My Family Values – Tess Overland
I love my family.
My family is the most important thing in my life.
My family is the wings that keep me aloft.
My family, sometimes, on rare occasions, can be a bit too much for me.
The accumulative effects of dealing with my family can be exhausting.
My family is getting on my last fucking nerve.
I’m Tess Overland; this is how my morning starts.
“Emon, honey, why did you put the ice cream carton back in the freezer with just a spoonful of ice cream? Why do you do that? It’s driving me nuts.”
“Look, Tess, I left it about a quarter full. Honestly, I would not do that to you. We all know how annoyed you get about things like that.”
“Emon, no one in this house eats chocolate mint except you.”
“It’s the Wee People, Mom.” This from Malik, my eight-year-old son, stepping into the kitchen wearing a frilly white blouse and a violently red miniskirt, barely covering the cheeks of his ass.
“Malik, where did you get that outfit from? You can’t wear it to school.”
“Sylvia loaned it to me. We’re going to dress like twins today.”
Sylvia is his freakish BFF since the first grade. She is an insolent, mischievous, rebellious, criminally inclined major nuisance. They are an inseparable and insufferable pair.
“Not dressed like that. That skirt is far too short. Go change now before I leave.”
“No buts. Change now.”
Malik stumbles out while his twelve-year-old sister, Easter, dances in, performing the Ali Shuffle and punching the air at a furious pace. She looks at me, holding the ice cream carton and says, “The Wee People again. We need to call an exterminator.”
I sigh in exasperation. “There are no fucking Wee People! Emon, you need to take responsibility for your actions. You’re setting a terrible example for your children. And you’re frustrating the hell out of me.”
“You’re right. I should have never written that story about the Wee People. I knew better, but I didn’t do better.” Emon winks at his daughter. “It’s all my fault.”
“Okay, okay, I give up. I got to leave for the airport. Easter, did you arrange for a ride to school this morning? You and your brother promised me you would take care of that.”
Emon has a broken right ankle, according to him, payback from the Wee People for spying on them.
“Shit! Mom, I forgot. My bad.”
“Listen, listen all of you—no more Wee People shit. Get to school the best way you can. Emon, make sure your son dresses in reasonable school attire. I may or may not come home this evening or — ever again.”
Malik is back wearing a black above-the-knee cocktail dress that looks amazingly attractive on him.
All three of them are looking at me oddly. I can’t wait to get out of this madhouse.
My husband grimaces and points at me, “Tess, your sweater is on inside out.”
After a disappointing day trip to LA, I arrive back home to this.
Malik, wearing cargo shorts, and a San Francisco 49ers sweatshirt, greets me at the door with a hug.
“Mom, Dad, made his best mac and cheese of the week. Everyone thought my dress was sick. I’m all over Instagram. Sylvia is so jealous.”
Easter greets me with a smirk and says, “Guess who didn’t fail their Algebra test today? I almost got a ‘C.’”
My hobbled husband greets me with a hug and grabs my ass in front of the children.
“Get a room.” From Easter.
We get a wolf whistle from our son.
I’m too tired to chastise Emon. Besides, it feels good to be wanted – even if it’s only my horny husband.
I give my spouse a tired smile and praise him, “Wow, this is good mac and cheese and Kielbasa. My compliments to the chef.” Emon and I had agreed on steaks tonight, but I don’t want to argue. I just want to crawl into bed and sleep for a year or two.
I interrupt the usual, inane kitchen table chatter with what I believe to be a relevant question. “How did you get to school today?”
The kids shout back in unison, “Go Hop.”
“Go Hop? What is that – a new ride-sharing company?”
Our children erupt in laughter. My simpleton of a husband just smiles.
Easter explains, “Go Hop is a giant toad—”
Malik adds, “Five hops! Just five hops to school—”
“Emon, how did your children get to school this morning?”
“Uber, of course – I think.”
Malik shakes his head no. “The Wee People ordered us Go Hop. They loved my dress and—”
“Enough! I have had enough! Out! Go to your rooms now.”
The kids stand in shock as I turn on Emon, “I married the village idiot. I guess I got what I deserved.”
I stomp off to bed and lock the bedroom door.
When I was a senior in college, my father said, “Tess, I’m delighted you have selected a black fiancé. However, we did not send you to Stanford to marry a community college dropout who aspires to write comic books. Black people can’t afford the luxury of a self-aggrandizing, dead-end career like that. You are on a campus of superior intellects, and you have chosen the village idiot. A choice you will regret many times over.”
I call in sick. I tell Emon to work from the library today. I fall back to sleep, waiting for my family to leave.
I awake at 10:00 am to the insistent ringing of my doorbell.
It is two animal control officers, a cute brother, and a dour-looking white guy.
“What is it? We don’t have any pets.”
The white guy’s name tag says, “Crane.” He asks, “Where is the giant toad?”
“What? Are you loco? What is this?”
The black officer, Hammond, shows me a picture on his phone of my kids holding onto straps on the back of a giant toad.
“Fucking Emon! Okay, my husband put you up to this. This is not funny at all.”
Crane sticks to his role, “We have to look in your backyard and garage.”
I tug at my hair with both hands. “Get the fuck off my property.”
Crane snarls back, “Your choice. We will call the cops—”
Hammond cuts him off, “Crane, let me talk to—” Hammond consults his watch. “Ms. Tess Overland for a minute before you call in the big guns.”
Crane grumbles his way back to his truck.
Hammond assures me that they really are Corbin County Animal Control Officers, and they have received several complaints about and sightings of a giant toad.
“Hammond, brother, do you honestly believe in giant toads that can transport children on their backs?”
Hammond gives me a sunshine smile. “Sister, Tess, I didn’t believe we would elect Obama or Donald Trump president or that people all over the world and white people in the USA would take to the streets to support social justice for us. I don’t question much of anything anymore.”
Jesus, Hammond has kind, sexy eyes. “Okay, alright. You can search.”
I’m enjoying yoga and solitude at noon when my doorbell interrupts again. This time it is a vaguely familiar, tall, thin, ethnic looking white woman holding up an ID card identifying her as Daumaa Kahn, a social worker from Children’s Protective Services. My family has history with this organization. I don’t ever want to be involved with them again.
“What do you want, Ms. Kahn?”
“Ms. Overland, I’m investigating a complaint that your children arrived at school yesterday in an unsafe conveyance. May I come in. I will be as brief as possible.”
Kahn and I stare intently at each other.
“Kahn, do I know you? Were you part of the so-called investigation into my daughter’s boxing or my son’s ‘cross-dressing’ as you labeled it?”
“Tess Cobb! You are Tess Cobb. We went to MLK elementary school. I’m Daumaa, but everyone called me Laura.”
I do remember her – a thin, shy girl with a stutter and good manners. We weren’t friends, but we were friendly.
“Okay, Laura or Daumaa. Please reduce your complaint to writing and submit copies to our lawyer and me. His name and contact information are in your records. Goodbye.”
I start to close the door, but she shouts, “Wait, please. Please. My daughter, Ania, is a friend of Malik’s. We also have a Wee People problem. Please, can we talk about that off the record? A private conversation between old friends.”
“We were never friends.”
“I always considered you a friend. We were acquaintances, correct?”
“What about the Wee People?”
“Ania claims they are in our home, making mischief and plotting against us.”
“You go to the cops or find a good child therapist. You should know plenty of both in your line of work.” I again start to close my door.
“Tess, you were always smart, strong, and kind to me. Please, I’m about to lose my mind. Please.”
I slam my door.
I open it again.
“This had better not be a ruse to talk about your complaint.”
“It isn’t. I promise.”
“Tea or coffee.”
“Tess, it started with food disappearing. I inquired of my husband and children. They all denied responsibility. I believed that we had a rodent problem. It took three weeks to get an exterminator out. He said there were no obvious signs of infestation, but he put out traps and poison.”
“Did that work?”
“It did not, in part, because Ania removed the traps and bait to protect the Wee People. She did not want them to become angry with us. It was her first mention of them to me, but she had discussed the Wee People extensively with her brother and sister.”
I pour more tea.
“Laura, is it okay if I call you Laura?”
“I would like that.”
“Have you ever seen the Wee People?”
“Never, neither me nor my husband, Anwar. Ania claims to have seen them flash by as quick as lightning.”
“And Ania says they come to her in her dreams.”
“And what do they do in her dreams?”
Laura looks down, trembles, inhales, looks back at me. “They tell her they are coming for us all. And one night soon, all over the world, they will slit our throats as we sleep. I believe Ania. She is not a liar or foolish. I’m frightened.”
I am too. I’m scared to death, but I try not to let it show.
“So, what are you going to do?”
Laura reaches across the table and takes my hand in hers.
“The Wee People told Ania that your family takes the Wee People seriously, and you might be spared.” Laura pauses to wipe away tears. “Your family and Sylvia, Malik’s twin.”
“You mean friend. Sylvia is his friend—” In my heart I know she is right. Twin is the exact word to describe Sylvia and Malik’s relationship. “Laura, go home. Talk to your family. I’ll talk to mine. If I think of something, I will give you a call.”
I hurry her out.
My mind is on fire. I jog. I run. I sprint.
I make up my mind to make the best of the time we have. I need to learn as much as I can from my family. We need to fight or run. We need to be ready.
For dinner, I prepare tacos – our family’s favorite.
I put a minced taco on a small saucer in the pantry where my family claims the Wee People congregate.
I apply lip gloss, let down my hair, and wear a dress that Emon loves to see me in. Who knows we both might get lucky tonight?
My family and I have, maybe, the whole world has a difficult journey ahead, but I need one normal evening with my kin tonight.
My family is the best family I could ever wish for – even if they are abnormal, weird, and exceedingly vexing. I want to be with them to the very end – whatever that is.