1. Oh, To Be An Octopus

"Are we there yet?" I say with a yawn big enough to take the whole car in, as I remove my earbuds and fumble in my purse for my phone charger.

"I think you know the answer to that," my mom says, her go-to reply.

We've been on the road since eight or nine this morning. I almost took a bus, except my mom was afraid I'd jump it and head out somewhere else. I hate buses with a passion anyway, they make me nauseous and there's always at least one creeper on them. I'm feeling kinda queasy right now, come to think of it. And since I'm going to live at my dad's while my mom goes on her world tour, she figures this is the last time we'll have this closeness for a long while. Closeness, my butt. I'm close to throwing up.

"Do you need to stop somewhere, Tanya?" she says. I must look pretty green.

"I might soon," I say placing my hand on my stomach for emphasis.

"Didn't you take that Dramamine I gave you?"

"Yeah, but I think it wore off. It ain't workin'."

"Isn't, not ain't."

"Jesus," I groan, leaning against the car seat and looking at the car ceiling—if that's what it's called, "I'm layin' on my deathbed and she's worried about my freakin' grammar."

"And stop taking the Lord's name in vain. What are people gonna think?"

"Nobody's in here but us, Mom. And Jesus maybe, and I doubt he'd care, what with all the crap going on in the world. Uhhh...can we pull over now?"

Mom pulls over and I scramble out. But nothing comes up. I think to stick my fingers down my throat, but Mom's watching. She might think I'm just trying to stall off getting to our destination.

I know you've heard of my mom. Rita Harding, country music diva. Yes, that Rita Harding. I'm sure you've seen at least one of her videos even if you're not a country fan. That one where she's kicking back on a fancy hotel bed wearing nothing but a pink bath towel and singing "Talkin' Trash at Midnight", her most recent hit, on the phone—one of those antique ones with a long curly cord. Much sexier than a Smartphone, I'm sure. Yep, I knew you'd seen it. That part during the instrumental break where she goes all dreamy eyed, presumably listening to whoever it is on the other end, laughing...still got her Marilyn Monroe-esque makeup on even though she supposedly just got out of the shower...then when she reaches up one foot to tap teasingly at the light pull?

Ulp—here it comes. Remembering that video did the trick. So once more we're on our way, well out of Nashville and off to the middle of nowhere.

My parents split up about six years ago, when I was eleven. Mom claims Dad cheated on her, and he didn't deny it. So that was the end of that. He's remarried since then, so I have a stepsister, Charlotte, and a half brother, Nolan. And now I'm gonna be living with them for God knows how long.

We stop at a Comfort Inn although it's still daylight. My mom is tired of driving and doesn't trust me to do it. Well, I am a lousy driver. I ran right into somebody's brick mailbox once because I was pissed off about my ex-boyfriend cheating on me with my arch-nemesis, Ashlynn Fiske-Haverty. I'm blessed with a mop of naturally flaming copper-colored hair, and I fit the stereotype.

"Why couldn't we stay somewhere ritzier?" I complain as I wheel my bag into our room. "I mean, it's not like we can't afford it. I expect to get stabbed in the shower in this dump."

"Didn't I explain about keeping a low profile?" my mom says with a sigh as she parks her suitcase with a careless, world-weary air of having done that a squajillion times before, then she takes the platinum-blonde wig off her head and lays her $300 sunglasses on the dresser. "And it's not a dump. Plenty of people would be overjoyed to live in a place like this."

"This bed doesn't even have a Sleep Number mattress," I grumble as I sit down on it. "This thing's like a rock. How am I supposed to sleep? I'd rot in a place like this."

"Take your melatonin pill," she says. "And stop being such a whiny drama queen. There's no call for it."

"You think I'm dramatic?" I say as I bounce my butt a little on the mattress. "Be glad I'm not an octopus. I read on Facebook that octopuses eat themselves up when they get stressed."

"Who needs school when there's Facebook?" she chuckles as she goes to examine the liquor cabinet. Nothing ever fazes her. Nothing. I bite myself on the wrist, and she just laughs.

As I flip through one channel after another, I lift both legs into the air, propping my hips with my hands, and reach for the ceiling fan pull with my toes, but it's out of reach, and I didn't really want to turn it on anyway. Cold enough in here with that damn air conditioner. I just do it to annoy my mom. But she doesn't even notice. She's calling up the office for room service. Well, at least they have that, and I'm hungry now, come to think of it.

I look nothing like Mom, myself. She's naturally honey blonde and her face is heart shaped where mine is rectangular—she calls it square, but seriously, who has a square face? It's rectangular, I tell you. And I burn too easily and get freckles. The only way I'm like Mom is my legs. She likes to flaunt the gams, and there was some article in Star magazine that said mine were longer than hers, and she didn't talk to me all day after somebody showed her that bit. I thought it was pretty funny, in a not so good way. Of course they're longer, Mom, I'm two inches taller than you, duh. Narcissistic much?

Our dinner comes...finally. I think to bitch about the quality of it and the size of the TV screen, which is only 27 inches, but Mom would just say "Ah, those first-world problems" although she does plenty of complaining herself. We watch a rather lame romantic comedy, and Mom falls asleep halfway through it. I reach for my phone, but somehow my hand doesn't quite make it. Instead I look at Mom's face on the pillow until sleep overtakes me too.


So here we are in the hills of ole Kentucky. They're beautiful all right, too bad you can't say the same for some of the houses along the way. Some look like they'd fall down flat if you blew on them, ditto for the vehicles parked in front of them. Some are obviously abandoned. It's depressing and a bit creepy.

"Breathtaking, isn't it," my mom says as we roll along. "Sometimes it takes me back to a simpler time."

"Back to when you had to use the Sears catalog instead of toilet paper?" I say yawning. "Yep, that's pretty simple. No annoying commercials with bears wiping their butts with Charmin. Them was the days."

"No, smarty-pants," she says with a sharp little laugh. "We actually did have toilet paper, believe it or not, along with electricity and indoor plumbing. And TV. We just didn't have all this modern-day computer technology. People actually talked to each other instead of texting. Horrifying, isn't it."

I blow a little raspberry instead of answering. Here we go again with all the "alas for ye good ole days when people communicated with each other and your momma made pies from scratch and supper was on the table when your daddy came home from work and blah blah blah blah blah". Actually, if Mom had to go back to those days now, she wouldn't last five minutes. I don't tell her so, though. I just gaze at all the pretty scenery and occasional roadkill. I hope we can stop soon so I can get fixed up. I mean to make an Entrance. I'm not going to my dad's looking like something the cat drug in, as Grandma probably says. Let's see, there's my leggings, black and white striped. Those ought to make a lasting impression. Shoes, bright shiny red with four-inch heels. I'm five foot seven, but still it won't hurt to look taller. Dad's wife is a pretty tall drink of water, to the best of my remembrance. A flaming red long shirt that goes off one shoulder, showing my skull and roses tattoo. And earrings. I'm an earring junkie. I think I own a thousand pairs, give or take a few, although I didn't bring them all. It might take me an hour to decide which ones to wear, then do my makeup. Yeah, you think I'm full of it, but trust me, I come by it honestly!

Now here we are in the Blue Ridge Mountains. By my mom's GPS we are fifty-five minutes from our destination, so I tell her I need to pee, which I do. We stop at a Kum 'n Go, and I go in the ladies' room to change. I pull my hair up to the top of my head and wrap black and white ribbons around it. I mousse up my bangs so they spring up dramatically all over the place, then I decide on my black opal pavé drop earrings, they're new and simply gorgeous and they go with my nails. Then a buttload of black and silver and copper bangles. It takes me all of twenty minutes to do my makeup. False eyelashes? Might be a little excessive. Poison Ruby lipstick, smoky eyes, and what the hey, the false eyelashes. If you're gonna make an Entrance, might as well go full out, right? Even if it's just in some little backwoods hick town.

A tiny squirt of Midnight Rendevouz cologne and I'm ready to roll, and wonder where my mom is. She said she was just going to get a coffee and a honey bun and sit in the car admiring the view. Admiring the view, my butt. The only view she ever admires is in the mirror, or else has a penis attached to it. But she's not in the car, she's inside the store having herself a regular autograph party. Yep, they recognized her. Even without her makeup and glitzy outfits. All clamoring around like little kids lined up to see Santa Claus. Middle-aged women and some men too, some old folks, a teen or two, and a couple of little kids. Does anybody notice ME when I make my entrance?

Well, my mom does. She squeals like a two-year-old and holds out her hand to me. She's wearing a peach print cotton peasant blouse and mom jeans, so she'll look like a regular woman, but obviously it didn't work. Not that it's fazing her any. She looks adorable, with the golden curls just touching her shoulders, light pink lipstick and only a tiny smidge of eye shadow on the ole baby blues. Next to her I look ridiculous, as I can see from the reflection on the window. I look like pure-dee trailer trash.

"Come meet my lovely daughter!" she gushes, as everyone stares at me like I just walked in without a stitch on. "Doesn't she look amazing? She's going to stay with her daddy while I go on my tour. Tanya, that outfit, seriously? Don't you think you'll feel just a wee bit out of place, baby doll? Especially with those heels?"

She never calls me baby doll except in front of other people. She's originally from Birmingham, Alabama and still has the accent. She won a Shirley Temple look-alike contest when she was six. A year later she sang "The Good Ship Lollipop" in a pageant, and I must have watched the video a hundred times when I was a kid. She sang it better than Shirley, I must admit, although I can't say the same for her dancing. She shook her little bootie just a tad too much. The pervs must have been salivating.

"She's a dead ringer for you!" exclaims a woman in a polka-dotted dress. Get you some glasses, lady. Or take your lips off my mom's behind. Really, that's gross. "Don't you think so, Miss Beulah Mae?" she says to this very old lady standing nearby with a four-footed cane. "Well, 'cept fer she's a redhead. Jist like I used to be when I was a young'un, only not that red. Is your hair natural, hon?"

"She's plum adorable," Miss Beulah Mae says and smiles real big. I manage to smile back because I think she's at least halfway sincere.

"She don't look nuttin' like in the magazines," says a lady in a grey t-shirt that's too small for her, ditto for the bra underneath. "You goin' to a party, hon?"

Another asks if she can take a picture of us two together, and after she takes the picture she asks if she can get a shot of all three of us, and she hands somebody her camera and that somebody has to keep futzing with it to get a decent shot, and then more people get out their cameras. Reminds me of an episode of Black Mirror in which EVERYBODY takes out their phones. It still gives me nightmares. I strike modelish poses till Mom swats me on the butt and says we have to get going. She signs a couple more autographs, and somebody asks for mine too, and I sign "Tanya Lauterbach," giving them this big dumb grin and drawing a smiley face, just because.


Bascombville, 25 miles, according to the sign. I expected it to be called something quaint like Polecat Alley or Toad Suck Holler. Or Mayberry. Now 15...now…. We're here! It's bigger than I remember. Population 8,453, according to the sign. But not even within hollering distance of Nashville, and WHERE THE HELL IS THE MALL? And will I get my own room? I can just see Charlotte getting her sticky fingers on my earrings. And I didn't even bring a weapon.

I've been out this way a couple of times before, back when my parents were still together. My grandparents have this horse farm. Horses, yippee. I'm scared to death of horses, having gotten kicked by one at camp when I was twelve. Took me two and a half months to recover. Uncle Grover lives out here too, with Aunt Dru and their four girls and one boy.

The whole fam-damily, as Uncle Grover calls it, is right there at my dad's to greet me, and here I am in this asinine get-up I was stupid enough to put on, thinking to make an Entrance. I feel like I'm about to go on stage in my underwear. I see Grandpa has polished up his pick-up truck. Did those four girls and boy actually ride in the back? Is that even legal? But I don't see any vehicle other than my dad's and Katie's. Maybe they do thangs diffurnt in these yere hills.

But now I'm afraid to get out of the car. WHAT ever possessed me to put on these ridiculous high heels? It's not like there's going to be concrete all over the place. This terrain, it's rougher than I bargained for. WHY am I so effing stupid?

My mom gives me a look like, What are you waiting for, combined with a smirk. I'm expecting her to start singing that old Billy Joel song, "You hadda be a big shot, didn'tcha" like she sometimes does when I make an ass of myself. So I've no choice but to get out of the car. Well, I could take the heels off first, but I'm nothing if not defiant. So what if I fall and break my face, the world will go on spinning just the same. Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

My dad swoops down on me when I do step out, after one double take. I favor him more than my mom, except his hair is brown with only a tinge of red and a touch of grey too, and his eyes are sort of hazel where mine are sea green. But his nose and mouth and chin are similar, and he looks pretty darn good for a man his age. I see Katie standing by holding Nolan's hand. She's not as tall as I remember, maybe because of these shoes. Last time I saw Nolan, he was about two. He's five now, and tra la la la la, he's redheaded! The only other ginger in sight, that's gotta count for something. And there's Charlotte, Katie's daughter, practically dancing like she has to pee. I think it's my mom she really wants to see. She came up to Nashville once to see her in concert about two, three years ago. She's about sixteen now, shorter than me, long dark hair, fair skin, delicate features, violet eyes—she could be Elizabeth Taylor's granddaughter, I swear. She's a YUGE country music fan. She hardly talked about anything else the whole time she was there.

"Rita, come on out!" my dad hollers. "We're having a cookout in honor of Tanya! You're invited."

"In honor of Tanya"? Oh, Daddy, Daddy. Mom stays planted in the driver's seat. It's been six years, three boyfriends, and one engagement, and she still hasn't forgiven him. Doesn't exactly help matters that Katie was once her friend. Way to go, Katie. Let me know when you're ready to wreck another home, I'll go along with you and film it. Oh but it was True Love, that excuses everything, right?

"Y'all enjoy yourselves then," Mom says. "I gotta be gettin' on back. I'm not even half started to get ready for my tour. Tanya hon, you keep in touch, ok? And be sure and stay out of trouble, and watch your mouth. Come over here and give me a kiss, baby doll."

Not half started to get ready, my butt. She's done nothing but get ready for the past six weeks. Somebody shoot me, I think to myself, as I stumble a little on the grass and reach out to steady myself on the car. This is a nightmare I can't wake up out of. Oh to be an octopus in reality, so I could facepalm eight times at once...and then eat myself up.

But what's this? There's a blond guy sitting in the cab of the truck, behind the wheel. Now he's looking my way, like he heard what I was thinking.


Stop the presses. Cancel the shooting. This beotch is here to STAY!