Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chapter Twelve


It was July, 1977. I had been back in Oklahoma City about a month after my dad was chased out of New Mexico. He was caught embezzling from the company that owned the Palace Hotel.
Since Paul and I were oblivious to his business practices, it came as a surprise when he told us we were leaving Raton. He just sat us down one day and said we were leaving in two days.
TWO DAYS?? Knowing my dad, I should not have been surprised at anything he did. But this caught me completely off guard.
Paul and I looked at each other and exchanged a look that silently said, “He’s CRAZY! What does this mean?? I can’t wait to talk to you later!”
“But Dad, what about Sugar? We’ll need a trailer won’t we?”
My horse was more than just a horse. She was my best friend, next to Baron. She understood everything and she never complained when I soaked her main with my snot and tears. She was a part of me.
“We can’t take her, Susie. I’ve already sold her. She’s going to a good home and she’ll be fine. Don’t ask me again about her. You can get another horse when we get back to Oklahoma City.”
I wanted to cry, I wanted to laugh and I wanted to murder my father. My mouth dropped agape and my tongue had turned into a brillo pad. I couldn’t swallow. I had no spit. Every now and then, a strange feeling came over me and it was happening again.
I became light headed and my vision turned gray, like looking closely at newspaper print. I felt a strange buzzing all over my body. Then my body stopped obeying me and I started to fall over.
Yes, I was fainting. I was completely passing out. Once again, everything faded to black.
I woke up with a washcloth on my forehead and felt the sting of being slapped back in forth across my face.
“Dammit, Susie!”
My dad always got exasperated when I passed out.
“I wish you would stop doing that! I know you could control it if you wanted to! I don’t want to see you do that again!”
He stomped toward the door and then turned back and glared at us.
“Don’t either of you say a thing. You two better act as if nothing has happened when you come to work tonight.”
He looked down then back up at me with what could have been mistaken as a glimpse of guilt, but I knew better, he was faking it, as usual.
“You’ll get over her, Susie; it’s not the end of the world.” He left the room and went down to his office.
I looked at Paul and I could see he was in as much shock as I was. “How long was I out?”
He put his arm across my shoulder. “Not long, two or three minutes, maybe.”
We both just sat there staring into space.
Paul looked at me for an answer. “Do you really think we’re really going back to the City?”
Dad knew Oklahoma City like the back of his hand and still had many contacts there.
My eyebrows rose on reflex. I let out a huge sigh. “I don’t know, probably. Where else could we go?” We both shrugged simultaneously.
“I’m really sorry about Sugar, Sue. He is such a mean motherfucking bastard. I just want to kill him!”
“Yeah, I know, I was seeing way too much of his blood flowing...I was ready to get up and gouge his eyes out with my bare hands… that’s why I passed out,..”
Paul started giggling. Then he broke out into a real belly laugh, not holding anything in. He laid back on the day-bed/couch and was almost in tears.
Still laughing he gasped, “You should have seen his face! You looked dead! He was scared as shit! I thought he was gonna have a fucking heart attack! It was so fucking hilarious!”
I looked back over at my brother. He was lost in a glorious reverie of rare good humor. This time my sigh was from gratitude.
“Well, I’m glad I was such a source of entertainment for you, little bro.”
“It was funny, Sue, it really was, it was so funny!”
I appreciated this. My brother and I had a certain rare understanding. “Yeah, it is nice to pay him back once in a while, eh?”
God isn’t it, Sue? I wish we could do something to make him fall over dead!”
Then the whole last two hours came flooding back. “Looks like we won’t need to, remember? We’re leaving.”
Now we were both back in our usual state of depression and anxiety. Dammit! I just had to ruin it Oh, well I thought. At least we were back to the familiar.
Dad decided to take me off the schedule that night. Paul and I started packing. We weren’t taking any furniture, so basically it was just our clothes and personal stuff.
Paul and I first agreed that this was the most bizarre thing ever. Then we both agreed that maybe it wasn’t. We’d have to scan our memories and place it into the scale of weirdness that had surrounded us for so long. It was tough to decide where this event fit in.
There were so many questions: Why were we leaving? Why so soon? Where were we going? If we go back to Oklahoma City, where will we live?
The one question neither of us could voice was “Is this our chance to escape?” That was too much to think about. We kept ourselves busy for the rest of the night until dad came back from work. He walked in and looked around. He had that stupid jovial look on his face.
“Hey, not bad! You guys look like you’re pretty much packed up!”
I had become accustomed to never knowing what to expect of him. That is why I had little reaction when he walked over to a wall, lifted his boot and slammed a hole right through it.
I had no choice except to silently file this one under: OoooKaaaay, Dad is acting abnormally abnormal, nothing unusual. Gosh I love puppies and kittens…
“You know, you guys, since we’re pretty much ready, I think we’ll go ahead and leave tomorrow night.”
He took his time as he ambled through the flat, smacking his fist into his hand. As he wandered around, he took everything in. He scanned the walls, the floors, the windows. He stopped and stood in front of the closet he had built for me. He was looking at the closet but he was staring into the distance. It was almost as if he was staring into the future.
Paul and I sat mesmerized. Whatever mirror Dad was looking into didn’t hold his stare for long. We watched him shudder slightly, then chuckle to himself. As he walked out of the bedroom towards us, I seriously thought of jumping off the couch and running, but there was no way I could demand my body to do so. Inherently, I knew Paul was going through the same trauma.
Then he did the strangest, most unexpected thing, I never saw it coming. He reached out and tousled Paul’s hair and clasped him on the shoulder, not hard, more like a buddy would do. Then he went back to smacking his fist into his hand as he slowly meandered back through the flat before arriving back in front of us again.
Dad could not hide his desperation, no matter how much we wanted him to. Neither Paul nor I knew whether we were going to be alive the next day. I would have taken a lie over the truth, no problem. But to see Dad so completely in his own world could not bode well for me and my brother.
I stared at him, fixated on his face, so foreign, so distant. The seconds went by, then all of the sudden, I saw a light bulb above his head, it almost blinded me. He was moving forward, in his mind and in mine.
“Susie, you’re not working tomorrow. Tomorrow while I’m downstairs, I want you two to tear this place apart!”
I’m not sure, but when I looked at Paul, his eyes had to be as wide as mine. What did he just say? I know he’s crazy but what did he just say? I could tell Paul was thinking the same thing.
“Dad, what do you mean?” It was one of the rare times, Paul asked my Dad a question and it made me cringe.
“I mean just what I said! Are you stupid or something? I want you to demolish this place! Make it gross! Piss on the walls if you want! Just make it a place that no one would want to live in! And hey, have fun!”
He walked back out the door and Paul put his ear to the ground. Dad had walked down to his office at the end of the hall, the one with the safe. He slammed the door l to his office loud enough for me to hear. Paul lay down on the floor next to me, keeping his ear to the ground. We were both so exhausted; I don’t remember which of us fell asleep first.
I woke up terrified. Why was I on the couch? Where was Dad? Then I heard the shower running. It had to be Dad; Paul was in blissful ignorance on the floor below me. He was sleeping the sleep of a prisoner of war, making up the deprivation with a stone unconsciousness.
I pretended to be asleep when Dad came out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel.
Through my eyelids, I watched his figure creep towards me. I stifled a laugh when he stubbed his toe, causing him to hop back into the bathroom, where he let out a barrage of curse words.
I knew that he knew I had to be awake now. He came out of the bathroom and I bent my head up and opened one eye to him. “What’s the matter, Dad?”
He put his finger to his lip and shushed me, then curled the same finger at me several time, obviously motioning me to the bathroom.
I feigned disorientation, shaking my head and rubbing my one closed eye following that with a cross-eyed “huh?”
He hit his third shade of red so quickly, I was up and over Paul, headed his way. Secretly though, I wondered if I could get him to a shade of red that would make him keel over. That thought was lost as my dad leaned over and started whispering tersely into my ear.
“Susie, I want you two to tear this place apart; I mean do what ever you have to do. Make it unlivable. We have to leave because I’m being accused of tipping from the till. I’m not waiting for severance pay. I already took care of that last night. We have plenty of money to set up somewhere else. I might even have enough to buy that little bar in Colorado I’ve been talking about. We could live there forever! But first we have to go back to OKC, you understand?”
“I have to go meet a few people, make some arrangements. I’ll be back later this afternoon. . Get Paul up and get some coffee. Then start tearing this place apart, you hear me? And be ready to get in the car when I get here.”
I said the only thing I could say. “Sure, Dad, whatever you say.”
I would not describe it as fun but we did take out our rage on the place. As a parting gift, the first person to enter that room would be greeted with a nice little pile of turds in the middle of the room.
The trip from Raton to Oklahoma City was as awkward and uncomfortable as I expected. The silence was broken occasionally by my Dad’s upbeat version of what was going to happen next. It would not take him long to find an apartment. Until then, he and I would stay at a hotel. Then we would move on to Colorado, when things quieted down. I was sickened. I realized he was not bringing Paul with us.
Every time we stopped for gas, Paul would sneak in a few words to me. “I’m sorry, Sue, I really am”. His face betrayed him. He could not contain his relief.
I just looked at him. “Don’t worry little brother, I’ll be OK. We’ll see each other. Hell, we’ll be in the same city! “
We pulled into the apartment complex where my mother and step dad, Dick lived. It was the same apartment I had left two years ago with my father. As we neared my mother’s place, Dad slowed down to a crawl. The authority in his voice was crystal clear.
“Susie, when we get there, I want you to stay in the car. I’ll get your stuff out of the trunk. Paul, you go ahead and get out when we stop.”
What was there to say? He had trained me for two years! Obeying him was not a choice.
My mom and Dick both greeted us at the door. Dad got out and slammed his door. Paul hugged me over the seat and opened his door and got out.
That’s when it happened. Baron jumped out of the car and started running down the parking lot. We had lost Baron before and my instinct took over. I jumped out of the car and ran as hard as I could to reach him.
He was scared, not knowing where he was. I had to get close enough for him to hear my voice before he stopped running and turned around towards me. I bent down and held my arms out. He was panicked, until he recognized me. The look of relief when he ran straight to me gave me a new understanding of love.
I was full out sobbing by now. He licked my face; he truly liked the salty taste pouring down my face. He was used to them. I sat on the ground, with my love in my arms and started to experience the strangest feeling. I did not feel like I was in trouble for not obeying my father. Under the circumstances, I knew I had done the right thing. We were not going to lose Baron again.
But now I found myself over half a block down the parking lot…by myself. All of the sudden, getting away getting away was an actual possibility, I just didn’t t know how to react to it. I was torn. I had suffered the Stockholm syndrome for two years.
I was like Patty Hearst, identifying with her kidnappers and feeling quite justified, going in to spray bullets all over a bank. That was not her history. That was not her make-up. Yet when trapped and trying to survive, the mind played devious tricks that kept you going.
Dick came running to me and hugged me and Baron both. “My God, honey, he’s fine! God, you are shivering honey! You re white as a sheet!
I could not stop trembling; my teeth would not stop chattering. My body didn’t care that it was the middle of summer. I wanted to stay buried in that hug forever. I peeked around Dick and saw my dad casually leaning against the hood of his car. Mom was helping Paul inside with his bags.
“I wish I could stay with you guys tonight.”
Dick put his hand on my shoulders and with a puzzled expression asked, “Well, of course you are, honey, why would think that you wouldn’t be staying here?
“Well, my Dad and I are getting a motel room tonight and then...”
I trailed off, I didn’t know what else to say. Dick had the kindest blue eyes and as they looked deep into mine, they tried their hardest to give me a sense of safety, a feeling of protection. I loved it. I ached for it. I went with it.
“No, I don’t think that’s necessary, Susie. We have plenty of room. We have been expecting you for a long time. Your mother and I have missed you terribly. You are staying here. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
As we walked back, Dick kept his arm around my shoulders. Still, the closer we got to Dad the more I felt like fainting.
“Calm down,” Dick whispered. “When we get to the door, you go to your mother, OK?”
He placed himself on the side came closest to my Dad. I hesitated in front of the car but kept my head down.
“Susie, go to your mom, she’s waiting for you.”
Dick gently shoved me away from my dad and towards the door where my mother stood. She took me inside and hugged me so tight that Baron yelped. We both kind of laughed and Paul came over and took Baron from me. I could not believe my mother’s arms were around me. She smelled so sweet, so safe, so much like my momma. It had been a long time.
Dick turned to my dad. “Why not just leave her here until you find a place to stay.”
It wasn’t really a stand off between them, but Dick was firm. My dad knew what was best for him.
“Yeah, sure, it shouldn’t take long and then I’ll come for you, Susie, OK?”
“Yeah, OK, Dad.” By agreeing with him, he relaxed. He still had control over me, at least for now.
“OK, well, I’m out of here, I call you soon.” He got into his car and just before pulling away, he looked at me in a way that gave me nightmares, even still. It was a look meant just for me.
It said, “Don’t do anything stupid or I will come back and kill you.” I knew he was sincere; he talked with his eyes all the time and usually followed through
With Dad out of my life, I began another voyage towards oblivion. Styx was luring me to “Come Sail Away” because everything was just part of the “Grand Illusion.” As Kansas sang about the Point of No Return, I was trying to find it. I agreed with them as they sang, everything was just “Dust in The Wind.”
Billy Joel pissed me off when I heard him sing, “I love you just the way you are” What a lying sack of shit! Now Jackson Browne, he told my story with the entire album “The Pretender.” Now that is me, thank you. Tell it like it is!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chapter Eleven


By February, the whole escape plan was lost and forgotten. Everything returned to “normal.” One night, the same group of college people came back to the Palace. This was their third visit, so I was getting to know them pretty well. They were young and exciting, full of new ideas. It was a group of seven or eight young adults and I looked up to them. They were in college. I wasn’t even in high school.
Later that night, at about eleven thirty, I was hanging out with the rest of the staff. We were in the kitchen goofing off and passing around a bottle of cold duck. When Dad walked in, I could see he was in an unusually good mood.
“Hey, you guys, go on, and get outa here. Grab another bottle if you want and take it with you, but it comes out of your tips tomorrow.”
He turned and left though the swinging door that led to the dining room. Then I heard the squeak of his shoe pivot on the polished wooden floor. I stiffened, and raised my eyebrow at the others. They were somewhat puzzled as well. He pushed the door open just enough to stick his shoulders into the kitchen. I turned to see his head slightly bobbing. He was exposing his teeth in a grin that always caused me concern.
“Hey, Susie, why don’t you go with them tonight? Take the truck up the mountain to the Raton sign. That is where you guys hang out, right?”
He reentered the kitchen and walked over to me, reaching into his pocket to pull out a few bills. That was when I noticed his, should I say, aroused state. God, I hated this! I knew this had to be a trick, but what?
“Here, take this, it’s a couple of bucks, go by Omar’s drive thru, Susie. Just tell him the same thing; that I sent you. His Cold Duck is cheaper than ours is. You guys have fun!”
He practically skipped out of the kitchen, the sound of his steps faded as he padded onto the carpet leading back to the bar.
I turned and looked at the rest of the crew. There were Tito and Matt, the cooks, Andrea and Maria, the other waitresses. Then there was Luke, Matt’s little brother, he was the bus boy. And of course Paul would be going along. Then there was my favorite, Raphael. He was the dishwasher and he was shy, which made me feel protective of him.
“Hey Raphael, we’re going up to the star, you coming with us?” I already knew what his answer would be, and I also knew I wasn’t going to accept it.
So there were eight of us, free, on our own to go have fun! This indeed was a rare occasion! Shit! I was going to take advantage of it. As we all cleaned up and changed out of our uniforms, the excitement grew.
Ironically, I thought to myself, we are just like little kids! Hell, we may not have been little, but we were kids! We were bustling around trying to finish our chores so we could get out of there. We were so busy, I didn’t notice that there was less and less noise coming from the bar.
We were definitely taking my truck, so everyone headed out the back hallway to the door leading out onto the street. As they were heading out the door, I ran up the stairs and grabbed some pot for the outing. I ran back down and then hesitated. I felt I should probably let Dad know we were leaving. So I hurried back through the kitchen, and turned down the short hallway to the entrance of the bar.
Just as I began opening my mouth, I felt myself strangle my voice. My brain instantly stopped the “Hey, Dad….” from actually reaching past my gullet. I froze. I could tell he hadn’t heard me. He hadn’t even noticed me.
He was alone with one of students. She was beautiful. He had his arm around her and she was obviously mesmerized…and drunk. He was looking at her with snake eyes. Then I watched as his familiar tongue entered and probed her mouth.
Fortunately, instead of keeling over, I reeled out of the entrance and back into the hallway. I couldn’t breathe. It took every ounce of energy I could gather to move my legs back toward the kitchen.
My wits were slowly coming back and I was quiet as a mouse as I headed back through the kitchen and out to the truck. Everyone was goofing off, joking around, laughing and stuff. It was all casual. Then as I walked closer to them, the jovial atmosphere died down. Matt was first to speak.
“Jesus, Susan, are you OK? You’re totally white! You’re sweating! Its ten degrees out here! What’d you do, see a ghost up there? Maybe you guys aren’t kidding about them. Wish I could see one!!”
I had to think of something, quick. “No, No, you dumbass!! I got the weed, but I took a few snorts of my dad’s coke and Whoa!!! I didn’t know it was that good! I’m OK, it’s wearing off now. Hand me that bottle of Cold Duck.”
It struck me how lying was becoming so second nature to me. Maria passed it over to me and I drained it. Yes, much, much better. My color was coming back and I was able to actually breathe again.
Everybody relaxed as I headed toward the driver’s door, just as normal as ever. “I’ll drive us to Omar’s but I think we should get Annie Green Springs instead of Cold Duck. It’s cheaper and stronger, what do you guys think?”
“Yeah, sure, sounds good,” was the consensus.
We first stopped by Maria’s to get some heavy blankets, and then head to Omar’s drive through. He knew me and gave me no shit whatsoever. As I pulled around the building and up to the exit, I saw my dad’s car pass by. It was heading towards the cheap hotel with the cheesy piano bar. I cringed, waiting to see if anyone else noticed. Thankfully, no one said anything. God much more of this and I’m going to faint, I guarantee it!
I took a deep breathe and chugged off one of the newly opened bottles of wine. We traveled up the zigzag one lane dirt road, heading up the mountain until we reached a flat parking area. It was a scenic lookout and picnic area. About thirty feet above, affixed to the mountain was a fifty-foot star made of re-bar and luminescent bulbs. It could be seen from at least twenty miles away. It was the pride of Raton.
Then I did what I knew will help me. I buried my sadness and got drunk. It helped that I remembered that I had a few valium in the truck glove box and those reeeaaly helped.
The guys got a fire going and the joints started getting passed around. I laughed at stupid jokes and told even stupider ones, which got just as much laughter. I had a really good time. I had fun.
It was at least 3:00 in the morning and the stars were so overwhelming they didn’t look real, they were almost frightening. Things settled down a bit as the fire died down and blankets pulled up.
“There’s the big dipper,” someone said.
“No shit, duh, Einstein”
Chuckles, all around.
Someone farted.
Blaming and snickers, all around.
Geeez. Teenagers. They’re so stupid, so immature! I almost felt like one of them.
Tito drove us back and we got to the hotel around 4:30am.
Paul was the first to speak “Hey, Where’s Dad’s car? Where do ….”
I gave him a look that froze his tongue.
Nobody else said anything; they knew not to ask questions about the Palace and the people who lived there. That is, if they wanted to keep their jobs. Besides, everyone was too tired and drunk to give a shit.
After everyone took off, I unlocked the back door to the hotel and pulled Paul inside.
“Sorry,” he said. He knew he had broken an unspoken rule. We didn’t talk about anything in front of anyone, pretty much.
“It’s no big deal. I heard Dad talking on the phone last night; He said something about going to play poker over at Randy’s clubhouse. He’s either winning big, losing big or passed out. Anyway, what do we care? At least he’s not here.”
“Yeah, you’re right; do you think I can sleep in the main room? It’s so much warmer.”
That familiar pang of guilt pierced me. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t protect my little brother. “Of course, if we hear him, you can sneak out the door of the spare bedroom…I mean…my bedroom.
He lay down on the floor and within in seconds, I heard his steady breathing of sleep.
I lay back on the couch and stared at the ceiling. Once again, the familiar refrain rolled round and round in my head. “This can’t be my life.”
As the months passed, I felt myself slipping away, but I couldn’t. I forced myself to focus on what was happening at that particular moment. I watched Paul and Paul watched me. With Baron on board, the three of us did whatever we could to trip Dad up. We endured and survived by exchanging slight winks and supportive glances.