He said this to me that first morning, and practically every morning afterward for as long as we were together. He asked, “What is the queen’s desire?”
Well, my god! I would not want to know the woman who didn’t hide her face at such as this. But you know what? Shu kept on asking, and little-by-little, I discovered that I could tolerate a little me-worship just fine.
By Wednesday morning, Shu really had to go to work and I was desperate for more pairs of underwear and my preferred brand of dental floss. I made a stealth run to Waxahachie, planning my arrival for 8:50 a.m., when I knew Daddy would be camped out in his booth at Dairy Queen. He would stay there all morning, sitting hunched up over his coffee and sneering at anybody who dared look his way, and then come home and complain how they were all “just a bunch of “snobs and stuck-ups!”
I could not lie to my father’s face, so I lied via Post-It notes. I wrote that Tee’s business trip had been extended, and pointed out there was plenty of heat-and-eat leftovers (mini-meatloaves, chicken tetrazzini, King Ranch casserole, and baloney and bread to keep him fed through the weekend. Then I packed my things like a crazy hatchet man was after me and got back on the interstate headed north.
I could not stop laughing, unless it was to start crying. All of a sudden, I was Miss Emotion, feeling like I’d never felt before. It was like I’d been in the hot sun all my life and now a cool rain set in until I was soaked, every bit saturated through. I felt new – giddy, sheepish, electrified, terrified. I was plugged in to the world and on, connected to everything, through this man.
Shu wasn’t exactly Stable Abel that week, either. He’d barely get to work before he’d call and say he was hurrying home. To me.
Friday night again. “We” were seven days old. Shu got home from the office with just enough time to jump me, jump into shower, and then jump into his clothes. He had an eight o’clock flight out of DFW to Houston, so here he was all clean, clear-headed and dressed, and here I was in a severely messed-up bed wearing a top-sheet toga and having trouble completing sentences, still abuzz with sensation. Shu prefers a slow pace, but he is an incredible efficiency expert in a pinch. Not one moment wasted.
“I’ll be back Sunday.”
“First flight I can get.” Shu said. He zipped his suitcase closed, then slung it over his shoulder. “You’ll be here? Hm? Please?” He kissed me with each successive “Please? Please? Please?” until I laughed.
“I swear, I will not leave this planet.” I said, to no good effect on the well of ache that was about to blow me apart. Not enough sarcasm in the world to cover it.
“Hey.” Shu’s hand was on my chin, gently turning my face until I was looking up at him. Thank the saints and goddesses who oversee personal hygiene, I was current on chin hair removal. “You’ll be here?” He meant it, I could see that. But reality kept digging its elbow in my side.
He’s going home. To her. They have a home together, you slag.
“Sure. I’ll be here. In fact, bring her back with you. I’ll have breakfast ready on the terrace.” I tried to push past him to the bathroom, but Shu held on.
We didn’t talk. He had to go. I knew that he had to go. This was his weekend with his kids. He was a good dad. His daughter had a soccer game. And there was somebody named Robert Rauschenberg at a museum, some guy that his son liked. Even if I knew Robert Rauschenberg or knew what it was he did – even if Robert Rauschenberg was my best friend and closest confident and I could make personal introductions between himself and Shu’s son Bernard…. Well, it wasn’t like I could tag along now, was it?
“You could stay here all weekend, if you want. Have the house to yourself – a little vacation for you.” Shu said, pulling me closer. “Would you like that?”
“I have a date with Tee.” The hurt on Shu’s face straightened me up quick. I hurried to explain, “Tee has a date. I’m babysitting for him.”
“Do you like his kids?” Shu asked.
“I love his kids.” I said, unable to keep a smile from creeping up on my face and not knowing why.
“Good. Good.” Shu was smiling at me, then hugging me, then peering down the front of my toga. “NO. BAD.” He said “Bad! No time for this! This bad!”
We laughed and we kissed, and the world got small again, easy again, for a few minutes. Then the sheet was in a pile around my feet and Shu was breathing hard in my ear, his hands all over my skin. Then we were against the door instead of him being out the door.
Shu missed his flight, and then another. He had to switch airlines and airports, and drove like a maniac to Dallas Love Field to snag the last seat on the last Southwest Airlines flight to Houston.
Before he left, he made me promise a half-dozen times to lock the door before I went back upstairs to shower. He asked that I please wait until morning to drive to Waxahachie so he wouldn’t have to worry about me on the road late at night with the Friday night drunks and people busting butt to get out of Dallas. I agreed, nodding and smiling and waving until he was down the driveway when I really wanted to permanently attach myself to the hem of his shirt and moan. I reverted to my old self, the woman who – other than pissed-off and poor-me – had trouble accessing emotions. It took standing at the refrigerator and eating half a chess pie and another twenty minutes beyond that before I completely fell out. I stumbled to a chair in the dining room, and then sat on the floor, cross-legged, boohooing into my hands. Good hurt, bad hurt – I’d never felt emotions this strong, not even at my own mother’s death.
I gave myself a half hour to be a pathetic mess before I berated myself into getting up off the carpet. I went upstairs and cleaned, changed the bedding and took a P.T.A. shower. I tried the TV. (Shu could never decide what he cable package he wanted, so he ordered everything.) I couldn’t concentrate to watch anything. I got into the pool and tried floating around on my back and looking up at the pale brown night sky. I tried eating some more, but that pie was sitting heavy on me. I brushed my teeth and laid down. I couldn’t sleep anymore than the man in the moon. I could not stand to be in his house without him. So, I broke my promise and drove the fifty miles home to Waxahachie, sorely dreading what would be waiting for me in the morning.
Daddy eyeballed me hard from the second he walked in the kitchen and found me at the stove making his disgusting eggs. He never said word one, just sat down at the table and glared at me. I worried that he knew the truth. I mean, Tee swore he’d had done everything possible to avoid running into Daddy, but Waxahachie isn’t exactlyDallas. You can only lie so low for so long in this town before somebody sees you.
Sure enough, after Daddy had sopped up the last threads of yolk with a buttered biscuit, he looked up at me and said “Sugar Fitzgerald saw Tee filling up his truck at the Toot ‘n Tote.”
I had prepared another lie, just in case, and then decided what the hell. I was nearly 30 years old. I was a strong, self-supporting, smart woman with nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide. So I just stuck to the task of mixing up tuna fish salad and said, “I’m not putting onions in this tuna fish.”
“Hell you’re not!”
“Dr. Leary said no onions because of the reflux.”
“She’n go to hell! If I want onions, I get goddamn onions! YOU HEARIN’ ME?”
“Fine.” I said, picking up my paring knife. “Just don’t blame me when you’re up belching all night long.”
“Ain’t none of your business.” Daddy finished off the glass of tea that I’d poured him and thumped the glass against the tabletop, his way of asking for more.
I ignored the thumping.
“What I do, or don’t do, ain’t none of your business!”
“Ditto.” I said. I tossed the onion skin over his head, straight into the garbage. He started to say something about that, but I pointed at him with the knife in my hand and said, meaningfully. “Ditto.”
My cell phone rang. I answered it without looking, snapping “Hello!”
“I miss you.” Shu said. “I just got here – Houston had a storm blow in and my flight was delayed, so I just got in, and all I can think of is how much I miss you.”
I laid down my knife, wiped my hands on my pants, and went out onto the back porch.
“Well, here’s something that doesn’t make any sense.” Shu said. “I know.”
I heard him exhale. “What I know, Vashti, is that I love you.”
I could not get a breath.
“HEY!” The curtain on the backdoor parted and my father’s pointed old nose appeared in the window. He hollered. “Who’s that on that phone? Better not be collect!”
“My phone old man, I pay for it, mine!” I jumped off the back porch and walked around the corner of the house. “…Shu?”
“Still here. Who are you- Vashti, did you drive home after you said -”
“Later Shu, okay? Can you just… Please say that again. Please?”
“Well, okay. I love you.”
“…Well. Good.” I said, sniffling and wiping my eyes on my shirttail. “That is real good. I love you too, I’m fairly certain of that.”
“Oh no,” He got all soft. “You’re crying.”
“I am not!” Yes, I was. “I am chopping onions.”
We laughed. But oh, there was a lake of fear and hopeless despair pressing down on me. Shu said again that he loved me as we said good-bye and hung up, but he was there, and I was here, and really, how long could it last, any of it?
Zero. I had zero faith. Turned out that sitting down on the grass with my head in my hands and bawling until I threw up half a chess pie was the big accomplishment of the evening.
The next evening, on Saturday, I did babysit for Tee. Shu never called, as I’d hoped he would, to throw me a lifeline. I was able to pull up out of my blue funk and enjoy my time with the twins but afterward, when the girl were asleep and Tee brought home a 20-something country club type named Susan (“Oh now! Call me Sooooze! Everybody does!”) with a tinkly laugh and graceful arms and shiny hair and delicately boned ankles, things got real rough. I wept all the way home, and then sat in my car and wept another twenty minutes because Sooooze could wear sandals that laced up her calves when I could not.
Daddy was awake when I got home, drunk and more than ready to tear into me. He called me names and demanded that I tell him where I’d been and who I’d been with, or I could pack up and go and never come back. It did no good to go to my room and lock the door. This was not much different than any other weekend night with my father. The difference was I now had something to compare it to. I’d had a concentrated dose of kindness which made the life in the same-old way intolerable. I did consider a motel. And even I thought for a second about going back to Tee’s in hopes that he was done with Sooooze and she was gone, in accordance with his ironclad rule about no woman spending the whole night unless she’s been around his kids for at least six months.
I ended up back in Plano at Shu’s house by 2:30 a.m., sitting poolside, drinking white wine and stirring my legs clockwise and counter. I don’t know how late/early it was when I finally trudged upstairs and got in his bed and pulled every pillow he had – and there were a lot – close around me. Even breathing felt lonely.
I must have drunk more that I’d thought, because I am a very light sleeper and I never woke up Shu slid on top of me and said “I got Fuel City tacos, and coffee.”
A good, lazy while later, we were half-drowsing on the loveseat in his bedroom, me laid across Shu’s chest, both of us watching through the open patio doors as the sprinklers danced across the lawn. It was perfect, until I started to worry about, well, everything. Shu must have sensed it, and started running his fingers up and down my neck. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the sensation.
“I finally got to Houston, finally. But instead of going home, I went to my parents’.” Shu said. “She was calling me, of course she was worried. So I drove home in the middle of the night and… I don’t why, but I rang the doorbell instead of using my key. I was telling her before she ever opened the screen door, “I’m sorry but I’ve met someone. You can have the house. ”
Pause, pause, pause. I raised my head to look at him just as Shu’s hand moved down my spine and over my ass. I shuddered with pleasure for about one second before worrying Shu would notice the lack of firmness so pervasive in that region.
He said. “She was…uh… Anyway. Got back in the car and headed out to Katy to pick up Penny and Bernard, but I couldn’t deal with – So I turned around and headed back to my parents, then turned around again to get the kids, and then turned around again, and headed south, away from everybody. I was headed to Galveston. I thought I’d take a day at the beach, take a run, get my head straight, but instead I turned around again. You know why?”
Shu’s hand moved down my spine again, then went further, and further. I moved my leg and gasped a little as his fingers moved in.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you.” He said, “What if Vashti’s gone? What if she’s changed her mind? What if I get home and she’s not there?”
“What if she…is…right…here?” I said as I did something I’d never done before. I am not going to tell you what I did, but it was his turn to gasp.
Took me a few weeks to break the news to Tee about me finally, finally falling in love.
“Damn.” Tee shook his head and cut into his sausage-spinach-mushroom-mozzarella feta omelet with his fork. He chewed and said, “If only Opie had been your everlasting crush instead of John Denver.”
We were having a late morning breakfast at Lucky’s Café inDallas, which wasn’t convenient for either of us but the omelets are worth the drive in.
Tee said, “Goddamn John Denver.”
I said “True, brother, true.” But what’s funny – the odd kind of funny – is that I do have a lifelong thing for John Denver but other than blond hair and wire-framed glasses, Shu does not look a thing like John Denver, whereas Tee could absolutely be Ron Howard’s younger brother. (As opposed to Ron Howard’s real-life brother who doesn’t look a thing like Ron Howard and who, God bless his heart, reminds me of Little Chum, a distant cousin of my father’s who gives me the willies.)
“Well…I guess I should meet him.” Tee said, wiping his mouth. “Make sure he’s not a dickhead.”
“He isn’t a dickhead.” I flicked a packet of Sweet & Low over my ice tea. Those monster feelings I’d been experiencing for the past few weeks surged up again and I felt myself grinning as tears came to my eyes. “You definitely should meet him.”
It was quiet for a while. We both dug into our meal. Then, Tee asked. “…So, where’s this big love headed, do you know?”
“I don’t.” There was a whole array of hopes and fears that I didn’t want to think, much less verbalize. “But…he’s asked me to move in, for real.”
“Why? Tee set down his coffee cup. “For god’s sake, why?”
“What do you mean “why?”
“Well, hell!” Tee said. “Why not get married?”
“Yeah, marriage sure worked out good for you, huh?”
Yes, this was a low-blow. Yes, I felt sorry as soon as I’d said it. Before I could apologize, Tee said, “Man’s scared of commitment, Vashti. Watch out. He screwing other women?”
I nearly choked on my oatmeal and blueberries (Lucky’s has the best sides for breakfast). Tee laughed and said “Just kidding” when I knew he wasn’t.
I frogged his arm, hard. “Asshole!”
“Ow, dang…” He kept chuckling and rubbed his arm. “Just me making sure you’re still you under all that moony-moony crap. Vash-tie Tye.”
I might not trust much, but I knew Shu was faithful. There wasn’t much daylight showing between the two of us. A man would have to be Superman and do that push the world so it runs backward thing to make time for an affair.
Still. There was that nagging, relentless voice in my head saying that this was all too soon, and all too much about sex, and that I was crazy to think any man would consider spending his life with me, and that once the novelty wore off, I’d be back to babysitting Tee’s kids and drinking alone at the Ramada.
“…Hey, doof.” Tee said, nudging me until I smiled. “Lighten, lighten. Come on. I was joking. Hey. Hey. Hey.”
“Okay. Stop. STOP.” I fended him off, saying “I just want to be okay today. I just want everything to …”
“It will.” Tee told me, and lifted up on his seat to get his wallet. He kissed my temple, something I’d seen him do to his daughters but he’d never before done it to me. He went back to his omelet. “You’re okay, no matter what. I’m here, no matter what, right? So stop worrying.”
There is the love that I have for Tee, a deep-rooted love that is very fine and solid. Then there is the love between Shu and me which exploded like a gas well hit by a lightning strike. It hardly made any sense to either of us, and to certain family members, it made no sense at all.
Then again, my father’s reaction was so perfectly him I could almost excuse it. He is old and spoiled. By the time I met Shu, I had been my father’s maid and cook for more years than he had been married to my mother. And while Daddy and I had not coexisted well at all, for two people who rarely could find two kind words for each other we had been a sort of company for each other. Yes, Daddy complained constantly about me living at home – but he never insisted I pay rent or even pitch in on the utilities. (And really, how could he when I had cooked two meals a day during the week, three on weekends, done his shopping, done his laundry, mowed his lawn, run his house, and earned my own pocket-money besides?)
Anyway. Daddy responded to the news that I was leaving home to live with my boyfriend by going purple in the face and jabbing me hard in the sternum with his forefinger and yelling “God-damned slag!”
“I am not a slag!”
“Let’s take a break. Let’s back off, calm down.” Shu said in his mediator voice. “Let’s take a breath, and calm down. Don’t say anything else that-”
Daddy poked me again. “SLAG!”
“OW!” I yelled. I slapped Daddy’s hand away before he could poke me again. “I don’t care if you are my father, I don’t care if you’re weaker than Moses’ last crap, you touch me again, ever, I’ll knock you on your ass, you got that?”
“HELL YOU WILL!” Daddy slapped both hands on my shoulders and shoved me against the wall. He’s strong for his age, strong enough to bang my head back against the wall and almost cause me to go good-night-lights-out.
Shu grabbed me before I slid down the wall. Daddy escaped out the back door cussing and hollering. “Get out of here! I’ll get the god-damned sheriff out here and have you arrested for trespassing and making threats of bodily harm!” He got into his pickup, slammed the door, and drove straight to the VFW Flag Day picnic where he switched to brandy sidecars, got pie-faced, and picked up Juanita.
Very early the next morning, as Shu was doctoring the knot on my head and fingerprint bruises on my collarbone, I saw the voicemail light blinking on my cell phone.
“You want anything, you better get here before the garbage men do.”
Right away, I called Tee and he jumped in his truck and rushed over to my father’s house. The yard was already full of people, some of whom had stopped their cars in the middle of the dang street to paw through my belongings, which were scattered all over the lawn. Tee said it looked like the house had vomited me out into the yard. Clothes, furniture, papers, all my possessions – and all of Mother’s.
Daddy loved her. He loved her. It must have killed him to do it, but he knew how much it would hurt me, so he did it. He tossed all her clothes and keepsakes, pictures, everything, out onto lawn. Tee did the best he could to run people off and load up what was left, with my father meanwhile standing on the porch drunk and in his shorts, yelling he was gonna call the sheriff and have Tee arrested for “Shoplifting and truss-passin’!”
To this day, it makes me was sick to think of strangers, and especially our neighbors, taking my mother’s things. She had two Hummel figurines, just the two, a little boy and girl, sent to her fromGermany by her brother Sam who died there during World War II. Mother, like myself, was not prone to keep knickknacks, but she treasured those Hummels. I told Shu that I would gladly have let everything else go just to have those back.
And still, all of Daddy’s madness and abuse, that was nothing compared to the enduring wrath of Shu’s son, a boy whose name is never mentioned unless it’s “Well, Bernard – well, he’s gifted, you know.”