Ted’s Mom’s Diary
I was working the bar and checking the clock in six-minute intervals when Ted came in forty-two minutes late to start his shift. Excuse me, I am overstating. Ted’s presence hardly fit into the traditional contours of a work “shift.” As well, the notion of my supplying predetermined liquors and beer to the paltry quality and quantity of patrons who came everyday hardly qualified as “working the bar.” The bar didn’t need both Ted and I at the same time, but needs don’t stand a chance against visceral wants and unexamined habit. When Ted finally showed up, I was relieved, even though he was drunk and amped, even though he was often never like that. Ted, who I wouldn’t necessarily describe as a gentleman but certainly wasn’t a, I don’t know, misogynist, said, “My mom is such a bitch haha.” It had been maybe the first time I heard a man refer to a woman that way in earnest, believe it or not, having been around men always. I thought it was something that happened in movies from the twentieth century.
So we were all like, what she do what she say.
Ted had found his mother’s old diary, then read it. What Ted had discovered was what no one should ever know: a mother’s true feelings about her child. It was all there, the highly specific nitpicking of barely noticeable quirks, the lamentations of the adventure of life that should have been, the wonder at the unrelenting disgustingness of someone else’s human body, but she wrote it like, “Found a collection of snots on the back of the nightstand. He makes me want to throw up sometimes.” A child will read that and not see the “sometimes.”
“Your fault for reading her diary,” said Dusty. Dusty had a reactive disdain for victims.
“It was right under her pillow,” Ted argued. “Not even hidden.”
“Maybe put a tissue box on your nightstand and trash can next to your bed,” Lou suggested.
“This isn’t a recent entry!”
“Why were you in her house?” Dusty.
“Why were you lying down on her bed?” Elvis.
Ted opened another can of beer, and Jeffrey asked the most important question. “Am I in it?”
“Why would you be in it?”
“We’ve known each other for a long time. Maybe she had a little crush.”
“Did you find more?” I asked, flipping through the filled-up pages, my fingers anxious and greedy.
“This is a full diary but only covers a year.”
It began on January 1 like a rare New Year’s resolution that was fully realized. The handwriting was neat and straight on unlined paper bound between a deceptively juvenile cover of shiny pastel butterflies.
Dusty leaned over the bar and snatched the diary from me. He read some pages out loud, but even his mocking oration couldn’t liven up a melodramatic account of small feelings. I had the discouraging thought that this was what all diaries sounded like, even mine. No matter the age and gender of the writer we were all only capable of the whinings of an ungrateful teenage girl.
“Maybe the other diaries are nicer,” Elvis said.
“It’s just a snapshot of a passing feeling,” Lou said.
I disagreed. I said something philosophical about how the present gluttonously feasts on the past and then vomits it up right where we have to sleep.
Ted said, “At least I’m good looking. I don’t mind that I got that from her.”
The men left early to drink by themselves. Ted and I stayed, got drunker, and hatched a plan that did not follow the traditional arc of plans drunkenly hatched, as in we carried the plan out. I was having so much fun, really digging on being intrinsical to a situation. Also, we remained drunk.
When morning was well underway Ted took his mother out for a walk and she ignored his drunkenness to bask in the rarity. I snuck into her house, went to her bedroom, opened her closet door, reached the high shelf where one would normally store dress shoes and weed, and pulled down a different diary, just as I had suspected. I stood back on tiptoes to see how many more were in there but the shelf was empty, as if it was recently cleaned out. The closet was full of coats. I tried on a beige trench coat and looked at myself in a full-length mirror bolted into the back of the bedroom door. I knew that the coat was a classic and that I looked plain in it. “Does nothing for me” I could hear my mother say. Outside Ted and his mom’s footsteps scrunched on the pebbled driveway. I checked the clock. They were coming back twenty minutes before the agreed time. And when they came into the house, into the kitchen, Ted was just chatting at her about an ancient heat wave. I tossed the coat on the bed, picked up the lone diary, and snuck out the window.
I went back to the bar and waited for my shift to start. I didn’t read the diary. The soft pink cover with a big shiny green cactus on the front repulsed me. I knew there would be no mention of me. I had never met Ted’s mom. That would come much, much later in my life, when I was able to admit I needed a mom, and any mom would do. Instead I looked at myself in the mirrored backsplash and tried to flatten a side cowlick that always acted up the day after I got too drunk.
Four o’clock arrived and I turned on the neons. The expecteds trickled in and so did Ted, weirdly sober. I gave him the diary. “Oh yeah!” he said, and I could tell he had forgotten everything, if not the incidents and actions then the sense of urgency and the thickness between us. I didn’t explain that the diary was the only one, that I assumed there were more but they were gone. It’s not like I knew anything, just had this feeling.
“Can I see?” Dusty asked, and Ted handed it over. We discovered that the diary was about Ted’s mom learning she was pregnant. “Oh, look who’s here,” Dusty exclaimed. He read aloud: “Jeffrey came by with a teether in the shape of a UFO and I cried because it was so sweet.”
The crowd got raucous with laughter! “Trying to get with my pregnant mother,” Ted said and it was really was like the day before never happened. No self-examination, no reflection on the warped dimension in which two people’s relationships coasts on, it was all distant past. And he barely looked at the diary again that night as it loomed on the bar top. Jeffrey and Lou talked about tomato seeds and Ted and Dusty argued about the effects enhancement drugs had on bike racers, as in, would Dusty need pharmaceutical assistance to bike to Alaska if he had to? Dusty argued no, but Ted posited yes. I put Ted’s mom’s diary in my tote bag, stood still in wait of an admonishment, but none came. I started to sober up.
The night sky was clear for the corn moon so I had no need for my flashlight on my walk home. I saw a single firefly, first of the year. My mother had told me that when she was a child, fireflies came out under the strawberry moon in such abundance that all the town children could catch them in jam jars and that’s why they’re now scarcer than lady slippers and tireless rivers. I could never tease out which part of this tale was untrue.
At home, I sipped my homemade stuff as usual. All that diary talk had inspired in me a fervor of cataloging my life that was unmatched by previous bouts of record keeping. With the specter of audience not far from my consciousness I catalogued every grievance, every teen tiny moment of belittlement, dismissiveness, teasing that was good-natured on the surface but actually maybe really was not, and even that little tidbit about fireflies. But I didn’t just write as I sipped my stuff while lying in bed or in the morning with my muddy tea, while listening to the early birds chirping their highly individualistic tunes, or at night with more whatever I felt like drinking and the desk light creating an aura around my contemplative posture, the sound of my pen against paper a reassuring whisper against the march toward obliteration. Oh no, not me, not then. I wrote while working the bar where Dusty and Lou and Elvis and Jeffrey and Ted were drinking and drinking. I ignored them until they had no choice but to ignore me, which happened too quick, which I noted. Pages and pages of “he made me feel” as introductory phrase and “the boys” as I had newly designated them, the whole lot, conversed in the background about whatever, predicting incremental local government restrictions and international affairs and marital affairs. I filled unlined pages in between substantial leather covers. “Hey, Deedee,” Ted said, feeling the burden of working alone. “You’re lucky you’re the owner’s daughter.”
No, you are, I wrote BIG.
One night, after everyone left, kind of early now that I think of it, Ted said, “Hey Deedee,” as I was taking a break from my work in progress to count money. I looked up and Ted was wiping the inside of a clean pint glass. He said, “My mom’s leaving. She’s in love with Casper and they’re riding off into the desert.”
“Gross,” I said. Then, “I mean, sorry.” Casper was the town dry drunk. Dumb and temperamental. We all thought getting sober would be good for him, and maybe it was, but it was all the same for the rest of us. Casper was the only person in town who was not allowed in the bar, a rule made by my father and unspokenly enforced by Ted and I. So that was the psychological backstory, Ted’s mom was running off with the one guy that could not fit into her son’s life. That diary she had decided to take with her. The two diaries of her defining years were still stashed under my bathroom sink next to the Comet.
I picked up the journal I had carried around with me for the past few days like it was money. I read aloud “Wrong #8: I told Ted that I have an oratory aversion to the smell of pine ever since accidentally locking myself in my father’s car when I was a child. It was winter and no one was looking for me and I was scared and played with the vintage air freshener hanging from the mirror. After I told him this, Ted came in smelling like he rubbed an air freshener all over this body and then laundered his clothes in it.” Ted laughed and said that he had probably just got done cutting down a Christmas tree, the best one, how funny it was that I took the smell personally. I read some more and he laughed and laughed at me. None of it upset him.
When I finished, he hugged me. His nose was close to my neck and his arms were strong and intentioned as though he was about to pick me up. He pressed me into him. Maybe he had hugged me before but not like this, not double-armedly, not with (ugh) passion.
I think. Recently, inspired by a news story about lightning storms, I dug out the diary I kept from that year but couldn’t find a record of the hugging incident. I could have sworn it was entangled with his mother leaving but maybe it was an element of some other drama, like when I cried in the bathroom because Dusty spilled beer on my new camera, or when Elvis died but no one knew for three days because we were caught up in the news of a local landslide, or when nothing had happened at all except a breeze passing through me carrying hot air and a sentiment.
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