Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Today is Dave's birthday. Who is Dave? Dave is the man who married my mom when I was ten years old. We (me, my mom and my two younger siblings) went from living in a government subsidized apartment with no carpet on the floors in Wichita Falls, Texas to living in a brand-new brick house on Nelson Street in Monahans, Texas. There was no grass in the front and back, only sand. That was exciting. Eventually grass was grown. And at first I felt like I was living in a dream. There was food, so much food. And I had a bicycle and a portable television and a walk-in closet. I would hide in the closet after lights out on school nights, devouring my beloved books. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle was my favorite. God. How could one book sum up the whole of human existence so goddamn beautifully? Fuck the King James Bible. A Wrinkle in Time is IT. Years later I would meet Ms. L'Engle while attending Schreiner University in Kerrville. I stood in line waiting for her autograph. I handed her my newly acquired hardcover copy of A Wrinkle in Time with shaky hands, tears in my eyes. "It's an honor to meet you," I said.
In the beginning we bonded, Dave and I, over "The Twilight Zone" (the original series) and Mars talk. There's a picture of me when I was eleven or twelve hanging out with Dave in the den of the miraculous brick house, pretending to drink a can of Budweiser. Dave loved his beer. I don't know when things changed, exactly, but they did. My love turned to hate. I saw Dave as a bully. He spanked me with his belt for my lack of table manners. Stupid Virgo bullshit. He seemed to favor my younger siblings. My sister was a lot smarter than I was, made better grades. My brother was a boy. So there was football to bond over. Gig 'em Aggies.
I thought it was so exotic and fancy when I met Dave's parents in their home in Abilene the first time. They called the evening meal "dinner" (my family had always called the evening meal "supper") and there was chicken with rice and cocktails (for the adults) and after dinner Daddy Max (this is what me and the siblings were told to call Dave's dad) chomped on a cigar and played "Alley Oop" and the Aggie "war hymn" on the player piano. Class. One Christmas Dave's aunt and uncle from San Antonio (they lived in a penthouse! We visited once and there was a DOORMAN and we had dinner at the country club!) gave me a bottle of Gucci perfume and the collected works of Rudyard Kipling. Thanks? Oh, and one of Dave's cousins was a famous golfer. He was in an Irish Spring commercial. I didn't recognize this brave new world of moderate wealth. I came from a family of loud down to earth extroverts. Uncle Buzz, my maternal grandmother's baby brother, was a rodeo clown. There's a black and white 8X10 photograph of Uncle Buzz in his rodeo clown garb holding a terrified and sobbing baby Misti. My earliest memory is of the cigar smoke filled trailer house I lived in with my dad and mom before my sister came along in Goree, Texas. My parents were teenagers when I was born. They attended seminary for one semester in Arlington but there were no college graduates in my family.
I've told this story many times. It bears repeating. I was twenty-three and sitting in a hospital room in Midland, Texas. My eyes were almost swollen shut from crying. Outside the door I could hear Dave yelling at my mom. "She is not going to keep this baby! We are NOT going to help her raise this baby! If she keeps the baby I'll leave!" Then Dave entered the room and told me what needed to be told. Look at how you've been living your life. The topless dancing. The hot checks. This baby, this newborn baby, your daughter, deserves a "fighting chance." Yes. Absolutely. I'd said since I saw my baby's heartbeat on the six weeks sonogram that I would not have an abortion but I knew I couldn't keep her. My boyfriend had left me for a trust fund brat in Houston. I had never been able to hold down a job for any length of time. I did not want to raise my baby on welfare.
I didn't look at Dave that day in the hospital. I looked out the window. The sun was setting in the West Texas sky. "I've said from the beginning that I don't want any negativity to touch my daughter. I 'll do what I have to do. Call the social worker in so I can sign the papers before I change my mind."
Dave got down on his knees and reached for my hand and raised it to his lips. Then he walked out the door shaking his head This remains one of the most beautiful moments of my life. He was in the presence of The Most High. You either get it or you don't. Holy. Holy. Holy. God...Jesus...love...spirit...source...power filled the air. Something greater than me greater than Dave greater than the newborn Sagittarius girl who was in the nursery having no clue that the woman who had just given birth to her would rather die than see her get a shitty start in life. Comprende? No? I can explain it but I can't understand it for you.
Of course it's not that simple. I get that now at fifty. I didn't get it then at twenty-three. Knowing what I know now...what would I have done? I would have done the same thing, I guess. Yes. There are women who raise babies on their own. There are babies and children who are brought up in trailer houses and section 8 apartments, living on fish sticks and Malt-O-Meal. Some babies grow up to graduate from big deal colleges and are able to hold down big deal jobs despite considerable odds. My brother and sister have done a helluva lot better than I have and we all came from the same place. We were all there with our single mother for three years in that tacky little two-bedroom apartment before Dave came along. But when I was twenty-three and alone and a Christian praying without ceasing underlining hundreds of verses in my King James Bible attending church three times a week singing "Golden Slumbers" to my daughter as she sucked her thumb in my womb I knew with conviction that the best gift I could give my baby was parents who seemed to have their shit together. They loved each other, this couple I met through my mom's employer. They had their college degrees. They had a brick house. Why are brick houses so goddamn important? I don't know. They just somehow are. And I thought I needed to give my daughter the kind of daddy I never had. A daddy who would love her beyond condition, a daddy who would never swing a belt at her with hatred in his eyes, a daddy who might tell her how beautiful and smart she was, might even buy her the occasional ice cream cone and Cabbage Patch Kid. Hell. I don't know. I've second guessed my decision and raged at the sky and loathed myself and bitterly envied other women and invited death in but death keeps passing me by.
And now I'm fifty and tired but still ebullient, somehow, on my better days and the love continues to flow. Miraculously. Dave showed up at my apartment in San Marcos in 1998 when I had decided to try college again at Texas State. He handed me a key and said,"You always said you wanted a turquoise truck." He led me out to the parking lot and showed me a turquoise truck, a Ford Ranger, he bought for me as some kind of consolation prize, I guess.
I loved that truck. But I didn't need it. Not really. That moment in the hospital room when Dave got down on his knees and kissed my hand was the gift I'll always keep. I was witnessed. And that's enough.