Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story is the third in a series about some of the women my dad dated: Sandy II.
My dad doesn’t learn his lesson so Sandy II, like Peggy, is from the internet. She lives upstate, she’s a little older, and also a little cagey about what she does for a living but she says it’s no concern because she has plenty of money. She has never been married or had children. She buys the pre-paid phone cards for my dad to talk to her so it feels a little less like a scam.
She’s awkward on the phone and she makes me feel so overwhelmed by her overabundance of awkwardness that I sublimate it as my own. She seems nice enough so I can’t see what she sees in my father even though I’m not angry at him yet (it’s coming soon but not yet). Right after my 8th birthday we take a road trip to see Sandy II.
I can never tell how long he is “dating” women before I meet them but this time, I’m at least a little excited. Upstate in the fall is beautiful with its impossibly tall trees and the scent of nature wafting through the car window. We drive up at night though, so all we get is its pitch black emptiness and the smell of searing tar-based roadwork for five hours. I lay in the backseat and sigh dramatically whenever I fast forward through a song on my Walkman. I pull at the thin, peeling fabric on the ceiling and wonder if Sandy II is nice.
Out of the city, we hear a “woosh” to our left and a truck passes us, swaying back and forth, zipping right down the middle of the road. “Crazy truck drivers” my dad mutters, slumping himself over the wheel to squint at the truck as it vanishes in the distance. I hear a siren next as a whizzing red-blue light appears behind us and I stare at the dashboard and panic. We are going 90 mph! The speed limit is 70 mph. We’re about to go to jail and I will have to explain to my mother why we are in jail and dead.
My dad slows down but not in a natural way. He goes slamming on the breaks, peeling out, choking down a gasp, and then trying to make our realignment in the road look natural. To our amazement, the cop car whizzes past my fathers panic. We never catch up to the cop or the truck. We drive the rest of way at a crawling 65 mph. We’re two hours late when we arrive and Sandy II is standing there, inconspicuously small at the bottom of a towering mansion held up by six pillars. With her hands on her hips she squints, “It’s 2am, what the hell happened?”.
Everything in her house is white. The outside is white, the floor is white, the doors and ceilings are white and there is even a white gaping maw of a staircase. There are at least two bedrooms on the first floor and there are three more on the second floor, the one on the right is clearly hers. It’s the only truly lived in room. There are clothes hanging from the back of the door, a night stand with books, a desk covered in papers. She walks me to a room on the other side of the stairs instead. It is a guest room with Hello Kitty sheets and a Hello Kitty shaped pillow and a pink tulle canopy hanging over the king sized bed.
It’s for me.
It’s not for other guests. It’s possible it’s never been for other guests and it has only been for me the entire time. As if it were hewn from the house to specifically hold me. She tells me sheepishly that she heard I liked Hello Kitty. I nod mutely because do, but I don’t know if I like this. The mansion is pin drop silent once she closes the door. I lay in the dead center of the too large bed, I switch the tapes in my Walkman, and fall asleep listening to Otis Redding.
In the morning I come down for breakfast and her kitchen is the size of my mothers apartment. And white. She and my dad are chatting and drinking coffee. I want breakfast but instead of normal food, the cabinets are filled with boxes and boxes of oatmeal, cake mixes, and instant bars. There’s nothing in the fridge but milk and alcohol, not even fruit on the counter. For a second I think I just don’t understand rich people but who has 60 boxes of oatmeal? Worse yet, they’re all different flavors of oatmeal.
“I work for Quaker Oats,” she finally tells us as I pull a 12th box of oatmeal from the cabinet in confusion. “Some of these are test products, you can take anything you want”, she laughs under her breath, “we get plenty of samples.” I sort through the various flavors and greedily horde anything that sounds sweet. I want to ask her more questions about the oatmeal but I don’t.
We go to a diner, then a craft fair in the park. When I stare at a pair of earrings too long, she buys it for me. Red hearts carved from stone, $120. I smile, but then she buys me 3 more pairs of earrings that I look at too long. After I try to pointedly avoid looking at earrings, she buys other things I look at too long: A small golden statuette. A stuffed bunny holding a star. Eccentric ceramic dice. When she notices it bothering me she buys them only after I walk away, and then gifts them to me after dinner.
Suddenly I don’t like her.
We go see a movie, she buys me candy, popcorn, drinks, and a special booklet. I am so mad I forget to watch the movie. I stare at her in the theater and I want to go home. Her face is kind and soft with wrinkles that drag around when she smiles. She is very plain, medium height and medium build with off-blond hair cropped just so at her shoulder. Clothing plain enough to fade in a crowd. She and my father laugh at the movie and I turn away from them and thumb at the cover of my Walkman inside my bag.
In the car on the way back to the house I put my headphones on but she talks to me anyway. She is telling me that she’ll miss me when I go home tomorrow. I don’t know why she is saying that, I barely said 20 words to her. I feel bad that I’m so sour, so I smile at her. She turns around from the passengers side of the car when she talks to me, to make sure I know she cares.
The sound is unmistakable between us. The motor of the Walkman stopping, the music garbling, and the nail in the coffin when the play button releases with an audible pop. I feel my blood ice over. I’m out of batteries. They were supposed to last at least the week but I needed them.
I’m unsure why it’s so difficult because this woman has been buying me things all day but it takes considerable effort to say “I need some more batteries before we go back”. It feels sticky in the back of my throat but, what’s one more thing?
She smiles broadly turning around “Why don’t we get you a new Walkman too? That’s such an old model.” She directs my dad to the nearest electronics store while I panic. I don’t want a new Walkman. This one is mine. I love it and it’s pink and it’s mine!
I just nod instead.
She doesn’t buy me a new Walkman. Instead, she buys me a CD player. I don’t own any CDs though, so she buys those too. The only mercy is that she does buy me a 32 pack of batteries, so at least there’s that. The CD player is too big for my hands, too heavy to clip on my belt, too bulky to be hidden in my bag. It skips when I breathe too hard. I smile and pretend I’m grateful and excited. When I go to bed, I switch the batteries into my Walkman and I fall asleep listening to Otis Redding.
After we go home, things are well for a while but eventually my dad breaks up with her after the New Year. A few days later there is a giant box in the living room. “Is it a lamp? Did you tell her we needed a lamp?”. It’s bigger than a lamp. It’s almost bigger than me.
Naturally, it’s not a lamp. It’s a dozen things. Expensive jewelry and clothing for both of us, gift cards, movie theater vouchers, toys, CDs, and tons of food samples. We dump it on the floor and I wonder if we are going to send it back because I know this is a bribe. We don’t send it back. We don’t talk about it or the six more bribery boxes that come. My dad doesn’t call her, at least not in front of me, but one week when I come over and there is no bribery box. We continue not to talk about it.
A few years in the future for a few months my mother will get weekly shipments of snack food samples for a “tester job” neither of us have and I will wonder if it’s Sandy II, still trying to win me over.