Title: My Problem
Finish these sentences: “I have a little bit of a problem. I like to __________. It all started when I was __________, when __________.”
I have a little bit of a problem. I like to follow people. Stalk them, to be specific. It all started when I was 10 years old, when my mother and I would follow my father around to see if he was cheating on her. Back then, even at 10, I was aware that something wasn’t right with my father. He stopped coming to my concerts and to Parent Night at school. He also started going away a lot, either on business trips or visiting out of town friends; disappearing into the basement when he would get a call and whispering into the phone. My mother saw those things, as well.
I remember walking into her bedroom one breezy, warm afternoon. The windows were open because our air conditioner was broken, and we couldn’t afford one just yet. We could never afford things back then. My father never seemed to have enough money when it came to us or the house, and he was the only one working. She was sitting on the bed, crying, gripping the cordless phone in her hands. I immediately began to cry, as well, as I could never stand to see my mother in pain or distress, and usually joined her in however she was manifesting her feelings. A kind of adolescent solidarity, I suppose. I sat next to her.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?” I asked, out of breath from sobbing along with her.
“Nothing, my love. But no more soccer after school. We need to take care of something with your father.”
After that day, my mother would pick me up from school and drive to my father’s office. We would park far away to ensure that he didn’t see her car, but close enough to keep an eye on the building. She would buy bags of snacks and books to keep me entertained while she kept a fixed stare on the building. She never ate. She barely replied when I would remark about something exciting in the latest book I was reading. She simply stared at the building. Eventually, I stopped eating and reading, as well. I climbed into the passenger seat and stared at the building right along with her.
The first few times, when my father finished work and got into the car, we would follow him to bars, or jazz clubs in the city. We never saw a woman. He would stay inside for hours then drive home. My mother would stay behind a few cars, again ensuring that she kept a good distance but enough to see him. Once we were sure he was heading home, we would drive to the grocery store or to the bookstore and then come home later. “So that we’re not lying when we tell him where we were,” Mom liked to say. It was like this for about a month, and then things changed.
We didn’t see a woman leaving with my father from a bar, or a club. Rather, she walked out of the office with him one afternoon. She had long, blonde hair, and the kind of tight dress that looked like breathing would tear it in half. My father had his arm around her, and he walked her to her car. When they reached her car, my father kissed this strange woman in a way that didn’t give me the butterfly feeling, the tickling in my belly when I would see two people kissing in Disney movies. This was wrong, and it made my stomach hurt. I recall hearing my mother gasp.
After that afternoon, we followed my father to all kinds of places after work. The blonde woman was always with him. They went to hotels, motels, the woman’s apartment building. My mother seemed to hold her breath during those long hours in the car when my father was inside with the woman. She rarely moved. I knew not to complain about the heat in the car, or that I was dizzy, or to ask whether we could turn the car on for some AC. I knew to keep quiet.
My parents divorced when I was 11 years old. Mom and I moved from Savannah to Syracuse, where my grandparents lived. Mom never re-married, and she never mentioned my father again.
It started with a boy I liked in high school. Billy McGee. He was the smartest boy in our class; in Honors everything, it seemed. By the time I was 16 and inherited my Grandpa’s Cadillac, I began to follow Billy from school after tennis practice. I can’t really describe the decision to follow him around. Maybe I wanted to see what his life outside of school was like. Maybe I wanted to just see him, or just be in the proximity. I don’t know. After Billy, it was Mike Cousins, my next crush. After Mike, it was Candy Russo, who started dating Billy when we were seniors. I wanted to catch her doing something illegal, to prove to myself that she didn’t deserve Billy, even though I had moved on from him.
When I graduated high school, my father sent me a card and $1,000. I gave the money to my grandparents.
In college at Syracuse University, there were so many I followed—friends, crushes, professors.
These days, there’s a man I’m seeing. I actually think I’m in love with him. And I want to trust him, to not believe that he won’t hurt me or take up with another woman. I don’t want to follow him around. But how else can I be sure?