On The Drive

We’re listening to Reggae.  My red-toe nail polish is cracking and revealing the 10 coats beneath it.  I don’t bring remover on tour, I merely paint over and move on.  I’m wearing overalls and flip-flops.  Chris Soucy is doing the crossword.  I wonder if my dad’s second wife, Catherine Walker, still does the crossword.  The thought of Catherine evokes a feeling of being stabbed in the ribs. Intuitively, I sit up straight and behave myself by trying not to breathe. 

Catherine was an injured woman. I knew this even at 12 when she and my dad got married at Saint John the Divine’s Cathedral on 113th Street and Amsterdam in New York. She didn’t know how not to make my brother and me the source of her victimhood.  I recall summoning all my energy just to keep her arrows of condescension from penetrating me.  Even when my brother and I were perfectly behaved, her attitude toward us was unpredictable and abrasive. Some weekends, If we were lucky, she’d hide out in her and dad’s room with her three-legged cat “Kitty,” and her oversized glass of chardonnay full of ice cubes for the duration of our stay.

She had a closet of pets—parrots, bunnies, rats, and 100s of mice who often got lice and were quarantined into multiple cages. She had a chihuahua named “Flea,” she’d found on the street (in Texas I believe) who was always trying to bite Ben and my ankles.  When she wasn’t holed up in her room she was a storm cloud that moved around the apartment in a white nighty, sighing loudly whenever she saw us. I spent my time with her trying to make myself invisible the way I imagined I’d hide from a trigger, knowing that if I breathed wrong she might tear me to pieces with her sharp wit. 

She was full of “Oh goddddddds” followed by sardonic laughter which cut past my heart into the bedrock of my soul.  At my mother’s house, I at least had my own bedroom to escape to where I felt safe and free to be myself.  At Dad’s, all he could convince her to sacrifice for us was a single room.  No toys, no wall décor – just two single beds pushed up against a wall without a bed frame and I’m sure my dad had to fight for that.  She no doubt saw us as extensions of our mother and was only too willing to unleash the full arsenal of her venom on us hoping it might rub off on our mom when we were returned at the end of the weekend.

The thought of Catherine has me looking quite shell-shocked and Soucy leans over to ask if I’m alright. This is how we get to know each other on the road. Someone’s doing the crossword inspires a childhood memory and the next thing you know, we’re trading in divorce traumas and childhood abandonment. This is how a band becomes a family.

Reader interactions

8 Replies to “On The Drive”

  1. I’m so sorry Sally – what an unkind jealous woman. Obviously with her own insecurities. Sad she missed out on enjoying being with you + Ben. I feel so bad you have memories like this – you are a treasure – don’t forget that! xo

    Reply

    1. Awe Shucks, Thanks Meg. Honestly, I didn’t even mean to publish this piece. It was a draft I accidentally hit publish on and got sent out to subscribers. WOOOOOOOOPS. I was actaully pretty sure I’d get some haters and feel really grateful for your compassionate words. I’m ok. The things that challenged me in my youth are what make me the strong gal I am today (albit with some little scars here and there). I don’t mean to complain. I know how good I had it.

      Reply

  2. That’s heartbreaking. What an unhappy person it’s awful what children endure at the hands of some step-parents.

    Reply

    1. Thanks Nancy,
      As I was just saying to Meg, this posting was a mistake. I didn’t mean to make it into the published pile and I was just feeling rotten that I mistakenly hit publish and just feel grateful for your empathy and generosity. I really don’t mean to complain. I’ve got luxury problems.

      Reply

      1. Don’t feel bad about telling the truth. Honestly no matter how you slice it, no one needs to be treated that way—especially children who are for the most part defenseless. I hope you have been able to clear the air with you father re: his inability/unwillingness to intervene on yours and your brother’s behalf.

        Reply

  3. What is it they say Sally? “The truth will free you!”
    So sorry you went through that Sally. It certainly was her loss in that she didn’t have the joy of experiencing you and Ben during those years. It’s sad that your dad couldn’t intervene on your behalf. On the bright side of things, you did have your mom and her family to share what looks like much happiness. It’s been delightful to see you both interact together as adults with her.
    It would be nice to run into you again sometime on the island.

    Reply

    1. Thank you Sylvia,
      You’re very dear to write. There are people who grow you or shrink you. Catherine couldn’t keep me down.

      Reply

  4. Sally,

    As said above, it breaks my heart you and Ben experienced this when you were visiting your dad. You were/are so wise to understand that this type of behavior comes from brokenness. In other words, you realized it wasn’t anything YOU did to deserve this. Thank goodness you two have always had your SuperMama as a constant in your lives!

    Hmm – also glad your dad moved on to what seems like a very happy third marriage.

    Also – hoping you can do the crossword these days without any of these bad feelings!

    Reply

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