A year earlier in the spring of 1991 when I was seventeen and living solo with my dad in the U-shaped house of my childhood, I had no idea what a treasured blessing it would be to spend the last semester of my junior year in high school living with him. We’d lost over a year living apart: him in Arkansas and my brother and me living in Wiltshire, England, with our mom and stepfather, who was serving in the Royal Air Force stationed in Upavon. We wrote letters and tried to talk once a week. We missed two Christmases together, and he kept Jason and I informed about the Arkansas Razorback basketball team with newspaper clippings and notes on his company letterhead.
Now, the two of us were forging a new road ahead, developing our relationship and establishing inside jokes. For better or worse (and probably more on the worse side, which I’ll get to later), I was learning. That included absorbing a lot of information about relationships from my dad and the women he dated. But for this post, I’ll touch on a more light-hearted term we threw around, which was “NG” – our code name for “new girl” in his case or “new guy” for me.
One spring afternoon found me at home alone. My BFFs (Natalie and Shelly) hadn’t joined me after school for our typical dip in the pool or trip to Taco Bell for hot beef mexi-melts. I remember this day vividly. I documented it in my journal and wrote a narrative about it in graduate school in the late 90s, so I can confidently share my record of the day. Not because of Taco Bell, but because I knew daddy was going to be bringing home his NG to meet me.
From my bedroom in the north side of the house, I could hear doors opening, keys jingling. I decided to take my time to find their source. It wasn’t like this was the first girl daddy had brought home to meet me, and it probably wouldn’t be the last, I thought. Just another notch in his bedpost, no one special.
I suspected they were lingering in the den, no hurry to locate me. Voices trailed from the other end of the long windowed hallway running parallel to the sunroom addition he built in 1980. The sun shone bright through the windows as the spring claimed the backyard.
It occurred to me to make an appearance and get it over with before they barged into my room to interrupt me. Rounding the corner into the den, I literally bumped into them.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, trying to be polite and unsure of daddy’s reaction to the collision, which would have been ‘my fault,’ according to him. I’m sure he thought I could have been more careful, since I lived there and all, and I am intimate with the ways of the hallway corners. But his laid-back reaction surprised me.
His NG clung to his right arm. She was petite, thin and blonde – just the way daddy liked his women. She was somewhat attractive, if you liked straight teeth, lots of makeup and bleached-blonde hair fashioned in kinky curls cut into a bob. She certainly wasn’t beautiful. A total throw-away date I didn’t have high expectations for.
“Heather, this is Scharmel,” daddy said, smiling. I remember his voice.
“It’s nice to meet you, Heather,” Scharmel said. Her voice had a more country twang than a Little Rock twang. It reminded me of a relative of Mary Jo Shively from Designing Women.
At that moment, an idea struck me: I would engage daddy in an inside joke.
“Daddy, can I borrow the Porsche tonight?” I asked, totally serious.
Without a beat he replied, “No, I’m going to use it tonight.”
I could not believe he was playing along with this. We looked at each other for a minute, not knowing what to say next. But Scharmel broke the silence with her decision to respond.
“Johnny, you have a houseboat and a Porsche?” Scharmel asked in wonderment.
We both watched her say it. I repeated it in my head in slow motion. Did she just say that? Without turning my head, I met daddy’s eyes and gave him an “are you fucking serious/something’s fishy” look. He looked at me, too. Please see this red flag, I thought.
Daddy lived a flamboyant lifestyle he had trouble maintaining. Even though daddy was materialistic, something didn’t sit right with me about this NG. As his daughter, I’d seen how he spoiled his past girlfriends. This was his way of wooing women. I also knew he reserved the right to shower women with gifts but required me to drive an old 1980 yellow and brown Ford Fairmont to prove I could responsibly care for a vehicle.
At first, I thought he had her under a trance with dollar signs floating in her empty blue eyes. Later, his friends would think it was the other way around.
“No, I don’t have a Porsche,” daddy answered. “We’re just joking around.” I sensed a little nervousness in his voice.
“Oh,” Scharmel said, looking toward the floor, embarrassed and probably wondering if this would be the last date she had with him. Maybe her wheels began to turn about what sex trick she’d pull out of her hat to keep him in her orbit. (Months later, I overheard daddy tell a friend she was wild in bed and that “crazy women” are always wild in bed.)
Daddy didn’t have a Porsche, but he was storing a white Porsche 911 for one of his best friends, Bill. I’d been begging to take it out, always getting denied. Almost 30 years later, Bill still remembers that Porsche and told me daddy made the correct choice in not letting me drive it. I concur.
When she mentioned the houseboat, I couldn’t help but wonder if Scharmel was the same woman I’d seen on daddy’s boat a few weeks earlier. He’d parked the houseboat in the canal behind the empty lot where he was about to build his dream home based on a plan he and his ex-girlfriend discovered on a trip to Florida. In this new gated community on the Arkansas River just west of downtown Little Rock, the Canal Pointe subdivision featured a private lock for easy access to the river. Daddy’s bulk headed lot already served as a parking spot for friends to meet him on the boat.
It was a Sunday, and I’d driven my own “Banana Boat” (my friends named my car) to the lot because daddy said he’d give me some cash so I could hang out at a night club that tried to make money on Sunday nights spinning records and selling soft drinks to teenagers. Walking across the lot of the future stucco home, I spotted a woman sitting on the houseboat’s upper deck sitting sideways in a chair with her legs hanging over the side and smoking a cigarette. Scharmel looked like her. Inside the cabin, daddy’s friends indicated his date on that day was a little “chubby” and whispered he was really more attracted to “her” as they silently pointed to the ceiling. Only half of that computed: daddy did not date smokers. I resented the fact that I knew these dating preferences about my father. My teenage psyche didn’t understand his decisions, let alone dare question them. The brunette date he brought was far prettier and nicer than the lady who never came down to meet me.
As a grown woman who has dated or known guys like my dad (again, more on that later), I won’t be censoring my opinion on my blog. I probably should have stayed home that night because I’m pretty sure I caught mono from some NG I kissed at that teen club while dancing to Color Me Badd. And daddy probably should have kept his dick in his pants.