Last Friday, amid my sunshiny errands and trampoline jumping, I was dealing with family drama. It started around 9 that morning when I was sitting in my underwear in the living room, radio blasting, repainting my toenails blood red.
“I said what what in the butt”, sang my phone. Muting the radio, I picked up what I knew would be a long, repetitive call. It was my stepmom.
“Your dad has lost it”, she said immediately.
“I wasn’t aware he ever had it”, I replied. “What’s up?”
“I need advice. Tell me what to do.”
What followed was, as expected, a long winded account of all the things daddy dearest had been up to recently. Some of it I already knew, like the story about him throwing an empty bottle of Crown Royal at her on Valentine’s Day. Who needs candy and flowers when you can give your woman something really passionate...like a concussion?
And some of it was breaking news, like the fact that he was, supposedly, on his way to get a U-Haul to start packing up his things. He was going to take the dog, the horses, and the Harley and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it, so there! Dad has a flare for the dramatic and it was apparent that she knew, as well as I did, that he was talking out of his ass and wouldn’t be packing anything.
She wanted to know if she should get a restraining order or if she should wait things out, see if she could get him to leave on a mini vacation to give them some time apart. See, they’re in the middle of a lawsuit with his insurance company and, according to the lawyer, if she filed a restraining order it could jeopardize that.
I heard about how much he’d been drinking and the nasty names he’d called her. I heard “your mother is a saint to have put up with that man for over 20 years” and all the other catch phrases she’s adopted since her knight in shining armor turned out to be exactly what we all tried to tell her he would. I mmmed and ahhhed, and said the same things I always say – that she should have left him when he swayed down the aisle to marry her holding a bottle in a brown paper bag, that he’s crazy, and that no matter what happens between them, she’ll still be my family.
“I’m on my way to work to tell my boss I’m taking the day off to deal with this shit”, she said. “Will you call and talk to him? See what he has to say? But don’t tell him you talked to me.”
I wasn’t the first time she’d asked me to do something like that. I’d tried to explain to her before that questioning dad is an exercise in futility – the man lies so much that he wouldn’t know the truth if it hit him upside the head with a Crown bottle. But I agreed to do it anyway.
He answered on the second ring. “Hey Al, what’s going on?” I could hear the suspicion in his voice already, and I hadn’t even spoken yet.
“Hey dad. Nothing, just enjoying my day off. What are you up to?”
“You been talking to that bitch, huh? She called you didn’t she?”
Ah, paranoia! Signature scent of the guilty.
“No, why would she be calling me? What have you done?”
“I’m leaving. I’m on my way now to get a U-Haul.”
“Ok...why? What are you going to put in the U-Haul, dad?”
“Because she’s a crazy fucking bitch. All my shit, that’s what!”
I was relatively sure that whatever belongings he had in the house wouldn’t fill a large suitcase, much less a truck. If he actually followed through with that threat, he’d probably rob her blind.
He went on to say that he tried to get her to go to counseling (lie), but she’d refused (lie). He was tired of supporting her (lie, the only thing he supports are his habits) and she was turning everyone against him (lie, everyone was already sick of him ages before she came along). And when I expressed my doubt at those statements, and he sensed that he was getting no sympathy from me, he rushed off the phone.
Yeah, I totally called that one.
I rang my stepmom back and relayed the conversation, then attempted to wash my hands of the matter. “I’ve got to get in the shower. I’ve got to get going...errands and stuff.”
Unfortunately it didn’t work that way. Though I didn’t speak to dad again, my stepmom called me with regular reports all day long. She was getting the restraining order, she wasn’t. She was filing for divorce, she wasn’t. She was going to have him removed from the house (because, surprise surprise, apparently he never did go get that U-Haul), she wasn’t. As usual, her indecision was giving me whiplash.
“I don’t understand you women”, I shouted at one point.
That night I passed on all Intel to mom and told her she could handle it from there. She and my stepmom have become quite the pair, gossiping and texting about all of dad’s indiscretions, united by the one thing that initially had them hating each other’s guts.
And so the weekend rolled on. I spent a lot of time doing nothing and every day I put off the phone call I should have made to my stepmom. I heard about the latest happenings from mom, so I knew she was alright. I just didn’t want to deal with the repetition of it all. I hate it when someone asks me the same question over and over. “What should I do?”
The buzz was that she’d spent Friday and Saturday night in a hotel, choosing to leave him in her house rather than deal with him. No one seemed to know what he was up to.
On Monday I was home alone in my pajamas, writing and drinking my weight in coffee. After spending the majority of the day on the porch with the laptop, I suddenly decided my room needed to be cleaned. And around 6:30 when everyone came home dragging the debris of their day, I was still going.
I was unloading the dishwasher, methodically drying cups and glaring at the pile of papers and purses they’d just stacked on my clean dining room table, when mom said quietly, so Leigha wouldn’t hear, “I need your advice.”
Surprised, I simply nodded and finished what I was doing. After I’d seated Hannah at the table with her dinner, I went to mom’s room. She was lying on her bed flipping through a Tupperware magazine.
“Please, tell me you aren’t going to buy more of that shit”, I said, flopping down beside her on my stomach and putting my chin in my hands. “We can’t shut the cabinet now.”
“I’m just looking”, she said, using the tone I call her “little girl voice”, a dead giveaway that she’s lying through her teeth.
I rolled my eyes. “Uh huh. So, what’s the issue?”
“Well...your father called me this morning.” She always says “your father”, like other people say “your asshole dog” or “your snot-nosed brat”. When she talks to me about him, its half gossiping with a girlfriend and half accusation...like it’s my fault that she married him. Which I suppose it kind of was, if you go around blaming fetuses.
I sighed and waited on her to continue. Mom loves a bit of drama with her stories; she’s very good at pauses.
“He told me that he was on his way here from Oklahoma, in Tennessee somewhere, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to have him locked up for back child support. (Pause)But! Your stepmom called me and guess what?! (Pause. Pause.)That bastard left two days ago! He’s already here somewhere, hiding out!”
I wasn’t surprised. If he had a signature move, other than breaking shit, it was lying in relation to his whereabouts.
“So”, she continued, “he says that he’ll give me some money on Wednesday if I don’t have him picked up. But I’m fed up with the shit. What do you think I should do? Should I have him arrested anyway?”
I sighed again. She didn’t really want my advice, just like my stepmom hadn’t wanted it either. They wanted to vent, they wanted me to say all the asshole things they couldn’t, and then they wanted to go about business as usual.
“Fine”, I said sitting up. “Supposedly he is getting paid while he’s here, so, if I were you, I’d tell him to have me the money he promised by Wednesday. Then, after I got the money, I’d have him arrested anyway.”
She looked at me, clearly conflicted. “I just don’t know. He says he’ll roll into town early tomorrow morning and swing by to see you girls. He’s still pretending he isn’t here.”
I shook my head and got up. “Well, I suppose you ought to figure it out. But I’m willing to bet you that he’ll be at our door before we go to bed tonight.”
“No, he’s too busy partying.”
I raised my eyebrows, because I can’t do just the one, and shrugged. “Whatever.”
At 10 o’clock on the dot I was sitting on the porch, wrapped up in my robe, reading. I heard a rumble and looked up. A truck with a motorcycle trailer on the back was inching its way down our gravel road, ridiculously attempting to be stealthy. It paused by the garden fence, on the last stretch of road visible before it would disappear around the corner of our house, leading to the driveway. The headlights cut through the dark and I knew he was sitting in the cab, watching me sitting in the chair, the overhead lights making our porch stand out like a theatre stage.
He inched forward and disappeared around the curve. I leaned back in my chair, knocked on the glass door, lit a cigarette and went back to my book, knowing even as I did that it was pointless. I was about to be bothered.
Mom poked her head out the door, responding to my loud rap on the glass. “Told you so”, I said without looking up from my book. I didn’t need to explain. She heard the rumble of the truck, immediately backing up my words.
“You get him out of here before he wakes up Ray”, she said, pulling at her nightshirt.
“He’s here to see Leigha, let her deal with it.”
She made a noise of disgust and turned to stomp off, but Leigha blocked the door. “Alyson, dad says for you to come outside. He wants to see you.”
I glared at her. “You go.”
“Come on”, she whined.
Both of them looked at me expectantly and I knew they weren’t going to leave me alone. In fact, if I didn’t go, he’d probably just come around and climb the porch steps. Resistance, as usual, was futile.
I got up and followed Leigha, defiantly carrying my lit cigarette with me through the house and out the other door. It was my last one.
And there he was, standing in the driveway in his Levi’s and a black pocket t-shirt covered by his signature button up denim, open at the neck and with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, exposing his tattooed arms. His feet were planted so far apart that it looked comical. He’s rather short for a man and his stance and demeanor have always reminded me of a rooster. Work boots, ball cap, and a pair of black glasses with a lanyard wrapped around the back of his head completed the never changing ensemble.
“Hey Al”, he said, moving in to hug me. I gave him the sidearm hug, but it was more out of necessity than desire to stay away from him. We were both smoking, but of course he took it as a slight. “Oh, I see how it is”, he said, chuckling. I knew that chuckle and it wasn’t real. He told us that he’d be staying until after Papa’s wedding. On March 19th. A month. Fucking brilliant. I was happy that my poor stepmom was getting a break, but not if it meant a month at my own expense.
However, two days later (last night to be precise), things shifted again.
I was sitting at the patio table with Papa, dad, and my cousin Ashley. I’d come to pick up Hannah and ended up getting dragged into a discussion on my Aunt that ran away from home last week with thousands of dollars and ten cats in a bag. (It’s a long story.) That led into a discussion about vacations.
“I’m taking a vacation just for me, before I start school and get extra tied down for the next few years”, I said.
Dad looked at me in surprise. “You aren’t coming to Oklahoma this summer?”
I stared back at him like he’d lost his marbles. As far as I was concerned, the past week had been the beginning of the end of his marriage to my stepmom. It had never gotten so far as hotel stays and talk of restraining orders before.
“I was under the impression that ya’ll were done?”
He just looked baffled, like he had no idea what on earth I was talking about. Probably because he’d already managed to convince his self that none of it had ever happened. “We’re fine, she sent me a package of things I needed today. I’m going back to Oklahoma this weekend for a quick job.”
“I thought you were staying until the wedding?” I could barely keep the excitement out of my voice. If she was going to be dumb enough to take his ass back again, I wasn’t going to waste my time feeling sorry for her anymore. And I wouldn’t have to worry about him causing any drama here for the next month. Win/Win.
“I’ll be back before the wedding. She’s coming with me”, he said.
Later that night mom cornered me again. “It’s Wednesday and he still hasn’t given me the money. What do you think I should do?”
I’d had plenty of time to think about it by then and I’d decided that there was only one thing I could say to her, and to my stepmom, the next time they asked that question. I had my own vicious cycles to attend to and I was tired of being forced into theirs as well. The tentative relationship I have with him only works because I keep my distance, and I know better than to expect anything more than a load of trouble or a good laugh. I can’t make either one of them stop tiptoeing around him and grow a pair.
I grinned and shrugged. “I have no opinion about that.”
1 week ago