Sushi. That’s what we were picking up from my Aunt’s house. Missy and I were driving over an hour to pick up my aunt’s Japanese Chin dog, Sushi. Patricia said she didn’t have time for the dog, and it was so cute and good and she hated to neglect such a sweetie. She told me he was pedigreed with papers and she paid $1200 for him. I happily agreed to take him. From the pictures, he was a cute little guy.
Missy only met my aunt one other time, so I was excited for her to get to spend the evening with her. She was one of my oldest friends, so I was happy that they could really get to know each other. Patricia was a hoot, and if you couldn’t have a good time with her, something was wrong with you, not her!
Aunt Pat was what I usually called her, and she was my deceased father’s sister. She was five years older than he was, and was definitely the black sheep of the family. Despite that, she launched a new company all by herself, and was very successful. The house we were going to, was her new home out in the country, just outside of Nashville. It was gorgeous inside and out. We spent that evening out on her back patio that overlooked a beautiful koi pond. The pond was expertly landscaped with stones and plants, it had a waterfall, and at night, strategically placed lights gave it an intoxicating glow.
We met Sushi, and he was a cutie. He was black and white, like an Oreo cookie. He wagged his tail and said hello, then he was off to his little bed in the corner. It didn’t take us but a few minutes to make it out to the patio. We all smoked, we all drank, and we all liked to talk. That’s what we did, for hours! It was fun and I was tickled that Missy liked Patricia. I knew she would.
Missy and I had been friends for so long, she knew almost everything about me. She heard all of my family drama stories over the years, so she knew what the deal was with everyone. Including Patricia. But of course, when Aunt Pat talked and told stories, she pretended she had never heard them before. After a couple of hours had gone by, it was obvious to me that Patricia had crossed over to “officially drunk.” Besides the tell-tale slurring, she started talking about her father, my grandfather. He was emotionally and physically abusive to her throughout her whole life. To that day, he refused to acknowledge any of her accomplishments, he would only point out her shortcomings and bad decisions. Which, granted, she had made some mistakes. Boy, he would not let her forget them. One of the biggest ones was that she had been married nine times in her 65 years. Left home at 18 to marry the first one. She was not good with men, obviously. Each of her three sons had a different father. She was abused by a couple of them, abandoned by a few, and it just didn’t work out with a few. By this time, she hadn’t been married for a while, which she had decided was best. I agreed with her!
Her dad did not agree with most anything she ever did, and he made no secret about it. He would not tell her that he loved her, even when she would look him right in the face and ask him, “Do you love me?” He would just look at her stone-faced, and not say a word. She acted like it didn’t bother her, but as soon as she had a buzz going, that façade quickly melted away. This 65 year-old woman with three sons, two grandchildren, a beautiful home, and a million dollar company, would start to cry and ask why didn’t her father love her? It was so sad and it broke my heart. It wasn’t my first night of drinks with her, so I wasn’t surprised she brought it up.
My dad, on the other hand, could do no wrong. It was awkward as a young child, because even then I knew that my brother and I were being treated better than Patricia’s boys. My grandparents always wanted to have separate Christmas’s so they could give us more presents than when we all got together with them. They were much more involved with my father and his life than Patricia and hers’. To her credit, I never saw her act out or be ugly to my dad, our mom, or us kids. Even though she had to have known. Even I knew when I was five.
After we talked about what an asshole my grandfather was for a while, she indicated that she wanted to tell me something. I was confused by what she was saying, because she would say she wanted to tell me something, and then she would say that she wasn’t going to, and to just forget it. Back and forth, back and forth. Missy and I were laughing, Patricia was obviously just about as drunk as Cootie Brown.
Then, “All right, fuck it. I’m just going to tell ya. Bill’s been married before.” Then she sat back in her chair and sighed, like she had been holding that in for decades. She had been.
I just looked at her. I was dumbfounded, frozen. What did she say? Bill, my father had been married before our mother? That couldn’t be true! They got married as soon as my mother graduated college. He had just graduated from college too. I never heard about any other marriages! I wasn’t mad or anything, I was just surprised!
“Tracey, Grandmom and Pop made us swear not to tell you kids. I’ve wanted to tell you this for over twenty years! I mean, what’s the big fucking deal? So, Bill’s been married before? Who gives a shit?”
“No, I understand! I’m not mad, I just have to wrap my head around it. Let it sink in for a minute. I just never, never expected you to say that!” I tried to be nonchalant.” I have to go to the bathroom, I’ll be right back.”
Holy shit, our dad was married before and everyone’s been keeping it a secret from us! Why would they do that? I don’t give a damn if he was married before! Hell, I’ve been divorced! Their son, my brother has been divorced! Half the people I know have been! I remember grabbing each side of the sink, and looking at myself in the mirror. I felt like I was in a dream. Secrets? Why the secrets? That’s what I don’t get!
While I’m in the bathroom, Missy has been out on the patio with Patricia the whole time. She told me later that Patricia was torn all to pieces. She’d go back and forth from “I shouldn’t have ever told her. Oh my God. I messed up so bad!” to “Well, hell! It’s her right to know! They’re not little kids anymore! My God!” then back to “Lord, they’re never going to speak to me again. Daddy made me swear I wouldn’t tell those kids about their dad.”
I’m back on the deck, having fully refreshed my beverage, and Patricia filled me in. She said that right out of high school, he married some girl from his school named Linda. It was no big deal, they were only married a couple of months. But, at mom and dad’s funeral, Linda showed up to pay her respects. Grandmom and Pop threw a fit and made her leave! They wouldn’t let her sign the register, and they wouldn’t let her come anywhere near my brother and I. They also tore up any pictures of Linda or of the two of them together, so we would never find them.
“What’s the big deal?” I asked. “What do we care if he was divorced before he married mom? We don’t care! The only thing that bothers me is the great lengths everyone went to keep it a secret! Good Lord!”
“I don’t know, Tracey. I’m telling you, they are crazy. I mean, I’ve been married several times, and they don’t mind telling everyone in middle Tennessee about that! But I reckon, cause it’s Bill, they didn’t want to risk putting a blemish on his reputation. Honey, I’m sure that your mom and dad were planning on telling you, they just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. If they had known that they were going to be gone…”
I stopped her there, and got up and gave her a hug. She had black mascara running all down her face from crying. It was obvious this was a huge burden for her. She told me then to tell Grandmom and Pop that I knew and that she was the one who told me. She said, “I don’t give a shit anymore. They don’t love me no matter what I do, so what the hell?” then she chuckled.
On the way home Missy and I could hardly take a breath, we were talking so fast about what Patricia told us. Sushi the dog was wandering around the back seat of my car, then he’d hop up on the console, then down to the floorboard where Missy’s feet were. We were coming up with different scenarios that would explain why my grandparents did what they did. We knew they were from a different generation, but to go to such lengths to cover up a three-month marriage didn’t make any sense!
We finally pulled into Missy’s driveway so I could drop her off. We were both exhausted! As Missy is reaching around to grab her purse, her cigarettes, and stuff, she noticed there were M&M’s in the floor. I had one of those big bags of regular M&M’s that we snacked on during the trip to Patricia’s. I turned the interior light on, and to our horror, we discovered that Sushi had eaten all of the M&M’s! That was a lot of chocolate! We both thought the same thing, “Won’t chocolate kill dogs?” Oh Lord, I’ve killed Patricia’s $1200 dog. She’ll be devastated! Turns out, chocolate was no match for Sushi. She was just fine! Patricia lied about Sushi, though. He wasn’t housebroken, good, or sweet. She just didn’t want him anymore! Dammit! I really shouldn’t have been too surprised…I loved her, but I knew my aunt could be a real heifer when she wanted to!