In the car, with my dad. He’s driving. Not the best time to come out of the closet.
When my friends’ parents ask after my parents, they never know who they should ask about first. They can’t say, “How are your parents?” anymore, so they pick one and hope it’s the right one.
My parents used to call each other “cutie.” Both stopped.
I’m in the car with my mom, and I’m driving. My arms steer and my feet work the pedals, although her brain and mouth are trying their best to get behind the wheel.
She says, “You don’t seem as sure of yourself as your sister did. Maybe you should wait a few more months.”
I say, “I’m sixteen. Everyone else has their license already.”
“It’s not a race.”
Except that it is.
When your sister’s perfect, you’re fucked. So you have to be something else.
My aunt Bev, my dad’s sister, calls me almost every week now.
“I spoke to your dad today. He informed me that mrskin.com has video clips now. He needs a hobby.”
When the phone rings, my mom almost always gets to it first, especially if she’s seeing someone. She either leaves these phone calls giggling, or clenching her jaw. If it’s the second, she turns around to call her best friend and describe her outrage. She’ll say, “I was just brushing my teeth,” or, “I was just vacuuming,” or, “I was just standing here, you know, doing my makeup, and he called and said this unbelievable shit to me.”
She always wants the person on the other line to know that she was in the middle of doing some mundane task before the caller said the unbelievable shit.
My sister, Erica, once caught me making out with Kara, the co-captain of the basketball team.
I said, “If you tell Mom and Dad, I’ll tell them about the time you blew that guy in the marching band.”
“I didn’t blow him. He finger-fucked me. At least he’s a junior.”
When Erica and I were little, I stepped in a hornet’s nest and nearly got us both stung. We both ran away screaming, and later told our parents about it.
“She almost killed us both,” Erica, who knew how to cry on cue, said. “There were a million hornets there.”
“There weren’t a million hornets,” my mom said.
“Maybe there were,” my dad said. “You never know.”
When my mom brought home our dog, a “Christmas surprise” from the shelter, my dad was furious.
“This is your mother,” he says. “She’ll say, ‘Maybe a Jack Russell terrier,’ and brings home a goddamned Rottweiler.”
Erica likes to turn on “Creep” by Radiohead. She’ll turn a chair around like a burlesque dancer and straddle the seat, toss all of her long hair in her face and moan, “So fuckin’ special,” through the mane in front of her.
This is one of many reasons why I don’t get why people think she’s so perfect.
Once, when my dad and I returned from a trip to the movies, my mom accosted him as soon as he had settled into his chair. Forgetting (or choosing to ignore) that I was sitting there, Mom blurted out that she caught Erica’s boyfriend going down on her in my parents’ bed. Dad didn’t look up from his newspaper.
“Yeah, well,” he said.
“You don’t think this is a problem?”
“Remind me to wash the sheets later.”
Mom always wore her hair short, with coiffed styles that required an update every six to eight weeks and tons of hairspray to keep up. When she let me touch her hair, usually at the end of the day, I told her I liked its crunchy texture. She grimaced when I said that, and I wondered why she spent so much time and effort if she didn’t want praise.
I used to read Erica’s diary. She caught me one day and hit me, and before long we were throwing everything we collectively owned at one another. My mom came in and told us both to apologize, and I was to go first since I’d started it all.
“Sorry,” I screamed.
“That’s a nasty sorry,” my mom said.
“Sorry,” Erica said, not screamed. My mom instructed me to follow suit, and after I made her spend several minutes explaining what that meant, I “followed suit” even though I did not understand.
In her diary, Erica had written, “Creepy little cunt,”’ about me.
When I was about seven, I overheard my mom describe someone as “bloodthirsty” over the phone. I had just watched a vampire movie I’d found in a trunk in the basement, and the word chilled me.
I’d forgotten about this episode until last week when I saw an Ann Rice novel on my mom’s coffee table. I reminded her of the overheard conversation and tried to identify the approximate year the conversation would have taken place. She stared at me for a moment before she said she would never refer to a person this way, even if she were joking.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “Not even Dad?”
She thought for a moment, then said, “Not then.”
Maybe I was nine.
My parents always left each other handwritten reminders, even after everyone else in the world started texting each other. My mom would write, “Dinner in frig” in her rounded script, while my dad might write, “Inconsistent use of denominators.”
Today, my dad has written, “Wake me sometime soon.”
Erica starts school in four weeks. My parents have been fighting for weeks over who’s obligated to pay for her psychology and English books, so Aunt Bev has volunteered to buy them.
“That’s just fine,” Mom says, and I know she is secretly pleased.
“Do you think we should start going to the GSA meetings together?” I ask Kara. We are lying next to each other by the pond behind her parents’ house, and our interlaced fingers rest on the moist grass.
“Why would we do that?” Kara sits up and brushes an ant off her knee.
“It seems like something we should do.”
“We need people to tell us how to be gay?”
Maybe we do.
Erica is packing up the car to move into her new dorm four miles across town, and I have been recruited to help my parents.
“She could just live with one of us, you know,” my dad says.
“With who?” my mom says.
“With you,” my dad says.
I carry the box labeled “sweaters” and wedge it between Erica’s guitar and laundry basket.
Erica says, “With whom.”
Four hours later, Erica calls me from her new dorm. A deep bass line thumps in the background.
“I don’t know if I like it here,” she says.
“What the hell am I doing here,” I say.
“I don’t belong here,” she says, and hangs up.
Aunt Bev supervises as I drive to Kara’s house. I tell Aunt Bev that Kara knows I’m coming, even though she doesn’t.
I knock on Kara’s front door. A floorboard creaks from within, but no one answers.
“She forgot,” I say to Bev.
My mom asks me what my dad wants for Christmas.
“I know you don’t have money,” she says.
“He says he needs socks,” I say. I have no idea if this is true. Mom snorts.
“I am not buying anything that touches his sweat,” she says. We go shopping at Wal-Mart, and buy him a snow globe.
When my mom is not looking, I slip a pair of purple women’s socks into my purse for Erica.