War & Sex
“I'm the sexiest goddamn woman in Fresno” my mom told my kindergarten friends. She probably is.
She wears tight skirts and partially buttoned blouses, always showing enough cleavage so we don't
have to wait in line at the drug store to pick up her tranquilizers. To encourage men to honk she
bleaches her hair platinum and wears blood red lipstick. From a distance it looks like her lips
are really bleeding. From a distance you can also smell her Jean Nate – it says “I'm married but
available.” In the morning when my friends come over to walk with me to school she answers the
door in her silk robe and sunglasses. “Hi Maddy come on in“ she purrs. She looks like a
movie star without a movie.
When we go to Church we all have to wear whatever color she has on “so that we’ll match”. As
if God gives brownie points for families who all dress in lilac. Even though I think my brothers
are gross, I feel sorry for them in their lavender slacks. After she gets us ready she goes to
“put on her face.” Eye liner, eye shadows, foundation, blush, lipstick, and mascara are used to
create a Vegas show girl type of look. She's subtle as a delicate flower – dipped in gold - with
diamonds caked on every petal - and a spot light flashing on and off it. She wears this much
amount every day and puts on bedroom - makeup at night. “Yes ... in case your father wakes up
and sees me,” She says as if this makes sense. She is so religious about her makeup we're
often late to Church.
If we get our church clothes dirty while she puts on her face – we're in big trouble – which means
getting hit with her hairbrush on the legs. She chases us around in her lilac-colored chiffon
cocktail dress with matching beaded hat and hits us with a sterling silver brush. It is part of
a brush and comb set that her mother gave to her and she will likely give to me one day - to hit
my own children with. “Now we can’t go to Church because you’ve got grass stains on your goddamn
dress,” she yells. “If we die before we get to confession we’re all going to Hell. I hope you're
happy!” She always threw that in “Hope you're happy.” Even as a kid, I knew she didn’t.
When we finally get to Mass we cause quite a stir. Even though we’re late we never stand in the
back. Mom saunters down the aisle towards the alter like she's Kate Moss on a cat walk and we
follow her red faced. Once the entire male congregation has gone from praying to staring at her
ass, she smiles flirtatiously at some pious man and gets him to squish in closer to his frumpy
wife and put two of his freckled-faced kids on his lap so that there is room for all 6 of us in
the pew. I try to make eye contact with him and hope my eyes say “I'm sorry your family's all
smushed together like that. It's not that my Mom doesn't care about you, she just doesn't know
“I’m not cut out to be a mother,” she warns us, like we have other options. And she wasn't.
Once, while helping the maids make dinner, she cut her finger tossing the salad, on the lettuce,
and had to be whisked off to lie down. Another time she broke a blood vessel clapping for me
at my piano recital and was carried out in tears, “Keep playing Sis, you're that good!” she
called out as she left.
She's just a very fertile and fragile woman. Which is why when she beats me with her brush,
even though it stings, I'm proud of her for being able to hit me without hurting herself.
“Children are the price you pay for being as passionate as I am,” my mom tells Sister Anne, my
third grade teacher. She didn't mean anything bad by it – she just wanted folks to know what
her priorities were. She's had five children, two miscarriages, and still all she thinks about
Even her hobbies are sexual – some moms knit or collect thimbles from around the world –
my mother collects condoms. When she went on trips she’d buy them as souvenirs. “Sis,
look at this cute blue one I got from Solvang.” Her collection swelled when she bought
thousands of them in a frenzy during “The Bay of Pigs.” JFK authorized the invasion of
Cuba. We planned a surprise attack and hoped that the Cubans would be so happy to see us they'd
join us in overthrowing their dictator. Boy did that back fire. The botched invasion
was broadcast on our black and white TV from morning till night and my mother panicked.
Even though Cuba is only the size of Catalina, she knew they would retaliate and overtake
us. “By the end of the week we'll all be under a communist regime Sis, and you just know
they'll make Fresno their new headquarters,” she exclaimed, taking more tranquillizers.
“We're not going to go down with out a fight. I have a plan.... to support our family I'll
become a prostitute and have sex with all the them.”
So JFK attacks Cuba on the 16th of
April and on the 17th Mom and I drive to every drug store she can find and buy their
entire condom supply. My Dad was on a fishing trip in Mexico. “He's never coming back,
Sis. He's a siting duck out there at sea. We have to fend for ourselves,” she announced
as we scoured the city for rubbers. If we got stuck at a light, she worried that another
woman would get to the pharmacy first. Luckily for us, none of the other hooker/mothers
were as quick as she. By the end of the day our station wagon was filled to the brim with
Trojans. She put them in closets and drawers and some were kept in large boxes by her bed
in case she was called into action in the middle of the night. As you may know we weren't
invaded by Cuba, my Dad came back and Mom didn't get to service all the men she had expected to.
Maybe it was just wishful thinking on her part. I don't know. I do know a lot of kids were
born that year because we had all the prophylactics in a 50 mile radius and that my brothers
had a lifetime supply of water balloons.
After her fifth child was born and there weren't enough tranquilizers in California to make her feel
calm she decided to use some of her “collection” with Dad. Birth control is frowned upon in the Catholic
Church, which means if you use them you go to Hell. But her sex drive out-weighed her need to spend
eternity with Jesus. “I’m going to go burn in eternal damnation just to give you children a decent
upbringing. I hope you’re happy. I will not have 12 kids like Mrs. Sullivan, four stuffed in every
bedroom, it’s ridiculous. Your father doesn’t have the money to send a dozen kids to college. You’re
going to a good university, Sis, and I won’t let the Pope stop you.” I didn’t argue with her but we
did have a six-bedroom house,and according to my math, even at three kids a room, we had space for
fifteen. Of course, we’d have to get rid of our maids, who had their own rooms. And then who would
cook dinner, clean, or put us to bed at night and tell us groovy stories about slavery? Maybe Mom
would have to use those condoms and go to Hell after all. Because of her situation she has often
warned me: “Keep your legs crossed Sis. Sex has ruined my goddamn life – and now my after-life as
The Reason I Screen My Calls
My mother's been married & divorced seven times. She calls herself “The Liz Taylor of Fresno.”
Like Liz she is rich, drunk and used to be pretty. Unlike Liz she has colitis, cirrhosis of the
liver, and only one eye. Her last husband, Cliff was a manure salesman with an extended stomach
and racist sense of humor. They were married almost a year when she convinced herself, and
then others, that he was trying to kill her. She “remembered” that he had been in the CIA
and was a trained hit man. So she kicked him out, filed for divorce and hired a large Mexican
man named Julian, who carried a gun, to protect her like she was a rap star and needed her back
covered when she rolled out in the hood. I should mention she never rolled out, her lack of
driver's license and eyeball combined with her colitis made driving not only illegal but messy.
Her hairdressers, husbands and psychiatrists always came to her. Still, she insisted, an
armed bodyguard was “a necessity.” even though he just followed her around the house in her
After a few months with only her Spanish-speaking gunslinger and her many personalities to
keep her company, she grew lonely. One night she “found” a lump in her breast and decided
she had cancer and to take Cliff back since it didn't really matter if he killed her now that
she was dying. “I don’t care what he does – I don’t have long to live,” she declared. Of
course she didn't have cancer, it was just an excuse to get him back after she’d ruined his
name, reputation and manure business.
She felt it unfair to fire Julian, who had done such a good job protecting her life, so she
kept him on as a live-in bartender. This way when Cliff came home from a hard day of looking
for work, Julian was there to mix him a drink. Not wanting Julian to sit idle all day, she got
up as early as possible and drank until Cliff came home.
Amazingly this marriage did not work out. She fired Julian and Cliff and put herself back on
the market. “I've got to be able to do better that this,” she declared.
She is the reason I screen my calls. And yet tonight I’m so caught up watching an NYPD Blue
re-run that I pick up the phone when it rings. “Sis, I've met someone.” It's only been a few
weeks since Cliff hit the road and I can't help but wonder how my attractive, functional and
single friends go months on end with out meeting someone and yet my one-eyed mother who shits
herself reels them in. “Sis, this is it. He’s 43, his name is Rudy. He's a jazz musician
and very sexy.” She can’t see me cringe over the phone as she describes the gory details of
their sex life. No one wants to picture their parents having sex, especially with strangers.
After she boasts that she no longer needs her vibrator, she comes to the point. “I’m thinking
of getting married again, Sis.” I can hear the ice in her glass hit the side as she takes a
drink. “But, the thing I’m worried about is - he’s never had any kids.” This is what she's
worried about? She drops the phone and falls out of bed. As she bangs around on the floor
I'm able to catch up on the NYPD plot. The snitch who Franz got his information from on the
guy he's holding in custody for homicide might actually be the perpetrator. I love this show.
After awhile she rights herself. “Sorry, the damn maid puts so much lemon oil on my bedside
table that everything just falls off. Anyway Sis, I need a favor, I don't know how to say
this – so I'll just say it... will you have Rudy's child for me?”
“Be our surrogate? You don't have to have sex with him if you don't want to.” She assures me
that she’d pay for me to be artificially inseminated – even though it's more expensive to do
it that way.
“It's a win win situation, Sis – will you do it?” I can't wait to tell my friends about this.
Their parents are boring compared to mine. They don't projectile vomit or hold conversations
with bits of blood leaking out of their mouth – yet alone ask them to birth their own brothers
and sisters. “I don't understand why you're not jumping at this chance Sis? You know I'd do it
for you!” After she blows her nose she continues, “I love you and if you don't do this for me
then ... I'll know you've never loved me.” She has worked herself into a grief known only to
mothers of war time heroes. Still she manages to talk through her sobs “Don't forget, I gave
you life, so really I'm just asking for you to pay me back!” There is no way in the world that
I would say “yes” but she is upset so I tell her I'll think about it to calm her down. Oddly,
she takes this as a slap in the face, either because she can see through my veiled “no,” which
would be amazing considering the few brain cells she has left – or because she's insane – which I
'm leaning towards.
In any event she takes a dark turn. “So you won’t have my child?! Because you are a greedy
goddamn vulture! You won’t help me have another baby because there will be less fucking money
for you when I die!!” We are in a bad place now – so, I suggest politely that I'd rather talk
to her when she's... “when she's had some sleep” is the euphemism I settle for. The ensuing
scream would make any horror movie actress jealous. “I’m not drunk!!! Tell her, Rudy! Tell
her” A male voice slurs on the line “Your Mom ain't drunk.” His use of the word “ain't”
bothers me as much as the fact that he's been on the phone the entire time. “What’s wrong
with that?!” she defends him. “We’re talking about his children, he has every right to be
involved!” She has a point. But still, what can I say? I’m missing all of NYPD BLUE.
After a few seconds of silence my Mom speaks, she’s no longer mad or upset, her next emotion
has arrived and must be expressed. “Rudy,” she says gaily, “You know what we’ll do? We’ll
“Who?” He’s confused.
“Alyse, my younger daughter, she’s much prettier than Andrea. A far better choice.” And with
that she hangs up and so does he. I look at the screen, Dennis Franz is eating a hot dog as
the credits roll. I'll never know who murdered that florist or how my mother could pick my
sister over me.
“I didn't want kids, I just like having sex” my Mom would tell me and my brothers after
she'd have a few screwdrivers. But she was Catholic and horny so there we were. She
didn't know how to deal with all of us as a group so she let the maids do that and we
spent “quality time” with her doing something she'd plan for each of us individually.
I always looked forward to my outings with her. Sometimes we'd get our hair done or
go to a movie but more often than not we'd drive around town spying on my Dad.
My father was a hard worker, he spent his days in a produce office selling melons and
when he was done he liked to chill out before returning home to a house full of kids
by stopping off at one of his girlfriends to have sex and maybe spend the night.
It didn't bother me – I was scared of him. He was tall and handsome with a cleft
chin and gray eyes filled with hate. He looked like the Marlboro Man if someone
had shot his horse and slept with his wife. Or visa versa. But Mom loved him and
worried that if he stayed over at another lady's house that she'd fall in love with
him too. I couldn't imagine that – I couldn't even see what she saw in him but I
liked being her accomplice. I felt honored that she had chosen me to hunt him
down – and I was only nine. I felt just like Nancy Drew. Mom brought me up to
speed on what I needed to know about the case. First came a quick briefing on the
birds and the bees which she called “making love.” I almost barfed. I'd never
heard of anything so gross before but it did explain how Mom loved Dad – he'd made
her love him with his penis. And if he was making love to other women they would
have to love him too. She reasoned I needed to know about it so I could understand
why “Your Father shouldn't be sticking his dick into every girl in town.” I nodded
Most of the time we had fun – at least I did. I loved sitting in our station wagon
breathing in her scent; a mixture of Aqua Net and Juicy Fruit Gum, listening to her
tell me how she couldn't live without him, as we'd peel around a corner. It was
exciting. It was as if Mom and Dad were playing a game like 'Cowboys and Indians'
except theirs could be called 'Cheaters and Spies'. It didn't seem serious because
Mom was not that upset. I only saw her cry once - after a policeman pulled us over
for speeding. She burst into tears as soon as he got to our window and shrieked
“My husband's having sex with another woman and I can't handle it!” He advised
us “to be more careful” and backed away from our car. As soon as he left her
tears disappeared and I was left in awe of her ability to cry on cue. “I could
have been an actress if I wanted” she boasted “but it's just not enough mental
stimulation for me to read words that someone else wrote.”
One day we drove up to a large Spanish house in the country with a landing strip on
the property and my Dad's plane parked on it. We stashed the car a block away and
crept up to the house like spies, well like a spy with a spy child in training. As
we snooped around Mom told me that if we were discovered to say our car had broken
down. “That's a white lie” she said “God doesn't mind those – he only hates black
ones.” God sounded prejudice to me. I wondered why the nuns never mentioned the
color of lies and if I'd accidentally confessed some white ones at confession and
had said lots of Hail Marys for nothing. Mom was more daring than I was and went
into the woman's house through a back door. I remember watching her creep in and
admiring her ability to tip toe. She made her way, on point, across the hardwood
floors in her lavender pumps which matched her pant suit and the black and lavender
paisley scarf tied around her neck. Huge Jackie O sunglasses were perched on top
of her hair which she wore in a flip giving her a colorful Agent 99 type of look.
It's hot in Fresno and I was dangling my feet in the lady's pool when Mom came tearing
out. “Run!!” she yelled as she flew past me. When we got to our car she announced “We
were at the movies - if anyone asks.”
“Can I pick the movie we didn't see?”
As we sped away she explained that telling people we saw Mary Poppins was not a lie –
it was an alibi – which is what you have to have if people accuse you of doing things
you didn't do. “But we were at her house,” I made the mistake of saying.
“Who's side are you on?” She looked at me like I was Ethel Rosenberg with nuclear secrets
stashed in my purse. Like Ethel I took the fifth. “How can you pick your father –
he's a sexual pervert?” Again I was speechless we both knew the person picking him was
the one driving our car through a stop sign.
The next morning I asked my teacher about white lies. Sister Paul was a terse, dandruff-
ridden nun who took a step back whenever she was dismayed. She asked what I thought a
white lie was. When I told her - her hand went to her chest as if she had been bayoneted
and she staggered back. “Where did you hear such a thing?” I didn't dare say my Mom,
so I told what I hoped was a white lie and said “My neighbor.”
“He is obviously not Catholic – your neighbor.” My neighbor was luckily not. She
went on to lecture us that people who commit sins of deception were undoubtedly
committing more heinous ones and taunting the Lord into throwing them into hell
for all of eternity. It didn't look too good for Mom. She seemed too old to mend
her ways – even though she going for “young and festive” in the Lime colored jump
suit with orange accessories she wore to pick me up from school that day. It was
the sixties and she was trying to be mod – I wished she would have tried as hard
to be normal. When I relayed what Sister Paul had said she rolled her eyes.
“Don't listen to her. She's just jealous of you because you're pretty and, well,
she's not.” “Mom” I tried feebly to stick up for Sister Paul who was not attractive,
but still. “Honey, they're all fat and ugly – why do you think they marry Jesus?
It's not like they have any other offers.” She cracked her Juicy Fruit to
emphasize the point.
My Mom was a hypocrites' hypocrite – she paid through the nose for all of us to go
to Catholic school and yet led a life that had Hell stamped all over it. She wasn't
worried about it – she believed if you were pretty enough – God was happy just to
have you on his team.
It's an overwhelming burden to think your Mother is going to Hell, my only solace
was that my Dad was going too, at least they'd be together.
In the meanwhile, the more Dad cheated on her the more quality time Mom spent with me.
I always wondered, if he wasn't unfaithful if we would have done as many things
together. I felt so special looking for lipstick stained cigarette butts on the
ground, jimmying open windows or hiding in the bushes with her. I remember hoping
that Dad would never stop cheating on Mom – and God must've been listening because
he never did. I also hoped that if I ever got married my husband would not make
love to anyone else or even to me, but if he did “stick his dick into anything
that moved” that I'd have a daughter to help me hunt him down.
My Mother's Blessing
My Mother loved weddings. She loved them so much that she had eight! The party, the
bands, the champagne, the hotels - that was her lifestyle and if she had to continuously
get married to keep it, she would. She was definitely a “glass is half full” type of
gal. In fact, her glass was always half full. She greeted each new day with a
glass of vodka and OJ. She greeted the afternoon, evening, and early morning
much the same. Then at about 6 am, she’d down a handful of sleeping pills and
hope to pass out for awhile - this sometimes occurred but more often than not
she would just sail through to the next day with a few less brain cells. Still
and all, she had a vivacious personality and looked like she used to be pretty.
Her excitement about meeting my new fiancé had more than likely made it hard for
her to sleep and there was a good possibility she hadn’t done so for days. I tried
to prepare Bob (his real name is David but I'm giving him an alias
so he doesn't find out) that we would either find her answering the door or lying
face down on the carpet. Either way we had to stay until we got her blessing.
My brothers had gotten married behind her back, pretending to elope, so that they
didn't have a drunk at the reception and she was still smarting from it. I had
been more polite and invited her to all of mine. We drove up to large home with
rolling green lawns and were buzzed through a gate and soon found ourselves at
her front door. A part of me loves seeing Mom because of the great stories I'll
get to tell when I leave, another part of me would rather just make up the stories
and skip the whole visiting thing all together but that would hurt her feelings and
she might not pay for the wedding. So we pressed the door bell. Moments later a
wobbly blonde in a yellow negligee threw herself into Bob's arms, going on about
how handsome he was and how great he smelled. “I haven't smelled a man like you in
years” she whispered as I winced. Her hearty welcome threw me off as she had told
me repeatedly that he sounded like a self-obsessed gigolo on the phone and that I
was making a huge mistake. Later in the bathroom, as she sprayed on more of J.
Lo's new scent, she confided in me that she still didn’t like nor trust him, she
was just being nice so that she could get him drunk to find out who he really was.
Yes, who's not more themselves after a bottle of Vodka? If that is the real me -
I’m a clumsy moron with a speech impediment who likes to throw up. But it was her
house and her rules and I had duly warned Bob to fake his own death if need be but
to stop drinking with her by midnight no matter what. I don’t drink - out of spite -
thus she considers me a bad influence and doesn’t mind if I beg off early so that
she can get down to business.
Bob thought it odd that my mom was wearing a low cut, slightly see-through negligee
in the middle of the day but that was only because I had forgotten to tell him that
she only wears low cut slightly see-through negligees. She feels this attire is
perfect for entertaining at home and since she never leaves the house why bother
with pants or a skirt - which are obviously “outside clothes.”
She thought the negligees gave her a sexy look, and they would have if not for a few
small details. One being that she had lost her eyesight in one eye and through a painful
series of operations was now the owner of a used blue one that she called her “trucker’s
eye” on account of it use to belong to a trucker who hit the skids. Her other eye was
green and kind of evil-looking and definitely didn’t match the blue one, but “they tracked”
the doctors were fond of telling us. Which is to say that when she moved the green one,
the blue one followed. Even though she had no sight in the blue one, we were all glad she
had it and considered ourselves lucky that we weren't forced to stare into a gaping hole.
Her new eye was her favorite conversation piece. She loved telling guests about her
“trucker's eye” and how since the operation she had grown fond of country music. Then
she'd throw in provocatively “I wonder what other things I'll start to like because of him...”
Because of her bad vision she couldn't see that her negligee was stained with spilled
drinks, bits of food and drops of blood. Her live-in maid usually took care of cleaning
her wardrobe but, as fate would have it, she was now bedridden and my Mom had hired a
new live-in maid just to take care of the old one. “You don't fire people just because
they can't do their job,” she insisted. So despite two live-in maids her clothes were
filthy, though she couldn't tell and we were too uncomfortable to say.
Her makeup, which she had so diligently applied all these years to achieve a Donna Mills
type of look, was now without the aid of sight, excessive. She wore quantities normally
reserved for clowns or transvestites who forgot to shave.
Last but not least was her extended stomach, or I should say liver, which competed with
her large breasts in the “Who Could Stick Out The Farthest” contest. What I’m trying to
say is that it was far beyond the powers of a stained negligee to make her look sexy.
So after dinner, which consisted of martinis with olives - mine just a virgin olive, I
left them to drink and went to visit the maid and the maid’s maid.
Visiting Irene, the original maid, was frightening. She had emphysema and was on oxygen,
smoking like a detective who's case had grown cold. Her bedroom was filled with oxygen
tanks and matches. Her cigarette was always dangling just centimeters away from the tubes
of oxygen going to her nose. At any moment the place could blow so I paid my respects
quickly and went to bed.
I said a quick prayer for my husband to be – not that any of my prayers had ever worked.
As a child, I use to pray every night for a pony and all I ever got were more stepfathers.
It wasn’t until 4:30 in the morning when the ambulance pulled up that outside our house
that I realized something had gone wrong.
My souced fiancé, informed me that my mother had hurt her back as the paramedics carted her off.
She had proceeded with her plan to get him hammered so that she could locate “the real him”
and apparently when she did, she found him irresistibly attractive. She started coming on to
him and though she was pretty easy to get away from as she was prone to falling, she persisted
so that he bid her good-night. Fueled by Smirnoff and memories of Mrs. Robinson easily
bedding her would be son-in-law, she did not give up. She insisted “You're too large to
sleep in the twin beds in Andrea's old room” and that she’d make up the sofa bed for him
upstairs. He tried but couldn't get her to change her mind or even understand most of
what she was saying. Resigned, he helped her unfold the sofa and went searching in the
hallway for the linen closet. When he returned, he found her sprawled half-naked across
the bed in what she must have considered a sexy pose. Like an old and bloated mermaid
decomposing on a rock, she didn't move. Too grossed out to move himself, Bob froze
in the doorway. Finally, she lifted her arm to beckon him nearer, causing her to
lose her balance and fall back into the crevice between the sofa back and the mattress,
which promptly folded up on her. Sadly for her, the only siren that night was the one
on the ambulance.
In true Abbate family style, when she returned from the hospital, we never spoke of it.
It simply hadn’t happened. It was one of the many bizarre incidents that had never occurred
at our house. Instead we all quietly looked at pictures of hotels in Santa Barbara for our
upcoming nuptials. Mother, a veteran bride, suggested “Navy and beige would be elegant
choices for a fall wedding.” And they were.
Copyright (c) 2007 Andrea Abbate