When I turned eight, my mother drove me eighty miles in order to meet her “special friend.” Even at this young age with not many life experiences to call my own and not a single mature bone in my body, I had a knot in my stomach. Perhaps it was due to the fact she put on makeup and styled her hair that morning or her seemingly urgent need for me to like this guy whom we were on our way to meet. In our brown Vega station wagon, we pulled into a gravel alley separating a two-story lemon yellow house, which I now know was acidic foreshadowing, from a smaller white house. Walking to the back door of the larger home instead of the front which I remember as odd, we approached a postage-sized backyard. Walking up the steep stairs onto the covered back stoop, my mom rang the doorbell. Lifting the shade hanging from the small window on the door, a man with greased hair and a wide nose peered out; to me, he looked like the dad on The Sound of Music. After what seemed like a long time to open a door (there were many locks to manipulate), he ushered us into a tiny mustard yellow kitchen with stained carpeting on the floor. The room was dark due to the blinds being pulled shut and the smell was musty mixed with an overwhelming whiff of men's cologne, Old Spice which I would come to loathe to this day.
Instead of taken to a family room with a television, we sat at a metal table pushed in front of a row of cabinets and sat. I am sure I was given a liquid to drink, but I cannot recall if it was lemonade or generic soda, not the Coca Cola kept stocked in our refrigerator at home for my dad. We sat at the table for what seemed like hours. I stared at this man wearing a button up shirt (which I would later come to know as his Sunday shirt), dark blue pants, and enormous black tie shoes. Bored with the conversation and creeped out by the smelly house, I was probably fidgeting. My mother finally said, “Why don't you go in the back and play?” Thinking to myself, “Where? With what?” I did as I was told. Ending up looking for worms hidden near a small retaining wall below a privacy fence, I anxiously awaited our departure. Finally, after much waiting, the back door opened, and my mother emerged flushed telling me to tell this man goodbye.
Anger grew into blind rage as soon as I sat down on the vinyl front seat and heard the words no child ever wants to hear, “I love this man, and I am going to move here and be with him.” Holding my pillow up as a barrier for the entirety of the trip so that I would not have to see her, hot water streamed down my cheeks as I screamed, “What about Dad?” The stretch of 55 which took us home continued with more of the same- my tearful shouted questions with her repeated answer, “I love him.” After what seemed like hours, we finally arrived home, what I knew as home- my dad, my sister, and my dog. Our parents sat us down in our family room, explained how much they loved us, and then asked us each the question, “Which parent do you want to live with?” prefaced with the fact they would both love us no matter which parent we chose. Without hesitation, I piped up with, “Mom!” even though she had just turned my world upside down. My sister chose my father.
So, with three months left of third grade, my mother pulled me out of school and moved me into this dark house with the man who smelled of too much aftershave. There was no more riding my bike since this house sat on a fairly busy street close to the road. In fact, my bike remained at my dad's house. I was not allowed to play with the kids who lived next door because there was something wrong with them according to the man and my mom, but I cannot recall what it was now. I do remember looking at those kids longingly from the front porch because they had a lot of toys outside and were always running and yelling with laughter. I spent a lot of time at the smaller white house across the alley. A woman with a shriveled arm had a small child named Jared with whom I spent many hours playing, talking, and eating tuna casserole while my mom and this man sat around the metal kitchen table smoking cigarettes and pipes respectively.
One day while the man was at work at the post office sorting mail, my mother bought a flat of marigolds and planted them in a small barren bed along the side of the yellow house. This was the first semblance of the mother I grew up knowing, not this other woman now with this stranger of a man. Her hands were dirty from digging in the dirt, and she was satisfied with her work. In my mind, she looked forward with much anticipation to the man's reaction the following day when he came home from his night shift.
Apparently after measuring the distance between each marigold with a ruler, the man dressed in his Friday shirt determined my mother had not planted the yellow flowers equidistant from each other, so he dug each and every one of them up and replanted them to his gratification and to my mother's distress. I was sent by my mother over to the white house where I spent the remainder of the day and most of the evening. While living in that yellow house, my mother never dug in the soil again, but that man planted marigolds year after year.