I remember my mom woke us up early that day. It was Saturday and we usually slept in.
My sister was running around the apartment screaming.
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”
It had been almost a year since we had seen my father, but here we were getting ready to go see him. My mom was wearing lipstick and an unusually tight skirt. Her tits pushed up through the top of her low-cut blouse.
I hadn’t seen her this “dressed up” in a while.
“Come on, Jimmy. Get your ass in gear. We gotta be at the Dairy Queen in a half hour,” she said.
My sister was wearing the dress my grandmother had gotten her for Easter, and she screamed as my mother ran a brush through her hair, trying to tame the mess she usually let run wild. I went to my room and came out in some old corduroys and my polo shirt with the little fire breathing dragon on the pocket.
“Jimmy, that fuckin’ shirt has a stain,” my mom observed with a cigarette dangling from her lips. “You kids are gonna be the fuckin’ death of me! Get over here.”
She sprinkled some water on my head and her cheap perfume burned my nose as she combed my stick-straight hair back down into its normal bowl shape. I looked like an adolescent Captain Kangaroo.
As we rushed out the front door, our neighbor Mr. Hernandez (who had been trying to fuck my mother since he moved in), sat on his porch smoking a stub of a cigar.
“Looking good, Linda!” he called after her.
My mom flashed him her “whatever asshole smile” as she ushered us into our old green station wagon with one hubcap. As she worked the gas and ignition simultaneously, the old beast sputtered and coughed to life with a thick plume of gray exhaust, and we rode off into the distance leaving Hernandez and his cheap cigar behind.
I crawled over the seat and and into the back of the station wagon and flipped through an old “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, going back a few pages every so often to redirect the tale. It was something to pass the time.
I guess my father had called my mother the night before, telling her he’d be blowing through town that day and he’d like to see us if we had time. So here we were on a Saturday morning, driving to the Dairy Queen on Park and Valencia.
It was mid-October so the mornings were crisp and cool, and the breeze made it feel even colder than it really was. How anyone could think this was ice cream weather was beyond me.
We pulled into the parking lot and I saw my dad sitting at one of the concrete tables out front. His hair had grown down past his collar and he was sporting a thick mustache. He was in short sleeves and he blew into his hands for warmth as he walked up to our car window.
“Wouldn’t you know it,” he chuckled. “It’s fucking closed.”
His eyes were red and his knuckles scabbed over. He had the faint yellow outline of a bruise circling his eye. My sister jumped out of the car and ran over to him, throwing her arms around his neck.
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” she said. We all got out of the car and joined my dad at one of the tables. “What the fuck happened to you?” my mother asked him.
“Yeah, Daddy, what happened to your hands and face?” my sister asked, touching his cheek from her seat on his lap.
“Ahhh, you know. Just some bad guys your daddy had to take care of,” he shrugged it off. “You know what I’m talking about, don’t ya cowboy?” he said, tussling my hair.
My mom dug in her purse for another cigarette, then got up to take a closer look at his eye.
“Is that whiskey I smell on your breath!?!” she asked. “I told you if we came down here you better not be fucking drunk!”
“Calm down! It’s from last night. I haven’t been drinking at all this morning,” he said.
“You lying piece of shit!” my mother said.
“Really, Linda??? You wanna do this in front of the kids right now?”
Suddenly my mom started looking around. “And where the fuck is your car, anyways?”
“It’s over there,” he said, motioning around the corner, not really wanting to answer the question.
“Are you fucking kidding me, Jim? I’m struggling to make ends meet, and you’re driving around in a goddamn Mustang!”
My mother, livid, started around the corner to get a better look.
“WHO THE FUCK IS THAT BITCH??” she screamed.
In the front passenger seat sat a willowy blonde.
“Get the fuck up kids. We’re outta here,” she said, coming at us full speed.
“Just calm the fuck down Linda. Hold on. Just hold on,” my dad said, scrambling back to his car. He came rushing back just as my mom was getting into her seat. “Just wait a damn minute, would ya?” he yelled at her. “I got some stuff for the kids.”
“Here you go, sweetie,” he said, handing my sister a Barbie doll through the open window. “And here is something for you, champ.” He handed me a Luke Skywalker action figure in his Bespin fatigues. I had been wanting it for months now.“I love you guys,” he said.
As he turned around to leave, my mom attacked him. Her nails digging into his face. Blood poured from his wounds as he clutched his cheeks in agony. “You crazy bitch!” he shouted.
The blonde ran over to intervene and my mom made short work of her. Before anyone knew what was going on, my mom had pinned her on the ground and was ripping out handfuls of her hair. My sister screamed in terror as my dad tried to wrestle our mother off of her. I began honking the horn out of desperation, unsure what to do. The scene was utter chaos.
Finally, she came hobbling back to the car on one broken high heel. We peeled out of the parking lot and I watched from the back window as my father and the willowy blonde shrank in the distance. My mom was crying and my sister shook uncontrollably from the ordeal.
I slid back in my seat and looked at my new toy. The yellow molded hair and the tiny plastic gun.
My mom dropped us off at our grandma’s without even bothering to come in. She asked what we were doing there, and my sister recounted the tale for her. She led us inside after that, shaking her head and mumbling to herself.
Sitting us down at the table, she fed us cereal while the Trix rabbit stared at us, unaware of all the crazy shit in the world. His red box reminded me of my father’s bloodied face.
After being unable to get ahold of my mother all afternoon, my grandmother loaded us up in her car and decided to drive us home. When we got there, the door was cracked and the lights were all off. My grandma pushed us behind her as she slowly stepped inside.
There my mom sat all disheveled, mascara running down her cheeks. An empty bottle on the floor beside her. My grandma told us to go and play outside.
I took my new toy out into the parking lot and stared at the wall that separated us from the alley, chucking Luke Skywalker over it with all my might.
It would be three years before I’d see my father again, and even longer before I’d hear him call me son.