RON'S GONE (MOMMY ISSUES)
I am an eleven-year-old boy, unmoored in a sea of bodies bumping and grinding to “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” My mom’s sweaty hands are entwined with mine—I pull her close and wrap my arms around her waist. She looks down at me and smiles, and I know she is mine. I push her away; I point at her; I moonwalk backwards and the sea parts. I am on fire. Sweat beads on my forehead, it collects in tributaries running down my neck, my chest, my back; it soaks the blue pin-stripe oxford—Polo—she bought me for Christmas. Mom laughs. She claps her hands. She skips toward me.
But he steps in. Ernie or Eddie or Enrique. Dark skin and darker hair. He’s probably a construction worker—anyway, he has the moves of a jackhammer. He’s between us now and she’s dancing with him. She’s holding his hands. She’s looking into his eyes. “Cute kid,” he says.
I circle around them once, then twice, trying to break into their ring. Duran Duran is singing “Hungry Like the Wolf.” Fuck it. I hate this song anyway. I take my bottle of Lancers white wine from the fireplace mantle—stocking stuffer gift from Auntie Number 1, Christina, who’s not really an aunt, just one of Mom’s best friends. In the corner of our living room I collapse into the plush cushions of the new couch sectional. The room spins and my stomach spins with it. My eyes are heavy but I have to keep them open until the ringing in of 1985 and the end of the party, when everyone has to leave.
Ron, my stepfather, Mom’s husband number two, car-fetishist and clean-freak, is absent. Not just from the dancing—from the room. The house. Our lives. The new couch with its downy comfort, the brass table, the chaise lounge and pumping stereo are all replacements for the cold modern furniture of Ron, who, if he were here, would be brooding in the corner by the white baby grand—invisible to everyone but Mom and me—eye twitching, ready to throw people out with the first drop of spilled wine. If he were here there would be no drinking in the living room, no dancing on the carpet; there would be no cigarettes smoldering in ashtrays, no whiskey sours. There would be no shrimp cocktail and no cream cheese with A-1 Steak Sauce and crackers in the one room where food was not allowed, where blinds were drawn to prevent sun-bleaching, where kids weren’t allowed to play. If Ron were here, there would be no party like this one, celebrating his absence.
Mom is decked in her favorite pink sweater-dress that shimmies down to her upper thighs. She claps her hands and moves her hips as she dances close to Ernie/Eddie/Enrique, who can’t be much older than my sister, who is six years older than me. Mom’s freshly-permed hair is crowned with a white headband—a divorce gift from Auntie Number 2, her other best friend—that reads “bitch” across the forehead in gold cursive letters. Dangling from Mom’s ears are little duo-tone pyramids of gold and white, and working their way down her ankles are creamy leg-warmers that cover her pink fuck-me pumps.
I take baby sips from my stocking-stuffer wine, stale and sour from being opened and closed since Christmas Eve. My heart races with the music. I might be drunk. I could be high from the nicotine cloud blanketing the living room. It’s even possible that my body’s in shock from watching Auntie Number 1 gyrate that perfect hourglass form of hers, wrapped so tightly in a red cross-your-heart dress.
Ernie/Eddie/Enrique dances away from Mom, pointing to her as he shuffles backward. That’s supposed to be my move. He hammers to the beat as Mom follows him to the corner of the room where he’s found the piano bench, and his hands find her hips and she collapses onto his lap. She wraps her arms around his neck and her face closes in on his ear and, as they rock back, over goes a half-full glass of red wine. It pools around her pink pumps. She doesn’t jump. She doesn’t move to clean it up. She doesn’t even notice that it’s spilled.
They’re so close. They can’t possibly get any closer. Then she sticks her tongue in his ear. Twenty seconds to midnight.
She doesn’t answer.
Ernie/Eddie/Enrique is guiding her into a kiss. She’s closing her eyes, and kissing him, hard. Kissing him before the New Year. The room spins faster. I try to stand up. So I can kick his ass, pull her away. Save her. Slap her. Hug her. Make Ernie/Eddie/Enrique clean up that red wine. I’m swimming through bodies all greased up, slicked up, coked up, dancing for their lives. Dancing to wash off the last remnants of 1984.
Ernie/Eddie/Enrique hikes Mom’s dress up her thigh.
Auntie Number 1, in that red cross-your-heart dress, catches my hand, spins me around to her, and pulls me to the couch, where we fall.
Her hands hold my face, guide my glance away from Mom.
“Shhhhh,” she says.
Her hands cradle my face. And I don’t hear the pounding music. I don’t see the waves of bodies cresting in my living room. I see only Auntie Number 1, Christina, who is saying “Happy New Year,” and I forget the red wine on the carpet. I forget Ernie or Eddie or Enrique. I forget Ron. I forget 1984. Like I have forgotten that I am eleven.
Auntie Christina combs the hair out of my eyes. She kisses my forehead, soft and gentle, the way Mom does, or used to.
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