Tag Archives: mom

Storytime Dreams

I told Mother this morning that when I grow up, I want to be a protagonist in my own story. She just laughed as she set a plate down in front of me with two strips of bacon, two slices of toast, and two eggs over easy. “When I was your age, it was every boy wanted to grow up to be a firefighter, or astronaut,” she said. “Now everyone wants to be the protagonist in their own story. If everyone was a protagonist, then who would do the work that makes the world go ‘around, huh?”

She always delivered the guilt trip over things like this. “Can you imagine if Ms. Mott wanted to be a protagonist? Who would be left to teach you about reading and arithmetic? If everyone was a protagonist, there’d be no one left to teach you how to be a protagonist!” Ms. Mott was my second grade teacher. She was beautiful, blonde, and buxom, and she was very understanding and patient when I needed help on my math homework.

Mother sat down at the table across from me in our tiny, cramped kitchenette and looked at the eggs on her plate. She sliced cleanly through one of them with the edge of fork; the yolk didn’t run, meaning she’d left them on the stove for too long. Mother always hated when the yolk was too hard. It reminded her of my father. That was why she was so sensitive about my dream of being my own protagonist — father had left her for the exact same reason. “I’m tired of living my life for the betterment of someone else’s story!” I heard him yelling angrily through the wallpaper of our rent-controlled apartment. “My father worked for the union for 55 years, and all he had to show for it was a boring old pension and some ungrateful kids. He would have been happier if he just had his own story. I’m not going to make the same mistakes as my old man.”

The next morning, my father was gone. By the end of the weekend, Mother had cleared out everything that reminded her of him. Well, except for me. I’d always had his pale blue eyes and moppy brownish hair — and now I had his foolish dreams as well.

“Well…maybe I can be an astronaut, and a protagonist!” I tried telling her before biting into my first slice of bacon. The crunching reverberated all throughout the empty hollow of my young head. I waited for the echo to die down before swallowing; there was still no response from Mother. I looked back down at the food in front of me, the food that she had so lovingly prepared for me, and I tried to appreciate each bite as I forced it down. The only other sound was that of Mother trying to fold the newspaper in order to read it properly — our kitchen table was too small these days to rest the pages on.

As I finished up my breakfast, all she said was, “Hurry up. You don’t want to miss the bus.”

The Last Happy Meal

She lurched into the room on legs like Roman pillars — large, coarse, and grooved, speckled with the dying glimmer of glass caught in sandstone that struggled to remind you of its more majestic time some thousand years back. Even her hair was done up in a style reminiscent of the plume of a gladiator’s helmet, dyed red and wild, erupting out like a volcano at the top. She stopped in the doorway to smooth her dress and check the elevation of her hair before adjusting her position for presentation. Chin up, back straight, hands crossed together and resting on that horrible front-butt that women like her develop around the age of 43. Women like my mother.

I hate my mother.

I kept my head down, focused on the paint-splatter of paperwork that littered my desk. Of course I noticed her; her existence alone was intrusive enough. But I have a strict rule against stopping before I’m done. Even though it was just paperwork — at this particular moment, an invoice for fryalator repairs — I knew it would be impossible for me to re-acclimate myself to this exact line item, whether it was 5 minutes from now, or next week. I had to finish the line, then I could help her. There was no time or space to say something politely dismissive — even, “One moment, please,” would be one moment too much and distract me from ultimately more important things.

But she didn’t have the patience for that. She cleared her throat by coughing into her fist and advanced towards me, one lumbering pillar at a time. With her come a wafting wind of out-of-code baby powder and a long-forgotten flower shop that over-fertilized its ancient products in the hope of salvage. As she approached me, the scent of fries and Big Macs from the meat locker disappeared, completely and utterly consumed and destroyed by her presence. That smell, and all its selfish power, reminded me of my mother.

I fucking hate my mother.

I scrambled in a panic to finish the line item on the invoice sheet, but it was useless; she finally spoke, and my managerial instinct made me inclined to respond. “Excuse me,” she bellowed in a baritone.

My pencil tip snapped on the paper three-quarters of the way through the last zero. Dammit, I thought. So close. I looked up at her and forced a smile — the way you always do with customers — and opened my mouth to respond. I took my first deep breathe, prepared to speak, but found myself choked by the perfume that billowed down my throat. I spit out shrieks and gasps between my efforts to find oxygen somewhere in the air. Meanwhile, she just stood there, awaiting my response, with nothing on her face but selfish apathy and 4 pounds of Mary Kay make-up, the kind my mother always wears.

I really hate my mother.

30 seconds passed, and my fumbling hand finally found the cup of water that I kept at my desk. It was only a Medium, but it would have to suffice. I pulled it to my lips and slammed it back, wishing it were whiskey. No such luck. Still just warm soda fountain water. I swallowed deep into my gut and took a moment to collect myself before I finally addressed her.

“Hi, ma’am. How may I help you?”

She stared me down against the bridge of her nose, sat silent for a moment, and then responded: “I lost my purse.”

Not what I expected. I grabbed my manager’s visor from my desk and placed it on my head. “I’m very sorry to hear that. How long ago did you notice it was missing?”

“Last Thursday. The 17th.”

I hesitated again. Why would she wait so long to ask about it? “I’m sorry ma’am, but nothing’s been turned into us from the restaurant.”

“Then I’d like you to find it.”

“….Excuse me?”

“As a paying customer, my satisfaction should be your priority.” She wasn’t wrong; at least not according to the manager’s training video. She reached her large, tacky, faux-leather purse, pulled out a wad of cash, and threw it on my desk. “But this might serve as some incentive.” She turned her nose up again and awaited my reaction.

I counted the bills: $2,000 in twenties. I could feel the golden arches smiling along with me. With money like that, I could move out of the basement. My mother would be proud of me.

I hate my fucking mother.

Answering Blocked Phone Calls at Midnight

I consider keeping her on the phone forever, think about falling asleep with her breath on the other end. I could listen while she cooked–practically smell the onions, garlic, ginger–or as she disciplined other people’s children, the only job she ever held long enough to become an expert. I tell people my mom used to make me go get switches to whip us with when we were younger, but those aren’t the things I remember. I remember her impossibly soft skin, her eyes bloodshot for no reason, the jangle of her bracelets, her nails tracing stories on my back as I fell asleep. This is not to say I don’t remember that time we found her asleep on a tire before I recognized the rubbing alcohol smell coming from the empty bottle next to her. When I remember sleeping on the floor of our tin house with no power, only candles, I do remember my sister and my brother with boils on their skin, but mostly remember the skill with which my mom made it seem temporary and harmless. The way she calls all of us baby and does not discriminate amongst us. The way she taught us not to discriminate amongst ourselves.

We’re both crying now, promising each other and ourselves that someday money will not be an obstacle, that nothing is an obstacle for love. She says,”Mel, I pray every night.” “Every night,” she tells me, and neither of us question why they have not been answered yet. I think about answering her prayers, about savings accounts and my irresponsibility. She ends the conversation telling me not to be sad. What I know when I hang up the phone: we love each other, we promise not to be sad, we’ll talk on Sunday, we’re sorry.

In the Kitchen at Dusk

“Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison and there is my mother, long black hair and the scent of cherry-almond Jergens. She is dancing, her hair a beat behind her swaying, and her falsetto following Van as he la-la-las. Her breath will smell like beer when I get close enough, I’m still a good two feet shorter than she is at this point; that disparity along with everything else will change in the coming years. For now, me, my brother, and my sisters are moving around the kitchen with bare feet, barely understanding what making love means. Mom—dancing and understanding all too well. Dad is in the backyard doing things he did back then: building the red swing set that I still think about, taking our Rottweiler Elsa out, grilling steaks that had been marinating over night. The windows and the back door are open, cooking smells are coming from every which way, smells I recreate now—tangible attempts at recreating intangibles. It’s that part of the day when everyone in a subdivision is home, when the heat of the Virginia summer has retreated and the breeze is welcome and cherished. Later, I’ll think my sister’s being mean to me, I’ll complain, probably cry, and Mom will swoop in, calling me baby the same way she does now that I’m well into my twenties. Later, this will explain my affinity for dancing in kitchens, in bare feet, in the presence of people I couldn’t love more. Later my sisters, brother and I will fall asleep in some combination of the floor, the sofa and the loveseat. Dad will pick us up, one by one, and move us to our beds, then I imagine he’ll kiss my mom the same way she’ll kiss another man months later while he’s away at sea. But before all of that, we dance in the kitchen whether we know the words or the rhythm or the reason.