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So the thing about Courtney going back east when she did was that it was before she could broker any kind of peace between our mother and Janine. Not that she didn’t try. She did.
But Janine didn’t pick up her phone. Twice we had gone by the house and no one was there.
“And you’re sure she didn’t take him off to a heterosexual brainwashing camp or something,” I asked. Maybe I was being paranoid, but come on, this is my family we’re talking about. Court had called Jake when we got back to the hotel who had said Landon was with him while Janine was at work, so everything was supposedly fine except for Janine avoiding talking to any of us.
It was, as you can imagine, a rough few days. That is, if you can imagine being haunted by the ghost of an older woman with her eyes misted with sadness, dogging your every movement while she hangs about, a spirit unfulfilled by her abandonment.
Oh yeah, Remo didn’t come back. Now you get the picture.
This was him on the phone: “When’s her next treatment? Next Thursday? I’ll see if I can get away to be there for that.”
In my imagination I could hear Melissa’s voice saying something like “parenting isn’t something you do in the appointment book” — she probably had said something like it in all the fighting that I had done my best to ignore.
You’re probably wondering why Remo was talking to me instead of Claire on the phone to begin with. That’s what happens when your mother tells her ex-lover that everything he says hurts her, so she doesn’t want to speak to him.
“I won’t hold my breath,” I told him.
“Now you sound like her?”
“Do I? I just mean I’m not counting on it. Come on, Remo. You’ve got what we call competing priorities here.”
“I know. I just didn’t mean to leave you and her there like that.”
“You didn’t mean a lot of things, I’m sure.” Shit, I was starting to sound like her. “Look, I know, best of intentions and all that–”
“Stay at the motel as long as you want. As long as you need to. They’ve got my credit card on file.”
As long as you need to. I wondered just how long he was actually willing to do that.
I should skip forward until my next conversation with Janine, but I guess I should tell you something about what those long, empty days were like. Me and Ziggy and Claire, basically planning from meal to meal. We would meet for breakfast, even though none of us are big breakfast eaters, and have a little something and some caffeine, and then we’d sit around reading. At the motel they had the local paper and USA Today and most days I would go to the convenience store to buy The New York Times. The three of us would share the newspapers, and Claire would make an obligatory comment about how it was too bad it was winter or we could be sitting out by the pool every day.
I was learning all kinds of things from reading the papers. I already ranted about the PMRC, right? The censorship group who didn’t like the fact that sex and drugs and rock and roll go together, and wanted to take the sex and drugs and profanity out of it? Yeah, fuck that. Anyway. You may remember the lady who started the whole thing was named Tipper Gore and she was the wife of a career politician named Al Gore, who was from Tennessee. Did I mention they were Democrats? I know, I know, you’re used to Republicans getting the rap for being that brand of idiot, but it’s not exclusive to the right wing.
Al Gore was in the papers a lot, both the local and the national, because he was the senator for Tennessee, and also because he was mentioned a lot as a potential presidential candidate. If we hadn’t been in Tennessee and his wife hadn’t been the PMRC maven, I might not have really noticed him. In case you’ve forgotten, we’d had two terms of Ronald Reagan and then one term of George Bush (the first one) who had been Reagan’s vice president. Basically all the presidents I could really remember had been right-wing republicans who hated gays and wanted to undo all the social progress that had been made in the sixties and seventies. Bush was incredibly popular thanks to the Gulf War (the first one) and didn’t look too beatable. Most of the popular democrats didn’t even want to seek nomination because they felt they had no chance. But various people had put their hats in the ring at that point including Jerry Brown, the former governor of California, and a guy from Massachusetts named Paul Tsongas who I am ashamed to say I knew pretty much nothing about.
The Tennessee papers cut Gore a little slack because he supposedly didn’t want to run because he was trying to spend more time with his family. His six-year-old son had been hit by a car and almost died and needed extensive rehab therapy afterward. Can’t really blame the guy.
When we were done with the newspapers it was time for lunch. We’d drive somewhere and have a meal, and then afterward Claire would declare herself tired and she’d have a nap. While she napped, Ziggy and I would go back to our room and do nothing much. After she got back up we’d have some tea in the lobby of the motel or in one of our rooms. A couple of times we went to a matinee of a movie. Then there would be dinner. And then we would sit in Claire’s room with her, watching TV, until she declared she was tired and should get her “beauty rest.”
I hadn’t watched television other than occasional spates of late-night channel surfing while on the road since I had left home. I don’t want to think about how much my young ideals of how people should act were shaped by sit-coms, medical dramas, and cop shows.
I lost count of how many days went by like that, but it was several, punctuated by occasional attempts to reach Janine. One day was exciting and different: we did laundry.
When there was conversation it was often between Claire and Ziggy. It didn’t really have much substance to it–small talk–exchanges of opinion about cities or colors or clothes. With the occasional, “You must be so bored here, Ziggy, dear, when you’re used to big city life?”
“Oh,” Ziggy would say, “it’s a nice break from the rat race.” My lover the diplomat.
He really could not help me with Janine, though. She finally left a message for me, not Claire, at the front desk of the motel to come meet her on her lunch break. I met her at the loading dock of a K-Mart and took her to the nearest place, which was the Pizza Hut where we’d eaten a few times before. She was wearing a magenta hooded sweatshirt that looked like it had seen better days.
We each ordered a personal pan pizza and then the second the waitress went away she said, “I need you to come clean Claire’s stuff out of the guest room. Jake’s moving back in with me.”
“Hang on, slow down. You’re talking like she’s dead already.”
“To me, she is. I’m done. I told you that.”
“Okay, but back up a second–”
“There’s no debating this. I’ve made up my mind and it’s my house, my rules.” She relished saying the last four words in particular.
Claire used to say it all the time as her excuse for why she could change her mind about what the rules were any time she wanted, and also impose ridiculous ones like, oh, that I couldn’t practice in the house or that if I wasn’t home before midnight the door would be locked so I couldn’t get in. I didn’t actually remember which ridiculous rules she had for the girls, but I’m sure there were some. “Okay, fine.”
“I’m serious. Why on earth would I take her back when all she’s done since I took her in is abuse me, tear me down, make me feel like sh–”
“Janine. I said ‘okay fine.’”
She blinked at me and kind of stared disdainfully. “Oh, come on, don’t tell me it’s that easy. You’re just going to take her in?”
“You got another idea? You just dumped her on me and now you’re arguing with me about me agreeing to it?” I’ll be honest. Half the reason I agreed so fast was just to mess her up. The other was just to skip to the end, to the inevitable. “I’m still trying to figure out the ‘Jake moving in’ part.”
“He’s going to move in. We’ll be able to afford the house with both of us, and it’ll be easier on Landon.”
“If you’re not trying to kill each other all the time.”
She gave me a cold look. “Jake and I don’t fight like that.”
“I’m just saying. You don’t think half the reason we’re so fucked up is that our parents hated each other?”
“For the record, I don’t hate Jake and he doesn’t hate me. We just hated being married to each other.”
“Okay, and living together and raising a kid together isn’t the same as being married?”
“Maybe for two queers like you it would be, but for us we can get along just fine if we’re not actually supposed to be in love or, you know, doing love-related things.” The way she looked away quickly made me suddenly understand why Jake had to have a separate bedroom. I couldn’t guess from what little I knew why exactly she and Jake weren’t compatible sexually, but apparently apart from conceiving Landon the sex thing didn’t work between them. When I didn’t say anything she tried to go on to dig herself out of the embarrassment spiral she’d put herself in, but you know that never works. “I mean, you know. It isn’t like either of us are going on a lot of hot dates right now anyway. Oh-god-why am I telling you this.”
“Because you want me to explain it to our mother, who you’re refusing to speak to?”
“You are not telling her that!”
“Except that’s your excuse, right? Jake’s moving in but he’s gotta have his own room because you aren’t sharing a bed with him. Otherwise wouldn’t be telling me about it at all. You’d just be telling me to tell Claire to fuck off.”
“Look, this isn’t a sudden thing. I didn’t just cook up this ‘excuse’ out of the blue. Jake and I have been trying to work things out for a long time. With Claire there I couldn’t even hear myself think.”
Personal pan pizzas arrived and we concentrated on not burning ourselves for a couple of minutes. When she was done eating she repeated it all again like I hadn’t heard her the first time. She wasn’t going to let our bully of a mother manipulate her emotions or fuck her up any more, and she had to do what was right for her kid and her financial situation, which was get her ex to move in to the guest bedroom where they’d live together but separate, and everything was going to work out if only she didn’t have to deal with Claire ever again.
“And I know you think I’m heartless–”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you’re thinking it.”
“I’m not thinking it either, but I’m pretty sure YOU are thinking it about yourself.”
“Well, of course I am! I just threw my own mother out!” She burst into tears and then buried her face in her arms.
I had to just sit there waiting for her to stop crying. I wasn’t judging her, really I wasn’t, but as we all know, sometimes your harshest judge is yourself.