Friday, September 7, 2012
White Trash in the Snow - Chapters Thirty One and Thirty Two.
WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
Tad’s phone screen said the call was from GOV RACHAEL. What now? It’s Saturday. Did someone criticize her on a radio call-in show? He expected to hear whining, and he did.
“This is flippin’ unbelievable Why us Tad? We don’t deserve this!”
“Shut up and listen, Tad. Just when it looks like there’s no stopping us – we ‘ve finally got this house, we are both makin’ real money, I’m the freakin’ governor, for pete’s sake…with a shot at the White House! And now Cristol’s gone and ruined everything.”
Tad listened. He didn’t say anything until it appeared she was ready to listen, too.
“Now, Rachael, honey. Calm down. It’s not the end of the world. We were kids once, too And, you were pregnant-“
“Shut up, Tad. I wasn’t six-god-damn-teen!”
“Rachael, baby, just calm down.”
“Stop telling me to calm down! God, Tad, you are no help at all. Just get home as soon as you can. We’ve got to talk.” She slammed the blackberry down on the counter. Why did the big things always come up when he was working up north? She always had to handle the hard things by herself, like when the police brought Field home from that vandalism spree, and when she’d found an empty vodka bottle and boy’s underwear under Cristol’s bed, when Maple and her friend’s threw that party… Rachael’s resentment’s had built up over a long period of time. Tad’s work schedule kept him away for so many days at a time that by the time he came home, she’d usually handled whatever crisis had come along. As a result, he could play “good cop” to her “bad cop.” When he was home he spoiled the kids, no one picked anything up, he spent time on his hobbies, and was pretty much the fifth kid.
On the other hand, there was something to be said for the weeks Tad was away. Rachael had insisted on separate bedrooms when they built this house three years ago. Like Scarlett O’Hara, the heroine of the movie classic Gone With the Wind, she was done with all that bedroom stuff that kept women subservient.
Rachael was a sophomore in college when she’d been introduced to the vintage Oscar winning movie in a feminism class. Immediately, she identified with the flirtatious, headstrong beauty and the paper she wrote, “Going Rogue: the Life of Scarlett O’Hara,” earned her an “A.” It was the only A she ever got in any class. An the fact that it was for a paper was a miracle in her eyes. Teachers always took off for run-on sentences and lack of clear, concise thought. But in that class, the aptly-named instructor, Dr.Wattling, had particularly liked the theme of Rachael’s paper, the identification of Scarlett’s aggressive behaviors as the young woman being true to her “inner maverick,” and she rewarded Rachael’s understanding of the selfish and narcissistic Miss O’Hara.
Many times since college, Rachael had asked herself “What would Scarlett do?’ and her life became a series of clever manipulations earning her a reputation as feisty, feared and admired. She was Scarlett O’Hara in the flesh, making it in a man’s world, earning the fear of men and women alike. And like the attention hording Miss Scarlet, Rachael loved having all eyes on her, and the recent flurry of national media coverage had been flattering and satisfying. Reporters usually commented that hers was a large, rough, rural, state, and described her as a pretty young woman doing ‘a man-sized job”. Then inevitably, they added that she was “hot” or “a fashion plate.” Yes, indeed, she and Scarlett were cut of the same cloth. And, like Scarlet with Rhett, Rachael had told Tad, “No more babies.”
“What would Scarlett do?” she asked out loud as she dumped a handful of chocolate chips over a bowl of chocolate ice cream. “I know for sure she wouldn’t depend on Rhett to handle it.” She went to the window over the sink, and stared out at the lake while devouring but not savoring 800 calories.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Tad put the phone in his parka and looked out over the changing landscape. It was a seasonably cool October day, and he would have loved to linger outdoors in the crisp air. But, he knew better. The wisest thing for him to do would be to get home as quickly as possible. Forget about the overtime he’d miss out on, just get on the road and head for the airport. He knew he would still put the hours on this timecard, reasoning that it wouldn’t be cheating if he planned out the crew’s work schedules and thought through some other jobs in his head during the hours he was traveling. He’d done it plenty of times. They paid him to think. He wasn’t on the line any more. But, just maybe it would be wise to make a business call or two so his cell phone bill would indicate he was working. Tad climbed in the truck and turned the key.
The vehicle was a sanctuary for Tad. When he commuted, between assignments, he had hours of solo driving, hours of listening to country music, no one interrupting his thoughts and no one making demands on him. It was bliss. Today, he selected one of his favorite CDs, and as the music came out of the speakers he tried to relax and sing along. It was no use. Every song led him to thoughts of Cristol, Wrangler, a baby… lyrics about broken hearts, two-timing men, resolute women determined to go it alone.
He turned the music off, He had forgotten about his idealized intentions to “work” while he drove, he was too distracted with mental preparations to confront those two kids. How could you do this to your mother? That would be aimed at Cristol. Then to Wrangler he’d growl, I ought to kick your ass!
Wrangler’s just a kid, himself, they both are, Tad thought. By the time the baby comes, Wrangler will be probably be history. One night, the boy got lucky with Cristol (Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!) and now there’s another Saplin on the way.
To some extent, he was mad at himself. He’d seen Cristol’s waistline getting bigger and her face filling out. All signs he recognized from Rachael’s pregnancies. He admitted to himself that he had suspected for a while now, and hadn’t been man enough to confront her.
So, at this time next year he’d be Grandpa. He imagined how it would feel to hold his first grandchild. It would be a boy, he reasoned, because God knew Tad was already far outnumbered by females. With Field in the military, God could be giving Tad another guy in the family. “I always wanted another son,” he said out loud, “are you giving me another boy, God? You have a very strange sense of humor!” When he was alone, he sometimes talked to God. His beliefs weren’t like his wife’s, he wasn’t religious, and irreverence didn’t bother him at all.
When Rachael said she wouldn’t give him any more kids, she was denying him the chance for another son. Maybe this was God’s way of punishing Rachael for not being a submissive wife. Maybe this was God’s way to bless Tad with the boy he intended him to raise. It was likely it would fall on him to be an active male influence in the child’s life.
I’ll probably be much more of an influence than that dumb kid Wrangler, he thought. What kind of name is that? Sounds like a pair of jeans - cheap jeans. Great, that’s what Cristol’s baby has cheap genes. The joke didn’t make him laugh.
He breathed deeply for several counts, and felt himself begin to relax.. Okay, fine. Rachael and I will help Cristol raise the kid, we’ll add on another couple of rooms. Tad began to plan the building addition in his mind. Miles passed while he was mulling over the size, layout, and cost considerations. Tad would get some friends to help. By the time he reached the airport, he was even looking forward to being called Grandpa Tad.
Rachael left the bowl in the sink, grabbed her Blackberry off the counter, and curled up on the sofa. She put her head in her hands and tried to think. It wasn’t even noon and she felt exhausted. She needed to talk to someone, and there were only a few people in her life she could trust with this. Rachael admired her sister Helen’s common sense parenting style. She and Kurt had three children, including a girl about Cristol’s age and a boy with special needs who brought lots of joy into their lives. He also brought extra expense, exhaustion, and increased stress. “But, then,” Helen often said, “all kids do.”
Rachael speed dialed her older sister. It rang six times. “Hello?” Helen’s voice sounded out of breath.
“Oh my God, Helen, sit down,” Rachael started, “I’ve got something terrible to tell you.”
“What? Is it Dad? Is it his heart?” Helen lived in fear of the call she was sure would come some day. Buck Heat with a bad heart, and despite all warnings, continued hunting alone in the worst of weather and in the most treacherous terrain. He admitted his rebellious, stubborn middle daughter got those traits from him. If he didn’t add at least one large critter carcass per month to the skeleton display in his yard, he acted like a child. He moped. A jowly old man with crooked buck teeth should not mope. It’s ugly. But that would never stop Buck Heat, nor could his family’s cajoling. And so the mountains of bones grew larger nearly every month and so did his family’s fears.
“Helen, no! God, no. Dad’s fine.” Rachael assured. “No, it’s Cristol. And it couldn’t be worse!”
“Cristol? Is it drugs? Like Field?”
“No! Cristol’s having a baby! She just told me she’s pregnant! What am I going to do?”
“Alright, let’s stay calm,” Helen had been through other crisis’ with Rachael, and she knew what worked with her. “You are a strong woman, Rachael. That’s what your name means - Rachael - The Strong – and you’ve lived up to it. No matter what happens, you’ll be okay. Hey, there are worse things than little babies. Even when they’re unplanned. You know that as well as I do.”
“Yup, Pride’s been a blessing,” Rachael was quick to respond. She’d spent her entire married life covering up Field’s arrival in their seventh month of marriage. Rachael couldn’t overlook any criticism, no matter how small, neither could she admit to a lie, or a mistake. Not that a baby should ever be called a mistake. Cristol’s baby, though…now that’s a mistake. Rachael winced, this was getting complicated. What was the right thing to say? The right thing to feel? “But Cristol is so young, this just breaks my heart,” she said.
“Hey,” Helen interjected,“Wasn’t it last May when you thought she was pregnant? And that was a misunderstanding. Maybe this is, too.”
Rachael grasped at the hope in that thought. “Oh my god, Helen, you know, that could be it! Maybe it’s just that flippin’ irregular menstrual cycle of hers. She’s just like you, you know.” Hope glimmered, faint but welcome. “
The suggestion gave both women a moment to pause and think. Rachael flashed back to one evening last spring when she returned to the mansion from a late meeting and overheard Cristol on the phone with her boyfriend back in Azzolla. What she heard caused Rachael to think the worst; not only were Cristol and this boy having sex, but Cristol was pregnant!
When Cristol was confronted, she took a defiant stand and admitted she was having sex with her then-boyfriend, JJ. Rachael called her a slut.
“It takes one to know one,” was the childish reply.
Rachael slapped her face and Cristol ran to her room and locked the door.
Helen remembered that night, too. Her perspective came from her daughter, Amanda, who had logged onto MySpace and seen a posting by her cousin Cristol that read “I’m a slut, lol.” A few seconds later, Kayla, a girl Amanda didn’t know, had posted a response to Cristol, “hahaha, that’s old news.” Amanda continued to follow the page where her cousin, using internet slang and abbreviations, told a cyber cadre of 271 “friends” the details of her fight with her mother. An explosion of sympathy and support filled the page as her friends back in Azzolla came to her defense. Some said she should hate her parents for making her change schools, others assured her that it was her right to be doing drugs and having sex. “Hope you’ve got some good stuff to get you through the night” said a girl with the login name “F N HOT.” She and others offered her a place to stay if her parents threw her out.
After a while she went to her mom asking, “Can Cristol come live with us?” which led to Helen becoming a voyeur into her neice’s real-time agony on that spring evening.
Helen considered herself lucky. The relationships she had with her own daughters and son were good. They trusted each other, liked each other, and loved each other. They spent time together because they enjoyed each other. Helen suspected Rachael envied her, which she could understand. She thought, If we traded places, I’d be jealous. Rachael’s big house, big job, Tad’s airplane and snowmachine trophies – they are nothing compared to the wealth of love in my family. When my sister spends time with her kids she bills the state. All three teenagers have emotional and behavioral problems. And now Cristol might be pregnant. My sister is a pauper who thinks she’s a queen.
“Rachael, however this turns out, you will get through it,” Helen offered.
“You are so right, Helen. I knew it would help to talk to you. This is just a false alarm. A wake-up call. One of God’s lessons for Cristol.”
“I hope so, Rachael. I really do. I hope God’s lesson for Cristol costs her nothing more than some sleepless nights.”
“I’m going to have some sleepless nights, too,” Rachael complained. “This is tough on me, too.”
“Yes,” Helen agreed, then cautioned, “But that’s not as bad as sleepless nights involving bottles with nipples. I’ll be praying for all of you.”