June 8, 2006
“That woman is a bitch on wheels,” Bill said to me about Tina. When she wasn’t yapping on her cell phone in Russian all day, she was very abrupt with Grandma. And she was constantly mouthing off and bossing us around like she owned the place. Very controlling.
One night after dinner I started rinsing my glass out in the sink and she got on my case about wasting water. I just looked at her. What, I’m not allowed to rinse out a goddamn glass? I felt like flinging the contents in her face. “What’s it to you?” I spat at her. “You don’t pay the water bill here, it’s not your house.” Then I pushed past her to get my plate from the table. I made like I was going to rinse it off too but I just put it down on the counter instead.
“Good!” she cooed at me, like I was a little boy who just learned to tie his shoelaces. Up yours. But after that I noticed that whenever she did the dishes, she’d leave anything I’d used behind – untouched and unwashed. Apparently she was sending me a message of some kind. Good grief, it was like having another Dad in the house. And I wasn’t allowed to gag at bad smells either. I found her giving Grandma a perm in the kitchen and I was like, “wow, that stuff stinks…” Just a casual observation, but Tina started yelling at me to get out of the house. Like really yelling. Holy shit, what is your problem?
Bill was her favorite target. One day he was watering his plants in the window and singing to himself and Tina told him to stop. I felt a familiar hot swoop of anger. “Okay, Bill,” I spoke up. “So there’s no singing, no yawning, no using water… what else are we not allowed to do?” I asked Tina as she hovered nearby. She just shook her head at us and told us that we were stupid and that we were never going to learn.
That did it. Bill fucking went off on her, and I was mad that he beat me to it: “First of all, let’s get something straight here. You are a guest in this house. Who do you think you are to tell us what to do? You are getting paid to look after my aunt, not to be a bitch.” It didn’t help that Dad was using her to spy on Bill as well. They even made a big joke of it; when Dad came home he’d ask Tina for his daily KGB report and they’d share a laugh.
I was worried that Dad was going to try to poison Bill again after I overheard Tina saying she saw him drinking out of the juice container again. “With his back turned, like he thought I couldn’t see. I guess he thinks I’m stupid,” she said to Dad.
“Yeah, he thinks everybody is stupid,” Dad replied.
I hastened to Bill to let him know what I heard, and he was shocked that Tina was a rat. But Bill was driving Dad crazier and crazier. He told me it was time for Bill to leave because he was on-and-off with the water upstairs washing each individual tile in the bathroom. “He’s wasting all that water instead of using the squeegee to clean the walls!” Dad ranted, making little faucet noises and gestures for emphasis. So he turned off the water to the upstairs and unscrewed the shut-off valves so that Bill couldn’t turn them back on.
The toilet still worked, but Bill couldn’t use that either. Every morning before work Dad marched upstairs and left a big steaming dump in the bowl without flushing. When I asked Bill why he didn’t just go right on top of it he said, “No, Tommy, because knowing your Dad he has it measured to the ounce and he’ll know if I added to it.” So he just piddled in the sink instead. And if he had to take a shit he would duck walk across the street and pinch a loaf in the forest.
No wonder our neighbors moved.
That wasn’t all Bill would dump in the woods. For years Dad put our leaves over there, but Bill was adding to his mulch pile, depositing napkins and orange peels and other foodstuffs on top of it. Dad filled Bill’s trunk up with garbage once to teach him a lesson, and he warned Bill that he would do it again if he didn’t stop chucking things across the street.
Then Bill found a sopping wet washcloth balled up on his pillow. He took it and stood in Dad’s doorway, ready to wing it at his head while he slept, but instead he wrung it out and left a nice little puddle on the rug. During their next fight Dad told him it was because he was tired of Bill hanging damp towels in his closet. Bill shot back that he didn’t want other people using them, especially after finding shit stains on the last one he left in the bathroom. Apparently Dad wiped his ass with Bill’s bath towel. Bill also found wet toilet paper inside his box of tea bags in the kitchen. Dad told him it was because “someone keeps putting them in the toilet, which clogs up the cesspool. Bill wrote a note in return on the lid of the box saying, “Petty shit like this is what pushes your family away…”
“Oh, now you’re bringing my family into this!” Dad yelled. He was already jealous of the relationship I had with Bill, and now his paranoia was deepening. He was convinced that we were having secret meetings with Bill and filling his head with stories about him. Meanwhile, whenever Bill wasn’t around Dad was busy telling Tina how crazy he was. Then he flipped out at Bill because he was “insinuating that I’m having sex with the aide.”
“No, I didn’t say you were having sex with Tina. I said you probably want to,” Bill corrected him. “But she wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot pole.” Unsurprisingly, Bill’s mattress and box spring disappeared shortly afterwards. Dad claimed he was trying to force Bill out of his room and onto the pull-out couch in the den. When Bill wouldn’t move, Dad accused him of the sin of pride since it was good enough for Sam (who moved out a couple months prior). So Dad took his bedroom door off the hinges and locked it away in another room. The next time they had a spat Bill told him, “John, anytime you want to chat, just come upstairs – my door is always open.”
Meanwhile Tina found out that Dad was sleeping in her bed while she was away on the weekends. She freaked out, but that was nothing compared to her reaction when Bill’s friend Ted (cue the obvious jokes) arrived at the house one Sunday morning to take Bill to Mass. When I answered the door I saw a tall thin guy with bloodshot eyes dressed like Luke Skywalker, and a car parked on the front lawn. Dude was completely lit, and the longer he waited for Bill the more pissed off he got.
“Sometime today!” he called up the stairs. Bill finally appeared on the landing and Luke Skywalker took one look at his rumpled clothes and said, “you’re going to Mass dressed like that? What were doing after I got off the phone with you?” So Bill went back into his room to change again and Luke Skywalker staggered into the kitchen where Tina was making lunch for Grandma. Oh no. He started hitting on her, but when she spurned his advances he turned nasty: “You know, you’re going to kill that old lady with all that cholesterol you’re pumping into her veins, you Rooskie commie bitch.”
Tina picked up a table leg from the woodpile and started chasing him around the house with it like in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. She screamed up the stairs for Bill to come down and leave with his friend never let him back in the house ever again. When Dad came home she wasted no time telling him the story, and Dad said that was typical of Bill to show no consideration for others.
Meanwhile, the table leg that Tina was swinging around came from the one that used to be in the dining room. And that table was my mother’s. It belonged to her parents and there were a lot of memories attached to it. It meant a lot to her, but she wasn’t able to take it with her when she left. It was too big to move and she had nowhere to put it. Dad never even asked her, he just took it upon himself to chop it up and burn it. Mom came over to visit Grandma one day and saw pieces of it in the fireplace.
Then Dad got into a big snit on Mother’s Day when I came home late. Nobody was home to watch Grandma, so Dad had to call Tina a cab to bring her to our house from the train station. Um, so what was the problem? Bill and I found out that Dad was paying this bitch $800 a week – she couldn’t afford a taxi? GTFO. But for some reason Dad drove her to and from the train station each weekend.
Mom thought the whole thing was ridiculous when I told her about it. “This is her job,” she said. “Her transportation to her job is not her employer’s responsibility. She can call a cab.” And Mom was apoplectic when she found out much Dad was paying Tina. “I worked in home care for years and I was lucky to make half that!” she spluttered. “And I was an actual home companion, unlike Tina who’s really an out-of-work hairdresser masquerading as one!”
But I told Dad that all he had to do was to call my cell phone and find out where I was and what I was doing. Maybe I could have gotten home sooner. Maybe I could have picked Tina up from the train station on the way home. I knew I got him with that, because then he kept trying to come up with excuses to be pissed off. “Well, I didn’t know where you were or how long you were going to be.” Like I said, you could have called me and found out. Then he went into the usual sob story that he didn’t know where my mother was because “I’m not privy to that information… the hate sometimes is so much that it’s unbearable.”
Oh, give me a fucking violin. It was then that I started wondering whether he was psychotic. He was wallowing in self-pity about his family not talking to him, while his cousin was sleeping on the floor upstairs with no running water. The irony was astounding. He was paying this stranger 800 bucks a week and give her complete run of the house, but he was ready to pull Bill’s head off over a $34 water bill.
Of course, Dad had taken yet another fall recently, this time off of some scaffolding. His head had been stitched and stapled shut several times over the years, and I came home one night and found him sporting yet another turban of bandages. His face was a little swollen and he was more humped over than ever. It made me so sad to see him that way that I nearly teared up when I left the room. All enmity was momentarily forgotten. I went to fill his prescription, worrying about him the entire time. He was taking more spills and I didn’t want to see him crippled or dead from one of his accidents.
But that scare was nothing compared to the one I received later on when I passed through the dining room and saw someone standing there with outstretched arms. “Jesus Christ!” I cried, hitting the light switch. Turns it out it actually was Jesus Christ. There was a life-sized plaster statue against the wall. Phew. And some of the metal framing for the fingers were exposed so he looked like Freddy Krueger. Well, I was about to need all the help from Krueger Christ that I could get.
I was due to appear in court.