Big Red Flag: Phil’s Dysfunctional Family Life–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–February 1994, Part 2

Eventually, Phil and I got into a rhythm of eating Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dairy Queen on Wednesdays.  We stopped at the S– KFC, which had no drive-through, and got one chicken dinner, which we divided between us.  Then we got Peanut Buster Parfaits in the Dairy Queen closest to his house, which may also have not had a drive-through.

This Dairy Queen closed an hour earlier than it claimed on the sign.  One night when we went to see if it was open, Phil thought the workers inside were laughing at him.

Whenever I ate a meal with him, which was a lot because I spent weekends with him, we went to a fast food place such as Burger King.  Nobody seemed to cook all that much around his house.

Sometimes people would make something, but there was no dinnertime.  They didn’t eat together; they made their own separate meals and sometimes other people shared them.

This was incredibly strange to me.  Instead of eating together at the dining table, they used it for laundry folding, homework, and other things: It was always covered.

I knew very little about cooking, while Phil was so incredibly picky that he only ate a few different kinds of food–mostly mac and cheese, fast food and frozen pizzas.

He wouldn’t make much else besides mac and cheese, which basically forced me to eat fast food more often than I wanted.  I gained about five pounds before I went home that summer (in just a few months), which was unusual for me: I was usually 120 when I went home, not 125!

One thing they did have in the house was pop, and several different kinds of it, often cheaper, generic brands.  So at night I didn’t have to go thirsty.

Phil’s parents slept on the living room chairs and couches with the TV on all night, rather than actually going to bed.

I don’t remember why, but I was told Mrs. O. started it, and Mr. O. would sleep out there to be with her.  She may have moved out there because of health problems that made it hard to lie down.

What with the TV and arguments, it was a very noisy house.

Mr. O’Hara, who was almost 60, had already raised a whole family to adulthood with a previous wife, who died.  Then he raised a second family to adulthood with a new wife.  (He must have started having kids around 20 years old!)

I don’t know what the home life was like for the first brood, but for the second, it was awful.  There were always loud, yelling arguments–or the little nephew/grandson Taylor having a temper tantrum.

Any time of day, arguments among any members of the family were common.  (Daughter Maura didn’t live at home anymore.)  I used to think it was funny, but eventually it annoyed me.

Phil’s mom told him she only stayed with his dad because of Phil and Dave, who still lived in the house.

She didn’t like the things that went on; I’ve always assumed that she saw Mr. O’Hara as verbally abusive, and I think I based this on the reasons she gave.  I don’t remember what the reasons were, but this is probably pretty close.

I saw some romantic board game sitting on the tiny, junk-covered kitchen table, yet Phil didn’t think they loved each other anymore.

Phil assured me, “I’ve spent my whole life trying not to be like my parents.”  This statement gave me a false sense of security: I didn’t realize yet that Phil knew no other way than to be just like his argumentative parents.

One good thing was that they did seem to put a big emphasis on the family.

Phil’s mom used to be Baptist, but converted for Mr. O’Hara.  According to Phil, who wanted me to convert for him, she threw herself into the conversion, trying to mean it.  Her influence and effort, in turn, got Phil to take it seriously.  He wasn’t just baptized in the faith: He really believed in it.

But Mr. O’Hara no longer went to church, and Mrs. O’Hara told me she always felt fake in the Catholic church.  She was thinking about going back to a Baptist church.

Phil and his mom were the most religious ones left in the family, yet they didn’t even go to church.  It made me wonder what use it was to convert for a spouse, if you just felt fake anyway.

Phil and Dave argued all the time.  According to Phil, Dave could not reason well, using circular arguments.  I heard Dave argue about things that made no sense, but act like Phil was being the stupid one.  Phil joked that Dave was like that because their mom smoked while pregnant with him.

Phil thought that Dave’s Pearl was the best thing to ever happen to him, that she helped him be a better person.  Yet later on that semester, they argued quite a bit.

For example, Pearl would want to do something, yet Dave would sleep late instead of doing it with her.  She’d get upset, of course, but he would treat her like a nag.  (This sounds a lot like the arguments Phil and I had in the summer.)

Phil noted in the fall of 1995 that they were starting to get like his parents.  I didn’t know it until late 1995, but they eventually broke up.  So much for being engaged, for her being the best thing to ever happen to Dave.

I didn’t know who she was back then, of course, but daughter Maura had been in my Persuasive class.  I remembered her red hair, slanted eyes, and gorgeous face.

Mrs. O’Hara had also been in a class with me.  When she heard about Phil’s dilemma between Tracy and me, she said I was a beautiful girl.  When Phil chose Tracy, she said “Phil!” in a scolding tone for this reason.

When he broke up with Tracy and chose me, she said, “Phil!  Don’t choose based on looks.”  So she could be inconsistent.

Mrs. O. and Dave both had Botany class with me.  Mrs. O. answered and asked a lot of questions, and sat right in the front row with a non-trad friend.

Dave sat behind Pearl and me and griped all through class about it, saying how he didn’t need to know any of the material after he graduated and he just needed the credits.  Tests were deliberate inconveniences for him.

During labs, Mrs. O. wanted him and me to work in her group.  (This was weird for me, being in a lab with the mother and brother of my boyfriend, but at least I knew she liked me.)  Pearl was in the other lab class.

Dave would complain to the other person in our group that his mother slowed us all down–all the other labs would be finished and we’d only be half done–and often complained about her behind her back about various things.

Mrs. O., in the meantime, worked hard to try to understand things and do them right–and still be cheerful.

Phil sometimes came into the labs to be with me, but not too often, probably because I had too much work to do and couldn’t chat with him.

Soon, Mrs. O. didn’t like Tracy anymore: Tracy told her that Phil had treated her badly.  Phil couldn’t figure out why she’d say this, since he still opened doors for her and such.

Neither of us could figure it out, or why Tracy would go from accepting the breakup to being so angry about it.  Upset, we could understand, and we probably tried to not get too lovey with each other when she was in the cafeteria.

But angry?  Saying he treated her badly?  Rather than a warning sign, I took it as sour grapes.

Oh, by the way, Tracy was quite busy at this time with various projects related to Band and her theater major.  I think she was even directing a play at a local high school.

Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)
Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: