Monday, August 31, 2009

A Dinner Party

She was wearing clothes with paint on them. The volunteers at the Habitat for Humanity worksite must have painted today. Her clothes had fresh paint mixed in with the dry. Her jeans had a bright red patch of fabric in the shape of lips sewn onto the butt. She told me that this was her way of telling male construction workers to kiss her ass when they tried to tell her what to do.

“Hello honey,” my mom said holding out her arms. She asked for a hug even though she knew I hated hugging people. Hair always got in my face and in my mouth. My mom’s short blonde hair was no different. I came within hugging distance and let her wrap her arms around me, my arms hanging loosely at my sides. I hoped the paint was dry enough that it wouldn’t get on my clothes or skin. She smelled of new barkdust. She must have done more than paint.

“Brat,” she said as the hug ended.

“Where’s Rain?” I said taking off my coat. It felt good to get its weight off my shoulders. I laid it across the back of the couch.

“In her room.”

“You really need to get a new couch Mom. This one is just”

“Hi Max,” a Southern voice called from the kitchen. It was Robin, my mom’s boyfriend. I considered Thursdays this household’s weekend. It was the day I came over most often. It wasn’t always easy for me, but I tried to work it into my schedule as much as I could. That way it didn’t always look like I was trying to avoid them.

“He’s making homemade macaroni.” I jumped, startled. Turning around I saw Rain standing at the end of the hall. She had just woken up. Now at twenty years of age she could make nearly any male drool at just the sight of her. At the moment though, her pet flying squirrel was walking back and forth across the back of her shoulders, her shoulder-length brown hair was flat on one side and stuck to her face. She had the indentations of her pillow running across the right side of her cheek. She was wearing a white t-shirt and pajama bottoms with the Veggie Tales characters Bob and Larry on them. She took one look at herself in the mirror next to her and said, “Oh my god,” before running into the bathroom and slamming the door behind her.

Macaroni finally penetrated my sense of smell. It smelled delicious. Not that I cared what Robin made for dinner. Anything was better than cafeteria food. I went into the kitchen to find him and mom talking. Whatever they were talking about was cut off when I entered. “Set the table please,” Mom said. “Dinner will be ready as soon as you do.” I sighed. This was going to be a long night. “And when you’re done here, tell your sister it’s time to eat.”

“Rain,” I called out as I grabbed glasses, plates, and silverware from the cupboard and drawer, “It’s time to eat.”

“I could have done that,” mom stated.

Mom lit the candles and turned out the lights. It always surprised me that there were enough candles to see by.

“Then why didn’t you?” I started setting the table as Robin set the food out and mom opened a bottle of wine.

“There’s soda in the refrigerator. We have Root Beer and Crème Soda,” Robin said.

“Thanks,” I said. And I meant it. It was nice to know that in a family of casual drinkers there were still other beverages around for someone who didn’t drink. This was the first time I had felt happy since getting out of my car. Robin always seemed to be able to make me feel that way. Grabbing a Root Beer, I was the last to sit down. “Sorry.” I said. I wasn’t sure if I was talking about sitting down last or scraping the chair on the hardwood floor. I poured soda into my glass.

“To Rain’s first day of work,” mom said. We all clinked our glasses together before taking sips. I became moody again. Of course mom would toast Rain again. Rain was her favorite child. Just like Vita was Dad’s favorite child. Was I anyone’s favorite? No. Definitely not. Maybe that’s why I latched onto Robin, the unofficial member of the family.

“That wasn’t funny.” I heard Rain say.

“What?” I asked, coming out of my thoughts. “What are you talking about?”

“Nothing.” Rain said, blushing.

“It was the story with Rain on the moving sidewalk in the airport,” Robin said with a smile. He looked younger when he smiled. With his thinning, gray hair and Hawaiian shirts, he looked to be in his mid to late forties, but when he smiled it took about ten years off.

I burst out laughing. That was one of the classic stories.

“When she was talking to mom about how someone falling at the end of one of them-”

“And then she does the same thing,” mom said laughing hard. Even Rain by this point was giggling.

“The group of strangers thought it was funny too,” I said. “And that was one of the stories you actually knew about,” I continued, still trying, and failing, to control my laughter.

“What does that mean?” mom asked, determined to understand what I meant.

“Oh please. You always used to say you knew everything, ‘Mothers know everything,’” I playfully mocked. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“This sounds interesting,” Robin said with a wide grin. I took the opportunity to take a couple bites of my dinner. I had almost forgotten about it and didn’t want it to get cold.

“When Rain was young and learning to open doors and following people around-” Rain growled playfully; she obviously remembered what I was talking about. I smiled, I was glad to be getting my mind off of who was the favorite child. “In a Pied Piper fashion I let Rain follow me up to the top bunk bed, knowing she couldn’t get down,” just the thought of it made me giggle, “I left the room and she was trapped for I don’t know how long.”

“Until Vita found me.”

Mom let out a surprised huff before giving me a glare. I was worried for a moment. I looked around and saw the smiles on everyone else’s faces. I realized she was teasing me, just like I was teasing her. Besides what could she do to me now? I was eighteen. And I wasn’t living with her anymore. She made sure of that when she divorced dad. She moved out. I retreated from those thoughts. I needed to keep things as light as possible tonight, otherwise I would say something I would regret.

Robin was the first one done with his dinner. “Rain? Is there any story about you where you don’t come off as clumsy or misused by Max?” He had a genuinely curious and playful smile on his face. I knew however that he was treading on dangerous ground and I was going to have to bite my tongue to keep certain comments to myself.

When mom finished, she put her silverware and glass on her plate.

“Yeah. There’s lots,” Rain replied.

“No there isn’t,” I argued.

“Yes there is.”

“No there isn’t.”

What was I doing? I should have been over this phase of my life when I was ten. It was incredible how Rain always made me revert to a child.

“Max. Rain is right,” mom said.

“Yeah, I know.” I said, trying to keep the mood light and hide my sarcasm.

“What was that? Max, is something wrong?”

“Yes, everything’s fine,” I lied, hoping she would stop prying. I didn’t know if I could keep telling her this lie much longer. I tried to change the subject but she cut me off again.

“If you’re sure.”

“Of course I’m sure.”

“You don’t sound sure,” Robin said. His response came out of left field. Sometimes he was so quiet I would forget he’s sitting there. He’s the way I use to be. It’s one of the reasons I get along with him as well as I do.

“They’re right,” Rain said.

Now Rain too.

“Please tell us what’s wrong Max,” mom continued.

I took a deep breath and released it. They weren’t going to let this go. I took another deep breath. “Mom. Rain is your favorite child. She always has been. I’m not being mean, I’m being honest.” I said this as kindly as I could. I could feel the frustration behind the years of holding the information in. It was boiling over as if it would explode at any moment.

The only sound that could be heard was Rain’s flying squirrel snoring. She kept the thing in her coat hood and it was full after being fed table scraps. The snoring was interrupted by a high-pitched giggle that sounded like a Christmas-elf. It was Rain’s phone. She had a text message. Slowly she got up and left the room to see who it was. The fight may have been about her, but it was between mom and me.

“What is this all about, Max?” Robin asked calmly. I had never seen him more serious before.

“I just told you what this was about,” I stated to mom. I was still calm, but it wasn’t as controlled this time. Robin may have asked the question, but this conversation wasn’t about him. I wasn’t angry with him, I was angry with mom. “Rain is your favorite. You can deny it all you want, but it won’t be the truth.”

“Do you need me to be here for this?” It was clear Robin was uncomfortable. I felt bad for putting him in that situation. He was a nice guy and would be there for my mom if she needed him to be. I respected him for that. She shook her head in silence, not taking her eyes off me. He squeezed her hand, said, “I’m here if you do,” and he followed Rain to the back part of the house.

“What makes you think Rain is my favorite child? I’m a parent. I love all my children equally. Rain, Vita and you all equally.”

“I noticed you mentioned Rain first,” I muttered quietly enough to not make the words understandable. I knew she would ask what I said so I went on. These were things I had been bottling up for a while and I was going to stay in control of this conversation. “Lots of things. Not the least of which is the fact that since the divorce I’ve had to listen to the both of your gossip turn into bashing. And you don’t even care that she does it, do you? You encourage it.” Mom tried to argue, but I cut her off, “That’s not even what bothers me most of all.”

“What does then?” Her voice turned cold. I knew I had better get to the point. She was on the verge of going full blown mom on me, eighteen or not.

“Remember when she was four and you blamed Vita and I for her throwing her vegetables on the floor. There’s no way that could have been her.” The sarcasm was thick in my voice.

“That was funny,” Rain replied coming back into the dining room.

“You don’t need to be here,” mom and I said at the same time. Well at least that’s one thing we could agree on.

“This fight is obviously about me. I have a right to be here.”
I didn’t like that. I could tell mom didn’t either. Odd thing is, I had no ill will towards Rain, just the way mom treated Rain as compared to everyone else, especially me.

I put all that aside and continued with the story, “Vita and I stood against that wall for two hours, except for a few chores, and the only reason it wasn’t longer was because I convinced her that you would never take her to Chuck E. Cheese again. If she hadn’t confessed out of fear of never going to that damn place, who knows how long Vita and I might have been standing there.” Both mom and Rain started crying. Great. This is why I didn’t want Rain in the room. Maybe I could get her to smile while still getting my point across to mom. It would be worth it, even if I lost ground in the argument. “I missed Ramblin’ Rod and Muppet Babies standing against that wall.”

Rain smiled briefly and rolled her eyes. The moody expression, however, did not leave her face. My heart clenched.

“Anything else,” mom asked. A tear ran down her face.

“There’s lots of stories where Rain should have been the bad guy, but I got the blame. There’s also some times when both of us should have been blamed. But it ended up being just me. I don’t want to get into those. I should, however, remind you of what you yourself told me about her when you were a volunteer at the public library.”

I didn’t need to say anything. Mom said it for me: “This one has a gleam in her eye that the other two don’t.” That phrase usually made the three of us smile. Not today. More tears ran down her face.

Robin came back into the dining room. He was wearing a red robe that was almost beyond its expiration date with a pair of black pajama bottoms on underneath. He quietly sat down next to my mother.

“What about the phrase ‘She’s younger. She doesn’t know any better.’ Does that sound familiar to you Mom?” I asked.

Rain snorted.

“It does to Rain. The first couple of times you said it, it made sense. But then Rain got older and did start to know better. She started using it to her advantage every time you said it.” Mom looked shocked. How could she be that naive? That’s right, by having a favorite child.

I felt drained. Without saying a word, I headed towards the bathroom. I needed to be alone for a few minutes. I washed my face. The white porcelain showed just how dirty my face was. I rewashed my hands and wondered why I said all those things to her. Did they really need to be said? What was any of it really going to accomplish? I left to apologize. As I turned into the hallway I heard Mom talking, “He’s right. I do favor Rain. I don’t mean to, but I do.” My heart shattered. I didn’t want to believe it was true. I knew it was, but to hear it being confessed was too much. I needed to leave. She continued talking, but I didn’t listen to the rest.

Without saying a word I walked to the couch, picked up my coat and walked out the door. None of them noticed me leave.

When I got to my car I let tears flow freely without concern. Why was I letting this get to me? Every parent has a favorite child. I knew she loved me. I just wished I knew why it bothered me that she loves Rain more.
That...she loves...Rain...more.

That was it. Whether or not it was true, that was the way it felt.

I started the ignition, drove out of the driveway and down the block. I pulled to the side of the road when I realized that I wasn’t going to get far if I didn’t stop crying. Would I ever get over this? There was only one way to find out and there had been enough confrontation for one day. I picked up my cell phone and called mom’s number. “Hello. This is Catharine’s phone.” I guess I upset her enough to not answer. “This phone lives in my pocket. Leave your name, phone number, and credit card number and I will get back to you as soon as I finish shopping.”

I started talking after the beep. “I’m sorry Mom. I can’t help how I feel in this situation, but I need you to know that. I will get over it and everything will be okay and I’m sorry. I just wish I had the courage to tell you this in person.” I pulled the phone away from my ear to hang up when I remembered, “Mom, I really like the message. Even if most people use debit cards nowadays.”

I hung up the phone and dialed another number. “Do it. I dare you,” the message said after four rings.

“Rain. I’m sorry I’m a coward and can’t do this in person. I’m sorry. I don’t hate you or Mom. I’m a little upset with her, but I’ll get over it. Please. Take care of her. You and Robin do a good job at that.” I hung up the phone. I sat in my Chevrolet with two questions. Would I ever really get over it and was I lying to my family when I said I would? I didn’t know the answers.

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