Posted in Uncategorized by anna on October 29, 2009

I was seventeen. My mom was drinking a glass of white wine and watching Nick at Nite. Ricky was screaming at Lucy that she had some ‘splaining to do. I said I was going to work (late shift at Dairy Queen), she said be careful and I walked out the door.
I’m twenty-five now, and I have to divorce my father. I don’t mean that in the teenage “tell him you hate him and slam your bedroom door” way. I mean it in the literal way. I’m married to my father.
I guess I have some ‘splaining to do.

My parents separated when I was little, after my father’s unsuccessful 7-11 robbery attempt. He put a pair of pantyhose over his head, stuck his finger in the cashier’s back and asked for all the twenties in the register. She kneed him in the balls and called the cops. I was in the candy aisle trying to hide Milky Ways in my dress. (I was eight.)
My mom bailed him out of jail and kicked him to the curb and he moved to Boulder. For awhile he lived with this I’m-a-dancer-not-a-stripper woman named Liz. But once he ran out of money he was alone.
Imagine my surprise – remember at this point I’m seventeen and basically a bastard as far as paternal care is concerned – when he pulled up at the DQ drive in and asked what the Blizzard of the month was.
“Pumpkin,” I said. I hadn’t seen him in seven years.
“You got big, Ellie.”
“You look like shit.” He did. He had a scratch on his forehead, a parting gift from Stripper Liz, and a band-aid over it like a really bad, really white rapper.
“Get in the car.”

I’ll never forget when I learned what a sociopath was. In the sixth grade I got bussed to the local high school for math because I’d tested off the middle school scale and into pre-calc. I sat in the back and read a book on Ted Bundy I’d found from the high-school library, misplaced on a rack with some YA paperbacks. A sociopath is someone who disregards the rights of others. This person can be charming and attentive and sharp but something is missing. This was when I realized there was a good chance my dad maybe was a sociopath.

“We just need to get back to Boulder,” he said as he pulled onto the freeway. He lit up a Newport and smoked it out the window. “You’re not happy here with Mom, right?”
I took a cigarette from his pack. “Boulder’s pretty far.”
“I’ve got a great condo just out of Flagstaff. With a backyard. You can plant shit.”
“Why are you here, really?”
“Well, Liz left,” he said, “and this thing we cooked up is kind of a two person job.”

First when he told me, it seemed like a great idea. The more I thought about it, it seemed like a great weird idea.
We did a test-run at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick. Mostly empty, some overweight thirty-something guys in hoodies with beers discussing Javascript with the bartender.
“Follow my lead, El,” my dad murmured.
We sat at the bar and he broke into the geek conversation with some anecdote about standard programming syntax.
One of the hoodie guys moved one stool closer to me.
“What’s your name?”
He was like, “Are you old enough to be in here?”
“Is that any of your business?”
My dad put his arm around me. “Stop hassling my girl.”
“Sorry, man,” said the hoodie. “But you’re a little old for her, right?”
“Age is just a number, son.” My dad shrugged and tossed back his Maker’s Mark. The hoodies were looking at him like he was going to impart some wisdom, tips to lure a young girl or write a great code.
“We’re trying to get to California, but we don’t have the money,” said my dad.
“What’s in California?”
“Her folks.” My dad took a sip of his Maker’s. “’Cause I’m a an old-fashioned man, and I’d like to do this properly.”
“Wait, do what properly?” asked the hoodie, and my father turned to me.
“Baby, I have to ask you something.”
He got off his seat, knelt down and pulled a ring box from his jeans. He opened it. There was a ring in it.
He said, “Will you marry me?”
I took a second, like any young girl would, and then I squealed, “God—yes!”
There was a round of claps and the bartender brought some free drinks and the hoodie said, “How’d you guys meet?”
I saw my dad thinking fast, but before he could say anything I spoke up.
“Expository Writing class. He was my professor.”
I glanced at my dad to check if I’d done well. He looked proud of me.

We called them “Fakeposals.” You’d be surprised at the amount of support people will give the recently-engaged. Cash, checks, free drinks all night, a couch to sleep on. And our age difference didn’t make it completely unbelievable. My dad was a good-looking guy, a little rough around the edges maybe but nothing a dumb young co-ed wouldn’t overlook. I looked older than seventeen, and could pass for a sheltered college girl in her early twenties whose only vice was being hot for Teacher. And the damn ring was a prop cubic zirconia, which I always took off right after we left so that it didn’t start feeling too real.

New York was a natural pit-stop to grab some extra money, and it was a fucking cash cow. We did three fakeposals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and never paid for a single meal. My dad got better and better each time he proposed. There was more emotion in the way he got on one knee – it was like the more he lied, the more real conviction he had. Balthazar, Momofuku, Scarpetta, Craft, the best restaurants in the city. We got $3,000 cash total from New York and God knows how much more in meals. That’s how much people enjoy seeing love.

Valentine’s Day for us was like Black Friday for the retail industry. On Valentine’s Day I had three-hundred dollar steak and caviar at Peter Luger’s on some rich old couple’s dime. They bought us a bottle of 1926 Macallan scotch worth three thousand dollars and my dad got so drunk he fell under the table. I drank whatever he didn’t finish.

In the car on the way back to our hotel, I was wasted and sloppy and my dad was pissed at me.
“The fuck, El?”
“What’s wrong?” I mumbled.
“You shouldn’t drink on jobs,” he said.
“But you do, all the time.”
“Yeah, but you drank too much. It makes me look bad. You seem like a kid.”
“I am a kid.” I fell over to the side and hit my head hard against the window.
He sighed. “Think we’re done with New York, huh?”

If you say a word over and over, like “banana” or “chair” or something, they start sounding like meaningless noise. Marriage proposals aren’t any different. And our “how we met” story wasn’t static – it changed by geography. Once we hit Indiana he was a friend of the family who I’d been in love with ever since we met at a barbeque. It stayed that way all the way to Missouri, when some starchy guy in a suit hit dangerously close to home. It was seven in the evening. He’d just paid for our meal and my dad was talking him up for plane fare with the California line.
“You look about my stepdaughter’s age,” he said to me.
“Hope that’s not how you two got together.” He laughed.
Totally deadpan, my dad said, “I don’t think that’s very funny.”
“You know what I think?” the guy said to my dad.
“What’s that?”
“I don’t think you’re planning to marry this girl.”
My dad was shocked. “Excuse me?”
“She’s young. And beautiful, and naïve. And you’re taking advantage of her.” The suit shook his head. “You’re in it to hit it and quit it.”
“You’re totally out of line,” my dad said in a low, angry way, “and if I were you I wouldn’t open your goddamn mouth again.”
“We’re in love, man!” I said, pretty drunk off the three vodka cranberries he’d bought me.
“Well. I know a courthouse in Columbia that’s good for quickie licenses.” The suit shrugged and grabbed his briefcase off the table. “Just saying.”
My dad stood abruptly and yanked me up by the arm. “You ready, El?”
“Sure,” I said, assuming he meant “ready to go back to the car.”
“I’ll drive there,” the suit said, giving me this smile like he was doing me a favor, helping me seal this deal. “Just follow me in your car.”

My dad has a lot of monikers from his heist days, and I don’t look much like him, and the paperwork was light. I’m just saying, it’s surprisingly easy to marry your father in this country. The suit was the only person in attendance, still with that shit-faced smile, like he was living his own sinful dream with his dumb stepdaughter. Some little Asian woman took a snapshot of us right after we were married by the on-duty judge. The flash hurt my eyes and I ran to the bathroom and threw up vodka cranberry.

I woke up in the car with the cubic zirconia on my finger. It was drizzling outside and my head was pounding. “You are now entering Kansas.” The Shirelles were playing and my dad was sucking on the filter of a Newport. He wasn’t looking at me. I took the ring off, put it on the dashboard, told him to stop, and I got out of the car. I haven’t seen him since.

Like I said, I’m twenty-five now. I hitchhiked back to New Jersey, graduated from high school a year late in the middle of my class, went to college in New Hampshire where girls wear pearl earrings and this kind of thing doesn’t happen to people. I met a boy on the lacrosse team, a journalism major. We’ve been dating for five years. He’s amazing and I’m pretty sure he’s going to propose soon, which is why I need to divorce my father. I haven’t told the boy. Maybe I never will. All I know is that I don’t want him to ask me to marry him in a room full of strangers.


2 Responses

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  1. Ivan R. said, on October 29, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    I enjoyed this. I’m not sure why the actual marriage drove them apart, as if it was at all real, but perhaps that simply made it too real.

  2. CJ said, on November 19, 2013 at 2:47 am

    I have a fucked up family and if my dad was twisted just slightly differently this could be me. Great great story.

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