My father was the son of a preacher and a mean drunk. My mom had long left him. He bought a hotel in the ‘70s and convinced us kids that we were going to get rich, so we stayed with him. We were cheap labor, of course.
At the hotel, we lived in barren rooms. We had nothing — no belongings, no toys. No friends. We worked after school. It was not negotiable. But sometimes, when we had a full house, dad would make us skip school altogether. One year, I missed 88 days. He never asked me if I had a lot of homework to do, or if I’d learned anything. He only asked about my work schedule, and whether I planned on going to school that day.
During those years, I don’t remember having a meal that was actually prepared for us. When anyone ordered room service or when we cleaned up after checkout, we would just eat whatever people happened to leave behind. We washed our clothes in the kitchen sink and hung them on the heaters to dry in time for school. Everything was for the customers. We were of no value to him. We didn’t get paid, so running away was not an option because we had nowhere to go.
Meanwhile, he bought a new Cadillac Eldorado every year. He and my stepmother lived lavishly. When she could prevail on him to take me with them for dinner, he would stop me before going inside, point a finger in my face and say: “You can have one Coke. No refills.” And I would watch them as they ate their meals. He was a cold SOB.
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