We’ll be at my parents’ doorstep in 15 minutes, tops.
I temporarily push aside this talk of my past, though I know we likely will revisit it on the way back to Bluegrass. I’m not looking forward to it. I don’t like dredging up old hurts. No one does. But even I have to concede that talking about it helps. I just didn’t think I’d be spilling my guts to Dickhead is all.
This supersonic shift from my despising to maybe even liking Dickhead almost reads like one of those cheesy Diana Palmer romance novels of mine that I mentioned earlier with the exception of the falling in love part. The heroines always seem to have tragic pasts that their love interests — the men who are constantly mean (Again with the irony!) to them for the first half or more of virtually every one of Palmer’s books — don’t know diddly-squat about. But once the big, bad, tough heroes discover the much younger females’ deep, dark secrets, they suddenly become all protective and nice and shit. Same fucking scenario every damn time — grumpy, older, wealthy men with worlds of experience vs. sweet, innocent, unassuming little virgins in their late teens or early 20s — and yet, I’m STILL a sucker for them, STILL identify with the females’ plights, STILL go through an entire box of Kleenex by each book’s ending. It seems frivolous when I break it down like that, but there’s no fucking way in hell I’ll ever stop devouring every single morsel of her novels.
Call it a vice if you like. It still won’t change my mind, or the way I feel about the romance genre. With the exception of the (UGH!) Twilight saga and (Double UGH!) 50 Shades trilogy. Even I have to draw the fucking line somewhere.
It’s perhaps even more astounding that I can stomach romance books at all since the whole Joe debacle. Thing is, I KNOW they’re purely fictional after living in six months of hell with him. That kind of “happily-ever-after” shit doesn’t happen in real life, so the novels are a great means of escape for me. Besides, I’ve been reading them since I was 16 — long before Joe came along and eradicated my fictional flights of fancy with the brutal reality of his abuse that I naively mistook for true love in the very beginning.
I honestly don’t know if I have it in me to ever have a romantic relationship with another man. Falling in love is the easy part — if the past is any indication — but actual relationships require a lot of work and compromise on both sides. I know that NOW, but it was all about power and control with Joe. I was cowed by him, so much so that I couldn’t see that his power and control over me did not equate love. It really fucked me up in the head. I realize I can’t live in the past forever, and I try so hard not to dwell on it. But it’s always in the back of my mind, whispering “what-ifs” every fucking time I toy with the idea of getting back into the dating game. So I shy away like a skittish horse. I hated feeling powerless, like I had lost control over every aspect of my life when I was with Joe. I loved him so much and I wanted so desperately for things to work out, but a good woman can no more change an evil man than a bird can fly without its wings.
Maybe I’ll be ready one day, but the jury still is out as to whether I can go through with it. I refuse to change who I am for anyone or lose myself in love to the point that I demean myself to hold fast to it like what transpired with Joe. Not gonna fucking happen EVER again. And that’s IF I decide to even take that chance.
I really do need to desist with this line of thinking. Nothing good can come of it. Rewinding and replaying the memories in my mind are only serving to amplify the angst of what is yet to come. But I can’t seem to help myself.
I never told anyone at work, but Bob — my former sports editor who just up and left a couple of months ago — asked me out a few times. I always turned him down, of course, because he was my immediate boss and I just wasn’t interested in him in THAT way. Truthfully, he did nothing but irritate the fuck out of me most of the time. He fancied himself quite the Mack Daddy — he had a roving eye for the ladies and some of them were even dumb enough to fall for his bullshit lines — but he simply struck me as a rambling, bumbling fool who didn’t know what the fuck he was doing. He always seemed harmless enough, but I made sure I never was alone with him just to be on the safe side. I know from personal experience that some guys don’t handle rejection well, and I wasn’t about to take any unnecessary chances with him. He was hired a month before Dickhead arrived and was in way over his head from the start, although he tried to talk a good game right up until the day he abruptly bailed on us. I should have seen it coming, but I was far more relieved that I no longer had to baby-sit him or hold his hand on deadline anymore. So was Jackson.
Well, that’s rather random. Why the fuck am I even thinking about Mack Daddy Bob at a time like this?
The sense I have of someone spying on us slowly comes creeping back, but I MUST resist giving in to my anxiety from today’s events because I need to be of sound mind when I delicately question my parents. I can’t be acting all suspicious and shit, or they’ll just clam up on me, daughter or not. I’ll also have to do some fast explaining as to why Dickhead is accompanying me, which may backfire and cause them to zip their lips anyway. They don’t have a very high opinion of him, courtesy of yours truly. And that’s putting it mildly. So, needless to say, I will have to take on the role of peacekeeper because it might get ugly.
In the South, you can’t just fire questions at people like they’re murder suspects or hostile witnesses during a trial. I’m sure Dickhead is aware of this, but I intend to remind him to use caution and let me do the talking. You have to suffer through the social niceties before you can get down to the nitty-gritty. And even then, you’ve got to tread carefully. One wrong word or a single misstep, and my parents will boot us outta there. Doesn’t matter if it’s my childhood home OR that they’re my parents. It still comes down to THEIR house, THEIR rules. And you simply don’t disrespect anyone on their own turf, least of all your own parents.
Yep, we do things at our own pace here in the South. We’re never in so much of a hurry — vehicles aside — that we can’t stop and talk to someone on the street whether we know them or not. It’s not like the North, where people won’t even look at you or say hello in their haste to get to wherever it is they’re going. And they damn sure don’t stop on the side of the road if you’re having car trouble like they do here. How do I know this? All the traveling I do covering sports. I experience it every time I ask for directions (if there’s a way to get lost, I WILL find it). Not to mention the one time I had to call for roadside assistance as cars sped on by me, nary a one even slowing down to rubberneck. Folks down here go out of their way to help others. Hell, they’ll give you the shirts off their backs without you ever having to ask. It’s why I love Alabama — Tideville — so much. People care.
People like my mom and dad.
My parents moved around a lot when Dad was in the Navy, but they always came back to Alabama no matter how far away they lived. Dad joined the Navy when he was 18 and retired shortly after his and Mom’s 40th birthdays. They share the same date of birth, which is a sore spot for both of them since it falls on October 31. I’m sure they were the butt of endless jokes when they were kids, but they had the last laugh when they decided to get married on Halloween after graduating from high school nearly five months prior to that. I was only 5 when Dad retired, so I wasn’t around for much of their moving about the country and abroad a time or two.
We’ve always been close. Even during the nine years I lived in Indiana, I called them — or they would phone me — at least once a week. Religiously. We still do without fail, but I get to visit them far more often since my move to Bluegrass five years ago.
“You don’t have much of an accent,” Dickhead reflects out of left field.
“I used to, before I moved to Indiana,” I say, instantly warming to the change of topic after only mere moments ago unloading the heavy luggage of my past on him. “You can still pick up on it when I say certain words, but I guess nine years in the Midwest really did away with most of my drawl. Weird, how that happens, huh? Except you can very distinctly hear it when I DO say words like drawl.”
And here comes the fucking smirk I love to hate.
I shrug it off, but I’m beginning to wonder if he enjoys ruffling my feathers for sport. I’m betting yes.
“I trained myself early on to TRY not to say y’all and ain’t because I got ribbed for it — albeit good-naturedly — while living in northern Indiana. It bothered me despite knowing it was all in good fun. I still slip up now and again, but people don’t tease me about it in Kentucky for the glaringly obvious reason that everyone says y’all and ain’t. Some Northerners will treat you like you’re stupid if they hear you say those words — I get that sometimes when I travel — so I always try my damnedest to be careful of my speech because I know my temper well enough to know I can get myself into a LOT of trouble if someone is dumb enough to say the wrong thing to me. I’ve about had enough of hearing them say, ‘Y’all come back now, y’hear?’ when I’ve never once heard anybody in the South utter those words. The last person who said that to me got an earful. It’s demeaning, and it pisses me off.”
My parents have really thick Southern accents, although they’ve dropped y’all and ain’t from their vocabulary as a result of all the moving around they did over the years. I never tire of listening to them talk. It’s comforting. Soothing. Relaxing.
“You seem to know your way pretty well,” I observe.
“I mapped out the directions on my mobile phone when I stopped for gas and beverages while you were sleeping. And your aspirin. How is your headache, by the way?”
“Better, thank you,” I say. “I suppose you know that you need to take the College Drive exit, turn left under the overpass and then take the first left onto Crimson Pike? It’s going to be the first house on the right immediately after the Lucky Ducks Motorcycle Club. It’s a huge, white two-story house with lots of trees on both sides and in the backyard. Just pull into the gravel driveway beside it. You can’t miss it.”
Dickhead gives me the thumbs-up sign as we fall back into a peaceful silence.
Our 126-year-old house has so much character that only makes me fall more and more in love with it every time I see it. Built in 1890, it’s a Victorian-Plantation Plain-farmhouse hybrid that features a huge porch, bay window, high ceilings and original hardwood flooring.
The porch stretches all the way down the side of our home facing the driveway — with the exception of the single-story kitchen wing in the rear that extends outward from the rest of the house — and wraps around the front a few feet past the door. You can spend many lazy days on the porch swing and rocking chairs watching all the traffic speed on by as you sit comfortably in the shade. You also can walk right up the two sets of steps to our front door from the sidewalk.
To the left of the front steps leading up to the porch is the most breathtaking bay window you will EVER see that gives you a direct view into our ridiculously spacious living room. That’s where you’ll always find us if we’re inside. Our favorite room in the house comes complete with the original fireplace, but it’s for looks only since it’s actually unsafe to use. So we place those electric crackling logs in it strictly for the ambiance during the winter. Dad and I refashioned the crumbling hearth ourselves with mosaic tiling. We cracked countless colorful 4-inch by 4-inch square glazed ceramic tiles with our hammers to give it a more authentic feel. The end result was worth all the work we put into it, despite the vast amounts of grout we managed to cake on ourselves in the process.
Every Thanksgiving, we decorate a 9-foot Christmas tree — we have two more for the dining room and mudroom, FYI — that always has a place of honor directly in front of the bay window. It features a rotating stand that we put on top of an antique wood trunk my parents purchased at an auction many moons ago, so passersby definitely get a pleasing eyeful. We also decorate the porch and inside staircase railings, as well as the fireplace mantel, with fresh lighted garland. The finishing touch is a gigantic lighted wreath — also fresh — on the front door. But I’m getting way ahead of myself with all of this talk about Christmas. I can’t help it, though. I love Christmas. It’s such a joy in our household. It’s not about the gifts at all. Just family. And love. Lots of it.
As for the rest of the house, we also have a side entrance that leads into the mudroom, which splits off in three directions. Well, technically four, IF you count the small downstairs bathroom. The laundry room is to the immediate left as you walk in and, halfway through, turns into the foyer to the front door. The quaint little kitchen, done in both Coca-Cola red AND decor, is to the right. If you go left from the kitchen, you’ll walk through the formal dining chamber and then into the living room at the front of the house. You can go straight upstairs if you enter from the front door. The second floor has much shorter ceilings and has a full bathroom and three average-size bedrooms, one of which we use for storage since we have no attic.
On both sides of the cobblestone path that takes you straight to the steps leading to the side door — the one we most use since it is adjacent to the driveway — is Dad’s garden paradise. His version of Shangri-La consists of lush hostas, gladiolus, lilies, forget-me-nots, lavender, baby’s breath, four-o’clocks, periwinkle, poppies, snapdragons, variegated ribbon grass, yuccas and many other flowers and greenery I can’t even begin to name. It’s a massive jungle of brilliant colors. You have to see it with your own eyes to truly appreciate it. In the midst of all the garden perennials is a stone birdbath, several bird-feeders and a wrought-iron bench for our sitting pleasure. Dogwood and magnolia trees line both sides of the house and the rear to provide shade and privacy from the church that sits a few acres behind our house. Ten sand cherry bushes sit in the roomy front yard, but won’t ever grow tall enough to hinder the view from the bay window. We can see out and people can see in, but the bushes give us just enough of a barrier so we don’t feel completely bare to the whole world.
And that, ladies and gents, is the grand tour of my home.
Speaking of which, we’re here.
Both of my parents’ cars are in the driveway. I peek at the dashboard clock. 5:30 on the nose. Just in time to help Mom finish making supper. I’m nervous about leaving Dickhead to his own devices with Dad while I lend her a hand, but I’m just going to have to trust him not to fuck it all up before we get a chance to talk to them. Really talk to them.
But first thing’s first.
Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.
I light up the instant we’re out of Dickhead’s car.
Don’t mind if I do.