Need To Catch Up...
A Sizzling Summer by The Bay - Part Four
April 1997 – Monterey, California
Estelle had just changed out of her basketball uniform and showered. Her door was open a crack. It creaked open when Dale, (whom she’d long gotten used to calling Dad,) popped his head in.
“Hey, what’s up, Dad?”
“Good game out there today. I’m really proud of you.”
“My counselor Mrs. Friebar thinks I could get a scholarship.”
Dale smiled but didn’t respond immediately.
Estelle had been sitting at her little desk, which also served as her vanity, brushing the tangles from her hair. She sensed his somber mood, and it gave her pause. “What’s wrong, Daddy?”
“I’m just tired these days. Gettin’ old.”
“You’re not old. Stop it.”
“I don’t know. Forty-five is pretty old.” His smile widened. “You won’t need a scholarship, baby girl. I’m making sure your college funds are taken care of. I want you to go to school. If anything ever happened to your husband after you get married, same predicament life threw at your momma, I don’t want you to have to be waitin’ tables and struggling to support your kids.”
Estelle rolled her eyes slightly, with that ‘know-it-all’ energy bursting at the seams with youth leaving childhood and traversing the unchartered waters of adulthood.
He sat down on the edge of her bed. “You know I was supposed to go to the East Regional Semi-Finals finals that weekend. Gators vs. Syracuse. It was my alma mater, and I was so excited. Then my business partner up and got food poisonin’. I was so mad. I did not want to meet that client of his, but I was loyal to Don, and he’d just promoted me from senior foreman to junior sales rep. I didn’t want to let him down. Overdeveloped sense of responsibility, I suppose.”
Estelle sighed and forced a wan smile. She’d heard this story so many times, but Dad loved to tell it. It was his favorite story, his fairy tale come true.
“The second your mom came to our table, I felt all the air go out of my lungs. There was something about her. I had a hard time closing the account with the client that night. I was so distracted by her. She was like an angel. I waited until closing and asked if I could take her out to dinner the next night. Then we started dating. I came up to visit you guys every other weekend. Boy, I racked up those frequent flyer miles.” He chuckled as if he’d just said something funny. “I was so nervous meeting you and your brother.” His gaze had a faraway look.
Estelle’s interest was piqued. This was a part of the story she had not heard. “You were nervous?”
“Oh, sweatin’ bullets. I was the youngest of four boys, remember? I didn’t have much experience with kids. Cattle, yes, but kids, no.”
“Huh, you didn’t seem nervous that day.”
He laughed. “I was until you looked up at me with your sparkling green eyes, and I just melted. I kinda had this feeling. I hoped it would work out, and I could be your Daddy. I didn’t know it then, but God sure did – knew I wasn’t going to be able to have biological children of my own. I know now, that feelin’ I got was God pullin’ at my heartstrings tellin’ me it was meant to be. Your Momma and I had been dating for a few weeks beforehand. I was crazy about her. She was nervous too. Segregation back on the east coast was still pretty prominent when you were a kid. I don’t think it’s gotten much better in ten years. Anyway, she got a lot a flack for marryin’ your biological father. She was so afraid that I’d kick her to the curb because of you kids not being ‘pure.’” He spat the last word with sarcastic disgust.
“I didn’t know,” Estelle said softly, “Honestly, I’ve never really considered it too much. You never made me feel different.”
“That’s cause you aren’t. Who gives two flicks if your skin is tan and mine is white. Doesn’t really matter. We all put on our pants on one leg at a time.”
“I love you, Dad.” Estelle didn’t quite share the staunch faith of her nondenominational Christian parents, but she knew he was a good man. Too much reading and analytical thought had given rise to the doubts of God’s existence and religion’s validity. She never shared this with her parents, though. It would have broken their hearts to hear she was pretty much agnostic at this point.
“I love you too, baby girl. Now listen to me. You’re nearin’ the end of your sophomore year, and you need to start thinkin’ bout what college you want to attend and what major you’re going to declare.”
“I think I still have time.” Estelle kept putting him off every time he brought this up.
“I’ve taught you, though. It’s better to be prepared.”
“I know, I know,” Estelle sighed. She’d heard this speech so many times.
“So, what are you thinking of pursuing?”
Estelle shrugged and fidgeted with her hairbrush. “I’m thinking something in psychology might be cool.”
Dale nodded thoughtfully then said, “Be more practical to pursue nursin’ if you want to go into the medical industry. Nursin’ is a woman’s industry, and if you fall upon hard times, you could easily get a job to help your husband out.”
Estelle tried to repress a groan. “Daddy, I know you want what’s best for me, but times have changed. There are male nurses now.”
Dale smiled ruefully. “Yes, that’s true, but you have to admit that women still dominate that industry.”
“I guess,” Estelle mumbled. There was no ‘teaching an old dog new tricks,’ as her father commonly liked to say.
“Estelle honey, I know it’s all the rage right now for men and women to have equality, and I agree to an extent. In some part, though, it’s not right. You have to see that there are obvious differences in the way God made us, so of course, there’s going to be differences between the sexes. It makes a lot of practical sense when you even study the human anatomy of how God constructed us. Women were made to bring forth and nurture life, and men were put here to ensure their family’s physical needs were taken care of.
“I have no doubt in my mind, the beautiful young woman you are – is gonna snag a handsome worthy man, like he brought your Momma into my life. You’re going to be an amazing mother. But ya never know what trials God will throw your way. It’s important to have backup plans.”
“I know Daddy, I know.” Estelle tried to hide her frustration.
She had so much on her plate, on her mind, right now. Truth be told, she wasn’t sure she wanted to have kids or be married. If she did marry, she wasn’t sure it would be a guy or a girl.
Neither of her parents knew about the incident that had occurred after the Winter Ball, and it would stay that way. Her best friend Hannah had snuck into Hannah’s father’s liquor cabinet. They’d gotten pretty drunk, and before the sickness kicked in, they’d started kissing. Estelle didn’t even know she felt that way about her best friend, but her body seemed to respond in all the right ways, so she must have been attracted to her! Since that night, her and Hannah had been dancing around the precarious nature of a taboo relationship that had to be hidden at all costs.
Her father blew out a breath of his own frustration. He could feel that she wasn’t on board with his beliefs, but he was going to preach no matter what. She knew it was his way of showing he cared, but she was starting to see the world outside the lens of her parents’ views.
“Well, just think about what I’ve said. Life can be hard sometimes, and as a parent, ya don’t want to see your kids suffer.”
“I know, Dad.”
He ruffled the top of her hair, and she scowled playfully and batted at his hand. But her weak protest was only in jest. She knew it was his way of showing affection, and it had been that way since the very beginning.
She sighed and went back to brushing her hair.
Why does life have to be so damn complicated, she groaned.
July 2000 to September 2001 – Monterey, California
Estelle had been able to hold her father’s hand when he passed away in July of 2000. The diagnosis for the very aggressive pancreatic cancer had given him only eight months to live – he’d survived eighteen. Dale had beaten the odds time and again in his life. It was fitting that luck should follow him even in death.
A year and half had gone by since his passing. He’d gotten the diagnosis at the end of her senior year. The chemo had been hard on him. The change of diet – becoming a vegetarian – had been harder. Estelle had delayed going to college to be there for Momma and Jamar. As the siblings expected, she fell apart after Dale’s death.
Jamar was just finishing up college just before Dale took a turn for the worst. Jamar wanted to drop out that last semester but Dale wouldn’t have it. Jamar honored his father’s request and finished up school at the University of Florida. He’d graduated in business and came home that summer to take over the family ranch.
Because Dale had been so savvy with his business and investments, he’d set his family up for life. He’d written a detailed will and individual letters to each family member.
He wanted Donna, his soul mate, to continue her life with as much normalcy as she could find. He wanted her to keep up with her beautiful garden, her service to their community church, and her preparations for creating layettes of baby items for future grandbabies. One of his many great regrets in passing so early in life was that he would not be there to see his grandkids grow up. But he’d written (in his typical fashion) that he’d be there in heaven smiling down and keeping a watchful eye on them.
Jamar was given the option to inherit the business or sell if he wanted to. Daddy had wanted him to pursue his own dreams, and if that didn’t include the family ranch, then he could honor that.
As it turned out, though, Jamar loved cattle ranching. He took to it at a young age and walked proudly in his father’s footsteps. He loved everything about the manual labor of corralling in the cows, birthing the new calves, and walking in after a hard day’s work covered in a fine layer of dust and sweat. Their father had been priming him since he was young, and it just felt like the right thing to do. Taking over his father’s dream seemed like the best way to honor his father.
Estelle learned that her father had set her up with an annuity that would take care of all four of her college years. She could work to pay her bills in college, or not, but her father had given her that option. However, when she learned this, all motivation to go to school had completely been snuffed out by grief. She spent an entire year living in a somnambulistic state of going through the motions of life, feeling numb.
Her on and off fling with Hannah through high school had fizzled out when Estelle began to miss more and more school due to her father’s diagnosis. They’d remained friends though, and after they graduated, Hannah went on to college at UCLA. They kept in contact here and there through Yahoo messenger and email.
Some time just before the weather turned from Summer to Autumn, Jamar and Momma sat down with her at lunch to talk. She knew what the talk was going to be about. It felt like an intervention. Maybe it was. She felt like she needed to force herself forward. There was taking time to grieve, and there was becoming stagnant. She knew she was pushing the precipice of stagnation.
“Estelle, I know this has been really hard on you, but it’s been over a year now,” Momma probed gently, and placed a hand over her daughter’s.
“Dad wanted you to go to school,” Jamar said. “Maybe you could start applying to schools now and start with the Spring semester. I mean, you don’t even have to go to a university if that feels like too much to handle. Monterey Peninsula College could be a start?” He suggested.
“No, I don’t want to go there.” Estelle shook her head. She’d been pondering this for a few weeks now. She had already made up her mind but was having a hard time putting the plan in place. “I’m probably going to hit up UCLA. My grades were good enough, and Hannah has been stoking the flame for me to come down there and do school with her.”
Donna’s eyes lit up. “That would be wonderful, baby. You could come home and visit on weekends.”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
So she applied, and as predicted, she’d gotten in with no problems at all. Hannah was thrilled to have her old friend back in her life. Estelle knew she’d be much older than the other freshman, but she opted to stay in the dorms the first year. She knew she needed that forced structure.
Hannah insisted that Estelle could move in with her, but after their teenage whirlwind romance, she was unsure about where Hannah’s head space was. Were they just friends? Did she hope to pursue being lovers now that they’d have no barriers to stop them?
There had been no need to wonder. By the end of her first semester, they were dating. They moved in together at the beginning of her sophomore year.
She hated keeping her love life a secret from her family, but it would have broken her mother’s heart if she knew her daughter was a ‘lesbian.’ The grief of their father’s loss was still too close, so she kept that part of her life completely hidden.
In truth, Estelle knew she wasn’t a lesbian. After a year of college liberation, she realized she was bisexual. She was attracted to men just as much as women.
At the end of her junior year in college, Hannah graduated and was due to take a job in New York. She’d gone into the publishing industry and had landed herself a sweet paid internship.
Hannah wanted a commitment. She was willing to wait for Estelle to graduate, and they could get a place together in New York. Estelle had changed her major to business. Hannah encouraged her to move by saying that jobs had to be a dime a dozen there for her industry.
There were no illusions for Estelle at that point. She’d reached a ‘shit-or-get-off-the-pot’ point with Hannah. She tried to envision ‘coming out’ to her mother and Jamar, and she just couldn’t find it in her to do it. Or perhaps by nature of keeping her life polarized and her family at arm’s length, the bad emotional habit had extended to her relationship with Hannah as well. She was heartbroken, but she felt she had to let Hannah go. They never spoke to each other again.
When she graduated in 2006, she took a job at an advertising agency in downtown Los Angeles. It wasn’t great. She was paying her dues as an intern, but it was then that she met Dayton.
Dayton was a senior project manager and two years older. He was calm, easy-going, and fun-loving. They started to date and fell into a fluid relationship. That first Thanksgiving, he brought her home to his family, and for Christmas, she brought him home to hers. Her mother adored Dayton, and Estelle could practically see Momma counting the days until they got married and started churning out babies.
It always made Estelle uncomfortable when her mother started dropping those hints, but she’d smile and bare it. Her brother Jamar was engaged to a wonderful woman, and Estelle would often redirect her mother’s hopes and dreams for grandkids to Jamar and Wendy. Wendy seemed like that type of woman who wanted kids, and that was fine by Estelle.
Guilt would flood her that she had no emotional yearning for children, but it simply wasn’t there. She felt like there was something wrong with her, and the best way she could reconcile the emotion was to bury it. Maybe one day it would ignite? She wasn’t sure, and for now, Dayton made her happy. He didn’t seem to be in a rush to get married, and she liked that.
Things were running like a well-oiled machine until The Great Recession finally caught up with The Valley and hit in 2009. Estelle lost her job, and was sitting on the fence between staying to find another job, or moving back home.
Her and Dayton were comfortable, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to take it to the next level. Her mother had been dealing with some health issues, Jamar and Wendy had gotten married and were expecting their first baby. It seemed like the universe was moving her back home, and pushing her out of Dayton’s arms.
However, when she brought it up to Jamar, he’d discouraged her from coming back. He’d asked her one question. “What does Dayton think about you moving home?”
“I think he’d much prefer I move in with him, but I’m not sure.”
“Not sure of what, sis? You’ve been dating almost two years. Don’t you think it’s time to move things along? I mean, I think you should just get married. You’re in love – compatible. You know how I feel about shacking up before marriage, but I know you’re a liberal, so moving in would be good, yeah?”
Estelle sighed. “Yeah.”
“Look, you’re just going through a rough patch. It’s hard to get laid off. But as Dad would have said, you gotta push through. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Estelle laughed. Melancholy washed over her, remembering her father, and all his little pearls of wisdom slogans.
“Thanks, Jamar. I’ll talk to you later. Let me know when the baby arrives. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
She hung up on a note that indicated, ‘thanks for solving that big bro!’ In reality, she felt more frustrated than before. She didn’t feel like moving all the way back to Monterey was the answer, but moving in with Dayton also didn’t seem right either. Being jobless and having very little savings, she was not going to be able to afford her apartment for very long.
That night she went out to dinner with Dayton. “So, I’ve been thinking about you mentioning that we should move in together…”
“And?” Dayton said casually.
“I think it would be great,” she tried to say with more enthusiasm than she felt.
“Cool, I’ll get your half of the closet cleared.” He popped a bit of bread roll into his mouth.
And that was that. Her lease expired in two months. She had just enough savings to clear the last month. Then she moved in with Dayton.
She lived with him for nearly seven, mind-numbingly, boring years.
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Part FIVE will be released on May 29th.
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