For instance, I know that the post office is never open after 4 o’clock on a weekday, and even during regular business hours you’d be lucky to get service because of all the gossips taking up space. Every Wednesday and Sunday the restaurants are packed with church goers – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. From 5 to 7, Monday through Friday, most of the county workers will gather at the tiny convenience store just outside of town to shoot the shit and drink beer. And on Friday and Saturday nights, the lakeside bar two coves over from my house has either a live band or a DJ, and the tiny dance floor is always full.
I also know that at every single one of those places, and countless others I didn’t name, someone is going to know who my father is. And they won’t be able to stop themselves from approaching me, no matter how much I discourage it with “don’t talk to me” body language, glares, fiddling with my phone or engaging someone else in conversation. It’s like he’s a communicable disease that they can’t wait to pass on – only for some reason they don’t seem to realize when they’re hacking all over me that I’ve had the pleasure of being infected, straight from the source, for almost 26 years.
I was about ten the first time I really remember it happening.
The old country store a few miles from home was our hangout of sorts. We (my cousins, sister, and I) would swim all morning and then take a snack break in the late afternoon, piling in dad’s truck in our wet bathing suits and bare feet. He had an account there, something they don’t really do anymore, and while he went straight for the beer cooler we would rush to the candy aisle and grab whatever we wanted. I would always get two Slim Jims, one for me and one for dad, saving them to eat together on the ride back home.
Sometimes we’d stand next to him and drink Yoo-Hoos, the white and beige checked linoleum cold under our feet and our hair dripping puddles of lake water. And sometimes, like that particular day, we’d take our spoils outside and spread our towels on top of the tool box of his truck, sitting Indian style in the hot sun and waiting on him to finish “visiting”.
Leigha was a pudgy little thing in her ruffled strawberry one piece, sitting next to me on the box, and Ben was on the other side in his trunks, covered in white flecks from the chest up due to a pack of powered doughnuts. A woman I recognized as a school friend’s mom parked near us and went in, coming out a few minutes later with a bag.
By then I’d remembered her name and called out a greeting. She walked over, looked up and shaded her eyes with her hand. She studied me, her top lip curling grotesquely, and said, “I didn’t know you were his daughter.”
“Um...yeah”, I said, confused.
“Your daddy is a sonofabitch!”
I stared at her and Ben did too, taking a break from licking all the powder off his hands. I knew dad was sometimes mean to me, but I wondered what on earth he’d ever done to Ashley’s mom to make her say something like that.
She said a lot of other things that I don’t remember well, not leaving until Ben flipped her a slobbery bird and said, “Beat it bitch, before I go get Uncle Jimmy and he kicks your butt!” I was too shocked to comment at the time, but later encounters like that would become a regular occurrence.
My dad always made friends easily, so I’d hear nice things every now and then. What he had a lot of trouble with was keeping them, and that’s when the “sonofabitches” would start. Whatever the case, things usually opened the same way. “Hey, aren’t you Jimbo’s daughter?” or “I know you...” or “You’re one of the ______ girls, aren’t ya?”
I learned to say yes and walk away. Lying about it was pointless, especially when I started high school and he suddenly seemed to be everywhere – showing up at the parties I went to and the weekend hangouts. Often times I thought having some old lady come up to me, and yell about how he’d fucked her over, was way better than having the hottest guys in school notice me because my dad was that sucker that acted like he was 17 years old with a fake ID.
When I got pulled over for speeding, the cops knew who I was. When I went to the grocery store, the Budweiser guy unloading his truck knew who I was. When I graduated and moved two towns away, every goddamned mechanic, bartender and waitress knew who I was. My dad, apparently, got around. I got so used to being approached by strangers that I pretty much stopped listening the minute they said his name. I just shrugged, murmured something noncommittal and went on about my business.
It did die down a bit when he moved to Oklahoma. But now...he’s here again, visiting for the longest period of time since he moved away five years ago. And it’s driving me insane.
He’s staying with my Papa, practically next door, and he’s always calling and texting, wanting to know what I’m doing. And worst of all, he’s been hanging out at all his old haunts...which means I haven’t been able to hear the end of it. The occasional stranger or old friend approaching me once every few months has snowballed because of his return home. Now there are also phone calls and picture messages of him around town – it’s ridiculous. For some reason it never seems to occur to people that I already know what he does and I’m embarrassed enough without extra proof, thank you very much.
“Your dad was so drunk he fell off a bar stool!”
“Your dad bought shots for everybody and when the waitress told him that someone didn’t want theirs, he said, ‘so the fuck what, gimmie the goddamned thing and get outta here!’ Then he slapped her ass!”
“Your dad said he was going to move back here and build a house right next to yours!” (Now that one was terrifying.)
I’ve found myself hurrying in and out of places, doing my shopping in the city on my way home from work rather than going to the local, and staying home whenever possible. I feel harassed and irritated and he’s only been here a little over two weeks...with two still left to go.
And after this past Saturday night I’m not so sure I can handle another day, let alone two weeks.
When my friends decided they wanted to have a few drinks at the lakeside bar instead of our usual downtown hangout, I was hesitant. I knew he’d been in there recently, likely more than once, and there was a strong possibility that I’d run into some of his A) brethren, B) enemies, C) women, or D) all of the above. But they promised it would be an early night, no later than one, and I really loved the band that was going to be there, so I found myself agreeing anyway.
The bar has been there forever and, though it’s changed owners and names countless times, it remains the same. I go in maybe twice a year, not counting the times we dock for gas or the like in the summer, because it’s really just not my kind of thing. It’s the trolling ground for some of the funkiest looking redneck cougars I’ve ever seen and the men are even worse.
Ten of us crammed into a corner around two tables, ordering drinks and food. After about an hour of cutting up, listening to the band and drinking the cheapest Jack and Cokes I’ve ordered anywhere, I decided it wasn’t so bad. The people watching was certainly sublime.
Even dressed down, our group looked out of place amid the bikers and the women that, I’d wager, had been ridden harder than any Harley. An older woman with short, dull brown hair danced every song with a man the band kept calling MC Hammer. Her white t-shirt barely touched the top of her jeans and every time she would move her arms it would rise up, showing a disturbing amount of wobbly flesh and the waist band of her white underwear sticking out of her pants. MC Hammer would slouch around her, alternately jumping up then crouching down low to the ground and doing pelvic thrusts at empty air. His eyes were glazed over and he looked like he might start drooling on himself at any minute. When a slow song came on, they would plaster themselves together and move in a jerky circle, occasionally running into the other couples.
There was a taller version of Willie Nelson decked out in silver buckles and plaid, his eyes so squinty and surrounded by wrinkles that I wasn’t sure he had any, dancing with a woman in ripped turquoise that gave new meaning to the term muffin top. There was a younger group of girls, probably late 20s or early 30s, sporting the cropped t-shirt and unflattering flesh trend of MC Hammer’s woman – dancing on each other and whooping when they managed to grab some poor unsuspecting cowboy from the sidelines. A severely thin woman with dark hair down to her waist swayed alone in the middle, with her arms lifted above her head and a beer clutched in a hand adorned with dangerous looking press on nails.
We laughed and drank shots, getting up to dance only once when several couples vacated the floor briefly for a smoke break and, apparently, a make out session on the pier.
“Look you guys”, I said pointing out the window behind our table. MC Hammer was lounging on his side on the railing, one leg stretched out and one bent at the knee, propping his head up on his hand. And his woman was glued to his face; her hands roaming over places I really hoped would stay covered.
Everyone leaned over or turned around to look and even the band members, who were taking a short break, had to peek.
“Ahh, they’re gonna fuck tonight”, half of our group sang in unison, as they often do when spotting outrageous PDA.
It was shortly after, when the band started playing Let’s Get It On in honor of the returning couple, that a girl approached our table. She was tall and heavy set, with streaked strawberry blonde hair cut short. Freckles covered her cheeks and the bridge of her nose – she was almost cute.
“Hey”, she said to the group at large, smiling. “Ya’ll having a good time tonight?”
After a scattered yes, she focused on the girl to my left. “I know you!”
She went round the table establishing family connections and moving past the “do you know’s” with everyone, because that’s the first part of any conversation in the South... “Who are your people?” Then she finally came to me.
“And you. You’re a _______, aren’t you”, she asked, tossing out my last name and pulling a face I recognized all too well.
I stared up at her warily. “Guilty.”
“Uh huh. And you’re Jimmy’s daughter, right?”
“Yes.” I sighed.
Her hand went immediately to her hip and she leaned over the person in front of me, “I’m sorry”, she said without a trace of remorse, “but I fucking hate your daddy.”
I could feel the heat rising up my neck as I stared at her, and everyone else stared at us.
“He’s a sorry piece of shit. No...I really hate him”, she continued, as if I’d accused her of the opposite.
I crossed my legs and leaned forward in my chair. She started to say something else, but I cut her off. “Right”, I said calmly, then turned my back and started talking to the girl beside me.
She walked away a moment later and the chatter started. “Are you kidding? What a dick! So rude! Who does that?”
I was absolutely livid and it was only the antics of MC Hammer that made me crack a smile for the rest of the night. But I wasn’t just angry at her, I was angry with myself too.
I kept thinking of brilliant comebacks hours after the fact, which only made me angrier. I could have said something like, “I appreciate your right to an opinion, but in the future if you have a problem with my father, you should take it up with him and not a stranger. Because that’s what I am to you – a stranger. Not his daughter, in this case, or the head of his complaint department. Whatever sense of entitlement or commiseration you feel spending time with him has granted you, I assure you, you won’t be getting it from me. So why don’t you fuck off.”
Or, “Now that we’ve been properly introduced and you’ve said what you had to say, why don’t you go back to your table, sit down, and I’ll come over and needlessly insult one of your family members in front of your friends. Call it a learning experience.”
Or, “Bitch, you don’t know me. How you gonna come at me like that? I will cut.you.”
Something like that.
And even though I know that responding to her rudeness with that of my own wouldn’t really have been the right thing to do, it still would have felt nice to let off some steam.
After all, I’ve got two more weeks left of this shit. Anyone would be tempted...right?