New York, 1982
I forced myself to look at the photograph from several years ago. The image captured a perfect setting of an azure sky above a sandy beach in Jamaica. The other three people stood in a group of three while a young lady with short blond hair wearing a striped bathing suit cover-up stood at a short distance. The blond was me. Had that photo captured a real discomfort that remains unresolved?
I examined the photo more closely. It showed my mother Renata, her boyfriend Alphaere—or, Alfie—and his teen-aged son Justin, six years younger than me. Renata’s ash blond hair, white owl sunglasses, and form-fitting white bathing suit made her look younger than her forty-seven years. How could she have appeared so carefree, considering what she must have known? Like Poe’s raven, she’d chosen to deny that truth forevermore or to speak of it nevermore. Really, the vacation had been crazy, I reflected. Alfie had just recovered from a cerebral hemorrhage and at the time his case had been written up in the medical journals as a miracle. I supposed it was because Alfie had survived the surgery. That was back in the 1970s, before such procedures were commonplace.
My family, such as it was, had decided on this vacation because of Alfie’s recovery from a cerebral hemorrhage. Back in the 1970’s, before modern procedures, his surviving the surgery had been considered a miracle and Alfie had been written up in medical journals.
With a final glance at the photo, I tossed it aside, leaned back, and ran fingers over my brocade couch cushion for comfort. My father had passed away weeks before that notorious vacation. He’d been an alcoholic. Ever since I can remember, his drinking had made me angry, frightened, and sad all at once. Finally, my parents divorced. After that, although I’d lived in my mother’s home when I wasn’t away at college, he and I met frequently until the end. I’d already forgiven his weakness, and at first his death seemed the end of a problem — until his absence created an unexpected void in my life.
Whatever the cause, I'd been painfully abandoned.
When my mother asked me to join “the family” on vacation, had I agreed because I’d just lost Dad and didn’t want to jeopardize my already-tenuous relationship with Renata? Every time I looked at her, I couldn’t believe that she was still with Alfie after what he had done. But what counted most, and what I should do about it, remained an enigma. Already adrift, fear prevented me from cutting ties with my remaining parent. Despite everything, I decided to try to bond with my mother. And thus, I forced myself into daily contact with Alfie.
My feelings of abandonment were profound. And I don’t say that my reaction to those events had been the most common. Was it because, I’d just lost him, so when my mother asked about a vacation, I didn’t want to risk putting our relationship in jeopardy? Or because I wanted to try to bond with her, even given the circumstances. Was it possible to maintain a relationship? That question scared me profoundly.
I lay down on the couch, closed my eyes, and attempted to block those memories. Of course, I couldn’t. Back then, at eighteen, I could have passed for sixteen, and I family shocks must have stunted my emotional development. I truly wanted the dream family I knew I did not have. Renata seemed ready to marry Alfie. He could never, ever, be a father to me.
That thought cast me back....
I would have done anything, to have the family of my dreams. Of course, that was a load of crap. Alfie could never be my father, and my mother was not yet married to him at the time. Lying on the couch, I closed my eyes, and attempted to block those memories but of course, that never worked either.
Mother, Alfie, Justin and I had just arrived at the Hotel Geejam, where a three-man Mariachi band greeted us. One of them played a washboard. Beside them, a pale blonde woman in a tunic held a welcome bowl of “bug juice,” which a dark-faced man poured into cups and handed out. He smiled at me. I recall wondering if he was a kind person. He might have had a gold tooth. I can’t be sure.
I opened my eyes and tried to orient myself in my own living room as it came to me that my focus on anything other than the family seems telling. Trapped by memory, I drank the fruit punch we stood outside and set down the cup on the proferred tray. The others had moved away, but I moved in the opposite direction from them. The beach, and azure water attracted me. I stepped out to the edge of the ocean, to the clearest water I’d ever seen. I wanted my toes in the surf, but I was wearing shoes. Offshore, I spotted branches of coral beneath the swells. It seemed I could see to forever, and I might have remained there longer except—
“Kim, come over here,” Mother shouted. “We want to go see the accommodations.”
Once I joined the others, we walked to the villa assigned to Renata and Alfie. As soon as I entered, I sensed we might have a problem. The room held a large double bed covered by mosquito netting. Was it testimony to their sleeping together, or were all the rooms furnished like this?
“I hope my room has a single bed,” thirteen-year-old Justin said.
I offered what I hoped was a comforting smile.
“Let’s go see,” Alfie’s voice boomed.
Yeah, his voice boomed. The big man, the steamroller.
We all walked to the second villa, and thankfully, it was a little different with two single beds in the room.
“Thank goodness,” Justin said.
“Are you sure you’ll be comfortable here?” Alfie looked over at him. “I can always sleep with you, and Kimberly can sleep with Renata,” Alfie said.
“But I need to watch over you,” Mother said. “There might not be a doctor here for miles and miles.”
“No matter,” I offered. “Us kids can stick together, right Justin? A certain part of me couldn’t risk safety for Justin’s sake as well as my own. I didn’t want to sleep with my mother after what happened and my mother’s choices afterward. As far as Alfie, I wanted to stay as far away from a bedroom with him as possible in this life. How can Alfie possibly be the love of my mother’s life? Where do I come in?
Justin worked an uneasy smile. “Yeah, sure,” he replied.
So , it was settled, but the madness couldn’t be disputed. How appropriate was it for a thirteen-year-old boy to sleep in a room with an eighteen-year-old girl? What will he tell his mother? I prayed that I wouldn’t have one of my nightmares.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish