Here's the deal. Tommy Gretz had no idea that my mother is a slut, so how was he supposed to react when she grabbed his shoulder-length curly hair and planted her tongue so far down his throat he nearly gagged?
Of course she's drunk. Poor Tommy came back from the bathroom beet-red and perplexed. He didn't say a word, but I could tell she'd been all over him because he sat nervously on the edge of my bed as if we hadn't just been dry-humping each other for the last hour and a half.
"Let's smoke a joint," I say.
I open the window and turn the desk fan toward the outside world, which is really the next door neighbor's kitchen. This means Mrs. Jurisinski will smell it and tell her geek-jock daughter a hundred more times not to hang out with me. Like no shit, Sherlock. No one wants to hang out with the drunk divorcee-slut's daughter. I've been unpopular since the fourth grade when she let me go to school in a blue sequined boob tube, a mini skirt and wedge heels explaining to the other kids why it's important to bring an umbrella and a squirt gun to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Tommy is relaxing now. I put my hand on his crotch and he flinches a little. God. I hope my mother doesn't manage to get there before I do. I've been trying to break Tommy in for three weeks, and I'm dying to tell Heather what his cock is like.
Heather's been dating Kevin Platt for two years and they have sex all the time. She actually got a picture to show us. He's huge. Or at least the picture makes him look huge. I told her that next time he passes out with a hard-on she should put something next to it for perspective, like how they put quarters or rulers in pictures of jewelry or Indian artifacts.
"Did you study for Geometry tomorrow?" Tommy asks.
"Yeah. Just the theorems. I didn't actually do the problems yet."
"Want me to show you?"
He coughs and smoke comes racing out of his nose.
Three minutes later, I'm teaching him the new theorems and we're messing around with our protractors, when the knock comes.
"Renee, will you come out here?"
"In a minute."
I spray the air with perfume and eat three tic tacs for effect. She's standing with her arms crossed in the hallway.
"I thought I told you the next time you had pot in the house to share it with me? What gives?"
So, she tells me on my wedding day that Gerry had sex with her in the downstairs bathroom once. Said they were both drunk and it was before we were engaged. I mean, really. I'm standing here in my wedding dress, five minutes from walking down the aisle and she comes out with this. What else can I do but shrug?
"Go up and get seated, Mom."
"You don't hate me?"
"Of course not. Just go. I'll see you later."
Now it's just me and Heather. She's my maid of honor.
"Was she serious?" Heather asks.
"God. I'd kill my mother if she fucked Kevin."
"Let's not talk about it."
But I have to admit, ten minutes later as I walk up the aisle and see Gerry grinning at me, I wonder if he thinks I'm stupid enough not to know.
We're driving ninety miles per hour through the 110 degree desert with the top down. Gerry has some crazy heavy metal shit blaring on the stereo and I'm still a little drunk from last night's bender which included my eating the worm.
The trunk is full of dope for my mother. Her new boyfriend Kyle is a local supplier and he pays us five grand per trip to pick up out near Reno and drive it back east. Gerry brings a ton of speed with him and likes to race against his best time, which so far has been two days and seven hours.
Ninety is slow for Gerry. I think he's still hungover too.
Two years married and we're still crazy in love. As far as I know, neither of us has fucked anyone else, including my mother.
When we get back to Kyle's house, a ten thousand square foot mansion in the hills north of my hometown, they set us up in the back wing, closest to the kidney-shaped pool.
Two weeks later, we're all coming to the end of a binge. Gerry hasn't stopped giggling in days. Mom and Kyle have set up a badminton net and we all meet in the afternoons to whack the birdie into the air and watch it float down again. No one ever manages a volley. Kyle tries twice to kiss me in the pool, but I tell him that I've only got eyes for Gerry.
He laughs. "Gerry? Ain't he the resident toy boy?"
"And ain't you the same as your mother? A little vixen?"
Enter Raul. He's about six-four with a waxed, curled moustache and wearing a black matador costume with embroidered thorny rose vines. He's standing in the pool where Kyle just was and is completely dry. I can't figure out if he's real or not. Seems I've got so good at hallucinating that even I can't tell the difference anymore.
He speaks to me in Spanish and I answer him, even though I don't know a word of what I'm saying.
"¿Dónde está Gerry?" he asks.
"¿Usted no sabe?"
Then he points toward the pool room door where I find Gerry banging Kyle's sister on the green felt.
He points to the TV room where my Aunt Ursula is giving Gerry head.
In the kitchen, my slut of a mother is bent over the breakfast bar.
Raul tells me these things are in the past, but knowing them is for the best. Sometimes he shows me my future, too. Like today, he showed me in prison.
Meeting Tommy at the gas station is the thing that saves me. He sees me and smiles. I'm as high as the moon, so I don't do anything until he comes over to me, a box of Rice-A-Roni and two red onions in his hands.
"Remember me? It's Tommy. Tommy Gretz?"
Tommy Gretz. The kid my mother finally managed to seduce after eight long months. Tommy Gretz – my first home porno movie. Tommy Gretz – the first boy I ever really loved.
"Oh, yeah. Tommy. Wow. You look great."
"Yoga." He nods. "Mind body spirit, you know?"
I get to the front of the line and order the daily-house-usual. "Can I have two packs of Salems, a box of Marlboro Reds, and four packs of Camel Lights?" Tommy raises his eyebrows. I reach for a pack of Big Red gum and throw it on the counter.
When I'm done paying, I turn to him. "Bye, man. Nice seeing ya."
Only when I get into my car do I see that he dropped his stuff on the counter and followed me out. He's standing by the driver's door, making the 'roll-down-your-window' gesture.
"I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but you look like hell."
"What other way can I take that?"
"Are you on drugs?"
I don't answer.
"I can help. I've been where you are."
"If I take you somewhere to get clean, will you try?"
Part of me wants to burst out crying, to be honest. I'm twenty-four years old. My husband is the neighborhood toy boy, my mother is the neighborhood slut, and my life is a mess. I know this deep down, don't I? Just because I wanted life to be perfect, with a perfect mother and a perfect husband doesn't necessarily mean it's going to materialize, does it?
He holds my hand. "Renee, you were the first girl I ever loved. I can't stand to see you like this. I can show you a way out. We can get far away from here and start over, I promise."
Tommy Gretz. What is he doing promising me the world after so long? And what do I have to lose?
I'm thirty-three weeks pregnant with Tommy's baby. We're in Idaho on Dr. Adam's Farm, about fifty miles south of the Nez Perce Reservation. I haven't seen my mother or Gerry since the day I went out for cigarettes and never came back.
Tommy and I live in a round lumber cabin like everyone else here. There are two hundred of us, all ex-addicts, arranged in a circle around a six acre communal garden and meditation area. Dr. Adam founded this place five years ago, sick of the government's half-assed way of dealing with its war on drugs (which he says is really a war on drug addicts). Tommy is one of the head counselors.
Dr. Adam visits me nearly every day and we talk about the life I would have had – full of drugs and prostitution. He put me in charge of the garden this summer and I try my best to keep him satisfied with my work. In my eyes, I was as much saved by Dr. Adam as I was by meditation and yoga, but I'd never tell him that. And really, it was Tommy who saved me.
Sabrina, the woman from three doors down, an ex-crack head, told me once that Dr. Adam fools around with all of the other women. I've never seen him with anyone but his wife, Eve, yet something in me feels that she's part-right. Adam only comes to visit when Tommy is away and everyone here is always pregnant.
We've just scheduled the baby's birthday. I'll have a c-section on August 16th in the local clinic where Dr. Adam knows a doctor who does them for cheap.
"Think of being pregnant as divine work, Renee. And get used to it," Dr. Adam says, hand on my belly after we finish some Hatha positions.
What does he mean get used to it?
His hand slips down to between my legs and I snap them closed.
I'm at the door now, and he scowls and says, "But we share here."
Enter Raul. Today in a callused brown leather suit, pegged legs, boots and a cowboy hat. He's smoking a short cigarette and has a handkerchief in his left hand. His moustache is longer this time, starched into spirals. He's standing, resting an elbow on Dr. Adam's shoulder. Of course Adam can't see him.
"¿Dónde está Tommy?"
He pinches his chin and shifts his face around, concentrating an unbelieving look at me.
"Realmente no sé," I say. I really don't know where Tommy is.
Raul shows me Tommy on top of Eve in my bed.
On the floor.
On the rug by the wood burner.
On the porch.
On the bed again.
He shows me Tommy with Sabrina, from three doors down. With Methadone-Judith and Mary the Baltimore ex-cokehead. He shows me three little boys with different mothers who have Tommy's dimples and curly hair.
Raul looks disappointed that I could be so fucking stupid. As if I didn't already know the world is a freak show.
The only thoughts going through my head as I walk the dirt track north are baby-thoughts. Where am I going to have this baby? How am I going to have this baby? What am I going to do after I have this baby?
I sit on a rock to drink water and meditate, but I'm distracted by the sound of drums. I can see miles in every direction. Velvet-green hills cracked with the streams that feed the Clearwater River. As I walk to the basin of the valley, I hear something following me, but there is nothing. Each time I hear brush crackling behind me, I stop and look and though limbs are moving, no one is there.
The midday sun is gone by the time I reach the bottom and splash my face with the river. It's only knee deep here. Refreshing. I squat down to fill my water bottle and when I look up, I see Raul, standing motionless like a road sign, a huge sombrero brim pulled down to hide his face, pointing me through the brush.
"Vaya aquí." Go here. "Sígame." Follow me.
As he walks, I follow, noting his long shadow stretching to our right. The shadow grows longer as our journey nears the sound of more drumming. Now I can't figure if it makes sense that Raul has a shadow. I can't figure if it's possible that I can walk in his shade and feel cool relief. And yet, it must be possible because it's happening. And really – is it any crazier than my life so far?
He leads me to a small shack where a wrinkled old woman is standing in the doorway. She smiles at me, and though her mouth doesn't move, I hear her saying, "Renee, don't worry. Your baby will be fine. You are ready. You are safe."
I sit on a tree stump outside the shack and rest. Raul is gone. She sits close enough to me that I can smell her sun-scented black and silver hair and I reach out my hand and she takes and holds it. We are now companions.
She is the mother I always wished I had.
Lily Blackeagle tells me that I am about to give birth. We are walking circles in the grass beside the creek, her chanting something in monotone-Indian and me stopping every few minutes to hold onto the rough bark of the central tree and breathe through my contractions. We walk again.
Another sharp sensation from my lower back. My body presses my pelvis forward and I nearly collapse. Lily leads me to the tree again, tells me to hold on, and kneels in front of me.
"You push now. I will catch the baby."
Dr. Adam told me that childbirth was unnatural and too painful for modern women to endure, that our bodies are inadequate and imperfect. He told me that it was dangerous, like a disease. He told me that it could kill me. Lily is kneeling, still hum-chanting, and smiling at me. She has no doubts. I feel like God.
I had no agony. I am sore today, but not dead. My baby girl is perfect and bright-eyed. I named her Lily. I am surrounded by Lily Blackeagle's friends and family, who are having their annual pow wow and celebrating every atom of life, including my own, even though I'm not a part of their Nez Perce community or culture. They invite me to the dances, but I stay in the small, log-built hunting shack with the baby and rest.
My mother, Kyle and Gerry all got busted the summer my Lily was born. Since then, Gerry's managed to run off and no one's seen him, Kyle's become a late-blooming dental assistant, but my mother, sadly, has never managed to break out of the destructive cycle of abuse. Presently, she's in the county for credit card fraud – money being a get-what-you-can necessity since she's been hooked on meth for the last three years.
"You look like shit, Mom." I hand the guard two cartons of Salems for her.
"I know it."
"Can't they send you somewhere to clean you out?"
"Who? The same bitches who sell me the stuff?" Funny she uses the word 'sell.' What money does she have but her body in here? She thinks I don't know, but Raul shows me things.
"Great. Soon done with tenth grade."
"Time goes fast, eh?"
"She smoking weed?"
"Not that I can tell."
"Do you tell her about me?"
I want to ask her what she means. Does she mean do I tell her about how we used to do drugs together? How she used to screw my boyfriends? How she's in prison now?
"Nah. She's a teenager. She's not listening anyway."
Fact is, I haven't told Lily the truth yet. She asks me about my mother and I lie. I tell her that the last time I knew, my mother was taking off to the West Coast to start a new life. "She sounds so cool, Mom," she usually says. "I bet she wouldn't make such a big deal out of the stuff you're always ragging on."
It makes me feel bad to lie to her because I never wanted to lie to my kid. Of course, I bet we all want that, but it never happens quite the way we planned, does it? Same as I never planned to be visiting my mother in the county, bringing her cigarettes.
I don't know when I'll tell her the truth. I don't think any of us are ready for it yet. I'm still holding out for the day my mother becomes capable of being a real grandmother, I guess.
We are arguing again.
"Why do you always have to tell me what to do? I hate when you do that!"
"I'm your mother, that's why. And you have no idea how lucky you are that I give a shit."
Every morning is like this. She either misses the bus, forgets her backpack, or skips breakfast. I just want what's best for her and she just wants to drive me insane.
"Why can't you just lay off?"
"I don't want you to be late to school again."
"You can always drive me, can't you?"
"That's not the point."
"But you can. You do anyway, don't you?"
I don't know what to say. Lily thinks I'm a taxi. A free taxi. She has no idea how selfish she is. Does any teenager?
"Starting today, no," I say. "I won't drive you. Starting today, you walk."
She stops teasing her hair. "Walk? Are you crazy?"
"But I could get kidnapped! It's over a mile to the school! I'll miss two whole classes!"
"But I can't miss Life Drawing! It's the only time I get to see Jason all day!"
"Well then, I suggest you get yourself in gear and make the bus, then." I look at the clock. She has about four minutes. "I put a Pop-Tart in your backpack. And I signed your Algebra homework."
She huffs and kicks the bathroom door closed. I hear the tap dance of speedy make-up application and when she emerges, I'm happy to see that today, she decided not to wear the eyeliner a quarter-inch thick on her lower lid. She walks briskly into the kitchen, grabs her backpack and a banana out of the fruit bowl, and storms toward the front door with a minute to spare.
"I bet your mother wasn't this much of a bitch," she says, right before the door slams. And strangely, this comment gives me a warm feeling rather than an urge to chase her and make her apologize.
About the author:
A. S. King has recently returned from Ireland, where she spent twelve years dividing her time between self-sufficiency, teaching literacy to adults, and writing novels. Her work has appeared in Washington Square, Amarillo Bay, Eclectica, Underground Voices, The Huffington Post, The Arabesques Review, Natural Bridge and other cool places.. She now lives in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
You can find out more at www.amysarigking.com.
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