He sat in the side room with the door closed- “working” on his laptop. I, on the other hand, clutched my stomach vomiting my insides out between hit-or-miss bathroom runs. The Chicago sky, as gray as I felt. Three pairs of sweatpants: the carnage that day. Let’s be real, the sweatpants were the least of my worries.
“Can you pleasseeee walk over to Walgreens and get me a box of popsicles?” I yelled from the other room.
“Dwane, can you please, please, please get me popsicles? I can’t keep anything down, my mouth is killing me.”
I start to cry out of sheer frustration.
“What. The Fuck. Can you at least answer me?”
“Ok!!!!! Yes, I will go get them. Hold on!” he yells in a puff of anger and disgust from behind the bedroom door.
I wait. Scanning the room for my purse, I anticipate what will likely come next:
“Jodi, Where’s your wallet?”
Sick and tired of this ritual. So many lies he has told; they are his version of truth, and now can’t take his fat ass across Halsted Street to get a goddamn box of popsicles?
I am: the bank account, the breadwinner, the house manager, the chauffeur, the school supplier, the one who gets shit done, and the “mom” to an amazing young woman, who is the reason why I stay. Stayed. Too long.
Days earlier, Dad attempted to coach me into telling the truth, “Jodi, the best thing about you is that you are so generous, so trusting. That is why I worry. I don’t know. Maybe it’s my fault,” Dad’s words trail off as he takes both hands and massages his face. We are sitting toe-to-toe in the family room, the click-ity-clink of the heater punctuates the silence.
“Your fault? How could this be your fault?” not surprised by my father’s tendency to self-blame because Grandma would curse herself to death if the glass candy dish that greeted guests on Knight Street got too low.
“You give and give, people see that. You DO EVERYTHING. What does he do for you? For her? We love both of you, but this is ridiculous. Think of all he has taken from you, from us. I know you are not telling me the whole truth, all he has done. We didn’t raise you to get taken advantage like this, Mom and I. Maybe I had something to do with it, maybe me not being home enough. I worked so much when you were a kid, maybe that had something to do with it,” he says defeated.
Continuing he adds, “Your mom and I, we tried to raise you well, give you examples of love, family. Did we not do that? I just don’t understand what happened with you girl(s)…”
As if IT is a collective Arndt problem. This idea.. that my poor judgement in men–might be contagious.
Attempting to explain and ask forgiveness later, my shoulders meet my ears as I shake into an ugly cry.
The unexplained phone calls on the back patio, the forged checks, the cell phone in pocket, and two-word responses–someone else’s misdeeds–laying the foundation for such an interrogation. All due my inability to forgive myself for being so stupid, so trusting, and LEAVE.
The precious cargo of the first thirty years of my life, those considered less than interesting, likely- discarded. Teacher books, laminated posters, pictures, journals from backpacking in Europe, items related to my legacy– others sold—expensive bags and shoes from my Sex and the City days, likely adorn those I once considered family. As long as he had his Bironi, he was FINE.
Holly is propped next to me rubbing my back. Mom’s next to Dad on the couch, I look to Mom, begging for some kind of intervention. She sits there silently.
There were many weekends then that I’d load up the car driving down the Kennedy Expressway, looking forward to back porch guidance from Mom. Mom’s counsel softened Dad’s hard-hitting, “When’s he paying us back, Jodi?”
I’d bolt up the upstairs to the bathroom, taking steps two at a time. The toilet, my confessional as I appealed to the wallpapered butterflies for strength and understanding. Sometimes wishing their wings would carry me away from the reality of what had to be done.
“Jodi, sometimes your Dad doesn’t know how to say things. He means well. Just tell Dad. Dwane. Whomever-tell them to go to hell. Fuck them,” raising her middle finger as she pulled me into a hug.
God, I miss those hugs.
“It’s hard to do the right thing. The thing you have to do,” I imagine her saying now.
There’s certain undeniable truths inside each one of us. Fear. Shame. Perception. Reality. They keep certain truths dormant below, but they bubble up, making us a physical and emotional HOT MESS-unless we take ’em head on.
That day, 12-15 years ago, laid out on the powder blue coach, I begged a man whom I never really knew for a popsicle. I stayed beyond that year, because forgiving myself was a thing I could not do.
No amount of coaching coaxed me into telling the truth. That’s the thing about THE TRUTH. Not exactly easy to tell it all the time.
Even though I’d run to 1202 S. Patton some weekends and seek counsel from my Mom, she always stitched a familiar thread in my mind by offering:
“You have all the answers inside you. You do. I might listen. Help you pull them out and make sense of it all, but you already have it. There, ” her hand gesturing, pointing to my heart in the darkness, the ember of a cigarette illuminating the road map she was attempting to give me.