ray, hugging him and shrieking our delight. I was completely out of the blue and it was clear that though they didn’t expect tears, they weren’t expecting such a powerful response either.

The past two weeks have been full of excitement – telling everyone about the engagement and talking about wedding plans. Mom never had an actual wedding so even though it won’t be a lavish affair, it definitely won’t be another trip to the courthouse.

It didn’t occur to me until just the other day, though, that after it’s a done deal things might change. Will they move? Will Ray act differently? Will mom? I haven’t asked them about their long term plans yet and, even if I did, I doubt they’d be able to give me an answer.

I’m hoping he still plays a large part in my day to day life and if they move, they don’t move far. Because I’ve gotten used to shouting “Hey diddy” when I walk in the door, arguing over who is going to eat the last taco, and getting bear hugs at the most random, yet always appropriate times. I’ve gotten used to trips without drama, fights without bruises, and dinners with more laughter. I’ve gotten used to having the kind of family, and the kind of dad, I always wanted.

68 comments:

Technogran said...

I have tears in my eyes reading this! What a wonderful post and yes, you are so lucky. Why? To have been all given a second chance at obtaining that Dad that you always wanted. Some of us never get that second chance.
Hope everything goes well for all of you.

Venom said...

As a one-time step parent, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the greatest gift you could give to Ray this holiday season is a print out of this piece.

I'm glad you are now part of a happy family!

Library girl said...

Oh wow. So many things I like about this post. So many things about this post are my actual friggin' life! My Woody is very similar to your Ray (even the name and age gap). How wierd is that??
Having him around has obviously helped all of you to heal after a long-term destructive influence in your life. It's hard to explain to others why you stay in an abusive marriage. In fact, once you're out, it's hard to explain it to yourself. It would have taken so much strength for her to leave after being brainwashed for so long. For me, it was a couple of real life-changing experiences that did it. And even now I still have doubts ... then he's here to pick up the boys after not seeing them for weeks and the first words out of his mouth to them are critical and I think "Nup. Definitely did the right thing."
Sounds like she's onto a winner there :) So nice when life goes your way, isn't it?

Bird Shit and Baby Caca said...

Congrats to you guys! Ray sounds like such an awesome dad!

Eric said...

Oh my god, it's like I've just watched an hour long 'chick flick' on 'Lifetime' network.
Now I have to go work on something mechanical and take a shower to wipe off all the estrogen.

Kidding (sort of), nice portrait you painted there.

fairysheels said...

Reading your blog make me reflected to my own life and experiences...More or less i kind of have the same experience as yours, the only different, the abusive one is my step dad, and my mom stil married with him...
Anyway it's not about me, it's about you and how lucky you are to have a perfect substitute for a father. I am very glad for you. Enjoy it, believe me, you deserve it very much!

Adventure Spot said...

Awe this is so touching. I started to tear up towards the end of this. That is so awesome that they got engaged! So happy for your mom, she definitely deserved as well as everyone in your family, Ray :) Hope they grow old together and you keep having your laughter filled dinners!

Penny Dreadful said...

I loved this. Loved it. I wanted to jump up and whoop with you at the end, and I'm sitting here at my desk with a big smile on my face. Lovely story.

BugginWord said...

And I'm crying. Again. At the risk of sounding like the worst Hallmark card, I have to say I'm thankful for you and your beautiful writing. Your honesty. Your thoughtfulness. Your crassness. Your everything. Seriously, you're one of my favorite blog-land treasures.

Let me know if you need an address for the restraining order.

kharlamovaa said...

My god this is an endearing post. What a sweet, sweet life you have just described.

Personally, I've never fully latched on to a lot of the things you described as NOW normal in your family. My father is not the joker, the mediator. He's the controller. But the older he and I both get, the easier it is for both of us to loosen our grip on each other's throats.

This was just a heart-softening read. Wonderful.

And I have to say, I never miss your blog posts. Ever since I started reading, I can't stop. You have an incredible talent and it's absolutely fascinating to read about everything you have to say.

JUST ME said...

What a fabulous man to have worked into your life, and your mom's life.

There are good men out there. It's true.

magnolia said...

congratulations to your family. seriously - after all the struggle, the normality is a blessing. what a beautiful piece of writing to celebrate it, too. :)

alexis rose said...

beautiful! i'm so happy for you and your family and the continued excitement in the days ahead. :0)

Rita said...

I love this Aly - my heart is smiling. :)

Hugs and Happy Thanksgiving,
Rita

Eman said...

I've been reading for awhile and finally have to comment. This was a fantastic post, and your timing was brilliant. Thank you and congrats to all of you. Cheers!

Kal said...

What an awesome tribute to man who deserves to be called DAD. He may not have created you but he sure raised you and I hope you find something equally as touching to say at the wedding. I can only imagine how proud of his girl that would make him feel.

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Yay, this is really fantastic. And so lovely to read. And honestly, if you ever need to tell him how you feel I agree, print this out and give it to him. I'm delighted for your mom to have Ray and for all of the rest of you to have him too. Sounds like your family is cemented!

Wait, that sounds like something a serial killer might say...

Manda said...

This makes me so happy. Familes can be so screwed up sometimes, but they're also beautiful in all their flaws. Congratulations to your Mum and Ray!

Steam Me Up, Kid said...

Oh man, I teared up like a little bitch. That was awesome, Aly. You definitely have a gift for storytelling.

JJadziaDax said...

aw that was super sweet, i love your posts, the dirty ones and the ones just oozing sugah :)

Didactic Pirate said...

I'm glad you wrote this. A seriously great post. I'm glad you have such a good guy in your life, and that you let your readers learn about him.

That's all I can say. No funny remark to follow. Well done.

Rusty Hoe said...

Damn you now have me tearing up. That was truly truly lovely. So happy for you and your family.

Mr London Street said...

I think this is right up there with the best things you've written, or indeed anybody else in the blogosphere has written this year. You write beautifully about family and how all those dynamics work and change. You can be really proud of this one.

Jane said...

I really enjoyed this - wonderful - and your writing just gets better and better. Thank you.

Philip said...

I very nearly cried. That was lovely. I understand what it means to be in his position. I hope he gets to read this.
Your writing just gets better.

Madeleine said...

There are tears in my eyes. Print this out and give it to the man, it's so beautiful. He sounds amazing.

Sharon Longworth said...

I'm with MLS on this - fantastic writing, as good if not better than you'd read anywhere

etoile said...

I don't know you, but I stumbled across your blog. I love your writing. You keep me engaged. Your stories are so real. Thank you for letting me into your life. You seem like a wonderfully honest person and that is something to be proud of! Congrats to you, your family, and your mom!

suenosdeuomi said...

I love a happy ending. What a sweet, enjoyable story. Thank you for sharing.

with cherry on the freakin' top said...

I've always loved your post. They feel so real and bubbly. I especially liked this post. Please continue posting stories like this :)

dailybread said...

This is my first time of visiting your blog and i so love this.i would read your other posts surely!

You can visit my blog @ www.dailybread09.blogspot.com

Lou said...

Wow, what a lovely thing to read- i'm so happy for you and yours. You write so beautifully. One thought flows seamlessly to the next and my eyes devour every sentence. :)

Lilly said...

This was such a great post. I just happened to stumble across your blog, and I am very happy I did! Family can be so broken and complicated and yet still so beautiful and full of love. I also agree with the person who said that you should share this with Ray--I think he would love it.

Baglady said...

I just adored this (and I apologise for not commenting earlier - I can't from my phone). I love the image of you snuggling up in bed with your new dad - it's just magical.

Hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving together.

Mrs. C said...

Oh wow. Just wow. I found you via "blogs of note" and am blown away by the power of your narrative voice. I will be back; I most certainly will be back.

Happy Frog and I said...

Congratulations on your blog of note, very well deserved.

Levonne said...

Congratulations on being named a blog of note! And good work with your blog!

Sally-Sal said...

I cried. Like a bitch.

Where can I get a 'Ray'?

beautiful_mess_182 said...

i love this :) its amazing! im following u! u should follow me!

Robbie Grey said...

That's a very sweet story.

Kate said...

This is beautiful. Congratulations to your mom and Ray. :)

Faith D. said...

This was wonderful to read. I kind of feel the same about my dad. My father wasn't abusive or anything but he made it clear once he and my mom divorced that he didn't have to keep promises, or help out with anything, or even be there. It was more of a transition with my step-dad because you feel like, if my own dad couldn't love me or want to be there, why should you? But he made it clear that he would be a part of our family whether we wanted it or not. We've had our issues but still, he was who I chose to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. My own father couldn't be bothered to be there. But it's okay because I know my step-dad loves me and my sister like his own and we are very blessed.
Congratulations.

Philip said...

I've already been here for this post but I'm back again. This is such a good post for your BON day. Well done. Enjoy making new friends.
A year ago I read your blog and thought "I wonder if I can be this good". Well, I haven't done bad. But you my friend, get better and better. I believe in you. I believe you will write the book you so clearly have in you. And one day, I will read it, I will laugh, and I will cry.
P.

BarkyMag said...

Ray sounds like a nice guy. Lovely story.

dys·func·tion said...

Fantastic! I was busy forcing myself to read one post other than the one that you had on the front page before I followed you...just to make sure I liked your writing style and not just that particular story...and I have fallen in love.

You are a very heartfelt writer, and this story forced a smile from beginning to end. Congratulations to your family, and I am more than elated to hear of the positive relationship that you have with Ray considering I am putting my girls into a "step-father" type situation as well.

Best of luck to your family, and you definitely have a follower in me!

Bth said...

I love Ray too after reading this! Ever so real and honest. I really resonate with your situation and because I understand, it made it clear how important this post is for you to share. Thank you.

Molliwobbles said...

I wanted to comment on this post, but after reading the other comments I clearly have nothing new to add. Like many others, I have experienced family life with a difficult father. He is still a part of my life and of the family, and that is of course a blessing yet still difficult. Everyone's story is different but I do hope that everyone's story can be full of healing and joy, as yours is.

"M" said...

This is such a cute story, I really enjoyed reading it. Now following!

Sockrma18 said...

DUDE...where can I get a "Ray"? I've wanted one for YEARS. Congrats! :0)

Great blog, too. I'll be back!

Heather said...

Wonderful, just wonderful. Congrats to everyone x
(PS am new here, loving your blog and I'm only on the second post down)!!
Heather

Roz said...

this brought tears to my eyes. congrats to your mom on her engagement... congrats to you and your family as well.

otherworldlyone said...

Technogran: Thank you and yes, I’m very lucky.

Venom: I’m certainly considering it. He would be very embarrassed, which would make it even more worth it. :)

Library Girl: Yes, yes it is.

Eric: Sometimes I want to slap you upside the head. You know, sweetly.

Fairysheels: I hope your family experiences the same kind of luck one day. I know it’s tough. Thanks.

BugginWord: Actually, I’d like you to move in with me. :) Thank you, that was a lovely comment.

Kharlamovaa: Thank you. I always love your comments.

Eman: Thanks for coming out of hiding. :)

Steamy: Shall I sit you on my knee next time? :)

Mr. London Street: Thank you, I am.

Happy Frog: And to you!

Sally: I’ll let you borrow mine. He’ll fix you right up.

Phil: Your comments are always so sweet. Thank you.

Dysfunction: I’m glad you’re sticking around.

AutumnRose said...

I've just discovered your blog, and I've gotta say: what an AWESOME entry this was! (love it)

Charlie said...

What a wonderful, heartwarming story. Not many families get a second chance with a proper dad and loving husband, but you've described one perfectly. "Bravo!", as opera fans like to cry.

Liz said...

I can't imagine not having an awesome Dad in my life. I'm glad you found yours.

bbonnieblue said...

You've created a lovely memoir for us and I'm glad you have been acknowledged for it. I'm so glad for your Mom too...and your daughter. Sounds like lots of winners! Yay for Ray!

Valley Girl said...

As someone who also had their sociopath of a birth father replaced by an utterly kind, and lovingly quirky adoptive pop, I get you girl. Fantastic entry.

DJan said...

Congratulations on receiving the first Charlie award. I have followed him for awhile and see this award to you as being so perfectly chosen. As many have already said, having do-overs with a Dad is pretty special!

Brenda said...

Congratulations on your new '"Charlie" and your new "Dad" and thank you for sharing with us all!

TechnoBabe said...

This is one of the best posts ever. Your mom is blessed to find Ray and to be planning a life with someone who fits in the family so well. I always get choked up when I read family stories. This did more than that; the significance of the real story takes away any envy I may feel for your family closeness. I am so happy for all of you.

Deanna said...

I came here via the Domesticated Bohemian, thanks to his new Charlie Award, (which I think is a brilliant idea). After reading this, and trying my best to hold back the tears, I can clearly see why you're the first recipient of the award...

This is one of the most honest, loving stories I've ever read. Ray sounds like such a beautiful person, and I'm glad he found you and your family.

Pat said...

Congratulations on your Charlie award. Well deserved!
And thank you for such a happy story - beautifully told.

Shopgirl said...

just wanted to say I cried reading this, and it's brilliant.

Stephan Mikhailov said...

It's a possitively brilliant post.
I have a personal grudge against happy endings, but this was so great I'll make myself forget just in order to enjoy the warmth this post has made me feel.
P.S.: Congrats on the Charlie award!!!

Ponita in Real Life said...

Followed the trail here from Charlie's... Love your story! A wonderful, heartwarming addendum to a life that didn't start out in that good of a place, but has definitely found the right groove! And congratulations of the very first 'Charlie' award. Very well deserved, indeed!

Lady Jennie said...

I loved this. I love that the relationship was healing, what a dad should be. So glad he married your mom (mine is also ten years older than her husband and they've been married for almost 20 years).

KleinsteMotte said...

It's good to know that there are happy endings like yours in real life. It gives us hope.

Karyn said...

This was an incredibly vivid picture of your life. I felt like I lived there with you. I love Ray too! Just wanted to comment and tell you I came by your post today and it made me smile. I hope it's all still going splendidly.