It had been seven years and two months since my mother had walked down the aisle to another man. He looked nothing like dad. Balding and portly, always with a grin on his face. Mom said that was the reason she fell in love with Frankie Lark, he had the biggest and happiest smile she had ever seen. When dad started hitting the bottle, it was Frankie, a childhood friend at the time, who was the only one to believe that Gabe's breath smelled of brandy and he was always either in a drunken stupor or in a rage. After the divorce, Frankie started taking my mom out so she could forget all about Gabe for awhile. Frankie didn't ignore me though. He and I would go watch ball games. He got me birthday presents and Christmas gifts. We would go in his old blue Chevrolet Bel Air to a drive-in movie and Frankie would let me drink an entire liter of soda. Three years passed and Frankie and my mom became a couple. I did not know because I was nine when Frankie popped the question. I will never forget that moment. It was sundown on June 21st at Harris Beach, Frankie got down on one knee, it took my mom a second, but when she figured it out she started screaming, crying, and laughing all at once. He asked she said yes. Then, I did not cross my mind, that this was my new father.
When Frank and mom actually moved in, that was the wake-up bell. Sure, I had loved our time together, but forever? How could my mom do this? Hadn't she loved dad? Didn't dad love her? What about me? Nobody had asked me how I felt about this. Still, Frankie treated me like his own son. Forever after I felt awkward around him. Seeing someone I considered an uncle in the same bedroom as my mom? YUCK! Call me what you want, but I wanted everything like it used to be. Before dad started drinking two bottles of cheap wine in the dark sitting in his own vomit. Before all that, he and my mom got along great. Dad helped me with my homework, he taught me to tie my shoes, he took me to my soccer games. Now I am not saying I loved him. When he was in one of his "moods" he would beat me. I would come to school with bruises. I cried myself to sleep at night. I got sick from the stress of my home life and watching my father sink deeper into his addiction. I just missed the old him.
Today, it was Thanksgiving, and it would be the last because next year I started college. We enjoyed a wonderful meal. Mashed potatoes soaked in gravy, golden turkey, honey glazed carrots, I cannot go on or else my mouth will start to water. Frankie ate very well, he cracked his classic corny dad jokes. My mom and I laughed and laughed. When we were finished, Frankie went to clean the dishes, I pulled mom aside.
She still had a happy smile but it waned when she saw my seriousness. "Mom, it's not that I don't love Frankie, but why him? Why did Dad hit the bottle? I have been wondering these things for years, I would like to know before I go." I almost regretted the words as soon as they were out of my mouth. Her eyes welled up with tears and her voice quavered as she told me. "Your father had severe depression, nothing I could do could ever lighten his mood. He thought that a shot at night would mellow him out. Then it turned to a glass. Then it turned to a bottle. Then two. When I saw him this way when I saw what he did to you. I wanted to commit suicide. I nearly did. Frankie saved me. He convinced me to keep my life. To file a divorce. He reminded me I had you to live for. He was the one who called Child Protective Services. You remember them? Everyone thought dad was fine, I was making up things to get attention. Only Frankie believed me. After that, I was afraid. I was broke because your dad had a bigger income. My job could not pay for rent, groceries, gas, toys, education. Not even child support was enough. I was ashamed. I wanted to do so much more for you. If I worked another job, then I would not get to see you as much. Frankie started to take you out so I could work while I knew you were happy and safe. To take my mind off work, Frankie would take me out on dates. Then we started to fall for each other. And here we are. He loves you, so, so much. If it wasn't for him, I would be dead and you would be stuck with your father. I know you still consider him a family friend. I hope one day you can love him as your daddy. Blood doesn't mean love." I stood there in shock. I started to cry myself. Then my mom came to me and hugged me. Soon, we were a big mess of sniffles and tears. Frankie came running and saw us. He knelt down and hugged all of us. I threw my arms around his neck and whispered hoarsely, "Thank you, dad." My mom choked out something to my stepfather and his eyes widened with understanding. He helped us up and we all sat in a heap under a blanket watching Free Birds, we had pie on our plates and hot cocoa in our cup. My mom dabbed her eyes and I blew my nose. Frankie chortled at the honking sound I had admitted. My mom hiccuped a giggle, and I had to chuckle myself. I am grateful for every day that passes, for each day is a new memory I get to make with the family.