Even though my mother was the total sum of everything you could ever ask for in a person, my dad was born with a wandering eye and would die with his eyeballs lolling around, still frantically on the lookout for attractive women. At least that was what my mom told me. Shortly after we were kicked out of our Flatbush apartment and found the class-A steaming heap of dung apartment in Bushwick, my dad started dating a woman he’d met through one of his waitering jobs at the Chinese noodle house where he worked the late-night shift on the weekends and sometimes on holidays.
Her name was Lisa and she was from Taiwan. My dad’s girlfriend wasn’t beautiful, not like my mom who had eyes that reflected the moon even in the daytime, not like my mom who had thin arms and wore dresses all the time, even in the winter, and not like my mom who had a long high neck that made her look unapproachable; my dad’s girlfriend was short and she had big breasts but that was all she had going for her. She wore heavy perfume that made her smell like an armpit that happened to have touched a strongly scented flower.
The first time she came over to our apartment, I couldn’t stop sneezing, because her perfume was so strong and I was allergic to artificial scents and bitchy dopeheads who had no business spending time with my dad. My dad introduced her to me as “your auntie Lisa.”
“She’s not my auntie, Dad.” I looked at Lisa. Her big stupid knockers hung down very low and I wanted to kick them back toward her face. “I’ll call her nothing, thank you very much.”
After that, she would come over every now and then, always when my mom wasn’t there, although my mom knew and it wasn’t a secret, it was just one of those arrangements where everyone compromised something so that one person could have a selfish and insincere happiness. Of course, Lisa didn’t give a rat about me or my mom, and probably not my dad, either. She was just a desperately lonely person who needed to be part of someone else’s family unit. She pretended to be nice to me when she came over, sometimes offering me sandwiches, or once she brought over a blender and asked me if I wanted a milkshake, and I told her I was picky about my food, and she asked me what I meant, and I said, “I mean I only like the food my mom makes, and I only hate the food that people I hate make,” and she said, “Oh, suit yourself,” and I said, “Your perfume makes me sneeze, did you know that?” and she said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about that.”
“Yes, you can, you cunt,” I mumbled.
“What was that?” she asked, and after that, there was just silence.
I prayed nightly for her to be attacked and maimed on her way to our apartment in Bushwick, but she always made it there intact, ruining my afternoon when I got home from school and found her already in our house, waiting for my dad to show up, sitting on the couch cushions that we pretended was a regular couch and not just cushions on our floor, flipping through TV shows and pretending to let me decide what I wanted to watch when I came through the door. But the minute I got up to get a snack, she immediately changed the channel, and when I got back, she said, “Oh, I thought you didn’t want to watch that show anymore, so I switched over.”
I told my father that I hated seeing Lisa in the apartment, but what I really meant was that I hated Lisa, period, and he told me to try for him, and I said, “But why shouldn’t Lisa try for me? Why I do have to try for her?” and my father said, “Not for her, for me. And she did try, sour gummy. She bought you that bicycle, didn’t she?”
It was a boy’s bicycle, and it used to belong to her kid, who was all grown up and probably hated her for giving away his bike. I never used it, even though I’d wanted a bicycle so bad for so long, but I wanted things to happen for the right reasons. My mom didn’t complain about my dad’s girlfriend. He always had one, it turned out, I just never knew because I never knew all the things that went on between my mom and my dad, but my mom knew them and she accepted them, and she told me not to sweat things like that because we still had each other, he still came home to us, he still loved us more than anyone else, we were still his number-one girls.
My dad’s girlfriend entered our lives at the worst possible time: I was in fourth grade, and we were dead broke. We lost our deposit on the apartment in East Flatbush due to our landlord being crooked and punishing us unfairly for not paying three months’ rent because my mom’s mom in China had cancer and my mom had spent three months’ salary on flying back to see her mother at the end of her days.