I was still living at home with my mother, which was
my mistake. I was eighteen and old enough to go to war and gamble, but had been
so reckless with the money I made since entering the work force at age
fourteen, I simply didn’t have the means. Unlike a healthy fraction of the kids
in my class, I had a car payment with full coverage insurance due as well.
Also, I had my first beer around age thirteen and after that my weekends were
booked. I had squandered any leftover income on alcohol, or getting those of a
legal age to purchase it for us. I felt less guilty knowing most of my peers
were also living with their parents, drinking on weekends to pass the time until
Living at home is never rent-free. My fee was paid
in information, or in most cases misinformation. Where are you going? What are
you doing? Why did you stumble in so late? Years prior it was fine, but by this
age my mother had attempted to train me to be a best friend instead of a son,
and she was growing impatient because her plan wouldn’t take.
She wanted to socialize far too often for comfort.
She would propose grabbing beers, and seeing movies. She began using slang and
references she had no doubt heard on television in order to assimilate. Whereas
once she had asked where I was going out of genuine concern for my well-being,
now she was asking to see if she could tag along. It was an abnormal
As I got older, I realized her increasingly
overbearing tendencies stemmed from an abrasive personality with a penchant for
political incorrectness in social settings. She had a foul word for anyone who
didn’t like her or her opinions. She would make and lose friends within a very
short period of time, always having unrealistic expectations for them. They
could fuck right off if they didn’t measure up immediately. Her views on
everything from drugs to illegal immigrants were no secret, as she made it a
point to announce them in some fashion every time she was exposed to a new
It was my senior year and my mother had been dating
a grown man of at least forty who lived in a small camper at a campground on
the south side of town. I’d stake my life that even at my ripe age, short on
cash and a car as my only possession, I had more assets and a higher credit
score than this gentleman. Tonight they would be enjoying one another’s company
far from me, and that was as much of a silver lining as I could hope for.
It was prom night, the night every high school kid
either greatly anticipates or is terrified of. They think about it from time to
time throughout their tenure, but when senior year arrives it can be the cause
of great anxiety. So much planning goes into the occasion. So many
opportunities are present for awkward situations. On prom night I would learn
that giving out too much information to a needy, early-onset empty-nester with
a healthy disregard for human decency could make a young man’s year crumble in
front of his very eyes, and present the most awkward of these situations.
That night our group of around thirty friends and
acquaintances met at a restaurant prior to the dance. It wasn’t the greatest of
places, but for our high school budgets after tuxes and additional accessories,
it would suffice. We all met dressed head to toe in the finest things most of
us had ever worn. I recall being the only one in white. A top hat, cane, and
gloves accompanied the rental. It seemed the only thing missing was a monocle
and an effeminate southern drawl telling someone to fan me in my rocking chair
before fetching me more lemonade.
A young lady in our group had won a complimentary
photography package from a local who would take our group’s shots shortly after
we finished our meal. As expected, the young men eating dug right in and the
ladies had a few leaves of lettuce with a sip of water between each.
Midway through I glanced to my right to see a woman
clearly stumble in through the front doors of the restaurant and walk directly
past the hostess. I remember thinking silly things to myself about how this
would only add to the fun of the evening, watching a random get kicked out for
being out of sorts. A tall man stumbled in behind the woman and dashed past the
hostess as well. I noticed the hostess didn’t do much to stop either of them, I
suppose assuming they were headed to the bar and they’d be in good company. But
they were not headed toward the bar. They were headed into the center of the
restaurant, and it was only when the dark figures came into the light that I
realized with much mortification it was my mother, her campground native and
productive member of society trailing behind her.
I got up and darted over to them before they had any
chance to interfere with dinner, pretending I needed to use the restroom so
that hardly anyone in my group would notice what I was actually up to. I
approached them both and made sure to quickly and quietly usher them back
toward the lobby so I could ask them what they were doing here, and in such a
state no less.
We neared the lobby and they slurred and giggled as
if this was some sort of video game and they were thrilled to have reached the
next level. I asked them what they were up to, in a stern tone a parent would
normally reserve for a badly behaved child. While the boyfriend laughed, my
mother did her best to string together a sentence and all she managed was, “To
give this to you so you’d have a good time tonight.”
She opened her right palm and there laid a sweaty,
crumpled twenty-dollar bill. What would I have done without it? Thank you but
no thank you. I’d gladly have paid a hundred more of these to never again
encounter the woman who birthed me highly intoxicated in a public setting, on
prom night no less. She insisted I take the money, and to stifle the
ever-increasing volume of her voice I took it from her hand so we could end
this juvenile attempt at crashing a son’s prom dinner and get on with our
lives. I felt if I hadn’t returned soon my date would’ve began to wonder where
To speed things along, I said thank you and sent
them on their way, making sure to emphasize the importance of this night and to
let them know if they could not fuck it up beyond repair, it would mean a great
deal to me. I said goodbye, turned my back and let out an awesome sigh of
relief at their departure. I was pleased with nipping a potential fireworks
display in the bud. The thirty people in my party didn’t know it, but I had
just rescued their prom night from a walking reality show.
I seated myself back at our table, eased my date of
her concern, and we finished up. I glanced to the right to observe the
two-person party take itself elsewhere out the front door. I couldn’t bring
myself to dwell on it. Horrifying, and completely uncalled for as it was, I had
to let it go or it would ruin my night. I remember justifying to myself why I
often gave false testimony to my parents about my whereabouts.
We finished our meals and began straightening our
ties for the photo session. We all stood in a line, our dates in front and the
young men in back. The photographer set up his gear and arranged us where we
needed to be. He began to take photos.
I noticed a woman bolt into the restaurant through
the front door and my heart sank. I froze. My knees locked and I felt like I
was about to pass out from sheer terror. I recognized my mother heading full
steam toward our group as if she were about to bowl someone over. The man she
was with must have stayed behind for a cigarette or something, because at this
point she was alone.
The few friends I had who recognized her in the
group began to laugh nervously as she approached, no doubt wondering who
invited her and how many cocktails she had. The answers were no one, and
several. To the people in the group who had never met my mother, it looked like
a random troublemaker on a mission to interfere with the photos being taken.
They were correct in their assumption, except for there was nothing random
about this. It was a calculated effort, like countless other occasions in my
lifetime, to shift the spotlight to the most important person in the world.
She physically bumped the cameraman out of her way,
and with her disposable camera in hand, a recent purchase from the supermarket,
she began to snap away and direct the thirty or so individuals in front of her
where to stand and how to pose, all while trying to maintain balance. The
photographer looked absolutely dumbfounded and eventually figured out this
wasn’t going to stop, so he went to see about removing the problem.
young lady who was awarded the complimentary photo package did not know my
mother, nor did a majority of the people present. As far as they knew this was
some miscreant off the street who got nice and liquored up. While the
photographer found someone to escort the crazy out of the building, the girls
in the front row all asked one another with intensity and confusion, “what’s
going on?” Who was this person and why was she playing house on our special
night? They were growing angrier by the minute, and rightly so. But with a
bright red face, and locked legs, I was both unwilling and unable to admit my
relation to the individual who decided to make this night about herself. And if
I did have mobility, or a working tongue, I would have let that information
follow me to the grave regardless.
I can say without any hesitation this was the most embarrassing moment of my
entire life, and I’ve had some noteworthy shit shows. Halfway through the
shenanigans it was let loose that the woman fit for a straight jacket making
fuzzy memories directly in front of us was of my bloodline. The hatred and rage
that was swelling within the females in the front row had now been redirected
to the young man in the back row with the white top hat and gloves.
the intoxicated amateur hour could slur more directions for any of us to change
poses, the manager tapped her shoulder and instructed her to leave. She did so
but not willingly, and not before bellowing out a hearty goodbye directed at me
for those in the balcony who hadn’t figured out we were related yet. She
stumbled sloppily toward the exit with a satisfactory grin. The limelight had
been hers on this important evening, if only for a few minutes. Minutes that
I’m sure seemed like seconds to her, but hours to me.
The remainder of dinner was uneventful. Photos were
taken; people were tense with anticipation that another outburst was just
outside the front door waiting for the most inopportune moment. But nothing
happened. Shaming glares from fellow students were plentiful. I had no
explanation. Did I need one? Would I be shunned from any social event from this
point on because of my mother’s lack of common decency and refusal to stay
away? I began to think so.
We arrived at the dance hall, hands clammy with anticipation
of the night to come. The potential of a great time somehow trumped everything
that happened earlier. People didn’t forgive, nor did they forget, but that
evening they seemed to let it slide for a few hours, because most of us only
got one prom. The night went off without another hitch and we had a great time.
I saw photos from dinner that evening weeks
later and relived every tense second when I noticed the fuming scowls on
everyone’s faces. When I confronted my mother about how unbelievably small she
made me feel, she said with extreme indifference that she didn’t remember any
of it and she hoped I had a great time.
Sometimes my father and I got along fine, sometimes
we didn’t. This happened to be a summer that we did. Maybe it was my newfound
love for alcohol, and his never-ending love for it. It was my junior or senior
year of high school when he told me he’d procured tickets to a weeklong cruise
for the both of us. This was out of the ordinary considering he didn’t take
vacations, mainly because when you’re practically unemployed posing as a busy
self-employed individual, life is a vacation. He also did not spend money on
anything but his seedy habits as long as I could recall. So when he informed me
that we would drive to Miami, park our vehicle, board a ship, and sail away to
Mexico, it felt like some sort of ruse.
He was vague about details but did have a motel room
booked in Miami for the day prior to boarding, recommending we see the sights
before departure. That summer I had assisted him in occasionally constructing
houses, so getting time off was not a problem, and I really didn’t have much
else planned, so I bit. He would pay for gas and everything else was
We drove through the Deep South at a time before I’d
seen that movie where the gentleman was made to squeal like a pig in the
backwoods. The drive through Kentucky and Georgia was surprisingly stunning,
like something out of a sentimental feel-good work of fiction. We reached Miami
and got lost at once. I stopped at three different gas stations before I found
a clerk who spoke enough broken English to tell me just how far off I was.
We found the one story motel, akin to a place Tom
Waits would sing about, and parked. We brought our luggage in and my father hit
me with it- not the luggage, but the
special set of circumstances. He said it was no big deal, but we had to attend
a meeting early the following morning where we’d be given our tickets. I asked
my father if there was an issue, considering days ago he told me the tickets
were already in his possession. He assured me everything would be fine. I
assured him that was not the question. But his nonchalance was in no short
supply, and it tends to be effective when you’re of an age that you don’t quite
know any better. So I dropped the issue, and placed my trust in the
twelve-stepper in front of me.
If by “seeing the sights” the day before boarding
the ship, my father meant “drinking to excess while watching local television
in our motel room,” then see the sights we did. The man had woken up that
morning, so of course a proper drink was in order. I drank with my father more
often than I’d care to admit, mainly because in my lifetime it was the only
thing we ever did together. Because of the tracks laid early on in our family
history, this was the only time he felt he could be brutally honest with me
about anything and everything. And strangely enough, considering he was
infamous in all the wrong circles for his tendency to get into bar fights, we
only fought once that I recall.
We got along fine when he was sober as well, but it
was more like two ships passing in the night. No substantial conversation or
emotion, nothing of the sort. Just two men working together, one of whom was
intently waiting on the next whiskey. Our absence of significant exchanges
wasn’t for lack of trying. I was always game for a good yarn about the old days
or life in general, but my father didn’t get deep in conversation unless he was
intoxicated. I feel like he never grew out of that awkward pre-pubescent stage
of thinking everyone was secretly making fun of him, which they weren’t. Unless
it was his ex-wife in which case, yes, she most certainly was grinding his name
into oblivion- relentlessly, every day
without fail to anyone who’d listen.
began to feel like an adult in some strange sense, having a drink with my
father in a shit hole Miami motel while still in high school, my other friends
off chasing ass and any semblance of a good time back home on the prairie. I
knew it was an odd position for any son to be in but it was the closest I’d
probably get to him for a while. We gossiped and griped throughout the night,
but found common ground on the good aspects of life as well, and eventually
passed out to the droning voices on the local news.
arrived, and apparently my father hadn’t anticipated a hangover. Even after
much experience in the field, this surprised him. He called the organization
that held the tickets and bickered with them. He began to grow pissy and
impatient with whomever was on the receiving end. Eventually he told them he’d
be by to pick up his tickets as promised and he was not going to sit through
the seminar because he felt terrible.
They seemed awfully morose about us not being able to attend their presentation- a lot of emotional investment on their part,
apparently. Their disappointment was unlike anything I’d ever seen, but somehow
my father walked away with his boarding passes and we left the motel conference
room. I remember asking what the fuck it all meant shortly after heading toward
the port, and he then explained to me with much brevity the principles of
Yes, of course. The master of half-truths and
vagaries dipped in enigmatic promises strikes again. There was a catch to the
trip. A colossal catch that could’ve ultimately sent us back home almost as
soon as we’d arrived had it not been for the high-pressure sales people caving
in that banquet room. It was only years after all this happened that I grasped
just how little my father played scenarios out to the end in his mind. We drove
halfway across the nation on a “maybe.”
We boarded the ship and someone directed us to our
room. We descended a flight of stairs, then another, then another. And I
thought to myself, somewhere close by there is a large man shoveling coal into
a furnace to power the ship.
It could have been an efficiency had there been a
hotplate. My father sat on his bed and opened the curtain to a hard plastic
wall, grey as the day is long. What a view, indeed. It might as well have read,
“Fuck yourselves, cheapskates,” in bold black text on the wall. And let’s not
gloss over the fact that they felt so inclined to put a curtain over a window
that wasn’t there in the first place. If the person in charge of decorating on
these ships did it as a joke, a tip of the cap indeed. But if they attempted to
truly make us think that we’d have the option of glancing out at a majestic
ocean view from time to time, but would choose not to take advantage, then I’d
say it’s time for them to put an ad in the paper or close up shop for a week to
lay some new ground rules.
If you’re a drinker with the means to travel, your
siren song is the phrase “international waters.” The drop in price of a bottle
of liquor once you cross some imaginary maritime line is outrageous. I’ve never
seen so many people in line at a gift shop. And wherever I go, there I am, so
we found ourselves falling in line with every other sheep in the herd. Two
handles of top shelf vodka at bottom shelf prices ought to sort us out for the
week, I thought.
I hadn’t planned to hang around my father on the
trip. One on one time is fine in small doses. It’s a very strange thing when a
child and a parent cross the line and become good friends. They say you should
be able to tell your parents anything, but they are full of shit. Quality time
with a parent is important, but only so often. It’s good to catch up and let
everyone know everything is on an even keel and things are copacetic. But if
you’ve ever known that kid who is consistently seen with mom or dad around
town, shopping, at movies, grabbing lunch, and generally having a fancy-free
time with their parent, you know how fucking creepy it is. As someone who was
raised to be exactly that to his mother, I know firsthand. Unsettling does not
begin to describe how it makes a kid feel to be raised into an eventual best
friendship. The child, in my case, will ultimately do enough research and
discover the parent is more than likely an undiagnosed borderline personality,
grasping at straws for a friendship with their children because they’re the
only ones who have been conditioned to think the parent’s behavior is normal.
That is until the fog lifts in later days after being exposed to what normal
But I was there, on a vacation with my father. I
told myself it would be my fault should anything go sour, because I had leapt
at the opportunity. I’d never been on a cruise and it could have been fun. I
planned to make myself scarce and wander about, drawing, drinking, swimming,
meeting people, and just lousing about on the nude deck. For those who haven’t
been, a nude deck certainly exists- if you are single and in
shape, I highly recommend it. Otherwise there are always free burgers and
cerveza to indulge in below, and there’s no shame in that.
My dad met a heavyset woman he probably swindled
into believing he was an architect instead of the occasional general
contractor. Which was good for me. He hung around her for the duration of the
trip instead of getting pickled and telling me how good of a kid I was and how
sorry he felt about the way things turned out. Which was a valiant effort at an
apology for a chaotic divorce, but having heard it countless times from a
consistently drunk individual made it lose its luster quickly. I didn’t need
that torrential rain on my parade. I needed alone time.
We ported in Cozumel and I walked around the beach a
bit, took the most terrifying cab ride of my life to a remote bar, downed two
shots of mescal and rented a glass-bottom kayak and a snorkel set. The reef was
the most vivid thing I’d ever seen, and the aquatic life was profuse. Every
direction was home to something I’d never seen before. My hour on the kayak
expired and I headed back to port.
A week had passed, and I’d hardly seen my father.
We’d bump into one another in the room from time to time, grab necessities and
quickly dart off in different directions again. Once, we signed up for the
ballroom dinner where you sit amongst strangers and pretend to be affable
because you all got the lobster and so obviously you have a great deal in
common. Some hack comedian told his best airline food jokes and sloppily tailored
them to cruise ships, and we were on our merry way.
We were en route back to port when we got the news
that we may as well take our time because a hurricane was lingering around
Miami. To those with jobs and schedules this was a hindrance. To me, it was a
cherry on the cake. Everyone was in the middle of nowhere on a giant ship
running around the entirety of it trying hysterically to get service on their
phones. One gentleman took the news to mean he should pass out, wake up, vomit,
shake uncontrollably, and eventually be taken back to Miami on what looked like
a hospital owned tugboat. I took the news to mean I should grab a burger and a
beer and sit by the pool while watching the sunset.
We were cursed to sea an additional four days, which
was miraculous considering the amount of resources used on a pleasure cruise.
Fuel reserves were up to snuff, as well as food and drink apparently. I busied
myself as best I could. I swam in the pool, ran on the track, and watched oiled
up naked women from a safe distance on the nude deck. All of this was done
under heavy influence, even the jogging.
When we returned to land there was a mess about the
place, but nothing that made either of us think it was devastated. We strapped
into the automobile and were on our way home. Through all of Florida,
everything was calm, but once we reached Georgia we caught up to the hurricane
and shit was flying in every direction.
The radio informed us six tornadoes had touched down
in the last hour right around our location. The cities we passed through had no
streetlights and a ridiculous amount of frogs scattered on the road. I figured
blood rain and locusts were next. My hands were numb and the knuckles white
from fighting the urge to just veer into the ditch and get it all over with.
But cooler heads prevailed and after the longest hours of my life, the cosmic
joke ended outside of Atlanta.
We were the only Caucasians at a late night waffle
joint on the south side of town. I’d never been so hungry and I was still
shaking a bit from the test the universe had just laid at my feet, so the
stares from strangers didn’t affect me in the least.
When I returned home, I slept for a full day
before getting back into the swing of things. The following day at work I
thought of sunsets, the sway of the ship, nude decks, cocktails, and hokey
nightlife entertainment. What was I supposed to walk away with? It was not the
best getaway of my life, nor the worst, but certainly the most memorable. And
as I drifted further into the memories I made, I shot a nail directly through
my left hand while operating a nail gun at work.