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FEARLESS MEMOIR: 'World's Fair' (Chapter 24)

10/13/2012 06:14 am ET | Updated Dec 13, 2012

"World's Fair" is the raw and witty true story of a dysfunctional Southern family's harrowing motor-home roadtrip from South Carolina to the Montreal World's Fair in 1967 (aka "The Summer of Love"). Told from the point of view of the author -- who was 15 at the time -- this intimate coming-of-age story shines a bright light on the issues of alcoholism, adolescent sexual confusion, family violence and the universal need to love those who hurt us, despite their frailties.

Warning: Contains strong language; may not be suitable for all audiences.

CHAPTER 24: Fantasy Land

After I woke up, I felt as if I were still stuck in that black hole. I kind of lolled around with no purpose. I couldn't wait to leave Bunnie Ann's. I didn't have any specific reason to get back home to South Carolina, but I didn't want to be in Maryland, either. It was decided that Matthew and Mark would stay behind and help Bunnie Ann and Dan pack for their move to Texas, and then come home by train. Gee and I drove off with the camper trailing behind us like the albatross that had followed the sailor in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Once we were on the interstate, Gee kept trying to engage me in conversation. I always answered back, but I had no energy, no enthusiasm, and no will to do anything. Even when she turned on the radio and The Temptations started singing "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," I simply sat there. She reached over and nudged me to sing along with her, but I wasn't in the mood.

At some point she stopped and bought us Cokes and potato chips. When she got back in the truck, she asked, "How would you like to see Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown?"

"Sure."

"Well, don't act too excited. I'd hate to disappoint you."

Yes, I was being a little shit. I was the youngest and spoiled rotten. As Mark used to say, "You're my favorite turd." I didn't qualify as a full-fledged bowel movement, but as a little, hard ball of shit.

Colonial Williamsburg had all these old restored buildings, and people dressed in clothes from an earlier time, pretending to work in the houses or in the yards and gardens. Jamestown only had the foundations of tiny houses. It was as if we had walked into another time, kind of like a fantasy.

Maybe it was Gee's fantasy to go back in time to Colonial Williamsburg, but my fantasy was being in outer space, where I could be a visitor from another planet discovering the remains of a lost civilization. Everything was make-believe and nothing that had happened had to have taken place if we didn't want.

For the entire day I felt like an old man, shuffling around from place to place without any meaning. I might as well have been a zombie, except even they showed more life. I had completely forgotten about Daddy and our trip until we got back to the truck. If ever there was a reminder, it was that damn white camper. Gee and I stayed in a hotel that night because we'd had enough of being cramped.

The next morning, we had bacon and eggs in a restaurant that reminded me of a Howard Johnson's. Over breakfast, Gee told me her theory about Daddy. "You know Daddy's parents were both orphans?" she started. After I nodded my head, she continued. "They were both sent to Epworth Children's Home, in Columbia, I believe. After their parents had died, I think in a car crash. That's what I was told, I think by Momma or Addie May." Addie May was Daddy's momma's name. We all thought the name was funny, so we used it whenever we wanted to make one another laugh. But neither Gee nor I was laughing now.

"Anyway, they didn't have a normal childhood -- and neither did Daddy. Grandma and Grandpa didn't know how to show love, so Daddy grew up in an unloving home. Besides, they didn't have much money. You knew that, right?"

"Yeah," I replied, knowing full well that Grandpa's family had had money, but that he'd missed out on inheriting any of it. We had a great-aunt and -uncle on Grandpa's side who lived south of Broad Street in Charleston, an area where people with money lived.

"So, Daddy's now trying to recapture that childhood through his drinking. He's looking for the kind of love and, well, reinforcement that parents are supposed to give their children. I'm afraid he thinks he'll find it in a bottle."

When I didn't say anything, Gee went on. "When Daddy was a little boy he had to work. He told me he's been working all his life. So, the way I figure it, now that he's a doctor and has money, he wants to have fun and spend it instead of saving."

I sat there and listened to her basically telling me that my childhood was fucked up like Daddy's. Half of what he'd experienced was what I was experiencing. I now knew who Daddy was in Alice in Wonderland: the Mad Hatter. But which character did that make me? Gee had spoken with Momma that morning and had learned that Daddy was already back in Spartanburg. Momma had told her that Daddy had called his lawyer, who'd taken care of getting him home.

Part of me couldn't wait to see him. Another part of me wondered if he'd ever see me again. I didn't think I could go on living if that were the case. I'd put real bullets in his gun and shoot myself.

* * * * *

Gee and I got home late on Monday, August 7th, a mere week and three days after our journey to Expo '67 began -- six days on the road and four at the Fair. We each had our own bedrooms, and once we'd gotten in them, we didn't see or talk much to one another for the rest of the summer. Gee was busy with her friends and preparing to go back to college, and I was, yet again, driving around, smoking cigarettes, eating McDonald's french fries and talking about TV shows, movies and school. I never spoke to anyone about our trip. It was as if the World's Fair had never happened.

Soon after Gee and I had gotten home, Matthew and Mark called from the train station for someone to come pick them up. Matthew swore he was never taking another train in his life. Mark kept quiet and kept to himself. They both shared more than a bedroom; they were each other's best friend. If either of them ever spoke with anyone about what had happened during our last night in Canada, I'm sure it would have only been with one another. Matthew spent the rest of the summer talking about how he couldn't wait to finish school so he could leave Spartanburg. Mark withdrew, rarely leaving the house. It was as if he'd left a large part of his spirit at Expo.

We had all left more than Daddy back in Canada.

* * * * *

It was only 10 days. Ten days that should have shattered what I'd thought was a wonderful life. I was a doctor's son in a pleasant, sunny, Southern town, going to the country club all summer every year and pretending we were rich and happy. All the while, we were actually a family living life on the margins. I lived in a fantasy world reinforced by my being able to charge everything to Daddy. Where every week he would give me an allowance. Where every Christmas I'd hand him my letter to Santa and he'd give me everything. Where we still had a maid who picked and cleaned up after me. Where I had a car that I shared with the twins, and where the gas came via a charge card paid for by Daddy.

All the journey to the World's Fair did was push me deeper into my make-believe world. Momma enabled my fantasy life, and I loved her for it. Daddy, meanwhile, was going deeper and deeper into his own imaginary world -- a world where alcohol made him a man, gave him a sense of wealth, and provided him with something no human would ever be able to give him.

* * * * *

There are a few photos from our trip. There's the one of us preparing food where we're joking around, threatening to throw food on Matthew (who took the picture). That was the first night Daddy went missing, and we were still able to laugh.

The next picture shows skinny Matthew and me holding Gee in our arms as if she were royalty. Gee is smiling, while Matthew and I are painfully grinning, struggling to keep her off the ground. It's actually a nice picture. Matthew was quite handsome, and Gee was a stunning beauty.

The last photo must have been taken by Gee, since she's the only one not in it. Daddy is positioned between the twins. He appears to be saying something. It's evident that his eyes were already glassy from drink. I'd never thought of Daddy as being overweight, but in this picture he has a slight paunch. To the left of Daddy is Matthew, standing rather stiffly. Gee had asked us to say "shit" instead of "cheese," which could have gotten that ever-so-slight smile to appear on Daddy's face. I'm at the other end of the photo, to the left of Matthew. My arms are folded across my chest and I'm slyly smiling because I'm shooting the bird with my right hand. Mark looks happy, and is leaning in with his left arm on Daddy's right shoulder, clearly showing how much he worshipped him.

It's evident from these photos that Genevieve, Matthew, Mark and I had made the best of a bad situation. We had all been through quite a lot in the short number of years we'd lived. We were a family -- a modern family. And we had been to hell and back during the Summer of Love.

COMING UP IN THE EPILOGUE: Mark's baggage... face-to-face with Norma... broken promises... James pulls the trigger.

Want to read "World's Fair" from the beginning? Click here and start with "Prologue, Part 1."

For more on becoming fearless, click here.