Over the last few years, presents I gave to my parents from years ago have been re-gifted back to me. A picture of a guardian angel my Mother once admired was bought with a few dollars I made as a child. My Mother recently gave it back without explanation.
A mug I bought my Father for Christmas eight or nine years ago with Elvis and Richard Nixon shaking hands was given back to me shortly after I moved back in with them. Not only was it given back to me but it was set out for me every morning next to a pot of coffee, as if they wanted to assign it back to me.
One morning, my mother dragged a cardboard box out. “Go through everything and take what you want,” she said. I opened the box and found old report cards and art projects, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day cards we made as kids, crayon drawings, pictures with stick figures and families.
“But these are the cards we made for you,” I said. “I don’t want those back …”
“Well, whatever you don’t want we will burn,” she said.
I extracted one piece of paper with my name over a drawing of me as an adult and a small list of what I wanted to do with my life: What Do You Want to Be When You Grown-Up: “A Wrter” What Do You Want to Accomplish: “Rite a book”. Once I kept that piece of paper, I shoved the box back over to my mother and said, “Burn it.”
August was busy at the Hotel, even busier since I grew to be one of the most responsible employees there. I loved the work, but dreaded coming home and often stopped off at the Bungalow, the local bar, to buffer my parents and the tension building up between those thin walls.
One afternoon, I stopped at the Bungalow. The golden, frothy PBR’s grew into little shots of whiskey. The bartenders would bring them to me with their index finger and thumb squeezing the tip, swiveling towards my end of the bar with big eyes and a steady hand. A few drops would land on my thumb or sleeve, and I would lick them up before sipping in the darkness. It wasn’t much … a shot or two. Men were around asking me about my parents, what it was like living there, how they were when I was a kid. I was candid and promised myself I would be home by 3pm, then by 5pm and then by 7pm. Watching the wall clock tick second for second, each time the hand grew close, I put it off even further. I couldn’t go home, not yet.
An old man next to me at the bar gave me money for the juke box, and kept my drinks coming. He bought me a drink another day at the Bungalow. He introduced himself and we chatted.
This time he introduced himself again, and I told him I remembered him. His pale blue eyes kind of widened and strayed. He asked some questions about the book I was reading, what I write about . . . “My life,“ I said.
“A writer? I have a $30,000 trust fund. You better work on me, girl!” he said. “You are a woman without a cause, I like that.” He was in his late 70s, his hair a pure white but washed and combed. His clothes were clean and straight. Cowboy boots balanced on the end of the foot rest between his bar stool legs. “I have two bedrooms, with their own bathroom, you know … you could stay there.”
“But I have three dogs,” I said before taking another warm sip of brown honey.
“That’s ok, I have a big yard,” he said.
“Enclosed? Is it fenced in?” I said, growing excited.
“Uh, yeah, fenced in all the way around,” he put his forearm on the bar, “Yeah. Its yours if you want it. I won’t charge you rent.”
“Can I look at it?” I asked.
“Yeah, let’s go,” he said. I turned to the bartender, the brunette with heavy eyeliner and eyelids that sagged on either side of her face from sadness. “Is he ok?” I asked.
“Him? Yeah, he ain’t gonna hurt nobody, I mean, if you are asking me if he would rape you or something,” she said.
“Yeah, that is kind of what I am asking, thank you,” I said.
We drove to his house, a mobile home with a large, cheap, tin roof built over it. The yard was larger than my parents’ and fenced in. He was growing a few crops in front of a barn house. It was dark. He kept the blinds drawn all day, the shades from the two lamps in the living room were dusty and dim. I thought he was good-looking for an old guy, and he was kind to me. Add a little whiskey, a little beer and a volatile home life? Shazam! You find yourself on an old man’s lap french-kissing him. Utterly ridiculous.
“You are a good kisser,” he said, “I am not going to be able to let you go.”
“I will have to go,” I said.
“Move in if you want,” he said.
“But do I have to sleep with you?” I asked. “Is that like a condition?” He stood in front of me, widened his eyes and outstretched his arms as if to say, “Obviously.”
“Ugh,” I said, “I can’t do that. Everyone will know.”
“You are my lady friend,” he said slowly, rolling his tongue with my new label. “You are here just with me, no one else. You are my lady friend,” he repeated again, carefully, so I understood.
“I have to go,” I said, pulling myself together and walking out the door.
Driving up the road to my parents house, I showed up sloppy, but not belligerent. My father thanked me for some pastries I smuggled out of Banquets for them. I grabbed a bowl of pasta they left for me out of the fridge and retreated into my room.
“Your mother saw that you had empty wine bottles in the back of your car. You could get pulled over for that in this county,” my Father said.
“Its for recycling,” I said, shoving pasta greedily into my mouth. Really, it was a handful of bottles I kept in my closet so my parents couldn’t monitor my drinking. I was only averaging a couple bottles a week, half a bottle a night. I just didn’t want to be bothered about it.
He followed me into my room and I must have shoved the door closed or something, because before I knew it they told me I had to move out.
“Can I finish my pasta first?” I quipped.
“Yes, you can finish your pasta first,” my Father said. And as I did, he disassembled my computer and put it out on the front lawn. My writer’s shrine. My clothes soon followed, some books, everything I owned.
I refused to behave as though I was shocked or outraged because I felt like that’s what they wanted me to do. I remained calm, cleaned my dirty bowl and fork, put it on the dish rack and then packed my car. That is when they released my two pit bulls into the neighborhood. They just opened the front door and ushered them out. It was 8pm now, and growing dark. My dogs, Maggie and Esther, ran into the horizon with the clinking of their dog tags growing faint. Brad, my little dog, remained in my mother’s arms, staring at me and shaking violently.
Around this time, I let them have it. I told them everything I thought about them. “I remember,” I said, “I remember everything you did to me as a kid.” My voice was shaking, my eyes and nose were hot with fire.
“You remember,” my Father said casually, crossing his arms, laughing it off.
“Yes, I remember you dragging me by my hair and kicking me out of the house. I remember you taking the safety tip off your Marine’s sword and pressing it against my chest. Who does that shit to a 10-year-old, you fucking Vietnam vet! I fucking hate you! You were a terrible father!” I screamed. God, it felt good.
He managed to cough up a chuckle or two here, but I could see this really sinking in. He knew my memory of him was different than what any Father would want.
“You are nothing but a DRUNK!” my mother yelled.
“Ha! I have to be a drunk to live in this house. Fuck you, you passive bitch!” I yelled.
Then I took all the photos of me off the wall, two or three, and smashed them against the plaster wall. The glass spilled everywhere and my tense, high school smile wrinkled and faded to the floor. To be honest, that felt pretty good too. It all felt good. My Father stood over me with his arms crossed, as if managing each trip I made to my bedroom to carry out more things. Each time I walked by, I erected my middle finger in his face.
It is hard to write about this night, everything happened so fast. People ask me why they kicked me out and I really can’t tell you why. Yes, I was out drinking, but back before 8pm. Yes, I was somewhat intoxicated when I came home. And, of course there were empty wine bottles in the back of my car. I am not sure what part of which detail was the exact reason they kicked me out. I am not totally comfortably guessing why either, because I don’t know if it is their truth. I did expect it though, and though I was shaking and screaming, somewhere inside I was prepared. Brad was dropped in my car and I peeled out of the driveway. They stood at the front door, eyebrows crumpled, looking small like I had hurt them- probably for the neighbors.
“You just made your daughter a whore!” I shouted.
Driving into the forest, my head beams flying over pine needles and broken pick-up trucks, I called for my Pitties and didn’t hear anything. “Fuck!” I screamed. I drove a little further and my phone lit up with text messages, finally hitting reception, “I have your pit bulls. They are on my front porch.”
I called and kept the person on the phone until I found his driveway and pulled up. Maggie and Esther leapt towards me, happy as clams that I was there to join them on the adventure. I heartily thanked the people, shoved both of them in a messy back seat and tore off down the mountain road again, looking for the Old Man’s house. One wrong turn. U-turn. Another turn and I was there.
Parking in his driveway, I knocked and came in crying and blubbering about how I was kicked out and immediately needed $20 for a bottle of wine and cigarettes. Jesus, what a train wreck. His hands were outstretched and his eyes wide, but he gave me the cash and stayed with my dogs. I drove to a gas station, ripped open a new packet of Spirits and called Frank, my NY meets LA friend. On the curb, with my uniform still on, I relayed everything that happened. He calmed me down and said that I just had to do what I had to do right now, work, save money, wait for him to return from New York and then come back down to live with him in LA.
The Doors came on the radio inside the gas station … “LA Woman” I laughed, I breathed, I paced then sat back down. After two cigarettes, I took the bottle of wine back to the Old Man. He was kind and I thanked him promising to pay him back the next day.
After finishing most of the bottle, I went to use the bathroom and looked in the mirror to see the darkness. “Oh, you are fucked,” I said to myself. My pupils were large and the light around me grew dim. I crawled into bed with the Old Man and asked for my dogs. “I need my dogs! I need them!” I cried. All three came bustling into his bedroom and climbed up on the bed happy. Then, he spooned me while I cried.
The next morning, I wandered out into his living room under a shawl, groaning and shivering. I collapsed on his couch as the dogs danced around me in support. I had to be in work at 10am, that gave me three hours to pull myself together.
The Old Man shoved wood into the mouth of a wood-burning furnace and then handed me a plate of French Toast. I ate it out of gratitude, knowing it wasn’t vegan. He chuckled, “You are going to be ok, kid.”
I looked at my dogs, they smiled at me, wagging their tails, completely on-board with this decision. Another new home.