by Lela Fox
Chapter 1: THE JOLLY GREEN HOUSE
The day after I moved in, the toilet overflowed, spilling shitty water all over the bathroom. I called the landlord, and she sent a plumber to the house immediately.
After he fixed the toilet, I walked the plumber to his truck. He stopped in the driveway and looked up. “What in the world were they thinking?” he said, referring to the color of the house. It was a basic split-foyer but with green wood siding. Not just “green” but ungodly G-R-E-E-N, a color somewhere between lime and chartreuse. “Who would choose that color on purpose?” he asked, perplexed.
I could only shrug. “Maybe that’s why the rent is so low.”
“Well, the neighborhood is nice, and your landlord is nice. Surely this is a mistake. At least it should be.” He stepped to the left for another angle, now looking into the eaves. “But the paint job is fresh, brand new. Go figure.”
Yep, the color turned heads, maybe a few stomachs, but the screaming-green house was a rare find. Ninety percent of the rental houses in West Rockville exceeded my budget, but this was one of the nicer ones. I was lucky.
Three bedrooms, a fenced backyard for Murphy the fat Sheltie, a two-car garage, new carpet, and neat as a pin. All for $500 per month. The landlords even mowed the yard as part of the deal.
“I love this room, Mom! So big! But please tell me we’ll get rid of this bunk bed soon. Don’t you think I’ve outgrown it by now?”
“Fourteen is not too old for a bunk bed, Bo. And good news, kiddo: the small sofa fits on the far side of your room, under the window. Your sleepover friends can crash there.”
Continuing my tour guide narration, I stepped to the door of the next upstairs room. “This is what’s supposed to be the Master bedroom but it will be my studio. Your G-Daddy will help me put it together with long countertops like the old one.”
Bo blew a huff of a sigh, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, your dad is used to helping you move, right? One more time...” his voice trailed off.
“Bo, stop it! Don’t be a smart-mouth to your mother.”
“Just stating the truth, Mom.”
I ignored his snarky teenage attitude and took a few more steps down the hall. “And this is my bedroom.”
“The smallest room, Mom? Why?”
“There are more important things than my little place to sleep.”
I saw Bo’s face twist as he realized I had sacrificed my space so he could have more. “But... my room is part-time for me. Mom, you should have the biggest one.”
“No, buddy. You’re the biggest and the best around here!” Bo eyed me sideways, doubting my sincerity, I suppose. But when I could do something nice, I did it… maybe trying to make up for being a drunk and crappy mother. I didn’t exactly display the Mother of the Year trophy on a foyer shelf.
Two days after I moved into the green house, my parents came to Rockville for a long weekend, spending two nights with my oldest sister Jennifer and her kids. In those days, I tiptoed around Jennifer, sipping wine instead of gulping. Underneath, I seethed, resenting her for forcing me to pretend. Though we used to party together and have common friends, she’d confronted me four times over the years, accusing me of having “an alcoholic problem.”
Fuck her. “I’m fine,” I had said, but she just rolled her eyes.
On Saturday, Daddy and I went back to the “Miller’s house” in Skylark. My soon-to-be-ex greeted us with the warmth of an ice cube. Fuck him. Daddy and I worked in the basement, removing the same countertop he’d installed in the studio three years ago. Then I helped load everything in his truck, the old truck. “How did you talk Mom into riding in ‘Old Joe,’ Daddy?”
Scratching the shiny part of his mostly bald head, he chuckled. “She fussed the whole time, Lela, and said she’d never-ever do it again.” Daddy imitated Mom’s high-pitched voice. “Eeew, Rick! The door panel is diiiiirty! Oh, Rick! My aching baaack!” I laughed at his impersonation of her. Back to himself, he shared his true feelings. “She’s a love, but she sure can raise a ruckus.”
“Did she throw a Benningham fit?” It was a family joke referring to Mom’s side of the family, a parody of their calm and steady nerves, their notoriously even tempers. Daddy laughed by slapping his knee and honking through his ample nose. The melody of Daddy’s horselaugh had been the same since I was a child. Heartfelt, it happened often.
The next morning, he came to attach the countertop around the perimeter of the huge upstairs bedroom at the screaming-green house.
Daddy also custom-cut three pieces of plywood to cover the floor, allowing three rolling chairs to move without dragging on the carpet. He ended the day in one of his silly moods and we had a rolling-chair race across the floor. I would’ve won if he hadn’t cheated, which made the loss even more hilarious.
As we always did, Daddy and I focused on having fun no matter the importance of the task at hand. My father was childlike and easy to laugh, never short of jokes and pranks. Simply put, I adored him. Always had.
As the last part of his mission, Daddy added shelves above two workstations. The corner area, the largest by far, was for Lola, my long-time assistant. I imagined her sitting there, Cherokee-Indian DNA coursing through her veins, throwing chunks of long, black hair over her shoulder… yes, she would work well in the space. “If she doesn’t like it, Daddy, I’ll fix it. My goal is to make Lola happy, no matter what. Without her, I’m lost.”
Though I wouldn’t admit it, Lola was the one who ran the business while I drank and made bad decisions. She worked part-time during the week but the schedule was flexible.
Lola knew what to do, no supervision required. She’d said things like, “The bracelet display needs attention. Can I work extra hours to do it?” I didn’t ask what she wanted to do or how much it would cost, I simply agreed.
Or she’d say, “We need to restock the consignment booth at Skylark Crafts. I’ll do inventory tomorrow.” Again, I’d just nod and thank her for taking charge. Without Lola, there would have been no Moonlight Jewelry.
And now with more room but less sense, I would add another assistant. The yet-to-be-hired second helper would work at the smaller workstation Daddy had defined with a counter and shelves above. “Lola, we just need hands. A factory worker, a mindless servant.” She agreed. I ended with the stark reality. “But you tell her what to do because you keep tabs on the inventory, right?”
“Right. I’ll take care of it, Lela. Just run an ad... maybe in the same newspaper where you advertised for me.”
“I’ll do it as soon as I’m settled.”
“Uh... maybe do it before that.”
“Because ‘being settled’ never really happens around here.” Lola’s sheepish smile didn’t seem like an accusation, but it was. In my addled state of mind, I was oblivious to Lola’s hints. Well, oblivious to most everything by that time. She never told me she knew I was incapable, never shamed me about it, just took control of more and more business tasks as my abilities ebbed.
When her boyfriend suggested the problem might be my excessive drinking, she insisted it wasn’t. “It’s her Bi-Polar medicine. They’ve got her all screwed up.” Maybe Lola was naïve about my drinking, but she was incredibly right about the other.
When my former psychiatrist questioned my lies about “moderate” alcohol consumption, I fired him and started seeing another doctor. The new doc was an overweight gray-haired Dr. Cook who must have been in cahoots with every drug rep in the Southeast.
He prescribed seven different anti-depressants and mood stabilizers, plus Adderall for focus, and a massive dose of something to help me sleep. I usually woke up drunk and disoriented... and sorting out all those pills was one helluva feat. It seems I was always out of one prescription, so I’d skip it then double up when I got the refill. I could never get it straight.
Lola offered to take charge of my medication but I adamantly refused. Pissed, I shouted at her, “What do you think I am, Lola? An idiot? Incapable of taking care of myself?” I was livid... so livid I didn’t realize her lack of response was a big, fat “yes” in disguise.
Lola had been raised to be a pure-Southern sweetheart of a woman, a giver. And she considered it her job to be my caretaker. As she saw the business falling over the cliff, she worked even harder to save it.
And as she witnessed me shrinking deeper into the Land of Lost Alcoholics, she worked even harder to protect me. A loyal employee, a good friend, and my greatest enabler.
Thanks to Lola, I reached my bottom slowly... painfully... like a suicide bomb with a mile-long fuse.