originally published at Fresh Yarn
"Sally Burns' father slept with another woman." My mom is going on and on about it. "Can you believe it? Poor Mrs. Burns. We should go see her after Mass," she exclaims as she tries to load my two younger brothers and me into the family station wagon. "Whoever slept with him is going to hell because that's immoral!" Now we were paying attention. Someone was going to hell. "Now get in the car. You want to be late for church and sit in the back with all the poor people?" Well, yes and no. "Oh damn, I forgot my hat. Andrea run into the house and get Mommy's hat. It's on the bureau in my room."
I don't want to go back into the house. Not because I am lazy, which I am, but because my Dad is in there and he doesn't feel well. My Dad suffers from a special kind of illness that makes you sick in the morning -- mostly on the weekends. That's why he can't go to Church. And that's why I don't want to go in there. When he's not feeling well he throws things at you and yells, "Git," "Move," and other one-syllable words. My Dad looks like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and when you're around him you always have to ask yourself, "Do I feel lucky?" The answer is usually "no."
Well, I'm going to get in trouble if I don't get out of the car this minute and get Mom's hat! So, I put one white patent leather shoe in front of the other and head for the house. I try to stay focused on the lace ruffles on my socks instead of what lies on the other side of the door. We live in a giant purple house and even at the age of ten, I know this is wrong. I open the front door slowly, careful not to make any noise, and tip-toe like a cartoon character into my parents' bedroom where the hat is supposed to be. The light is off and it's hard to see, but I don't want to turn the light on. I decide to stand in the doorway awhile and let my eyes adjust to the darkness.
After a few seconds I see her flowered hat right by the bed and I see my dad lying there a few feet away. I say a quick prayer to God. After all we're going to His House and that's why we have to cover our heads with hats. So He should help me. "Dear God, please don't let my dad wake up and please don't let him see me." I take a step. "If you let him sleep I'll be extra good." I take another step. "I know I haven't been good and broke the commandments when I told my little brother that he was adopted and that's why his hair is brown instead of blonde like the rest of us, but I'll never do that again." I take another step. My dad moves. "And I'll put an extra quarter in the basket at Church when it comes around even though I was going to use it to buy a goldfish," I add hastily to my bribe/prayer. I take another step.
The hat is so close that if I lean way over, I can grab it. I do. I lean as far out as I can and I feel the brim. I have it. I've done it. "God thank you. You won't be sorry." I lift the hat up, and I knock over a glass that was underneath it. It makes a loud noise and I freeze. I don't even blink my eyes.
After a second my dad jumps off the bed and darts into the closet. A sense of relief floods over me. That wasn't Dad -- that was the cat. As I pick up the glass, which smells like the rubbing alcohol our maid uses on her shoulder when it acts up, and put it back on the nightstand, I'm thinking of the promises I just made to God and if they actually count now when my dad wasn't even there in the first place. I really wanted to buy that goldfish but now I have to put my quarter in the basket. And why does God need my money anyway? Isn't He all-powerful? If He wants something he can just make it for himself. He'd be mad at me anyway if I gave him an extra quarter for nothing. Wonder if your house is on fire and you promised to be a nun if God saved your life, and then you found out there was no fire in your house and your life didn't need to be saved after all. Do you still have to become a nun? I turn toward the door.
"Where are you going?" My dad is suddenly in the doorway. He must have been in the bathroom -- maybe he just took a shower 'cause he's naked. "I told you not to come in here." He looks mad.
"I'm getting Mom's hat." I hold the hat up as evidence. I feel scared and overdressed. I wish my dad would take the hat from me and use it to cover himself up. He doesn't. He picks me up by the waist and throws me onto the bed. I turn onto my stomach and close my eyes and wait to be spanked but he doesn't do that. He turns me back over to face him and all I can think is, "It is so big." It's a California King and I feel lost laying on it. This must be what Goldilocks felt like when she laid down in the Papa bed. I like my twin bed so much better, where I sleep with all my stuffed animals. Stuffed animals are soft and furry and never move or take off your underwear. He spits on his hand. Is he going to put that on me? My brother spit on my little brother once and my mom got really upset with him. She said, "Spitting is rude." If she was here right now I'm sure she would tell Dad that he was being rude.
I look up at the ceiling, and wonder if God can see what's happening. Then I remember it's Sunday and He is busy listening to all the prayers of the people in Church. In Catechism class, Father McClellan told us that Purgatory is filled with people that are burning off their venial sins (the little ones) so that they can get into heaven. "Whenever you feel pain here on earth you can offer it up to one of the poor souls in Purgatory," he informed us. Your pain would count as theirs and they could get out of there faster. Like a spiritual multi-level marketing plan. So whenever I wanted to run across the hot pavement in the summer with bare feet, I tried instead to walk as slowly as I could so that it would be more painful and I'd offer it up to my Aunt May who I figured was in Purgatory. Father McClellan said that when you helped get a person out of Purgatory, when they went to heaven they would pray for you. I didn't like to think of Aunt May burning in Purgatory, so I offer up the pain I'm feeling in my privates and my stomach, and hope it does her some good. My dad is holding his hand over my mouth and it covers up a little bit of my nose as well, so it is hard to breathe. I offer that up too. Dad suddenly moans really loud and I can tell that he is also hurting. Maybe he is offering up his pain, I'm not sure.
Seconds later he leaves the room and I find my underpants hugging my right shoe and pull them up. I grab Mom's hat and run out of the room. It hurts so much to run I figure if Aunt May is not in heaven by now, then she had a lot more sins than I thought she had.
When I get back into the car my mom is yelling at me. "What took you so long? We've been waiting for five minutes!" I'm shocked. Five minutes was all it took? Wow. It seemed like an hour or another lifetime. I guess all the big sins are quick. You could murder someone in probably a second, if you had a gun. You could steal something in a couple minutes, if no one was looking. You could take the Lord's name in vain in a few seconds. My mom is doing it right now. Sins are not that time consuming when you think about it.
We back out of our long driveway and speed off to Church. My mom scolds me as she guns the Country Squire down the street. "Andrea, if we're late and miss Mass it'll be your fault." She looks in the rear view mirror at me as she continues. "We'll all have mortal sins on our souls and go to hell." That doesn't scare me as much as it usually would because I am pretty sure I am already there.
It really doesn't matter what kind of child you have; athletic, good-natured, honest, polite –
they all lie about one thing. And every parent falls for it, even though they remember being guilty
of the same crime when they were three feet tall. To what am I referring? It’s that fatal day
when your child begs you for a pet and assures you, like a used car salesman who’s turned
back the odometer, “I’ll take care of it, I promise.”
We had already mourned the loss of two hamsters and a mouse when my son spied a little green shell floating
in an inch of water at a local department store. “Mom I want a turtle” he declared. “
Pleeease. I’ll take care of it. It’s only $1.29.” Twenty dollars later (what kind of person
would make a turtle live without a custom bowl, plastic palm tree and matching shrub?) and only three
weeks into her residency, our little turtle floats in the water – lifeless. And after a few medical
experiments – conducted with a #2 pencil (namely pushing her under the water to see if we can
jump start her) we determine that she is – in Turtle Heaven.
I, myself, have never won anything in my life, so I was surprised when my youngest boy won six goldfish at the
school carnival. Of course, you never win any fish food or bowls, which made winning six fish at 5:45 pm on a
Sunday evening a real treat. Only the fish and I looked concerned about this. Actually, I like fish, though their
mouths are always open yet they rarely complain.
My son was very enthusiastic, all I had to do was locate a pet store before it closed, spring for a bowl and the food (déjà vu) and he’d do the rest. “Don’t worry – I’ll take care of ‘em.”
He took care of them alright – one by one. Each week another goldfish bit the gravel and soon the entire Jackson
Five plus One (he was the cutest) had traded their earthly home for a heavenly residence in what we glibly referred
to as Fish Heaven. Even though you concoct a story about their lives after death and how happy they are with their
other fish friends in the sky, you still feel bad knowing you and your children are going to Fish Hell if such a place
exists for your heinous acts of negligence. No one admitted to throwing ping-pong balls into the bowl and yet there
they were. And after Tito died we might have been too zealous when my 6 year old and I cleaned out the bowl –
possibly not getting all of the soap out. Fish are such frail little creatures and though they were not with our family
long we mourned them as if they’d been with us for months instead of just weeks. At this point our bathroom became
more of a funeral parlor, we’d flushed so many animals down the toilet – it seemed sacrilegious to sit on it.
To recap we are at one mouse, two hamster, six goldfish and a turtle. I don’t know about you – but I think we’re ready for a pony – though we’d need a bigger toilet. Now when my kids beg for pets and swear they’ll “take care of them,” I’m reminded that mobsters use this same expression when they plan to eliminate someone. “Don’t worry, boss – I’ll take care of ‘em.” I think I know where they got this saying.
(c) 2006 Andrea Abbate
It's hard to pretend you're sleeping when you hear your kitchen being demolished, not by construction workers putting in new cabinets, but by your kids making you "breakfast in bed". If your children haven't done this for you yet, I suggest you make sure your homeowners policy is up to date and to have a fire extinguisher at the ready.
I awoke to the banging of pots and heads, a smell wafted up that I could not place - had a skunk with gas wandered in and died? Were the neighbors re-tarring their roof with rotten eggs? Had a Meth Lab exploded down the street? I walked down the stairs and heard my oldest son admonish his little brother "You idiot, don't put bacon in the toaster - use this fork and get it out!" "You don't know what you're doing either - you let the spoon melt all over the omelet," my youngest fires back. He had a point. I tiptoed back upstairs and waited for them to finish cooking, hoping they wouldn't lose a limb in the process. A few minutes after they decided that "It smelled like poop" and needed Mom's perfume they trod upstairs with the most expensive and yet inedible breakfast I've ever seen.
"Happy Mothers Day" they shouted - kind of as a warning and I held my breath and feigned joy as best I could. Though most of my Givenchy had been used to hide the other smells - the powerful combination of burnt cheese, gummy bears, and a plastic spoon were hard to conceal. How all of those things managed to melt without any of the egg actually cooking boggled the mind. The only thing more mind boggling was my acting job - my oohing, my aahing, my ability to eat a few bites without throwing up should have gotten me nominated for an academy award. Best Performance in a Night Gown. And though I've bragged about it before I'd never been more grateful not to have a gag reflex. Did I mention the side dish? Skittles and Spaghettios - a combination that would make the most loving mother hurl. But I did not. No, I successfully swallowed some and was even able to mutter "That was great" before I excused myself to the bathroom. Like a contestant on “Fear Factor” who didn't win, I felt nauseous and overwhelmed - not only from the food but later from the state of the kitchen. How can children only four feet tall get butter on the ceiling? Why are their anchovies on the curtains? And when are they going to college? These and many other questions I'll never know the answers to.
I do know they mean well. I know they love me and that they'll never host their own show on the Food Channel. Still that meal was memorable. And I figure getting your stomach pumped is a small price to pay for the opportunity to be called Mom.
(c) 2006 Andrea Abbate
originally published at Fresh Yarn
My mother's been married and 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 of course she kicked him out, filed for divorce and hired a large Mexican 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. So her armed bodyguard basically followed her around the house while she was in her robe.
After a few months with only her Spanish-speaking gunslinger and her many personalities to keep her company, she grew lonely. One night Mom found a lump in her breast and decided she had cancer, which spurred her reconciliation with Cliff because who cared if he killed her now that she was already dying? 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. And still the marriage didn't last. One day, for unknown reasons, Mom fired both Julian and Cliff and decided to put herself back on the market.
My mother is the reason I screen my calls. And yet tonight I'm so caught up watching NYPD Blue that I pick up the phone when it rings.
"Sis, I've met someone." (My mother calls me her sister -- don't ask.)
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 without meeting someone, 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. 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 Blue plot. The snitch who Franz got his information from on the guy he's holding in custody for homicide might actually be the perpetrator. Love this show.
After a while my mother 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 -- 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 than the old-fashioned 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, let 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! 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 wartime 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 since she is upset, to calm her down I tell her I'll think about it. 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.
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... "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!"
A male voice slurs on the line. "Your Mom isn't drunk."
I discover that Rudy'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. 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 upset. Her next emotion has arrived and must be expressed. "Rudy," she says gaily, "You know what we'll do? We'll call Alyse."
"Who?" He's confused.
"Alyse, my younger daughter, she's much prettier than Andrea. A far better choice."
And with that she hangs up. I look at Dennis Franz 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.
(c) 2006 Andrea Abbate