When we lived in the apartment in the Mission Hill projects, the bathroom door had an old-fashioned iron keyhole that when you looked through it, lined up perfectly with the head and shoulders of whomever sat on the toilet seat. One day we heard Dad in there muttering again, but this time he was louder than usual, and we couldn’t resist taking turns watching him chain smoking, talking to himself, and gesticulating while conducting his business in the bathroom. He was talking about some “asshole down at work,” and how he had a good feeling about hitting the “fuckin numbah” that week and declaring what he’d do with the money and commenting on many other topics of the day that may have been on his mind. As we were trying to control our laughter, someone must have bumped against the door because without warning my father’s head snapped left and it appeared as if he locked eyes with us although all he could see was a dark key hole. We all scattered to the back bedroom slipping and sliding in our socks and laughing in hysterics at almost getting caught. From then on we discovered the key hole had been jammed with tissue.
“I got you some new stuff to try today at the store,” I now offered Ma. “Canned SPAM, you know the real stuff, not like the crap we had to eat as kids. And I got you chocolate covered graham crackers too, that way you get a treat as you loosen your bowels” I said smirking.
Jody poked her head out from the kitchen at hearing that, her hand over her mouth trying not to laugh out loud, and my mother couldn’t see as she pretended to put her finger down her throat before going back to putting away the groceries.
Although not a big Freud guy, maybe he was onto something with the unresolved anal stage thing because my mother seemed to be stuck there or had at least gone back to visit it for a while now. We covered that in an introductory course. “The anal stage is where pleasure focuses on bowel and bladder elimination; coping with demands for control.” Maybe it’s just part of getting old, but at this point in time, her main focus was on bodily functions below the waist, and she wasn’t shy about sharing her challenges and maladies in that regard to anyone. Her constipation would often lead to panicky phone calls for dietary advice or to beg someone to get her some prune juice so she could at least “break wind.” She much preferred it when the prune choice helped her to do a bit more than that and her diapers became soiled to give her more news to report with pride along with the development of any new hemorrhoids. She almost always requested tubes of KY jelly and Preparation H when we shopped for her and which she went through at a prodigious rate. I was afraid to find out how and why, but knew it was related to her obsession with matters of the toilet so I avoided that conversation and just threw them in the shopping cart without question if they were on her list along with the adult diapers.
“Sounds good,” she said in a bare whisper.
“What else is going on?” I asked.
“Same old shit, you know, alone twenty-four seven, nobody gives a fuck.”
“Ma, if no one cared, why would we be here?”
“Not you honey, not you, you know that.” Yes, I knew, Mighty Mike, the prodigal son. I was ‘always a good boy’.
“Did you hear from Diane today?” I said changing the subject.
“Oh she stopped by for her usual ten minutes, and to bum twenty damn dollars off of me for gas and cigarettes. I only see her when she frigging wants something. I don’t see anyone else, they all hate me and I was nothing but a good mother to every one of you. You always had clean clothes every day and I walked you kids everywhere! Everybody says all these horrible things happened. That’s bullshit! Where was I when all these things happened?” she said seeming genuinely puzzled, her voice drifting away.
That was the million dollar question.
Poor Diane. She’d been my mother’s emotional and psychological pack mule since she was about twelve years old, and Ma still knew just how to prod her to keep pulling the cart. As the oldest and female, she was the first to reach the age where my mother could start to pass off to her the parental duties she herself couldn’t be expected to perform because of her “nerves.” My mother’s “nervousness,” to me, was really the baton she used to orchestrate the complex composition that must have played over and over in her narcissistic mind. A siren’s song that began as a lullaby to each of us that she sang into our ears that whispered “take care of Ma,” to cultivate our worry and guilt, and of course “watch out for Dad,” making sure she did her part early on in turning him into a common enemy, as if he needed the help.
I remembered all the times she’d pretend to faint going back to when we were very young. It might be to get my father to believe she was too ill for sex that night, or when he wasn’t around, to scare us into thinking she was about to die, leaving us alone and at his mercy and what would we do then without her?. We’d be petrified.
“So, did Diane have anything to say?” I asked.
“Oh yes, besides the money she wanted to know if she could have Dad’s old recliner, in the back spare bedroom. She doesn’t have a pot to piss in.”
“She wants that piece of crap? Let me go look at it.”
“I don’t give a shit. But I told her I had to ask you.” Oh yes, Mighty Mike must approve! Ever since I’d gotten a full power of attorney when Henry died to take care of her bills, house matters, etc., ALL decisions regarding her, the house, and its contents were now deferred to me according to her. Wow, how would I ever manage such an empire?
“Be right back, Ma,” I said, and headed down the hallway towards the back bedroom which was really being used as a storeroom. The door knob was tacky with nicotine like everything else in the house. The room was piled high with boxes of old clothes, Christmas lights and decorations and a dusty doll collection, and there were a couple of old wheelchairs that were folded, leaning against the wall. She must be storing them for Loretta I thought. I pulled a pile of musty quilts that were stuck to something off of the recliner to take a look. It kind of jolted me to actually see it again after all of these years. My father had died over 30 years ago at the age of fifty-three, and why the hell she insisted on dragging this chair around with her as she had was beyond me. Looking at the chair now, I almost expected to hear my father’s ghost shout some sort of command as he always did from this, his throne of power.
I’m not exactly sure at what age I first heard him bellow “Trudy, bring me a cup of Sanka will ya?” That, or some other such demand from the comfort of this faux leather duct tape covered, “bahka-lounjah” as he called it. The reclining chair and its permanent mate, “Jerry,” were pretty much a fixture in every living room of every place we had ever lived as far back as I could recall. King Georgie, as we sometimes called him because of the chair, had a penchant for naming his prized possessions like his car, and Jerry was among them. Jerry was a metal ashtray stand shaped as a black horse’s head with a beautiful brass ring through its nose. I’m sure it wasn’t real brass but it was pretty heavy. I used to think of that ashtray stand as a sculpture, and remember it as the closest thing to a piece of art we ever had in the house besides my mother’s varnished driftwood clock with the hands that wound round the face of Jesus with brittle palm leaves someone had given her from the previous Easter wedged behind it or the empty Avon decanters all over her dresser. The clock still hung over her bed next to the nicotine soaked tapestry of the Last Supper that I bought her at a bustling open air market during my tour of duty in Italy in a little town called Ostuni back in the seventies. Even non-practicing Catholics felt obligated to display the props of the faith.
Chapter 3 to continue still…