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The Family Reunion, Mr. Moon Goes to Avoyelles Parish and My Sister’s an Asshole

April 22, 2015

It was supposed to be Rene’s day. She had beat breast cancer and she wanted us all together. All five of us. She planned a Saturday at home after her last radiation treatment. The sibling reunion quickly expanded to kids and grandkids and cousins as drama-filled phone calls bounced between Texas and Louisiana. One sack of crawfish became three. Sleep arrangements were negotiated.

We all anticipated a weird weekend, as our gatherings are wont to be. It was going to be an odd combination of people.

I drove in with my son Shawn, my little brother Paul and Mr. Moon. On a whim, I had invited him to witness this “true cajun experience,” a move I questioned every day leading up to Saturday. I warned him about my family, especially Vivian. He was game, he claimed.  He could take it. “I can’t wait to be ignored by an American family,” he said. “You being ignored is not what I’m worried about,” I said. I could just imagine the possible responses to “I’m Persian.” I was just hoping to get through the day without the word “terrorist,” being used.

The night before Mr. Moon came over to my apartment before Paul arrived and the three of us polished off a couple of bottles of wine. I wanted Paul to get to know him a bit before the drive over. We made cookies. When Paul was outside smoking, Mr. Moon walked up to me with a cookie in his mouth and I……..wait, wait, no…..that’s a different story.

He slept on the couch and we picked up Christopher in the morning and headed to our home in rural Avoyelles Parish. As we got closer, Paul and I got increasingly nervous. There were too many wild cards. Rene was the best she’d ever been. Grounded, stable, happy. She had left her asshole husband, she had a great relationship with her daughter and grandchildren, she had a hot boyfriend and a career and she had faced breast cancer with a level head and determination. But she was still Rene. Brash, dramatic, a bit crude at times. She spoke with a inexplicable Texas accent, delivered with smoke-damaged, throaty urgency.

Then there was Vivian. A couple of years out of a 19-month prison term for illegally prescribing herself pain pills, Vivian was living at home and still an unpredictable mess. But with so many auxiliary cousins and relatives showing up, she would be motivated to put on a good show, to pretend that she had it all together, so I thought. I was still nervous. I couldn’t believe I was bringing Mr. Moon into my family chaos. I joked with Liz that maybe his exposure to my crazy family would put a kibosh on our friendship and that would be that. There’s nothing like self-sabatoge when you don’t have to balls to walk away. Not that self-sabatoge has ever worked either.

We arrived and the introductions began. Rene gave Mr. Moon a tour. He liked the house and the property. My niece’s son immediately attached himself to me and I was carrying him on my back and tickling him and showing him where the frogs hide. We went to pick up the crawfish and Mr. Moon got to experience Bernard’s in Cottonport and all it’s splendor. I tried to help little Ellen climb a tree and ended up with poison ivy on my legs.

We were heating up the water when Vivian finally walked out of the glass door and onto the carport where the extended family were gathered. She was using a crutch. She looked like shit. Like death, warmed over. Vivian is seven years my senior and she looks like she could be my mother. A life of alcohol and drugs has taken a toll her face and body. But that wasn’t the only reason she looked like hell.

Mr. Moon hadn’t eaten that day and I knew he wouldn’t eat much crawfish so we went into the kitchen to make a pre-crawfish salad. Vivian came back inside and sat on a stool at the bar.

“Are you still working at the same place,” she asked me.

“Which place is that?” I responded.

“Well, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know anything,” she blurted sharply.

Oh boy, I thought, Here we go. I told her where I’m working.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“Yes, I do,” I responded as I tore up pieces of romaine.

Mr. Moon went back outside to help with the crawfish prep.

“So, how long have you been dating him?” Vivian asked.

“We’re not dating. We’re just friends.” I said.

“I wouldn’t have guessed that from the way you behave around each other.”

I had no idea what she was talking about. “Well, we’re just friends,” I said.

My niece entered the room.

“Hey Monica, have you seen my truck that I bought?” Vivian asked her.

“No, where is it?” Monica asked.

“Oh, well, I went out last night,” Vivian began. She put her chin down and lowered her eyes in the practiced, puppy dog, little girl face I’ve seen a million times. “And I had too much to drink so, I did the right thing,” she said softly, “and had someone drive me home.”

Yeah, the right thing, I thought. Don’t want to end up jail again, do we?

I served the salad in two bowls and brought one to Mr. Moon.

Rene came out on the carport wearing a pink shirt that had, “Da Queen,” on it in pressed on letters. She passed out shirts to the rest of us with much fanfare, and was met with laughs by the family. Vivian’s said, “Thought She was Da Queen.” My older brother’s said, “Da Perfect One.” Mine said, “Da Rebel.” I immediately took mine inside and cut it up with scissors with fringes at the bottom.

When the first batch of crawfish was poured onto the long table we attacked it like animals. Standing next to me, peeling furiously, my cousin looked over at my shirt, “What does yours say? Da Rebel, huh?”

“Yeah, I don’t why I’m the rebel, I don’t think I’m very rebellious.”

Vivian, sitting nearby with her crutch and drink, made a condescneding grunt and said to our cousin, hiding her face from me, “Well, I mean, you know everyone has their perception.”

I had no idea what she was trying to communicate. Was she pissed at the label our sister gave me?

“I don’t know,” our cousin said, “I think she is kind of rebellious. She’s different.”

“Humph,” Vivian puffed.

We boiled and ate more crawfish. My son entertained everyone with imitations of the family laugh, causing us to break out in said laugh, uncontrollably. We took pictures. Mr. Moon explored the property. He laughed and observed. My dad ventured out of his recliner and sat outside with his pink shirt that read, “Da Old Fart.”

As Vivian made herself one Bloody Mary after another, she got louder and more obnoxious. She was mean and rude to everyone in between intoxicated, boisterous laughs and unmistakable pleas for attention. I was embarrassed.

Finally, we finished off the third sack, a feat Mr. Moon had not thought possible. We cleaned up and washed dishes. Paul, who had been sporting a furrowed brow most of the day was ready to drive home. We said our goodbyes. Vivian pulled her usual routine of becoming overcome with sentiment and affection as we hugged goodbye despite the caustic, acusational demeanor she met me with most of the day. I stopped buying into that bit years ago.

We drove home quietly, dropping off my son and Mr. Moon. Michael left the next day just as Mr. Moon was walking over. We had said things to each other Friday night……he wanted to talk…..but that’s another story.

My oldest brother texted me asking me to call him. I had a few minutes until Mr. Moon arrived so I called him back.

“What’s up?”

“Um…I talked to Rene. It turns out Vivian got a DUI Friday night and Rene had to bail her out at 3 in the morning. That’s why her truck wasn’t there.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I shouted.

“I can’t ba-lee…..wait…..yes I can. Why am I surprised?”

“I had too much to drink so I did the right thing,” she had said. What a fucking bitch.

My brother and I exchanged expressions of disgust, disappointment and exasperation. Mr. Moon walked in and I got off the phone.

“Any news from the family?” he asked.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to talk about it.” I said.

“What did they say about me?” he asked.

“Everyone said you were very nice and wanted to know if you had a good time.”

“I did,” he said.

It could have been so much worse, I thought.

I talked to Rene for a long time the next day. She had kept the incident to herself all day and told Vivian to put on a happy face and pretend nothing was wrong. She wasn’t going to ruin Rene’s day.

Vivian, a convicted felon, drug addict with at least two previous such charges under her belt had gotten into her truck and run into another car, smashing her radiator and hurting her foot, again. The original injury was from a yet-unexplained single car accident she had months ago. The story then had been something about swerving to miss a dog. She had totaled a car given to her by a now-ex-boyfriend. This time she told Rene, “my foot slipped and I stepped on the accelerator.”

She is still a mess. It seems like she’s been like this she was 17. And the years of drug use, alcohol abuse, pretending and lying and facing the world like she’s at once invincible while ever the victim have fried her brain. At 53, she’s the worst she’s ever been with no apparent rock bottom to hit.

The four of us mutually predict that the next call we get will be to inform us of either her death, her incarceration or God-forbid the news that someone else is hurt by her negligence.

When the call came in at 3 in the morning, my father woke up and asked, “Where is she?”

“In jail,” Rene had said.

“Leave her there,” he had advised.

As I walked in the park getting the whole story from Rene, I got a text from Vivian.

“It was great to see you. You look as beautiful as ever.”

What a fucking liar, I thought. I was going to ignore the message but I decided not to.

“Thank you for saying that. I know what happened Friday night. I’m not interested in pretending that everything is ok. I don’t want to talk about it because there’s nothing to say.”

No reply.

There was a time when I couldn’t imagine not being close to Vivian. She had swooped in like a magical guardian angel when Mom was sick. I don’t know how we would have coped without her. She was amazing.

I can remember Mom telling me how she loved to watch Vivian arrange tulips in a vase in her hospital room, talking non-stop in between back rubs and interrogations of the nurses and doctors. Vivian has always been a force of nature, taking up all the oxygen in the room. At her best, she was charming, fun, vivacious and irresistible.

Now she is just a walking lie, empty, self-destructive, mean and lost.







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One Comment
  1. Wow. Never a dull moment with Vivian. I think she even believes her lies.

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