Well, here is the first installment of the memoir. The story opens with my wife, Jody, and I finding ourselves at the Hanscom Air Force Base Commissary during one of our bi-weekly shopping duties we performed, among others, for my mother. As I mentioned earlier, it was during such a shopping trip that I fully realized I was back in the middle of my mother’s world–one punctuated by family discord centered around long standing resentments and her still prolific ability to manipulate. It was this episode that prompted the writing to begin. If you’d like to follow along with these installments, just “follow” the blog and you’ll get an e-mail notifying you each time anything is added to it. Thanks for reading!
“Without anxiety and illness I should have been like a ship without a rudder.”
– Edvard Munch
Reaching into the freezer case jammed full of microwave meals, I could just hear her voice croaking in my head from the night before as we went over the shopping list over the phone. “Get those frozen meat dinners I like, you know the ones with the corn and mashed potatoes on the side!” Lord forbid I screwed it up and got the one with the mac and cheese and green beans on the side. That would transform otherwise perfectly good food into in her words, “gahbage,” as she’d call it in her Boston accent, still strong, while mine had softened from being away for so many years. “And oh,” she’d said, “get me the medium sized instead of the ‘lahdge’ diapers this time. They need to fit under my pajamas.”
The Hanscom Air Force Base commissary was crowded, as expected, as I maneuvered the shopping cart past an old woman who was blocking the aisle with her cart, and just staring looking confused, or maybe even with longing, at the ice cream case. It was a payday weekend, so the place was full of older retirees wearing their trademark colorful baseball caps with the embroidered letters that read “USMC” or “USAF Vietnam Veteran,” or made reference to some other branch of military service.
Either they, or their wives or widows, filled the place the first weekend of each month to spend their pension checks on the much lower priced groceries and household supplies. The meats and paper products were especially cheap compared to the off base supermarkets. I stopped the groaning cart in front of the rows of refrigerated shelves lined with every manner of milk and fruit juice.
“This is bloody ridiculous!” I murmured as I put the sixth half gallon of pulp-free orange juice fortified with calcium into the commissary shopping cart, piling them on top of the dozen frozen Salisbury steak dinners I’d already loaded up, and wedging them up against the twenty-pack of adult incontinence “pull-ups.”
I’d asked her one day “Why in the world do you have me buy all of these Salisbury steak frozen dinners for you anyway, when all you do is rinse the meat under the faucet after you nuke them?”
“I love the meat but I hate the gravy! It binds me up so bad so I wash it off. That reminds me don’t forget the graham crackers to help my doo like you did last time! I like the ones in the red box.” Yes, she still said childish things like “doo” or “cuckies” when referring to her bathroom habits. Pushing the over loaded shopping cart up the aisle, I turned to my wife Jody.
“Again, I ask you, how can one person drink three gallons of orange juice in less than two weeks? Freaking crazy!”
“Well after all, she is struggling to manage her fake diabetes,” Jody replied, smirking.
I could see she was enjoying as she always does, the beginning of my predictable but temporary tantrum at performing my bi-weekly duty. It seemed to gather momentum in direct proportion to the rate I filled the shopping cart. It’s fairer for me to say it was our bi-weekly duty, although I was the one who always plunged into immaturity over it.
Here I was fifty-five years old, and had been away serving the Air Force both in the states and abroad for the better part of my adult life, but still I felt something like that tantrum coming on, I knew, for having been pulled back into what I referred to as dysfunction junction. I’d been free for so long from the trappings of being a day-to-day part of my family, and who I considered to be one of the kookiest collections of blood relations anyone could have on the planet. I’d had my military career, and had made hundreds of friends around the world!
I had a wonderful wife, a beautiful home! I even had a Master’s degree in psychology! I liked to think that I’d moved on, but still, in spite of all of that time and space away and having spent a life as differently as it could ever be from where it started, it wasn’t enough to prevent me from being flung back by my emotions in a swift regression, with my mind saying “screw you,” to any attempt I might make to escape my family’s calamity in spite of my worldly experiences and supposed intellect.
It wasn’t even so much that Jody and I were giving up just about every other Saturday to schlep a shopping cart full of two percent milk, pulp-free orange juice, chicken noodle soup, marshmallow cookies, cocoa, Jello cups, (“make sure they’re sugar free!”), bologna, Cheerios, adult diapers, Preparation H, etc., to a housebound 81-year old woman. I knew the real reason was because I hated the way it took me right back to a time and to a crazy place from which I had run, and had always tried to out run, making it always seem as if I’d never even gone away at all.
Back to a place where I learned first-hand what it meant to experience the “fight or flight” response, long before any textbook described it to me. To a clear reminder of why I chose actual flight in 1975. But, beyond all that, of course, the automatic edginess I felt was most driven by thoughts about whom I was schlepping it to—my mother. Ah, the joy.
These dreaded trips from the safety of the suburbs into Readville, and her depressing world, never failed to get my stomach churning, and more and more dealing with her and all the constant regurgitation of familial bitterness that came along with those visits only dredged up decades worth of best forgotten memories. Why can’t people just let crap go?
Jody and I meandered up to the end of the cooler cases and I grabbed a box of buttermilk waffles and tossed it onto the pyramid of groceries. “That’s the list.” I said, and we headed to the long checkout line where most of the elderly patrons were leaning on their carts sorting through coupons as they shuffled ever closer to the constant beeping of the registers.
“I’ll drive,” Jody said, as I slammed the trunk, now stuffed with my mother’s bounty, and we left the base and headed down Route 2A where we picked up Route 128/95 South, and she pointed her BMW towards Dedham and Readville, just beyond.
Chapter 1 to continue….