MOMENTS OF LIVVY
Thursday, November 25th, 2010, 10:30 a.m.
I am 65 years old
“Mom, we’ve decided to do an intervention for you!” Lily says and checks my reaction.
The words strike me like lightning and I am stunned. I can feel the buzz of electricity travel down through my body to the nice beige carpet they had put in when they renovated the house three years ago. My ears are burning as if my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Taft, had scolded me, and the rush of emotions are the same—shame, guilt, shock, confusion, discomfort, and, above all, regret and disappointment. Regret that I didn’t see this coming and disappointment that Thanksgiving has just been ruined.
“We think you drink too much. It has to stop!” Maya says.
Maya looks relieved that she delivered her line to perfection. She always did get nervous at school plays, which threw her timing off.
I wait for Ben to chime in, but the girls must not have trusted him with a speaking part. All I get is a wordless apology as he joins the other two in their expectant stare.
“Why?” is the only response that comes to my mind, but I don’t say that out loud. Instead, I look at my hands. They are wrinkly with spots, but the nails are still healthy and, right now, polished bright pink by Anabel, Lily’s nine-year-old daughter. In hindsight, that must have been an effort to keep me off the bottle last night. The polish will chip off when I get home and pick up my needlepoint again. I miss that right now. I could also do with a drink, but I guess that’s out of the question.
I do a mental head slap because I walked right into this trap. Of course Lily wouldn’t just invite us back on a whim after my little mishap on her birthday in April. I should have known something was up when she called out of the blue two weeks ago. There is no such thing as a free turkey. There is only pretense turkey, bait-and-switch turkey, and gotcha turkey that I now have to pay for.
Lily mistakes my silence for agreement and presses on.
“We think it’s best if you get into some sort of rehab program, so we’re going to look up the AA meetings around here so you can get started right away.”
Always so efficient, so considerate, so right. Lily has this whole thing wrapped up with a bow and ready to go. It is well thought out and generous of her to offer to help, but, as usual, it is more for her convenience than mine. She wants to tie up her loose ends. She wants me not to be so difficult, not to be so disappointing, not to be so…me. She wants me to fit into the standard box of Grandma so she doesn’t have to worry about me, but I have never fit into anything, and now I am tired of trying. I want to be left alone.
“I also think it’d be good if we set you up with a therapist to talk you through this process,” Lily continues. She seems to forget I don’t live in L.A. Here everyone has at least a handful of shrinks and coaches and spiritual guides to tell them how to live their life. In Elko, Nevada, we have the doctor and the church, and neither of them is big on the why.
“Don’t you have anything to say, Mom?” Maya asks.
While she is not the most perceptive of the three, she doesn’t have Lily’s habit of plowing through. Maya needs me to confess my sins so I can be forgiven and, by association then, her too. This is our “Come to Jesus” moment. Who would have thought that she would be my one child to find God? She was so open and creative—much more of a wild one—until she met pious Derrick at the age of sixteen. I know Maya is concerned for my soul. She is convinced that if I just accept God into my heart, my life will turn around. God is her magic wand. But no God can erase my past, and then I would rather go without. I don’t need the judgment. There is already enough of that to go around.
“I don’t know what to say,” I lie.
I seem to be the only one to notice that the intervention is not about me. They all want me to change so I don’t reflect poorly on them. Even Ben, my sweet, helpless baby. It could as easily be him on the receiving end today. Like his dad, he can’t stay out of trouble, even though his life depends on it. He is adrift in a sea of bad choices. It is not that he doesn’t want to do better; he just doesn’t know how. If I was to do this for any of my kids, it would be him. He needs the hope.
But it is too late for me. I know it can be done; I just don’t have the strength or the will anymore. I have taken leave of my responsibility. I worked so hard for them for so long that I deserve a break. They don’t need me any longer. And me getting sober won’t change that. I don’t want to take care of their snotty kids or sit at their prayer meetings or make sure Ben doesn’t kill himself. My job is done and I did the best I could. Now I want to do my crafts and enjoy my wine. I don’t see what’s wrong with that. If they are afraid of me driving, I can get Robert to do that. That is what I married him for. Because he takes care of me.
No, this intervention is for them. It is like when they were kids, and we played doctor, and I was the patient. It was over much faster if I let them cover me in Band-Aids and gauze. They are paying their dues to me, and they can’t see I have no interest in their debt. That whatever they think they owe me, I don’t want to be burdened by.
“Well, it can hardly come as a surprise for you, Mom,” Lily adds another argument to her case. “It hasn’t gotten any better since my birthday. Quite the opposite from what I hear!”
Ah, there it is. One point for me. The unexplained invitation. Robert’s uncharacteristic eagerness to accept it. His passive aggression hasn’t sharpened with age, has it? Still the same blunt force without wielding the hammer himself. I can’t decide if I am more impressed or hurt by his cunning betrayal. Getting the chickens to come home to roost. My two chicks and their reluctant brother.
We all have our roles in this script. We have performed it many times, so I don’t need any prompts from stage left to know what I should do now. I reach for my forgotten teacup on the table. My hands tremble with anger and whatnot. So much I have to grab the cup with both hands to not spill. I know they notice. I try to cover it by standing up at the same time but only half succeed as I am out of hands to help me get up from the couch. Results are overall wobbly but I have not to care. There is no such thing as a gracious drunk. I head for the door like I always do.
Carrizo Plain, CA
Saturday, April 11th, 1953, 6:40 a.m.
I am eight years old
I see my dad’s right shoulder jerk before I hear the shot. It is as if the two things don’t belong together. Like the shot doesn’t come from my dad’s shotgun but from elsewhere that has nothing to do with us. That would be better. The jackrabbit stops dead in its tracks. I do too. I hope if I stand very still and pretend it didn’t happen, maybe it won’t have, and the jackrabbit will hop on. But nothing moves. Maybe it is afraid to come out because we are here. Like me.
“Why don’t you go get it, Livvy?” my dad says.
It is not a question, just a sign for me to do my part. My dad explained it when we drove here. How we could be a team. How I could help him scare the rabbits out so he could shoot them, and I could bring them back to him. I don’t like that last part. I don’t like any part of it. I thought about how I could avoid it. I asked my dad if we could get a dog. It seems like a thing a dog could do. And then the rest of the time, the dog could be mine. It would be a little white dog with silky fur. I would name her Bella. She would always be by my side. I would like that.
But my dad saw right through me. He knew I was asking because I didn’t want to do it. I could sense he was disappointed in me. He sometimes is. When I am slow or don’t pay attention or when I am scared. It is my own fault. I think he would like me better if I were a boy because boys are not scared.
Driving here in the truck, he said, “Don’t be such a sissy. You have to be able to handle stuff. I can’t take care of you forever.”
I guess that is true. He would get tired of it. And I will be a grown‑up. Someday. Grown‑ups can’t have their dads take care of them. But it is hard to figure out. I take care of Mom. I bring her food and remind her when we have to do laundry on Tuesdays and to turn on the light in the kitchen at night so she doesn’t have to sit in the dark. I sometimes wish I didn’t have to do that. But then who would do it? I don’t have any sisters or brothers. That means I am both the oldest and youngest at the same time. I would like to have an older sister. Now that I am not getting a dog, maybe my sister’s name would be Bella. I like that name. A lot.
Dad snaps his fingers to get me going. I drag my feet over to the spot where the jackrabbit stopped. Please run away, please run away, please run away, I say in my head with each step forward.
The rabbit is dead. It can’t run away. Dark blood, thick as gravy, has trickled out the pellet wounds in the gray-brown fur. It smells warm and sweet and metallic at the same time. My stomach turns and my legs go gooey. I kneel down in front of it and think about its family. What will they think when it doesn’t come home? Will they be worried? Will they come out looking for it? Will its babies cry?
My dad says it is okay to shoot the jackrabbits because there are so many of them, and they have babies all the time. I don’t understand. How can he know if this one had babies? Who will take care of them now? What if it didn’t but was all alone in the world? It is all so sad and I start to cry. Sad, sad tears roll down my face with no sound.
“Whatya doing over there, Livvy?” my dad calls.
I am supposed to pick it up from the bottom of the ears. That is the proper way of carrying it, my dad says. I don’t want to. I don’t want to touch it at all. But I also don’t want Dad to be mad at me, so I close my right hand around the top of the head and feel the fur against my palm. It is a lot coarser than I thought it would be. I get up and turn around and walk over to my dad with my arm stretched out in front of me.
Dad has spread out a small patch of tarp on the ground next to him and motions me to put the rabbit down there. I lay it down on its back, paws up in the air, and Dad folds the tarp around it and gets up from his crouch with the shotgun around his shoulder and the hunting bag in his hand. I get to carry the tarp with the dead jackrabbit.
We walk through the landscape in silence. Red and yellow and lilac flowers in bloom all around us. Insects and butterflies buzz. A falcon circles overhead, keeping an eye out for movement, like my dad. I trail behind in mourning and thought. Maybe all animals are the same. No matter if we fly or hop or walk, we have to eat. And if there are too many of us, maybe there won’t be enough food.
“Is that why you just had me?” I ask, not looking up from the ground. My dad stops and turns around to me.
“What did you say?” he says, but by the way he says it, I know he heard me the first time.
“Did you and Mom only have me because you don’t want there to be too many people?” I ask again. I look up at him towering over me, his brows furrowed and eyes dark. He seems to search my face for the answer.
After a while he says, “No,” and turns around and walks on.
Tuesday, October 19th, 1954, 4:45 p.m.
I am nine years old
I sit at the kitchen table and draw dresses for my paper dolls. I have the small table covered in paper, colored pencils, a pair of scissors that don’t cut too well anymore, and a pea-sized piece of a red eraser for when I make mistakes, which luckily doesn’t often happen because it is pretty hard to use. I am good at not making mistakes. I have to be. If I make mistakes, my mom will be upset and cry, and my dad will yell at her, and I don’t like that. So I am careful.
My mom sits next to me at the table, but she doesn’t look at what I do. She sits so still that she could be a doll too. As if I had just propped her up on the chair but forgot to straighten her back, she is slouching a little with her hands in her lap. She looks out the window at the sky. The sun is low and makes the clouds look like giant cotton candy and marshmallows in pink and white and light orange and milk chocolate. I can make light orange with a red, a yellow, and a little bit of white on top. That is a pretty color for doll clothes.
Mom doesn’t look like a doll. She looks the way she always does. A bulky, black dress with buttons down the middle. Her arms are white like unbaked dough and hanging down her side. Her face is grayer but maybe that is because of her eyes. She has lines from her nose to her mouth and from her mouth to her chin. Her hair is curly and hard to comb through. I know because mine is the same kind. Just a different color. Mine is brown. Hers is not. And I have brown eyes too. They match, my hair and eyes.
I love my paper dolls. There is the blonde, Molly. She likes fun and colorful dresses with flowing skirts and puffy short sleeves, and sometimes she wears white gloves and a hat when she goes out on picnics or shopping. And then there is the dark brunette, Cynthia. She is elegant. She only wears fitted gowns and pearls and attends fancy balls where she meets handsome knights and dukes and dances all night. I hum what I imagine the musicians would play as Cynthia twirls around in the arms of an invisible prince who is about to fall in love with her and sweep her away to his father’s kingdom.
I stop my humming when I hear my dad’s truck on the side of the house. I look at my mom to see if she’s heard it too, but she keeps staring out the window as usual. Sometimes I think she must not have the right feelings because she’s never happy or smiles or anything. My dad gets angry about that. He says we are not what he signed up for. I don’t like that.
Today could be one of those days because my dad slams the truck door hard. My mom flinches at the sound and sits up straighter, as if she is at school and the teacher just woke her up at her desk. It is just a tiny flinch, and her eyes are still fixed on the clouds.
My dad comes in through the side door and stomps past the kitchen to the bedroom. Mom and I sit frozen in our spots as we listen to him rummage around in there. The big closet is opened, and something heavy is slid down from the top shelf. The dirt from his work boots crunches as he turns around in it. Drawers are pulled out all the way and emptied. He takes four steps into the bathroom and picks up a toothbrush from the water glass on the sink and something from the thin shelf in the medicine cabinet. Then he fills the door to the kitchen, his black hair in disarray and touching the doorframe over his head, his shoulders so wide he could be wearing it, and his blue eyes darkened by determination, a suitcase in one hand and his lunchbox in the other. He looks at my mom and says:
“I can’t do this anymore! I want a real wife and a real family.”
Then he turns around on his heels and walks out the side door, gets into his truck, and drives off. The house is quiet again. Quiet and empty. We held our breath and now we have room to breathe out. I look at Mom. She looks at her hands in her lap. A tear rolls off her cheek and down on her thumb. She doesn’t make a sound.
I don’t know what to do. I want to ask her if Dad will come back, but her stillness eats all the air, so I can’t say anything. Maybe if I wait a bit. My body is restless. It wants to move around. As if my questions got into my arms and my legs, they are bursting to get out. My chair makes a loud noise on the kitchen floor as I stand up. Too loud. I tiptoe over to the light switch by the door and turn it on. All the light in the room is sucked into the lamp and shines down on the table. Mom is in the darkness outside the beam. Outside my reach.
I sit down again and pick out a dark teal color for Cynthia’s new ball gown.