Riding in Cars with… Family

I stare at my hands in the passenger side. Dad’s driving my car through the streets of Dallas. Do I tell him now? Or do I wait until I can have them both together? This is really a family discussion. Maybe I should tell them all at once?

I’m angry. I want to hurt them so bad.

“Did you have a nice time with Aaron today?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say.

“What did you get up to?”

I’d rather not say. “We signed on a rental property today,” I blurt out.

Well, guess I ripped that band-aid off. 

“I understand,” he says before he goes silent.

I know he doesn’t. He never will.

2 years earlier

“She’s not a very Christian lady,” Daddy says. His fingers are wrapped around the steering wheel, his knuckles white, and the color in his cheeks is red. “How dare she ask you to pay three month’s rent!”

I’m crying in the backseat with Momma quiet in the front.

But… She said you hadn’t paid her any since you’ve been here. I’ve only been here a month.

“She knew my sales business was struggling. I promised to pay as soon as I got my commission check.”

Which will never come if you don’t actually make a sell.

“We’ll use your first pay to get bond on an apartment,” Dad says.

No… no that’s mine. To save for college. Absolutely not!

“Okay,” I say meekly. We’re homeless. I can’t just say no…

1 month earlier

“You’ll like the place we’re staying at,” Dad says to me. “She’s a good Christian woman. We have the entire house upstairs to ourselves. In a few months, we’ll be able to afford to move into our own place too.”

“That’s good,” I say, listening to Pink Floyd more than his words.

“Your mother is getting paid to clean some lovely Christian homes. My sales business is going well.”

That’s the only reason I’m here.

I study my nails for a moment, wondering if it’s too early to say what needs to be said.

“UNT has let me wait another semester before starting. My scholarship money too. I have to use it first semester, though, or I’ll lose it forever. So this is only temporary.”

“I’m so proud of you. Everyone takes a little time off school anyway.”

I didn’t have much of a choice.

3 months earlier

“We have something to tell you,” Dad says as I settle in the backseat of the car.

The worry lines on Mom’s face are more pronounced than usual; her nose redder and cheeks puffier as well. I swallow and clutch my backpack.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

I’m not ready for this. I haven’t even processed the tragedy of the Twin Tower attacks.

“We’ve lost the house.”

The words crash into me with all the force of a football player.


Why did you say that? You heard it. You stupid girl.

I think back to May when August was to be the start of my life. University of North Texas. Film school. I was going to be a screenwriter. A movie critic. Something awesome. Something not here.

“I don’t have any money left,” I offer.

You took everything last time with the promise to pay it back and some.

Mom turns to me and shakes her head, “It’s too late for that. We have two weeks to vacate.”

What did you expect? This was always going to happen.

A queasiness overcomes me. I went back to community college this semester. Am I going to be able to finish? I’m going to be homeless!

The world is muted. I look down at my hands and flex my fingers to make sure my brain was still connected to my body.

Life has to get better than this.

4 months earlier

They’re sitting in the car. Little brother and Mom. Excited, I enter the car. I just got the promotion I’d been after for so long. Now I will earn a whole extra dollar more an hour and get a guaranteed 35+ hours a week. With no regard for either, I start telling about how great it is and how much money I can save for August. I have all these amazing plans. Live on campus. Work at the movie theatre as a manager every night, and go for a run around the campus every morning because I’ve always wanted to do that.


I look at their faces.

“Mel,” brother says, tilting his head to Mom.

Mom’s lips are pursed. She never did have a very good poker face.

“We owe three months to the bank,” she admits.

“How much?” I ask.

“Five thousand.”

Only a month ago, I had decided to not buy a car for $1500 because it didn’t fit into my plan of having enough for my first year of university life. But this… this was almost all of my savings.

“Your tax check?”

“Won’t be here in time. If we don’t pay by next week, they’re going to foreclose.”

I stay quiet for the rest of the car ride home. She doesn’t directly ask me yet. That’ll come later. Life definitely has to get better than this.


Rose-Colored Glasses

A solitary light shone over Daddy’s lap. In the darkness, his tanned skin was the shade of a penny, and his black hair, eternally cut and parted in the same respectable style, was nothing more than a shadow.  

He read aloud, never adding a flare or bravose to the telling. There was no need to be dramatic. His voice carried in any room he was in, but at night, it was quiet and reverential.

“Words carry enough weight on their own,” he said that night.

It was Tolkien – no Herbert? Heinlein? Ludlum? Donaldson? I can’t remember which. Why can’t I remember which book it was?


I sit on the edge of the church pew. The sound of his voice, his piano, resonates in the auditorium from the speakers. The recording is scratchy, authentic.

The words of the song take on a whole new meaning. “Until then, my heart will go on singing. Until then, with joy I’ll carry on. Until the day my eyes behold that city. Until the day God calls me home.” I dig my nails into the underside of the rough carpet-y cushion and bite my lower lip.


With his lamp turned on and the TV turned off, Daddy ruffled the college rule pages. I sat on the floor, eyes squinted, trying to read the back of the page. He was hyper-focused, but the rest of his face was neutral. Does he like it? I hope he likes it!

He set the pages onto the lamp table and looked down at me.

“Melly, this is amazing! How did you come up with this story?” he asked.

The glisten in his eyes, the dimples in his cheeks made my heart leap.

“I don’t know. It just came to me,” I admitted.

“You could be the next Stephen King!”

I cried tears of joy that night. Was it that night? Maybe it was another. He read lots of my stories. He said it. I think.


I stretch my hand over to Momma’s. The chill of her skin is jarring, but I wrap my fingers around hers and squeeze. She trembles and cups her other hand on top of mine with a gentle pat.

“Tim was one of the best men I knew,” I hear a friend say.

On the other side of me, Wayne puts his arm around my shoulder. I lean my head into him and stifle a sob.


Daddy drove around town.

“I’m so proud of you,” he said. “You’re such a good worker. You’re going places, Melly Belly.”

Loop 286 took all of fifteen minutes to drive around, yet here we were in our third pass, singing to Hootie, Eddie Vedder, Alanis.

Maybe it was Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac? I can’t remember which.

No. He’s loaning his suit to a friend so he can go to an interview.

No. He’s playing the beginning of Come Sail Away on his keyboard.

No! He’s singing on the church’s Grand Piano.

NO! He’s sitting beside Mom at my graduation, beaming from ear-to-ear.

No no no no no. That’s not it. He’s driving me to work? Driving me home?

….Driving me to the airport.


I left! I left him! He’s gone, and I never got to say how much everything he did mattered!

I swallow, but I choke on the gathered moisture. I want to hold onto the good memories. All the good stories. But I can’t.

He’s gone. Forever.

Sadly one of the only photos I have of him. 😦


Little boy having fun with friends in park blowing bubbles

Nothing she could say would assuage their grief; the country they called home had become a corporation, a tyrant, a leviathan. Still she mustered the strength to stand tall and speak, “Fuck him!”


The Carriage


He sat on the train with the trolley sitting across his leg and on the seat beside him. So far he’d been able to avoid the judgmental eyes of the nosy older women, but he couldn’t ignore their snide remarks. At this hour of the day, they seemed to be the only passengers, so he wasn’t even able to leave the carriage for greener pastures.

“Why isn’t he at school?”

“How old is he anyway? He looks like he just started high school.”

He cast his eyes down to his knees. I’m fifteen! – he wanted to shout.

His tattered shoes stared back at him – a reminder of his current predicament. If it hadn’t been for his best friend, he wouldn’t even have clean clothes.

He heard his stop on the speakers and made his move to leave.

“Go to school!” a voice screamed from inside the carriage.

He balled his hands up around the trolley handles until the whites of his knuckles were exposed. Taking a deep breath, he exited the train and pushed back his tears. As the door closed, he stood still to watch the train speed off to its next destination.

He sniffed the moisture back before starting his descent from the platform to the street.

He wouldn’t have to walk for long; she lived right by the station. In fact, her whole apartment space shook every 20 minutes.

He stood at her door, smile spread puffing out his cheeks and revealing the dimples that she used to love. He’d prove to her today that he should be in her life.

Cries echoed from the other side of the door. The sound pierced the walls of the complex, and he wondered if any neighbors had complained yet. The baby had some lungs.

He knocked and waited and waited some more.

When the door opened, a disheveled girl stared back at him. The baby continued to scream in the crib on the other side of the room.

“Are you going to help her?” he asked, worried.

“No,” she answered. “What are you doing here?”

“I… bought you a gift,” he said. “For our daughter.”

“Your dad kicked you out. You’re homeless,” she said with no hint of concern, “How could you afford a stroller?”

“I busked,” he admitted. “Then I sold my guitar.”

“So you think this means you’re a Dad now?”

He bowed his head, “I am a Dad.”

She gave a derisive sniff, “Good for you.”

She snatched the stroller from his hands without a word of thanks and disappeared around the corner. He stood in the doorway, chatting between long silences while she ducked in and out of the room. “Maybe we can go for walks together.” “I’m almost old enough to work. I’ll get a job.” “My friends think they can get me another guitar.”

She ignored him, but when she put the baby into the carriage and grabbed the diaper bag, his spirits rose.

She pushed the carriage to the door. Laden with toys and clothes and bags, it moved slowly.

“Here, Daddy. You can have her.”

There was a wildness in her eyes – a flicker of mania.

“For the afternoon?”

“Forever. I’m done.”

She pushed the carriage out the door. He scrambled to get in front of it to stop her from falling out.

“What are you doing?” he cried.

A slammed door was his only answer.

As his daughter wailed, he looked at her. Her tiny hands, her black hair, and dark skin reminded him of his mother. She was perfect. He lifted her out of the carriage and held her head as he had seen in the movies. With water filling his eyes, he cradled his daughter.

“What now?” he sighed.

Dear Daddy

Dear Daddy,

It’ll be ten years next week since you went home. Life is moving on without you, though, and there’s been so much I want to say to you. And so much I wish you could say to me, but for now, this letter will have to do.

I left eleven years ago for Australia – for Wayne. In that time, I’ve changed from the mousy girl, to a fierce, albeit sometimes aggressive, woman. I’m a staunch liberal, I never go to church, and I’m a reforming racist. I’m sure if you were still here you’d see how much I’ve changed. You might even comment on it in the same ferocious tone you used when you told me how disappointed you were in my choice to move away.

As long as I’m being honest with you, though, some days, when my mind wanders, I think maybe your sobriety ended because of me.

Mostly, I just wonder if you are proud of the woman I’ve become. Would it surprise you to know how much I’ve drifted from the ultra conservative, fundamentalist Baptist girl you raised? Or that I don’t watch every movie at the theatres anymore? I don’t read as much as you used to read to me? How much of the girl you knew is still there? Would you still be clinging to the memory of extinct young Mel? Or embracing the change?

I married Wayne; did you know that? I love him. I never had a chance to say that to you. Though I’m sure you knew it. I hate that you never got a chance to meet him or even talk to him. The year between my leaving and your passing was such a short period of time but such a long one too. I regret not forcing you on the phone more when I called. I regret not putting Wayne on the phone to talk to you. I always planned to visit with him at my side. I think you would have liked him.

We did end up visiting, but not for the reasons any of us liked. I still get teary when I realize that the only time Wayne ever saw you in person was staring down at your open casket in that church. By the time we were there, the man I saw looked nothing like the man I hugged good-bye at the airport in May 2006.

Despite all the negatives, I will always be Daddy’s little girl. I still think back with fondness all those hours watching movies on the couch together or the early Saturday mornings before the rest of the house was awake when I’d play Nintendo and yell-whisper at you about my high score. I enjoyed the sound of your voice when you read Tolkien and Heinlein to me. I loved our trips to the donut shop together to buy the yummiest and least nutritional breakfasts for the family. I still talk about your keyboard and all the hours spent with you singing together. I miss being able to call you randomly to sing a song to you to find out who was the artist and the song.

I always knew I was your favorite, even when parents aren’t meant to have favorites.

I knew when I left, it would be you I’d missed most. I just didn’t realize it was because you would be gone forever. I don’t regret leaving. I will never regret that. It’s landed me a healthy life with Wayne, a real career, but most of all, a smile when I get up to face the day. I know despite everything, that’s all you wanted for me.

A month after you left us, I had a dream. You were driving me around Paris, TX, one last time. The buildings were derelict and the streets were barren, but there was a certain calmness to it. You parked us outside an office building, and we went inside for me to get ready for an interview or something. We walked into an almost vacant office and sat to talk for a while. The office window looked out into downtown Paris. I could see the blue sky and the sun breaking through a solitary cloud.

You told me how I would some day ride a horse. I’d get married and feel loved. And that I’d find out who your actual family was, a question you never had the courage to ask.

When you seemed content that everything you wanted to say was said, I started to hum, not understanding what it was at first, but eventually, the music took me away and the words just came out, “At the crossing. Of the Jordan. Why should I be afraid? There’ll be someone there who loves me. To guide me. Across the river. To endless joys above..”

I sniffed and swallowed the growing moisture. Your footsteps were silent, but your gentle pat on my head gave me comfort. I smiled and watched the cloud move across the sun’s face.

“Why did you have to go?” I asked, turning to face you.

But you were gone.

I know it sounds silly, but a part of me wants to believe that was your way of saying good-bye – a part of me needs it to be true.

Love always,

Melly Belly