Growing up, I endured a number of assaults to my emotional health. My father played ignorant, telling me that my mother needed her “rest”. This was his answer to everything. As a small child, I would ask him why she couldn’t sing me a song, why God gave boy’s penis’s, why she couldn’t rock me to sleep or why he couldn’t keep down a job and he would answer the same way every time:
“Your mother needs her rest, and so do you.” With that comment, I would assume that I needed a drink too. I had to convince my parents that I loved them despite their flaws. Pretending all along that the crap they were putting me through did not affect me. Invisibility would be my super power.
School was a not a huge priority. My father honestly believed that a woman’s place was in the home. I know his mindset hurt my mother. Homemaking was the least of her worries, instead she spent her time at the hospital. As an ER nurse by day, sober and organized in even the most traumatic situations, there was nothing that could go physically wrong with the human body that she could not handle. She surprised us all with her abilities. But, by the time her shift was over, she had all but discombobulated emotionally and physically.
Tearing her Dr. Scholl’s granny shoes off at the door, she would ignore my father as he greeted her and then meander her way from the foyer to the living room, kiss me on the cheek, and in a soft whisper tell me I was the only reason she stayed. As a twelve year old, I didn’t know what that meant nor did I know that the use of this phrase would send me into years of therapy.
My mother usually chose the dinner hour to express her thoughts on a hard days work. Dinner was served on wooden trays while we all sat on the couch, TV blaring in the background. Foil tray instant meals with plenty of salt and gravy were her specialty. If my mother did cook, it was spam loaf with powdered mashed potatoes. I imagine, now that I look back on those days, that it must be quite difficult to cook while you’re drunk, so just the fact that she mastered the skill of placing the TV dinners in the oven without burning herself or the house, was good enough for me.
The discussions my parents had over the dinner hour were, more often than not, tainted but colorful views on our small town and the perilous lives trapped within. With each highball of Jack Daniels she poured, my mother would continue her series of the most well pronounced slurs this side of the Mississippi. She was the only person I knew that could narrate rated R stories with the enthusiasm of a Disney character.
Speaking to my father and I, as we sat dumfounded and quiet, she would begin,
“Miles, Myrtle. You’ll never guess what I did today!” Pouring herself another highball she continued, allowing the liquor to loosen her tongue. “Mr. Jones, yeah that guy down the street, coded on the table and while he was sufferin’ arrest, he shit himself. Isn’t that great, you should’ve been there!” Her giggles were infectious. Her smile--contagious. My father would excuse himself to regain his long gone composure and then rejoin us. I would simply stare. It wasn’t that I was surprised by her story, just in utter mortification that she had just said the word shit in front of me. In the south, women did not talk this way. And my friends would wonder why they could never come over to my house for a sleep over....
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Deb and John watch the whole time; they hear our conversation as “yeah, ‘cause you know man, it’s just all like, all so totally fuckin’ is what it is gonna be, you know man.” And really, our conversation doesn’t eve