By Marie Lathers
The latest family crisis started right in the middle of “My Favorite Martian,” and not even during a commercial.
I was watching in the living room, plopped down in the lime green beanbag, wearing my Mets cap. It had been a good day and was only getting better.
Uncle Martin was explaining to boring Bill Bixby that, yes, Martians were green, and he—Bill Bixby—could just tell the neighbors that he—Uncle Martin—was Irish. No one would be the wiser. That satisfied dumb, old Bill Bixby.
We had a black and white set, which was fine by me. I was used to making up TV colors on my own.
Bill Bixby was wondering where Uncle Martin would sleep when we were all interrupted by my older sister, Janine, just back from the “library”—her excuse for spending afternoons with her pothead boyfriend. She threw her fake suede jacket on the couch, and an open pack of Newport Menthols fell out of a pocket. The room began to smell like chewing gum.
Janine stomped past our permanently frazzled mother, who had walked in from the kitchen with a homemade pot holder—made by Janine when she was young and innocent—in one hand and a Parade Magazine in the other.
Mom’s eyes followed Janine’s bell-bottoms up the stairs, where my sister was going to her private room. T.J. and I had to share because we were two boys and she was one girl, and that was that.
Janine turned at the top of the stairs and let us in on her latest predicament. “I’m pregnant! It’s for real, I’m not just exaggerating. And there’s not a thing you can do about it, so don’t even try to bother me for the next seven months!” She was looking at Mom, but I could tell she meant it for me, too. As if I cared.
“After I’ve popped this baby out, I’m giving it away to a decentfamily in a decent town, maybe even on another planet!”
She knew I was obsessed with other planets. I smiled at her, like I do sometimes to fake her out, and then turned back to the Irish Martian.
“If you must know, it’s Tommy’s, but it doesn’t matter because I hate his guts and no way am I ever telling him. He couldn’t even buy the better brand of rubbers, that’s what kind of a loser he is.”
Uncle Martin was explaining that the gravitational pull on Mars is nothing compared to the one on Earth, and he summed it up in an equation that I already knew. I was a whiz kid in the 5th grade, whereas Janine was only good at “after-school activities.”
Mom didn’t seem phased, which meant she was in shock. “There’s nothing wrong with our town, and if an illegitimate child is in the works, so be it. There’s no way you’ll give away a baby, so I’ll just have to raise another one myself.” She had rolled up the Parade and was shaking it at Janine. “Even illegitimate children have to stay healthy, so you better come down to dinner. I’ve made a tuna casserole with cream of mushroom soup and, yes, mushrooms are vegetables.”
Mom was like that. She greeted every family catastrophe with the same matter-of-fact attitude, and then would cry all night. In the morning, she’d threaten to call our dad, but we knew she didn’t know his phone number.
Stupid Bill Bixby told Uncle Martin he could have the study for his bedroom, because I guess two grown men can’t share a room. I knew right then that I’d never have my own room. I’d been counting on it for years, and Janine was probably going to graduate that year. But I realized that she and Little Janey or Little Tommy would never leave. I’d be stuck forever in a room that smelled like piss because cute, little T.J. couldn’t control his bladder.
The only way I’d escape would be to become a NASA astronaut and torpedo to Mars. So I turned up the volume as loud as I could until Janine came stomping down and threw a tissue box at me on her way to the dining room.
“Turn that off now,” Mom said, “and go find T.J. I’ve made Jell-O for dessert, and that’s good for morning sickness.”