Thursday, May 13, 2004

Go west, young family 

We're off to Albuquerque this morning to visit good friends (and meet their new baby) and reconnect with a city we really liked. We lived there for a year right after college. And there were a million things to like about the city, but it hurt that I worked a 5:30 a.m. shift (and sometimes a 4:15 a.m. one). The folks I worked with at The Albuquerque Tribune were great, but we never hung out, since we all got up at the crack of dawn.

So we're looking forward to visiting places we loved (the zoo, Garduno's, Owl Cafe, the Frontier, DOUBLE RAINBOW -- though I understand it's got a different name now). Em and I will spend a day just hanging out with the new mom and baby while Adam and the new dad do a day hike. We'll take a tram up to the top of Sandia Mountain, which I'm sure will thrill Emma. It should all be wonderful.

Of course, we've already had two major breakdowns and it's not even 8:30. Emma seems to be coming into her terrible twos about 14 months late. Nearly every "no" sends her into a spiral of tears and kicking. We've been pretty strict with the fit-throwing, trying to break it before it becomes much more of a habit. Could be all of the impending changes, of course. As soon as we return, her life will be much different. The student will start in-home care and preschool is right around the corner. She's not the only one who's nervous. If only it was OK for me to roll around in the floor and cry ...

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Who's your daddy? 

"Mommy, who's your daddy?" Emma asked recently. I paused for a minute before answering simply, "His name is Rick." That was plenty for her.

I honestly wish my Mom and I have the relationship I have with him. There isn't one.

They divorced when I was 3. For the second time, although I didn't know about the first until I was 15 or older, and I still don't know the details.

My first memory is from just after the final divorce. I'm being punished, standing in the corner because I spilled orange juice on his white carpet. I was devastated, because it meant I couldn't finish watching Batman and Robin. I don't remember actually spilling the juice or him being around at all, just standing there while the TV played in the background. But you know, it's really typical of a memory of my childhood. He's just not there.

I was shuttled back and forth between my parents until I started school. I don't remember much of that time with him, just blurred faces of a girlfriend or two and a terrified night on the couch, when he'd left me watching Wizard of Oz and I was too scared to turn the TV off.

I must've spent weekends with him once I was school-age, but the memories are scarce. He came to pick me up one day and had me wait in my room while he talked to my mom. I peeked out just as he was sticking a baggie of pot in his boot. He thought he could hide it, but Mom never bothered to.

When I was 7, my mom, stepdad, brother and I moved to California. I flew back to spend that first summer with Rick only to learn he'd gotten married while I was gone. I had no idea until I stepped off the plane that he had a family.

And that's where the stories turn into fairy tales of an evil stepmother. I rarely tell them because they're boring in their plainess -- the mundane details of divorced life. The drug use, biker days and broken glass of my life with Mom is much more story-worthy.

But the first day of that first trip set the tone for the rest of my life with Rick. We were in their backyard, Janice's two girls and boy running around, me sitting with him in a lawn chair. She told me I was too big to sit in his lap, to go on, so I did. I looked over my shoulder from the swingset to see her climbing into the chair with him. I remember thinking, "I'm too big and you're not?"

That summer, her oldest daughter locked the youngest and me in a shed while Rick and Janice were gone to the store. We were in there -- in the oppressive heat of an Oklahoma summer, in the dark, with spiders and our imaginations filling in the blanks of what else -- for three hours. We'd gone in to fetch some Barbies, and she shut and padlocked the door behind us. Just as the adults pulled in the country drive, she opened the door. They didn't believe us.

It's funny; most of my memories of that time are of Janice, not Rick at all. Of me telling her if she made me eat spinach, I'd puke. And her replying if I threw up, she'd make me eat that, too. But I lived through the summer.

I only went back once more, though. I must've been 8 or 9. We drove from California to Oklahoma, and Mom, her husband, Jesse and I spent a couple of weeks at the lake before I went to Rick's. I got really sick within a few days of arriving -- throwing up constantly, a high fever. Janice accused me of sticking my finger down my throat for attention. It just happened that my mom hadn't started the drive home yet, and I called her at my grandma's. She came to get me, throwing a fit that Janice hadn't taken me to the doctor yet. We loaded up my stuff and got into the car. As soon as we did, I thought I felt fine. Mom was pissed, thinking I'd just called to get away, and started driving to the ER anyway. I remember being scared that if I wasn't really sick, I'd be in big trouble.

I spent the next two weeks in the hospital. It took the doctors most of the first to realize I had Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever. Rick came to visit once. And I still don't know if it was the fact that I was sick and Janice ignored it or a phone conversation that meant I never went back. Mom was talking to Janice, who always handled the arrangements. She didn't like for Mom to have any contact with Rick. Mom was trying to figure out insurance billing -- which policy (Rick or her husband's) would be the primary coverage, which secondary. In the course of the call, Janice said, "He has his own kids to take care of." Meaning hers.

There it was.

I spent a lot of the next few years mourning the loss of my dad, especially when we moved back to Oklahoma. When we ended up in McLoud, Rick only lived about 15 minutes away. I'd cry that he never came to see me. Mom called him at work and asked him to stop by, that he didn't even have to tell Janice. He came to our house once in the five years we lived in that area, to drop off my Christmas present. I didn't open it until he left. It was all hand-me-downs, clothes I'd seen Janice's daughters wearing at family events. So Mom calls to ask if she could have the receipt, that some of the clothes didn't fit. Janice told her she'd been "gathering the clothes" for a year, so didn't have any receipts.

Clothes came up again in the incident that finally made me stopping trying with them. The deal my mom and Rick struck in the divorce was that she'd never raise child support payments (a piddly $150 a month, which was nothing by the time I was in high school) if he bought my school clothes each year. It worked before we moved to California, but Rick wouldn't send a check out there. (I can't blame him. I doubt it would've gone for clothes.) When we moved back, Mom just stopped asking. But my freshman year in high school, I got involved in drama. I lived in jeans and T-shirts then, often Mom's, and didn't have any appropriate dress clothes for competition. So Mom had me call Rick.

A few days later, I get called out of biology. Janice is waiting for me in the hall. She hands me a $20 bill, and tells me if I ever ask for money again, she's going to call DHS. Mom was drawing welfare at the time, and Janice somehow knew one of my uncles was living with us. She said she'd report us and we'd lose the welfare benefits. I dropped the money at her feet and went back to class.

And that was really it. I saw them now and then, if they happened to be at my dad's mom's when I was visiting. Eventually, I told my cousins about the treatment and why I was never around. They told their moms, of course, and the story got around.

My grandma convinced me to send Rick an invitation to my high school graduation. His whole family -- mom, brother, sisters, nieces, nephews -- came, and we met up for dinner after. I hear he attended the ceremony, because he was afraid of what they'd say if he didn't. But if he was there, I never saw him. He didn't stick around.

He didn't come to my wedding at all. Again, I invited him at the behest of his mother. We had one of the most painful conversations in my life, when she suggested all would be OK if I'd just "turn the other cheek." Of course, she repeatedly reminded me that "Jews don't believe in Jesus" through the engagement, too.

I spent my whole wedding day terrified that he was going to show up. But of course he didn't. I heard through the family grapevine that Janice caught a cold. Poor girl.

Adam didn't meet him until we'd been married a couple of years. We went to visit my grandma in a nursing home, and he walked in a few minutes later. One of my aunts must've thought he might not know me, as she made sure to say something like, "Look who's here, Rick! It's Lori." She thought she had to introduce me to him.

I've seen him twice since, at my grandma's funeral and when the family was cleaning out her house. I keep in sporadic contact with my aunts and cousins, but avoid the yearly family reunion. My grandma was really the link I had to him -- she'd write about him in letters like she was sharing news of an uncle I'd never met -- and with her gone, I have no reason to hear of him.

He did have a son with Janice, a half-brother that I barely know. I remember the boy crying after my tick-fever visit, when I announced proudly my mom said I didn't have to visit ever, ever again. I saw him at family reunions, when I still went, and occasionally at Grandma's house. And a couple of years ago, out of the blue, he called. He'd moved to Oklahoma City (Rick et al are in Texas now) and wanted to get together. I said maybe I'd call sometime, but I never did. Couldn't bring myself to hear the stories I knew he'd have, the flip side of my memories.

He hasn't met his niece, just as Rick hasn't met his granddaughter. And I'd just as soon he never did. It's funny -- I used to be really bitter that he left me with Mom, to live that life. And even though I've decided to cut myself off from the drama, there will always be something there. She tried.

With Rick, there's nothing.

Sunday, May 09, 2004


It's been a good Mother's Day -- breakfast and dinner prepared by Adam (and an Orzo Incident to remember), lunch during a wander around the zoo. A nap on the couch. Frozen custard at Rusty's.

But the best part was something that could happen any day: Holding Emma in my lap while we shared a nectarine, inhaling the warm sunshine, sunscreen smell of the back of her neck.

Of course, that neck thing could be bumped to No. 2 before the evening is over. The Sopranos are about to be on ...

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