Best Damn Mistakes.
I was throwing the last bite of my bologna and pickle sandwich into my mouth, when I hear my father start laughing.
Engrossed in my copy of Pride and Prejudice, I had been sitting on the couch in the living room for the past hour.
So out of curiosity, I look up at the television to see what my father had found so funny.
But there was nothing funny.
Just John Travolta beating the crap out of some guy in a bar.
I glance at my father and the beer in his hand. I had never seen him drunk, but perhaps tonight he’d had one too many.
It was close to one in the morning, and my father and I are the only night owls in the house. He likes watching the history channel and drinking a few beers. And I like eating weird stuff, like bologna and pickles, and reading my books.
“Uh, dad,” I venture, “What’s so funny?”
My dad looks over at me as though he had forgotten I was even in the room. And his smile fades a bit. “Oh.” He takes a swig of his beer. “Nothing.” His eyes go back to the TV.
I look back at the TV as well. I’m a Travolta fan, but I had never seen this particular movie. It looked old.
“What movie is this, Dad?”
Keeping his eyes on the TV, he responds. “Urban Cowboy.”
“Oh.” I go back to the part where Lydia runs away with Wickham.
Minutes tick by and I’m once again engrossed in my book.
I hear my dad crush his beer can. That’s usually his signal that he’s done for the night and about to hit the sack.
Waiting to hear the TV click off, I pretend to continue reading, never looking up.
My father seemed to be in a strange mood. Which isn’t typical of my father. He’s laid-back, humorous, and light-hearted.
I could still hear the TV, rolling the credits for Urban Cowboy.
My dad cleared his throat, “You’ve never seen Urban Cowboy?”
Wow. So I started this discussion how many minutes ago, Dad?
I didn’t actually say that. I just looked up at him, a little surprised that he was now interested in talking. “Uh, no. Not that I can remember.” And I go back to pretending to read.
Apparently my father really was in a talking mood. “Have I ever told you I’ve been there?” He gestures toward the TV.
Behind the rolling credits was a building and a parking lot.
I was confused. “Been where?”
“To that bar, Gilley’s. It’s in Texas. Me and Sandra stopped there on our way through to Arizona.”
Sandra, was my father’s second wife.
“Oh.” I’m a bit taken back. My father rarely talks about his past. I’ve gathered it’s something he’s not quite proud of, so I’ve never pried.
But what I’ve picked up from my mother, brother, grandmother, and step-mother was that my father was addicted to cocaine and used to run drugs from Miami. Apparently he ran with a pretty rough crowd before committing his life to the Lord.
My father looks back at the TV and mindlessly watched the credits continue to roll.
Before I open my mouth, I consider the question I want to ask.
Will it offend him? Will it make him feel bad?
But I was curious and I wanted an answer, so I drew in a silent breath and closed my book between my right index finger, just in case it didn’t go over well so I could just stuff my face back into my book.
He looks at me. Nope. He’s not drunk. Because he looks at me, seriously.
Did my tone give me away?
“Uh, don’t take this the wrong way, but do you like ever regret, you know, being married four different times?”
To my surprise, my father doesn’t balk at my prying question, but actually smiles.
“Do I ever regret it?”
I know my father’s an intelligent man. Do I need to grab a dictionary?
“Yeah. Like feel bad?”
My father’s face clouds over just a bit. “Now, feel bad? Yes, I would say I feel bad about it. But I’m not quite sure regret’s the right word.”
“Oh.” I consider for a moment diving back into the world of Jane Austen, but curiosity bit me again. So I push on.
“Do you ever wish you could take it back?”
He’s not looking at me, but flipping through channels. But nothing’s on but infomercials, because it’s one in the morning.
“Sometimes.” He continues clicking the remote.
I let my finger slide out of my book and I lay it aside me on the couch. “Did you ever marry for love, though?”
Now, this question seemed to throw him off guard. And he looked a tad offended. “Well of course. I married for what I thought was love at that time in my life.” My father looked at me like I was heartless.
“But why didn’t things work out between you and Katherine?”
Katherine was my father’s first wife and the mother of my half-brother, Chris.
My father rubbed his forehead. “Because I wasn’t the kind of husband I should’ve been.” He sighed. “I failed her. And I wasn’t the father I should’ve been to Chris.”
For a moment, I didn’t say anything. He’d failed Katherine? How? Was it okay to ask? He didn’t seem eager to divulge any details.
“What do you mean you failed her?”
The remote stopped clicking. The TV had stopped on the Weather Channel. Rain tomorrow.
Great. Just what I-
“I had an affair.”
Whoa! Whoa! Do what? No. No. No. No. Not my dad. My dad was a good man. He would never do something like that!
“Huh?” I couldn’t stop myself before I uttered that dumb question.
My father didn’t seem phased. “I wasn’t ready to settle down and so I had an affair. Stupidly, I figured it was the easy way out. But it was a coward’s way out. I hurt Katherine badly and probably damaged your brother for life.”
I feel numb at this point.
“Who was the other woman?”
He didn’t respond right away. He had a far away look in his green eyes. “She was an older woman. And I was young and dumb.”
This conversation was just a bit too much for me, so I grab my book and start fumbling through it, desperately seeking where I’d left off.
“Right and wrong.” My father mumbles.
I’m worried I’ve drudged up things from my father’s past that I shouldn’t have.
“Right and wrong,” he continues, “I knew right from wrong back then, as I do now. And if I could go back and do the right thing. I would have stayed with Katherine and raised your brother in good home, one with a mother and a father.”
“Oh.” I feel a little pain in my chest. The kind of feeling you get when you’re heart broken. My heart cracked just a little.
Dad regrets me?
But I wasn’t about to let him stop there. I wanted to know the rest. Might as well break my heart completely if it’s already cracking.
“So what about Sandra?”
My father clicks the remote. The TV goes blank. And he turns his full attention to me.
“Are you wanting to know the whole history of my love life?” He smirks.
I shrug my shoulders. “Why not?”
My father grabs his bag of peanuts that he always keeps beside his chair and begins cracking them.
Oh man. Is this gonna be an all-nighter talk?
After popping two in his mouth, he says, “There was someone before Sandra.”
I laugh. “Who? The lady who had some of her intestines removed to get skinnier?” Some of his past, I did know.
He laughs. “No, Christine was after Sandra.”
“Okay, so who was this other woman?” I ask a little dramatically.
There my father goes again, with that far away look in his eye. “She wasn’t the other woman. She was the woman.”
Whoa. The woman? My dad had a the?!
“Wow. What was she, the love of your life?”
My father smiles, faintly. “Yes, I suppose she was. Her name was Diane. And I had loved her since high school. I got another chance with her after Katherine and I were divorced.”
I get way too curious at this point. “And…?”
Here comes another sigh. “And… I treated her horribly. I’m surprised she put up with my crap for as long as she did. I loved her. But I didn’t know how to show love. Like I said, I was young and dumb at that point in my life. So, I lost her.” And here comes the far-away look again.
Even if he had cracked my heart earlier, I felt sorry for my father.
“Oh. So then comes Sandra?”
My father looks like he’s re-entered the planet’s atmosphere once again. “Yes, and then came Sandra. And Sandra and I liked to party and travel and just goof off. But after five years, I was ready to settle down. Be a good father to your brother and have some more kids.”
Oh. “So what was the problem?”
My father looks me in the eye. “She didn’t want to settle down. She didn’t want to have children. She wanted to keep living like we were still two college kids. Which we weren’t.”
“So…” I pry.
“So, we divorced.”
“And then comes Christine?”
“Yep, but that didn’t last long.”
“Like her bowel movements…?” I smile.
My father cracks up. “Yeah, something like that.”
“So after Christine is that when Mom comes in?”
There he goes again with that far away look. “Yeah, that’s when your mother comes in.”
But there’s no need to re-iterate that story. I know it by heart. My parents were together for eight years before they had me and my little sister, Kim. And then my mother decides she doesn’t want to be married to a poor farmer and leaves my father for my rich step-father…
“I loved your mother, Mandie. Very much. She broke my heart into a million pieces when she walked out on me and took you and your sister away from me. I had always told myself that with your mother, I would do right what went wrong with Katherine. That I would raise you and Kim in a good home. But I deserved what your mother did to me. I‘d done the same things to Katherine and Diane. I guess I had it comin‘ to me.”
My throat starts to constrict and I try not to let the tears filling my eyes roll down my cheeks.
My father clears his throat. “And then came Leah. And she was far too young for me. And I was on the rebound after your mother and I let Leah think our relationship was going somewhere that it was never going to go.”
“Oh… And then came Marcia?”
My father smiles. A genuine smile. “And then came Marcia.”
Marcia has been my step-mother since I was four and I love her to death.
But now I wonder. “Is Marcia your soul mate, you think, Dad?”
It’s quiet for a few moments. “No.” My dad finally admits. “But I love her dearly. And I see myself growing old with her.”
My thoughts are everywhere at this point. “So you regret your love life?”
My father pops another peanut into his mouth. “Yes, I do. There were so many things I did wrong. So many places I failed. And I let Diane slip through my fingers.”
At this point I’m ready to just go to bed. I start to get up off the couch.
But my father starts talking again. “Have you ever felt horribly bad about something, yet, as wrong as it is, you wouldn’t take it back if you could?”
What is he talking about? “I… Guess.”
“Well, that’s how I feel about my life.”
I sit back down. “So you wouldn’t change things if you had the chance?”
“No.” My father looks me in the eye again. “I regret just about every thing about every relationship I’ve ever had with a woman. But as badly as I hurt them, I wouldn’t take it back. Does that make me bad?”
Why was he asking me? “Um, I don’t know, Dad. I mean there’s no way you could change the past anyway… So what’s it matter?”
My father smiles at me. “Because you and you’re sister are the only women in my life that I don’t regret. Things turned out the way they did because I was an asshole in my younger years. But it got me the two of you and your brother.”
And so does my father. “The three best damn mistakes I ever made.”