Chapter Twelve: Graduation Present
On the evening of June 25th, 1987, nine days after his return from Canada, Lenny stood up in front of both sides of the family and all of our friends, and announced he had put the house on Lincoln Drive up for sale.
“…So, if any of you are interested, feel free to walk around, check out the place. Our architect has done a wonderful job of restoring the place. Lord knows, it sure cost enough!” He paused to laugh at what no one had interpreted as a joke. Maybe it was an accounting thing. He peered about, his eyes bleary. “Anyway! If any of you like what our hired help has accomplished here, please come over and get me. Maybe we can talk business.” He’d uttered these few semi-drunken sentences standing atop the built-in, wood-bench at the far end of the living room. His expensive loafers were digging into the soft cushions my mother had placed there for sitting.
I couldn’t help but frown at the thought he might be ruining them, feeling my ire rise at more than just his uncouth proclamation.
It was during the height of my graduation party, forty minutes or so after we’d all eaten. It was supposed to have been the time for speeches before Myra and I left for the all-night party our friends were throwing, but Lenny had turned it into something else. He had an uncanny ability to make those of sternest disposition feel uncomfortable.
There was an awkward silence at first. The end of this was punctuated by a muffled screech from Elijah. He quickly covered his mouth, tears streaming from his eyes and sprinted through the front door and onto the porch. It was obvious to me the thought of leaving our new home was mortifying to him. He’d grown to love the house as much as my mom. It was precious to him, a part of him like an arm or a leg. He could live without it. He’d be crippled for life.
My mother’s glare at Lenny was enough to tell me he hadn’t consulted with her regarding the sale of the house either. I watched her, and so did some of the members of our family. The unadulterated hatred in her gaze made a few of my aunts and cousins gasp for breath. She hadn’t been the sort of person to express such raw emotion in public. Her usual method was to clam-up, take what was being doled-out with a glassy smile that was as transparent as tissue paper. To see unbridled fury was on par with her stripping down and running around naked. It was unimaginable. Pillar was suddenly defiant, angry? Since when had she grown a backbone?
I felt a tab bit miffed at the shocked casts of their faces, though I know, on some level, they were justified. Lenny had bullied and brow-beat my mother for so many years, we were all used to seeing her act in a specific manner. Maybe we even expected it now. I knew this intrinsically. I did, and yet… to witness abject surprise at her furious reaction was aggravating.
Of course, none of them had been privy to her dramatic changes over the past year. Not a single one of them had watched as she flowered anew, got realigned with the person she’d been before she’d met Lenny. They hadn’t seen her personality burst forth, her enthusiasm for life return or her determination take seed and flourish.
I had seen it. Valerie had seen it, and so had Eli.
I know, as I gaze back and try to make heads or tails of the new and improved nature of my mother, they would never understand – not truly. You had to be a Favor to appreciate the enormity of the metamorphosis of my beloved mother. To any outsider, it would seem unnatural, against the laws of physics, something quantum, pushing the very edge of human understanding.
I understood. I got it. It still didn’t stop the fact I felt more than a little defensive of her on the night I graduated.
To add insult to injury, Roxanna was standing next to him, though she hadn’t stepped up onto the wood-bench as he had. Rather, she was beaming, glancing about, muttering over the beauty of the house. “It’s a great investment,” she kept saying over and over.
I wanted to walk up to her and pop her right in her surgically augmented nose. I wanted to flatten the goddamned thing against her cheek. I didn’t care if she was Lenny’s Administrative Assistant or not. To me, she was his master and he was her slave. It was the only way I could see them. She in a G-string, tits hanging out and him bent over ready to… Oh! How I wished those images would leave me be!
Instead, my other grandmother, a strong woman with a no-nonsense attitude and sensible shoes, who was Lenny’s step-mother to be exact, strode to stand before him. She began to talk of how proud she was to have a grandson who’d earned his high school diploma.
It wasn’t like she hadn’t had other grandchildren who’d accomplished the same thing. It was merely her way of telling Lenny to get off the bench and shut the hell up. This was a graduation party, not an Open House.
A tart look from the corner of her eye and a wave of dismissal, and he stepped down from the wood bench, holding out his hand so Roxanna could steady him as he did so. He looked like some debutante coming down off-stage. His movements were too graceful, not very manly at all.
I remember cringing at the sight of them. They were gross to watch, playing at professional colleagues, while alone they did such kinky shit. What made it worse was their roles were reversed. He was the woman and she was the man. Back then, I wasn’t comfortable with witnessing the varying sorts of relationships that might’ve existed in the world beyond my own personal experience. It was as unsettling as it was confusing for me, not to mention nauseating every time my perverse mind rehashed his near corn-holing upon my mother’s bed.
I looked away and instead focused on my grandmother. She was something I could count on. She was like my mother in that department, as solid as a rock. Her hard, worn face had smoothed and warmed as she recanted her joy at having yet another graduate in the fold of the family.
The tension broke and the party resumed as it should’ve, though I did see a knot of auntie’s form around my mom almost immediately. My mother’s open displeasure at her husband’s announcement had emboldened them it appeared. I could tell from their jerking gestures and resigned shakes of their heads, they hadn’t agreed with selling the property any more than my mother did.
I was annoyed as well, and it wasn’t just because the idiot had marred what should’ve been a celebration and not some ploy to hurt my mother. Because, when you added things up, that’s what it was. That’s why Lenny had invited Roxanna. That’s why he’d paraded her around in front of me friends, my cousins, my uncles and aunts, and my grandparents. It was his misguided way of proving how inconsequential she was, of how little she mattered to him. Maybe he sensed some of the change in her as well. It could’ve been he saw himself losing that tiny portion of absolute control over her and felt it was time to show her, her proper place.
I wouldn’t have put it passed him. He could be so childishly vindictive when he wanted to be. He could’ve constructed the entire scenario just to send her a message. Hey, Pillar, don’t get a big head. I’m watching you and I’m still in charge. Don’t you see? I can bring my slut-hoe wherever I want. I can show her off to your family. Hell, I can even sell this fucking house from right under you, and there’s not a god damned thing you can do about it, you stupid bitch!
It didn’t matter to him, just hours prior, I’d graduated from high school. The fact this rite of passage was the harbinger of my embarkation upon my life’s journey had little to no meaning to him. I should’ve known, right? This was his stage. No matter what, this was his performance. Everyone else’s lives were so much more insignificant to garner any real kind of attention. The people who’d filled my mother’s house to near capacity were there to serve as a platform for the goings-on in his life and no one else’s. Surely, not mine. I mean, what was I thinking? How could I be so self-centered?
This entire gathering was only about him trying to get back at my mom. For what, I had no idea. She hadn’t done anything other than get most of the house remodeled in less than a year. All she had done was turn a “money-pit” into something of real value, something to be admired.
And who could disagree? The house was perfect. She’d done a magnificent job rejuvenating the house, of bringing its’ efficiency and safety levels up to modern standards, while maintaining the look like and feel of a house built at the turn of the twentieth century. He couldn’t even admit it had been her doing. What had he said? The hired help? What a colossal dip-stick.
Now, the dickhead, wanted to sell it.
I didn’t stay too much longer. I wanted to. I did. I wasn’t your typical, shut-off teenager. I love my extended family. I like spending time with them. I like talking with my aunts and uncles. I love messing around with my cousins. I wouldn’t give them up for anything.
…Except to get away from Lenny. I was done with him. I was. He had crawled so far up my skin I loathed being around him, especially with his Craven Raven hanging around like some bird-of-prey hovering over its’ kill.
Actually, if memory serves, it was she who drove me from the house. It was Roxanna who made Myra and I leave for my friends’ party, because I didn’t want anything to do with her.
And Myra… well, my girlfriend wanted to kick her ass.
Sometime after Lenny’s rude announcement, she decided it was time to stalk me. She’d left his side with a whisper in his ear and had come to stand where I‘d been standing, watching my mother and my aunts gesticulate over the house.
I hadn’t noticed her right away and was somewhat surprised when she leaned in and said, “I hadn’t realized you were bigger than your father until now.”
I was about to say something flippant when I noticed it was her and the witty retort turned to sour milk on my tongue. Of course, her statement was rhetorical. Anyone could tell, even at a distance, I was taller, wider and weighed more than Lenny. I’d passed him years ago. Now, with me working out so hard for track, our difference in size was even more exaggerated.
She half-turned toward me, giving me a better view of her chest through the skin-tight sweater-dress she’d worn to the party.
I forced myself to look in her eyes, which were only an inch or so lower than mine. Her heels made us nearly the same height.
She had pulled her hair back in a French braid, a hairdo that had come into vogue in the past few years. I had to admit it was an appealing look. It accentuated her neck line, showed off her tanned skin, even made her jaw appear regal. Her eyes had been boring into mine the entire time.
“I wonder if you’re bigger elsewhere as well…” It was dramatic tailing-off of her words, emphasizing the sexual implications, which was unnecessary.
“Bigger elsewhere”, could only mean one thing.
I was a teenager, but I wasn’t stupid. I gazed back at her, deliberately eyeing her ample bosom. “I don’t bat from that side of the plate, Roxanna.” I didn’t even care if I’d just admitted I’d seen what she and Teej and Lenny had been doing that night. I wanted her to know I wasn’t a freak-a-zoid like my one-time father.
She peered back through her eyebrows. “Maybe not now, but…”
I clicked the roof of my mouth. “You’re sick. Both of you are sick!”
“You sure you don’t wanna… I don’t know… try, at least?” She laughed from deep in her throat.
I was so irate; I wanted to slap her across the face.
She saw this and purred through a smile. “Why don’t you just show me what you got and we’ll go from there.”
I just left. I also left her musing unanswered. It wasn’t worth the effort to put words together and say them aloud.
I meandered through the party, talking to as many people as possible. It was an efficient way of saying good-bye in advance. I knew then I wasn’t going to stay much longer.
I found Myra out back, talking to a knot of my cousins and some of the teenage kids of friends of my parents. I politely extricated her from the conversation and told her what had happened.
Per her typical response to a situation of this nature, she wanted nothing more than to scratch out Roxanna’s eyes.
I thought this was a little too much, so I provided her with an “out”.
“Let’s go to Al’s party,” I offered.
We found my mother, made some hasty good-byes and got the hell out of there.
I could tell she knew something was afoot, but stayed silent for my sake. My mother had always been intuitively astute.
As I sit here and write this, I wish I had sought out Eli just to tell him I was leaving and that I loved him. It would’ve made me feel better, I think.
Why do we always scrutinize every second of a bad situation? Why do we always try to find a way to go back in time and fix it? We know, deep in our hearts, there’s nothing we can do? And yet, we spend hours agonizing over this detail or that nuance as if we had the ability to travel through time. Why do we do that?
I try not to obsess over it too much. But, breaking it down and looking at it for what the night would become, in the least, I wish I had told my little brother I loved him.
How was I to know I wouldn’t get the chance for the rest of the summer?
Lenny and his horny bitch of an assistant had chased me from the house. I left in a hurry, glad to leave everything behind, relieved. Myra’s tiny hand in mine was all I needed.
I was wrong.