Sunday, February 10, 2013

Family Is A Bitch

I'm ashamed of my parents.  At least I am really ashamed of my father. They say don’t speak ill of the dead so that is why I don’t speak ill of my mother. It is different to speak ill of my Dad, he's different.
My mom's been dead since I was a teenager. I was ashamed of her too when she was alive because she behaved mean to me and also acted mostly unreasonable and never explained things to me. Me, who never stopped trying to find answers for everything.
I don’t want to talk about my mother though – I want to tell this story about my Dad. When I told it to a friend of mine, he said, “You’ve got to write this shit down! Entire careers are built on this crazy shit you’re describing to me. There’s money to be made in writing this craziness down. They need screenwriters like you who can write good dialogue.” I agree this much is true.
  “In my family, there was always an inordinate amount of screaming and all types of drama too,” I confide in my friend. 
My friend says, “Don’t be ashamed. Sell sitcoms to NBC.”
I say, “Who’d buy this sick and miserable shit?”
"Exactly!" He grins. "I’m getting all these weird funny feelings.” 
I’m already laughing with him, “But I don’t think it’s funny!"
Not that I really do think it’s funny, but I can understand how it is tempting to hear others unveil and reveal forbidden perverse territory in families, and how reading and reliving the drama can feel a sense of relief that it isn't them which can add excitement to any story.
Here goes with this true story about my dad. 
May as well say a few words in introduction at creating a picture. Growing up I was lucky to catch my dad in his undershirt when he was home and had no work and no one else was around except for us girls and he.  That's it, just his undershirt. Whoops!  Is that the family jewels showing there?  That's what the experienced nurse said to persuade him back into his hospital robe when he was post op from hernia surgery.
This particular story is about my father's promise to my son and me. Dad promised him that he would contribute to Joey’s college education.  This is what he said, right?  O.K.  Several weeks ago I call him up and remind him of his promise. 
“No problem,” Dad says, “I remember, I haven’t forgotten.”
Dad says, “Stop by after work so we can talk some more again about how to go about This. I remember I gave my word.”
I enter the door; I am standing near the door and moving towards the closet when it comes. Dad says, "I can't help you cause you're not free." 
I say, "What kind ‘a shit it this. Of course I isn’t free I got an 18 year old boy to help out. And you know I have money saved." 
Dad says, "You spend all your money seeing that Bloke guy in England. Besides," Dad says, "I spent all the money you gave me.  I don't have none left.  I just got a bill from the hospital for Eva for $1100. I’m broke I tell you." 
Now I know what my Dad's got. And I know he knows I know what he’s got because I know how much I gave him. Fuck no; Dad's not rich, but promised me eight thousand that isn’t much. I know Dad has forty eight thousand in a bank account in only his name. I know what I contributed twice this amount to Dad’s slush fund. Now I have to break in this story to tell you about Eva to explain what I mean by “my contribution.” Dad’s been living with Eva for 22 years.  I met Eva when I was newly married at 20 years old.  My father walked me around the block where she was sitting on the porch with a young male boarder. Instead of stopping to introduce me as he’d told me he planned to do, he was two jealous to introduce me and spied on her instead. I didn’t get to meet Eva really to talk to her until they’d moved from what I had thought was Eva’s brownstone. Now I’ll never know the truth, but I suspect the real owner may have been Ms. Kennedy. Eva always had a lot of stories. 
Eva told me how she’d traveled all around the globe to the Man of Isle, and how she brought back a black wild Manx from the isle of Man and how he was so big she kept him in the basement because she was afraid people would make reports and they’d take the wild cat away from her. She claimed this cat died years ago.  Eva told me how she went to wildest Africa and ate with tribal kings.  And dig this, she did it all for free because her best friend's husband was captain of a ship and they invited her on a world cruise.  Eva claimed she owned part of this house and part of another, and now I’ll never know because Eva is long gone and her family just came and buried her. Eva told me she’d gotten beat out of her half of the second house when it was sold because the house had solely been under her partner's name. I admit this sounded pretty porky to me.
I do know for a fact that she gave my Dad thirty thousand as a gift and I guess the reason she did what she did is she got scared when she Dad’s thirty grand gone in two short years.  My Dad's always been a compulsive gambler but now because of his emphysema, he can barely walk thirty feet so this was quite a while ago.  The good thing about my Dad is that his mind’s all there. I recall when he called the bank manager to argue about twenty dollars more he had calculated his interest to be. The bank manager explained to Dad the interest was calculated by the computer and therefore had to right. Dad explained right back that he’d done the calculations and he insisted the bank manager do the math with him so Dad won. Dad had a natural talent for math and the violin.
Eva said she had this disease eating away at her bones and that the doctors cut out the bad parts and replaced them with plastic bones. On top of that Eva claimed she only only had one lung. If that wasn’t bad enough she claimed she had a special tube inserted in her throat that allowed her to eat and talk.  Eva claimed that every two months these special doctors were coming in from Sweden to do this special procedure. Eva said no one here knew how to do the procedure to replace the bone except him. She’d vividly describe how she’d undergo these horrible procedures with only local anesthetic because OOPS, I forgot to tell you, she also had a bad heart, and so she was awake during these procedures. Each time this procedure occurred our lives rotated about a particular ritual.
Gloria and she would leave at precisely 7:30 in the morning since surgery began at 9. Gloria would call several particular times to report how Eva was doing.  A few times Gloria said, "We almost lost her." She would tell us how the doctors had to pump on Eva’s heart because it stopped.” I’d be sitting with Dad in his home and Dad would always be on the verge of exploding.  Crotchety Dad is not beyond still raising his hand in a threatening manner when he loses his temper but he doesn't hit anymore.  Basically he stands over and raises his arm up and threatens but it still doesn’t feel very safe. So Dad is there with me sitting next to him and he’d scream as though I’m nowhere in earshot, "We almost lost her, Do you hear?"
Of course I hear Dad I’m right here beside you and that go him more agitated if that’s even possible. Usually at 4 p m Gloria would come strolling in with Eva holding on to her arm. Eva would first make a big display of showing us where all the loads of gauze bandages were and Dad called her Darling and asked her where she wanted to lay.
Every single day following the surgery, usually anywhere from 9:30 to 11 am, Eva and Gloria would walk up to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. They always pretended they were taking Eva in a cab to the clinic where her bandages were going to be changed. 
Eva said that old Doctor Swartz, who was mostly retired, but he used to see her at the clinic.  She said he didn't charge her nothing. But she claimed she had put out over thirty thousand dollars to save her leg from being amputated.  She claimed that they put her through this machine and looked right through her to see if the cancer was spreading.  And each time she came home she had new instructions. First, she had to stop drinking teas, so she started drinking warm water and milk.  I bought her herbal teas.
Then she said the doctor told her she had to cut down on salt and she needed to takes special vitamins, etc.  Now we can get back to Dad in that in retrospect I think Eva may have made these stories up to keep him from getting some of her money. This way she could take the money and put it in a separate account. Eva said she needed six thousand dollars each time these doctors came in from Sweden.  She said they would’ve had to charge more usually flying in from Europe but they didn't charge her all their expenses because they knew her so many years. Besides this same doctor from Europe was the one who put the tube in her throat and took out her bad lung. 
So here I am, right?  I'm living on welfare, a single mom, and getting student grants, stipends, everything I could finagle out of the system, even baby sitting fees for Eva plus my food stamps and book and carfare money. I was doing the best I could.  And here comes good old Eva telling me the doctors are coming again.  To her credit I was the stupid one offering her the extra stipends I received, two hundred dollars every month.  Like Dad says, do the math. There’s two hundred per month babysitting fees, another hundred in food stamps and the two hundred now from my extra stipend. All this is extra because they had two thousand per month in social security and their rent was only five hundred. I felt good at first before I realized how Eva was racking up.
First Gloria confesses to me that she’d given Eva one hundred dollars a month for six years in addition to her renting the room for four hundred a month. Do the math and keep up – this means Eva and Dad only needed to pay one hundred to make up the rent.
It’s hard to know who to believe because Gloria had a lot of stories too which were pretty good ones. Gloria said that Eva claimed she was in touch with Jeanie Dixon, the psychic, by phone. Eva said she had to pay Jeanie to protect Gloria from being wiped off the face of the earth." Gloria said Eva told her I was involved in Satanism and Voodoo and she better keep away from me and that was why Gloria hadn’t come around in a while.  The way I look at it, between Gloria, and me, Dad and Eva are thirteen thousand dollars richer.
This is all history.  Let's get back to Dad's promise to Joey. 
"I can't give you money because you're not free," he says. So I go over to talk to him.  Miriam, his sister, keeps running from her room up until the kitchen where he and I are talking. Back and forth, I hear her footsteps outside the kitchen door where she paces just out of sight of the doorway, pitter, and patter.  He starts yelling at me, "I've got no money, you son of a bitch."  I say, "I know what you've got."  He says, "That's for Eva."  Never mind that Eva is completely senile now and her family would claim that money in a minute and put her in a home. 
Forget about rationale. He stands above me, towering, glowering, a bent and hunched figure, puffing away on his lingering breath.  I get up and look out the doorway and there's Miriam closing the door.  So I go and ask her why she keeps running back and forth. "I want to see if the bathroom's free." she says.  And I say, "Well no one's been in there since I'm here.  You sure you're not just listening to us and want to hear us better?" 
This is the aunt I never saw except once when I was six years old. She came over with Grandma and Ruth to explain how they had to bail Dad out of Belleview to keep him from going to jail. That was the only time she’d ever visited.
Now her husband of thirty years is dead, and she moves in with my Dad. Dad says it’s my sister I can’t leave her alone. Miriam claims she never had a fight with him although I’ve heard them bicker more than once.  Miriam says, “He never raised his voice with me. It’s only with you because of the way you are. We never ever disagreed in thirty years.” Miriam yells, “ He must've kept quiet just to live peacefully.”  I don’t bother to say I've heard her yell and curse at my father, so it's not like she's some sweet innocent newborn lamb going to slaughter.  She is a bitch.  Miriam thinks it's terrible that I want my father to help my son.  Never mind how much money I gave them.
Miriam says, “It's hard to bring up a child and they deserved every penny of it! You never listen to anything.  Didn’t they change his diapers until he was four because he was retarded?” 
I say, "My son isn't retarded."  And she says, "Maybe not anymore, like retardation is something you can throw off like unwanted shackles.
She says, "Whatever,” she says, “I don't want to hurt your feelings, but isn't that why your son was getting bussed to school.  Gloria told me he’s very slow.  Your father doesn't want to think about the future, that's not a crime.  And Gloria’s entitled to that money.  She's the one who gave not you.  If you gave him money what happened to it?”
Then she goes on about David.  “Oh, she says, I don't want to live without my David. “So why isn't she dead yet, I want to tell her but don't.  How can I be so nice and stand here and listen to this ignoramus who just called my son retarded?  Because I know she is influencing my father and I figure she might have some sense.  But she doesn't.  So why do I continue to stand here and argue? Honestly I don’t know.
My Dad leaves the room and Miriam enters. Miriam goes on about her health tribulations.  Her feet are swollen badly, she can hardly breathe.  Then she says, “At least you could take the day off from work to shop for your father. That’s the problem with you young people today never any gratitude.”
This is right after I just heard Dad admit to the social worker that called that he had a small store of food in the house.  "I am not allowed to stay home from work they’ll deduct a day of pay and I can’t afford that,” I say to defend myself to no avail.  She says, “But you can go to see your goy in Europe!”
“ I always took care of my mother,” she says, “not like you.” I know this is untrue because her sister Ruth was the one who sacrificed her life to live with and cared for their mother. Ruth took care of her mother like a baby.  Miriam adds, “ Your mother knew how much I cared for my mother. “
"My mother's been dead over twenty-six years," I say. 
"I remember," she says, not even hearing me, "When your mother visited me in 1956 when I left my mother's house in Washington Heights."  "That's impossible," I say, "I wasn't born until 1959.  Ask my father."
"Your mother had you by the hand and I remember," she insists.
"It wasn’t me,” I insist back, “It must’ve been either Georgette or Harriet.  Harriet was born in 1949.  Maybe it was her.  Georgette was born in 46' so maybe it was her."
"It was you."
            "Let's ask my father.  Daaad," I call out, "do you know my birthdate. See, my father carries this little black book with everyone's birthdate and everyone's death date as well.  You know, he lights the candles still on Purim.
"You're trying to cause big trouble here," she said.  "What are you doing?"
"My father should know," I said.  "He has this book..."
"That doesn't mean anything," she yelled.  "You want to see my driver's license?" I asked."
What for?" she said.  "Just like you gave your father money to hold when you were on welfare."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
 “Well, you know how to take care of things." Miriam says.
I say, "Well, I can't lie about an official document."
"No, but the date could be changed."
"So you're calling me a forger."
"Calling you, no."
"Well what do you mean then."
"Insinuate is different.  I don't have a birth certificate," cackle cackle, "so I'm younger than you." cackle!