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Note: Thanks to Tim and Rock for feedback on the draft chapters. I owe a special thanks to Robb for doing the final proofreading and catching all those silly little errors I missed.
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by Jeff Allen
It was the middle of October when my mother arrived.
Let me explain a little about my family. To say we were dysfunctional would be an understatement. From the outside looking in, we probably appeared to be a `Good Catholic Family' with five kids. However, my father was an alcoholic who died of a heart attack when I was twelve, so my mother's been `a poor widow' for twenty-two years. I'm the youngest of the five children.
First, there was Margaret, who's ten years older than me. She's married to Roger Bakewell. They have three children. The oldest is only ten years younger than me, and the youngest is in high school. They managed to escape some of the family drama by moving to Pittsburgh. I don't think my mother has ever let them forget that they `abandoned' her.
Next there was Liam, who was eight years older than me. Liam went into the Marines right after high school. When he came home from the service, he was a full-blown alcoholic who bounced from job to job, relationship to relationship, argued constantly with my mother, and drank himself to death at age thirty-one. My most vivid memories from high school were the nights that my mother and Liam, both drunk as skunks, screamed at each other in the kitchen until the neighbors called the police.
Third in line was Michael. He was only four years older than me and was my protector all the way through elementary and middle school. The day after his high school graduation, he took me out to lunch to tell me that he was leaving the next day because he couldn't take any more of the drunken screaming matches. I was heartbroken that he was leaving, and I expressed my heartbreak by refusing to speak to him for the rest of the day. The next morning, he packed his car and headed west. He got as far as St. Louis before his car and his money gave out. I got a couple of letters from him, then the letters stopped. I discovered later that Mother had been tearing up his letters before I had a chance to read them. No one in the family has heard from him in nearly sixteen years.
My sister Mary was two years older than me. She got pregnant in her junior year of high school, dropped out, and married the father of her child. All three of them were killed in a car wreck two years later.
Then there's me. I struggled to get away from the house. I screwed up with Whitney, got her pregnant, and enlisted in the Marines to support my wife and child. You know how well that worked out.
Margaret tells me that mother calls her about once a week and talks for hours. I usually get a call every other week or so. Mother is usually drunk, or nearly so, when she calls. She complains about her life, about Margaret, about how inconsiderate it was of my father to die on her (I think it was the only way the man could escape), about how much she misses her sweet Liam and what a good son he was, and about how I'm such a disappointment to her because I am divorced and I don't ever come to visit. Most of the time when Mother calls, I lay the phone down and go about my business until I hear the off-the-hook signal coming from the phone.
As you can tell from my little family history, alcohol hasn't been a friend to us. That's why I don't drink. I know there's a strong family tendency in alcoholism. With two alcoholic parents and an alcoholic brother, I decided in junior high that it would be better to just never take that first drink.
Now, back to Mother's visit...
She showed up unannounced. I came home at the end of the day ready to start dinner for Marty and me. There was an older model Cadillac sedan that I didn't recognize parked in the drive. The door to the cabin was open. I'd probably left it that way in the morning. I was bad about forgetting to lock the door. It was a good thing I wasn't living in a place with a high crime rate; otherwise I would have been ripped off on a regular basis.
I stepped through the door not sure of what or whom I would find inside.
Mother was sitting on the couch smoking a cigarette. There was an open bottle of gin on the table next to the couch.
"Well, aren't you going to come give your mother a hug and a kiss?"
"Hello, Mother. What are you doing here?"
"Well, I came to see my grandson since you weren't in any hurry to bring him to see me. Where is he?
"Marty should be home soon. He had soccer practice this afternoon. Did you drive up here from Raleigh? That isn't your car outside. Whose is it?"
"Well, I can see that you're just as pleasant in person as you are on the phone. You never pay any attention to me. You never call me. And when I call you, you never really talk."
That's because no one can get a word in edgewise. "Mother, whose car is that? Is there someone else here?"
"No, no, it's just me. That's Meg O'Hara's car. I borrowed it to come up here."
Before I could respond, I heard Trey's old Volvo pull into the driveway.
I rushed out the door to warn Marty before he came into the house.
I greeted Trey and the Michaeux brothers and then told Marty that his grandmother was here. He said a hurried goodbye to his friends and rushed into the house.
Trey and I had talked enough over the last two months that he knew my mother and I had a strained relationship. He grabbed my hand and said, "Good luck with the visit. I hope it's a short one. Call if you need anything."
"Thanks, and it had better be a short visit."
I turned to go back into the house. This was going to be interesting...and not in a nice way.
I was surprised when Dad told me that my grandmother was in the house. I'd talked to her on the phone a couple of times since I'd been living with Dad...well, `talking' with her was pretty much one-sided. She kind of dominated the conversation. Mostly, I just added an occasional "Yes, Ma'am" or "No, Ma'am" while she carried on a monologue.
She sort of crushed me in a bear hug the minute I walked in the door. She smelled of cigarettes and alcohol. I spotted the open bottle of gin on the table by the sofa.
When she let go of the hug, I was able to take a look at her. I could see some of my dad's facial features in hers. She wore heavy makeup, but even that didn't hide the deep wrinkles in her face or the spidery red veins on her nose. Her hair was dyed that pure black color that some older women use. It generally makes them look older. As she lit a cigarette, I noticed the nicotine stains on her fingers.
Dad got busy making dinner for us while Grandmother and I `got acquainted.' The conversation was a lot like her phone calls...one-sided. She'd ask a question about school or the soccer team, but while I was trying to answer her question she would be off on some conversational tangent about her friends, about how my dad should never have divorced my mom, about how difficult her life was as a `poor widow woman' on Social Security, about...well, you get the idea.
Dad got dinner ready while my grandmother talked. Dad was really ticked off. I could tell by the way he was banging around the pots and pans in the kitchen.
He fixed some pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy, salad, and green beans. I thought it was pretty good, but Grandmother complained that the potatoes were lumpy and the beans were undercooked. Dad didn't eat much of his dinner. I could tell he was doing a slow burn as Grandmother's complaining moved from the quality of the meal to the furniture in the house and then on to how he should never have gotten divorced.
"If you remember, Mother, I didn't have much choice in the divorce. Whitney filed the papers while I was in boot camp. There wasn't anything I could do."
"Well, I don't understand why you never dated very much in high school. Now, your brother Liam, God rest his soul, was very popular in high school. He wouldn't have hooked up with the first tramp that spread her legs for him like you did."
"Mother, that's enough!"
"Well, all I'm saying is that you wasted your chance at marriage. Now that you're divorced, you can't be married in the Church and give me more grandchildren."
At that point, the food turned to cardboard in my mouth, and I asked to be excused from the table.
I went out to sit under the oak tree. Marlene came with me and rested her head on my lap as I listened to Dad and Grandmother arguing. Man, my mother could get worked up, but even her worst mood was sugar and spice compared to my Grandmother's.
I slept on the couch in the living area, and Dad slept on the floor because Grandmother had complained about the lack of privacy in the upstairs area. She also complained loudly about having to share the only bathroom in the house, which she proceeded to spend so much time in that Dad and I had to go out in the yard to pee.
The couch wasn't all that bad to sleep on, but I woke up several times in the night because I could hear my Grandmother snoring.
Fortunately, she was still sleeping soundly and snoring loudly the next morning. Dad and I managed to get ourselves up and out of the house without having to face her again.
Dinner the next night was a repeat performance of the complaining and arguing from the night before. Not a pleasant meal. When I took the garbage out after washing the dishes, I noticed three empty gin bottles in the trash can.
I told Dad about the empty bottles in the trash the next morning on the way into town for the morning conditioning run with the soccer team.
"Marty, my mother is an alcoholic...and a mean one at that. The more she drinks, the more she complains."
"Is that why you don't drink?"
"Yes, not only is my mother an alcoholic, but my father and a brother were, also. It would be just too risky for me to have any alcohol. If I started, I might not be able to stop."
"Does that mean that I could be an alcoholic, too, if I started drinking?"
"I'd say that there's a strong possibility. There's a strong family relationship in alcoholism. With both parents being alcoholics, I figured my lot was pretty well cast, so I made the decision not to drink before alcohol had a chance to get the best of me. Your mother doesn't have an alcohol problem, does she?"
"No, she and Gavin have a glass of wine a couple of times a week. I don't think I've ever seen her take more than one glass."
"Then there's a chance that you don't have the genetic predisposition for alcoholism."
"Is there any way to tell?"
"Not that I know of."
"Wow, I need to think about that."
"I hope you do."
That afternoon, I got home before my dad. It appeared that Grandmother was well on her way to being drunk by the time I got there. As soon as I got in the door, she started in with her complaining. I kind of tuned her out.
"...don't know what you see in those nigger friends of yours."
That caught my attention. "What did you say?"
"Don't you talk to me in that tone of voice, young man. You should have some respect for you elders. I was just saying that I see you being dropped off each evening by some man with a pony tail, and I want to know who he is."
"That's Trey Arnold. He's one of the soccer ,nd he's also my biology teacher."
"Well, I don't know what this world's coming to when a coach and a teacher is allowed to wear a pony tail. If you ask me, a pony tail on a man makes him look like a queer. Then who are those two niggers that are riding with you when that faggot drops you off?"
"Those are my best friends! Don't you dare use that word when you talk about them!"
"Don't you talk back to me!" Her hand connected with my face before I could react. "I should have known that your father wouldn't have taught you to have respect for you elders. Maybe that will teach you a lesson."
I grabbed my book bag and headed for the door.
"Come back here! Where do you think you're going?"
"I'm leaving. You have made this last week a living hell for Dad and me. I'm not going to stay here with you in the house."
I turned on my heel. I heard her screaming at me as I stalked down the driveway and out to the road.
When Marlene and I got home, Mother was in the kitchen attempting to make dinner.
She asked how my day was. That made me suspicious. My mother was never interested in anyone else except herself. Something wasn't right.
"Mother, where's Marty? He's usually home by this time."
"Oh, he's not going to be home for dinner."
"Okay. Is he having dinner with Grant and Micah?"
"I can't remember. He'll be home later."
"Mother, something's going on. What is it?"
"Why, I don't know what you're talking about."
The phone rang.
It was Marty telling me that he was over at the Michaeux's. As he explained why he was there, I got angrier and angrier.
He said, "Dad, I'm not coming back while she's there. When is she going to leave?"
"Soon. Let me talk with either Donnie or TJ."
""Okay. Donnie's right here."
"Put him on, please. I love you."
"Love you, too, Dad. Here's Donnie."
He passed the phone, and I heard Donnie's smooth tenor voice say, "Hello."
"Donnie, can I ask a big favor of you guys? Can Marty spend the night over there?"
"That's not a problem. We'll take care of it. Do you need him to stay more than just tonight, `cause that would be fine, too."
"Thanks, I appreciate that, but I think everything will be fixed by tomorrow. Tell Marty that I'll see him at the end of soccer practice tomorrow."
"Will do. Call if you need anything."
"Thanks. I will."
I hung up the phone and turned to face my mother.
She smiled at me like there was nothing wrong. That just made me angrier.
"You hit Marty. I want you to pack up your things and leave. Tonight. I missed the first fifteen years of his life, and I'm not going to let you and your drunken ravings come between me and my son now."
"The boy sassed me."
"He responded after you called his soccer coach a queer and used an obscene word to describe his two best friends. You're a mental case, Mother. You always have been. You're not welcome here. I want you to get in that car and leave."
"What do you mean, you can't? Just get in the car and go."
"I don't have a driver's license."
"WHAT? You drove up here without a license? What happened to it?"
"Well, I was charged with a DUI and they took my license and car."
"Mother, the State only takes your car if you've been charged with several DUI's in a short period of time. How many have you had in the past couple of years?"
"And this Meg O'Hara let you borrow her car. Is she senile?"
"Actually, she is. She's got Alzheimer's and she's in a home. I figured she wouldn't mind."
"You stole the car! You drove all the way up here without a valid license and in a stolen car!"
"You make it sound like I did something bad. Meg isn't going to be driving the car."
"I've had it. You're leaving tonight, even if I have to drive you down there myself. Go pack your things."
The phone rang. I picked it up and snapped, "Yes!"
"Uh, Pat, this is Trey. TJ called to tell me that you were having some trouble. Is there anything I can do?"
"Trey, I need a really big favor. I'll understand if you say you can't do it."
"Tell me what you need."
"I'm driving my mother down to Raleigh tonight, and I'll need a ride back."
"Do you want me to follow you down there?"
"Trey, are you really sure you want to do this? It's going to be very late when we get back."
"Stop making excuses and tell me where and when to meet you down there."
"Do you know Raleigh?"
"Not well, but I'll take the BMW, it's got a GPS system."
It's about three and a half hours from Carterville to Raleigh. It seemed like an eternity. Mother was angry because I'd found her stash of gin bottles and emptied them down the drain. She grumbled and complained all the way down to Raleigh. The only thing more unpleasant than my mother when she was drunk was my mother when she was coming off a drunk. I was the bad son. I would never amount to anything, unlike her Liam, who would have been famous if he hadn't died so young. Marty was an ungrateful brat. The list went on and on. I concentrated on the road and tried to tune her out. Tuning her out wasn't that easy. I gripped the steering wheel so hard that my hands hurt. it's a wonder I didn't crack the wheel.
I carried her luggage into the house. She started arguing with me again. We'd only been there about ten minutes when I saw Trey's X5 pull into the driveway. I opened the door to let him in.
"That's the faggot-looking guy that brings Marty home. What's he doing here?"
Trey stopped short.
"Mother, I grew up listening to you and dad fight and argue. It seemed like almost every night you two were drunk and screaming at each other. You talk about Liam as a saint. You two fought constantly, and he drank himself to death. Sometimes I think he did it as a way to get away from you. I don't want to ever see you again. Do you understand me?"
"I'm your mother. You can't keep me away."
"I can make it so that you don't want to have anything to do with me. You're so bigoted against blacks and gays. Well, that's too bad, because my best friends, some of the finest people I've ever met, are black or gay or both. I'm leaving, Mother. I want this to be the last thing you remember about me."
With that, I grabbed Trey, who had been standing by the door open mouthed, and pulled him into a kiss.
A long kiss.
(To be continued)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Some of the characters who play parts in this story were previously introduced in "When Love Comes" (last posted in the College section on Sept. 6, 2001), "Love of a Lifetime" (last posted in the College section on May 19, 2003), "Finding Family" (last posted in the College section on June 5, 2008), "Construction Job" (last posted in the College section on July 24, 2008), or "Swamp Rat" (last posted March 15, 2010 in the High School section). While not necessary, readers may find it useful to read the earlier stories posted on this site. All of the Adams State/Carterville stories listed above as well as my other stories are also posted at www.crvboy.com.
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