Normally I could get away for just a second in the bathroom. I could be independent, grown, the woman of the house again. I didn’t even exhale yet and she was already banging on the door.
“Heather, are you in there smoking?” her voice boomed.
My mom’s hair was frosted and feathered, cut short. Her tan looked like the crispy side of a cookie, and she was the type who is always right.
Some days I would sit staring at myself in the full-length mirror wondering what was so wrong with me. I could hear her voice in my head: “Fat rolls look better tan.” As if her calling me “biggums” didn’t attack my body image enough.
“You need to drink more water and your face wouldn’t break out!” Puberty apparently had nothing to do with it.
“You need to cut your ends!” she would bark anytime my hair was down. I had inherited dark, long locks from my dad.
“If you would quit sneaking and smoking, your teeth would be white!”
I didn’t consider my mom any type of woman I wanted to be. She certainly wasn’t the perfect picture I had painted of her while she was gone. She was short and had a zest to her that would eventually turn sour and bitter.
She was good at feeding my insecurities. I couldn’t like myself; she wouldn’t allow it. I tried to figure out what I thought it meant to be a woman in all the wrong ways. I experimented with my sexuality. I manipulated people around me like a siren. I ended up dating a seventeen year-old fresh from juvie named Shawn. He wore baggy camo shorts and flicked his tongue when he talked. We sat at his mom’s house smoking weed and listening to Gucci Mane and Bone Thugs in Harmony. We drank cheap half gallons of Vladimir vodka with Juicy Juice till we puked.
His mom brought us home KFC, which is where she worked when we were munching. If it wasn’t for KFC, Shawn would have never eaten. Their kitchen literally had nothing in it but mice and cat poop. His mom liked me, she didn’t like most people who came over. Shawn ran the house. She was passive and stayed in her room playing “Jewel Quest” on her Rent-A-Center computer. I think she thought I could save him. But I couldn’t even save myself.
My mom hated Shawn, and that made me love him even more. She gave up when I started wearing thong underwear. I wouldn’t quit sneaking out and skipping school, and she had enough of my antics. So back to my dad’s house I went.
Shawn and I first had sex in the bathroom there. It had been redone and was painted blue with white trim. I had gotten everything rubber ducky-themed that Walmart had to offer; yellow ducks were printed on the shower curtains, towels, and toothbrush holder. My dad, like always, was out gambling. Lots of people were there rooting us on. As experienced as I tried to portray myself, I was terrified. My heart was beating fast. He sat on the toilet and pulled me into his lap and lifted my jean skirt. I pretended it didn’t hurt. I pretended to know what a woman should do.
“‘You ready?” my dad yelled up the stairs.
“No, daddy, I’m not!” I yelled back down the stairs. To this day I still call him daddy rather than dad, and I draw out the y. I heard him cackle, and I knew he was rubbing his head.
Over the last nine months he had asked me that question about a million times. He was driving me crazy. At that very moment I knew the baby was not ready to come. I was scheduled to be induced at 6 am the next morning. That’s when the baby in my belly would come. I was fourteen and scared shitless. I only showed him my strong face.
My dad had cabin fever from being cooped up in the house every night for the last month. He loved to gamble and was a regular at the casino. In between his casino visits he spent a lot of time at the local city perk, a shabby gambling hole in our small town. He was there so much he should have had his own parking spot. He even hit so big at one little spot that he put them out of business. The little girl growing inside me had put a damper on his midnight trips to the machines. He was too scared to leave me at home alone.
I had to reassure him about ten times and promise I would call if I felt anything. We showed him how to use the flip phone. Flip it open when it rings, flip it closed to hang up. My Aunt Tammy had been staying at our house for the last few months. She had helped me through my pregnancy. My mom popped up here and there, but it was my Aunt Tammy’s soft soul who helped me through it. She had her own demons, but as long as she helped me, my dad let her stay with us in the extra room.
I called the cell phone a couple times from the house phone so he could practice answering. The ringtone was an obnoxiously loud tone that couldn’t be missed. He was excited to hit the machines that night even if he wouldn’t admit that it had been awhile. We figured he was in the clear till morning.