My father called a couple of weeks ago. It was in the evening and after a particularly hellacious day, so I was already ¾’s high and in no mood to coherently speak to my father or listen to him read his grocery list over the phone (yes, he does this sometimes). I declined the call, which means he left a voicemail and then called back again and left another voicemail. No cause for alarm, he does this all the time because it’s 2016 and understandably some people still don’t know how phones work.
The next morning, as I was sitting in a half-conscious stupor with coffee, he texted to tell me to call him. He needed to talk to me, he wrote, and he’d already called and left a voicemail. Because it wasn’t yet 6am, I listened to the voicemail first. “Hi Erin. It’s Dad. Gimme a call. Bye.”
Before I continue with this story, can I just say that PARENTS, YOU NEED TO LEARN HOW TO LEAVE VOICEMAILS. If you insist on calling us now that texting has been a thing for over a decade, understand that we may not answer and that, should you choose to further inconvenience us with a recording of your voice when a succinct text would be so much more efficient and non-intrusive, please leave a message that a) makes sense, b) conveys the urgency or non-urgency of the situation and c) doesn’t make us think someone died. Because nobody reading this might think my dad’s message could possibly be related to option c, but the last time he left a voicemail + text combo like that, someone had died.
I texted back to tell him that I was getting ready for work and running late, and could this be communicated in 5 minutes or less? He replied that it could. So I called, and then he told me that he’s getting married to a woman I’ve never met.
Which is…a mixed bag for me, emotionally, if I’m being honest. Does it bother me that he’s getting married? Nah, not really. I mean, I do believe that it’s unnecessary and I wonder if he remembers how expensive divorce can be and I suspect he’s having some issues with realizing his own mortality and panicking about dying alone. But his relationships are his business, even though I am the one who wrote his OkCupid profile and convinced him to start dating this woman exclusively because, based on his description of her, she seemed to be the smartest and most independent of the several women he was dating at the time…which was literally only 3 months ago, but no big deal, right?
Anyway part 2.
I was briefly worried for my mom. My parents have been divorced for over 10 years by now, and while their divorce would have happened, anyway, the way it happened was especially shitty and this was entirely due to my dad’s actions. So while I know she doesn’t regret divorcing him and she’s been dating someone great for a couple of years now, I was worried that hearing he was getting married would bother her, and I was pretty annoyed when my sister – who actually lives in the same city as my mom and sees her in person on a weekly basis – said she had no intention of saying anything to her.
Forever the responsible one who understands how actual human beings work, I called my mom last weekend and said “I have something to tell you that you might not like to hear.”
So I told her, and she laughed until she choked on her own saliva, which was not the reaction I was expecting but what the hell, I’d take it. She did seem a little pissed that I only plan on being in town for a day (fly in on Friday, attend wedding and reception on Saturday, fly out on Sunday because everyone knows that no one actually wants to come to St. Louis, so if you require airplane tickets and a rental car, they can jack up the prices like crazy because no one has a choice but to pay it), but unless someone wants to pay me a Family Stipend, they can live with my brief-as-possible presence.
The thing that still worries me is that my dad’s house, which is the one my grandparents had owned since before he was born, will be sold. Apparently he and the woman he’s marrying both want to sell their respective houses and buy a new one together, which I understand, but that house is the only thing I have left from my grandparents. It’s a big part of where I was raised. My grandparents lived there. My great-grandparents lived there. I’ve said before that I’d want my last meal on Earth to be in that backyard. I know the weird window latches and back door lock and the way the floors cant to one side and I still sidestep that one worn stair to the basement, even though it was replaced years ago. I know all the hiding spots in that house and I’m still afraid of the stack of bricks at the back of the yard, even though it only comes up to my thigh now and is in no danger of toppling over and crushing me. I read so many books and heard so many stories and listened to so many Cardinals games on the tiny, tinny little radio in the kitchen while my grandfather chain-smoked and drank bourbon highballs and let me sip all of the flat Coca-Cola I wanted. I know it’s smell. I know the way the air changes when I’m inside of it.
I love that house. I hate that he seems so flippant about selling it (although I’m not surprised, as there is a remarkably strong selfish streak running through that side of the family and while I look like them, I’m forever thankful that I didn’t inherit many of their personality traits). I hate that he keeps asking me what I want from the house, because it highlights his total lack of understanding of how this could make his children feel, as well as his continued ignorance about how expensive it is to transport anything – furniture, people – across a couple of thousand miles of the United States whenever he decides he wants to do something.
I can’t take anything from the house. The few things I’d be able to ship are not things he wants to part with. In addition to knowing that I will lose the last of what’s left of that side of the family, I also got the singular pleasure of being told “you can’t have that until I’m dead, but I’ll write it down somewhere.”
Oh. Oh really. Thanks so much.
The first house I grew up in is gone, sold to another family when I was in grade school. My mom lives in the house in which I spent my adolescence, and I think the only reason she hasn’t fully sold it is because she’d have to give half the proceeds to my dad as part of the divorce agreement, and I can’t honestly say I have many happy memories from there, anyway. My great-grandparents’ house is gone, along with the bedroom where me and my diabetic and blind great-grandmother used to hang out and eat candy bars with her equally diabetic and blind dog, Charlie. My other grandparents’ house is gone, along with the dated furniture and ceramic-glazed kitchen stuff and perfectly roller skate-able basement and potted geraniums and the giant swingset my grandfather built by sinking iron pipes into the backyard. And when my dad sells this grandparents’ house, I just think that no place will feel like home when I go back there.
I still dream about all of these places, by the way. Most of the time the houses are haunted, with safe floors separated from the shadowy, frightening upper levels. Other times I’m allowed to live in them again, like they’ve found me after all the time I’ve been away. Scary dreams or not, I worry that I’ll stop having them once they’re fully gone and there’s nothing to anchor me there at all anymore.