The Boozy Floozy – A Memoir Essay

Her nickname was Bunny but, she was neither soft nor fuzzy. In fact, she was missing any of the traits one might associate with a meek woodland creature. Unless, of course, bunnies smoked Marlboro reds and drank like fish. In which case, then her nickname was spot-on. If bunnies screamed hateful things at little girls and attempted to beat teenage boys with two-by-fours, then sure…she was a bunny.

I privately named her Boozy Floozy or simply, “her.” Sometimes, I even referred to her as “It.” As in, Here It comes, better disappear before It attacks.

Bunny was really only called Bunny during the moments when Happy Hour was still happy, that fleeting bit of time when she and my father neared the end of their first drink and their faces bloomed with smiles, their eyes brightened and everyone became funny. Even Bunny. But happy hour could turn ugly fast.

She hated me. She told me so once with her hand wrapped around my neck while she pressed me against the wall. Bunny leaned in so close that our noses nearly touched. Her mouth was surrounded in tiny creases and fine blonde hairs. The mole above her lip moved as she breathed booze-scented hate into my face through gritted teeth. She was baiting me. Waiting for me to push back, talk back or cry. I refused to give her what she wanted. I was smarter than her. Mostly because I wasn’t drunk.

Bunny wore shiny polyester shirts and colored her short shagged hair an unnatural shade of dark brown that faded into a brassy dull yellow. She spoke with cigarettes dangling from her lip, squinting through the ribbon of white smoke that moved past her eyes. The effect of that habit, paired with her use of profanity and clipped movements, gave Bunny a masculine air.

My hatred for her was just as big, but I was smarter than she was. I was quiet about my revenge. Once, I stood at the refrigerator lazily searching the contents for food a kid might like to eat. How long did it usually take her to get annoyed by this act? When she jumped up from her chair and began to lunge across the kitchen, I held out a jar of her pickled eggs.

“Want an egg?” I asked, “I’m not sure I’d like them.”

She eyed me suspiciously then pulled on a dry smile. “Haven’t you ever had a pickled egg?”

“No. My mother doesn’t make them.”

She turned her back to me and placed the jar on the counter, and I enjoyed watching her reach in and pluck a slippery egg from the juice. I watched her raise the egg to her mouth as she turned to face me again. She took a hearty bite, removing the top half of the egg and while she chewed, I watched her mole move up and down.

“So, what are they pickled in?” I asked.

“Vinegar and garlic,” she answered as she swallowed, “You have to let them sit for a month. I just opened this jar.”

“I like vinegar.”

“Are you going to eat one or not?” she was becoming impatient with my indecision.

“No, thank you.”

There was no way I was going to eat one of those eggs after I peed in the jar.

Bunny had a violent streak. She once locked my brother out of the house when he didn’t come home by 11:00 and, when he went into the barn to sleep in his car, Bunny attacked him in the dark with a 2×4, aiming for his head. Bunny was dangerous and mean and anything might have set her off.

One day I locked her in the pantry after she ranted about something like, I’d let the cat inside or I’d dipped a celery stalk in the mayonnaise after refusing to eat the liver and onions she cooked for dinner. She mostly ranted because my presence infuriated her. She ranted because it was nearing the hour that she’d pour herself the day’s first drink. She ranted because I was my father’s daughter.

I don’t remember now what it was that she drank, I just know that her violence gave birth to my own. Her hate fed my hate. I feared her and I wanted her dead. Or I wanted to die.

I moved in with my father in November, 1981, just hours after I’d run away and hid in a drainage pipe than ran under the Northway. As the day grew cooler and the late-autumn sun grew faint, I was forced out of hiding. I sat in the same room with my mother and father, a rare occurrence, and informed my mother that I hated her. An hour later I was in the passenger seat of my father’s State Police car with all of my worldly belongings. I chose him in the hope of finding a place where I fit or to recapture that beautiful solitary innocence that I had enjoyed on our farm. It didn’t take long to realize that Bunny had stolen all hope.

Now, Bunny stalked into the pantry with her cigarette dangling from her lips and began shuffling the mushy canned vegetables that she’d force me to eat at dinner. Suddenly, the thought of her taking pleasure in making me eat something that was purposely inedible, enraged me. Her back was turned when I shut the door and turned the lock. Nearly in unison, the lock moved into place with a loud click and Bunny quickly turned. Through the glass and a veil of smoke, she glared at me with narrowed eyes. “You’d better open that fucking door,” she spat.

My response was stony silence. Now that I’d turned that lock, I was forced to commit to my bad choice. She’d kill me if I let her out.

The cigarette was back between the fingers of her right hand and she used it to punctuate the jabbing motions she made while she growled, “Open…the…fucking…door.” Her eyes fixed on mine like an animal assessing its prey. Her upper lip began to quiver, causing the ugly mole that lived there to dance. I knew that I risked her punching through the glass to get out. She was crazy enough to throw her fist through a window in order to get me and it was a chance I was willing take for the sake of my own hatred. Knowing my chances for survival were better if she couldn’t see me, I slowly backed out of the kitchen. I returned her fury-filled stare with my own wordless challenge. If she escaped before my father returned home, she would do something to harm me. Suddenly, I realized my gamble was foolish since sometimes, my father didn’t come home at all.

The heel of my right foot met the threshold of the kitchen doorway and slowly, I closed the door on her rage-filled stare. I’d vowed I wouldn’t show fear in her presence but, when the silence was broken by the sharp click of another door closing, I jumped. Her spell was broken. I whirled and ran through the woodshed into the yard. Without slowing, I ran into the tall grass of the field and didn’t look back. I didn’t want to know if she was watching me. For hours I wandered the woods behind my father’s new house, waiting for the sun to dip low enough in the sky to tell me that he might be home.

It seemed running had become my most effective method of escape. I ran, hoping to block it all out and outrun Bunny. I was still holding out hope for a magical doorway to appear and some beautiful, loving creature to invite me to the other side. On the day that I locked that evil woman in the pantry, my innocence was waning. In less than one year my life had irrevocably changed. I’d come to understand that the people who were my parents were not the people I thought they were.

If you could have peered into the house on Coon Hill Road, you might have seen her sitting alone. A girl with long brown hair, too thin and serious and always holding a book in her lap. She had lived most of her short life that way, trying to feed her insatiable curiosity with words. The things she knew weren’t taught to her by her family, but by the characters in the books she read. She was surviving. If she thought too hard about the number of years she had to endure before she’d be able to leave, she cried. She didn’t know where she would go.

The Good, The Bad & The Boozy

I possess the ability to cry on demand. Don’t judge me, this is a skill that comes in very handy when you’re three weeks shy of the first day of school.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it really isn’t at all difficult to summon tears after you have spent precisely 54 days in the presence of your children. Sadly, the 54th day was rainy, damp and dreary – moist (I despise that word). It sure is easy to burst into tears when you’ve forgotten to give your oldest kid his ADHD medication. That was my first mistake. My second idiotic move was taking two loud little girls and one hyperactive freak show to the grocery store.

In the produce section he bench pressed a massive watermelon. Then he fondled the kiwi fruit while hollering for Gwen to come feel how “squishy and prickly” they were.

In the bakery, he poked holes in a whoopie pie wrapper. By the time I discovered his crime, he was already bent down and sticking his tongue through the holes, stealing tiny licks of the creamy filling. Besides being mortified, I was livid. I wanted to pick that whoopie pie up and chuck it at his little head, but in his state of unmedicated madness, he would have loved that. In fact, he would have hurled one back in that spastic I-have-no-athletic-ability-whatsoever way of his. Then his maniacal cackle would have echoed throughout the store. I’m fairly sure that the manager would have quietly escorted us from the premises.

In the pasta aisle which, for some odd reason, shares space with the booze, he hoisted up a bottle of coffee-flavored brandy and loudly declared, “Hey Mom! This is coffee-flavored liquor! I’ll bet you’d like it since you like coffee…and liquor!”

He struggled to walk toward me, embracing a gallon-sized jug of coffee-flavored booze and smiling helpfully. The other mother in the aisle, the one who had clearly showered and who was wearing a cute little hat, gave us a wide berth and hefty dose of side-eye mixed with a sneer. Of course, I immediately thought, Suck it, Honey…you have one kid who doesn’t even talk yet. And then I thought, Game on, bitch!

“Thank you, Joe! I do love coffee and booze, but not necessarily in that order.” Then I flashed Ms. I Wear Wool Hats in August a toothy grin as we passed. She wasn’t amused but I was.

 

In the meat department, Joe poked Gwen in the arm with a wooden skewer and pulled her onto the floor. Seconds after I broke that tussle up, he began repeatedly spanking a large pork roast. An old lady stopped her cart to blatantly stare at my children and then began to chuckle. I noticed her noticing us and my first inner-conversation went like this…Yeah, it’s a fucking hoot, huh lady? Then, I realized that it actually was pretty funny. Despite the humor, I truly hate grocery stores and taking three little kids to the grocery store is not conducive to a quick shop. So, to make a long story slightly less long… I didn’t really want to cry, but I played that card anyway. “Seriously guys…I’m going to cry.”

They stopped slapping the pork and stared at me. Our eyes met and the music to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly began playing in the background… okay, not really. I made that last bit up…  Silence fell upon us as we stared one another down. I summoned enough tears to make my eyes watery. Their silence lasted approximately 5.2 seconds.

By the time we hit the snack aisle,  I worried that real tears were imminent. Wisely, instead of stifling the urge to cry, I used those tears. That’s right. I filled each eye with tiny pools of sorrow then turned to face my children, “Seriously?”

“Wanna a watte, Mama?” Kate asked. Her big blue eyes were full of sympathy but, her hopeful suggestion that maybe a latte would make me feel better kind of came out of left field. It also made no sense. I’ll be honest, I was thankful that she didn’t loudly suggest drowning my sorrows in liquor. Mostly because Joe likes to be the one who doles out that kind of advice.

On our way to the cash registers, we took a spin back through the booze aisle so I could return the coffee-flavored brandy to its shelf and grab a bottle of Skinnygirl margaritas instead. Because I like coffee. And wine. And margaritas. Olé!
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Floradora: A Drink and a Bit of History

Last week, my friend Valerie from New Hampshire was in Portland to see the Avett Brothers, and while she was here she turned me on to the Floradora, possibly the most refreshing and summer patio-worthy drink ever.

 

Valerie arrived on the day that Kate had gone missing and possibly eaten by a rabid monster fox and, right around the time that she was pulling into the driveway, I was realizing that I have just three weeks to complete all the work for my residency. Needless to say, I was slightly ‘off’. Yet, when Valerie whipped up those Floradoras the world was made right again. Okay, not really. I just thought it tasted super delicious and kind of enjoyed the fact that I was drinking a cocktail while my children were parked in front of the television in the family room. What the hell…very Peg Bundy of me, wasn’t it?

So harried mommies, friends and countrymen, I will now share the Floradora recipe with you. Drink one and your mouth will feel happy*

Ingredients

1 1/2 parts gin

1/2 part fresh lime juice

1/2 part raspberry syrup

spicy ginger beer

a lime wheel

2 raspberries

Preparation

pour gin followed by lime juice and raspberry syrup into an ice-filled highball glass. Now top with ginger beer and garnish with a lime wheel and two raspberries.

*David, who bartended his way through college, mid-20’s and law school, felt compelled to warn me that gin has a tendency to cause a ‘Mean Drunk’. Consider yourself warned and maybe limit your Floradora consumption to avoid punching your best friend in the face and/or picking a fight with that obnoxious mommy who constantly tries to sell you Mary Kay products despite your increasingly rude brush-offs.

http://www.musicals101.com/News/floropgm.jpg

Did you know that the Floradora is an ancient cocktail named after the first stage production ever? I’ll bet you didn’t…because that’s a complete lie. The Floradora was named for the first Broadway musical hit that opened in New York in 1901, having originated in London in 1899.  The musical was wildly popular and the beautiful girls of the ‘Floradora Sextette’ were the stars of the time. However, it was Evelyn Nesbit who became the reigning queen and spawned the “Gibson Girl” hairstyle after modeling for artist Charles Gibson’s famous drawing, “The Eternal Question.” Look at that…even before Jennifer Aniston and Farrah Fawcett, women were coveting the hairstyles of the superstars. Evelyn was also at the heart of one of America’s first sex scandals. It involved a love triangle, a shooting and sexual escapades on a swing. Following a very public trial, Evelyn became know as “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing”.

Evelyn Nesbit via http://gotham.fromthesquare.org/?p=283

Look at that, a delicious cocktail recipe and a history lesson all wrapped up into one tidy little post. Cheers!

Gotham Lost & Found, http://gotham.fromthesquare.org/?p=283, by David Freeland was a great read and resource about Evelyn Nesbit.

I Remember the Dancing Dust – A Writing Prompt

This week’s memoir prompt asked you to dig deep to find what, from your childhood, you still know from heart.

I still remember all those rhymes you did while slapping hands with a friend, like Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack all dressed in black black black.

What do YOU remember? 600 word limit

The parking lot’s gravel crunched beneath my feet as I followed my father toward the door. The mid-day sun threw a glare off the rear windows of the handful of cars parked outside the quiet building. I wondered why this place was always our secret. He’d slapped my knee in the car and given it a light, tickling squeeze. “Remember…don’t tell mommy that we came here, K-Belle.” he instructed. Why wasn’t I supposed to tell Mommy? Through the screen of trees I could hear the cars on Route 6, but we were hidden from view in the parking lot of this dead end road, cloaked by the trees that seemed eager to help keep our secret. I would do anything for him, anything to stay with him forever even if it meant lying to my mother.

He pulled the door open onto a darkened room. From the outside, I could vaguely make out the tables and empty red vinyl chairs. The familiar smell of stale cigarette smoke and beer wafting into the daylight reminded me that this was a tavern. My sneakered foot crossed over the threshold and entered the cool, darkened cave of a room. To the right I saw the long bar with its rows of bottles lining the wall. A yellow-haired woman stood behind the bar, tending to a handful of men, each sitting alone and hunched over a glass. I knew who they were. They were the nice old men who suddenly talked to me in the voice of Donald Duck after they’d gone to the bathroom two or three times. Their faces bore silvering whiskers and deeply lined creases. Their good humor seemed forced and unreal. There was nearly always one who would speak to me through reddened eyes full of water. He’d lean in too close, too eager to ask me questions that didn’t make sense and I would wonder why his eyes were so filled with tears that never fell. Was it my fault? Was it my presence that reminded him that he was lonely? Was he sad because his little girl wasn’t sitting at the bar next to him?

Those men bothered me with the way that they waited until my father left for the bathroom to approach me. I’m sure that their intent was to care for the little girl sitting at the bar alone under the temporary care of the barmaid, but they left me unsettled. When I spotted a man who had the potential to become too interested in me, I always chose the barstool on the other side of my father, creating a barrier against men with rheumy eyes. Why was it that I was always the only one who noticed them? Everyone else seemed to look through the watery ghost men.

I knew one of them would keep me rich with maraschino cherries and orange wedges while I sat with my daddy. Sometimes, they’d buy me a Shirley Temple and tip their hats in my direction. I learned to hold my drink up and say thank you, like all the ladies in the bars did. I didn’t want to stand out.

When I was a little girl, I spent a considerable amount of time in bars learning to play pinball and read the words in the jukebox. This piece is an excerpt from the memoir I am working on in my MFA program. It is only a portion of what I so vividly remember.

I Call Bull$hit!

I’m on tear this week. I don’t know what has come over me. I really do enjoy looking at other people’s blogs. I tend to linger over the blogs where moms do crafts with their children. Don’t they all look beautiful? In their photos taken with a DSLR sumpin sumpin, the children are smiling and laughing. They are giddily covered in glue and sparkles. I look at those posts and I beat myself up because I am most definitely not one of those mommies.

Not me

I am occasionally inspired to do something crafty, but far too often my real personality emerges from the depths of my Zoloft-induced calm. It’s all smoke and mirrors, believe me. Glue drips on the floor, Kate eats a handful of sparkles, a glass of milk spills, and someone paints the dog. I tell myself that those perfect, happy mommies would snap photos of these mishaps and make it all look so fun. I have a theory that they do these things so shitty mommies like me can log on and wallow in our shittiness. (Alternatively, maybe I’m just paranoid.) Whatever the case may be, I am not capable of being that mommy. I’ve tried. Sure, I’ve experienced a random Perfect Mommy day every now and again, but mostly those days are elusive for people like me. I don’t want craft paint on my freshly painted walls. I don’t want to have to give the dog an unscheduled bath. I don’t want to wipe Kate’s butt, see the forgotten sparkles in her poo and momentarily panic that she has contracted some kind of rare twinkling shit disease. I… don’t… want…that.

I think I’m coming unhinged. I can’t tell you the last time that David and I were really alone together, or if we were alone, that I didn’t worry that all I had to talk about was the children. I don’t want to be that wife. Lately, I fear that David and I are losing each other as we traverse the perils of parenthood. I am turning into a harpy.

courtesy Google image search

Yesterday I spent the day nursing the mother of all sinus headaches. The kind of headache that makes me press too hard on my right temple and cheek bone to relieve the pain. He came home with medicine and sent me to bed. He played with the children and tucked them in. He’s incredible. We sleep next to each other. He cooks breakfast. I cook dinner. We watch television and talk about the kids, his job and my writing. We go to bed. We are never alone.

Last night, under David’s watch, Kate took her poo-filled diaper off and slid her dirty hiney across the couch. I heard him discovering the skid mark and mentally noted that tomorrow I would need to wash the slipcover. Tomorrow I will do this mothering, housework, grocery shopping ‘thing’ all over again. And again the day after that. I will become more and more unappealing, uninteresting, old, and cynical. I will wash the slipcover, I will blog about it and make it look fun. I will hope that when the dust settles, that my husband and I are still able to make one another laugh those fantastic laughs we used to share.

CREDIT: Lange, Dorothea, photographer. “Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California,” February-March 1936. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-DIG-fsa-8b29516.

I drank a glass of wine and took NyQuil Sinus PM. Within a half hour, my head was deliciously floating somewhere near the ceiling and I thought, Jesus…this is great. I remembered that alcoholism is hereditary. I thought of those stories of mommies who hide their vodka in the laundry room. I remembered bad things and drunken grown-ups who seemed huge, out of control and scary. I went to sleep and dreamed of Florida.

Today I will go to the grocery store and I will do the laundry. I’ll make dinner in my new crockpot and I will accept that it’s okay to feel lost every now and then. I think some of those perfect mommies might feel that way too sometimes, they just don’t write about it.

Hey, if you like No. 7…Thanks! That’s enough. Thanks for reading.

Memories of Snow

I sat in the kitchen window seat with the girls this morning and together, we watched the snow fall. When I suggested that we should go outside to play, Gwen’s nose wrinkled and her eyes narrowed while she pondered the view, “The snow is too fast to go outside.” She adjusted her tacky purple tiara and slid off the window seat to adjust her princess dress, “Maybe later, mommy.” Her plastic high heels clacked on the hardwood floors as she left for the playroom. Kate followed, tripping over Gwen’s cast-off Cinderella gown, leaving me alone with my thoughts and hypnotized by the chaotic rhythm of the falling snow.

The vision outside the window pulled me back in time. When I was a kid, I thought, I played in the falling snow. I opened my mouth wide and caught snowflakes on my tongue. I scrambled to escape the confines of our farmhouse and the female specter inside. I would throw myself into the silence of a storm, walk into the field and let the heavy curtain of falling snow hide me from the world. From that angle, the farmhouse would nearly disappear. Behind a white veil of snow, it’s edges dulled to a softer, more obscure version of itself. That was as close as I could get to stepping away and into another world.

I remember sitting under a maple tree, it held the remnants of a never completed tree house, long ago promised and forgotten. The hiss of falling snow and the sound of wind wrapped themselves around me as I tucked myself into the notch of the tree. I nibbled on a snowball and examined the big white house. Despite the life it held inside, it looked dark and ominous. Was it the ghost or the argument I had witnessed that caused me to flee into the storm?

My father came home the night before and I was happy to see him again. He stood in the kitchen doorway wearing his suit and smiling at me while his blue eyes sparkled. I was startled by my mother who was suddenly slamming cabinets and banging pots a bit too loudly. Her mouth was set in that jaw-clenched position that told me she was angry. I wanted to tell her to stop. Couldn’t she see that he was happy to be home? I was afraid that her anger would drive him away again. They forgot me as she yelled at him. I felt the wind of a thrown object brush against my face and jumped when a pot connected with the wall behind me. Perhaps the years have caused me to place a memory in the wrong spot, but I remember him crossing the yellow and cream linoleum and embracing her. She tried not to laugh and I skipped from the kitchen, happy that they loved each other again.

Of course, he left again the next day. I was always told that his job required time away with the Governor. Some time after he had gone, my mother lunged at the liquor cabinet and jerked the doors open. Her face was stony a mask as she gathered the bottles into her arms. I followed her into the kitchen and watched as she poured the contents of a Johnny Walker bottle into the sink. I knew that he’d be gone for days now and for the first time, realized that the contents of those bottles posed a problem for us all.

Lately, I’ve discovered that I like dirty martinis, but the years haven’t dulled the memories of martinis I hated to see shaken, not stirred. The sound of ice cubes tinkling in a glass still conjures a vision of my father in his favorite chair, a glass of amber colored scotch absently dangling from his right hand. I thought of these things this morning as I watched the snow that was falling too quickly for Gwen to play. I understood that she felt warm, safe and loved here in this house full of life. She didn’t feel the need to escape behind a curtain as I once did. Perhaps because my martinis are an occasional indulgence that I drink with the knowledge of my past still haunting me.

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