“That's how you know you love someone, I guess, when you can't experience anything without wishing the other person were there to see it, too.”
“Why is it so hard to articulate love yet so easy to express disappointment?”
“I'm sorry," I say. "I didn't give you everything you wanted. I wasn't everything you wanted. You were everything I wanted.”
“Because feeling love does make you feel superior. Until you find out you aren't loved back.”
“We walk until there aren't more houses, all the way to the part of the beach where the current makes the waves come in then rush back out so that the two waves clash, water casting up like a geyser. We watch that for a while and then Scottie says, "I wish Mom was here." I'm thinking the exact same thought. That's how you know you love someone, I guess, when you can't experience anything without wishing the other person were there to see it, too. Every day I kept track of anecdotes, occurrences, and gossip, bullet-pointing the news in my head and even rehearsing my stories before telling them to Joanie in bed at night.”
“Fuck', I think. What a beautiful word. If I could say only one thing for the rest of my life, that would be it.”
“I bet in big cities you can walk down the street scrowling and no one will ask you what's wrong or encourage you to smile, but everyone here has the attitude that we're lucky to live in Hawaii; paradise reigns supreme. I think paradise can go fuck itself.”
“Get used to it. She'll be there for the rest of your life. She'll be there on birthdays, at Christmastime, when you get your period, when you graduate, have sex, when you marry, have children, when you die. She'll be there and she won't be there.”
“I don't ask what Alex sees in him because I'm afraid my disapproval will make her latch on to him even more. That's how it works. I'll have to pretend he doesn't bother me and that I don't want to drown him in the bay.”
“Perhaps I did nothing because I don't have enough fear to be a good parent.”
“I like the way men cry. They're efficient.”
“I drift off for a while. I don't know how long, but when I open my eyes, the Oscars are still on and Alex tells me that Sid has gone and this makes me a little sad. Whatever the four of us had is over. He is my daughter's boyfriend now, and I am a father. A widower. No pot, no cigarettes, no sleeping over. They'll have to find inventive ways to conduct their business, most likely in uncomfortable places, just like the rest of them. I let him and my old ways go. We all let him go, as well as who we were before this, and now it's really just the three of us. I glance over at the girls, taking a good look at what's left.”
“I lean down so that my face is right in front of hers and whisper, ‘He doesn’t love you. I love you.”
“The sun is shining, mynah birds are chattering, palm trees are swaying, so what. I'm in the hospital and I'm healthy. My heart is beating as it should. My brain is firing off messages that are loud and clear. My wife is on the upright hospital bed, positioned the way people sleep on airplanes, her body stiff, head cocked to the side. Her hands on her lap.”
“I hope she can’t tell that I’m appraising her and that I’m completely worried by what I see. She’s excitable and strange. She’s ten. What do people do during the day when they’re ten? She runs her fingers along the window and mumbles, “This could give me bird flu,” and then she forms a circle around her mouth with her hand and makes trumpet noises. She’s nuts. Who knows what’s going on in that head of hers, and speaking of her head, she most definitely could use a haircut or a brushing. There are small tumbleweeds of hair resting on the top of her head. Where does she get haircuts? I wonder. Has she ever had one before? She scratches her scalp, then looks at her nails. She wears a shirt that says I’M NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL. BUT I CAN BE! I’m grateful that she isn’t too pretty, but I realize this could change.”
“We walk up the sandy slope toward the dining terrace. I see Troy sitting at a table with some people I know. I look at Scottie to see if she sees him, and she is giving him the middle finger. The dining terrace gasps, but I realize it’s because of the sunset and the green flash. We missed it. The flash flashed. The sun is gone, and the sky is pink. I reach to grab the offending hand, but instead, I correct her gesture.
“Here, Scottie. Don’t let that finger stand by itself like that. Bring up the other fingers just a little bit. There you go. That’s the cool way to do it.”
Troy stares at us and smiles a bit. He’s completely confused.
“All right, that’s enough.” I suddenly feel sorry for Troy. He must feel awful.”
“Say goodbye to your mom.”
Scottie pauses, then keeps going.
“Bye!” she yells.
I grab her arm. I could yell at her for wanting to leave, but I don’t. She pulls her arm out of my grasp. I look up to see if anyone is watching us, because I don’t think you’re supposed to aggressively hold children these days. Gone are the days of spanking, threats, and sugar. Now there are therapy, antidepressants, and Splenda.”
“We don’t treat each other very well, I suppose. Even from the start. It was as though we had the seven-year itch the day we met. The day she went into a coma, I heard her telling her friend Shelley that I was useless, that I leave my socks hanging on every doorknob in the house. At weddings we roll our eyes at the burgeoning love around us, the vows that we know will morph into new kinds of promises: I vow not to kiss you when you’re trying to read. I will tolerate you in sickness and ignore you in health. I promise to let you watch that stupid news show about celebrities, since you’re so disenchanted with your own life.
Joanie and I were urged by her brother, Barry, to subject ourselves to counseling as a decent couple would. Barry is a man of the couch, a believer in weekly therapy, affirmations, and pulse points. Once he tried to show us exercises he’d been doing in session with his girlfriend. We were instructed to trade reasons, abstract or specific, why we stayed with each other. I started off by saying that Joanie would get drunk and pretend I was someone else and do this neat thing with her tongue. Joanie said tax breaks. Barry cried. Openly. His second wife had recently left him for someone who understood that a man didn’t do volunteer work.”
“My God,” she says. “I feel like I’ve gone through a car wash.”
I laugh, or force myself to, because it’s not something I’d normally laugh at.
“What about you?” she says to Scottie. “How did you make out?”
“I’m a boy,” Scottie says. “Look at me.”
Sand has gotten into the bottom of her suit, creating a huge bulge. She scratches at the bulge. “I’m going to go to work now,” she says. I think she’s impersonating me and that Mrs. Speer is getting an unrealistic, humiliating glimpse.
“Scottie,” I say. “Take that out.”
“It must be fun to have girls,” Mrs. Speer says.
She looks at the ocean, and I see that she’s looking at Alex sunbathing on the floating raft. Sid leans over Alex and puts his mouth to hers. She raises a hand to his head, and for a moment I forget it’s my daughter out there and think of how long it has been since I’ve been kissed or kissed like that.
“Or maybe you have your hands full,” Mrs. Speer says.
“No, no,” I say. “It’s great,” and it is, I suppose, though I feel like I’ve just acquired them and don’t know yet. “They’ve been together for ages.” I gesture to Alex and Sid. I don’t understand if they’re a couple or if this is how all kids in high school act these days.
Mrs. Speer looks at me curiously, as if she’s about to say something, but she doesn’t.
“And boys.” I gesture to her little dorks. “They must keep you busy.”
“They’re a handful. But they’re at such a fun age. It’s such a joy.”
She gazes out at her boys. Her expression does little to convince me that they’re such a joy. I wonder how many times parents have these dull conversations with one another and how much they must hide. They’re so goddamn hyper, I’d do anything to inject them with a horse tranquilizer. They keep insisting that I watch what they can do, but I truly don’t give a fuck. How hard is it to jump off a diving board?
My girls are messed up, I want to say. One talks dirty to her own reflection. Did you do that when you were growing up?
“Your girls seem great, too,” she says. “How old are they?”
“Ten and eighteen. And yours?”
“Ten and twelve.”
“Oh,” I say. “Great.”
“Your younger one sure is funny,” she says. “I mean, not funny. I meant entertaining.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s Scottie. She’s a riot.”
“Scottie and I walk down the hall. Her T-shirt says MRS. CLOONEY,”
“I wouldn’t know what to do with daughters,' he says. 'Exchange them for sons?'
'But then I could wind up with something like you.'
'I’m not so bad,' he says. 'I’m smart.'
'You’re about a hundred miles away from the town of Smart, my friend.'
'You’re mistaken, counselor,' he says. 'I’m smart, I can take care of myself. I’m an awesome tennis player, a keen observer of life around me. I’m a good cook. I always have weed.'
'I’m sure your parents are proud.'
'It’s possible.' He looks at his knees and I wonder if I’ve offended him.”
“Scott still stares at Sid, then turns to Alice and hands her the Scotch. “We’re going to go see Joanie today,” he says.
Alice grins. “And Chachi?” she asks.
Sid bursts out laughing and Scott turns back to him, then places a hand on his shoulder, which makes me fear for his life. “You be quiet, son,” Scott says. “I could kill you with this hand. This hand has been places.”
I shake my head and look at both Sid and Alex.
Scott lifts his hand off Sid’s shoulder and turns again to his wife. “No, Alice. Our Joanie. Our daughter. We’re going to give her anything she wants.” He glares at me. “Think about what she would want, Alice. We’re going to get it for her and bring it to her. Bring it right to her bed.”
“Joanie and Chachi,” Alice chants. “Joanie and Chachi!”
“Shut up, Alice!” Scott yells.
Alice looks at Scott as though he just said “Cheese.” She clasps her hands together and smiles, staying in the pose for a few seconds. He looks at her face and squints. “Sorry, old gal,” he says. “You go ahead and say whatever you want.”
“It was funny,” Sid says. “All I was doing was laughing. She has a good sense of humor. That’s all. Maybe she knows she’s being funny. I think she does.”
“I’m going to hit you,” Scott says. His arms hang alongside him, the muscles flexed, veins big like milk-shake straws. I know he’s going to hit Sid because that’s what he does. I’ve seen him hit Barry. I, too, have been hit by Scott after I beat him and his buddies at a game of poker. His hands are in fists, and I can see his knobby old-man knuckles, the many liver spots almost joining to become one big discoloration, like a burn. Then he pops his fist up toward Sid, a movement like a snake rearing its head and lunging forth. I see Sid start to bring his arm up to block his face, but then he brings it down and clutches his thigh. It’s almost as if he decided not to protect himself. The end result is a punch in his right eye, a screaming older daughter, a frightened younger daughter, a father trying to calm many people at once, and a mother-in-law cheering wildly as though we have all done something truly amazing.”
“We need to get home and put some ointments and ice on the stings. Vinegar will make it worse, so if you thought Giraffe Boy could pee on you, you’re shit out of luck.”
She agrees as if prepared for this—the punishment, the medication, the swelling, the pain that hurts her now and the pain that will hurt her later. She seems okay with my disapproval. She’s gotten her story, after all, and she’s beginning to see how much easier physical pain is to tolerate than emotional pain. I’m unhappy that she’s learning this at such a young age.
“The hospital will have ointments and ice,” she says.”
“Do you guys have sunscreen?” I ask.
“No,” Scottie says. “Do we have water?”
“Did you bring any?” Alex asks.
“No,” I say.
Alex pops her head up. “Did you bring snacks for us?”
“We can walk to town.”
How do mothers manage to bring everything a child could need?”
“TIA OR TARA has stopped applying makeup to my wife’s face and is looking at Scottie with disapproval. The light is hitting this woman’s face, giving me an opportunity to see that she should perhaps be working on her own makeup. Her coloring is similar to a manila envelope. There are specks of white in her eyebrows, and her concealer is not concealing. I can tell my daughter doesn’t know what to do with this woman’s critical look.
“What?” Scottie asks. “I don’t want any makeup.” She looks at me for protection, and it’s heartbreaking. All the women who model with Joanie have this inane urge to make over my daughter with the notion that they’re helping her somehow. She’s not as pretty as her older sister or her mother, and these other models think that slapping on some rouge will somehow make her feel better about her facial fate. They’re like missionaries. Mascara thumpers.
“I was just going to say that I think your mother was enjoying the view,” Tia or Tara says. “It’s so pretty outside. You should let the light in.”
My daughter looks at the curtain. Her little mouth is open. Her hand reaches for a tumbleweed of hair.
“Listen here, T. Her mother was not enjoying the view. Her mother is in a coma. And she’s not supposed to be in bright light.”
“My name is not T,” she says. “My name is Allison.”
“Okay, then, Ali. Don’t confuse my daughter, please.”
“I’m turning into a remarkable young lady,” Scottie says.
“Damn straight.” My heart feels like one of Scottie’s clogs clomping down the hall. I don’t know why I became so angry.”
“I see Dr. Johnston at the end of the hall, walking toward us. He stops talking to the other doctors and gestures for me to wait. He holds up his hand: Stop. His face is eager yet unsmiling. I look in the other direction then back at him. His steps quicken, and I squint, for some reason pretending I don’t recognize him. And I think: What if I’m wrong? What if Joanie doesn’t make it out of this?
“Scottie,” I say. “This way.”
I walk in the other direction, away from Dr. Johnston, and she turns and follows me.
“Walk quickly,” I tell her.
“It’s a game. Let’s race. Walk fast. Run.”She takes off, her backpack jiggling on her back, and I follow her, walking quickly then breaking into a slow jog, and because Dr. Johnston is my friend’s dad and was a friend of my father’s, I feel like I’m fourteen again, running from the patriarchs.”
“I had to ask Scottie what TYVM meant, because now that I’ve narrowed into her activities, I notice she is constantly text-messaging her friends, or at least I hope it’s her friends and not some perv in a bathrobe.
“Thank you very much,” Scottie said, and for some reason, the fact that I didn’t get this made me feel completely besieged. It’s crazy how much fathers are supposed to know these days. I come from the school of thought where a dad’s absence is something to be counted on. Now I see all the men with camouflage diaper bags and babies hanging from their chests like little ship figureheads. When I was a young dad, I remember the girls sort of bothered me as babies, the way everyone raced around to accommodate them. The sight of Alex in her stroller would irritate me at times—she’d hang one of her toddler legs over the rim of the safety bar and slouch down in the seat. Joanie would bring her something and she’d shake her head, then Joanie would try again and again until an offering happened to work and Alex would snatch it from her hands. I’d look at Alex, finally complacent with her snack, convinced there was a grown person in there, fooling us all. Scottie would just point to things and grunt or scream. It felt like I was living with royalty. I told Joanie I’d wait until they were older to really get into them, and they grew and grew behind my back.”
“We get in and I start the car. “Are you going to be good to Lani?” I ask. I think of Tommy Cook, a pale boy with psoriasis; we used to tie him to a chair with bungee cords and put him in the middle of the road, then hide. Few cars would actually come down Rainbow Drive, but when they did, it always surprised me that the drivers would slow their vehicles and swerve around the chair. None of them ever got out of their cars to help Tommy; it was as though they were in on the prank. I don’t know how Tommy managed to let us catch him more than once. Maybe he liked the attention.
“I’ll try,” Scottie says. “But it’s hard. She has this face that you just want to hit.”
“I know what you mean,” I say, thinking of Tommy, but realize I’m not supposed to empathize. “What does that mean?” I ask. “The kind of face that you want to hit. Where did you get that?” Sometimes I wonder if Scottie knows what she’s saying or if it’s something she recites, like those kids who memorize the Declaration of Independence.
“It’s something Mom said about Danielle.”
“I see.” Joanie has carried her juvenile meanness into her adult life. She sends unflattering pictures of her ex-friends to the Advertiser to put in their society pages. She always has some sort of drama in her life, some friend I’m not supposed to speak to or invite to our barbecues, and then I hear her on the phone gossiping about the latest scandal in an outraged and thrilled voice. “You are going to die,” I’ll hear her say. “Oh my God, you will just die.”
Is this where Scottie gets it? By watching her mother use cruelty as a source of entertainment? I feel almost proud that I have made these deductions without the blogs and without Esther, and I’m eager to tell Joanie about all of this, to prove that I was capable without her.”
“The seat belt irked his father more than Uncle Colin's not eating meat, because, though his father never said it, Larry knew he considered seat belts cowardly.”
“My feelings are all over the place. Can you be bipolar in love?”
“You always think everything is so easy," Royce replied, wiping his eyes.
"I'm just a glass-half-full kinda guy. How's your glass looking these days?"
"I have no idea. I'm still trying to get over the sheer size of it.”
“No creo en los fantasmas, pero esta mujer tiene el aspecto de un fantasma, se mueve como un fantasma y habla como un fantasma, así que podemos estar de acuerdo en que hay fantasmas, aunque yo no crea en ellos”
“I'd struggled to supply the needs I didn't have the strength to provide, to give him hope when I had none, to give him joy when I had little to share. All I'd have to give him was my love.”
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