The Cut Off
A Short Story
Thursday, March 24, 2022
by: Stephanie Anderson, Forsberg & Umlauf, P.S.

Section: Winter 2022

When I was fourteen, my dad wanted a divorce, my mom didn’t, and she refused to move out. There were nights I would hear her charge my dad’s makeshift, locked basement bedroom with her shoulder to get him to open the door. Other nights she’d be crying over my seven-year-old brother Benny while he slept, her tears splashing his face and waking him.

“Dad,” I said, “Do something. No-one’s getting any sleep around here.”

“Don’t worry,” he replied. “She’ll leave eventually.”

And eventually she did, Benny her reluctant keepsake. They moved to a dingy apartment off a main thoroughfare in the San Fernando Valley. Not having worked in a long time, she had a tough time finding a job. She applied for welfare and food stamps to make ends meet.
My dad’s lawyer was better than my mom’s, so at their divorce trial the judge awarded her broken appliances and $200 a month for Benny.

My mom did not know enough to appeal.

That year, my dad married a woman younger than my mom, who adored him and wore her long, thick hair loose down her back. My dad’s new job took the newlyweds to Izmir, Turkey (he worked for Department of Defense schools) where their airy rooftop apartment looked out over the Aegean Sea, and they looked fabulous lounging at the Club Med pool.

I went to college at the University of Florida. I watched the Price is Right. I went to matinees. I ate breakfast at IHOP at 2 am and scheduled no classes before noon. Seeking to continue this lifestyle, I enrolled in law school.

There – in every class I took – I heard this idea of equity. That the intent of the law is to make things fair, that disparities should be remedied.

That summer my dad and stepmom came to visit me and my other brother Jason (then a sophomore at UF). My mom found out and told me her new lawyer said for her to garnish my dad’s wages, she needed to serve him with legal process while he was in the U.S. She begged me to tell her where in Gainesville he would be staying. Reluctantly, I did.

The first day of our visit, my dad, stepmom and Jason all went to brunch. When the check came, my dad said, “We’ll take care of our half. You got the other half?”

I said sure. After brunch, the four of us had fun tubing the Ichetuknee River, but the whole time I was worried, knowing my dad was going to be served at his hotel that evening.

The next morning, he called.

“Did you tell your mother where we were staying?”

“Yes, but –”

“I just got served with legal papers – she wants a third of my income!”

“It’s for Benny too,” I said. “They’re on welfare . . .”

“Not your problem. How dare you betray me like that! I’m through with you. You are dead to me.”


“You are cut off.”  He hung up the phone, permanently.

I thought he’d settle down, that we’d have a conversation about fairness and equity, that in the end it would be all right. Not this.
I quick called my grandpa. “Hi grandpa, remember me, your favorite grandchild? Dad just said I was dead to him and cut me off – will  you help?”

“Steffie, you can’t call me! He’d kill me if he knew I was talking to you.”

“So you won’t help me either?”

“No. Good luck.”  Click.

I was cut off.

I turned off all the lights in my apartment. Get that electric bill down.

I checked the pantry. Spam, tuna, mac cheese, peanut butter, ramen. Good.

I grabbed the Gainesville Sun, circling dates for happy hour at CJ’s Oyster Bar, and Ladies Night at the Islands. These two venues would be my social life for the next two years.

I canceled the Gainesville Sun.

I rode my bike (no using the car!) to give blood.

Then I walked to CJs for all you can eat ten cent oysters. For my drink I ordered a glass of water.

My brother Jason met me there.

“Why the face?” he asked. “And what’s with the water?”

“Dad cut me off,” I said.

“Wait – dad cut you off?”

“Yes,” I said. Tearfully I slurped an oyster.

“So – no money from dad for tuition, books, rent or food?”

I nodded. “I don’t know how I’m going to finish school.”

Jason laughed so hard he almost fell off his barstool.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Dad can’t cut you off!”

“Why not?”

Jason leaned in, took aim and flicked my temple. “Who paid for your brunch today?”

“I did,” I said.

“Right!” He looked at me. “You’re on loans, Steffie-Beffie! Dad’s never given you a dime!”

I sat for a moment.

He was right. I had financed my entire higher education with student loans.


“Bartender,” I said, “Your finest Mai Tai, please. And one for my friend here too,” pointing to Jason, as a smile slowly filled my face.