“Life has been really good to you hasn’t it? I can just look at you and tell that. I’m happy for you.” I stood there unsure of how to respond to such a comment. This woman, a customer I had seen maybe ten times in the past five years….ten times in five years, and there she was saying something so profoundly bizarre that I was simply unsure what to do. I kind of shrugged my shoulders, found my eyes searching her face for some form of hint or clue as to what she was trying to say, or moreover, what she expected to hear. “Um, well I am pretty happy if that’s what you mean…” was all I could think to say. She pressed her over tanned hands together, gave me the head-cocked-slow-closing-eyes nod and said, “You’re blessed”…
I tried to just go on about my day, put this odd woman’s somewhat intrusive and highly speculative comments behind me but no matter how I tried to distract myself I could hear those words, see her somewhat age inappropriate glitter top, loose skin around her sun worn face…staring at me, waiting for me to respond. The way my tossed together, stuttered answer seemed to please her, reassure her that she was in fact right about whatever idea she had about me. The whole thing felt so weird, not that someone would say something odd…shit I get random comments thrown at me left and right but this, this felt so different, made me think…has it been good? Look, I am a very open woman, I have never been one of those private people…my stuff is kinda all out there, hell I even, (against the incessant warning of many dear friends) share my life here on this blog for all 14 of you to read. Don’t feel as my life is more special or compelling than anyone else’s, therefore it never dawned on me to keep anything a secret. That being said, I also never felt that I needed to wear it on my sleeve. Any badges or scars that I may carry, I try and feel them, never hide them…remember them but not blame them or use them as a crutch. Was it always easy?
“How many more days until no more pancake day?” I was five or six years old and sitting at our tiny table that was set up in the kitchen. “It’s on the calendar, remember the big circle on the calendar? You tell me how many more days” my mother, trying her best to distract me, have me count days…hear her daughter count off the number of days left until, “Circle day”…payday, most likely using the sing-song tone in my counting down to soothe her feelings of fatigue and failure. I dropped my fork on my plate of now most hated food, hopped off my chair and made that little flinching face as I drug the chair across the kitchen floor, the little metal disks affixed to the legs of that chair scrapping across the linoleum floor …a makeshift ladder to reach the wall mounted calendar. We had been living on pancakes, with Karo Syrup, for over a week, three meals a day every day. Not easy but it taught me two things; I hate pancakes, will not eat them to this day and, to look for the light at the end of each and every tunnel…
“Why does my dad fall asleep all the time? Is he sick or something?” around the same age and returning from a very rare visit at my, “dad’s” house. I don’t have any memory of my parents ever living in the same house, it was always our house and his house. “Yes baby, he’s very sick” my mother replied while parking her VW Bug, (to this day I can recall the smell of that car, leathery and rubbery with a touch of gasoline. Just thinking of that smell, merely recalling that aroma and I get a smile on my face. Me and mom either singing Kenny Loggins, “Even though we aint got money, I’m so in love with ya honey” or her quizzing me on the presidents…guess I have always had a connection to aromas) I felt the car shake as mom swung her door shut with an unusual amount of force. That night while tucked into bed I learned the name of my father’s illness, my mother was on the phone crying and that was when I heard it for the first time, “Junkie” A few months later I learned another word by eavesdropping on my mother crying on the phone…overdose. Not at all easy but it did teach me to fear loss a little less, taught me at a very young age that life does in fact go on. Loss is still horrifically tragic and painful for me but…I don’t spend much time fearing it. It also taught me, (and this would be cemented when I lost my mother) to love in the here and now, never forget to tell people what they mean to you…how they touch you, life is one crazy ride and you just never know…
“Sam, come in here” I was nine or ten years old and it was the most hated voice on the planet. My brother’s father, a person so full of hate, jealousy and self loathing that it seemed to bubble from his every pore. A man so conflicted by a Catholic upbringing…while trying to battle the conflicts of same sex attraction that he felt entitled to punish anyone, (that was smaller than he…he was like five foot three, that left me) that happened to be in his path. He was my mother’s first husband, (my father was her second) and he had used his big house, the promise of better schools, a better life, to reel my mother into moving into what was basically the maid’s quarters of his home. My mother loved that house, loved not having to pay rent, (she bought and prepared all the meals while working full time) loved the big backyard with the pool….adored giving her kids something that she never felt she could do on her own.
That’s why I never told her, never told her that my heart would race, my throat constrict and my tummy would flip when I heard his Trans Am pull into the downstairs garage. I knew the sound, had actually trained myself to hear the garage door open and that was when I would start the heart pounding covering of my tracks…I would turn off the television in the den, (that was there for everyone, but not really) walked backwards with my socks on, (always kept my socks on) shuffling my feet to cover any foot or toe prints that my feet may have made. Slip out the sliding door just off the den and run like the wind, eyes wild with panic, through the kitchen entrance and back into the area I shared with my mother.
He never touched me, never anything like that. No, what he loved to do was humiliate me, have me come into the den that he filled with whatever young men he was able to pick up at the bars…throwing his money around, promising drugs, talking about his big house and fast car. He would call me before them and start his bile spewing, “See I told you I had a troll that lived off the kitchen. She’s lucky her mother has to love her right?” the whole time laughing and pouring drinks to further intoxicate the prizes he had brought home. I would stand there either twisting my hair between my fingers and trying to recite songs in my head or on the nights when he was relentless…I would just focus on not making eye contact or letting them see my eyes welling up with tears. This went on for a couple years before I finally broke down to my mother, she found us a new place to live and we moved out. The one time he tried to pull that shit in our new home, he just walked in, started opening the mail and asked me, “Hey troll, what’s for lunch?” I learned something about myself…I was pissed. I snatched the mail from his tiny pale hands, leaned in, my face close enough to smell his expensive but cheap smelling cologne, “Your lunch is waiting for you down the street at Jack in the Box. Get out of our fucking house you evil piece of shit!” I swear had he flinched I would have ended up in juvenile hall. Not my best comeback but my first and something that is with me each and every day. That man died as he lived, miserable and alone and what I learned from that….what goes around comes around. That and to never make my physical appearance be more than an opinion. My worth should be about me, not how I look…good or bad, just me, the person I am…the person I try to be.
I could go on and on, the series of events that lent themselves to making up this…well, casserole that I am now, well they were all needed and I do not forget or regret any of them:
“Well, we figured out why your stomach hurts, you’re pregnant!”…fear and responsibility. “You have zero funds available in your savings account”…finding out that helping your meth addicted brother is just another lesson in what not to do.
“Sam, you had better get here quick, I don’t think she is going to make it”…Mother
“We figured out how he was able to find you, tracking device on your car, one that he stole from work…it’s traceable Sam, we got him”…..no longer my word against his.
“So I hear you’re going to France with me” …..Michael Sullivan ruining the surprise.
“Mom, I just wanted to thank you for taking a chance on me”…call from my son after having to act out a play where he leaves his pregnant girlfriend.
“No Michael, she’s right..it is wood tannin” …..Didier Dagueneau siding with MY palate.
“Samantha Dugan, will you marry me?”…the day I said, “Yes”
“Would you like lobster or caviar to start?”….business class on my last trip to France.
“Does it please you?”…..tasting in Lafon’s cellar.
“I am so proud of you”….Randy Kemner, more times than I can count.
“Leaving you is the hardest part”….the closest friend I have ever had leaving for Texas.
“How’s my gorgeous girl?”…..a love that I never saw coming but will hold in my heart forever.
Come to think of it…life has indeed been very good to me. Thank you oddly tanned stranger, thank you for letting me know that each and every piece of my life is shown on my face, my gate, the bounce in my step…my fight, my laugh, my tears, my wide open heart..my palate, the one that tastes and the one that tells the stories. Seeing your life in the mirror of someone else’s eyes…so powerful and just this once, I feel puffed up, proud and beautiful in a way that is unlearned, not taught…only felt. I feel truly lucky.