Gotta love my dad. Always to the point. Reminds me of someone else I know who just so happens to be sitting right beside me on one of the Ls of the couch, and it’s not my dear, sweet mom.
My parents are sitting on the L opposite Dickhead and I.
The Krispy Kremes beckon me to take one from their box sitting in the centermost part of the couch, although it remains untouched. I want one so fucking bad, but a doughnutgasm is not a priority anymore. Scratch that. RIGHT NOW.
We do, however, accept the coffees they’ve brought us. Dickhead drinks his black. I simply MUST have lots of milk and sugar in mine, else I won’t touch the stuff because it tastes too bitter straight-up black. Dickhead gives me the same look of horror that most people do as I doctor my coffee to my liking, but I pay him no mind. I’m the one drinking it, not him.
I take a sip as I ponder what to ask first.
Ahhh, ambrosia. Nectar of the gods.
Might as well start with the obvious and go from there.
“You said you spoke to the police yesterday,” I remind my mom, “so you obviously know why we’re here. Tell me about Lester Smith, IF there IS anything to tell. Please. I don’t understand how a football coach two states away would know your nickname and maiden name. A note was found by his body with that information written on it, along with my home phone number underneath it. How? Why?“
Mom looks at Dad, reaches for his hand, squeezes it.
I scoot forward so much that I’m teetering on the edge of the couch, waiting — impatient for her to tell me what the fuck is going on, to tell me about her connection to Coach Smith. If there is one.
“In between moves from Virginia to Hawaii, your Dad and I had a … a trial separation,” she begins. “Look, this still isn’t easy for me — us — to talk about. It took us a long time to work through our problems, but we managed to forgive and forget. Until yesterday, when the police came looking for us — for me.”
I always brace myself for the worst because I always expect the worst. But this makes me feel as helpless as a quarterback on the bottom of a 12-player pileup while his 10 teammates on offense stand around on the field doing nothing to help him out of his predicament. THIS is a blindside in the truest sense.
I feel something hot on my suddenly cold, clammy hands. His hands. Dickhead’s hands. Taking the cup out of mine, placing it beside his on the coffee table directly in front of the couch’s centermost section. Then coming back to mine, warming them, giving me something to hold onto as I absorb this bombshell.
And I sense there’s more. A lot more.
I wish we hadn’t come. I wish I hadn’t answered the phone. I wish I had just stayed in the damn bed with my cat and slept the fucking day away.
How I wish for the bliss of ignorance!
But I’m not going to get it. I’m going to get the truth I’ve been seeking since finding out about the note yesterday. Like it, or not.
“Your dad was away so much with his SEAL team that we just began fighting — arguing — constantly during the rare times he WAS home, and I started to resent him, his buddies, the Navy, the constant worrying about his safety — all of it — more and more every day. It’s not easy being a Navy wife, a military wife, for that matter. I was lonely, and I began to distance myself so I wouldn’t stay awake every night wondering if I’d get a letter, a phone call, a knock on the door confirming my worst fears. So I came back home and lived with my parents for a spell while I … we tried to figure out what we wanted, if our marriage was worth salvaging with him being gone all the damn time and me turning into a basket case over the secrecy of his missions, the not knowing if he was dead or alive until he actually walked in the door for me to see with my own two eyes. It got to be too much for me — for us — to handle.”
I don’t like where this is going. AT ALL!
“There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?” I ask, not sure if I really want to hear the answer I know is coming.
“I … yes. There’s more, Piccolo. We tried to shield you from all of this because we never thought it would come to this, but you have a right to know.”
Out with it already!
“All of this happened before you were born,” Mom says. “A year before you were born, to be exact.”
I do the math in my head. This has to be dating back to sometime in May 1983.
She explains how she thought about signing up for summer classes at a now-defunct junior college, but was too depressed to go through with it. She couldn’t concentrate because of all the turmoil caused by her separation from Dad. So she sat around and moped for nearly two months, refusing all calls and letters from my dad during that dark period of their lives.
My grandparents finally shooed her out of the house when a couple of her old high school girlfriends asked her to go with them to Nashville for a weekend of fun at Opryland in August. The amusement park, which eventually closed down in 1997, used to be a hip and happening place back in its heyday. Opry Mills, a behemoth of a shopping mall, opened in 2000 on the former site of Opryland. Who needs fun when you can shop all fucking day, right? Go figure.
I went to Opryland a few times myself before its shutdown and still drive through the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center with my parents to see “A Country Christmas,” which features more than two million painstakingly decorated lights. It runs every year from the third week of November through Christmas week, and we think it’s well worth the annual trip. The people in charge of the decorations don’t miss a single thing as they prepare it for the holidays, creating the most incredible illumination of Christmas lights I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing in person. Passersby on Briley Parkway often catch a glimpse that almost never fails to compel them to exit onto Opryland Drive to get a closer look at the majestic holiday scenery.
Anyway, my Debbie Downer of a mom unwillingly accompanied her friends for what seemed like an innocent outing on a Friday morning. They were waiting their turn in line to go on the popular Wabash Cannonball roller coaster, which was temporarily closed for routine maintenance, when IT happened.
She met Lester Smith.
He was standing in line behind her and her friends. He had made the short trek from Bluegrass to Opryland for a guys-only weekend with his assistant football coaches.
She introduced herself as Margaret O’Brien, but told him to call her by her nickname — Meggy.
GULP. TRIPLE FUCK!
No, indeedy, this can’t be good.
“Lester and I got to talking and somehow we ended up separating from our friends,” she recalls.
Neither went back to the hotel rooms they shared with their groups — both ironically located at the same history-rich Fiddler’s Inn on Music Valley Drive that was featured on the first season of Hotel Impossible in 2012 for a much-needed makeover — instead chatting it up all night while they had breakfast and an endless supply of coffee at a nearby Waffle House on McGavock Pike.
This is starting to play out like one of those long-running soap operas that flicker along the border of reality and fantasy whenever the writers get bored, creating a plot twist so far-fetched, it’s almost comical.
“Please, don’t let it be so,” I say aloud, combating a bout of nausea and succeeding — just.
Mom told him about her situation with Dad and Coach Smith fessed up that the weekend was his last as a bachelor, that he was getting married the following week. His fiancée was so wrapped up in the planning of their wedding that he was feeling neglected, so he gravitated toward Mom because she gave him the attention he craved but wasn’t getting from the woman he professed to love.
And they ended up having a one-time, no-strings-attached fling, unbeknownst to their respective parties.
EW! EW! EWWW!
They both pleaded fatigue that second day, she said, waiting for their friends to leave before they, y’know, did the dirty deed.
“I’m going to be sick,” I warn no one in particular, once again barely able to tamp down the nausea.
How I wish for the ability to erase everything she’s telling me! I can’t look at my parents anymore, squeezing my eyes shut like I did when I was a little girl so I could block out the bogeyman come bedtime.
But I’m not a little girl any longer, and this is very real.
Please, please, PLEASE do NOT tell me that man is my fucking father!
I don’t want to know! MY Dad is sitting right across from me! I can’t — I won’t — accept Coach Smith as my biological father! No, the only Dad I’ll ever acknowledge is in this room!
I have Dickhead’s hands in a death grip now, but he doesn’t try to pry them free. I gnaw on my lower lip, attempting to dam the threatening tears before they come crashing down with the violence of a tsunami.
“It gets more complicated, Piccolo,” Mom needlessly tells me. “When I got back from Opryland on Sunday night, your dad was waiting for me in my parents’ driveway.”
Glad I wasn’t around to witness THAT homecoming.
“We, uh, had a passionate reunion.”
I wrench my hands out of Dickhead’s and hold them up, signaling for her to stop.
Please just quit it already! I can’t bear to hear any more!
It’s too much.
I can’t hold back the retching that takes over my body, forcing my muscles to convulse.
It’s no longer a matter of IF I’m going to throw up, but WHEN.
I shoot up from the couch like a rocket destined for outer space and run like I’ve never run before for the bathroom, making it just in time to bend down and vomit traces of coffee mixed in with the bitter taste of gastric juices all over the top of the toilet seat and into it — the door still standing wide open all the while. Wave after wave follows, the taste from the overwhelmingly sour gastric juices permeating my throat, my mouth, my nose as I feel the slight burn of the tiny blood vessels bursting — like they always do — all across my eyelids and around my eyes from the sheer force of it, until I’m spent, until I’m no longer able to heave, until I barely can even lift my head.
A hand suddenly is on my hair in an attempt to soothe as if stroking a cat. I have no energy to jerk free of the contact, still bending over the toilet and breathing heavily as saliva exits my mouth like drizzling rainwater. The aftertaste is almost as unbearable as the vomiting itself.
I’d rather eat a heaping bowl of lemons drowning in Tabasco sauce.
“Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”
Doesn’t that beat all?! I suppose I have no room to bitch about his stinky breath ever again. I certainly win the prized blue ribbon for this stunt.
“I can handle it,” I say at last, not bothering to turn around to face him because I know exactly how revolting a sight I am at the moment. “Just give me a few minutes, OK? I just need a few minutes.”
He doesn’t answer, but I hear the door close softly behind me as I tear off a handful of toilet paper to begin cleaning up my mess. I look down at my clothes, relieved to find nothing on me. That’s something, I guess. After wiping everything up, I grab another handful of TP, dampen it with water and put soap on it to clean the seat properly. I then see to myself, scrubbing my face and rinsing my mouth out before finding a spare toothbrush and some toothpaste.
Much better, although all of the very noticeable tiny red splotches on my now-puffy face still burn from bursting.
Time to face the music.
I head toward the hushed voices in the living room. I just want it to be over with, to get it all out.
“Just tell me,” I say, the fight completely out of me. “I don’t need to know every sordid little detail. Just be straight with me. It won’t make any difference who my biological father is, because the only dad who matters to me is right here.”
Dickhead is standing in front of the bay window, his back turned to us. Mom and Dad are exactly where I left them.
Mom sighs loudly as I give my dad’s shoulder a gentle squeeze in passing.
“That’s just it, Piccolo. We don’t know.”
She sees the question in my eyes before I can ask it.
“We never did a paternity test.”