I hold her and step us back to the bed. Once her body stops convulsing, I sit her down and wrap her in a soft blanket, kneeling at the side of the bed.
“You were right.” She starts, raking the back of her hand under her red nose then setting her hands in her lap and continuing. “Love isn’t worth it, honey. When am I going to learn? My daughter knows to stay away from relationships. And look…” She waves a hand around my room. “Your life is in order. You’re doing great. No man. You’ve always known better. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to learn, but I’ve got it now. Lesson learned. Men suck. None of them can be trusted. My life is far worse because I’ve trusted them. No more. From now on, I’m a rock. I’m a graduate of the class of Isolde Richards. Love is not worth the risk.”
“Mom.” I sigh. “My life isn’t perfect you know.”
“Nothing is perfect, Issi. But, how many times did I move us around when you were growing up? Fifteen? Twenty? Every time I thought I’d found ‘the one’ you paid the price as well. We never had a real home. A place where we put down our roots, I always hitched my pathetic wagon to a man.”
“You always made sure I had what I needed. You protected me. Nothing bad ever happened. I never had to change schools.” I add, trying to give her something. “And, we had fun. Right? I mean, you are an amazing mom. You’re not like all the other mom’s, that’s true, but I wouldn’t trade you for any one of them.”
I don’t want her to know but growing up moving so much I never did get attached to a place. Mom was great, but she was always sort of busy with a man or finding a man. I was the only true constant in my own life.
Then, this morning, after Van dropped me off, I walked into this enormous house, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I felt lonely. I felt alone. In just a few hours, something about him made me feel like home was not a place, but maybe a person.
“Promise me something.” She reaches down to grab my hands from the edge of the bed, her fingers squeezing mine and her swollen eyes downcast and hard. “You will never take my route. Stay true to your path, Issi. No men. I mean, no love. No relationships. Don’t ever, ever attach your heart to any man, ever, ever, ever. Promise me? Issi, I’ve not been the best mother, you’ve practically been mine, so right now, this is my epiphany. Your mother’s lifetime of mistakes come to one final conclusion. Live your life, have a fling if you need to now and then, but do not ever fall in love. It’s ruined my life.”
LOOKING DOWN AT MY phone, the clock shows twenty-eight minutes since I texted back after her short reply.
Fuck. My. Father.
Seriously. He’s a fucking stain on my life.
And how is it, I feel responsible?
I don’t know, but I do. I want to be there with Issi and her mother. I want to do whatever is in my power to minimize the collateral damage. I feel this overwhelming need to protect them both, coming from a place so deep down inside me it’s hard to understand.
I’m a responsible guy. I take care of my business, my dog, the people that work for me. But this is different. Issi and her mom feel like they’re my family already, and I want to destroy anything that would harm them.
Including my own father.
The time passing with no reply is maddening. I made it back to my hotel, hopped in the shower and by the time I got out, the chaos had erupted. I ended up hanging up on my father as he tried to explain away his actions and shift the blame onto Gayl.
I was having none of it. I’ve already Googled everything I can about Issi and have her address already mapped into my GPS from when I dropped her off. I’m agonizing about when to go over there because I don’t want to cause more hurt, but I need to be by her side. I need them both to know, I am not my father. Rationally, I get that it doesn’t make much sense for me to care this deeply about two women I met for a few hours last night, but I’ve never worried much about being rational or what is the norm.
Following my gut has saved me—and many others—over the years with my work, and although my personal life has been pathetic by choice, I’m listening to the universe as it tells me these new feelings I’m having are true. They are right. And I need to follow them wherever they are going to lead.