Authors: Theresa Alan
spend the few days before Dad and his new girlfriend arrive furiously cleaning the house and my car. It takes so much more time to really clean the house than to do the cursory cleaning I normally do. I have to clean
, every nook, windowsill, closet, cabinet, appliance, and window. I do piles of laundry and clean the sheets and comforters. I vacuum with such vigor I break into a sweat. I wash and vacuum my car. And at last, I decide that, while it’s still not perfect, my house is as clean as it’s going to get.
I bought my home a year ago. It was the first time I’d ever owned my own place. My father has never seen it before, and since he’s got a carpenter’s eye for detail when it comes to homes and buildings, I’m worried about what he’s going to think about it. When I first moved in, I spent a few weeks in a flurry of redecorating. I’d never paid the slightest attention to details like faucet colors, light fixtures, and door handles, but the moment I became a home owner, these seemed like hugely important details. There is no escaping it: When you become a home owner you are sucked into the Home Depot Vortex.
It started with little things: Shades for the living room and kitchen, a new lock for the door. The woman who’d owned it before me had painted the entire house in a pale, cheery yellow, and I decided I’d just do a little painting. Paint was only twenty dollars a can or so, right? And how hard could it be? I’d wrap it up in a weekend.
Two weeks, countless frustrations, and hundreds of dollars in primer, paint, and equipment later, the master bedroom, the guest bedroom, and the downstairs basement were delightful shades of pale green, rich blue, and medium rose, respectively.
It wasn’t easy getting there. I may well be the worst painter on the planet. Because my walls have a bumpy pattern—knockout, I learned it’s called—trying to get a straight line where the blue wall met the white ceiling was challenging indeed, as the paintbrush would bump along on the hills and valleys of the textured walls. I tried four different kinds of paintbrushes before I found one that worked just this side of miserably. In several places, I splattered the white ceiling with splotches of blue paint. So I took some white paint that had been left in the basement to cover it up. I didn’t realize that I was using gloss paint against a flat white ceiling until the next day, when the paint was dry and shining patches of ceiling beamed out at me like stage lights.
Every ten minutes I would need to run back to Home Depot: I’d run out of masking tape; I’d need a different kind of brush; I’d need a lightbulb for the spotlight that lit my way. I began to hate Home Depot, its magnetic pull, its seemingly inescapable hold on me.
What was worse was that in the process of deciding what colors to paint the rooms, I’d flipped through dozens of decorating books and magazines for ideas. Looking at those beautiful homes in which every item in every room—every piece of furniture, every decoration, every floor and window covering—were perfectly coordinated and stunningly executed was like trying heroin for the first time and becoming instantly addicted. I salivated over the spacious kitchens, the stunning designs, the gorgeous furniture. The internal mantra began: I want, I want, I want.
I decided I simply couldn’t tolerate the old carpeting. If I emptied out my savings account, I could get lovely new carpet. And it would help the resale value too, right?
Without hesitation, I eviscerated the remainder of my savings account and ordered the new carpeting.
I thought of several more expensive improvements I could not live without, even though my credit card was getting so much use I was developing ulcers.
I finally had to go cold turkey on the decorating magazines before I ravaged my finances any more. But right now, as I think about my father seeing where I live, I wish I’d done more. In fact, I wish I’d never bought this place to begin with. I hate everything about it.
ill and I pick Dad and his girlfriend Annabella up from the airport. Annabella is a beautiful woman. She’s thin and has dark hair and dark eyes, great clothes, and funky jewelry. It looks like Dad’s taste in women has improved considerably since Deanne.
Dad and I exchange hugs and great-to-see-yous. He congratulates me once again on my engagement and then says to Will, “So, this is the guy who finally convinced Eva to tie the knot, huh?” He gives Will a big handshake.
We pile into my car. The first thing out of Dad’s mouth is this: “Have you
cleaned these windows?”
Immediately, I’m embarrassed by my inadequate car-cleaning skills. I’d tried so hard to get my car into sparkly great shape, but I forgot to clean the inside of the windows and so, of course, that’s the first thing Dad notices.
“I guess not.” I laugh, but I’m mortified. “So, how was your flight?” (Notice my deft work in changing the subject.)
We make idle chitchat on the drive home. When we get to my place, I give them a tour of the house. They don’t say any of the stuff they are supposed to say, like, how cute and homey the place is.
“So, what do you think?” I say, determined to get praise somehow, even if I have to beg for it.
“It’s cozy,” Dad says.
“Well, yes, I guess with all of Will’s things here, we don’t have any extra space really,” I say.
“I couldn’t bear to have all my walls bumpy like this,” Dad says, patting a wall. When Dad makes the comment, I want to tear all the walls down and start over. But there’s nothing I can do about it now, so instead I just get everyone something to drink and get started on making dinner. I’m making an asparagus and sundried tomato risotto recipe. I tried it out on Will the week before and we determined it was edible, which makes it one of the few dishes I’ve experimented with that we can say that about. As I chop vegetables and prepare the meal, Dad, Annabella, and Will sit at the kitchen table not ten feet from the counter where I’m working.
“How’s work going?” Dad asks me.
“Great. I may get flown out to Germany next month as part of this major consulting project I’m working on for Woodruff Pharmaceuticals. I’ll go with an interpreter, naturally.”
“Everyone in Germany is miserable. The Germans all have unhappy marriages,” Dad says.
I wish I could tell you I was making this up. You’ll notice, if you haven’t already, that my father makes sweeping generalizations based on no evidence whatsoever. My guess is that he talked to an acquaintance who has one unhappily married friend in Germany, and Dad has extrapolated this and decided it’s a fact across an entire culture and country. When Dad talks, you can just hear the gavel coming down and the words “OZ HAS SPOKEN” bellowed in the background.
I used to think my father was omniscient. I thought of him as more or less as a superhero, someone who could protect me from all harm, the real and the imagined.
When he would go away on business trips, leaving me, Mom, and Sienna alone, I couldn’t sleep. I was too worried about the burglar-murderers who’d slice my sister, mother, and me to pieces with no problem at all without Dad there to protect us.
Dad unknowingly cultivated my belief that he was omniscient and omnipotent. When I was young, no matter what I asked him, he always had an answer. He spoke with such unwavering authority, such absolute confidence, I really thought he knew everything.
Then one day when I was about seventeen, Dad and I were at McDonald’s eating french fries, and Dad said something about how potatoes were a delicacy in Russia, a real treat, and weren’t we lucky that McDonald’s cranked fried potatoes out by the millions for us here in America?
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Dad, I’m pretty sure that potatoes are like one of the main things Russians eat. I mean isn’t that what vodka is made of?”
“You know,” Dad said, nodding, processing what I’d said with a thoughtful look, “you may be right, I may have gotten that backward.”
I sat there in stunned silence. The curtain had been pulled back, the wizard was just an ordinary man, and he was blithely eating french fries as my universe crumbled around me.
Of course, it was just the first of many times that would illustrate that my father was a mere mortal. The desire to believe that my father is omniscient still lingers, though. Even now, everything Dad says he says with such conviction, without the doubt or hesitation or I’m-not-really-sure-but-I-think sort of phrases that permeate my sentences. I still want to believe everything he says, but now I can’t, I always have to wonder.
he visit with my father goes better than expected, and I get through the weekend relatively unscathed. Just the two self-esteem hits about my inadequate car-window cleaning skills and my too-small house with textured walls. Dad and his girlfriend are only here for two days, but it seems like a lifetime. It’s just exhausting trying to keep two people entertained twenty-four hours a day.
The good news is that I like Annabella a lot. She’s sweet, and kind, and she treats my dad well. The four of us are eating breakfast at a restaurant called Bump & Grind, which has a Petticoat Brunch on weekends. That just means that all the waitstaff are men in drag. It’s a fun place, with toys on the table for you to play with while you wait for your meal. There are also funny little hats and headbands that make you look like you have blond braids or springy alien antennae. Dad looks hilarious wearing the blond braids. He never would have put those on when I was a kid. He’s mellowed considerably now that he’s older. Maybe it’s Annabella’s doing. She is an amazingly positive, happy woman. She determinedly sees only the bright side of things. She’s a jewelry maker, so she’s got that artist flaky thing going for her. She’s nice and smart in a vacant sort of way. Or maybe Dad’s chilled out now that he doesn’t have to worry about supporting two daughters anymore. The only duties required of him as a parent are a once yearly visit and the occasional phone call.
It’s interesting to watch your parents grow and change. Maybe some people’s parents never evolve, but that’s not the case with mine. I’ve watched my parents date, fall in love, fall out of love, and have their hearts broken and their dreams crushed. I’ve seen the entire evolution of my mother’s career from being the low man on the totem pole to having a stressful, powerful position making lots of money. And now I’m witnessing my stressed-out father learning how to enjoy life. I’m jealous. He’s learned how to relax and I’m still stuck in basketcase mode.
“Are you two thinking about getting married?” I ask Annabella.
“We’re actually talking about moving in together, but I don’t want to get remarried,” Annabella says.
“There are just too many financial considerations. I’ve done marriage once. That was enough. But congratulations to you on your engagement.”
I laugh. After she’s just told me that she no longer believes in marriage, she congratulates me on my engagement. There seems to be a pattern here. “Thanks.”
“Have you started planning it?”
I nod. “I’ve started checking out reception sites.
“Have you picked a date?”
“Well, I’m just excited to be able to walk one of my daughters down the aisle at last,” Dad says.
“Oh, Dad, you’re not going to walk me down the aisle.” He looks at me. He’s initially taken aback by that announcement, and then he looks hurt. “It’s nothing against you or anything, it’s just that I want Will and I to walk down the aisle together, hand-in-hand. I don’t like that whole ‘being given away’ concept. I’m not being given away, Will and I are
to go into this thing together.”
Dad smiles the kind of smile that is a mere curvature of the lips and doesn’t extend to his face or eyes.
“I suppose you’ll want some help paying for the wedding though. The bride’s father paying for it—I bet that’s a tradition you’ll follow.”
Ouch. The way he says it has a harsh tone of anger masked beneath the surface. “No, Dad. Actually, Will and I are going to pay for everything ourselves.”
Now I’ve truly stunned him.
“I mean, Dad, if we’d gotten married in our twenties, then yes, we definitely could have used the help, but we’re well-established in our careers. We have money in the bank. We’ll take care of everything ourselves.” I think back to what a struggle it was to get through college when I was so dependent on Dad’s checkbook to help me achieve my goal of getting a degree. I never want to feel that dependent on him again.
Dad brightens considerably. “Really? Well, maybe I can pay for the rehearsal dinner or something.” Everything is different now that he knows I don’t expect his money. Now, he can pay for things not out of duty, but because he wants to.
“If you want to, that would be very kind. We don’t have to figure any of this out now.”
We stop by my house to pick up their luggage before I take them on to the airport. While Annabella and Will are busy in other rooms, Dad pulls me aside.
“I really like Will,” he tells me.
I smile. “Good. Me too.”
fter my father leaves, I get started on planning the wedding in full force. I buy a notebook with colored tabs and I begin making lists of everything I need to get done and timelines to do it all in.
I very quickly develop a pattern of working five or six days a week on the project for WP and devoting my Saturdays to getting this wedding planned. On top of all this, I’m also trying to learn how to cook.
Every Saturday morning I’ll clean the house, then I’ll spend time flipping through cookbooks, plan a week’s worth of menus, and then go to the grocery store to buy everything on my list. By the time I get home from the grocery store it’s already noon and I’m exhausted and I want to pass out, but instead I drive all over Colorado trying to find a reception hall to host the wedding and reception.
The first place I visit is relatively inexpensive. Not for what we’re getting—a place to gather our friends and family for a few hours—but compared to what other reception halls are charging. It’s a lodge in the mountains, which seems like it might be a romantic spot to hold a wedding. I drive through teeth-grittingly slow traffic across half of Colorado to get there, and when the person who works there shows me around, it becomes painfully obvious why the price isn’t exorbitant—it’s essentially a barn with an outhouse. The wood walls are decorated with horseshoes and hunting trophies: A stuffed elk and a bear head look at me woefully as if I personally cut their life short and turned them into decorations. If I held my wedding here, it would turn into some kind of celebration of the West—like my mom’s—complete with hoedowns, line dancing, and perhaps a steer or two wrestled into submission for good measure. It wasn’t quite the theme I was going for.
Sometimes I drag Will along with me to check out reception sites. He’s easygoing and laid-back about it, but I can tell his heart isn’t really into it. He wouldn’t mind if we held our wedding at a McDonald’s parking lot.
I drive Will bonkers deliberating about where I want to have it. On the one hand, I don’t want to get sucked into wedding mania and go crazy spending money rather than sticking to a budget. But, of course, the places I love are ludicrously expensive because they have stunning mountain views in great locations. I can’t bear the thought of holding our wedding at a place without any personality that performs wedding ceremonies in an assembly-line manner, with just a thin fake wall separating one event from another. A friend of mine had a wedding like that. Just as she and her fiancé were saying their vows, the wedding in the next room over was just kicking up into full swing. I couldn’t hear a word the minister or my friend or the groom said. Their vows to spend eternity together were drowned out beneath the booming voices of Kool and The Gang belting out, “Celebrate good times, come on!”
Will and I end up putting a deposit down on a place that is too expensive, but very beautiful. It has a view of the mountains and an outdoor veranda where the guests can go outside, weather permitting. The wedding and reception will be held inside in a grand hall with a winding staircase and sumptuous chandeliers. It’s official, we have a wedding date.
One task down. Four million more to go.