“Well hey, y’all!” I hugged Mom.
Dad patted my back. “Howdy, howdy!” I hugged him, kissing his cheek.
I stood back and smiled.
“Y’all look great! Come in, come in . . . how was the drive?”
Within moments of being with my parents, I could already feel my accent thickening.
I was shedding my skin as a New Yorker and becoming Southern again.
My parents had driven to the city over the course of two days in order to keep a family tradition.
Every summer, I take my children down south to visit family. With the expense of my divorce, I wasn’t sure we could afford to fly this year.
(It only salts the wound to think that for the price of flying to my hometown, I could take the kids to Europe.)
I don’t own a car—no need in Manhattan—and so, rather than consider the option of missing this summer, my parents volunteered to drive up to fetch their prodigal son and Yankee grandchildren.
Their arrival signaled the beginning of homecoming.
For the next three weeks, I would put aside my identities as writer, lover and pervert, and take up those of son, brother and uncle.
Even my name changes when I go home.
I was named for my mother’s father, who died suddenly just before my birth. No one was ready for another “Jefferson” just yet, so I was raised by my initials, TJ.
As a teenager, I was convinced by a teacher that it was a shame to waste so unique a name as Jefferson. I took the advice and switched names, glad to be rid of the teasing variations on my initials I had endured since elementary school.
Never mind “TJ Hooker.”
To the world I am Jefferson, but to my birth family, I will always be “TJ.”
Mom and Dad were staying with me for a few days. The kids would join us a day before we began to journey south.
I gave my bedroom over to my parents, over their cursory objections. This room has the most comfortable bed, and I can easily sleep on the couch.
Of course, I had previously scoured the bedroom for incriminating evidence.
After all, I had hosted an orgy the night before.
The room was swept clear of condoms and water bottles, the lube and sex toys put away, the porn ejected from the VCR and DVD.
I put out fresh sheets.
I removed a painting of a nude.
I added a vase of flowers.
While Dad parked the car, I wheeled their luggage into my room. Mom covered my pillows with those she brought from home.
I had offered her a glass of water. She set it on the nightstand as she began to unpack a few things.
“Well, flitter, I spilled some,” she said. “I don’t know how, but I got your table wet.”
“No worries,” I said, running a finger through the liquid—yep, it was lube all right—while reaching for a tissue with the other hand.
My eyes scanned for used condoms as I wiped the mess. Did I miss anything else?
“So,” Mom asked, sitting on the bed. “How does Lucy the Bitch feel about you taking the kids home?”
“I don’t know, she doesn’t talk to me, really. I’m sure she will miss the kids terribly.”
“Well, she should have thought of that before she divorced you.”
“I reckon so. Anyway, she just had the kids out to visit her family, and for the same amount of time, so that’s just how it is.”
“And she can’t miss the kids anymore than you do when she has them.”
“That’s right, that’s right.”
There wasn’t much that I cared to add to my mother’s ongoing conversation theme about what a bitch I married, so I changed the subject to dinner plans.
My mother was blessed at birth with an unflinching certainty that anything that makes it from her subconscious to her tongue is gospel truth.
My father long ago learned the value of letting her win every argument, a lesson imparted onto his four sons.
Even as boys, we learned to sagely nod when Mom began to pontificate.
For a while during my teenage years, I indulged in a measure of rebellion once I realized that my mother’s certainty was based more on instinct than facts.
I would argue from the vantage of experts. If a book offered facts contradicting something my mother believed, I thought I should speak up to set the record straight. Even Mom would have to admit that her views were not always right.
Mom made it clear that she did not have to make any such admission.
So I faced facts. I learned to close my ears to her certainty, to keep my nose buried in books, and to mouth my opinions elsewhere.
For this visit, I had already made a mental note to sidestep some particular conversational landmines:
George W. Bush. My Mom believes that her president is doing a fine job. If the facts haven’t dissuaded her of these convictions, then I’m not likely to have any better luck.
Natalee Halloway. The local girl missing in Aruba was not dead, she had been sold into white slavery. She will turn up alive in Venezuela, and her kidnappers brought to justice.
Donald Trump. My Mom is fascinated by the man whose name adorns some of the tackiest real estate in Manhattan. So far as she is aware, I share her high opinion of his business acumen.
If these subjects came up, I would simply keep a civil tongue.
However, there was no avoiding the subject of my divorce from Lucy the Bitch.
My mother and Lucy had never made a secret of the fact that neither held the other in any special esteem. That's difficult enough, but worse still, it had always been important to each of them that I am on her side, not her side.
“Your mother is the stupidest woman alive,” my wife would laugh derisively.
“I know you love her, TJ, but Lucy is a very rude woman,” my mother would sadly note.
In each case, I would nod and wait for the subject to change.
My parents and I spent a very pleasant few days together as they relaxed from their long trip. Finally, Lucy brought the children to the apartment to begin their visit with my family.
The kids were excited to see their grandparents.
Lucy hugged my father and mother in turn.
Convention dictated that she stay for some polite conversation. She declined my offer of a drink and remained standing in the living room.
I busied myself with the children.
“Well, did y’all have a good time with your family?” my mother asked.
“Yes, “ Lucy nodded, her mouth firm. “Yes, we did.”
“That’s nice. Did y’all see your sister? She’s married now, right?”
“Yes, we did. She married in the spring.”
“I recall the children were at the wedding. I don’t guess TJ was?”
“No, just the kids.”
“Well, I’m happy for her. I always liked your sister. You tell her I said hello.”
“Sure, will do.”
I was in the kitchen when I overheard the conversation taking its predictable turn.
My mother had packed her soapbox.
“All I know is, if they had kept better records on those terrorists, the World Trade Center would still be standing.”
“But the goverment can’t just round up all Arabs and assume they are terrorists! That reeks of Big Brother.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. Tell you what, I think Big Brother was right about something. They should put satellite tracking devices on every baby born in this country. If they did, we’d know where Natalee Halloway is, that’s for sure.”
“Well,” Lucy laughed, heading to the kitchen, “I guess we have to disagree on that!”
She came into the kitchen and grabbed my arm. I flinched instinctively.
“I can not stay in a room with that woman!” she whispered. “She’s crazy!”
“Okay, well, you can go. Do we have everything we need for the kids?”
“Oh yes,” she nodded, eyes wide. “Oh yes. God, how did you come from that woman?”
“The conventional way, I guess. So we’ll call from the road.”
“Fine.” She turned to shout. “Kids! I’m leaving. Come say good bye.”
The kids hugged their mother, and she was gone.
Mom looked surprised. “Well, that was abrupt.”
Dad grimaced and shook his head.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said. “So who wants to go to Patsy’s for dinner?”