7.20.2009

Remodeling

My stepmother pushes herself past me like she's late for somewhere important. We're in my bathroom with my dad, talking to plumbers. They're here to give us a quote on how much it will cost to get water out of the pipes when you turn it on instead of rust.

My dad says we, my sisters and him and me, own the building but she does not. Since she was the one who explained my kitchen remodel plans to the plumbers, I don't think she knows this. She's so focused on impressing the plumbers with her questions and knowledge of my kitchen remodel that I had to leave the room. I've done nine kitchen remodels and I came up with the plans. When she pushed in front of me to explain my remodel, I sat in the living room, called my daughter-in-law who lives upstairs and said, "help." She came right down.

I tried to be part of the discussion when they moved onto the bathroom. I'd just asked the plumbers if these old gas station-type toilets have a shut-off valve, something good to know if you're planning to shut it off. "It's right in here," the plumbers said. "You just turn a screw and you can shut it off."

"Thanks," I said and that was the last thing I said before being bumped out of the way.

"Is it a big screw?" my stepmother says.

I don't need to know the answer and I don't think she needs to, either. I go back to my daughter-in-law in the living room and give up. Go ahead and be the project manager for this remodel. You seem to have an unhealthy interest in my bathroom.

"You coming?" my dad says when they're done in there. Mary holds the front door open, my front door, for the plumbers. She starts to close it when I come near but I slip through. "Thank you," I say. She looks away. Ha! Gotcha to be nice to me!

We go to the next apartment and the tenant is there, hanging out. The stepmother pushes me out from the bathroom again before I can do much plumber-listening so I go talk to the tenant about his fish. For some reason the stepmother decides this is the time she's going to introduce herself to the tenant, right in the middle of me talking. It's obviously disrespectful. I'm the apartment manager and she dissed me in front of a tenant. Even the tenant looked at her like What the hell?

When the plumbers, my dad and the stepmother finish up and turn out of the apartment to go down the stairs, I keep walking straight back to my apartment. If she wants my job, she can have it. She can do all the work and I'll hang out in my living room with my daughter-in-law.

The next time she came up to my apartment with my dad, she decided to ride her bike to the museum. That wasn't enough drama, apparently, so she called my dad to complain her seat was too high. My dad drove to the museum with a wrench and lowered it for her so she could ride back with a properly fitting seat. It took him 45 minutes to do this errand, right in the middle of talking with me.

She complained for the rest of the day about that seat. I would have said I was sorry I raised her seat when I borrowed her bike but she seemed to enjoy making my dad go to all this work. She had something to talk about and something to do so I gave her something. She should have thanked me.

I tried to tell my dad that, as a manager I can't do my job if she's going to diss me in front of tenants and take over the remodel. "These are woman issues," he says. "Just let it go."

I called him again and he didn't want to hear about again. I said, "You're my employer and there's someone hindering me from doing my job." He said it wouldn't happen again if he could help it. That's all I wanted. That's more than I wanted. He never did that much, ever.

Tonight he brought her with us to an apartment association meeting. "She doesn't have an apartment here," I said. "Does she have to come?"

"She's coming to take care of me," my dad said. "She's worried about me falling asleep driving home."

Is she being nice or wanting to make sure she's taking over and in charge? This is the way I think around her and I'm grateful nobody can hear my thoughts. Bad me.

As soon as I see her in my dad's office, she's nice. Not nice enough to ask about me but you can tell she's been told something. She's not so strict-looking, at least at this immediate moment.

"Is he using the facilities?"

"Oh yeah," she says. She's stuck with me in this tiny office until my dad gets out of the bathroom. "What's new?" she says.

She must have forgotten how much she hates me or she really got put in her place by my dad. Either way, I have to be nice or I'm going to look like the bitch. That'd really make her happy. It'd prove her right.

So I'm nice. I'm nice all the way to the meeting and I'm nice as much as I can be before the meeting starts. I'm nice to my dad and talking shop without being interrupted as she's nowhere to be seen.

The meeting starts and the seat next to my dad is empty. He keeps looking around for her but I don't think he sees her. She's standing at the opposite end of the row behind us. She has a bad knee. It's hard work for her to stand. It's nice for me. I can talk about work with my dad without being interrupted to hear stories about my stepmother's kids, stories that have nothing to do with anything and no point at all.

We're driving back to my apartment and she hasn't once mentioned her kids. I've never been around her for more than five minutes without hearing about her kids in stories that don't always make sense. You know when someone tells a story and it's quiet for a little bit? Nobody knows what to say? That happens a lot.

After being around her I usually call my husband and tell him the best choice crazy things she did. This time I felt almost good, like I didn't have to make fun of her to feel good about myself.

Is this what everybody else feels like?