Adjusting Expectations

“You got in!” My mother had tracked me down during Spring Break with my dad, in Port Aransas. I was at The Island Cafe with my friend Larry when they said they had a phone call for me. I had been waiting for my first pick. I’d gotten in to the first two, I was waitlisted on the third, Andover, the ultimate rival of Exeter. Exeter! “I’m going to Exeter,” I said to the waitress who handed me the kitchen phone on the long spiraling cord. I gave her the phone back and returned to our low-slung booth near the front windows. At that moment in life, only one other person understood my joy. Mom.

I don’t think we walked back to my dad’s rented house. I floated. I could hardly feel my feet. It was more like a floating dolly shot from a movie. A slow-motion ghostly float back to the house. In my mind, I was waving to the crowd of islanders. They were going about their business oblivious to the rockstar in their midst. Right here in Port Aransas, the evening news would say. Larry was along for the ride, but in the back, trailing somewhat. He was introverted. I was not.

I burst through the front door of the house looking over the ocean. “I GOT IN!”

My dad stood up from the dining room table, he was still in his robe, his glass tinkling with ice and booze. “That bitch!”

Freeze frame.

Only one person in the world had ever felt such remorse at something so wonderful. I was free. I was going to New England, to the sports complex, and the library, and a dorm, and coats and ties at dinner. I was on my way out and up. Up and free. Up and away. Up up to the stars. My flying lessons were about to begin.

I knew I was a big fish in a small pond. Most of the guys in my grade didn’t care much for school. I was an A student. We all suited up for football and track, but I didn’t have a winter sport. Tennis was also my sport. And we were right in the middle of a fight for the district playoffs after we got back after the break. I still have the photo of me and the girls. My long-running fetish about tennis skirts continues today. I’m still working on flipping my typical backhand service return from a slice into a cross-court forehand. Now, I would get to compete with the prep elite. I was going to learn how to play squash. I was getting out of dodge. It was a plan I’d had in my heart since we toured four prep schools last year.

My mom had three of my short stories typed up and Xeroxed. The one about the Hoover Dam was pretty good. A big fan of Poe and O’Henry. I was a writer. And a tennis player. A Casanova. A student. And my mom got enough money in the divorce to send me to prep school even against my dad’s wishes. I tried to achieve escape velocity over the next two years in the East. I didn’t know about the internal damage I was carrying from the divorce drama. That would complicate things shortly, but for the moment, I was supremely happy. My dad’s fury was not going to kill me.

At sometime after midnight, Larry and I were asleep on the foldout bed. My dad was still sitting at the dining room table. Refreshed drink in his hand. “That bitch.” I heard his voice. I had learned to jump when he yelled jump. I could hear the fresh ice tinkling in the glass. “What about me? You’re going to leave?” I pretended to be asleep. Larry was conked out. He had no emergency alert system.

“Come here,” my dad growled.

I didn’t move or breathe.

“God dammit,” he said, louder. “I want to talk to you.”

“Dad! We’re sleeping. Can it wait until the morning?”

“Hell no it can’t wait goddamnit. Get over here, now!”

I stood up in my t-shirt and boxers and approached the table where my father was slouched over. I thought maybe he had passed out. I stood beside the table and kept quiet. Maybe it would blow over.

“I told her not to tell you. I wanted to tell you.”

“Sorry, Dad.”

“That bitch just wants to ruin my life. Still. After all I’ve done for her.”

“Dad,” I pleaded.

He stood up from the other side of the table. Wobbly.

“You’re going to be some elite rich kid now, in New England?”

I felt his anger.

“So you can get away from here? From me? Your mom just wants to hurt me, that’s all. That’s why she’s doing this.”

“Dad,” I paused before I continued. I was wading into dangerous waters. “It was my idea.”

A moment of silence and pause before the storm. He looked at me. Formulating his comeback slowly and with the dullness of a full day of drinking. I didn’t see his leg kick out, but I was propelled into the refrigerator by his slippered foot pounding into my hip. I maintained my balance and stood there in shock. It wasn’t like being hit in football, by an enemy. This was my dad. I did not fall. I also did not know where to run. I had no protection. Larry pretended to be sleeping. We all held our breath for the next play.

My dad went from fury to sad in front of my terrified eyes. He slumped forward and put his hands on the dining room table in front of him. “You’re leaving me,” he said, defeated.

We were scheduled to be in Port A for the weekend, and it was 2 am on Friday. As soon as the sun was up, I found the Greyhound terminal in the phonebook and called. My dad was still crashed. SAM was knocking pans in the kitchen heating water for coffee. “SAM will you take us to the bus station at 10?”

“What for?”

“Larry had an emergency at home. We need to get back to Austin.”

“Oh, okay.” Clueless and detached. “I’ll put my face on,” she said.

“We just need to be there in the next two hours.”

“Your dad will be up by then. We’ll talk to him about it.”


“I still don’t understand why you’re leaving,” my dad said. “Can’t Larry go back to Austin without you?” My dad was in the dead-eye recovery phase.

We got out of the Cadillac. “Sorry dad, we’ve got to go.” SAM had gone back to bed and it was just the three of us. Terrified, confused, and indifferent.

“Do you need any money?”

“No,” I said. I reached my hand in through the window and patted my father on the shoulder. “It’s alright Dad.”

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