Parental Deception; chapter three, part two

“To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub.”

– Hamlet.

My version of the above quote is, “To sleep, perchance not to dream, damn it.” I’ve never been a big fan of sleep ever since I was a little girl. When I was four or five, my mother would try to put me to bed at six or seven, and I’d lie in bed staring at the ceiling for hours. When I got older and I could read, which was roughly a year later, I would put a towel in the door crack and read until midnight. Then, my mother would be puzzled as to why I was groggy at six in the morning, which is when she wanted me to get up. Of course, I couldn’t tell her what I was doing because then she’d put a stop to my late night reading adventures. I learned to live with not enough sleep at a young age, and I think it’s part of the reason my sleeping habits are so shitty now.

I have to get up for work at six-thirty. My body will not let me go to sleep before midnight, which means I normally don’t fall asleep until one in the morning at the earliest. I can survive on six hours of sleep, but anything less keeps me in a perpetual state of grogginess. I try to catch up on the weekends, but I usually stay up until four or five in the morning and get up around noon the next day. Yes, that allows me to sleep longer, but it throws my schedule off by a considerable amount. There’s the belief that people who work the overnight should stay on that schedule even when they’re not at work. I think this is wise, but I’m not disciplined enough to do it myself.

When I was in college, I used to go to bed at three in the morning and get up at seven for a seven-forty-five class. I used to drink six Diet Cokes a day to combat the fatigue, grabbing one right out of the mini-fridge the first thing in the morning to give myself a boost. One morning, I woke up late and couldn’t find my portable alarm. In desperation, I opened the mini-fridge to grab a Diet Coke, and there was my fucking alarm. After that, I set it across the room on the sink so I would have to wake up to turn it off. Of course, I could have gotten more sleep, but that wasn’t going to happen. Every time I’d go home during a break, I would crash on the first day for fifteen hours.

Sleep is a bitch. I hate it. If I didn’t have to do it, I wouldn’t. I envy people who enjoy sleep. I have one friend who loves to wake up and just luxuriate in the feeling of being mostly asleep. I have another friend who wakes up with a smile on his face because he’s so refreshed. I have several friends who like their dream worlds better than their real lives. I hate them all. I’m kidding, but I fear I will never have a positive feeling about sleep.

I get a solid half hour out of writing on this topic. I publish it and wait. It’s nearly four in the morning, and I’m still nowhere near sleep. Five minutes after I publish the post, there’s a response. It’s from MNborn, and she writes, “Sleep has been my nemesis all my life. I want to be friends, but it has spurn all my entreaties. Yoga, meditation, chamomile tea, melatonin—none of them work. Currently, I simply stay awake until I’m tired enough to drop dead, and then I sleep for three or four hours.” I write back, “My sister! I can’t tell you all the remedies that had failed for me. Chamomile tea, melatonin, St. John’s Wort, Valerian, hot baths, hot milk….None of it has done jackshit. I’m basically doing the same thing you are—staying awake until I’m falling over, then sneaking in a few hours of nightmare-laden sleep.”

“Hey, babe. Getting in your daily dose of chung-chung, eh?” Rembrandt materializes in front of me, yawning as he wipes the sleep from his eyes. The cats are here as well, and they’re all sleepy as well. Rembrandt sits on the couch next to me, casually placing  his arm along the couch in back of me. Ginger climbs into his lap and nuzzles his belly. Onyx claims my lap as her own, and Jet squeezes himself between us.

“It’s like crack. I can’t stop watching.” For several seconds, utter contentment washes over me. I’ve been thinking about family a lot lately, and this is the closest to my definition of the word. No, it’s not family in the traditional sense of the word. We’re not married; we don’t have children; we’re not even living together. I have trouble with us spending more than one night with him, for heaven’s sake. But, for just that moment, the two of us watching a shitty procedural with our three cats is as much family as I want to have. I drop my head on Rembrandt’s shoulder and close my eyes. I can still hear Sam Waterson spluttering indignantly in the background, and then I drift off into the ethers.

“Megan, wake up.” Someone is shaking me, and I’m not happy about it.

“Go away,” I mumble, my mouth full of cotton. There’s something heavy on my head, and I can’t figure out what it is. I pat it cautiously with one hand, and it meows at me in indignation. It’s Onyx, and she’s not happy with me shooing her off my head. How did I end up horizontal? I have no idea. I open one eye, and Rembrandt is staring at me in consternation.

“You better be dying,” I inform him as I shut my eye again. I don’t sleep well, so when I finally do fall asleep, I guard it jealously.

“It’s eleven. We have to be at my mom’s in an hour, which means we need to leave by eleven-forty at the latest.”

“What? Shit! What time did I fall asleep?” I sit up straight, disturbing three cats in the process. My back is hurting, probably from sleeping weirdly on the couch.

“Around five-thirty,” Rembrandt says. “I fell asleep soon after. I’m glad I brought my phone with me, otherwise I would have slept through my alarm.”

“Damn. I need to take a shower.” I stand up and stretch my back. “Can you put on a pot of coffee for me?”

“Already done.” Rembrandt smiles at me, and I kiss him on the cheek before going upstairs. I do five minutes of taiji before hopping into the shower. I can hear Onyx and Jet meowing outside the curtain, and I’m sure they’re sitting on the counter staring daggers at me.

“I know Rembrandt already fed you, so you’re not fooling me,” I inform the curtain. They grumble at me, but then subside. Once I’m done with the shower, I dress in the nice black slacks and low-cut but not obscene red blouse that I brought specifically for the occasion. I pull my hair up into a loose bun before fastening large silver hoops to my earlobes. I go downstairs to the kitchen and pour myself a cup of coffee. Rembrandt is preparing the whipped cream, and I swipe my finger through it. It’s rich and creamy and slightly tangy, just the way whipped cream should be.

“Yum. I may eat a piece of pie right now just so I can have some of this whipped cream.” I kiss Rembrandt on the cheek and goose him on the ass. He smiles at me, but focuses on the task at hand.

“You’ll want to save your appetite,” Rembrandt informs me. “My mom goes all out for Thanksgiving, and I can guarantee a turkey with all the trimmings, cranberry salad which is actually edible, and a half dozen other dishes that she makes on a whim.”

“I hope she’s cooked a lot because I’m starving.” I say, topping off my coffee.

“She’s Italian. She always cooks enough for a small army.” Rembrandt finishes up the whipped cream, and then puts Saran wrap over the bowl. He pulls out the pies from the fridge and carefully stacks them in a grocery bag. He puts the bowl in a plastic bag along with the bowl of vanilla bean ice cream he made earlier, and we say goodbye to the cats before taking off for Edina. Traffic is heavy, so it takes us longer than it normally would. We still manage to make it to Mrs. DiCampo’s palatial house by 12:05 p.m.

“Rembrandt! So good to see you.” Mrs. DiCampo opens the door and grabs Rembrandt into a long hug. Then, she turns to me with a warm smile on her face and holds out her hand to me. “You must be Megan. I’ve heard so much about you. You’re just as lovely as Rembrandt said you were.”

“Thank you Mrs. DiCampo,” I say, managing not to stutter. What Rembrandt neglected to tell me is that his mother is fucking gorgeous. I know she’s in her late fifties, but she looks my age. She’s tall—five-foot ten inches with rich mahogany curls streaked with gray that reach her waist. She has an hour-glass figure and the face of a Botticelli angel. She has flawless skin and large dark brown eyes, and she exudes sensuality. “It’s really nice to meet you.” She grasps my hand for several seconds before finally letting go.

“Call me Stephanie,” Mrs. DiCampo says, and I involuntarily nod my head.

“Mom, there’s something burning in the kitchen,” a younger carbon copy of Rembrandt materializes, and I assume it’s one of his brothers.

“Oh, damn. I better go check my turkey,” Stephanie hurries from the hallway, leaving her son behind.

“Monet, this is Megan, the woman I’m dating.” Rembrandt says, introducing me to his brother. “Megan, Monet. He’s the rebel in the family.”

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Monet grasps my hand in his and shakes it firmly. “I’m the middle brother, so I had to find a way to stick out somehow. Being a rebel means not going to college in this family. I took a trip to Italy right after high school instead to find my roots.” He turns and gestures towards the man who had followed him into the hallway. “That’s where I met this hunk, and we’ve been together ever since. This is my husband, Antonio.” I suck in my breath as I caught my first view of a bronzed god. He’s six-feet four, has a luxurious head of dark curls, and his golden eyes are reminiscent of a cat’s. His broad shoulders taper down to a trim waist, and I have an impulse to shield my eyes because his light is so bright. Monet is good-looking, don’t get me wrong, but Antonio is otherworldly.

“Wow,” I say, gaping at Antonio. I gather my wits about me and add, “Sorry for my reaction, but I’m sure you’re  used to it.”

“No problem. You’ll get over it once you get to know me,” Antonio says, winking at me.

“It’s really great to meet you both,” I say, nodding at first Monet and then Antonio. “Where is brother number three?”

“Right here!” Gaugin booms, bounding into the hallway. He is a behemoth of a man, and he looks nothing like his brothers. He has ginger curls and a bushy ginger beard, and his green eyes are the lightest of the families. “So, you’re the woman who’s captured my big brother’s heart. I didn’t think I’d live to see the day.” He engulfs in bear hug, and I’m overwhelmed by his energy. After he lets me go, he notices the dazed look on my face. “I like to joke that I was adopted,” he says, throwing his head back and releasing a laugh that fills the room.

“Let’s move this gathering into the house,” Rembrandt says, placing his hand at the back of my waist. Normally, that would irritate me, but in this situation, I welcome the connection. We troop into the kitchen where Rembrandt drops off the three pies, the whipped cream, and the vanilla bean ice cream. Stephanie shoos us out, handing Rembrandt a platter of crackers and cheeses. Gaugin grabs a bottle of red wine and four glasses while Monet grabs four more glasses. There’s a pitcher of iced water on the counter, so I pour myself a glass. I rarely drink because of my alcoholic mother and because I’m allergic to alcohol, and I hate wine with a passion.

“Megan, this is Jacqueline, my wife.” Gaugin points to a petite blond woman who is barely five feet tall and perhaps a hundred pounds soaking wet. Her faded blue eyes look weary, but the smile on her lips is genuine. There are two equally-blond kids playing with Legos on the floor. One is a girl of about three, and she has a veil of blond hair that reaches her waist and violet eyes. The boy is a year or two older, and he’s of heartier stock. Build-wise, he takes after his father, whereas the girl is definitely her mother’s daughter.

“Nice to meet you,” Jacqueline nods at me. “This is Beth,” placing a hand on her daughter’s head. “This is Nicholas.” She pats the boy’s arm. Both the kids look up to me and smile.

“Hello,” Beth says, in a voice that is high and sweet. “We’re making a castle.”

“To protect our kingdom from invaders,” Nicholas adds, his eyes serious.

“That’s very important,” I say, matching my tone to Nicholas’s. “You want to keep your people safe.”

“Have some crackers and cheese,” Rembrandt says, placing the platter on the coffee table. I pull out a Lactaid pill and pop it before sampling the cheese.

“Wine?” Gaugin asks, holding the bottle up in the air.

“No, thank you,” I say, softening my refusal with a smile. I have no qualms about my not drinking, but I’ve discovered that it can make others uncomfortable. Fortunately, no one raises an eyebrow, so I relax as I munch on a cracker and sip my water. I chat with Monet, and I learn he’s an architect. He had been joking about not going to college; he did go, but after a year off from school. He and Antonio have been together since Monet was eighteen and Antonio was twenty-three, which was twelve years ago. Antonio is a housepainter, and they’ve been married for two years. They want to have two kids one day, but they’re not in a rush to get there.

“We want to be financially stable first,” Monet says, glancing at Antonio, who nods in agreement.

“Then I can quit my job and be a kept man,” Antonio jokes, nudging Monet in the ribs.

“You wish,” Monet retorts. They both laugh, and I’m envious at how comfortable they are together. They’re sitting next to each other on the couch, and Antonio has his arm around Monet’s shoulders.

Gaugin hunkers down on the ground and helps his kids build their castle as he sips his wine. It’s funny to me how such an outsized personality can be in harmony with children, but his kids seem to really love him. His wife, too, by the way she’s looking at him. I know there have to be some skeletons is this family’s closet, but they seem to be happy and well-adjusted all around. It’s makes me uncomfortable that I’m irritated by their lack of divisiveness, but I try not to be too hard on myself because I had a shitty childhood, and it took me a long time to realize that my childhood wasn’t normal. Or rather, it may have been normal because there are a lot of broken families in America, but it was still hard on me, my sisters, and my mother.

“I’m hungry, Daddy,” Beth says, looking up at her father. She has a Lego in each hand, but she seems to have forgotten her goal of building a castle.

“I know, baby. We’ll eat soon.” Gaugin hugs Beth to his chest, and she cuddles with him. “There will be more food than you’ve ever eaten!”

“That’s a lot of food,” Beth says gravely, her eyes trained on Gaugin’s. “We should save some for later!”

“That’s a good idea,” Jacqueline says, pushing her daughter’s hair out of her eyes. “Maybe Grammy Stephanie will let us take some home.”

I watch Rembrandt interact with his brothers as we wait for lunch to be served. He’s definitely the oldest sibling; I can tell from the tone of his voice and the way he bosses around his brothers. Rembrandt isn’t overt about it, but he doesn’t brook much bullshit from them. It’s similar to how Jasmine treats me sometimes. Monet just lets it roll of his back, whereas Gaugin reacts by growling and barking back. I’ve learned quickly, however, that Gaugin’s bark is much worse than his bite. At one point, Gaugin and Rembrandt end up wrestling on the floor as if they’re still teenage boys. Monet jumps into the fray, and it’s quite a sight to see. Three grown-ass men, aged thirty-two, thirty, and twenty-eight trying to put chokeholds on each other. Nicholas and Beth are watching with wide eyes, whereas Jacqueline and Antonio are laughing at the display. I wonder if this is normal at a DiCampo family function, but I don’t think it’s my place to ask.

“Time to eat!” Stephanie says, sweeping into the room. She stops when she sees her sons wrestling with each other, a frown crossing her face. “Rembrandt O’Keefe DiCampo! Monet Kahlo DiCampo! Gaugin Cassatt DiCampo! Stop it right now. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. Is this really the way you want to present yourself to Megan?” I stare at Stephanie, certain I’d heard her wrong. Did she really name all her sons after two different painters, one male and female each? It seems as if she did. The guys stop immediately at the sound of her voice, looking sheepish as they disentangle from each other. They shake each other’s hands, and everything goes back to normal.

“Welcome to the family,” Monet says to me as we move to the dining room.

“I hope it’s always this exciting,” I reply, still trying to absorb what I’d just seen.

“This is nothing,” Rembrandt says, slipping his arm around my waist. “You should have been here last Christmas when Gaugin punched me in the nu—groin.” He changes the final word at the last second as he glances at the two kids who are listening to every word.

“It was an accident,” Gaugin protests, his eyes full of mischief. “I was aiming for your gut, and my fist slipped.” They both laugh, but I can only imagine the drama that must have caused at the time.

“We should be more careful now that he’s the one-eye bandit,” Gaugin retorts. I stiffen because I know that’s a sensitive spot for Rembrandt, but he takes it in stride.

“I still have a better perception with my one eye than you do with two,” Rembrandt says, poking at his youngest brother.

“I can’t disagree with that,” Gaugin says. “It’s a good thing I’m only a CPA and not a photographer like you.”

“Wait a minute. You’re a CPA?” I ask, my voice incredulous. I can imagine Gaugin in a lot of professions, but accounting is not one of them.

“It’s hard to imagine, right?” Gaugin responds, turning his gaze towards me. “I bet you thought I was a circus clown!” The family laughs, and I join in. Apparently, taking zingers at each other and themselves is their way of showing affection.

“I thought you were probably an actor,” I say, not wanting to touch the circus clown statement. Oftentimes, it’s OK for someone to put himself down or someone in his family down, but he’ll bristle if an outsider does it as well.

“You wouldn’t think that if you actually saw him on the stage,” Monet chimes in, and the family laughs again.

“Remember the time he was a tree in a school production?” Stephanie asks, glancing at each son in turn. “He towered over all the other trees and wouldn’t stop laughing while the prince was fighting for the hand of his princess.”

“I was six feet tall by fifth grade,” Gaugin tells me, which is difficult for me to grasp. “That didn’t endear me to the other fifth grade boys, I’ll tell you that much.”

“You’re a giant,” I say, my voice filled with awe. “How tall was your father?”

“Francisco was six feet tall,” Stephanie says, the smile slipping from her face.

“I’m sorry for bringing him up,” I say, saddened that I had caused her pain.

“It’s OK,” Stephanie hastens to reassure me. “It hurts to talk about him, but I think about him every day. I’m much better now than after he first died.” The brothers exchange solemn glances, and I know there’s more to the story there. I don’t want to pry however, so I murmur something soothing and inconsequential.

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