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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty Two

**New chapters posted here Wednesdays**
My mother was wrong. It took my dad thirty-five minutes to get to Shady Village and find me sitting in the backseat of Vader, in the middle of the night, only beginning to settle down with the hollow wasted feeling in the pit of my stomach. Once the cop car with Porter in it and my mother and Sara drove away, the spectators from the surrounding trailers, and some who had even walked a ways to see what was going on, all eventually receded back behind their own doors, to their own lives. What had happened here tonight, with people that I knew and cared for, was nothing more than drama for their entertainment—gossip for the next day.
How many of those people—those people who lived right next door to Porter and Paige—even cared that they were both being hauled away to live with strangers? Since none of them had bothered to come out until the cops showed up, even though anyone could have heard Porter and his dad yelling and fighting, my guess was none.
Alone and suddenly exhausted, I let my head fall back against the seat behind me. Except for a few porch lights and the trailer whose windows still flashed an iridescent blue from the TV inside, all the Shady Village trailers were mostly dark and silent.
Headlights from behind me flooded Vader’s interior—it was weird to actually hope it was my dad coming. I couldn’t remember the last time I had attached that feeling, hope, to anything that had to do with him. I sat up and checked the time on my phone while I watched his twenty-year-old BMW pull up and park in front of Vader—10:58.
Whatever, I didn’t care that it took him thirty-five minutes—even though he only lived ten minutes away. I was just relieved he was finally here and I could go home.
Both of his front doors exploded open at the same time. Surprised, I watched my dad and Derry, who was struggling to get up and around the girth of her now-enormous belly, get out of the car. He didn’t exactly run to me, but his thin flannel robe fluttered out behind him as he shuffled his moccasin feet quickly to the driver’s side of my car.
He hadn’t even gotten dressed? He was twenty-five minutes late and it wasn’t because he had to put on a pair of shoes with laces?
His thick body thumped up against Vader’s front door as he pressed his face against the window, cupped his hands around his eyes, and tried to peer inside. He pulled back and looked at Derry. “She’s not here!” He pushed himself away from Vader and raked his hands though his hair like he didn’t know what the hell he was going to do next.
Vader’s tint. He couldn’t see me in the backseat.
I pulled the lock up and opened the back door.
My dad dropped his hands and pulled the door away from me, like he couldn’t wait the two seconds it would take to verify that, Yes, Ruth is in the backseat! When his face saw mine he stared at me in stunned silence for several seconds before his features broke into relief.
He grabbed my shoulder and pulled me into his chest until his arms wrapped all the way around me in a suffocating hug.
What. The. Hell.
My arms hung limp at my side while he crushed my cheek against his chest.
“You’re okay!” He pulled me away from him like I was a rag doll and stared into my eyes. “You are okay?”
I swallowed and nodded.
He turned his head to Derry, who was propping her frame up by using one of her skinny arms as a kickstand on Vader’s hood. “She’s okay!” he shouted at her.
Derry smiled like she was exhausted, or bored, and nodded. “That’s good,” she confirmed. “Very good. Everyone’s okay.” She took a deep breath, sighed, and turned back to the BMW. “I’ll follow you.”
Both my dad and I stood and watched her waddle over to the BMW’s driver’s side with her hands laced under her belly like she was holding up a boulder. When she made it there, she lifted the handle and the squeal of the door opening pierced the night air. Derry then hung onto the door frame and lowered herself inch by inch into the driver’s seat, rested, then swung her legs in and shut the door.
I looked to my dad, “Is she okay to drive?”
He hesitated, then nodded, “I’m pretty sure.”
“When is the baby supposed to be born?”
“Last week.”

My dad drove Vader, his moccasin feet pressed and released the clutch as he shifted through the gears like an expert. “She still runs great,” he commented.
Vader, before he was Vader, was my dad’s car, and his name had been a her name—Lorelei. “He still runs great,” I corrected—then held my breath and hoped that this offhanded comment wouldn’t escalate into some big stupid fight. My father and I almost never had any kind of conversation without one of us getting upset over something trivial and then a series of rapid-fire verbal exchanges would leave us storming off in opposite directions.
I didn’t have the energy tonight. “Sorry if that came off crappy,” I added. “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”
My dad turned his head and looked at me for several seconds before checking on Derry in the rearview mirror driving behind us. When he didn’t say anything and simply returned his eyes to the road, I decided to just be quiet and look out my window. We were driving through the main part of town, and the only lights still on were for Jerry’s Bar and Splitz Bowling.
Next to me, my dad started drumming his thumbs on the steering wheel. Then, he clucked his tongue twice. We were only a few blocks from my house now and I had the feeling that my dad was gearing up to say something.
Whatever it is Ruth, you are NOT going to react, or fly off the handle, or condescendingly throw his character faults in his face—no matter how much it kills you, nod your head and say nothing more than, “I’ll consider that.” Mostly the only thing he could ever think to accuse me of was my crap attitude. So tonight, instead of getting all huffy, I would simply say, “I’ll consider that.”
And who knows, maybe he had a point—maybe my attitude was crap.
But God, even thinking about rolling over in front of him was giving me indigestion.
You can’t think about it like that! I argued with myself. Christ, maybe I was the one who belonged in the affective needs program.
“Ruth?”
Here we go. I turned from the window and braced myself for whatever was coming next.
He took a deep breath, checked Derry in his rearview mirror, returned his eyes to the road and let loose. “I want to be a better father.”
I was stunned. It took a second for his words to sink in. I shook my head. “What?”
He sighed and sagged at the wheel. “To you, and for the new baby. I want to do it better this time.”
What the hell was I supposed to say to that? My insides squirmed with the familiar urge to attack. He wanted to be a better father? For the new baby? Now, after all this time?
Not my problem.
Good luck with that.
Ice cubes and hell.
But I didn’t say any of it. I chewed and choked and swallowed until the only words left in my mouth were, “I’ll consider that.” Which didn’t really make all that much sense in connection with what he had said, but it seemed to satisfy him, even somewhat relieve him. He nodded and dared to wear a small smile.
In his mind, he was already a halfway better father simply for stating his intention.
In my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have more energy for a fight by tomorrow morning.
We pulled onto my street. Our house was dark—Mom still wasn’t home.
Vader pulled onto the driveway and some piece of metal underneath the car scraped across the concrete until both the front and back tires were level on the drive. “Damn muffler,” he muttered. “That thing still coming loose?”
I nodded. “Eli will fix it for me.” The words left my mouth before I had a chance to remember that Eli would not be fixing it—Eli wasn’t even speaking to me.
He shifted into neutral and set the break before shutting the engine off. “You want me to come in and check the house?”
This was simply too much. I couldn’t be expected to shift so fast from a dad who hadn’t executed on my birthday for as far back as I could remember to one who was going to search behind the curtains for burglars all in one night. I forced my eyeballs to not roll, not even a millimeter of a roll—the effort was so great, it almost hurt. “I’ll be okay.”
He thought about this for a moment and bent his head over the steering wheel so he could get a better look at the house. I got the impression he was mentally deciding: What would a good dad do in this situation?
I simply couldn’t take any more of this—not tonight.
“I’m sure Mom will be home soon,” I said, and held out my hand for my keys.
Thank God, he nodded, pulled the keys from Vader’s ignition, and dropped them into my waiting hand.
“Thanks again,” I offered, and opened the door to make my escape.
“Ruth?” He reached out and touched my arm.
MY GOD! I squeezed my lips together and turned to face him. “Mm-hmm?”
“I don’t know exactly what all happened tonight. But I hope you know, you can come to me,” he shrugged. “You know. If you ever need to talk.”
I nodded. “Of course.” Because I would absolutely choose you, over my clinically trained child psychologist mother who has actually been there for me—ALWAYS. That makes total sense. “Thanks.”
I got out of the car, waved to Derry, who absolutely looked completely annoyed now, and rushed into my house before my brain exploded all over the inside of my skull. I leaned against the door, more than a little worried that he would follow me inside and decide to continue with his good dad mission right now. But when I peeked through the blinds of the window that looked out onto the front of the house, the BMW was slow rolling away down the street.
I rubbed my face hard with both my hands and pressed my closed eyes with the tips of my fingers until electric flashes of light appeared in the darkness. I didn’t want to think about my dad right now. Whatever that weirdness was, I didn’t have the space in my brain to work it out tonight.
I tossed my keys on the table by the front door and headed up the stairs. All I wanted was to change my clothes, lie down on my bed, and wait for my mother to get home so she could tell me that Porter and Paige were all right.
Because they would be all right—it was the only thought I allowed myself to consider.

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