After my first summer back home from college, I made a point of taking at least one summer course each year so I had an excuse not to come back again. I was disinclined to get a job, since I still had scholarships at the time and didn't actually need one, and was basically lazy, but at my mother's insistence I ended up working at the Chik-Fil-A at a nearby mall.
It wasn't long before I discovered that the entire staff was made up of fundamentalist Christians; indeed, the Chik-Fil-A chain acted as a recruitment and witnessing organization when it wasn't serving greasy sandwiches. Greg, the store's owner and manager, was one of a long, long line of patronizing Christians who felt it was their duty to save me from Iron Maiden and my own ignorance, and he felt he was doing a big favor by hiring me... I suspect he felt he actually owned me in a way, but intended to be a kindly master and understanding of my faults. The assistant manager perpetually looked as though he wished he were elsewhere.
I was given an idea of the indoctrination level of my co-workers when I was in the back room battering chicken nuggets one day, and this cherubic, doughy guy who also worked the afternoon shift asked with disbelief if I really believed in evolution. I shrugged and said sure, it made sense, why wouldn't I? "So you believe that monkeys can turn into people?" I gathered after a few sentences that he'd been taught this twisted, Middle-Ages version of Darwin's theory, in which monkeys now and then spontaneously shapeshift into human beings, go and get jobs and register for Social Security. I quickly explained the actual theory to this Inquisition-era caricature. He also suggested that if I wanted to rock but not go to Hell, I should listen to Stryper and Bloodgood.
Just as I was beginning to weary of the job, Greg decided the feeling was mutual and fired me, but later in the week I got a job at the Wendy's down the street. It involved a lot of brass polishing but no proselytizing. I don't remember if I was working there or at Chik-Fil-A when I almost got killed on the highway. My mother basically lived off of US 41, and to get anywhere I had to ride my bike along the narrow strip on its edge. I preferred to face traffic because it was not unheard of for people to simply run you down if they had the chance-- Florida seems to be the capitol of random homicide. I wanted to see them coming. So there was this lady pulling out of a trailer park... being typically self-absorbed I failed to realize she couldn't possibly see me coming from that direction, and when she pulled out I went right over her hood. I landed on my face on the blacktop of the highway, my glasses ground into my face. It wasn't til later that I imagined what would have happened if there'd been a lot of traffic... I was lucky to get away with some scrapes and glasses-shaped cuts around my right eye.
My mother was all pissed off that I'd been in an accident and that she had to come up the road to get me. She paid to replace the front rim of my bike, so I could get to work, but refused to get my glasses fixed; they were pretty bent up, and one of the plastic lenses had this enormous chunk gouged out of it from where my face had planted it into the asphalt. So I got to wear them like that the rest of the summer, doing my already humiliating job with a divot out of my lens. Maybe this is why a few years later, when my mother's car got rear-ended by a drunk and she got kind of banged up, I wasn't especially sympathetic. Or maybe I'm just a bad seed... I wasn't thinking of the glasses. Shortly after I'd returned to college, the twisted frames fell off my face once too often, and I stomped the glasses to bits in the privacy of my tiny dorm room.
My stint at Wendy's logically couldn't have been for more than two months, but at the time it seemed to go on forever. I made from $700 to $900 that summer, which as it happens was exactly the amount my scholarships were shorted when I returned to school. The financial aid office declared that my mother was making enough money to provide that much of my tuition. She said no way. I told the aid people this and they told me that was too bad, she had to come up with it. She didn't. It was a good thing my mother had forced me to work that summer.
By the time I was in my junior year in college, my mother and I didn't get along at all. She had no faith in anything that I was doing, or at least didn't believe I was adequately subsuming myself to society and would end up some kind of derelict. That Thanksgiving I'd come home to visit, and we immediately got into a fight about the state of my shoes, which were comfortably full of holes. This particular fight ended with me tearing one of the offending shoes in half, putting my suitcase back into my car, and driving the three and a half hours back to college, not a half-hour after I'd arrived. My mother was growing less rational as time wore on, and I was strongly disinclined to come home.
She wasn't happy that I was leaning increasingly towards my father, who now that I had grown up was showing more of an interest in getting to know who the hell I was. She felt that I preferred him over her, which was essentially true; he was more agreeable and occasionally gave me money, while my mother got into fights with me and didn't trust my decisions. One day while I was home for spring break, she decided she'd had enough of this, and gave up some interesting facts.
My family history, as I knew it, was that my mother and father had gotten married, but they had become 'separated,' this mysterious state of affairs which I was to understand was equivalent to divorce. It would have to be, because once they'd been separated long enough, my father married a woman named Janet from his company. Whenever his work brought him into Florida, he tried to set up some kind of meeting with my mother, and it was our understanding that one day he would leave Janet and get back together with my mother. None of this seemed unusual; this is how it had always been and I had nothing to compare it to, so that even though I was old enough to be in college I was still shockingly clueless about what had transpired. Indeed, when my mother at last decided she'd had enough waiting and told my father to get lost, I couldn't comprehend it. It is frightening to think that I held such foolish ideas, so incompatible with anything in the real world, simply because they were the first I learned.
My mother informed me that she and my father had never been married to begin with. They'd been seeing each other, and my mother had been told by her doctor that she couldn't have children, but what do you know, the doctor was wrong and then she was pregnant. She wanted to keep it, and my father rather prudently wanted her to have an abortion-- I can hardly blame him, having been in the same position, more or less --but, my mother told me, she'd talked him into keeping it. Later I came to understand that he'd strung her out on promises of marriage, getting her to accept a pittance for child support instead of taking it to the courts, and realized that he had not in fact capitulated-- he'd simply abdicated all responsibility. I would be allowed to live if he didn't have to deal with me.
But at any rate, they'd never been married, and before I'd started kindergarten he started being conveniently away on overseas trips for his company. Then he married his personal assistant. Then he cheated on her with my mother. I felt so stupid that I hadn't seen this, that he hadn't been visiting us because he cared about us, he was visiting because he wanted to fuck, that he made his calls to Janet in a closed, quiet room because he was cheating on her. My mother, as naïve as I was shaping up to be, believed him when he told her he would someday dump Janet and get back together with her. I was allowed to think that marrying Janet had been some kind of mistake. For years my mother bought it, until it had been something like ten years and even she had come to understand that the married man never leaves the wife for the mistress. She'd finally gotten smart, and I'd resented her for it, as had my grandmother and anybody who'd ever fallen for the bullshit cultured façade he'd lured my mother with.
And now my dad, long after it mattered, long after he could be legally held to any parental obligation, wanted to be friends with me. I had seen him for perhaps two months total since he'd left; he'd shown his face and provided just enough to silence my deluded mother, he'd missed my high school graduation and any other event that meant anything to me, but now that all the loose ends were tied up and he was at no risk, now that my mother had pissed her life away dealing with the consequences of their dalliance, leaving him to run free and fuck whoever and ruin whatever, he wanted to be pals. I certainly had something to think about.