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Where Do I Start?
I’m sitting alone in my apartment with a big glass of vodka next to me. I’ve filled it three times so far, and it’s only 4 p.m. Whatever, it’s Sunday.
I’m trying to figure out how to start this book. I’ve ended it, but I haven’t started it. That’s how I do a lot of things. I get to the end of a meal much faster than I should, like I’ve been given the last hamburger on earth and someone is about to rob me. I walk like I’m being chased. I tend to fuck first and ask questions later.
I’m thirty-six years old, but I don’t feel like it. Some days I feel like I’m twenty-one, some days I feel like I’m pushing sixty. I work really hard, and because of that I believe I should be able to play really hard. It’s not easy to find a guy who can handle that. It’s also not easy to find a guy who doesn’t mind that at one point in my life, I slept with somebody named “Paul’s friend.”
To the naked eye, I’m completely responsible. I pay my bills not only on time, but early. I return emails and phone calls in a prompt manner. I won’t go near an egg that is one second past its expiration date. I’ve always known what I want to do with my life professionally. But if you ask me what I want in my personal life, forget it.
I always wanted to get married, until it looked like someone might want to marry me. I was sure I didn’t want kids, then for a couple of months I wanted kids, then a couple of months later I thought kids were horrible. I loved someone so much that I broke up with him because I didn’t want to get hurt. Then when he proved he loved me back, I broke up with him again. I’m a fucking mess, but so are you. Most of us are. I don’t just mean women. Men are a mess, too. We’re all in this together.
We all have two very different personalities living inside us and sometimes those people are at war with each other. It’s confusing to see what two completely different paths can offer you. My mom showed me that if you lived close to your family, you always had a birthday party. You also always had a big Thanksgiving dinner, a big Christmas, an Easter egg hunt. Maybe those events became annoying, but you always knew you could rely on them. And you always had each other.
My dad showed me that if you went off on your own, you could have the career that you always wanted. Your family might change with each marriage and you might have to move around, feel alone for a while, and make new friends, but you’d always be climbing the ladder. Plus you could go on really nice vacations and stay in hotels with nice comfy robes that could be yours for the reasonable price of eighty-nine dollars.
I’m somewhere in the middle. I want both. Or I want it all. Or I only want part of both. I don’t know. I just know that you don’t always end up happy with what you thought would make you happy. You’ve probably been there a time or two yourself. You can’t always want what you get.
How Many Polacks Does It Take to Ruin a Marriage?
At the time of my parents’ divorce, I was five years old and we were all living in Dallas. Lori came into our lives soon after. My mom’s family was in Arkansas; she went there to look for a place for us to live so that she’d have a support system now that she was going to be a single mom. While she was gone, Lori stayed at our house in Dallas. She didn’t seem to have many housekeeping skills, so I knew she wasn’t a maid. Dad also suggested we didn’t mention the amount of time Lori spent at our house to Mom, so I knew she wasn’t a friendly gal pal. It all seemed to tie together to the time that Mom locked the dead bolt on the front door and then broke a broomstick in half and shoved it into the track of our back sliding-glass door. It was pretty late, so I asked her if she was scared that someone was going to break in. She just smiled and told me to go to bed. I woke up later when my dad tried to climb through a window and didn’t fit. The next day, when I asked Dad why he got home after midnight he told me that he had worked late with Lori. This woman was around at really inconvenient times.
My older sister, Jennifer, and I were flower girls in Dad and Lori’s wedding. Neither of us was too pumped up about the event, but we showed up and did our jobs. I didn’t like weddings to begin with. I found them long and boring and it cut into the time I would normally spend playing “Charlie’s Angels” with my sister. She was brunette, so she played Jaclyn Smith’s character. I was awesome, so I played Cheryl Ladd’s. The third Angel we just pretended was on vacation, because nobody we lived near wanted to be Kate Jackson. We had water guns and a telephone that didn’t work so that we could report to “Charlie.” Since we didn’t have a brother, we considered ourselves very lucky that on the show nobody ever saw Charlie.
This wedding in particular really had me in a foul mood. I didn’t like my new stepmom. She was annoying and made me eat some sort of salmon dish with the skin around it while she said things like “one day your mom and I will be the best of friends.” I’d stare at her, try to count in my head all of the times my mom had called her a slut, spit my dinner into a napkin, and vow to hate her forever. She was also Polish, which made for lots of fun Polack jokes for Jennifer and me. Dad didn’t find them amusing.
I tried to display my distaste for their union. I refused to eat cake at the reception, which at six was my way of saying “fuck you.” The whole thing took place in my old backyard, where I used to live with my family in Dallas. Now it was my dad’s house with a new woman who sucked and had a jacked-up nose. Lori made Jennifer and me wear brown floral skirts that went past our knees and off-white shirts that buttoned so high up the neck I thought I was going to choke to death. I went to my old room right after they exchanged vows, and on the way I mentioned to a dozen people that Lori’s nostrils were a lot bigger than my mom’s.
“If you’d like to see a photo comparison, I have one ready,” I told one of my dad’s co-workers. Nobody bit on the offer. Just as well, I needed to get to sleep. I was going back to Arkansas the next day and I needed all of my energy for wowing the flight attendants with my wit. “What has four legs and won’t live longer than two years?” I’d ask them. One woman would guess a hamster; the other would be so stumped she wouldn’t even have a guess. I’d smile proudly and deliver the punch line perfectly: “My dad’s new marriage!”
I was hilarious. I made my first mental note to myself to become a comedian when I grew up.
By the way, their marriage lasted about two years. The day Dad asked me, “How do you get a one-armed Polack out of a tree?” I knew it was over.
When they separated, Lori sent letters to my sister and me asking if we could stay in touch and still be friends. I guess she didn’t realize we weren’t friends when she and Dad were married. I thought I had made it obvious that I never liked her. I made a mental note to make that more clear to people in the future.
While it only took my dad a handful of months to remarry, my mom was not interested in dating. She was a single mom living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was too busy working and raising us to care about finding a man. She probably also hated men for a while, but I wasn’t old enough to figure that out yet.