I was six. She was twenty-six. I was a chubby, dishwater-blonde tomboy. She was a tall, lithe, brunette model. I wore football jerseys. She wore patchouli. The only thing in had in common was a love for her boyfriend–my dad–which is saying something because he was not an easy man to love.
My dad was a type-A take-no-prisoners business man who cheated on my mom, probably from the day they met. He left my mom, my brothers and I one June day in 1968 with no warning. No explanation. Just a garment bag in one hand and a red and black electric shoe polisher in the other. He found me coloring in my room, at the pink and white activity table my grandpa had made me and said to me, as if I’d understand, “I’m leaving”.
“When are you coming home?” I asked.
“I’m not, sweetheart” was all he said. Fade to black.
And yet he had his moments, enough to make himself lovable, at least to those of us who were hardwired to do so. He brought dolls for me from every foreign land to which he travelled. And though he was a work-a-holic, he tried to make up for it—-in the only way he knew how–with large expenditures of money and extravagant gestures such as a family vacation to Aculpulco or a new bobble for my mom. I distinctly remember the night he came home later than usual with a box of Bazooka Bubble Gum for each of us three kids, and a bouquet of roses for my mom. My mom must have understood he was apologizing for some unspoken transgression. Maybe my brothers–six and nine years older–understood as well. I just remember thinking what an awesome dad he was for giving me a whole box of my favorite bubble gum, comics and all!
I also remember he’d sometimes sit on the fireplace hearth and play the acoustic guitar. (It’s no wonder I fell in love with Christopher Plummer when “Sound of Music” was released the following year). I always requested that he play “Drunken Sailor”. He’d strum the chords and together we’d sing. Sing it loud. I remember that. And the bubble gum. And the garment bag.
My parents eventually separated. My mom was awarded full-time custody and my dad had visitation every Wednesday evening and every other Sunday. I’m not sure if my dad’s having the short end of the custody stick had to do more with the times or because my dad never wanted any kids in the first place–or so my mother claimed.
Wednesdays we went to dinner. My mother instructed me to always order the most expensive item on the menu and so I developed a liking for lobster. I suspect my dad caught on because he began taking us exclusively to the Pickle Barrel–a local hamburger joint.
On Sundays we were supposed to spend the whole day with him, however, since he’d relocated to downtown and we were in the north suburbs, he generally didn’t pick us up until closer to noon. I’d wake up early, dress for the city, sit on the living room couch and wait. My brothers and I used to call “shotgun” whenever all three of us would go somewhere in the car, however, my dad made it clear from the start that I was to sit up front with him on our Sunday outings. No more calling shotgun. Shotgun belonged exclusively to daddy’s little girl.
Sometimes we’d go to Old Town and stop in at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, then stop for an oversized chocolate chip cookie at Paul Bunyon’s*, Other times he’d take us to a Cubs game. He would buy us peanuts on the way to our seats located on the first base side just behind the Cubs dugout and he taught me how to keep score in the program. I may very well have been the youngest girl to know what an infield fly rule was.
I heard his Lincoln Mark IV pull into the cul de sac just as a dog who is sound asleep hears the jingling of his master’s car keys. I looked over the back of the couch through the bay window to confirm. There he was! But wait, who was that woman with him…riding shotgun? I ran to get my mom. “There’s someone with daddy!” I shouted.
I remember my mom going outside. I remember going back to the couch and peeking through the curtains as my dad got out of the car. I remember how they stood face to face on the sidewalk with their lips both simultaneously and furiously moving. I remember my dad storming toward the front door. I remember the front door slamming and his calling “Amy Liz!”. I remember my mom coming in through the basement door. I remember my running for the steps leading down to the basement. I remember my mom reaching out and taking hold of my left hand as I scuttled down the stairs, and my dad coming down after me and grabbing my right hand. I remember becoming a human rope in their tug of war. And then I don’t remember. I don’t remember who let go first. I don’t remember falling.
I do remember the scrape I had on my knee the next day. I remember kicking and screaming while my dad carried me out to his car then pushed my head down and forced me into the back seat. I remember the model’s name–Michaelann. I remember the pungent scent of patchouli in the car. To this day, I remember that scent. And if tomorrow someone wearing patchouli were to get on an elevator I was riding, I’d frantically press every button for every floor in a desperate attempt to free myself from the grip of my childhood.
Her multi-dimensional suchness, Amy Roost, is a freelance writer, book publicist, legal and medical researcher, and vacation rental manager. She and her husband are the authors of “Ritual and the Art of Relationship Maintenance” due to be published later this year in a collection entitled Ritual and Healing: Ordinary and Extraordinary Stories of Transformation (Motivational Press). Amy is also Executive Director of Silver Age Yoga Community Outreach (SAYCO) which offers geriatric yoga teacher certification, and provides yoga instruction to underserved seniors.
Jennifer Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, London, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. Join a retreat by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.