My parents divorced in 1976. My dad remarried in 1980.
My new stepmother was a British expat. She had scarlet hair and was tall and bone thin. She also drank and smoked as heavily as my father, matching every one of his Jack Daniels with a Johnny Walker, every Newport with a Benson.
She also had a daughter. An adopted daughter. An adopted Chinese daughter.
Her name was Stacey and I loathed her.
At lot of people naturally assumed that Stacey was my dad's illegitimate spawn, a result of one of his tours overseas. I was always half-expecting some kid to show up claiming paternity. My dad made no bones about his behavior, bragging about his visits to see the various 'Mama-sans'.
As first I thought it was kinda cool to have a Chinese stepsister. I loved the reactions I'd get from people when I introduced her as my sister. Today people wouldn't raise an eyebrow, of course. But back in 1980 people would nearly fall out of their shoes.
But as I got to know Stacey better, my opinion changed. She projected a fierce 'bored-with-it-all' attitude, even for a 14 year old. She'd walk away from me while I was talking to her, or change my records on the stereo with a scratch of the needle. Even in my own car she'd lunge to change the station with a snort of disgust. Her face was perpetually contorted into a condescending sneer.
For my part, I took pleasure in noting that she was at least 40 pounds overweight. That didn't stop her from wearing tube tops and hip-huggers, her flabby translucent belly flopping around. She also wore heavy eye-shadow, caked on with a trowel, colors apparently chosen from the 'Pool Chalk' collection.
As my wedding gift to my dad and step-mother, I got them tickets to see Frank Sinatra in concert. My dad was a huge Sinatra fan. If he was drinking (and he always was), you were hearing either Vicki Carr or Sinatra. In my mind, these Sinatra tickets were a peace offering of sorts, my way of trying to show that I could accept this new woman who wasn't my mother.
The tickets were $250 each. Those are 1980 dollars. I had to get them the best seats in the house otherwise I knew my dad wouldn't go. He was obsessed with seating. As long as I could remember, he'd say that if he couldn't have the best seats at an event, he couldn't enjoy the show. I think that secretly, he couldn't bear the idea of strangers assessing his success in life, based on where he was seated.
My own childhood memories of visits to Yankee and Shea Stadiums are not warm fuzzies involving the roar of the crowd or catching a glimpse of one of my heroes. Instead, I remember every occasion as an endless re-seating exercise. My father would be 'greasing the wheels', bribing the ushers, moving us further and further down the stands. We'd get thrown out of one corporate box area and he'd just grab a passing usher and palm him another $20 to get us into the next box. The goal was always to achieve final seating in the coveted dugout-adjacent boxes, something that never happened.
So, even though $500 was far far beyond my means. I HAD to get them those tickets.
The Sinatra concert was scheduled for exactly three months after their wedding. I made it a point of stopping by their house the night before, to assess their excitement level. When I walked in, my stepmother was standing in the hallway, modeling a sleek black dress in the mirror, the ever present Benson burning in her hand.
My dad wasn't home. He was 'out' according to my stepmother. Only three months into the marriage and his old habits were back. Stacey came in, curled her lip at me and slammed her bedroom door.
It was still dark the next morning when my phone rang. Stacey had been hit by a car and was in a coma.
On the way to the hospital I was puzzled how this could have happened. I was at their house the night before until 11pm, and here she was already in the hospital a few hours later? It was a week night, a school night...she didn't have a car.
Turned out that slutty Stacey had a secret habit of sneaking out at night, once my dad and my stepmom would nod off into their boozy haze. She'd climb out her bedroom window and meet her boyfriend who would be waiting down the street in his car, engine idling, lights off. He was 10 years older, an ex-con and fry cook at Denny's on the night shift. A total catch.
On this particular night, she'd decided to check up on him at his job. She climbed out her window at 1 am, wound her way to the edge of the subdivision, and crossed the highway at the corner opposite Denny's. She was probably trying to spot her boyfriend through the restaurant windows and walked right into traffic.
When I got to the hospital, my stepmother was talking on a payphone. Sobbing and smoking. My dad was sitting on a plastic chair watching her. He looked hammered.
'Here.' He tossed me an envelope.
I looked inside. It was the Sinatra tickets.
'Why are you giving these to me?'
'Well, the show is tonight and there's no way your sister is gonna be OK by then.'
She's in there lying in a coma, fighting for her life, tubes everywhere, machine doing her breathing and all I could think was, 'You DUMB bitch! You slut! You cheap fat cow!'
I probably would have shouted that at her if I was alone. Here's my one big grand gesture towards my father and his new life, and she fucking ruined it for me.
I took the tickets to the radio station on my campus and they gave them away to a caller. I had to work that night. I couldn't stand around outside the venue and try to scalp my own damn tickets. I drove home listening to the excited winner being told why the tickets were available, and heard her break into tears on the air. I never cried, of course.
Stacey spent six weeks in the coma. The weight loss did that fat bitch some good.