Storytime: Janice

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 final in a series about some of the women my dad dated (not the final person he dated just the last one I’m going to write about): Janice.

I’m 14 and this is the last time I will even vaguely live with my father. I see him once a week for an hour or two, I don’t even sleep over. Sometimes I only see him as he drives me between places at odd hours. To be fair, at this point, I basically don’t live with anyone but my cats. One cat at my dad’s apartment and one cat at my mom’s apartment. Janice is a surprise to me, she appears only after I’m told she will appear. Janice is tall and sharp. She is bony shoulders and scowls. Her face is so pitted that it reminds me of a bird’s beak, ready to rend the eyes out of someones face. When she comes to live with my father, with no dogs, I ask her if she got tired of New Mexico. She tells me she got bored of looking at the mountains. I think this is a red flag.

It’s not until two weeks later that I learn that Janice left her dogs at a shelter back in New Mexico then voluntarily sat in a car with my father for five days as they drove across the country. This is another red flag. Maybe even two red flags. None of my friends will even stand in a room with my father for five minutes without looking for an exit and this woman sat in a car with him for five days, on purpose.

I go every week to see my father because I like my cat and unfortunately the cat at my fathers and the one at my mothers do not get along (a story for a different day).

Janice is slender, a former dancer of some type. She wears puffy vests that confusingly don’t cover her arms, even when it is warm outside. Her and my father get married suddenly one day when I’m not there. No matter how my father feels about it, it cements that he is already orbiting outside of my life and Janice is an even further orbit outside of that. She makes very little effort to get to know me which I think is okay but when she thinks I can’t hear her, she calls me a bitch and a brat. More red flags.

She smokes inside the house when I ask her not to. Red flag.

She hates my cat. Red flag.

She cries while watching black and white movies on AMC. White flag.

Janice has a cruel mouth and a quick temper but she bites her lip when she’s talking to me so it doesn’t flair. I have been through more than a half dozen women sauntering like a parade through my fathers life so no matter how awful she is I remind myself that she’s like all my fathers past girlfriends – momentary. A storm that will pass. I wonder if my father sees them the same way. I wonder if my mother was once a storm that he weathered effortlessly. I worry that I will become my father and other humans will pass through me too, as if I were a sieve in a storm.

Janice can’t cook. She burns everything she touches. One day, she burns peas to the bottom of a pot and instead of cleaning the pot or starting again, she throws the pot against the wall making a good size dent. She never comes back to clean it up or fix the dent and I end up having to do it for her. Red flag.

Janice finds a job easily but since I usually see my father on Saturday, I see Janice most of the time too. At first she tries to go out and do things with us but she complains that I am stupid and the things I like to do are boring. We agree on this, I feel that she is stupid and the things she likes to do are boring and I wouldn’t want to do them either. After that she stays home to mope and watch AMC while I get on with my boring, stupid life.

She comes home drunk one night. Red flag.

She is mouthy and angry while drunk but no more than usual. She stumbles around a little trying to get to bed and I realize I have never seen my father drunk. I have seen my father in hundreds of nightclubs but I have never seen my father drink more than a courtesy drink. Never sloppy, never off-balance, never drunk. Secondarily, I realize she went out somewhere to get drunk without my dad and she’s holding her car keys. Red flag.

I don’t come around for a month after that.

When I finally come back to visit my father it’s close to the holidays and I lay on the floor and play with my cat as Janice asks what my dad’s favorite color is. When he says that it’s purple she says “well that’s gay”. Red flag.

She comes home drunk three more times that I see. I wonder how many times she comes home drunk when I can’t see. The third time she looks me straight in the eye and decides that it’s not worth fighting about. She goes to bed. White flag.

The next week my dad is having a loud conversation with her behind the bedroom door and I pretend it’s not happening. It reminds me of my parents fighting except I don’t have much of a stake in it. My dad storms out of the house and Janice looks at me and says, “What the hell are you looking at?”. Red flag.

It doesn’t happen the way I think it will. Not when she stumbles home drunk. Not during the holidays. It’s just when she’s watching one of her movies and I look in the living room trying to figure out if it’s something I’ve seen before. She pulls me in to an argument and when I rebuke her, she hits me across the face.

Red flag.

I’ve never been hit by an adult in my life. In surprise, I stumble back holding the side of my face. It barely hurts but I don’t know how to react to this. I start wildly laughing at her. She is, like most people, imposing physically compared to me. More than half a foot taller and three decades older but I see her clearer now. She is a coward. She is an elephant afraid of a mouse.

She doesn’t give me a chance to do anything in return because she immediately leaves out the front door and when she comes back, well after I’ve told my father, he tells her to leave and she doesn’t argue. She packs all her things and is out by the end of the day.

She runs up his credit cards, she empties his bank account, and she makes him have to go to court to get the marriage annulled, but I never see her again.

White flag.

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