The name of the song is “This Lullaby.” At this point, I’ve probably heard it, oh, about a million times. Approximately.
All my life I’ve been told about how my father wrote it the day I was born. He was on the road somewhere in Texas, already split from my mom. The story goes that he got word of my birth, sat down with his guitar, and just came up with it, right there in a room at a Motel 6. An hour of his time, just a few chords, two verses and a chorus. He’d been writing music all his life, but in the end it would be the only song he was known for. Even in death, my father was a one-hit wonder. Or two, I guess, if you count me.
Now, the song was playing overhead as I sat in a plastic chair at the car dealership, in the first week of June. It was warm, everything was blooming, and summer was practically here. Which meant, of course, that it was time for my mother to get married again.
This was her fourth time, fifth if you include my father. I chose not to. But they were, in her eyes, married-if being united in the middle of the desert by someone they’d met at a rest stop only moments before counts as married. It does to my mother. But then, she takes on husbands the way other people change their hair color: out of boredom, listlessness, or just feeling that this next one will fix everything, once and for all. Back when I was younger, when I asked about my dad and how they’d met, when I was actually still curious, she’d just sigh, waving her hand, and say, “Oh, Remy, it was the seventies. You know.”
My mother always thinks I know everything. But she’s wrong. All I knew about the seventies was what I’d learned in school and from the History Channel: Vietnam, President Carter, disco. And all I knew about my father, really, was “This Lullaby.” Through my life I’d heard it in the backgrounds of commercials and movies, at weddings, dedicated long-distance on radio countdowns. My father may be gone, but the song-schmaltzy, stupid, insipid-goes on. Eventually it will even outlive me.
It was in the middle of the second chorus that Don Davis of Don Davis Motors stuck his head out of his office and saw me. “Remy, honey, sorry you had to wait. Come on in.”
I got up and followed him. In eight days, Don would become my stepfather, joining a not-so-exclusive group. He was the first car salesman, the second Gemini, the only one with money of his own. He and my mother met right there in his office, when we came in to buy her a new Camry. I’d come along because I know my mother: she’d pay the list price right off the bat, assuming it was set, like she was buying oranges or toilet paper at the grocery store, and of course they’d let her, because my mother is somewhat well known and everyone thinks she is rich.
Our first salesman looked right out of college and almost collapsed when my mother waltzed up to a fully loaded new-year model, then poked her head inside to get a whiff of that new-car smell. She took a deep gulp, smiled, and announced, “I’ll take it!” with characteristic flourish.
“Mom,” I said, trying not to grit my teeth. But she knew better. The entire ride over I’d been prepping her, with specific instructions on what to say, how to act, everything we needed to do to get a good deal. She kept telling me she was listening, even as she kept fiddling with the air-conditioning vents and playing with my automatic windows. I swear that was what had really led to this new-car fever: the fact that I had just gotten one.
So after she’d blown it, it was up to me to take over. I started asking the salesman direct questions, which made him nervous. He kept glancing past me, at her, as if I was some kind of trained attack dog she could easily put into a sit. I’m used to this. But just as he really started to squirm we were interrupted by Don Davis himself, who made quick work of sweeping us into his office and falling hard for my mother in a matter of about fifteen minutes. They sat there making googly eyes at each other while I haggled him down three thousand bucks and got him to throw in a maintenance plan, a sealant coat, and a changer for the CD player. It had to be the best bargain in Toyota history, not that anyone noticed. It is just expected that I will handle it, whatever it is, because I am my mother’s business manager, therapist, handyman, and now, wedding coordinator. Lucky, lucky, me.
“So, Remy,” Don said as we sat down, him in the big swiveling leather throne behind the desk, me in the just-uncomfortable-enough-to-hurry-the-sale chair opposite. Everything at the dealership was manufactured to brainwash customers. Like memos to salesmen encouraging great deals just casually “strewn” where you could read them, and the way the offices were set up so you could easily “overhear” your salesman pleading for a good deal with his manager. Plus the fact that the window I was now facing opened up to the part of the lot where people picked up their brand-new cars. Every few minutes, one of the salesmen would walk someone right to the center of the window, hand them their shiny new keys, and then smile benevolently as they drove off into the sunset, just like in the commercials. What a bunch of shit.
Now, Don shifted in his seat, adjusting his tie. He was a portly guy, with an ample stomach and a bit of a bald spot: the word doughy came to mind. But he adored my mother, God help him. “What do you need from me today?”
“Okay,” I said, reaching into my back pocket for the list I’d brought. “I double-checked with the tux place and they’re expecting you this week for the final fitting. The rehearsal dinner list is pretty much set at seventy-five, and the caterer will need a check for the rest of the deposit by Monday.”
“Fine.” He opened a drawer and pulled out the leather binder where he kept his checkbook, then reached into his jacket pocket for a pen. “How much for the caterer?”
I glanced down at my paper, swallowed, and said, “Five thousand.”
He nodded and started writing. To Don, five thousand bucks was hardly any money at all. This wedding itself was setting him back a good twenty, and that didn’t seem to faze him either. Add to it the renovation that had been done on our house so we could all live together like one happy family, the debt Don was forgiving on my brother’s truck, and just the day-to-day maintenance of living with my mother, and he was making quite an investment. But then again, this was his first wedding, first marriage. He was a rookie. My family, however, had long been of pro status.
He ripped out the check, slid it across the desk, and smiled. “What else?” he asked me.
I consulted my list again. “Okay, just the band, I think. The people at the reception hall were asking-”