“George is moving in with us tomorrow,” Mom declares, bursting into my room without knocking after returning from her first solo counseling session.
Mom has been seeing this guy George steadily for six months now but I’ve steadily been seeing right through him, trusting that one day Mom would see through him, too.
And break up with him.
It’s not because I still want my Mom and Dad to get back together, either. Believe me I’ve long since given up on that ever happening.
“Toni, did you hear what I said?”
Mom twists around towards my sister Toni’s room, putting her earrings on as she talks. I follow behind Mom, duck past her through Toni’s doorway, and tuck my body in tight at the corner of Toni’s bed ready to join forces with her if need be. My sister is evidently too absorbed in her teen magazine to react to my presence.
“Great. My life’s already miserable. Why not invite George into the mess.” Toni pipes up without looking up, appearing to be making progress on reading her magazine. She hates George too.
“It’s best that you learn about how to cope early in life. It can only help you later on.” Mom says for the umpteen millionth time. “And give me that magazine.”
Toni and I exchange looks of disgust.
I try to remember what my school janitor Frank said about every person being important in their own way. Maybe Mom’s boyfriend will fit in to our house just fine. I get a light feeling when I think of that janitor Frank’s kindness and optimism. He taught me to see the best in people — to give them the benefit of the doubt. Who knows, George might even lighten Mom up a little.
“Scram!” Mom makes a sweeping motion with her hands in the direction of our rooms when George’s black convertible mustang glides into our driveway, rumbling loud. “Let George settle in for a few minutes before you come out for dinner.”
Toni, Grandma and me know by now that when Mom issues an order, you dive into action or else.
Grandma makes a run for her room first, scuttling away as fast as she can. I’ve never seen her move that fast before. Her sagging pantyhose ultimately slows her down though, allowing me and Toni to catch up to her.
The three of us quickly collide shoulder to shoulder, forming a clog in the narrowest artery of the hallway, all vying for escape from Mom, who’s now walking up behind us clapping her hands together, prodding us along.
“C’mon, Go, Go, Go!”
Grandma’s squared heels drag against the green shag carpet enough to make friction, shocking me every time I come in contact with her electrically charged dress.
I’m fourteen now, still the smallest, so the first to break free from the three person clog and arrive in the safe zone, my bedroom. Toni scrambles into my room behind me, old army buddies. We lie side my side on our stomachs on my bed like old times.
But Toni and I can’t sit still for long. We have to keep busy nowadays. There’s too much to do to always be lounging around. Everybody knows that you’re wasting your life if you’re not making the best of your time, working hard, getting things accomplished.
“Let’s rearrange your room.” Toni is always full of bright ideas to pass the time. “We can hide your trash can here and move the bed this way so you can face the window…”
With a great whomp, George flops his suitcase down on the living room floor.
“Hi George,” I call out a greeting as loud as I can from my bedroom way down the hall. I think it’s important to say “hi” and “how are you” make a person feel welcomed. After all, it must be hard to be moving into a strange house.
But George doesn’t answer me. And I know he heard me because I can hear him say, “How about a nice glass of Coke?” to Mom. And I can also hear Mom jumping to it, clinking ice in a glass and hssssssssssssst, opening a hissing soda bottle.
“Girls, Mother, can you come out here?” Mom calls the three of us from our rooms sooner than expected. “I want to give you a new tour of the house,” she says once we’ve gathered in our shrinking living room. “There will be a few changes since George is the man of the house now.”
Smiling to George, she nods in his direction. “See this half of the couch? It’s now George’s seat. You should never sit in it, even when he’s not home.” Mom produces the news with a hand on her hip, and a finger in the air.
Then with a strange sounding grunt that seems odd even to Mom, George sits down to demonstrate how he will be occupying his new spot on the couch. He kicks both his shoes off, sending them flying in the direction of our feet.
Even though I’ve known George for six whole months, I had no idea that all this time he’s been hiding a whole garbage dump under each sock. George’s stocking feet project a funk so toxic into the air that the furniture around it could very well disintegrate. You’d think a person would be begging for forgiveness for emitting such a smell, especially right before dinner. But George seems almost proud of his rankness, happily heaving his smelly feet up on our side of the couch with no self-consciousness whatsoever.
With no place to sit, Grandma, Toni and I stay standing in limbo, wanting to hold our noses, hoping Mom will quickly tell us what to do next.
“Dinner’s ready! C’mon George.”
George waddles in his low hung oil-stained mechanics uniform, past the three of us, toward Mom’s delicate white padded antique chair that’s strangely situated at the head of our dinner table. I know the value of that chair better than anyone. Mom shelled out two hundred and fifty dollars for it two years ago when she knew full well I needed new shoes.
“Wait, you can’t sit there,” I warn, distinctly remembering the lady at the antique store saying it was for looks only.
“That chair,” I address George with uncharacteristic frankness “is not made for sitting. Ask Mom.” Mom has never even let herself sit in that chair.
Ignoring my warning, George lands down hard on the delicate white chair like he’s just hopped on a horse saddle. Even Toni and I have good enough manners to know you don’t mount an expensive antique chair like it’s a horse, especially when everyone else around you has to sit in old rickety chairs with wobbly legs.
“Mom!” I yell, telling on George. I think I deserve to have that chair more than George does, because I would treat it so delicately it would last forever like antiques should.
“Jenna go sit down.” Mom’s tone is agitated. Her patience is getting short.
I guess I should be happy for the wobbly chair I have to sit in now. It’s at least one step up from where I sat all through elementary school.
“Why are you sitting in a high chair?” I’ll never forget how Theresa Boggs silenced everyone at my tenth birthday party with her direct question. Back then I was the new kid in school. And my twelve closest classmates were waiting for my answer. So naturally I did the only thing I could do. I jumped up out of the chair like I wasn’t sitting in it.
“I don’t know,” I said touching the back of my neck with my right hand, crossing my legs together. Up until that day, I thought every ten year old kid sat in a high chair at home. I thought it was an honor to be so small that you still fit in your original high chair. Mom said so.
Part 2 | (Part 3)