The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
Denise Julieanne Collins
She saved me from the bad man when I was a baby, and now I am her protector.
She is happy tonight. She is always happy when she is getting dressed to go out, and it makes me happy too. The radio is playing its “Disco Saturday Night” program and she is singing along to the retro disco songs.
“You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life …”
Her hips swing back and forth in her tight black miniskirt, and she takes a drag from her long, thin menthol cigarette. She sips on her gin and tonic, puts it down, and blots a spill on her white halter top. She goes back to singing.
“You come in to look for a king, Anybody could be that guy…”
She pauses briefly to remind me to study tonight for my math final on Monday, “I don’t want you flunking eight grade!” She goes back to singing and dancing with her hands over her head, cigarette in one.
“You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen…”
She is still waiting for one of her friends to pick her up, so they can go to a bar or night club in Beverly Hills or West Hollywood ….or wherever the night takes them. Sometimes they wind up at a party afterwards. I think she is going out with the other Denise tonight – she usually goes out with her. They work at the same law firm and their co-workers have jokingly coined them, “The Denises – a force to be reckoned with.”
Living in our small apartment in Beverly Hills, we are far away from Ohio and the bad man. Denise married the bad man when she was only 19. He divorced his prior wife because Denise was pregnant with me. She doesn’t directly tell me the story of how she saved me, but I hear her on the phone telling it to her friends.
Denise and the bad man used to drink a lot and snort cocaine. I have heard her tell her friends, “I thought we were just partying and we would stop when we had the baby.” But it didn’t stop; the bad man snorted more and more cocaine and even started to sell it. Denise said she couldn’t make him stop selling it. She said she was afraid they would get busted and I would be taken away.
So Denise plotted our escape. When I was eight months old, the bad man’s grandmother said he would give Denise and the bad man five thousand dollars for a down payment on a house. Houses were cheap in Ohio in the early eighties. Denise waited for the check to come in the mail. The day it came she hid it under the mattress on the side of the bed where she slept. The next morning, right after the bad man left for work, she booked a one way flight to Los Angeles, packed a bag with some of our clothes, called a taxi to take us to the airport, put the check in her purse and we never looked back.
We went to L.A., and Denise got a job as receptionist in a law firm. She eventually acquired the skills to be a legal secretary, and jumped from high-paying firm to even-higher-paying firm. We did okay. By the time I was 10 we were living in Beverly Hills, so I could attend a good public school. She wants me to go to Beverly Hills High School, where a lot of rich people and movie stars send their kids.
Sometimes Denise’s friends would tell her to get a child support order from the bad man, so we could have more money. She wouldn’t. She would say, “I’m sure he is either dead or in prison by now.”
Since Denise is very friendly and very shapely, she meets a lot of different men. It is up to me to protect her from the bad ones – I learned this at the age of 6. I was 6 when Denise met John. He was a mild-mannered engineer who was a lot different from her prior boyfriends. He didn’t have long hair or any tattoos. He drove a car, not a truck or motorcycle. Denise was crazy about him. For a while there, John was taking us out every weekend. We would go to Disneyland, the beach, and museums. Denise was very happy and so was I.
But then things changed. John had been engaged to a German lady right before he met Denise. After a few months of dating Denise, he started to date his ex-fiancée again. He was dating both of them. John told Denise about the German lady, but she didn’t seem to mind. I heard her tell her friends that John loved her and he would eventually come around and end it with the German lady.
John changed after the German lady came back into his life. He spent less and less time with us, and he seemed distracted. I could tell that Denise was not noticing the change. I told her, “Mommy, if he really loved us, he wouldn’t be dating that German lady.” Convinced that she was right, she tried to assure me, “No honey, he loves us, he wants to end it with the German lady – he will do it soon.”
It turned out that I was right. John broke it off with us. Denise cried and cried for days. The minute she got home from work she started drinking gin and tonics. She would cry on the phone talking to her friends, drinking gin and tonics and smoking menthol after menthol.
She told me she should have listened to me. She said that kids and dogs always know the bad people. Kids and dogs have that sense. Since we didn’t have a dog, I knew that it was up to me to protect her.
“You’re a teaser, you turn them on…”
Denise says she is going to find a rich daddy for me. That’s why she and the other Denise go out on Saturday nights. I don’t mind staying home alone – I just watch TV and eat potato chips. My friend Gabriella spent a few Saturday nights here, but when her parents found out that Denise had left us alone, they forbade her to be friends with me. Denise said it’s no loss because Gabriella’s parents are white trash. She said that one time when we dropped Gabriella off at her home, her mother came out of the house holding a Budweiser can. Denise thinks that anyone who drinks Budweiser out of a can is white trash.
“Looking out for another, anyone will do...”
Saturday nights are my favorite nights. There are many other nights during the week when Denise comes home from work in a bad mood. She starts drinking gin and tonics and smoking her cigs. She spends the nights talking on the phone, lamenting her troubles -- her boss treated her badly today, the bitter office hags are jealous of her or the last guy she went on a date with didn’t call. She often falls asleep on the couch with her glass a third full and the TV blaring. I cover her with a blanket, turn off the TV and wash her glass in the sink.
Denise’s boss at work can be very mean and yells at her frequently. One night she came home shaking because her boss had screamed at her all morning, calling her a stupid secretary in front of the entire firm. Her boss, Joe, said that he had gotten a voicemail from another partner at the law firm who said he was going to leave the firm’s tax returns on Denise’s desk before he left the office for court. Joe went up to Denise and asked for the tax returns. Denise said that nothing had been put on her desk and that she didn’t have them. Joe went into a tirade, screaming, “How could you lose them – you are so stupid!” “Look for them – you must find them or you are fired!” She frantically looked everywhere, but they were no where to be found. The berating went on for hours. It turned out the other partner forgot to put them on her desk and ran out the door for court with the documents in his briefcase. Joe never apologized.
“You are the dancing queen….”
A horn honks – the other Denise is here. As my Denise heads for the door, she turns to me and says, “I invited Dan over for dinner tomorrow night, and I want you to meet him.” Dan is a second year law student at UCLA, and six years her junior. She has gone on a few dates with him, which I did not condone because of the age difference. I respond, “Okay, but I need a dad not a brother.”
As she unlatches the front door, she flashes a broad loving smile and replies, “I want to know what you think after you meet him.” She winks at me, “Kids and dogs.”
© Denise Julieanne Collins Feb 2010
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