He had wanted to see his baby girl, naturally. Had been trying to find a way around his accursed ex-wife getting in the way of his visitation rights. And all because of a petty little thing called child support. Like she wasn’t rich enough to take care of their goddamn spawn without his financial help. But for Rebecca, it was all about power and control. She loved that she could lord his inadequacy not just as a man, but as a father over him. Make him feel so small that he could have looked up and actually seen a midget as being tall.
Eric wasn’t always like this. There was a time in his life when he was a total square. Had the steady job, the 401(k), the stock market investments. This was all around the era when he first married Rebecca, who had apparently only been drawn to him because of these very qualities. Though she claimed during their wedding vows it was the fact that she could “really see herself” growing old with him. Alas, they would have to grow apart while still relatively young, divorcing when he was thirty-six and she thirty-three. That age would give her just enough time to start over, yet again. But she would likely only have one shot at it. And she clearly wanted to make it so that whoever this new man turned out to be, he would become the one viewed as Elena’s “real” father. And why? Because he was always there and he could pay. You have to pay for every goddamn thing in this life, even being a dad. Was there nothing pure left in this world, even when it came to parent-child relationships? No, capitalism had even managed to ruin that as well.
Meanwhile, Eric could see that his impressionable Elena was getting increasingly brainwashed by the poison being funneled into his daughter’s mind. The last time he saw her, almost two months ago now, she was spouting some bullshit about how she wanted to be able to afford to go to private school. She was eight years old—where the hell did she get the notion of needing to go to a private school? Her mother had been filling her head with expensive ideas that would force Eric to see what a poverty-stricken do-nothing he was. But that wasn’t true. He did things all the time—they just didn’t happen to yield any income. That was the issue: he realized too late that he couldn’t live the life corporate anymore without wanting to kill himself. Try as he might to stamp out the artistic impulse, it kept floating up again like a goddamn turd in a toilette. And that’s when, just six years into the marriage, they decided to divorce. Or really, she decided to divorce. Maybe they had both been too young to get married in the first place. Nowadays, people should really wait until they’re forty. In any event, she couldn’t abide his sudden need to paint. Unless, that is, he wanted to paint houses, which actually made money. As opposed to the daily work he was putting in on the canvas.
“What century do you think this is?” she would berate. You’re not fucking Rembrandt, okay? It’s never gonna happen for you. So why don’t you start looking for a real job so we can support our daughter, or I will walk out this fucking door!”
Never at any point was it made mention of that her own father had plenty of money to support them if things got truly dire. He was a mogul, the owner of several drink brands that were particularly popular out West. You couldn’t go anywhere from California to Kansas without seeing a billboard for Schmaltz or Daddy’s—two soda brands that Eric had trouble believing could still be so lucrative. And yes, the name of that latter beverage got to him every time. It was an additional blow to his self-esteem, and an instigator of his latent rage with regard to him feeling his wife shouldn’t be so bloody uptight about their finances all the time. He also had plenty of savings to carry them through for a while, so it wasn’t as though he was looking for a handout, not right away. He had very much remained “a man who could stand on his own two feet.” So why couldn’t Rebecca just, for once, support his dream? But no, she was the one who wanted support. Child support. And she would be allowed to withhold access to their ever-growing daughter until the point when he could provide it. Which would prove difficult so long as Rebecca was burying him in legal fees.
It had now been three years since the divorce, and all that aforementioned savings Eric had felt so secure in having was summarily drained. Meanwhile, Elena’s eleventh birthday was coming up, and she had been enrolled in that private school her mother made her believe she needed. Just another way in which Eric had fallen short. Daddy couldn’t provide. For whatever reason, Rebeca had agreed to “bequeath” a few hours with Elena before her big party that day. Maybe Rebecca was finally getting laid or something, because she had never been this lenient before. And yes, the second Eric pulled up to the palatial pad Rebecca’s dad bought for her as soon as the divorce was finalized, he could see her in the doorway with a man. As though she wanted to be sure that he would be aware of the “latest development” in their ever-evolving lives without him. The man was tall and muscular, with dark hair and a fresh-faced countenance. It looked like she had gotten him right off an assembly line for as precise as his aesthetic seemed to meet her specifications. He wouldn’t actually be surprised if the man was being paid to be with her.
As he was muttering to himself about what a hoity-toity bitch Rebecca was, Elena popped out from in between them and brought a smile to his face. Even though he could tell she was fast becoming an irrevocable bitch herself, his heart still warmed when he actually got the chance to spend time with her. Unfortunately, today would change his opinion of her for good.
From the moment she got into the car, she exuded the aura of being “put upon.” Like it was a huge inconvenience for her to have to see “this stranger.” She had no trouble expressing this to him, in addition to the fact that she either wanted to do something “fun” or not bother at all with this outing. When he asked her what she viewed as “fun,” she informed him she wanted to be taken to Fashion Island. The thought horrified him, and he briefly kiboshed the notion with the suggestion of going to the beach for some ice cream instead. At least the beach was fucking free.
After what felt like an eternity in search of parking, they made their way to the ice cream stand that had once delighted his only daughter. Now, it brought a mocking sneer to her face. And it wasn’t until he had already paid the five dollars for her cone that she decided to tell him, “I’m not eating ice cream anymore. I’m on a diet.”
“Oh,” he returned with a notably deflated air. “Don’t you think you’re too young to be dieting, Elena?”
“You’re never too young to do anything, Eric. Only too old.”
Her forced maturity, paired with the deliberateness of not calling him Dad, made him want to retch. But he held it in long enough to say, “Okay then, why don’t we take a walk?”
“It’s hot. Why don’t we go to Fashion Island?”
Fashion fucking Island. One of the biggest malls in the U.S. It was galling to think of his daughter being sucked into it. Into this entire lifestyle. And all while she was just barely eleven. What hath her mother wrought? And for what purpose? To prove that Eric couldn’t hack it in the real world? Should put himself out to pasture or become a hermit in the desert if he wanted to keep “focusing on his art”? Amidst his daze, Elena grew impatient enough to rudely declare, “If you have any money to spend on me, I’ll keep hanging out. Otherwise, I’m pretty bored, and I’d like to go back home so I can get ready for my party.”
He looked down at her, this creature. This gaping hole oozing the wounds of capitalism at such a tender age. It was utterly horrifying. And it was sheer inspiration. Struck by “the muse,” he heeded her advice and took her home immediately. Then he returned to his ramshackle studio to paint the vision she had just presented to him. It was a painting on par with the surrealist genius of “Guernica.” That’s what all the douchebag art outlets would say, anyway.
The press was likely part of the reason the painting, called “Materialism Killed My Daughter,” fetched such a high price tag for a relatively unknown artist—upwards of 1.3 million dollars. Rebecca was real quick to come a-runnin’ back to him then. But it was too late. He had seen both of their true essences and it repelled him for good. He subsequently proceeded to pay the fucking child support and chose to move on with his life, never seeing either of them again. And since there was no point in staying in Orange County without a family to tie him there, he moved to Europe, where there were still a few errant artists. And plenty of other people’s daughters willing to spend time in exchange for cash.