Hotel Florida

Michael Hammerle

Michael Hammerle

Hotel Florida was accepted as part of the MSU Library Short Edition call for work on the theme of “recovery,” in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibit of Beverly Fishman's art, also called Recovery. Michael Hammerle holds an MFA from the University of Arkansas, Monticello, and a BA in English from the University of Florida. He is the founder of Middle House Review. His work has been published in The Best Small Fictions, Split Lip Magazine, New World Writing, Louisiana Literature, Hobart After Dark, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. His writing has been a finalist for awards from American Short Fiction, Hayden's Ferry Review, and Prime Number Magazine. He lives and writes in Gainesville, Florida.

When I got my first CD I was almost eight and my mother was twenty-four. I knew she was my mom but spending time with her was more like hanging out with Wendy Peppercorn. Somehow her absence, that distance, made her seem cool and fun and out of reach. My brother and I weren't going to drown ourselves for her attention, or affection, but the thought crossed my mind.

She would swoop in some Saturday nights with Slim Jims and treats and watch wrestling with us and we would act out the wrestling we were seeing. I echoed my older brother like two TVs playing the same channel in different rooms. Over the next six-or-so years we learned the frequencies of her Saturday-night visits like this were random. The in-between time was so easily forgiven because when we were little kids my mom liked to get us gifts.

That night, our gift was our first CD, the Eagles' Hotel California. The next day she took us shopping. We put the CD in the car that morning and drove with the windows down and played Hotel California all the way to the Regency Square Mall in Jacksonville, Florida: white Cadillac, with Dayton wire wheels (my step-dad's ride). My mom smoked Marlboro lights, had a couple tattoos, and always kept a picture of her strong female bulldog on the panel cluster. My mom was built, born tan, and darkened easily, which made her freckles come out, auburn curly hair, light jean shorts and white shirt, with clean, white shoes.

At the mall she bought us two pairs of shoes each (name-brand shoes). I got a pair of white Nikes with a blue and orange swoosh and some black and white Sketchers. I don't even remember if I picked them out. That was my first memory where I spent all day out with my mother. The Eagles, "Hotel California," the single, on repeat everywhere we went in the car after the mall. We had got back from the mall at night. She put us to bed, kissed us, and told us she loved us. Had we not been in the beds we've always had, and at our grandparent's house, we could have pretended it was the first night we lived with our mom.

We had a boom box in our room and she put Hotel California in and set the CD's case on the dresser. My mom was the only person who said I love you to us, and was certainly the only one to kiss us, affection like in the movies. "Hotel California," the single, especially reminds me of the time she watched wrestling with us and stayed the night and went shopping the next day and she stayed the night again.

"Breakfast," Pop bellowed and woke my brother and I.

I saw the case to Hotel California on the dresser. We ran out of our bedroom and through the living room to the kitchen searching. Things were returned to the way they had always been: our mother was gone, we had a few gifts to let us know she had been there, and Gram and Pop were raising us—Pop made sausage biscuits and covered them with a clean white hand towel.

We believed that we would never live with her. But eight years later, about a year after Pop died, we did go to live with her in the house she visited until we both graduated from highschool. We'd been living in Orlando with my grandma and her sister.

Anytime our mother returned she brought with her the kind of affection that used words, kisses, and hugs. Gram worked the 11 to 7 at the hotel (could be second or third shift) and she didn't have the time. Pop's military training injury progressed him to a wheel chair. He still took us fishing on the dock at Alligator Lake, or to get the balls lost in the tall grass behind the batter's box at the baseball field, and showed us the trophies in the dumpsters. He did a lot for us: always let us know we could talk to him. But we never had anything deep to say because we were happy living with our grandparents.

Living with out mother meant affection was only a room away. Her love didn't replace the knowledge that she could leave anytime, or that she was looking for love, how different that was from our solid Gram and Pop. And for all their solidarity and content, childhood had this parental confusion and lonesomeness too. My brother and I, our reality after Pop died, we knew where the buck stopped.

My childhood, no matter how it feels, like everyone else's was just a few years. It is hard not to believe most, or this large portion, of my life occurred in the past when I had no say, no control, and way to live how I see fit. I learned dwelling in the past, beyond the information, can dictate my future if I let it. Losing the man who raised us, and knowing our biological father didn't want to know us, we could be whatever we want. We chose to work, to get an education, and to sit in front of any board who'd see us for a better job.

When I hear the Eagles, I think of those Saturdays and the Regency Square Mall, Cadillacs, Wire Wheels, Custody, Guardians, and youth, not just my brother and I, but our mother; how different a day was with her. Given the choice, I wouldn't change a thing. I'd wake and find her gone all those times because tackle boxes, knife collections, rare coins, history lessons, non-caffeine, low-sodium soda, a loyal dog, tool boxes, falling asleep in forts made of TV-dinner tray tables and blankets, saying I'm scared and my Pop turning on his side so I had room to sleep in his back, Gram working out deals with my teachers for summer school so I can stay on track, her working with me after coming home late so I'd get my homework turned in, the beach, sitting too close to the waves and a rogue comes in and puts us all on our backs, pizza after hospital visits, pickle chips, and beef jerky to get us through dialysis, the quiet strength of pushing Pop up a concrete hill, his open hand in the air, the hospital bed, no words, my hand in his hand, and eyes like Iolite calling me son.

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