Identical, p.6

Identical, page 6



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  he craves more. But tonight

  he’ll have to play the good (sober)

  husband and devoted father.

  As I slip into a Vera Wang blouse,

  Tommy Hilfiger jeans, I can hear

  Mom’s well-staged entrance.

  Hello, Raymond. You look well.

  The election is a few precious

  weeks away. Before the final charge,

  Mom needs to make her constituency

  believe she actually cares about family.

  Her own family is the best place to start.

  They’re setting up the cameras.

  Being fairly cute and very well

  dressed, we make a damn fine photo

  op, too. Especially just as the sun

  starts to sink behind our designer home.

  Reporters and news crews have

  gathered on the front lawn.

  Mom herds us outside.

  Don’t forget to smile.

  Yeah, Mom. Like what else would

  we do? Stick out our tongues?

  Flip them off? Drop our pants, bend

  over, and tell them just what to kiss?

  The thought makes me smile. Not only

  that, but the grin stretches lobe to lobe.

  Poor Mom only knows I’m smiling.

  She smiles too. That’s my girl.

  Daddy Isn’t Running

  This time round, but he has before

  and is intimately aware of campaign

  protocol. Exactly as might be expected,

  he drapes an arm (a ravenous arm, but

  no one but his closest family members

  knows that) around Mom’s shoulder.

  She stiffens, and her smile slips ever so

  slightly, but I’m the only one who notices.

  And she doesn’t dare shrug him off.

  Thank you all for coming, she says.

  It’s good to be home with my family.

  The campaign trail is a lonely one.

  I wonder just how lonely. I wonder

  if she’s getting a little on the side.

  Probably not. I can’t imagine her

  actually getting close enough to

  someone—anyone—to invite them

  into her bed, let alone her pants.

  I watch her, the ultimate politician,

  working the press like she was born

  for it. I’ll take questions now.

  Queries Fly

  …universal health care

  …uranium enrichment

  …trade deficit

  …right to choose

  …gay marriage

  …immigration reform

  Mom is prepared,

  knows every answer

  by heart, could

  recite them in

  her sleep, in fact.

  Harder questions.

  …balanced budget

  …troop withdrawal

  …raising taxes

  …torturing terrorists

  …citizens’ rights

  …presidential authority

  Cool under pressure,

  She’s twelve for twelve.

  carefully, no

  missteps that might

  make dirty TV spots.

  she words her responses

  And then…

  Some Thirtyish Ditz

  Tosses her long, dark-rooted

  platinum hair. In a cheap tweed suit,

  with a skirt much too short

  to compliment the blocky legs

  poking out from under it,

  she clears her throat, squeaks,

  What about judicial reform?

  How do you feel about judges

  who break the same laws

  they are sworn to uphold?

  All eyes latch onto Daddy,

  whose face is the color of raw

  cotton. His own eyes scream

  panic, but the subtle shake of my

  head reassures, “Nope, not a word.”

  Mom remains the stoic politician.

  I’m sure such a thing is a rare

  occurrence. No judge I know

  holds him or herself above

  the law. It is sacrosanct.

  Ms. Tree-Trunk Legs refuses

  to be so easily satisfied. She

  hems and haws, checking her

  notes. Finally, just as the others

  seem ready to pack up and leave,

  she throws a bucket of verbal shit.

  Isn’t it true that while under

  the influence, your husband,

  Judge Raymond Leland Gardella,

  was involved in a fatal accident? And…

  If she thinks she can possibly

  go one-on-one with my mother

  and come out on top, she really

  should think again. Like a wolf

  on a duck (with incredibly fat legs!),

  Mom turns on the reporter.

  Ray is the finest jurist I know.

  He does not hold himself above

  the law, but dispenses it with

  knowledge and forthrightness.

  Told you Mom had every

  correct response right at her

  fingertips. If there was ever

  any doubt about where Kaeleigh

  got her acting ability, this

  afternoon smashed it to bits, and

  Mom is not quite finished yet.

  The incident to which you refer

  was a great personal tragedy.

  Should we apologize for not dying?


  Frustrated, the brittle

  blonde shakes her head,

  ignoring the buzz

  all around her.

  What she still doesn’t

  get, I’m betting,

  is how connected

  my parents are.

  The others, still

  buzzing like electric

  lines in a storm,

  understand, though.

  My parents’ connections

  reach well beyond

  political circles,

  and some of those

  connections might very

  well disconnect one

  mouthy young reporter

  from her job.

  Sound Bites Bitten

  Mom actually cooks dinner

  tonight, perhaps worried some

  nosy journalist might peek

  through the window.

  Of course, it’s frozen lasagna

  and bagged salad. But hey,

  who’s complaining?

  It’s almost

  like we used to be, once

  upon a time. If I close my

  eyes, I can almost pretend

  like we’re

  a normal family, gathered

  round the table, discussing

  stuff like plays and grades,

  not unusual

  dinner-table topics like war

  chests and fund-raisers. If

  I keep my eyes closed, Mom is

  not indifferent,

  not some cardboard cutout

  in a lace apron. Eyes firmly

  closed, Daddy is

  not famished

  for affection, perverted or

  otherwise. Eyes squeezed

  tight, Kaeleigh and I are

  not irrelevant.


  Having Mom Home

  Makes things easier. Makes things

  harder, like looking

  through the window,

  needing to see what’s on the other

  side, but your eyes have to work

  too hard to reach beyond the grime.

  It’s almost

  as hard as pretending I don’t care

  if she leaves again. Almost as hard as

  sitting around the dinner table

  like we’re

  a cohesive family unit. A little

little wine, little conversation.

  Damn little, which is

  not unusual

  for the Gardella clan. What talk

  there is, of course, is election talk.

  I guess I should act like I’m

  not indifferent

  and, really, I’m not. I hope with

  every ounce of hope I have left

  that the voters snub her. No, I’m

  not famished

  for revenge. I’m starved for her

  company and even more, for her

  affection. I love her, and that’s

  not irrelevant.

  Actually, I’m Hungry

  For more than Mom’s affection.

  My body is screaming for food.

  And tonight we get the

  real deal (instead of

  our usual fast

  or flash-

  frozen repast).

  But any food is my

  friend because it’s under

  my control, unlike most of the

  rest of my life. I eat when I’m sad.

  I eat when I’m lonely. I eat when

  I hurt so much inside, it’s

  either eat or find an

  easy way to die.

  The only

  time I

  can’t eat to

  total contentment

  is when Daddy’s around. No

  daughter of mine will wear double-

  digit clothes, he said once, and meant it.

  Wonder what he thinks about Mom’s

  new curves. She’s put on

  a few pounds. All that

  rich food on the

  campaign trail,

  I guess.


  ’em with five-star

  dinners, high-dollar wine,

  and aperitifs; ask ’em for a fistful

  of dollars. Calorific politics at its best.

  I happen to think Mom wears double

  -digit designer clothes pretty

  well. She is the portrait

  of a beautiful,



  curves or no.

  What she doesn’t look

  like is a girl, all narrow hips,

  straight waist, and teacup breasts.

  And if I have my way, I won’t either.

  And Tonight Mom’s Home

  I can eat what I want,

  Daddy or no. After dinner

  I help load the dishwasher,

  more to be close to Mom

  than anything. Every time

  I brush against her, though,

  she stiffens, like a wet sheet

  in January wind. Not fair.

  Why can’t she love me

  like I love her? Does she

  somehow blame me? I ask

  simply, “What’s wrong?”

  Mom keeps scrubbing

  the stove, like it isn’t already

  spotless. Finally she says,

  Nothing’s wrong with me

  that winning this election

  won’t cure. It’s been a long,

  hard campaign, and the polls

  say it’s too close to call.

  Nothing I didn’t know.

  But there’s something

  more. Something I can’t

  quite put my finger on.

  I mean, even for Mom, this

  woman is unapproachable.

  “Can I ask you something

  without you getting mad?”

  Scrub. Scrub. Scrub. Of

  course. Scrub. Scrub. Scrub.

  She’s gonna get mad for sure.

  “Well, what if you don’t win?”

  She stops scrubbing, fires

  at my eyes with her own.

  I can’t think like that, and

  I don’t want you to either.

  Do you think I could just

  tuck my tail between my

  legs, come home, and play

  housewife? Never again!

  So…what? If she wins, she’ll

  spend most of her time in DC.

  But what if she loses? Either

  way, guess who else loses?

  Mom Pours a Glass of Wine

  A fine pinot noir, grown here

  in the valley. I’ve come to appreciate

  good red wine. Mom allows some

  with dinner sometimes. And once

  in a while, she allows it after dinner.

  “May I have some more too?”

  She slides the bottle across the table,

  and I fill my glass to the brim.

  Mom and I sip in silence for a while,

  but eventually the building buzz

  in my brain opens my mouth.

  “Do you miss us when you’re gone?”

  Now you might think “yes” would

  pop out from between her lips,

  quick as a jack-in-the-box wound

  tight. No way. She tilts her head

  slightly, as if to tip the right answer

  into her mouth. The maneuver fails.

  Suddenly, she doesn’t look like

  a politician. She folds up, small,

  a woman twice her age, beneath

  the burdens she will forever carry.

  I don’t blame her for not wanting

  to be here. Who does?

  We Empty Our Glasses

  Mom opens another bottle,

  pours for us both. I’m getting

  drunk with my mother, and

  neither of us can think of

  a thing to say. Finally, she

  says, I’d better go to bed.

  “Sure, Mom. Me too.”

  I go around the table,

  give her a hug. “Love you.”

  She turns, looks me in the eye.

  Love you too. She pauses, stutters,

  A…are you…all right?

  Anger flares. I want to shout,

  “Like you suddenly care?”

  Want to cry, “Save me!”

  Something acidy rises in my

  throat. If I break down, say

  those things and more, then what?

  But she has already closed

  herself again, snapped shut

  like a heavy door.

  “No,” I say simply. Wineglass

  in hand, I start to leave, turn

  to see her choke back a sob.

  In the living room, the TV

  is on, but Daddy has drunk

  himself into oblivion.

  Cool. I’ll be there soon

  myself. The rest of the house

  is dark, and I leave it that way.

  I stumble up the hallway,

  into my bedroom. Turn on

  the little lamp beside my bed.

  Think about calling Ian.

  But it’s late, and it’s Friday

  night. He’s asleep or out.

  Out, Where I Should Be

  Where any self-respecting

  sixteen-year-old should be

  on Friday night. Out,

  getting drunk

  with friends or, better yet,

  a really fine guy, instead

  of tying one on

  at home

  with my marble-hearted

  mother, no less. At least I

  caught a couple of tears, which


  me wondering if she ever

  just breaks down or freaks

  out. She used to freak out

  a lot

  before the accident. At least

  then we knew she had feelings.

  But that was before she came

  to be

  completely drained of emotion.

  I wonder if I would have liked

  her when she was young, pretty,


  Did she like herself then?

  Before she had children?

  Before she met Daddy?


  I Called Mick

  As soon as the whole house fell

  quiet except for whiskey-fueled

  snores. Sneaking out,

  getting drunk,

  getting high. What better way

  to spend Friday night? Especially

  after too many hours stuck

  at home

  listening to Mom’s political

  bullshit. Aaagh! Save me.

  I, for one, can’t wait until she


  again. Hell, maybe she’ll be

  gone by the time I get up in

  the morning. I plan to do

  a lot

  in the way of self-medication.

  Funny term for getting screwed up

  to the point of passing out. I need

  to be

  that messed up to get to sleep

  at all tonight. I’m totally wound.

  Besides, I want to feel


  for more than what I can bring

  to a campaign. A campaign

  that only fills our lives with pain.

  There’s a Party

  Up on Figueroa. That’s a mountain

  not too far from here, but far enough

  so parents and cops rarely want

  to take the drive, especially at night.

  Even if they did, we have our favorite

  party place, well off the main road,

  and a mile or so back on a dirt track,

  not something they’d happen upon.

  Great place for hide-and-seek.

  Great place for a kegger, too.


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