All of us were taking four AP classes -- not necessarily the same ones -- which, from experience, we knew required massive amounts of work. Knowing it didn't quite prepare us for the assignments we were actually given, and on the first day of school at that! Fortunately, if one of us was weak in a subject, another of us was good in it so it only made sense we study together. After school, five of us --Adam was getting dressed for football practice, John had decided against playing this year -- met in the parking lot briefly to make sure we were on the same page about meeting later to study.
Susan would start tutoring at an elementary school down the street from the furniture store in a couple days and had already said -- that's not suggested or offered, Susan stated -- she would be taking Justin to work and picking him up. She had been given a fully restored 1957 Thunderbird D convertible -- a rare car and certainly a classy one -- for her Sweet Sixteen and she would not hear of Justin walking to work. She'd drop him off on her way and pick him up after work. Today, of course, she had come to school with John and said she'd just wait around until band practice was over.
"Nothing doing," I said after she stated her intentions. "Justin, take my car. Take Susan home, then go to work. I'll hitch a ride with John.
That settled, John and I tossed our books in our cars, got our instruments and headed for band practice. Bobbie walked with us as we headed to the athletic fields at the back of the school. Adam, dressed in his uniform -- his jock suit Bobbie called it -- waved at us as he and the team burst out of the gym then he made a sharp and quick detour to give Bobbie a fast kiss, then loped off to the football field with the team.
As Bobbie watched Adam running onto the field, she asked, "Have you ever seen a nicer butt than Adam's?"
"Sure, much nicer. You ever looked at Marc's?" Justin said as he ran up and patted me on the butt. "And I need the car key, Great Butt."
I feared heat stroke as my face burned with a blush which no-one missed or ignored as I handed Justin my keys. He patted my butt once more and ran to the parking lot, laughing. "I really think I am getting some mixed messages these days," I thought. "Or maybe I'm just making something out of the messages I'm getting."
Trumpets in a marching band are generally just trumpets in a marching band, but John and I did get some opportunities to shine -- just the two of us -- elsewhere because, to be honest, we were both good. One reason was we had taken band in middle school and stuck with it, unlike most students who start band then. Also, we had a definite advantage in that we had been taking piano since we started school while most students who started band in middle school, and more especially those who started band as freshmen in high school, had little or no musical training prior to joining the band.
In fact, John and I were good enough to get an occasional gig --separately or together -- playing in churches. There's a lot of music written for trumpet and organ and, when the trumpet or trumpets come practically free, some of it gets played. The one time we didn't play for little or nothing was for weddings. I am always shocked at how someone who would spend enough on a wedding to buy half a house, expects the musicians and officiants to be satisfied with a pittance. We weren't.
We settled into school and our after-school activities quickly, and although the original plan was to rotate places where we got together to study, that lasted less than a week. Adam had several younger -- much younger -- siblings who simply had to be where we were, Justin's place was really pretty small, etc. When we were all at my place Monday, I suggested we just make it the meeting place. The suggestion was, shall we say, welcomed with enthusiasm.
Toward the end of the first month of school, Adam said he had taken on some things at school after football practice and would be driving his own car. Bobbie, of course, would come with him. He was very vague about what the "things he had taken on" were, and the two showed up after the rest of us had finished with an afternoon snack and gossip and were ready to get to work.
When I said something to John about wondering what they had to do right after practice, he looked at me like I was a complete idiot. It finally sunk in when I overheard Susan talking to Mrs. Reed on the phone telling her Bobbie was working late on some school project. Later I heard her tell Bobbie she was going to have to make her own explanations. "First and last time I lie for you, Bobbie," Susan said in a voice which clearly said, "Don't put me on the spot again, ever!" Adam's parents plus Bobbie's mother thinking they were at my place equals Bobbie and Adam getting it on. Duh! and double duh!!
I mentioned our having snacks and gossip. The gossip we picked up during breaks, lunch and at practice. Snacks were provided by Clarisa. When we made my place the permanent study hall, I said I didn't think Clarisa should have the extra work. "Once or twice a week might be ok, but we're here every day."
She said it was no problem. "Six teenagers or just you or you and a buddy makes little difference to me. Fixing a big pile or a little one, the work's about the same." Had our snacks been chips and pepsis, it would have been easy enough except Clarisa would have had a conniption fit. We had healthy snacks, period.
Later in the week, when I went down for supper at 9:00, Clarisa was still in the kitchen, waiting to get my supper ready. I told her that wasn't necessary as I could get my own supper. "I don't mind," she said, "but you know, this eating late is not going to work. You have a snack, sure, but you all either keep on eating snacks -- and I've seen several of your Clan hauling in junk -- and you don't eat a decent supper, or you are so hungry you can't concentrate. I also know nothing's going to change unless we can do something about supper and I'm working on it."
"Clarisa, I hope you haven't gotten it into your head to prepare supper for us five days a week."
"Baby, when I get that in my head, you can know my head got screwed on backwards. No way."
From the beginning we had decreed no Friday night study hall since Friday nights were football nights and we were all tied up for the home games. Susan didn't like football and didn't go to away games. On away-games nights, Justin worked late since the stores were open until 9:00 Friday nights. When we had a home game, Clarisa took the opportunity to have Justin and me to herself for supper and then Justin escorted her to the game. Clarisa watching a football game was a sight to behold, especially when Adam was on the field. He might not be her favorite member of the Clan, but you'd never know it from her carrying on at a game.
Friday after our talk about supper, the game was at home and the three of us were having an early supper when Clarisa said, "I've got supper under control."
As soon as Justin swallowed, he grinned and said, "I think I can see it and I sure can taste it!"
"I'm talking about through-the-week suppers, Smartmouth," Clarisa said as she gave Justin a bop on the arm. "It makes sense to me you all come here to study -- it's quiet, roomy and all -- so I've talked to the Wilson's LaTasha and the Thurmond's Consuela. They have to keep supper waiting for Susan and John and that means they are late getting home. They suggested two nights a week you take a supper break, pile in John's vehicle and go to one of their places for supper. Mrs. Sanford and Ms. Reed both work, plus Mrs. Sanford has that house full of little kids, so they will prepare ahead meals for one night a week and send them over for me to heat and serve. I'll do the other night and snacks and be backup. Friday nights, it will be just the three of us or you'll be on your own for away games. And after the 'family' Sunday dinner, I suspect a snack will be all your stomach can handle, poor baby," Clarisa said as she patted my arm.
Clarisa had obviously noticed how my stomach can really get upset from tension these days and there was plenty of tension around, all of it the result of family mess. Just how bad it really was I didn't know, not because I was asleep at the switch, but because it had been bad so long I hadn't noticed the continuing decline.
So, food was settled. Oh, you want to know about eating with Mother? She took supper at the club, if she ate supper, and was never up until well after I left for school. I saw her for "family" Sunday dinner which, unless Father was in town, was just the two of us. Clarisa always prepared a great Sunday dinner, but if it was just Mother and myself, she seldom knew how good it was since she usually drank her dinner.
Football season came and went with the Trojans near the bottom again, but with a top-notch band. Adam had more or less warmed the bench during basketball season last year, and decided trying to keep up with his school work and warming the bench wasn't worth it. It had taken major effort on all our part to help him keep up during football, so we were all glad when he decided against going out for basketball.
I don't know when the decision was made, maybe from the beginning of the band, but the band played only home basketball games. Cheerleading was different as home or away there were cheerleaders, so Bobbie and Adam were not around Friday nights. While the four remaining members of the Clan didn't go to away basketball games, we still observed the no-study Fridays. Occasionally we found something to do together and Susan, John, Justin, and I became even closer friends. Sometimes I think Adam might have been jealous of our 'friends only' status since Bobbie could be pretty clingy.
One early November Saturday, Clarisa was in a mood when I came down for a late breakfast -- I seldom slept in but, when I did, I usually slept until noon. While Clarisa is a warm, loving, forgiving, wonderful person and mama to me and almost never gets mad, that doesn't mean she can't get on a tear, and when she does, God hides. That morning, when she slammed a frying pan on the stove and asked in a 'don't fuck with me, kid' voice, "Bacon, eggs and toast?" before she said good morning, I knew it was on big time. I was also pretty sure it was not over something I had done or left undone.
"If you please, Miss Clarisa, Ma'am," I said in a high, tiny baby voice. My voice had been a major embarrassment when it started changing. I had a pretty high voice as a kid and when it started changing, it kept going all over the place. It finally settled down in what Clarisa calls a 'man's sweet voice', low and mellow. I knew that baby voice would get Clarisa. When I was the cause of one of her snits, she let me know it in no uncertain terms and I for ran for safety but, when I wasn't, she felt terrible when I caught the flack.
"Sorry, baby, I got problems. Can't talk about it."
"Father home from Raleigh?" I asked. He hadn't been in several weeks.
"He got in late last night," Clarisa answered as she handed me a plate of food.
After I had eaten, I went upstairs and showered and shaved --shaving, I guess, was optional for me. I had a pretty heavy beard, but it was so blond that I could go without shaving and it not be noticed. Anyway, after I had showered and shaved, I grabbed a college brochure and application and headed downstairs to talk to my parents about the local liberal arts college. I had applied to several others -- all chosen by Father -- but I was interested the local college which was still accepting applications. As I approached the library, I heard the parents going at it.
"Maybe if you would stay at home or get us an apartment in Raleigh, I wouldn't drink so much," Mother whined. "You're never home and when I suggest coming to Raleigh, you always have an excuse as to why I can't. Who you fucking in Raleigh, Senator Porcher? I don't think you have changed enough to go two days without pussy, much less two weeks. You're fucking some whore."
I could tell from her voice -- and her language -- she had been drinking. So what else was new? Since she was still standing, she wasn't as drunk as she would be before the day was over. I also knew her accusing Father of screwing around was a charge she often leveled against him. When I had heard her accuse him before, he'd -- I suspect to keep peace with the Carters more than to appease Mother -- get all lovey-dovey. I had long decided his reaction to the charge was enough to prove he was fucking around and she was on target. Besides, I'd heard rumors.
"Ann, I've put up with a lot of shit from you for years. You want to know the truth? Until your old man died, I couldn't afford to rock the boat. Well, he's dead and gone. Yes, I do have a woman in Raleigh. We've lived together almost from the day I went to the capitol. And yes, I make love to her. You know a couple reasons why? She doesn't smell like a distillery and she's not half-passed-out drunk all the time. You have a choice to make. You can live with it or get a divorce. I don't care which. By this time, everyone who counts knows you are a lush who was addle-pated even before the DTs set in. So, you want at divorce? You can have it. You want to play happy wife to the senator? Maybe, if you can stay sober when needed."
I had walked to the library door in time to see Mother refilling a tumbler with bourbon -- no ice and no water -- and start downing it like iced tea. Father had his back to me and Mother turned and was focused, as focused as a drunk can be, on Father.
"Marcus, you know I don't want a divorce. Think about little Marcus...."
"Ann, have you even looked at Marcus in the past two years? He definitely is no longer little Marcus. Furthermore, I suspect he has been taking care of himself -- well, with Clarisa's care -- almost since the day he was born. He'll do very well regardless of whether or not we are married. He might even do better with neither of us around. The time has come for a decision: you can either get a divorce or live here as before and provide the happy family when I can need it. In either case, I will be here even less frequently in the future. But it's up to you because, frankly, Scarlet, I don't give a damn."
"That's her name then! You're fucking somebody named Scarlet," Mother shouted and threw her glass in his general direction. As the glass crashed to the floor, she almost fell.
"Oh shit, Ann, just go on to your room," Father said in a very disgusted voice. "I'll have the papers to you next week. And you can forget about Thanksgiving."
Mother burst into tears and staggered over to Father, grabbed his lapels and hung on for a few minutes before she staggered out of the room and down the hall. She was so out of it, I don't think she even saw me as she walked by. "Good riddance," Father said as she walked out, "I should have divorced that frigid bitch years ago." He then turned to walk out of the room and saw me.
"How much of that little drama did you hear?" he asked in a kind of "caught with pants down" voice.
"Enough. So you're leaving?"
"Yes, Son, I am." 'Son,' meant Father was into his man-to-man mode, which usually meant he was bullshitting me. "Of course, I'll see you're taken care of."
I was disgusted with both parents and wasn't really up to listening to bullshit. "You can cut the bullshit, Father. I know there is a trust fund from Grandfather Carter which will take very good care of me, even if there wasn't the trust fund and the college fund you established for me. I know the house is not really yours or mother's when you get right down to it, as you can't sell it. Furthermore, it is mine when you both die or -- and, yeah, I know this as well -- if you split. There is no way under the sun Mother will let you escape without a generous alimony and you can be sure, she will insist Clarisa is taken care of so long as she lives, so no bullshit about taking care of me.
"Your career is safe now without Mother or me so we are now more a bother than help to your political career. Mother? I can't blame anyone who doesn't want a drunk around all the time and I guess a man needs an outlet, so maybe a babe in Raleigh is ok. Of course, I think you are at least part of the reason Mother started hitting the booze morning, noon and night, but so am I. She has made it very clear that pregnancy was not her idea and she didn't have a mommy button turned on when I was born. So far as she is concerned, I was a pain getting here and have been a pain ever since. So, for both of us, there's enough blame to go around.
"I came down to talk about a college application, but I guess now that I will be a part of your small-town east Carolina past, I can handle that as I please instead of going where it will look good your next campaign. Yeah, and the other reason was to find out why Clarisa is in the kitchen in a 'don't fuck with me' mood."
"Your Mother told her she would have to be here Thanksgiving to prepare and serve for a dinner party of thirty. Clarisa, I understand, had told her in early October she was going to be at St. Paul's, helping cook Thanksgiving for a long list of shut-ins and people who wouldn't have Thanksgiving otherwise. This morning, your mother had already started on the booze when she told Clarisa about the dinner party. When Clarisa reminded her she would be at St. Paul's, your mother told her she would do as she was told or there'd be a nigger out of work."
"I'm surprised she didn't get a frying pan upside the head," I grinned. "I hope you get it squared away before you leave."
"I will. That's what started the drama you saw. To be honest, I don't think a hurricane could remove Clarisa from this house so long as you draw breath. She's devoted to you."
"Truth? She's the only parent I have ever had and I think I was damn lucky to have her, otherwise I would have become another one of the little country club shits."
"Believe it or not, I have kept up with you -- your school work, your music, even your serving at St. Paul's. Marcus, I'm proud of you and really wish I could claim some of the credit, but you're right. Clarisa gets the credit -- well, and you do. I'll be filing separation papers next week and get a divorce as soon as possible. You need anything, you know where to find me in Raleigh. I probably won't be coming back very often."
"Yeah," was all I said as I turned and walked away.
I headed straight to the kitchen where I grabbed Clarisa in a bear hug and said, "I love you, Mama."
Clarisa stroked my hair as she often had done when I was a kid, and said, "I love you too, baby."
Father left for Raleigh late that afternoon and Mother got the divorce papers from his lawyer the next week. I was thunderstruck when I came home the day after the papers arrived and found a note from Mother. She was signing herself into a rehab center. She would be there until mid-December. So much for a Thanksgiving dinner party.
Or maybe not. Clarisa recruited the Clan to help out at St. Paul's. Bobbie, Susan, and Justin worked helping cook and serve meals to people who showed up in the parish hall. Adam, John and I delivered meals to shut-ins and families without transportation. We all grabbed a plate when we could and ate Thanksgiving on the run but, frankly, I enjoyed it more than any Thanksgiving I could remember.