Monday, July 13, 2015

Keeper: Finding Constancy in a World of Change

The following is a guest post by one of my current 30 Day Writing Challenge participants. I love seeing what comes out of these brave souls every quarter, and am honored to get to share one these pieces with you today!

It would kill my Mom to know that my first real childhood memory is of Ralphie, my bio Dad, but it most certainly is. There are so many other early memories burned on my brain, but those are after their bitter separation and eventual equally bitter divorce. Those memories surface their ugly heads first and are filled with green trash bags stuffed with dirty work clothes, cursing and spitting, crushed cigarette butts, and him leaving and never looking back to see me in the window, ever-waiting for his return.
It is early on a Sunday morning but the sun is up and shining. I race downstairs, anxious to catch him happy (happy = not too drunk but surely not sober) before my older brother and mom can distract him, annoy him, or chase him away. He is reading the Sunday paper and I quietly creep right in front of him and punch the paper hard and swift right in the crease, to startle him. It works and he laughs and hands me the funnies. I am not yet 4, but I can read and have been since I was 2 - a bragging point I hear my Mom Mom often announce to family, friends, and random people we run into when we shop together, which is often. I love The Family Circus best, as well as the one with the barbaric Viking, whose eye you could never see. My hands are covered in stinky newspaper ink, and I don’t like the smell or the blackness on my fingertips, but I don’t want to waste a moment of my time with Dad on hand washing.
Dad is the funny one, the goofy one, the kid that never grew up. My Mom is busy taking care of all of us. Stay-at-home mom by day, waitress by night. The entire Eagles 8 track “Hotel California” is the soundtrack of that time and is constantly playing in Dad’s green van and Mom’s yellow Volkswagon Beetle. My Mom Mom and Pop Pop live walking distance away and are a constant in our lives, baby sitting, furnishing the house, supporting what they can support and judging what they can’t. Sunshine is our dog, a gorgeous German Shepherd who loves me fiercely. Not like Gretchen, the German Shepherd dog before, who bit my index finger hard enough to draw blood, with no warning.
Dad suggests I eat a donut from the Dunkin Donuts dozen he has already picked up so we can head to the crick (creek) to go fishing. I choose the Boston Crème, joyful when the pudding center squirts through my teeth. He munches on his French Cruller, crumbs falling all over his t-shirt.  “Let’s go!” he declares. No hair combing, no teeth brushing, no outfit matching. We are going fishing! This thrills me, especially since my brother is not awake and therefore, unable to join us.   
It is hot on the borrowed (stolen?) little motor boat and I am thirsty. The sun is bright and Dad is distracted with the fishing pole, baiting the line, casting the reel. I wait until my mouth is too dry to even lick my lips wet. I finally ask Dad for a drink, hopeful that he has my favorite cherry Kool Aid in my Holly Hobby thermos. Instead, he produces a shiny white and red can from his cooler, icy and glinting in the bright sun with beads of condensation dripping from it. It opens with a loud pop. I grab it and gulp down a sip. I gasp, shocked at the bitter fizz but I know better than to spit it out. I hate it but it is the only thing available to drink besides the muddy water on which we float. I hand it back to him, careful not to spill it or scowl. My first beer. A Budweiser, I would confirm many years later.

Time passes. I tell my Dad that I have to pee. He asks me if I can hold it, an extremely risky suggestion since I am infamous for wetting my pants when I laugh too hard or when walking through one of my brother’s numerous homemade haunted houses. Dad makes a decision and sets the minnow bucket in the center of the boat. He tells me to squat over it and pee. I look down in disbelief at the skinny darting fish in the metal half-covered bucket. I don’t want to pee in it. I lie and say I no longer need to go. Minutes later my shimmying bottom and constant readjustment of my shorts gives me away. Dad threatens that if I don’t pee in the minnow bucket, then we’ll have to leave. And if I pee all over myself, then we’ll have to leave. There is no longer a debate. I quickly pee in the minnow bucket, never looking down to see if those tiny, silvery fish live or die in their newly polluted environment.
It would be almost 35 years later when I would fish with my Dad again. Just last summer, in fact. There were no boats, beers, or minnow buckets. Just my three kids and me, walking with him to our local fishing hole here in my neighborhood. Many things have changed for him and me over the years of his alcoholism, drug addiction, disinterest, abandonment, destruction, numerous brushes with death and eventual rehabilitation. But he still picks up Dunkin Donuts for the kids when he visits, and I still choose the Boston Crème.

This is a piece written by a participant in response to a prompt from my 30 Day Writing Challenge. If you are interested in telling your own story, or developing your writing voice, please consider joining us for the next Challenge!

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1 comment:

  1. Wow! So poignant, honest and well-written. Thank you so much for sharing this with the rest of us.


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