Tag Archives: Step-dad

Heaven, Hell or Hoboken

Jersey, 1965

We moved to New Jersey when I was six. The term “upper class” didn’t mean us. Neither did the term “middle class.” We didn’t move up in the world, but we did move way down. Down into a hellhole. At least that’s what Mama often said. Our residence: a drafty basement, at the bottom of a five-story building. Pipes covered the walls and ceiling; we even had a boiler room.

Hoboken seemed to beckon my step-dad, Jimmy, for its bar on every corner. A stand-up bar nearby served steamed clams, the shells tossed onto sawdust-covered floors. Those delicacies accompanied a tall glass of beer. Known for being a man’s tavern, women and children were unwelcome. Yet, as I remained by Jimmy’s side, no one appeared to mind. He gave me my first sample of clams, a bit salty but tasty.

In those bars, women and children sat in the back, the front reserved for the men at the counter on stools. While Mama and I waited for Jimmy to satisfy his thirst, he ignored us while throwing down drink after drink, joking with the fellows around him.

“That louse,” Mama mumbled, drumming her fingers on the table, glaring at him from across the room.

The jukebox played my parents’ favorite songs one after another: Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night, Eddy Arnold’s I Can’t Stop Loving You, and Nat King Cole’s Rambling Rose. Jimmy waved his hands as he sang along but never in tune.

Peanuts were plentiful, the shells scattered about on the floor. I didn’t care for the peanuts. I preferred pickled eggs in the large jar. The bartender brought over a sandwich and chips for Mama and me to share. He placed a bottle of cola in front of me and winked.

“Mama, why does the bread have seeds in it?” I asked, sniffing it after the man left.

“It’s rye bread, Mary. Just eat it.”

I took a bite but couldn’t swallow. I grabbed my soda and knocked it over.

“Oh, for heaven sakes, wipe that up,” Mama huffed and reached for my plate, still eyeballing Jimmy. “I’ll eat this if you’re just going to play with it.”

My step-dad’s singing and laughter echoed across Hudson River to Manhattan. Mama’s eyes narrowed, her face turning red. “I oughta go over there, smack him in the face and take his money.”

She was mad enough to do it too. But Mama being co-dependent, tolerated Jimmy’s out of control behavior. Despite my young age, she griped and complained to me but seldom knew what to do. I listened while my mama rambled, until I’d fall asleep at the table with my head on my forearms.

*   *   *   *

Mama never cooked. Jimmy knew how to throw anything together and make it edible. I even saw him once gather fistfuls of snow to make a pot of rice because we lacked running water. One time he even threw out a quick cooking lesson to leave me to prepare a meal.

“Break the spaghetti in half,” Jimmy began his instructions. “Put it in the pot after the water boils,” he continued. “Then drain it like so . . .” He deftly held the empty pot with lid over the sink . . .

I wondered how I might lift that heavy pot to drain the water and keep a lid over it.

“. . . toss in some tomato sauce, a dab of sugar . . .”

What if the spaghetti spills out all over the floor?

“. . . season it with a pinch of salt, pepper . . .”

My head swirled with visions of one big mess.

“And,” Jimmy added with a wink, “don’t forget to stir.”

The instructions over, my parents headed out for a nightcap. A few days later, I stayed home alone as Chef Mary to attempt my hand over the stove, kneeling on a chair, trying to remember the difference between a “dab” and a “pinch.” 

Sometime later I awoke to voices and the clanking of dishes. It wasn’t unusual for my parents to come home squabbling in the wee hours of the night. Through my sleepiness with my chin resting on my hands, I watched as they devoured my cold pasta creation, unmindful that the noodles were chewy or the sauce soupy.

“You’re a quick learner,” Jimmy said.

I beamed with pride before dozing off.

In general, my step-dad was good to me, but Mama often called him a two-faced. I don’t recall when he started hitting her. But I’d hear her crying and saw marks on her jaw.

Jimmy thought himself wise and became philosophical whenever he drank. He routinely came home in the middle of night, long-winded. After he flipped on every light-switch and opened all the windows, he cranked up the radio, blubbering to songs like Winchester Cathedral.

Once I was awake, Jimmy often called on me to listen to him rant and rave about everything and nothing. He’d sit on the windowsill, peered up toward the sky and rambled over mumbo jumbo stuff about the heaven, the moon, and the stars. He repeated adages like:

“Nothing tells the truth like the mirror.”

“Never let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.”

“No two leafs on a tree are alike.”

I never wanted to miss a word but couldn’t keep from yawning. I tried staying alert, but my eyelids grew heavy, my mind foggy as Jimmy’s voice faded in and out:

“. . . or get off the pot . . .”

“Die . . . pay taxes . . . go to jail!”

(A short excerpt from Running in Heels)

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Alcoholism, Memoir

He had a rugged, but kind, short-bearded face

He had a rugged, but kind, short-bearded face with laughing brown eyes and charm that wouldn’t quit. We came from similar marital backgrounds. We each knew what it was like to be in an abusive relationship, encumbered with alcoholic spouses, broken promises, and betrayal. We both shared the same desires, with honesty and trust at the top.

He waltzed away all traces of reservations in my heart. I felt he could be trusted. He treated me with respect. He took my breath away, loving me for me: tenderly, passionately, completely. He even—as they say in the movies—“made my toes curl.” Moreover, as much as he loved me, he loved my four children. And they loved him in return. That was the icing on any cake! There may not have been a lot of money floating around, but in our eyes, he proved himself worthy. We never had to compete for his attention. When his buddies told him that other fish were in the ocean (that didn’t include small guppies), he simple said, “Not like this one.”

When he asked me one day what my goals in life were, I couldn’t answer, turning my face as the tears fell. Burdened over daily matters as a single mom, clouded my vision for the tomorrows. After several dates, for the first time in a long time, I thought about a future and possibly having one with him.

From day one, I loved his adventurous spirit for the outdoors and watching him with my little gang. Whether those outings included dove hunting, camp-outs in tents, air shows, the circus, Disney World, or barbecues at the parks, he made it fun and special for the children. I was grateful for that.

After my ex deserted us, I had to find a job to earn income. But my being away had left the children’s safety net to unravel. One by one, serious issues ensued that needed my undivided attention. I could only do so much. I felt guilt ridden, like a complete failure.

Being a single mom took its toll; it wasn’t fun. I felt tired of pretending I had it together. My faith had always been the glue in my life but I had let God down too. I’ve been too busy, feeling haggard with the hustle and bustle of life, trying to keep our heads above water from the bills that flooded in every month.

“Are you sure you’re ready for the whole package?” I had asked him. Incomplete individuals usually search for fulfillment and happiness in others instead of finding their sense of well-being and self-worth from within. I had since learned that my completeness didn’t come from having faith in any man, but in a perfect God who loved me unconditionally, like no other.

With my heart on the line in this new relationship of ours, I wondered what if down the road we were abandoned? Deserted again. Forever?

Yet … I loved the one next to me, wanted him by my side and even believed that God had brought us together and superseded our circumstances. My heart was torn and pounded out of my chest. Would he share my faith?

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My eldest, Anna Marie, with her Pops

His silence now ate away at me.

Then ever so gently, he took his thumb, wiped my tears and whispered, “You are the family I’ve always wanted.”

And the four words I will never forget:

“Let’s find God together.”

Dedicated to Mark, my husband and best friend –
a Stepdad who stepped up to the plate in more ways than one

© M.A. Perez, 2013, All Rights Reserved

6 Comments

June 15, 2013 · 10:40 PM