When my daughter jumped onto my bed at 6:15 AM, she woke me from a dream that included drinking rum. My mother had also been there. Both were weird: Even in my drinking days rum was always a last resort, and my mother had been dead for years. Maybe if I got back to sleep quickly, I thought, I could get them both back. Drinking in a dream didn’t fuck up my program, and it would be nice to visit with Mom. See what she had to say about all this.
I parked Kay in front of Netflix and waited impatiently as she decided between Care Bears and Garfield.
“C’mon, baby,” I said. “Daddy’s tired and I want to get some more sleep before we have to leave for school and work.”
“I think I’ll watch…” And then the decision hung in the air. She studied the screen like a doctor pondering a particularly grim set of x-rays.
“Fuck it,” I said. “I’m up.” And went to start the coffee pot and the espresso machine.
“But Daddy…” she called down the hall after me. She knew how to choose a cartoon by herself once I got the menu up, but she liked an audience. She wanted what she was doing to be acknowledged and, more often than not, praised and celebrated. What cartoon she watched this morning was just one of a number of important decisions she would make throughout the day, and it was vital that I be there to make note of it.
In this way she was like her mother.
I punched buttons on the kitchen appliances. The machines began to rattle and heat up. It was even money which would die first, necessitating an expensive repair or, dear god please no, replacement. Without alcohol and marijuana (and benzos and barbituates and opiates and cocaine and speed), caffeine was the last means I had to consciously kick dopamine into gear, instead of just riding the waves of my moods on their fickle whims. I refused to start smoking. I got into this recovery thing to eliminate addictions, not to add them. I had gotten through all 28 days of in-patient rehab without bumming so much as a single cigarette, even though I was surrounded 24 hours a day by chain smokers, the counselors and nurses included. If I made it then, I could make it now. As long as I had my whole pot of strong coffee and about five shots of espresso per day, that is.
The howling from the computer died down so I assumed Kay had settled on a cartoon and given up on my being there to acknowledge it. She would fill me in on the way to work and school, I had no doubt. Sometimes parents would talk about how their kids refused to tell them what they had been up to all day, and I sighed with what they took to be empathy but was really a bit of envy.
Rum and Mom, I thought to myself. That’s a hell of a way to start the day. I looked at the picture on the fridge of Kay when she was a baby with my mom, who died just a few months after it was taken. They’re lying on the floor, with Kay on her back, staring up in wonder as a ceiling fan above her goes round and round. She used to love that as a baby, the ceiling fans at my mother’s house. Would watch them turn until she fell asleep and was taken to her crib for a nap. I think of how she must have felt safe and loved and at peace, just watching the world spin.
“I want oatmeal this morning!” She had paused her cartoon and snuck up behind me. She threw open the fridge door and stuck her head in to see what she could grab without even having to ask me.
“Then what do you say?”
She pulled her head out of the fridge and batted her eyes at me, putting on a saccharine-sweet voice. “Daddy, can I please have some oatmeal for breakfast this morning? The brown sugar kind?”
I should have never let her watch Paper Moon with me. Now she thought this contentious/manipulative way of relating to each other was cute and funny, when really it was just exasperating.
I had hoped she would pick up on how the two main characters, portrayed by a real-life father and daughter, had stuck together, even when they drove each other nuts. I didn’t think she’d take from it that she should up her efforts to antagonize me.
“Frank D. Roosevelt ain’t running this thing,” I told her, quoting the movie, unable to resist rising to the bait. “I’m running it. So don’t go making up no rules about what we’re gonna give away.”
“It’s my money, too,” she said, grabbed a yogurt from the fridge, slammed the door, and stalked off back in the direction of Netflix and, from the sound of it, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
“Two hundred dollars belongs to me,” she called back over her shoulder. “And don’t you forget that.”
“Take you to a train station…” I muttered to myself. She never stuck around to hear my parts of the script, my witty zingers. She just wanted to strike and flee. Hit and not get hit.
Again, like her mother.
The coffeemaker beeped and I noticed that the espresso maker’s green light had come on while I’d been arguing with her, signifying it was heated up. I gave the last passing thought of the day to rum and mothers, in all their forms, knowing that I would forget I ever had that dream by lunchtime.
Tom Hoisington is a journalist living in West Salem, OR, with his daughter and cat.