Things got ugly today, just like I knew they would. My family and I have been coming up here every summer for years and at some point, usually midweek, my father has a major meltdown. My father gets increasingly irritable as the days tic by. He dwells on instances where he thinks he wasn’t thanked sufficiently. He tallies up the money he’s spent and figures out how many meals or drinks he should have been treated to. Basically, he comes up with ways his ass should have been kissed but wasn’t.
Tonight, my dad started picking on the kids. He yelled at them for monopolizing the TV, not picking up enough, not spending enough time fishing, wasting food. He had begun the day, like every other, with Bloody Marys after breakfast. He’d moved onto beer by lunch and by early afternoon he was pouring Manhattans. By dinner, my dad was tanked and cranky. We were having dinner at The Ribber, the lake restaurant my dad and I had checked out yesterday morning. We all hopped in his boat, put our name on the waiting list, and ordered drinks on the patio. Max and Seth ordered kiddy cocktails.
“I hope our drinks come with umbrellas,” Seth said.
“Why? Are you a girl?” my dad sneered and made a limp-wristed gesture. “Only girls want to play with umbrellas in their drinks.”
A few minutes later, Seth pulled out a stack of business cards he’d collected from the places we’d been.
“What do you want with those?” my dad asked nastily. “You want business cards? Here, take these.” My father fished three cards out of his wallet, his fishing charter business cards, and said, “You can give these to your father. Tell him this is the guy who took you tubing, shooting at the rifle range, put you up in Minocqua for a week.”
The hostess sat us at a table twenty minutes later. I ordered Van chicken fingers and asked the waitress to bring them before the rest of our meal. Fifteen minutes passed. Our waitress delivered a basket of rolls and left. Fifteen more minutes passed. The waitress brought our soups and salads but no chicken fingers. Finally, the waitress delivered Van’s meal and almost twenty minutes later, the rest of us got our dinner. Max and Seth were bouncing off the walls. While we were waiting, Seth and Max had pulled up the hoods of their jackets, yanked the strings tight, poked their noses out of the tiny hood openings, and dangled spoons from their noses. When their ribs came, they yanked their hoods off and ripped into their food. Van, however, barely nibbled at the chicken because he’d eaten loads of rolls before his food arrived.
“I don’t know why you order him food,” my father snapped at me. “You know he’s not going to eat anything.”
“He stuffed himself with rolls and crackers because it took forever for his food to get here,” I snapped back.
My dad scanned the table with a nasty look on his face. He was mentally tabulating what the meal was going to cost him. Charlie and I had bought dinner last night, but I could see my dad was feeling entitled to another meal. Fuck him. Charlie looked at me when the bill came and I shook my head.
We hopped into my dad’s boat and drove back to the cabin. I put Van to bed and Max popped “Psycho” into the VCR. We’d started watching “Psycho” a couple of nights ago but Seth had fallen asleep before the shower scene so Max rewound the tape to the infamous whacking.
“It’s always the kids, everything’s for the kids,” my dad bitched. “What about me? What about what I want to watch?”
“What do you want to watch?” I asked him.
We watched the shower scene.
“That wasn’t scary,” Seth said. “I wasn’t scared at all.”
“These kids, all the shit they see and this is nothing!” my dad howled. He wagged his head disgustedly and drained his Manhattan. He got up to get another drink. I let the kids finish watching “Psycho” and told them to go to bed. My dad put on David Letterman. Just then, my geriatric German Shepherd, Sturgis, farted.
“Hey mom, when did the dogs go out last?” I asked.
“Now your mother’s supposed to take care of your dog?” my dad growled. “She’s supposed to let your dog out? That’s her job?”
My parents have a Labrador Retriever, Corbie. We all let the dogs in and out of the cabin constantly.
“What are you talking about? I just want to know. . .” I started.
“You don’t even know when he’s been out last,” my dad spat. “Your mother’s been picking up his shit, too. Yeah. That’s her job, too. Let her do it.”
My mother started to say something and my father cut her off. “You know it’s true. You’re the fucking maid.”
My mother attempted to speak again and my father shouted over her.
I looked at my mother. “Don’t get sucked into this. He’s drunk. It’s pointless.” I got up and went upstairs. Charlie had fled upstairs when the boys went to bed. I put on my pajamas and sat on the loft couch attempting to read. My parents were sitting in the living room below still watching Letterman. I could see them out of the corner of my eye through the pine log railing.
“What the hell’s wrong with her?” my father muttered to my mother. “Can’t take a little criticism? She brings Max’s friend along and I’m supposed to feed him, take care of him for a week? What kind of shit is that? The gas money I burned dragging him around the lake, what the fuck?!”
I wanted to chop my father’s head off his stubby neck. I took some deep breaths and told myself, “Detach, detach, don’t get sucked in.” During my dad’s meltdown last year, he and I had a screaming match. I attempted to remain calm this time but in the end I got up off the couch, grabbed my purse, scribbled my father a check for two hundred dollars, and penned a note that said, “Dad, Even though we bought most of the groceries, this check should cover any food or boat expenses. Thanks for being a gracious host. Brenda.” I marched downstairs. The door to the downstairs bathroom was open and my father was in there brushing his teeth. I walked in, slapped the check and the note down on the sink, and stalked back upstairs.
“Would you look at this,” my dad screamed at my mother. “What the hell is wrong with her?” I entered the upstairs bathroom and slammed the door shut. I began washing up but could still hear my dad screaming over the running water. “I’m gonna wipe my ass with this check and give it back to her,” he bellowed.
I looked in the mirror. My adrenaline was pumping. The bathroom see-sawed as my heartbeat banged in my head. I heard my mother tell my father to calm down, go to bed, everything would be better in the morning. Their bedroom door slammed shut. I could hear my dad bitching behind it. I went to bed and lay rigged for at least an hour before falling asleep.