Clogs and Gold Lame Tube Tops by Christina Wheeler

Before I attended Catholic school I grew up with MTV. I headbanged and threw up the devil horns like a heathen child in my crib when Cum on Feel the Noize came on. I loved Ozzy. I couldn’t help it. My parents were barely twenty when they had me. My mother would wear tube tops with no bra, the cotton barely hiding the shape of her nipples. A sight I would grow to become uncomfortable with by the time I was ten. Her shiny blue eye shadow matched the glint of the metal of her power wheelchair and, if she was moving at her top speed of eight miles an hour, you were hard pressed to know which parts were metal and which were her disco makeup.

My father was a sharp contrast to my mother. He was the dorky athlete, the motor mouth, the one that never quit talking or wearing shorts with knee high socks donning marigold rings around the tops whether it was snowing or in the middle of a heatwave. He had bushy Scottish hair and an eyebrow that went on for days. Though my mother was in a wheelchair, she was the cool kid. She was the one that told my Dad he needed to smoke cigarettes or else she wouldn’t date him because he was just so nerdy that it would damage her party girl reputation. So she set her elephant tranquilizers, her PCP, her cocaine to the side and focused on my dad and upping his coolness quotient so that they could fuck and she wouldn’t have to explain why she liked him to any of her friends.

“I thought he was a black guy!” She’d say, looking exasperated as she’d recount the first time he had called. Being black counted as something terrible in my mother’s book. The story went that my Dad had been riding the bus home from a wrestling match one night and hit on a fellow passenger.

“Oh, I have a boyfriend already, but, hey…you should call my friend, Kathie. She’s super easy.” She said, fishing my mother’s picture out of her leather fringe purse to write my mother’s phone number on the back of it and give to him.

My dad must have thought he scored big. He doesn’t like to let on how excited he was that night, being a full-on virgin at the tender age of sixteen and in the 1970’s besides, but I just know that he ran straight home to call her on the spot.

The funny thing was the picture didn’t show any part of my mother’s wheelchair. My Dad had no idea that my mother had been told as a child that she wouldn’t make it into her twenties because of her Muscular Dystrophy. Of all the types that there were she had to go on and get the kind that was degenerative and fatal. Kugelberg Welander’s, if you want to get extremely technical.

She sat in all her senior year glory, frosted hair parted strictly down the middle, blue eye shadow from her lash line to eyebrows, and a snaggletoothed smile that I would come to inherit with time, the passage of my perfect childhood smile to the one I wear today. She was beautiful and my Dad just knew-if he played his cards right-he had hit the jackpot big time.

He called her up and when she answered he bellowed out his hello and a brief explanation of who he was and how he had gotten her phone number in his baritone, booming voice. She promptly hung up, as was my mother’s way when she tired of hearing anyone talk. Again, she thought he sounded like a black man and she had been raised to believe that she would be kicked out of the house should she ever let her gaze fall too long on skin that was browner than hers.

My father, not one to take a subtle hint nor a bold one, dialed her number again and persisted. Once he convinced her that he wasn’t a black man (one story I’ve never been told nor do I even want to imagine the details of) they started talking. They talked about drugs, they talked about the minutiae of their lives and what their favorite colors were and how my dad’s favorite colors were ugly but that my mom’s favorite colors were the best. My father motor-mouthed on in manic way while my mother interjected every now and then to tell him how wrong or stupid his opinions were. She was the first person to every make my dad stop talking long enough to think about what he was saying and I’m pretty sure that’s why he fell in love with her.

Oh, and also her friend had told him she was easy.

My mother was a conversationalist, too, but her way was jumping from topic to topic and not giving anyone a chance to finish answering the question she had asked before her mind went off in a different direction. She had a smooth, easy way of talking and a curt way of cutting things short when you took too long to get to the point. Time was of the essence and she had been told that hers was running out at a much more anxious rate than everyone else’s.

They talked for months and months. Every day they talked. My mother kept him on the phone and shrouded herself in mystery in person, fearing that he would eventually find out that she was in a wheelchair and that he would either laugh at her or take her newfound love and crush it beneath his clogged heel. My Dad begged to meet her in person every day, but she just said it wasn’t the time for it or would just change the subject, her dominant presence always trumping anyone else’s will or want. She sat crooked in a wheelchair, spine completely collapsed from her Muscular Dystrophy and a Hungarian immigrant father that didn’t quite trust doctors enough to allow them to operate on her and fix her back. She was a perfectionist with everything and seeing her own body so destroyed by her disease ate away at her. She hated her body. She had no reason to believe someone else could actually love it when she didn’t.

She would set up little proofs of love for my Dad to complete. The one I heard all the time when I was a kid was when my parents got to the point where they acknowledged that they had grown to love each other through their daily conversations that my mother told my father that if he really did, in fact, love her that he would call her at exactly 11:11. The story goes that my father dialed all of the numbers to her telephone number except the last one until the minute hand landed exactly on the eleven and then pressed the ‘9’ and called her. I always loved that story, especially since they would tell it to me whenever one of them happened to catch the clock at exactly 11:11. They’d always say they loved each other, and then they’d say they loved me, too. It was a special moment, a heartfelt one where I could see my mother’s icy exterior melt away for a moment and my father’s jokey face turn into a loving one. Those were rare moments in my house that was usually filled with chaos, terrible insults ping-ponging off the walls at any given moment. To see them with real love in their eyes for each other was not only jarring, it was something that made all their extremely passionate fighting make a lot more sense to me, even as a child.

After almost a year of daily conversations my mother realized that she couldn’t spare another moment of my father not knowing about her condition so she wrote him a long tearful confessional, detailing exactly what she had, how she didn’t have much longer to live but that-if he’d have her-she’d like to spend her remaining years with him. She wheeled her chair over to the mailbox on the outside of her house, forfeiting herself to the consequence of her hidden truth being sent to my father.

She wouldn’t talk to him during the days it took for him to receive her letter. She had convinced herself that he wouldn’t want her anymore and it was just too much of a high stakes game to continue talking to him, feeling the way she did for him, if he was just going to leave her in the end.

My father, calling her repeatedly but either getting no answer or my grandmother giving him all manner of excuses as to why my mother couldn’t come to the phone, was starting to think that my mother had found someone else. It was a short panic though, as when he checked the mailbox a few days after radio silence from my mother, he held a letter so heavy with metaphorical weight it could either smash their entire relationship or become the foundation of it.

He read the entire letter right there at the mailbox, as fast as he could. Eyes scanning quickly left to right, searching for why my mother had cut him off so abruptly. Once he was done he read it again. And then again. He stood there at his mailbox, letting it sink in. A few moments passed and then he straightened himself out and marched into his house on the Eastside of Tacoma and grabbed his coat and let the door slam as he headed with determination and a heart beating thunderously with love toward the North End of Tacoma, where my mother lived.

After two hours of walking as quickly as he could with the letter with my mother’s long, pointy cursive on it betraying her address clutched tightly in his hands, he walked haphazardly across her neatly manicured lawn and to her doorstep. He knocked briskly on the door and tried his best to wait patiently until my grandfather swung it open wide.

“And just who the hell are you?” my grandfather asked with his thick Hungarian brogue, not in the habit of beating around the bush.

“I’ve come to see your daughter, sir.” My sixteen year old father said, trying his best to square out his shoulders and look as much a man as possible before the tall, Edward Gorey-esque shadow of my grandfather.

“Yeah, well you can come in, I guess.” And then, “Kathie! Some young punk is here to see you.”

My mom wheeled out of her room into the living room, her face turning from general interest into a mixture of sheer terror and surprise and maybe just a little excitement, though she’d probably say that wasn’t the case.

My father approached her and got down on his knees, both of them caught up in the sheer realness of each other’s presence. He clasped her soft, never-seen-a-day-of-labor-in-her-life hands in his bearlike rough hands that spent more time throwing pigskins around and working a shovel than he cared to admit.

“Kathie, I love you and it doesn’t matter that you’re in a wheelchair.” He said, as she quietly observed his eyes to see if they fell on her misshapen body, quietly hoping that he was immune to the questioning curiosity that plagued strangers as they passed her in public.

“But I’m going to die soon! Wouldn’t you rather spend your time with another woman that can walk? One that can dance at your senior prom? Someone that can bear your children? Scott, I can’t do any of those things. That will never be me!” She said, tears spilling out of her mood-changing eyes. Blue. They were always blue when she cried. Gray when she was evil. Green when she was genuinely happy.

“I just. Want. You.” My dad said, rubbing the softened back of his hand against her cheeks to keep the tears from spilling on her gold lamé tube top. “I don’t care what that entails. I will take care of you. I will help you. We will have a good life, Kathie. You’ll see.”

They kissed for the first time right there. The first time ever. My mother’s tears and my father’s absolute selfless love sealing their kiss, their promise to each other to love each other no matter what. Better than any staged wedding night kiss, better than any other first date kiss I’ve ever heard about or experienced.

And that was it. After that they were together for three years before they got married at the tender ages of nineteen and twenty-one. I barged right into their marriage in their honeymoon period, a scant year after their wedding night.

So, yeah. I love Ozzy. I have my reasons, but they’re good ones.