I told my mother about my father's affair the next morning while we were driving to the DMV so I could take my driver’s license exam. I failed miserably. Did not even make it out of the parking lot. While I was failing my driving test my mom was crying in the car. She had a much better idea of what had been going on than I did, but my dad had always been a mystery to me.
Everything I knew about my dad my mother had told me. He never spoke of his childhood, nor any time before I was born. His father was an abusive alcoholic that his mother divorced him when my dad was twelve. His older sister was severely retarded. My dad’s mom worked as a waitress to support the family. My dad never left his home state of Kansas until he was twenty two, when he went away to serve in the Navy. All of his immediate family was dead by the time I was born.
When my mom and I returned from the DMV, she disappeared for a couple hours. She went to my dad’s house and screamed at him and my future stepmother. When she came home she brought my dad with her and she called me and my younger sister Jenny into the family room. Her face was puffy from crying and her hair was all messed up. She was using the voice she would use when she was trying to keep her composure. She said that my dad had something to explain to us and turned to him.
My dad launched into a long speech about being an adult, not being sure of the right thing to do, love, and how much he wanted to do what was best for me and my sister. His roundabout way of telling us that he had been having an affair for five years and that the “other woman” was going to be moving in with him. I clutched the mug of tea I was drinking, thinking that everything he was saying was bullshit. I couldn’t even look at him. I couldn’t look at my mother either, I blamed her just as much. I stared at my off white, cold tea and ground my teeth and bit my lip and tried to think of something to say that could express how angry I felt but I couldn’t think of anything. I didn’t express anger, I was always happy, always wore a mask, never showed any unpleasantness. A good WASP. But after everything I had dealt with in the previous two months, an affair, with his secretary no less, it was all to typical. Too Lifetime made for TV movie. That made me even angrier. It was my seventeenth birthday and instead of doing something fun I was in the middle of an uncomfortable family meeting. Staring at cold tea, listen to a lesson about love from my philandering father.
I screamed at the top of my lungs and everyone jumped. I hurled the cup of tea through a window and screamed again. I may have screaming swear words, or “I hate you”, but I can’t remember now. Something that a high school girl having a really, really bad day would scream. I ran up to my room, screaming the whole way, leaving my family frozen in the family room. I locked the door to my bedroom and then went into my bathroom and locked that door too. I kept screaming at the top of my lungs, so much so that my mouth filled with the taste of blood. I looked at a pair of scissors that were on the bathroom counter and I thought about slashing my wrists but even in the heat of the moment, the thought of blood made me cringe.
Outside my door my mother was trying to pick the lock and Jenny had fainted. My dad shook Jenny or maybe he slapped her, something to revive her. After a time I left the bathroom, trance-like, and opened my bedroom door to find my mother kneeling in front of it, crying and holding a coat hanger. She told Jenny to wait in my room with me while she and my dad talked downstairs.
“I guess I spilled my tea,” I said calmly to Jenny once the door was closed.
“You sure did.” She smiled for a moment and then put her face into her hands. We sat for awhile on the edge of my bed, silently, before Jenny turned to me. “Will you please not kill yourself?”
I looked at her and wondered how she knew what I was thinking. What I was always thinking. “No, I won’t.”
“Do you promise? Because I can’t do this without you.” Her lower lip was trembling and I put my arms around her.
“Yeah, I promise.” I held her like that for a long time, then she pulled away suddenly.
“I know about the pills.” I opened my mouth to say something, lie maybe. I don’t know how she could have known. “Will you get rid of then, like right now?”
I wanted to say no because I wanted to keep the option, just in case, despite my promise to Jenny. Instead, I sighed and started collecting the bottles I had hidden. There must have been about ten or so by the time Jenny and I started to empty them into my toilet. Thing is, it’s not easy to flush that many pills all at once. Jenny and I stood in my bathroom, watching as the pills spin around furiously with each flush, until there was nothing left but cloudy water.