I press the heel of my foot down first, slowly, as if I'm in a horror movie. Just imagine eerie music playing in the background while I slowly walk to my death. I peak my head through the elevator doors with disgust. Here we go on another 'family adventure'.
We have to survive in THIS for the next six days? I think. I roll my eyes as I watch my sister joyfully enter the elevator. I observe the rusty, silverish doors close behind her and her annoying smile. It feels as though my eternity is doomed. The dirty liquid on the floor crowds around my feet and the scent of chlorine water is in the air. We've been in Ocean City Maryland for only a few minutes, and I’m already hating it.
Our "vacations" never lasted longer than 6 days. But HIS vacations by himself lasted about 2 weeks. Yea, I might sound like a brat, because there are kids who are less fortunate, sure. But we have the money. Why are we always getting cheap crap? When I say 'we' I really mean me, my sister, and my mom. My father doesn’t get himself cheap crap. You could tell where he stood—or where he wanted to stand—in society by his Gucci belts, his new pair of elite glasses for one set of eyes that he'd come home with every so often, the non-stop shoes and hats that cycled through his closets, and the watches? Forget about the watches—the names of which I could barely pronounce. He was a walking wardrobe. I called him Narnia while mocking the bullshit lectures he'd give me and my sister, Yeshiah: "You girls can't be too vain; money doesn't grow on trees; y’all are too spoiled" blah blah blah. Even though we all lived together- me, mom, Yeshiah, and dad, he was the only one who was spoiled, and sometimes my sister, but only when he was in a good mood.
The thing with dad was that he wasn't a dead beat. He just never knew how to WANT to spend time with us. He'd do it to shut us up. Well, I guess he enjoyed taking Yeshiah places— just them two. So any time he took the family somewhere, he thought it was something spectacular. I'm pretty sure he thought he was Daddy Warbucks and wanted the rest of us to act like we were Annie or her orphan friends, just lucky to get those small moments with him wherever he wanted to take us.
His income was too good for these rinky dink "vacations," those that left us surrounded by old obese people who looked at us like we were too ethnic to be there. We deserve better, especially me, I often thought. All three of us girls would often argue over who deserved what from dad. Mom thought that since she was married to him, he should take us all out more and but especially her out on dates, treat her like the Queen she is. Yeshiah and I knew the deal though; we knew the marriage was a wrap. They were literally just roommates. Mom slept upstairs, and dad decided to take the basement where he didn’t just sleep; that’s where he chose to live.
One day he just started sleeping down there. Then he took his clothes. Then pots and pans. After a while he'd cook his own meals in his own downstairs space.
So when we heard mom complain over and over about their "marriage," we could only focus on reality. The reality was that they would eventually get a divorce but- divorce or not---we'd always be his daughters, so he should do more for us. The reality was also that Yeshiah was his favorite. Anyone who spent a mere day with our family would see that awkward shit. "Why did we choose this hotel?" I ask completely annoyed and not at all hiding it. My snobbish attitude gushed through my post-question sigh; it slapped Yeshiah in the face, missing dad, the intended target. Her rude 11-year-old self responded fast. "Me' Khai, we didn't even get to our room yet, and you're acting like a brat already? Dad tried to make it fun for all of us. Just be grateful." I watch my sister walk away, following dad to the front desk.
She even walks like him, I think. They practically own the same face: they had the same pouty big lips that I wish I was blessed with, the same clear eyes, nose, cheeks, even head shape. My therapist once explained to me that dad showed Yeshiah more affection because I was like the exact replica of mom, who he doesn't get along with.
My eyes showed that I wanted to strangle her for what she said in front of dad. It's like she was always working to retain her status as “favorite child,” which, in turn made me want to shove her little ass into the suitcase and send her straight back to Brooklyn.
"Do you have the discount code?" The lady at the front desk asked. “Discount” was the only word I heard in that sentence to confirm my argument. CHEAPSKATE. No really, I was SpongeBob and dad was mister Krabs.
The worst day on the vacation was July 27, 2014: my little sister's birthday. See, that's another thing. Yeshiah always received amazing vacations as birthday gifts while most of mybirthdays were always spent at some table eating a regular dinner. Don't get me wrong: of course it's easier to celebrate a summer baby's birthday than it is a fall baby's, but damn, that doesn’t make it alright to give one child a whole outfit and the other socks..
My last birthday, when I turned 17 mom threw some paychecks away to make me feel like a Disney princess-no-, Queen. We booked a sexy lounge in the city for me and my friends. Dad showed up and paid for some nice calamari and shrimp. For himself. Of course he knew he wouldn’t have to share with mom, since she’s highly allergic. He didn’t ask me if I wanted some. But I did receive two pairs of Payless boots from him. I’d told Yeshiah over and over in the months before that: "If dad asks what I want for my birthday or Christmas all I want is money." But none of them ever listened. I wore the boots twice; they fell apart the second time.
So here I am actually starting to like Ocean City. It owns up to its name. We stay at a hotel where the beach is our front yard and the boardwalk is like our little piece of Coney Island. I relish waking up to the fresh air hugging my asthmatic city lungs, and I think, okay, maybe this won’t be so bad.
But on July 27th, we’re trying to figure out what to do for Yeshiah's birthday and my father is just shooting out ideas for things that only HE wants to do. Acting like this is HIS birthday.
How come Yeshiah can deal with him? Yet she can't deal with me? Plenty of times I'd hear her say "You're just like dad, so selfish and bi-polar." Maybe we're just too similar.
It gets to the point where we are driving around for at least 2 hours trying to decide on something, anything to do as a family. It’s like being in a car with a bunch of dodo birds, none of us can adapt to what the other wants to do; I wonder if our unit will go extinct at some point, too. My dad's nostrils begin to flare, his fingers anxiously tapping against the back of my mom's headrest.
"We're going to go get you a birthday cake, then play it by ear after that, alright?" He says to my sister, who smiles so hard that her right eye—that which is still incredibly smaller than the left due to cataracts—goes almost invisible.
Yeshiah was born with Congenital Cataracts. Which practically means that she is blind in her right eye. She had to go through numerous surgeries to receive any vision at all in that eye. It was extremely blurry for her and she'd normally get bullied for being the only one in class with an abnormally small eye and thick glasses to help her see better. She was always way stronger than me when it came to getting bullied. Even at eleven, she just took it, knew she was better than that, and moved on.
One day mom called me in the room with teary glossy eyes, the red veins proving their existence on her sclera. Through sniffles she said, “Some boy was teasing Yeshiah about her eye again”
I looked at Yeshiah, her head high, her little eye squinting through the thick glasses she needed to wear for better vision, although her mental vision was already better than any of ours. I asked her what had happened.
She takes a deep inhale as if her life depended on it, closing both of her eyes. “His name is Jordan; he said that my tiny eye is ugly.” She shrugged her shoulders, looking down at her schoolbooks on the bed, opening one and flipping through the pages.
“I don’t care though,” she says, looking up at me with her eyebrows raised high on her forehead as if they were running from the start line of her future tribulations. “It’s whatever.”
I often believe that her disability is another reason why my sissy and dad are so close. They are both tough when it comes to stuff like that. I however, am chronically emotional like mom; I’m not so tough.
So, we all start getting ready for a night dedicated to newly 11 year old Yeshiah, and I’m actually excited for it. I get all dolled up not realizing that the night will be filled with voodoo.
We drive to the Dunkin Donuts with the lights above flickering and the “D” in Dunkin hanging, and he tells mom and Yeshiah to go in and get the cake. This is his way of letting mom know that she is paying for it, I know. My mom looks at him shocked; she does this face a lot when she refuses to stand up for herself. She sighs and clears her throat as she tells Yeshiah “Come on,” taking the wallet out of her bag as her long shiny locs fall in her face. She removes herself from the car, the tattoos on her arms glistening with a little bit of sweat. They walk in the store while I stay behind with him. I have to stick up for her. She'll be proud and so will grandma, I think. I take a deep breath.
"Why would you offer to get a cake if you're not paying for it?” I break the silence. “Why would you do that? You know mom is having a hard time at work, and she's paying for almost everything on this tri-"
He moves his arm from the passenger seat headrest where it was resting. He starts massaging his temples at a slow, strenuous pace and sighs. I feel the anger. I know what’s coming when he does this. I can hear the sucking, squeaking noise that happens when he bites his bottom lip, hard.
"Listen little girl, you need to slow ya fuckin’ role-"
My mouth quivers when he says ‘little girl’- not just cause’ he says it. But because, when he says that, I feel like a little girl. Anytime I talk to him I feel like a little girl. I'm 18 but I shrink down to 3.
"I've been taking you guys here and there. Y’all are too spoiled. I've been working my ass off-"
I try tuning him out, but it fails when he looks back at me and asks me a question, half laughing. When he laughs in your face during a serious matter, it basically means that you’re the butt of the joke. I was the ass.
“Why don’t you get a job and pay for the cake!” he asks. “Broke-ass girl”.
He doesn’t understand that my whole summer, my whole year was dedicated to finding jobs. To finding something—anything—so that my mouth wouldn’t quiver, my stomach would tighten up, when I’d have to walk downstairs to ask him for money.
What I do not understand, is how my father told me numerous times that he didn’t want me working this year due to school. That he didn’t want me working at just any store either, oh, and forget about trying to be a waitress. He got mad at me for asking a restaurant we were eating at, whether or not they were hiring. This man must’ve really suffered some brain loss massaging his temples that hard, I thought.
It’s a shout war; my army is a 3 year old girl, no shield. My father’s army is compacted with insults, and contradictions. I keep trying to explain to him that I have been trying, trying to get a job. I’m trying to be more independent. I haven’t been sitting on my ass. I don’t want to have to depend on him for shit and I won’t be much longer if I can help it. We exchange more dark blurry words before I get out of the car and slam the precious door to our bullshit father-daughter relationship.
I burst into the Dunkin Donuts, tears skiing down my face and let mom and Yeshiah know that I will not get back into the car. No matter what. My mascara now decorates my face like it’s Halloween, I realize, as the employee who’s helping my mom choose the cake slowly backs away—as if this isn't all awkward enough already. I mean, for crying out loud, it’s only the 4 of us in here; he couldn't act like he was sweeping or putting away the ice creams or something?
I walk back to the hotel with the birthday girl who doesn’t want me to walk back alone, even though she sorta blames me for her spoiled day. I know though, that she really blames mom and dad. Especially mom. Yeshiah believes in telling it like it is, even at the age of 11. She’s tired of both of us being pressured to stand up for mom all the time. She wants mom to stand up for herself and so do I.
I look down at my baby sister’s milk chocolate face, her pink bottom lip sticking out more than the dark lined top, her little eye squinting from the fog pressing against her glasses. Her broad shoulders leading the way as her thick legs keep her steady. She understands disappointment. She understands divorce. She understands that she'll be able to love both parents without living with both of them.
But she doesn't understand why her birthday couldn’t have ended differently; why mom just couldn't tell dad herself that she wasn’t paying for the cake; why I couldn’t just stay quiet sometimes and keep the peace. I don’t think she questions dad though. I think part of her actually accepts him the way he is, his flaws. But she can’t accept those parts of mom, those parts of me. She expects more from us, expects us to have the strength she has, which makes me mad.
But I can’t blame. She’s the baby. She acts like “It’s whatever,” but I know she’s sad. I know she’d hoped things would be different today. That this vacation would be fun, that we’d eat cake together and laugh like other families do; that eleven would have a good start.
And then I wonder how long it’ll be until she stops looking forward to birthdays, holidays, and vacations altogether. It’s enough to make me start crying again on this pathetic, humid walk back to the hotel. I know she’s still mad at me, but we grip onto each other’s hands anyway, the chunkiness of hers, filling the gaps of mine, trying to find our way back. . . Just two sisters trying to find their way.