The following is a sequel to Sarah Razner’s story from last week, Emotional Rollercoaster: A Strange Visitor at the Amusement Park Motel.
From a young age, Everett’s view of parenting roles had been skewed. Somewhere in the throes of elementary school, maybe second or third grade, Everett’s grandma, Dina, moved in with him and his family. Their sitting room transformed from the home of his and his brother’s video games and Lego sets to a makeshift bedroom—shelves decorated with old photos and trinkets, a twin bed in place of the couch, a wheelchair compacted beside the trio of windows overlooking the backyard.
The opposite. She had been active, kicking the soccer ball back and forth as his brother, Tommy, did on the field; picking him up from school, ready for an afternoon full of outdoor activities. But there she was, shuffling through the house behind her walker, its feet adorned with fluorescent green tennis balls. Then it was in her wheelchair, propelled forward by her arms until they could no longer provide the force adequate to get her more than an inch, and Everett’s mom became her motor.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, the change came. His grandma’s memory lost the ability to remember. Her speech went from losing words, to sentences, to paragraphs. Everett’s mom filled in the gaps, offering thoughts and synonyms, and as it progressed, food at the end of a spoon, just like she had him as he grew up.
“But isn’t your mom supposed to take care of you?” Everett remembered asking his mom. It would become one of his most revisited memories, and that fact he ranked among the saddest of his life.
“Sometimes they can’t anymore, and you need to do it for them. Even moms need help,” she said.
Before he reached the end of elementary school, Grandma Dina moved into assisted living for extra help that his mom couldn’t give, and died within a year. It shattered his mom, and Everett thought he’d never see her worse than in her grief at the funeral or the days after.
“Do you ever wonder why?” Adelaide asks Everett, shaking him out of the not-so-pleasant walk down memory lane one spring day. Semi-obscured in the corner from any guests that wander in, Adelaide sits behind the Parkside Motel counter with him, helping him pass the time during his shift at the front desk, offering them both much needed companionship.
It’s been two weeks since she arrived, two weeks since the swelling of her cheek and the blood flowing from her hand rattled him more than anything at his job ever had. Two weeks without a phone call to the police. Two weeks of fear that every time the lobby door opens, it will be a man with her wide green eyes, bump-on-the-bridge nose, and crooked smile coming through, searching for her.
“Why does the label on that pizza have an asterisk next to cheese? Why you keep choosing to sit on that stool even though it’s basically made of a rock? I can think of many whys,” he replies. Why his grandma had to get degenerative dementia? Why his mom ever had to injure her back? Why he was here… at all?
There it is, that crooked smile again. “Because it’s actually wood and actually comfy,” she supplies, crisscrossing her legs over one another and somehow remaining steady on the small surface. He chuckles, mumbling, “Once your ass goes numb.”
A breathy cackle bursts from Adelaide’s mouth. “Okay, well the why I’m talking about is why standing in line for hours on end to go on a 30-second ride is people’s idea of a fun vacation.”
Everett follows her gaze, past the edge of the bookcase stocked with brochures of local attractions and menus from restaurants, to the window. On the other side of the glass, a family staggers out of their car, theme park swag bags hanging over their shoulders, and cartoon character hats perched on their heads.
“Advertisements make it seem fun?” he offers. “People do love rollercoasters.”
“Maybe. I guess the high from them could make it worth it. Even if it’s short,” she says, not without a touch of wistfulness. From what she’s told him, she and her family have never been to an amusement park. Her dad wouldn’t allow it.
“Maybe.” He’s learned that a high doesn’t have to be very long for someone to return to it over and over. The weight of the memory returns, forcing down the edges of his smile, and he continues to type on his computer, entering another hour’s worth of information in his shift log.
Over on her stool, Adelaide cocks her head in his direction. “Are you okay?”
No. Not for two years.
“You just seem, I don’t know, off,” she continues, before leaving in them silence, a gap she’s waiting on him to fill.
The truth is somewhat simple, but he dodges it anyway. “We’ve only known each other for a couple of weeks. How do you know I’m off?” His best friend, Fitz, who is a great friend, supportive as supportive can be, didn’t realize Everett was off until he had to ask for help.
“Because I’ve spent my life tracking the smallest changes in emotion to know what I was dealing with and that’s made me pretty good at reading people. Or at least I’d like to think it has,” she says, and in between her words he reads the meaning: that if she didn’t stay on top of her dad’s emotions, she couldn’t stay safe. Asshole. Freaking asshole. Another why: why did people like her dad exist? “And you just admitted you were off, by the way. Didn’t say no.”
Adelaide’s eyes run up and down him, reading the meaning into his words, too. Since she’s arrived, Everett has shared his story with her, wanting to make her feel comfortable, and, also, seeing in her someone who understands at some level what it is like to be living a life you never could’ve envisioned. In him, Everett hopes she sees the same, and, based on the empathy in her gaze and what she’s shared with him—the abuse, the need to run—he thinks she has. “Because she was using?”
Everett wobbles his head back and forth, caught between yes and no. “She was and that fueled it, but I guess it was more about us. Our relationship.”
It started off like so many days had. His mom had passed out after another night of downing more pills she got from some place or another—a dealer maybe. As per usual, she had left the house in disarray. Drawers pulled out, clothes scattered on the floor, a cup—thankfully of just water—tipped over, dipping down the front of the antique end table and soaking into the fringe carpet. Like he’s always been unable to stop himself from doing, Everett wanted to fix it, to take care of the mess, so one part of his life could have a semblance of normalcy. So he could hold onto just a modicum of control.
“I was… was trying to clean things up, and she was coming out of it, and I was telling her she needed to change, to eat something, to just—just stop, and I was raising my voice… because—because—”
“You’re tired of it,” Adelaide offers. “Because you’re living it over and over and can’t get out.” No question. No uncertainty. She’s lived it—no, survived it—at a level of horror that makes him feel guilty for complaining about his own.
“Yeah,” he nods. He hears his mom’s voice again. Even moms need help sometimes. But he needs help, too, and not getting it is draining his sanity in a slow leak.
“And she got pissed, and was like, ‘who’s in charge here?’” Everett’s mom had screamed it in his face, spit spattering from her lips and onto his face and the wall behind him.
Adelaide winces, her eyes squeezing shut as she tug at the hole in the thigh of her jeans, another line of fabric unraveling, not unlike he did when his mom shouted at him. “I know that one well,” Adelaide says. The words have no tone, but that gives Everett all the information he needs. The punch lands right in his gut.
“Your dad would say that you? Let me guess, when you did anything he didn’t want you to?” Everett asks and Adelaide scoffs.
“When I did anything period. He always made sure I got the point.” In her lap, Adelaide’s fingers fold into her palm, red bleeding out of her knuckles into white. How many times had she been on the receiving end of a fist? For how little? For how much?
Every day he asks her, praying that she’ll say yes, but that day hasn’t come, and with the shake of her head, it won’t come tonight either. “Why? Wouldn’t it be better than worrying that he’s going to find you?”
“If they believe me, yeah,” she says, and seems to sense the question ready to roll off his tongue: why wouldn’t they. “My dad is good at putting on the act. He knows how to say just the right things to get people on his side. You’d never suspect things are anything but okay talking to him.” Everett doesn’t need to ask how. His mom has the same skill, as finely tuned as a pro musician’s violin by day, and as discordant as a five-year-old’s by night.
Adelaide shifts on her chair, untucking one leg just to tuck the other in its place. “Anyways, what did you say to that? Did you say anything?”
Scrubbing his hand over his face, Everett sighs. It’s not an answer he’s proud of. “I said, ‘The fuck if I know anymore. Pretty sure it’s been me for the past two years, but go on and think it’s still you.’”
As the youngest, he should’ve been able to shirk it. But when his brother, Tommy, left for college, and Everett was the only kid at home to notice what was happening, birth order and the fact that he could barely navigate his high school schedule let alone a drug problem, no longer mattered. The mantle fell squarely on his shoulders, and he couldn’t shake if he tried, and he has tried.
A shocked laugh explodes from Adelaide, one that makes Everett break his focus on the wood grain of the counter to look at her. Her eyebrows are lifted, hand trying to cover her mouth but not quite succeeding. “Sorry, I was not expecting that, but I like it. I like it a lot,” she says, and he smiles. “What did she have to say to that?”
“Not much,” Everett shrugs. “She stammered, and started yelling at me, told me to get out, so I did and went to my friend’s house.” Everett had packed some clothes into his backpack, and headed over to Fitz’s place, where Fitz had told him he could always hang if things got to be too much.
It’s not as if it’s not true. For every time his mom had acted as a parent in the past few years, there were five times that Everett had to for her—and to be honest for his dad, when he rushed off to work and left Everett with the charge of watching over the house. But he wished he could’ve said this to her over a heart-to-heart rather than in a gun-to-gun fight. Or at least just not dropped the F-bomb.
“I haven’t heard from her since.” And he never knew when the day would come where their quiet game would never end.
“I’m sorry,” Adelaide says, and reaches across the two feet separating him to brush his hands with her calloused fingertips.
“I am for you, too.” Being at the mercy of one person’s charge seemed just as bad if not worse than having to be the one in charge before you were ready.
Adelaide’s fingers slip from his hand and back to her lap. “You ever wonder why?” she asks quietly.
“What?” he says.
“Why you have these parents instead of different ones? Why some people get the good ones, no questions asked? We’ve had to fight for our good days?.”
Her eyes are back on the window. In the parking lot another family is loading into their SUV, one laughing girl, one very annoyed boy, two parents trying to hold back their own amusement as they reprimand. They all look tired, but from this glimpse, Everett would classify them as happy, and he guesses that Adelaide would, too. But then again, they both know about glimpses and how much truth they actually reveal.
The words are hard to force out, as if each one is a betrayal to his mom who tries but can’t do any better. “Yeah, I have.”