I eat my subsidized lunch in the guidance counselor’s office during Banana Split Club twice a week. I sit among my fourth-grade classmates, who can relate to having (un)wanted stepparents, feeling like a ping-pong ball in the game of custody, and to the aching feeling that maybe, somehow, it’s all our faults. When the counselor takes an interest in our emotional well-being, the world becomes blurry. Tears stream from my eyes like melting ice cream on a scorching summer day.
My parents got married when they were nineteen and expecting their firstborn, Michael. He’s funny and rageful, like mom. Eight years later, Kevin came along; he rebels against the status quo and has a kind heart. Lastly, I ripened in a womb laced with stress as my parent’s marriage transitioned from bad to worse.
Three years into my life, my parents go their separate ways; and like a ship with a slow leak, we all go down with them. I’m a walking compilation of a pair who feel more like a strange dream than a reality. I swim in the grey muck between them, wondering how I ever came to be.
My nails take the brunt of my worry - brittle, damaged, and rough around the edges; they depict my inner world. My expectations for perfection have already started. Later on this year, I’ll go to therapy, and like Mary Poppins’ carpet purse, my bottomless baggage will take decades to unpack.
It’s no wonder that when I’m grown, my bookshelves house many titles urging me to live up to my fullest potential.
I’m six when Maurice enters the picture. He is fresh out of jail when they meet. I wear a mauve-colored dress at their wedding, Mike walks mom down the aisle, and Kev stares spitefully at the ceiling of the church during their vows. The wedding cake topples over during transport to the reception, foreshadowing the mess to come. Mom and Mo’s honeymoon phases come and go with his sobriety.
I’m sixteen when mom becomes Born Again, and she meets Marvin. Per Mom’s request, I wear her first wedding dress at their wedding, as in the dress she wore the day she married my dad. Mike gives mom away one last time. Kev lives in Seattle now and declines the invitation. Of the three of us, Mike has the unique experience of attending all of our mom’s weddings.
A man with a teardrop tattoo on his face sanctions Mom and Marvin’s marriage. The bizarre ceremony melts away as I get lost in the teardrop; has he lost someone, killed someone, spent time in jail? Maybe he loved Cry-Baby the movie as much as I did.
A banner hangs above our heads, “People are sinning, and dying, and going to hell, what are you going to do about it?” I ponder the question; the answer is obvious.
I’m going to hell.
During their mission hall reception, I study Marvin like a cold case detective. It doesn’t take long for me to notice he treats women as the subservient sex. I trust him as much as I trust my mom.
I listen intently to a story told on Marvin’s behalf; it’s one of addiction, desperation, and a “coming to Jesus moment” where Marvin runs straight into the arms of salvation after finding a dead body in a trashcan. I look around the room to gauge the response.
Am I supposed to clap?
I tether myself to the dysfunction; I don’t realize that I’m holding scissors the whole time.
© Katie Pendergast 2021