Chapter II: Stairs
Despite the gray, soot covered snakes writhing in the fireplace, I was having a great summer on the lake. The amalgamation of damp hair, jams, t-shirts, and Chuck Taylor converse was an appropriate uniform of for the hot season in Texas, and with the exception of my small lawn mowing business, I was responsibility free. I was also incredibly girl crazy, chasing after not only the familiar young women from my high school, but also the slightly more punk rock female persuasion from Dallas and Fort Worth. My mother and step-father traveled extensively that summer on both business and pleasure, sometimes apart but usually together, which meant plenty of opportunity to take advantage of the adult-free house while they were away.
Although there were larger parties in years to come, that season yielded mostly small gatherings that led to smoking, drinking, listening to music, jean scrubbing, and a lot of fumbling with clips, snaps of bras and swimsuits. Even at that age, the lake was an aphrodisiac, especially with the water slowly rolling beneath the dock, new wave music wafting, and teenage desire realized. I was mostly exploring the idea of lust, but It was also the first time I experienced the pangs of falling in love; even though I was completely ill-equipped to know how to appropriately deal with it. Awkward, feigning shyness, premature, immature, and savoring every delicious minute of it. Hearts were broken, mended, and re-broken that summer and the sexual imprinting that occurred would help define the type of women that I would find attractive both physically and mentally for the rest of my life.
Beth was the girl I found myself day dreaming about the most while lounging on the lake or mowing the same patch of grass three and four times while listening to my walk-man; she was smart, intellectual, funny, donning Molly Ringwald red lips, slightly dark new wave fashion, pale and freckled with long curly hair that sculpted back atop her head; not at all like the teased bangs that most of the other teenagers were sporting, but rather, long tendrils that hung abrasive, sexy. She smelled exotic, and listened to sexy British gothic music…even posting obscure vinyl covers of albums by the Cure, Talking Heads, the Pretenders, and Depeche Mode artfully on her bedroom walls. I blew it the next year after smoking too much pot at a Cure show, to the point I was uncommunicative, and she sadly mistook my immaturity for being dismissive. But that summer, she had my attention and my heart.
So, yes, there were myriad distractions that undoubtedly shifted my attention away from the black happenings in our house; and in hindsight, I probably should have been more cognitive of those indicators; but the later diagnosed “Peter Pan” complex that hovers like sunshine above my life even today, causing as much harm to relationships as good, probably started because I’ve always been easily distracted, and quick to shrug off negative, dark energy. Within a week of the snakes, another strange thing occurred that I had completely forgotten until recently.
Part of my regiment during this period of adolescence was traversing the line between getting high and then dealing with trying to prove to my parents that I was not high. Usually it was after I had been out with friends, washing up at the convenient store located outside our gated community to obscure smell of pot, a splash of water, cheap cologne, or a dab of wet towelette that also helped me sober up. But still, on more than one occasion I found myself mis-gauging potency, timing and then trying to talk to my parents or their friends while being cotton mouthed and stoned out of my skull. I typically managed it, but not before being ridiculously paranoid.
On this occasion, I was playing tennis with a friend at the private courts near our house after smoking pot, when I suddenly witnessed my mother’s minivan careen into the parking lot and screech to a halt near the fence. “Dude, you’re busted,” my friend said as she rushed onto our court with my pre-teen sister in tow. I stood there holding my racket, mouth agape, waiting for an accusation.
“Were you just home?” my mother asked quickly, nervously smiling. My sister had tears running down her cheeks.
“Uh, no…we’ve been here for like 20 minutes..” I awkwardly said . My friend hopped over the net, loving every minute of my discomfort, paranoia.
“Be honest, if you beat us down here and were just trying to scare your sister, you’re not in trouble, I just need to know..” she continued with furrowed brow, nervous smile dissipating.
“Case, swear to God!” my Holly screamed. That forced the other people playing tennis to stop and take notice.
“I swear to God,” I answered, “What happened?” Realizing that my step-father was out of town for a couple days as I asked the question. “He should be dealing with whatever this is,” I thought to myself.
“Somebody that sounded like you making a funny voice said ‘mommy’ when we first got home,” my mother said. Now there were other tennis players gathering around the four of us. Just then the lights to the courts blinked on as the day went from dusk to night. My sister whimpered, staring at me.
“C’mon, let’s go check it out,” my friend urged.
“Wait a second,” I said a bit too loud, trying to clear my head.. “What do you mean somebody said ‘mommy’? I mean, who said it?”
My mother’s nervous smile reappeared, feeling a little embarrassed now as other tennis players took a break to drink water and hear the story.
Apparently, after grocery shopping, my Holly ran ahead into the house, and as my mother entered the landing and started to climb the stairs with an armload of brown bags, she heard someone say “mommy” in a falsetto voice. Stopping halfway up the stairs, she called up to my sister, but my sister emerged from the downstairs, not from the direction of the voice; then believing that her son was the source, she smiled and called out my name; and with my sister standing next her now, the voice slowly, loudly called back “MOOOOOOM-MEEEEE!”
Holly screamed, my mother nearly fell down the stairs, and they both bolted out the front door and up to the detached carport, clamoring for keys and each other as they squealed down the hill toward the tennis courts.
My mother had calmed significantly since her arrival, but my sister was still crying, scared. The other male tennis players crowded in close, offering masculine assistance, I suspected only because my mother was attractive and a little frightened. People were always mistaking her for my sister or girlfriend, which I hated, but she loved. It was enough to motivate me to leave the courts so we could investigate ourselves, tennis rackets and bottled Gatorade in hand.
Chris and I drove separately with my little sister in the back seat, and my mother close behind in her minivan.
“So, you heard it too?” I questioned my sister. “What did it sound like?”
“Yessss…it sounded like you!” she kept saying. “Swear to God it wasn’t you! Swear!” My heart broke for my sister; she was prone to crying out of frustration for not getting her way…not because of being scared or terrified.
As I parked, I was surprised to see that all the lights from inside the house were on, shining bright through the trees and darkness that had fallen. Chris and I bounded down the rock walkway, giggling, sweating, exhilarated and out of breath . I pressed in first, looking up at two bags of groceries sitting side by side at the top of the stairs. “Hey!” I yelled.
“Okay,” I whispered. “When we get up to the kitchen, let’s both start screaming like crazy; it’ll scare the shit outta both of them…” Still a little stoned, he started laughing in anticipation. “Shut up, man.” I giggled back.
Then calling up to the carport toward my mother, “Guys, come on in…there’s nothing here!”
They started to make their way toward me, my sister pressed tight to our mother.
“Thank God,” she said as she approached the door. “…is there milk everywhere?” My mother walked into the landing and immediately went slack jawed. My sister screamed and bounded up the stairs toward the carport, my friend close behind her.
My mother and I stood quietly looking up at the two brown bags sitting next to one another at the top of the stairs. “I dropped both of those bags as we ran out,” she uttered. “they both ripped apart; there was milk, juice everywhere…”
I went cold as we both heard the light tap, tap, tapping of scales on glass coming from the downstairs. My friend promptly made his departure. It took us an hour to coax my sister back into the house.