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MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, September 17, 2012

David K and the Spaghetti On The Wall

MCG's sister, Zhanna and her dad, David

          My sister, brother, and I all have different fathers. Mine was the abusive one, my brother's was the wanderer, and my sister's dad was crazy. My mom actually married my sister’s dad David before getting pregnant with my sister, which is not the case when she got pregnant with me or my brother. Mom was several months pregnant, just eighteen and already showing when she married my dad, Miguel, or Mike, as he was called, and she never married my brother's dad, Bob, at all. David, my sister's dad, was a weird guy. Even my brother and I found ourselves laughing at him sometimes, and we were only around five and seven when they married.
        Tuolumne was full of weirdos: alcoholic weirdos, PCP weirdos, drug dealer weirdos, child molester weirdos, sit-in-the-bar-all-evening-and-teach-elementary-school-the-next-day weirdos, but David was different. He seemed to like hanging out with my Amonie and me. He read us poems that he wrote himself, poems that we never understood, taught us to play chess, encouraged us to draw wild pictures from our imaginations, and whenever we went anywhere there was a piano, he'd play us a different song that he knew from memory. He cooked dinner too, teaching us to throw pasta on the ceiling. If it stuck there, it was done, ready to eat. When it came time to re-paint the kitchen sometime later, there was a lot of spaghetti to scrape off.
        David was fun to be around but quite a bit of work too. He seemed to need a lot of attention for an adult. There were times when he talked a lot, following my mom around the house as she folded laundry and put it away, trying to rub her belly as she walked by, offering to rub cocoa butter oil on it when she was pregnant to avoid stretch marks which she already had. There were times when he didn't say much at all, when he would just stare at nothing and say nothing for long periods of time. We never really knew what was going on in his head, and as it turns out, the doctor's were having a difficult time figuring him out too. Mom worried that he was being treated like a guinea pig. He was on medication that he didn't take with enough regularity and sometimes he would drink alcohol while on the medication which only made his symptoms worse.
        Because David wasn't the kind of guy that we could take anywhere, was somehow too unstable, and because we probably didn’t have the money anyway, he stayed home when my mom took my brother and me to LA to visit her family for Christmas. She and David had been married for about a year. Mom was finally off of welfare after landing a job as a teacher's aid at our elementary school after volunteering for about a year, and David didn't work, but he did collect Social Security.
        One weekend day, before my mom got pregnant with my sister, I found David wandering around the backyard, talking to himself. At first, I thought he was just putting on a show, but when I got closer to him, I saw a look on his face that I had never seen before. His eyes were darker than usual and very far away. When he saw me, he didn't seem to recognize me at all. He had dark circles under his eyes, and he was mumbling, stringing words together that made no sense at all. I didn't know what else to do, so I called his name.
        He looked at me recognizing his name, his face not registering mine. I knew something was wrong, so I ran into the house to get my mom.
        “Mom, Mom, David's in the yard. He's acting weird; something's wrong.” I said, opening the front door so hard that it hit one of the dining room chairs which sat just on the other side. My brother ran out the door to see what was going on before my mom could react. I could tell from the look on her face that she already knew. I went back outside to check on both David and my brother. They were still outside near the house under the old oak tree, the one that had three two-by-fours nailed to the side of the trunk – evidence of what have must have been the ladder to some other kid's tree house. It was hard to imagine a tree house in that tall tree, but there had been one, and other kids who lived in the house, and someone to build them one. David was still talking to himself, and my brother stood there looking at him.
        Not knowing what to do, we all went back inside. My mom was standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window. I joined her and looked out too. David was wandering down the path between our house and mom's friend Joann's house. I couldn't understand why my mom wasn't doing anything. A little while later, David came back to the house, looking a little less crazy. My mom didn’t do anything, and my brother and I stood there wide-eyed.
        “Michelle, why don't you and your brother go and do something in your room,” mom said, trying to sound upbeat.
        “Come on, Amonie,” I said, walking toward her bedroom. The room doubled as a walkway to the bathroom. It was just off the front room and there was no door.
        My brother sat down on the bed for a minute, and I turned on the clock radio. He kept getting up and looking out toward the kitchen where David sat at the table. I looked too.
        David was holding a metal can of Bugler tobacco. He was a smoker, like most people in Tuolumne, and he rolled his own cigarettes, especially at the end of the month when was running out of money from his social security check. Otherwise, he smoked Winston's. I thought he was going to roll himself a cigarette; maybe that would calm him down. I sat down on the bed, thinking that there wasn't anything too see; then Amonie started to giggle. I jumped up. David was not rolling a cigarette – he was drinking the can of tobacco, tipping it back, as one would tip back a glass with only a bit of liquid left at the bottom. My mom started shouting.
        “What are you doing? David, what, don't drink that!”
        Amonie and I were back in the front room, watching David mumble and drink his cigarette tobacco. Amonie was laughing harder now, and I was whacking him on the shoulder trying to get him to stop and to keep myself from giggling too. I knew what was happening wasn't funny at all, but I could feel a fit of giggles bubbling up inside of me.
        David ended up having to be committed to a psychiatric hospital all the way in Vacaville – even the name sounded crazy. Returning a week or so later, subdued, taking different colored pills, and looking a bit sheepish, but still walking my brother and I to school, trying to get us to play chess, and cleaning up around the house, he seemed to hope that we'd all quickly forget what he probably couldn't remember. He would have to return to the hospital in Vacaville a couple of more times. When he was still in the hospital, I  heard mom tell one of her friends that the police had declared David, 5150, “Crazy,” she said, adding, “a danger to himself and others.”  
     We were in LA at my grandmother's house when my mom discovered that she was pregnant. I was in bed in another room, and I could hear my mother and grandmother talking.
         “How long has it been since you had your period?” asked my grandmother. I could hear the TV playing in the background of their conversation.
         “About two months,” mom answered. She hadn't thought she could get pregnant again since she and David had already been married a year without conceiving. I strained my ears to hear more of the conversation but only heard the TV for a stretch.
         “My grandmother finally spoke, “Feel that, Mi'ja, how hard it feels right there in the middle of your stomach; that's it Mi'ja, the baby – you're pregnant.”
         When we had first arrived in LA and settle in at my grandmother's house full of family photos, knick knacks, beds covered with bedspreads, hand towels, the sounds of Spanish all around us, and the tinkling sound of the bells from the paletero's cart, my mother had shown my grandmother a picture of David and his thick, black, wavy hair pushed back on his head, his olive skin, square jaw, strong nose, and one eyebrow cocked upward, an attempt at looking mysterious with a bit of a smile. Grandma Delia said that he was handsome. In LA, people might have assumed he was Mexican, but he wasn’t.  He was of some unknown European stock -- maybe French, maybe Eastern European. His craziness prevented us from ever being clear about his parentage.

         My sister was a toddler with a mass of curly blond hair when mom decided that she couldn’t take anymore of David’s crazy and his drinking and not getting better. Sometime before they split, David took me to a disco dance held downtown at the Memorial Hall. Mom stayed home with Zhanna and Amonie, and David put on his favorite shirt, the shiny lime-green one that was too tight because he had also gained weight during the pregnancy, and walked me downtown. We could hear the music pumping and see the strobe lights flashing in the high windows as we walked up to the building.
         Inside there were kids of all ages and some lost looking adults. I saw kids from the elementary school, a K-8, and high school kids, many who were only there to stand around and look cool, and some who were there looking after younger siblings. Somehow the memorial hall didn’t look like the same place where the elementary school held its basketball games. The curtains on the stage were pulled back, strobe lights were flashing, and people were hustling, spinning, and turning each other all over the dance floor. On my own with David dancing nearby and later with some friends, I danced to “Boogie, Oogie, Oogie,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” and “Copacabana,” one of my favorites, a song about a showgirl named Lola. After a while, I looked around for David. He was still trying to give me my space, which I liked because I didn’t really want to be dancing next to him all sweaty in his shiny shirt.
         Then all of a sudden, I didn’t feel so well. The room was turning side-to-side, and I knew that if I didn’t get out of there I was going to throw up. The music suddenly seemed to grow louder and louder and my vision blurred. David found me stumbling around, and asked if I was okay. I somehow managed to shout into his ear that I felt sick, and he took me by the hand and lead me to the door. Once in the hallway, outside of the main auditorium, David determined that the lights had made me nauseous.
         “Just a bit of motion sickness that’s all,” he chuckled, smoothing his damp hair back off his forehead as he was in the habit of doing. And he hoisted me up on his back where I must have fallen asleep on the way home.

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