16. A Drop In The Bucket And A Drip In The Bathtub

September 23, 1999

“When you’re 18, you’re out the door.”  That was Dad’s philosophy.  Unfortunately, everybody else apart from Shannon was still at home and well past their move-out date.  Even Kathleen – the oldest at 31 –  was still at home.

Kathleen was a special case, though.  She originally moved out at 21 and took up residence in an illegal basement apartment the next town over.  Then the house she was in caught fire and she barely made it out in time.  She lost many of her possessions in the blaze and she was scared of being on her own after that.  She occasionally moved in with an asshole boyfriend, but invariably things would collapse and she’d end up back home with us yet again.  Each time Dad welcomed her back with open arms and then called her a whore for shacking up.  This time she stayed for six months before moving out for the fourth and supposedly final time.

However, this small offering wasn’t enough to appease Dad.  There  were still too many of us sponging off of him, as he said.  Everybody was old enough to live on their own, and if they were going to stay at home then they should be paying him rent.   Mom thought that was ridiculous, asking her children to pay rent to live in their own house.  Dad countered that they weren’t children anymore and they should either contribute or get out.  Mom pointed out that everybody was contributing:  they were working full-time, they bought their own cars, bought their own groceries, had their own phone lines, were paying their own way through college…  Dad took that last one as a low blow, as if once again Mom was saying that he wasn’t good enough.

“Don’t you think I wanted to pay for their college!?” Dad raged.

“That’s not the point,” Mom argued.  “The point is that they’re saving you money by doing those things, that’s how they’re helping out.”

Undeterred, Dad was all over everybody’s back until things finally came to a head one day.  I don’t remember how it started but Dad started arguing with someone out in the living room, and one by one everyone else joined in until the whole family was fighting with him.  I heard the whole thing unfolding in my room and I thought it was unfair that they were ganging up on him.  I went out to help and to stand up for him, but after a couple of minutes I was yelled at to go back to my room.

I was fuming and slammed my door shut as hard as I could.  I was 14 and considered myself almost as much an adult as the others, but instead they treated me like a goddamned baby all the time.  And I was tired of everybody picking on Dad.  I listened to the fight raging and I pumped my fists in jubilation whenever Dad made a good point.  You tell ’em, Dad, I’d silently cheer.  But for the first time I was hearing everyone else’s side of things:

“If you’re still living here and you have a job, then you should be contributing to this house!” Dad shouted.  Johnny had finally given him some money to shut him up, and he pointed out that Dad just sneered at his contribution and told him “that’s just a drop in the bucket.”

“Well, it was!” Dad protested.

Then Mary pointed out that she gave him money once, but he just gave it back to her saying that he knew she needed the money.

“We all need the money, Dad, that’s why we’re still living at home!” Mary shouted at him.

“Yes, but when you’re here you should be contributing!” Dad yelled back.  And they just kept going around in circles for hours.   My head hurt trying to make sense of it all.   I couldn’t decide who was right anymore.

Then Dad opened up a new line of attack.  One day he had noticed a slow drip in the upstairs bathtub, but he went about his business.  He figured one of the kids would just go ahead and fix it. But a few months later he was in the upstairs bathroom again, and this time he noticed that the slow drip had become a small stream into the tub.  He went on a rant about how much money it was costing him since nobody could spend a nickel to replace a “fucking washer.  I guess that’s just your way of saying, ‘screw you Dad!'”

“Oh, that’s right,” Patrick said sarcastically.  “It was all done just to spite you…”  Dad took that as literal confirmation of his paranoid suspicions and that sent him even further over the edge.  Meanwhile, Mom asked Dad why didn’t he just fix it himself if he saw the faucet dripping?

“THAT’S NOT THE POINT!” he stormed.

Over the next few months, Dad resorted to the only recourse he felt he had left:  psychological warfare to drive them out of the house.  First he shut off the power to Johnny’s room, since breaking his door down hadn’t any effect.  Johnny solved this by running an extension cord from the hallway into his room and using a plug strip for his lights and word processor.

After a couple of months Dad went further and shut off the power to the entire second floor and put a note on the fuse box in the garage:  “Don’t touch this until you talk to the guy who pays the electric bill.”  And to make sure nobody did, he removed the switches and disconnected the wires.  Mary, Johnny and Patrick ended up doing their college homework by candlelight, or downstairs at the kitchen table if Dad wasn’t home.

Fortunately my bedroom was on the first floor so I was unaffected by this, and Dad didn’t have any problem with me.  That was good because Dad’s next move was to shut off the heat for the second floor.  My brothers and sister had to take cold showers and wear coats in their rooms.  It was a miracle that the pipes didn’t freeze and nobody came down with pneumonia over the winter.    Patrick dared to buy a portable space heater, but Dad found it during one of his reconnaissance missions and made it disappear.

Meanwhile, everyone was jealous of me because I was getting on just fine with Dad and I was enjoying a life of comfort downstairs with plenty of light and warmth.  Dad’s antics were driving a further wedge between everybody in the family.  My siblings did their best to scrimp and save so they could eventually move, but they were barely making it through community college as it was.  They wouldn’t be able to leave soon enough…


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