Renny, of course, was accustomed to people talking about her and criticizing her. It had been going on forever; even in high school. All her friends, including her best friends, babbled incessantly behind her back about Renny’s mother and her strange family. There was one girl, Renny had thankfully forgotten her name, who actually used a Thesaurus to find new words for Barbara; words like soaker and tosspot, boozehound. Every morning, when Renny came to class, free from her mother for a few hours, this girl, this hideous person, would smile sweetly and ask, “How’s the sot?” Making conversation. “Is your mother, the rummy, coming to Back-To-School Night?”
Renny’s Rummy Mummy, they used to laugh, affecting the most horrendous British accent. “We can’t go to her house. Her rummy mummy is home.” She wanted them to stop…please stop…but they were right about Barbara. For all the times Renny wanted to slap that girl’s face, she was right; her point proven every afternoon when Renny walked home, taking the long route through the Forever Fields, to find Barbara asleep in the back parlor, or passed out in the side yard in her nightgown. Whoever said the truth hurt had known what they were talking about.
Patrick’s family was no better; he was the man Renny married barely a month after leaving The Landing simply because he asked; and she knew that, being a wife, she would never have to set foot in her mother’s house again. Patrick’s family, however, most of them trailer park denizens, snickered when Renny said her mother would not attend the wedding; their incredulous stares told Renny that they knew where Barbara lived. Down the coast, a short bus ride from Eureka; Beal’s Landing, wasn’t it? No more than an hours drive, they said, looking at her…that way.
Pam, Patrick’s sister, a dye job in stiletto heels and stretch pants, was the worst of all. Searching Renny’s things, she came across Barbara’s number and personally called to deliver the news of the upcoming marriage. After hanging up with, what she called ‘that crazy drunk by the sea,’ she held court on her front stoop, regaling the neighborhood with the story of Barbara’s refusal to attend a ‘whore’s nuptials.’ ‘That’s what she called her own daughter!’ Pam laughed wickedly, ‘A whore!’ Renny however, laughed last, running out on Patrick about six months later, and taking most of his savings account with her. Alimony, she called it.
After another bus ride north, in Seattle, she married Derek. There were no whispers about Renny’s family because, by this time, she had reinvented herself. She was an only child whose parents had died a few years earlier. ‘It was awful,’ Renny would sadly say. ‘I was at home, alone, on my eighteenth birthday when a stranger called. A stranger! Then there was this anonymous voice on the other end of the phone muttering some nonsense about a car going into the sea…about no survivors.’ People nodded and offered sympathy as she told that story, and no one, no one, talked about Renny’s family again.
They did talk about her airs, though, and her attitude, her habit of spending Derek’s paychecks before they cleared the bank; they mocked her urgent need for a plastic surgeon to remove a tiny bump from her nose. It was scarcely noticeable, they said, though not to her face. It was better to talk about Renny when her back was turned, in whispers, or to stay quiet when she entered a room, lowering their eyes until she passed from sight; she hated that more than anything else.
Feeble smiles greeting her because no one knew what to say; weak nods and frozen smiles, thawing only when she left the room. Renny detested the way people acted around her, but it was too late to change; even if she knew how. She had created this new persona, this monster, convincing herself that appearance and manners would keep people at bay; it would keep questions to a minimum; secrets were revealed when people got close. It was better to build walls, cover herself in falsehoods, and hide from everyone.
Even David. So many times, after meeting him outside the plastic surgeon’s office in San Diego, Renny had wanted to tell him about Harry and Jimmy. Once they were married, she would lie awake at night and wonder how to say it, consider how he would react to the news that she had brothers and wanted to find them. Yet, by the time, Renny wandered back to California and married David—leaving Derek another bitter mistake—she was an accomplished storyteller. She had gotten rid of too many people and so many memories; there was no longer a mother and father; no brothers. No quickie marriage to Patrick; no Mexican divorce. No sister-in-law. No Seattle. No Derek. Each one of them was a stone in the wall Renny erected around herself.