Life in the eighth grade just wasn’t easy. I don’t allow my present mind to flutter back to those days all that often, but every now and again a song will come on the radio and before I can even stop it from happening, I find myself conjuring up terrifying images of the unflattering short haircut I was talked into getting by friends I now believe might really have been very stealth enemies. It was a look defined by the kind of uncontrollable frizz that could have potentially toppled an empire and it was smack dab on top of the head of a girl whose self-esteem was already quaking due to the braces plastered across her teeth and not nearly enough Champion sweatshirts hanging in her closet. It was a rough time and it was made exponentially more difficult the day my mother announced that she was marrying a man I knew full well was a putz. For the purposes of this little tale, I am going to call him Bill – because that’s his real name and I see no need to protect the anonymity of a putz.
It’s not that Bill was a terrible person, but he kind of made me sick to my stomach. He wasn’t particularly smart and he definitely wasn’t funny and he took up space in a home that already felt rather crowded after stuff like a divorce had gone down. He wasn’t cruel to me in the slightest – he bought me a black and white cookie every time he went to the corner store to buy the newspaper, so there was some kindness there – but I could tell that he was threatened by how successful my mother was in her career and that kind of reaction revolted me. The distaste I had for him spread quickly, like a particularly fungusy outbreak of athlete’s foot, and it didn’t take long for me to decide that I hated the following things about a man who lived in my house:
1. I detested the way he ate pasta. There was no delicate twirling of a noodle and certainly no quiet slurping ever went down. Instead, it was Bill’s face and his mouth and a plate of food engaging in what looked and sounded like a full-contact sport and thinking about it even now might have finally put me off carbohydrates forever.
2. I loathed the way he snored. My bedroom was upstairs in those days and the bedroom he shared with my far more tolerant mother was right beneath me. I heard the rumbling of his snores through my floorboards each and every night, and I’d tell you that I’m ashamed that I sat awake often and contemplated how to frame someone else for his death, but that would be a lie. I felt absolutely no shame for anything except for the fact that I never made it a priority to devote my time to making some friends who were far less morality-minded than I was and had a basement where one could hide a body.
3. I finally realized one day what it was that I truly abhorred the most: the way Bill breathed. It was loud – and he insisted on doing it all the time! The breathing sounded like it was amplified and I felt like there was nowhere I could go without hearing it invade my eardrums. I very calmly tried to explain to my mother that her husband’s breathing made me want to shove a spike clear through my eardrum to escape the pain that his conversion of oxygen brought to me, but she wasn’t all that understanding and acted like maybe it was me who had the issue! It took me only a little while to realize that the actual problem at hand was that I just wanted him to be doing his breathing in anyone’s house but mine.
I never smothered the guy and I never told him about the dark fantasies his very presence brought forth in my developing psyche because to do so felt cruel and I really did enjoy my daily bakery cookies. My mother ended up coming to her scattered senses all on her own a few years later and Bill left our home and our lives forever. For a few years afterwards, I’d have dreams where I’d punch him right in the face, but those dreams – like many – eventually faded and I rarely even think about Bill anymore, though sometimes when it’s windy I swear it’s really him breathing hard somewhere close by and I consider moving immediately.
Bill’s icky presence came swimming back into my head as I watched the latest episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County because of Brianna’s reaction to being in a house that used to be her home and is now the place where Brooks rests his weary head. He’s not resting it there at the moment, though. No, Brooks is traveling on business, which could very well translate into, “The guy is looking for the newest blonde moron to try to swindle,” but even in his absence, Brianna can feel the grimy remnants of his presence. It’s like when you burn something you probably shouldn’t have even been cooking in the first place and there’s a smell that won’t leave the air. That’s what Brooks is like: he is the overwhelming lingering odor of burnt popcorn mixed with rotten broccoli that can’t be scrubbed free no matter how hard you try, no matter how many lavender-scented air fresheners you plug in, no matter how many exorcists you eventually call into the home to give you a cross-wielding hand in the matter.
Brianna and her husband Ryan and their children are visiting Vicki’s house and they’ve deigned to enter the place because the healthiest cancer patient on the planet is away for the week. It’s sweet for a moment to see just how thrilled Vicki is with her family surrounding her, but then I realized that the closer Vicki gets to joy, the closer she is to bellowing that’s it’s time to whoop it up and so I have decided to veer towards the side of caution and to not give a shit about the happiness of a woman I find almost as appealing as I found Bill. Sitting around the table in the kitchen, Vicki tells Ryan and Brianna that she's nearing her goal of either selling her business within ten years or handing it over to Ryan, Brianna, or Michael and she reaches out to Ryan and touches him on the shoulder and she expounds about how selling insurance is so much fun and he should take over! He would love it! And on top of all of that bliss, he’d get to go to work with Vicki every single day, at which point Ryan looks like he's about to chew his own shoulder off to stop the touching and the horrific fantasy from becoming too vivid.
While Vicki takes the kids upstairs and dotes on them, Brianna and Ryan stand in the kitchen and Brianna tells him that it feels good to be home, but she can’t help but also feel weird because this is the place where HE lives. “HE” can obviously be used as a pronoun to discuss God, the devil, or Brooks – who I think might be the devil’s nephew – and I’d maybe put more thought into the possible demonic lineage that all of a sudden makes sense to me, but I’m drawn back towards the action onscreen as Ryan says that the house looks dirty in the way it never has before and it smells weird. I'm sure that Brooks will eventually blame that scent on his coffee enemas or the smell of cancer in general, but I’m more apt to believe that blatant lies might actually have a smell to them and I’m guessing they don’t smell like cherry Chapstick or happy dreams.
There’s a piece of me that almost wants to give Brooks some credit here. The man can invade a space even in absentia and apparently his very presence can alter the pH balance of a home and I think that kind of power should be rewarded and that the prize should be that he is sent to live on his own continent forever where we will never have to hear his annoying drawl ever again.
It comes out for the first time how it was that Brianna found out that her mother and the man who recommended that Brianna’s husband knock her around to keep her in line were living together – and my friends, it’s a doozy. Was there a carefully placed phone call to explain? There was not. Did Vicki hire a skywriter to fly high above Brianna’s home and spell the message out in puffy clouds? She did not. Instead, Brianna found out that Brooks moved into her mother’s house when a friend sent her a link that she found on Facebook. In that video, Vicki sat on her couch and held Brooks’ hand and revealed to the world at large that Brooks had moved in and she guessed that Brianna would now know the truth. Then Vicki allegedly giggled like a schoolgirl and I have to say that it’s pretty remarkable that Brianna didn't kill her mother for pulling such a revolting public stunt with such a revolting man. I’m serious; I really admire Brianna’s restraint.
“How has he gotten this far?” Brianna wonders. “How has he moved into our family home?” After all, the nonsense Brooks has pulled over the years is legendary in its sheer shittiness. He’s cheated. He’s cavorted with strippers who have barely completed the fourth grade. He recommended spousal abuse to his girlfriend’s son-in-law and the whole sordid matter was caught on tape! I personally have no answers here for Brianna other than the fact that she has a mother who is so desperate that she is willing to cohabitate with a pig so she doesn’t have to be alone, but I’m imagining that Meghan could actually prepare a detailed PowerPoint presentation charting the timeline of exactly how it is that Brooks got this far. Perhaps Meghan will roll the thing out during Part 27 of the upcoming reunion, the one I fear will take us clear until next year, and the presentation will end at precisely the same time that Brooks magically throws his hands up into the air and claims victory over the cancer that may or may not have ever ravaged his body. Lenka will undoubtedly be there to champion the fact that it must've been the coffee enemas and the rolling around on the grass that helped him slay the cancerous beast within while the other women band together on the opposite couch and figure out the best way to pummel the hell out of the man without mussing up their hair in the process.
In a far cleaner kitchen across town, Meghan and Hayley are in the process of mixing up some homemade facials because Meghan has decided that Hayley doesn’t need another parent and instead needs a friend and applying facials made out of honey and lemon juice is exactly the kind of stuff best friends do together. I’m of two minds here about Meghan going the friend route with this kid. On the one hand, Hayley is going through a lot as her mother is dying and she probably could really use a wise and warm friend who genuinely cares about her. On the other hand, this kid is struggling and she appears to have no direction and her mother is not able to care for her and her father seems like he’s never home. She probably could use a parent desperately, but perhaps that’s a problem for another time because right now all that anyone should worry about is that Meghan’s breaking out on her chin and that shit cannot continue so Hayley rubs something that looks like discharge over her BFF’s face.
A phone call comes in just then from Tamra and Meghan, as per her Bravo contract, answers it on speakerphone. Tamra is calling to invite Meghan to her baptism and Meghan promises she’ll be there. She’s happy for Tamra that she's found something that gives her some much-needed strength and I’m happy that Tamra will be plunged under water, even if it’s only for a second.
Over at Shannon and David’s house, Tina the Therapist arrives for a session. David offers her water, beer, or wine – all of which she turns down with a smile. He pointedly does not offer her vodka because that shit belongs to his wife and cheating on her is one thing, but giving away her booze would be something else entirely and the marriage might never recover from such a blunder. Shannon and David have been working with this therapist for about a year and Shannon says that she has been instrumental in helping them to move forward with their marriage. As they sit on the couch, David reaches over and pats Shannon's knee in much the same way you might pet a dog you were afraid might bite you or take a shit on you, but at least there’s some contact there so the therapy session surges forward and it begins with some kudos.
The therapist is very proud of both of them. She's proud of David for not fleeing from his family forever even though he so clearly wanted to, and hearing a therapist say such a thing would make me turn around and punch my husband in the face or break his leg with my two hands just so I could watch him try to do some of that running he so badly desired. As for Shannon, the therapist is pleased that Shannon is no longer speaking all of her words from a place of deep anger or pain and Shannon does seem to be a little bit more self-actualized these days which might allow David to be more open about his own feelings. But when the issue is brought forth about whether or not David truly believes that he can be open and honest, he insists that he can be – as long as he's in what he considers to be a safe environment. At that, Shannon begins to break. See, that sentiment reminds her vividly of the pitch-black moment when David told her that when he was with “his affair,” he could say anything to her in the way that he couldn’t and didn’t want to with his wife. The more that comes out (and I’ll be covering the revelations that pour out like Stoli on the Watch What Happens interview Wednesday on my site), the more it is clear that David was absolutely ruthless towards his wife during the time he decided that he was in love with another woman. She might come off as periodically crazy, but my heart really breaks for Shannon. Nobody deserves such cruelty from the person who promised you a forever.
In a less conflicted and far safer environment, Shannon, Tamra, and Heather meet up for lunch. Tamra’s having a tough day seeing as she has just been forced into having a joint checking account with her husband, a practice that was probably put in place so Tamra could stop secretly filtering money to her grown son. Eddie’s being pragmatic here. After all, they’re probably going to need to be fiscally prudent so they will eventually have the money to pay for Ryan’s trial lawyer, to say nothing of the bail they’ll have to fork over once the guy finally snaps and commits a felony. At this point, Tamra’s son is so creepy to me that I’d be far more shocked if he didn’t wind up behind bars. I am not wishing for such an event to transpire seeing as I’m not evil, but I’m just calling it like I see it and how I see it is that the guy is a quickly ticking time-bomb that will surely blow and the debris will be covered with scraggly beard hair and none of it will be pretty.
The ladies discuss Heather’s appearance on television where she hocked her skincare line and Tamra jumps in to sarcastically say that she loves how the products not only bring life to your skin, but apparently they also cure cancer! Yes, it’s time to go back to the Brooks story, though to be fair, have we ever really moved on from it? Shannon explains that when Terry listed the ingredients of the line onscreen and the women heard that the moisturizer included the very thing that Brooks was pumping into his body in the most alternative cancer treatment process of all time, there was a moment of surprise that took place. But it seems that Brooks’ story is once again shifting like the muck you sink into in a lake because Heather says that Vicki told her that Brooks is doing a bit of the alternative treatment before heading right back into chemotherapy. Upon hearing that news, Tamra insists that what Vicki told Heather is not true and that she recently met with Vicki who told her that Brooks’ cancer has spread. She also tells Heather that Brooks and Vicki showed her his newest scans and that what she saw was a piece of paper filled with rows of medical jargon that contained no spaces or punctuation. Heather’s reaction is classic. She stays calm and shakes her head in muted disbelief and comes right out and asks Tamra why they chose her to show the documentation to when Terry is a doctor. After all, if they really wanted to prove everyone wrong, wouldn’t they ask a doctor to read the charts so he could go to bat for the wrongly accused? It comes down – once again – to the fact that nobody really believes Brooks anymore and they now also feel deeply conflicted about their friendship with a woman who is either blatantly deceiving them or allowing herself to be deceived terribly and refuses to hear her friends’ concerns about a matter she made public in the first place. On the positive side, with Vicki on the outs, Shannon feels a real bond now with Tamra and Heather and she is so secure in these friendships that she tells them that David had an affair. I hadn’t realized that the affair had been a deep dark secret – you know, since it’s been brandished all over a reality show – but it turns out that both Tamra and Heather already knew about it. It seems they also kept their mouths shut and didn’t spread gossip about another woman’s misery so it’s quite likely that in the near future Shannon will apply a homemade facial to the skin of these two women because that’s what you do in Orange County when you are best friends. Shannon also trots out the statistic of the 72% divorce rate that burns through the area of the coast she calls home and the women nod and ask her how she is doing and Tamra suggests that perhaps David wants to get baptized alongside her and the whole thing is pretty funny in as funny as a lunch can be when the main topics of conversation are fake cancer scams and marital infidelity.
While her friends who now hate her are bonding over her boyfriend’s lies, Vicki and her family head out for a day at the petting zoo. (I am telling you honestly here that nothing would bring me more joy than feeding llamas and donkeys, even if I had to do so next to Vicki Gunvalson. I love me a petting zoo.) The place is great. There are guinea pigs that can be pet and ponies to ride and it seems like a lovely way to spend a day with a mother who has the single worst taste in men in the whole wide world. Brianna knows that her mother is fighting to make something disgusting and wrong work because of her grave fears of ever having to wake up alone, and I will just say that when a daughter can smell a mother’s desperation, it’s nothing but sad. Such a thing could even ruin a day at a petting zoo, but luckily there are carousels to ride and spinning round and round is a great way to practice avoidance for an afternoon. Besides, that petting zoo apparently smells better than Vicki’s house does.
A day with the animals was great, but now it’s time for Tamra to meet up with Brianna for lunch. The meeting was initially Vicki’s idea. She implored Tamra to be a good friend and to go to bat for Brooks with Brianna because there’s nothing more effective than asking your sometimes bestie to do everything possible to make your daughter not hate the man who advocated physical abuse against her. Tamra’s known Brianna for a long time now and they seem to have a rather honest relationship but first they talk about the weather before they slide into the Brooks bullshit at hand. Tamra explains that Vicki asked her to speak with Brianna about maybe giving Brooks a break and that she tried to let her own animosity over the guy go, but Brianna maintains that she has zero desire to ever be around the man. And Brianna’s not the only one who feels that way. Vicki’s mother also allegedly despised Brooks before he died, a claim that is the exact opposite of what Vicki told her friends. With all of these newfound inconsistencies about not only Brooks’ behavior but now Vicki’s too, Tamra is confused and she’s conflicted and so she decides to dive on in and tell Brianna about what’s been going on with the cancer stories that keep shifting like Brooks’ life is one of those books where you get to choose your own adventure and change anything you please on a whim just to make the story more interesting.
“The girls think that Brooks is duping your mom,” Tamra ventures – and I think it’s hilarious that she doesn’t then scream, “and I think so too!” Brianna’s reaction is to sigh and then explain that some of the treatments that Brooks claims to have received for his illness made little to no sense to her – and she’s a nurse who might know about such things. She also reveals that the kind of cancer Brooks alleges to have had years ago is not the kind one typically survives and his “recovery” from such a disease was in fact so spectacular that she says he should’ve ended up in a medical textbook if any of it were true. In fact, Brianna explains that she asked Brooks a ton of questions about the timeline of his illness and it finally came out that what he really suffered from was not pancreatic cancer, but an inflammation of the pancreas that can be caused by alcohol abuse. Tamra is trying to process the whole wretched mess she’s been made privy to and Brianna claims that she will kill the guy herself if he’s been lying to her mother this entire time, but it doesn’t seem likely that anything will ever be proven definitively, especially because Brianna believes what Meghan has already predicted will occur: that one day Brooks will claim to be magically cured of a cancer he never actually had in the first place and nobody will be able to prove him a total fucking liar.
Leaving a serious meeting between two emotionally-ravaged women, we enter a make-up place where Shannon brings her daughters so they can learn all about proper skincare. I’m not sure why they don’t just call Terry Dubrow and ask if they can borrow his medical scrubs while lathering themselves with his new line of exfoliants, but it’s nice that Shannon is spending the day with her kids and advocating the use of organic eyeliner. Shannon’s proud of her kids and how they have come through the repercussions of David’s affair and since her children haven’t toilet papered any mansions recently, she is pleased as a vodka-infused punch to purchase them some mascara.
On a different shopping expedition – this one sponsored by God – Tamra is ready to pick out her baptism ensemble. She wants everyone to wear all white to her big holy day and she doesn’t care for even a millisecond that some people think they look fat in white. It is her day, dammit, and if she can’t part the seas or make the sky rain locusts or vibrators, she will at least enforce a dress code! Vicki arrives to help Tamra pick out something that might make her appear angelic to someone who is blind and her first response to seeing Tamra in one of the dresses is to say what any wonderful friend would: “That dress looks like crap on her. It looks better on me.” Yes, there’s nothing but purity and goodwill abounding in the OC tonight.
As Tamra slips her (oh dear lord) hot pink jacket back on, Vicki tells her that Brooks is going for some bone marrow test and she is hoping he’s in remission. After all, he looks great these days and he’s feeling great too and it must be from his diet and not at all because he was never sick in the first place. Tamra tells Vicki – to her face, which is kind of impressive for Tamra, a woman used to sniping behind the backs of her friends – that she feels like she’s been put in the middle of the Brooks thing. She now feels like she was used and that Vicki should have presented the “proof” of Brooks’ illness to the group instead of asking her to do it. Vicki obviously counters with the undisputed fact that Satan has taken over and he and not her charlatan boyfriend is the sole reason for the mess they are all wading through. That’s right; Beelzebub is right there in Orange County and he is wrecking havoc on her friends by implanting doubts in both sides of their brains. Honestly? I’d sooner believe that the devil hangs out all day at a juice bar in California with the intention of shoving bad thoughts into the minds of Housewives than believe that Brooks is legitimately sick anymore. I was really on the fence about whether or not the guy was faking anything for a long time and maybe it’s just the cohesive editing strategies that have finally gotten to me, but I no longer buy that Brooks is or has ever been sick. I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong – but at least I’m standing in some good company now and the devil’s flames are keeping me tan.
Tamra also tells Vicki that she met with Brianna and there appears to be nothing she can do to get Brianna to not want to vomit all over Brooks’ face any time she comes into contact with him and Vicki nods and says that she knows it’s hopeless for now. The problem here is that Brianna, for whatever her faults, loves her mother and Vicki should maybe open her eyes already and realize that her own child thinks her boyfriend is the single worst homosapien ever discovered in any era. Perhaps Vicki might want to listen to the dire warnings being communicated by everyone around her because if every person who knows Brooks shares one negative opinion about the guy and she’s the only one who doesn’t, perhaps she’s the one who is mistaken. Vicki then ends her harmonious afternoon with Tamra by announcing that Brooks will not be coming to her baptism and if anyone tries to talk to Vicki about any of it, she will refuse to engage. And why will she refuse to discuss the matter? Because “you can’t fix stupid,” and if irony had a face right now it would unfortunately look just like Vicki and that would really suck for irony.
On the morning of her baptism, Tamra gets her makeup done like all the Catholics did before her and talks about anal sex on the phone with Shannon. Shannon is having a rough day. She did a colonic earlier and it appears that there’s a piece of plastic from the thing that’s now stuck in her ass. Don’t you hate when that happens? Now she must do an enema to lodge the thing free and she blessedly closes the bathroom door while she shoves something else up her rectum. Proving that their marriage is better than ever, David helps her out by sticking his finger clear up his wife’s ass and it appears that he didn’t wash his hands before walking out the door to a baptism and all of that is still far more appetizing than watching Vicki profess Brooks’ innate goodness to her brother, the only person on the planet who is willing to listen to her anymore.
The blonde shrew doth protest way too much.
“Satan loves confusion,” Vicki muses with the conviction of a moron as her limo barrels its way towards a baptism. And then, just to appear even more idiotic and totally lacking in both awareness of herself and the way a show she has been a participant on for a decade works, she follows up that perfect Satanic nugget with the words, “How can there be any conflict at a Jesus party?”
This woman and her lying and leaking mess of a man are hitchhiking to hell in a fucking handbasket. Friends, heed my words! Whatever you do, do not offer them a ride because it’s hot and simmering where they’re going – and maybe also avoid whatever home colonic Shannon still feels poking through her anus as well.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.