Just for the record, Mom died before giving birth to Charlie. We told everybody she died during childbirth. It sounds nicer that way, more romantic, like Mom was a hero or something, but it's all an epic lie.
I didn't know at the time but Mommie Dearest was a troubled soul. She suffered from chronic problems and severe dependency issues. Eight months pregnant and fat like a whale, she got totally wasted, like she did most nights. Mom and Dad argued, like they did most nights. I lay in bed listening to them screaming at each other, like I did most nights.
Although I had a bad feeling in my tummy, nobody told me that night would be the season finale.
Mom stormed out, slamming the front door so hard the whole house shook. I remember hearing her heels on the path, the clunk of the car door, the revving of the engine, and the squeal of the tyres. I pulled off the bedcovers, jumped out of bed, and ran to my window just in time to catch a last glimpse of our SUV's tail lights as she drove off into the night.
To this day we have no idea where she was going.
Two minutes later, and less than a mile down the road, the car collided with a semi on the entrance to the freeway.
I was sat on the stairs when two stern-faced policemen came to the front door, removed their hats, and told Dad what had happened. The flashing lights on the top of their car made red and blue patterns on the front windows. There could be no doubt, after just three seasons, my nightly Mom and Dad show, the drama I thought would run for ever and ever had ended with a brutal final episode. And it wasn't like they ended it on a cliff-hanger. When both officers said, "Sorry for your loss," I knew the show had been permanently cancelled.
Inside the Cherry Hill emergency room, doctors salvaged the baby from Mom's mashed and mangled body. But this is all strictly need to know, classified information – Charlie don't know none of this, and we like to keep it that way, for her sake, and for the sake of Mom's good memory. It doesn't make us liars, not really. Everybody has deep family secrets that need to be kept, don't they?
Trust me, that whole day was real weird. From the get go, Charlie wasn't like us. She wasn't one of us. But we seen her being born in the emergency room. We watched through the glass when they ripped her out of my dead mom's belly, so she was definitely Mom's daughter, and my new baby sister.
The baby was covered in blood when they took it out, and it didn't exactly cry like a normal kid either. It squealed like the creature in that Alien film. Childbirth is bloody, messy, and just plain nasty. I've no idea why any sane person would want to do something like that. Having children is not something I'll be doing. I can promise you that.
Later, when we went to see the baby after they'd cleaned it and put it in an incubator, it was . . . well . . .the baby had kind of a tan. She wasn't black, as in Wesley Snipes black, but you could tell she wasn't Snow White. How a baby that colour got inside Mom's belly seemed to be a major point of contention. Personally, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. But I was like . . . three years-old, and didn't understand any shit that had not been fully explained on Sesame Street.
I remember Daddy looking at the baby and shaking his head – a lot. But there weren't no mix-ups or infidelity stuff. Blood tests, DNA tests, and a whole heap of other tests confirmed Charlie was 50% Daddy, 50% Mommy, 100% Miller.
At first Daddy was kinda dubious, us being fair-skinned and all, but the tests didn't lie; Mommy may have been a crazy woman. She may have been troubled by her demons but she weren't no cheater. The nurse said my new sister could have been some kind of throwback, so I was surprised when Dad decided to keep her – and they let him. My dad took baby Charlie Miller in his arms, brought her home, and learned to love her same as he loved me.
Growing up, people would look at our family; Me, Dad, and Charlie. They'd double-take or even stare. I knew exactly what they were thinking – one of these things is not like the other.
All kids get given pet names like 'Monkey', or 'Sweat Pea', or some sucky name like that. I'm not even going to say what mine was. Charlie got saddled with 'Tiddler'. It was my fault. It's a long story, so I can't explain it right now.
Grade school, Charlie turned out to be a weird kid, but cool with it. Even if she wasn't my sister I'd still like her. I think we'd be good friends, probably BFFs. My little sister grew to be that sort of chick, free-spirited and easy to get along with. God blessed her with one of those bi-polar, magnetic personalities. She affected everybody within her immediate vicinity. Some were drawn to her, others were repelled by her, there weren't no middle ground.
On account of her being so dark, all the other kids called her 'Spic'. They tried to bully her. It didn't work though. Charlie Miller weren't no pussy. She could handle her business.
One time, after school, them boys was teasing her. It weren't really no thing, she was used to it. But they went too far. Even though she had never met her, Charlie loved her mommy. When Jimmy McNish said our mother was a dirty ho who fucked any amount of niggers behind our daddy's back . . . Charlie went ballistic.
She beat that boy so bad he lost his retainer and pissed in his shorts. When Jimmy's best friend tried to enter the argument – she punched him out too. She blacked both his eyes – raccooned that fat little fucker.
The McNish family tried to sue us and send us all to the poor house but Daddy got himself a smart lawyer – so it was all good. I think Jimmy ended up in juvy hall for committing a racially motivated hate crime. Charlie didn't get away scot-free, the judge said she had to go to anger management. I'm not an expert but I don't think it helped none. The therapist said Charlie was frustrated, and rather than lash out she should use her words. In the entire history of lame ideas the therapist's suggestion had to be up there with worst of them. The next fight Charlie got into, she used her words, her opponent got a severe cussing before they got beat down.
No doubt about it, my sister came out of grade school fierce and fearless.
Back then, who knows? Maybe I should have been better back-up for Charlie, but I was a just a kid too. I had my own problems – boys mostly. And, for the record, I regret telling people she was adopted.
High school, now, Charlie chose to hang out with the Spics and brothers, listening to that hip-hop music and talkin' all black. They took her into their protection and gave her the nickname of Lilly, which is pretty funny considering the dark colour of her skin. My daddy weren't no racist but he always said no good would come of her foreign and extraordinary behaviour. Really I think he was just scared in case she got into drugs or some shit like that.
Charlie didn't talk to Dad for a whole month after he made her pee in a cup.
Don't get me wrong, from an early age Charlie clearly had issues. We thought she'd inherited Mom's demons. My sister dealt with her lot the best way she could. She was hell bent on being a top athlete and a 'straight A' student. The way she seen it, Mom had given up her life to give Charlie a life. For the deal to make sense Charlie had to be some kind of superstar and make a difference in the world. She worked so hard. I wanted to tell Charlie the truth but I'd promised, and promises need to be kept.
Maybe a lot of Charlie's behaviour was down to teen hormones. Trust me, I know. I've been there. I've been through it. Sometimes I think I'm still going through it. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. You do crazy things. I promised Bud Patterson a mercy jump because he couldn't get a prom date. What was I thinking? Lucky I chickened out at the last moment. But it would it really have been so much of a big deal? Adrianna Moss says it doesn't really count if they only put the tip in. You can't get pregnant if they only put the tip in. Adrianna runs the abstinence club at college. She swears she's still a virgin even though she's been tipped by nearly fifty guys.
Spring break, now, and out of the blue Dad announces he was getting re-married. And in principle, that was okay. It was cool with me. Our mom died a long time ago. We don't really remember her. And it's not like the accident was Dad’s fault. He told her when she stormed out not to be driving the car when she was high and drinking liquor. Everyone deserves happiness. Dad's entitled to a second shot. He raised us practically on his own. And now it was his time. He'd earned the right to be happy, and he didn't have too long to get back on the horse coz he was going grey. I'm not going to say any more about that because I'll start thinking about old people having sex.
Excuse me, I think I just threw up in my mouth, just a little bit.
I try to see all sides of an argument but Daddy needs to step up, be counted, and share the responsibility. He did all his business undercover, on the down-low. . . and I can see why he would do that – to protect us. But the way he sprung Veronica on us – it weren't right. You don't bring some raggedy old time-fighter bitch home and announce, 'This is the new Mommy'. It ain't right. It's probably unconstitutional or some shit like that, a violation of children's rights. The way he dropped it was like 'Hey, I got you kids a puppy'.
Charlie got very upset and a little bit confused. The child in her was saying, "Ain't nobody taking away my daddy." Conversely, the adult woman 'Lilly' in her was saying. "Ain't no skinny-assed, gold-digging, coked-out ho coming up inside my house, moving in on my turf, trying to take what I got."
After the family meeting we all thought the whole thing had been straightened out – apparently not.
The wedding, out in the garden, went without a hitch. Smooth as you like. Sun's shining in the sky. Radiant bride – brilliant, awesome, perfect.
The reception, that was the game-changer, where it all went bad. Charlie, on account of she was only sixteen and had no tolerance for liquor, got a little wasted; flirting and dancing up on every man in the house. She didn’t mean nothing by it. Bitches be getting jealous coz their husband's bumping and grinding with a pretty young thing. Veronica, my new stepmom, told Charlie to calm herself and stop behaving like a tramp. I don't believe Veronica had any business calling my sister a tramp – that wasn't right. I'm not usually a violent type but Aunt Flo had come to visit and I can get a bit cranky those times - I slapped the bitch. That's when it got ugly. One big cat-fight broke out, Charlie and Veronica are screaming and shouting, pulling each other's hair. I'm trying to weigh in on my sister's side but Dad pulled me away before I could do any real damage.
With the help of Uncle Tony, Dad managed to separate them but not before Charlie managed to draw blood with a right uppercut. Tony's got a hold of Charlie. Dad's got a hold of Veronica but tempers are frayed and both women are still hollering at each other.
Just so as we're clear, Veronica ain't no racist. She was actually trying to calm things down. She made a bad word choice, a simple mistake. She told Charlie to 'lighten up'.
In a flash Charlie escapes Uncle Tony's grasp, gets all up in Veronica's face, and starts with all that hip-hop talk. "Girlfriend," she says, "you ain't got no reason sweat it because I've already had your man, and he weren't all that."
That's when the room went silent.
Obviously Veronica's man is her new husband, Richard – that’d be our father.
All eyes are upon us. There's a unified, communal, sharp intake of breath followed by whispering, muttering, and looks of condemnation. Everybody we know, all of our friends, everybody in the room, thinks we're a bunch of inbreeding rednecks. Either that or there's some serious child abuse going on.
A family doesn't come back from that. A family can't ever come back from that.
When my sister sobered up, she apologised, blaming Toni Braxton and way too much liquor. But it was too late, the Miller family were, once again, the talk of the town.
Daddy lost his mind. I couldn't blame him none. He'd had enough. He'd been through seventeen years of people looking at him funny just because one of kids was not like the other. He wasn't going to be shamed and ostracised again. He quit his job with Microsoft and went to work for Google. We packed up our lives, sold the house. Goodbye rainy Seattle, sunny California here we come.