Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Wicked and The Divine

I examine these thoughts from the past with great care.  I try to explain things the way I remember them happening.  I think it's important to present the details accurately.  Otherwise, they'd just be stories about some other girl who had more on the ball than I did.

I'd love to incorporate some of the wisdom I've acquired over the years into these vignettes:  What she really meant when she said this.  How he made me feel.  Why I did what I did.  It would be nice to put more kind words into my mouth when I recreate the dialogue.  So I don't feel as foolish and uncomfortable sharing the lowlights of my behavior.  But I can't.  It wouldn't be fair to the memories.
I cried when my sister got married.  Judy seemed to have a pretty good escape plan. She managed to get away from our angry mother.  I was terribly jealous of her situation.  I did not want to be left behind.

I tried to replicate her path to freedom.  I needed marriage immediately.  So I could get out of there as well.  I pursued a gentle young man named Steve.  He played the drums and stocked shelves at the supermarket.  He owned a light blue Plymouth Reliant, and we drove around a lot.  We went to the diner.  I watched him eat cheeseburgers and drink milk, while I picked at my food.  We had sex in his car. And then, he took me home.

I felt as though I needed to gather some wedding items, just to get things moving along.  We went to Macy's and bought a box of ceramic plates together, a service for four.  I had two abortions within months of one another.  We broke up under the stress of these shameful missteps.  I put the dishes in the basement and threw the bridal magazines away.  Mom hated him anyway.  He was too quiet.

If I was gonna leave, I'd have to do it on my own.


I did not know how to be alone.  I had no idea what to do with myself when no one was looking.  Despite our explosive relationship and the violent arguments, I missed my mother.  It didn't matter how much we fought.  I still loved her, and I knew she loved me.  Once I was beyond the jurisdiction of her criticism and harsh summary judgment, however, I was a mess.

Oh, I still partied like a monster.  Of course, I did.  I had my own apartment! Finally, somewhere I could drink and be loved.  And not get yelled at anymore.  I was certain these were fine adult goals.

Actually, it wasn't really an apartment.  Just the front portion of a basement in a two-story brick building, seven blocks from the house I'd just left.  I went through a real estate agency in the neighborhood to find the place.  Once I forked over the rent and a substantial security deposit, I was given a key.  This same key was shared by a Spanish family on the first floor who occasionally cut through my living space to use the washing machine in the back section of the basement. These folks spoke very little English, but they were nice enough and tried to do their laundry while I was at work.

The situation was weird, but I didn't realize I could complain about it.  I wasn't even sure who the landlord was.  I just surrendered my money every month to this older woman upstairs who owned a small grey poodle with three legs.  She might have been the grandmother.

My studio flat came equipped with assorted furnishings of dubious practicality. The corner section of a modular sofa in gold velour, a full-sized executive desk with swivel chair, a metal file cabinet and two broken bar stools.  I dragged these items across the length of the basement and piled them against the emergency exit, almost guaranteeing my death in the event of a fire.

I found a mattress on the sidewalk within my first week of occupancy.  While snooping around near the boiler room, several large cinderblocks.  Two old doors resting alongside the house.  Instant excellent bed.  I went to the store to purchase a blanket and some other things I thought I might need.  I bought a toilet bowl brush, a napkin holder and a bottle opener.  Beer, wine and plastic cups.

I got a telephone from Radio Shack and screwed the cradle attachment to the wall with a butter knife.  I gave the number to a hundred people, and ninety of them stopped by for a visit.  They brought liquor and weed, beach chairs to sit on and several bags of potato chips.  A discarded Con Edison cable spool as coffee table provided an ideal surface for entertaining.  We drank and got stoned regularly.  We spent Friday and Saturday nights on our knees, snorting cocaine from a little mirror that hung over the toilet during the week.  I started calling in sick at my job.

I got good and worked up one night and dialed the house.

"Hi, Mom.  It's me."

"Oh, yeah?  What do you want?" she snarled.

"Nothing."  I hesitated.  "I just thought I'd call and see what's going on."

"None of your goddamn business.  That's what's going on."

I breathed heavily into the mouth of the phone, a little drunk and incapable of a clever comeback.  Calling home was a dumb idea.

"You listen to me, you miserable, selfish animal.  You made a choice.  And now, you have to live with it," she said.

It was almost as if my mother had been holding her breath, waiting for that phone call.  So she could finally let me have it.  Release some of the worry, the fear that sat on her shoulders since the moment I stomped out the door.  There's some of the wisdom I was talking about earlier.  I never considered what she was going through at the time.  I just thought she was being a bitch.

"Well, I'm gonna need those dishes I bought," I snapped.  "I have nothing to eat on."

"Go to hell," she replied and hung up on me.

I couldn't believe it.  I thought for sure Big Mare would have broken the door down and dragged me back home after the first couple of days.  But that never happened. She chose to ignore me instead.  Hang me out to dry with the silent treatment.  I sobbed into the receiver and wiped my nose on the sleeve of the sweater she'd gotten me for my birthday.  The one she said I wore like a prostitute.

I can remember staring at myself in that dirty little mirror.  I watched my eyes well with tears, small bulbs of mucous filling my nostrils and popping under the weight of my dramatic self-pity.

I called back a second time, and the phone just rang and rang.  I wished I had some tissues.  I should have bought a box when I was at the store, but I didn't think I'd need them.


  1. What powerful and beautiful writing, Mary. I just read your piece about the ducks and addition at Hippocampus. Count me as a fan!

    1. Thank you so much, Jayne. I appreciate your kind words.

  2. You're just amazing Mary....I look so forward to reading you every chance I get.
    Thank you for sharing your raw true self!

    1. And thank you, Jaycee, for letting me know how you feel. I feel like I'm in the company of some warm and wonderful hearts. ox

  3. You're mother was clearly suffering and though I'm sure she loved you it is obvious she took her pain out on you. You have so much compassion for her and that is admirable.