Last Ride In To Readville…Chapter 4, Conclusion

Readville Sign

Loretta clung to my Ma who did nothing to ease her severe separation anxiety whenever she left the house. We teased her without mercy as kids will do, so along with my parents she understandably holds us also partially to blame for her psychological condition when talking to her psychiatrists as they worked together to heal her particularly wounded inner child.

When it came time to go to school, she’d often have a meltdown. We’d just get her out the door to start the walk to whatever school we were now attending, and she’d stop and clutch the first chain link fence we’d pass and resume her bawling and crying for Ma. Usually it was Diane that would succeed in prying her almost bleeding fingers from the fence then we’d all turn around and walk her back home. Ma would yell at us every time, and refuse to write us a note since we’d of course by now be late and turn us around at the door. Loretta would then be instructed to lie down with a face cloth while my mother made her toast and tea, just as she would do for herself whenever she was having an anxiety attack.

And since Ma was a professional neurotic herself, over the years she used Loretta’s vulnerability to try to mold her into her likeness–a helpless victim of everything and everyone. It was no wonder Loretta began having her own regular fainting spells followed by her lying down on the couch with a damp wash cloth plastered to her forehead. This became a common sight, and Ma would close the window shade, just like she did whenever she herself was having a “nervous attack” telling Loretta, “just lie still, like I do, and you’ll get your mind back soon.” She only made things worse for Loretta with her inexhaustible example of helplessness and laughable home remedies.

Ma was already on valium and some other drugs, as she had been for years. It wouldn’t be long before she had Loretta joining her pill parade. Poor Loretta went on to spend most of her waking hours in a semi-sedated state due to so many medications, and found herself shuffling between group homes. She visited twice a week with her psychiatrist, who had most recently diagnosed her most with Dissociative Identity Disorder and was helping her to uncover her repressed memories about the time Dad “almost got her,” and countless other traumas for which she couldn’t be faulted for blaming my mother for making her feel unprotected.

Once, during that brief stay with Ma between moves, Loretta reported that one of her thirty-five or so alternate personalities, I think she said it was “Bob,” tried to convince her to walk down the hall at three in the morning to suffocate my mother with a pillow. However, she later explained, that she somehow snapped out of it because as she started to walk, trancelike, towards my mother’s bedroom, she was woken up by her “core” personality. After she told some of us the story, we of course joked with her about messing with Bob’s plan. She moved out the next week saying her psychiatrist said she had to do so because her relationship with my mother was “toxic.” Imagine that. Brilliant diagnosis Doctor Obvious.

Many years earlier I had gotten a phone call from my father while I was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, when Loretta was about twenty-one years old and had not yet fallen all the way into the unfortunate abyss into which she later would. Dad was ranting about Loretta’s imminent marriage to someone whom he referred to as a “nigger drug addict.” Prior to my joining the Air Force, my household status with my parents, while always a little higher than my sisters’, was that of just another of their rank and file parasitical offspring. Now I was some sort of authoritative figure in the family.

What I didn’t know was that after I left, I was now being portrayed by my parents back home as the one and only shining hope of the family. The prodigal son, indeed the “good one” all of the others should look up to and admire and only imagine they could ever be! In their world, my graduating high school and starting a military profession and earning a real pay check was nothing short of laying a golden egg. They had by now acknowledged that I had brains, but even more important, I was earning money. I could clearly fix everything with my mind and my pay stub.

My parents took to saying things like, “Wait until Michael hears about this!” or “Michael will straighten you out when he gets home!” whenever one of my siblings might find themselves in some sort of trouble. My father would show off a picture of me skinny in my uniform to the guys at work, and was especially relentless to my brother David in his constant unfair criticisms and comparisons to me which drove David crazy, as it would anyone, and inspired him to be the first to call me “Mighty Mike.” So this phone call to Fort Meade was just another spotlight in the Gotham City sky calling for the Boudreau Bat Man.

“Calm down, Dad,” I said, listening to his tirade and wondering, yet again, what he expected me to do about this latest “crisis.” “She’s an adult and free to make her own choices.”

“Yeah, well call her and tell her she’s full of shit,” he demanded. I could tell by his lisp that he wasn’t wearing his dentures and could picture the spittle flying from the corners of his mouth.

“No, I’m not going to do anything, Dad. It’s none of my business so just please leave me out of it!”

“Yeah, well fuck you too,” he said and hung up on me. We didn’t speak again for almost two years during a long distance call from Germany. I didn’t care. Like always, he only called or wrote when he wanted something from me. The only letters directed to Mighty Mike from him while he was alive and I was in the military, starting in boot camp, were sent to ask for money to help pay his bills and put “food on the table.” He’d send me one of his utility bills that were a couple of months overdue with a chicken scratch note on it in pencil, begging me to pay it so “Ma wouldn’t freeze” or some such plea. These continued for years even after I’d gotten married. I’d just tear them up. Hell with you both, freeze was how I felt. I had my own family to feed.

In the meantime, Loretta had become pregnant twice, having two children in two years or so while her husband ran the streets and bars and struggled with drugs. Eventually, he ended up homeless and died a short few years later. It was then Loretta began a sad spiral into a world of psychiatrists, prescription drugs, group homes, and unrelenting feelings of loneliness while Diane helped raise her kids.

For whatever other reasons there may have been that had made things so difficult for Loretta, ultimately it was Ma and her haunting, whispering echo of the same message to her over and over that one’s life can only be lived as seen through the narrow, dark, lens of learned helplessness and emotional distress that was most detrimental. A message so persistently delivered to her, and to all of us, over so many years that it left each of us, in our own way, in a personal struggle to widen that aperture.

To realize just how much personal control we did have over what we had or could become. When I think about the paralyzing effect my mother had on Loretta’s emotional and social development and ultimately her happiness, I hear Kelly Clarkson’s voice, singing what could be the sound track of Loretta’s life, “Because of you….I am afraid.”

End of Chapter 4….

The Last Ride In To Readville…Chapter 4, Continues…

Readville Sign

So as Dad was living with his parents, Ma was living on Elmwood Place up on the top of Mission Hill near Parker Street when they first met. Gertrude Janette Bovaird was nineteen and the fifth oldest of Cecelia and Gordon Bovaird’s children. She was sitting on the street-level stoop of the triple-decker where her family rented on the top floor when Georgie came walking up with one of the Bonapaine sisters who lived two doors down and with whom my mother hung around with.

In anticipation of the introduction, she’d gone to great lengths to make herself presentable by wearing her best twin set that consisted of a powder blue sleeveless top with a matching cardigan sweater made from the same fabric and pair of capris. She twisted the string of her mother’s borrowed pearls that hung around her neck between her thumb and forefinger as she feigned indifference to Dad’s approach.

“Gert, here’s the guy I was telling you about, he’s a friend of my brother Jimmy,” said Joanie Bonapaine introducing them.
Ended up my mother was smitten by the tall, lanky, wavy haired Georgie and they sat there on the stoop talking for hours about her recent return from a visit to her relatives in Old Town, Maine (the only time she’d ever leave the state) and about what he would disclose regarding his adventures in Texas and his time in the military, even if it was only at the Coast Guard Station in Boston’s North End, about ten miles from where they sat. They started dating and were married less than a year later when, according to Ma, Dad celebrated by tearing of her wedding dress and raping her on their wedding night which was how she became pregnant with my sister Diane who came along in February 1952. We’d all heard that one time and again.

Many of us supposedly entered this world through violence performed against her.

As awful as it sounded, we used to joke that that it was hard to imagine raping the willing but that was the story she whispered to everyone. It wasn’t until we were all adults that we learned Dad had also been married once before and divorced somehow to a woman while in Texas, and that we had a half-brother we’d never know.

To my surprise, I discovered this when I found his divorce papers in an old, rusted lock box my mother had hidden under her bed as I went through papers for her after Henry died.

We didn’t know his name, but my mother remembered October 1950 as the month in which he was believed to be born. I did a little research and discovered a Robert Boudreau was born that same month and year in Boston, and through coincidence, had been in the Air Force and stationed at the Pentagon at the same time as I was in the late nineties. This was three years after I left the Pentagon, and by the time I learned this he’d already been retired from the military so I didn’t pursue it any further. If he was our long lost sibling, I didn’t want to drag us into his world.

By all accounts, even as a young child, Ma was well on her way to becoming a distinguished graduate from the school of learned helplessness. My aunts reported that like Loretta, she was fearful to the ridiculous sometimes and anxious all of the time, and was picked on by her siblings for her constant whining and sniffling. For whatever the reasons, she developed what psychologists would describe as “a tendency to see one’s life as managed by an “external locus of control.” This, as opposed to an “internal locus of control,” where one believes that what happens to them in life is mainly a result of their own internal and personal capacity.

Trudy relinquished early on any awareness she may have ever had that one does have ultimate control over one’s life, obstacles or others be damned. It was all a matter of choice. She went to great lengths to sustain that notion to the world, and as she gave birth along the way she injected that idea in the most damaging ways to her children, the immediate effects of which made everything seem impossible, undoable. So although unable or unwilling to take control of her own life, she focused her efforts on psychologically controlling them.

Ma was fearful and anxious about everything it seemed, in the external world. She was afraid of things ranging from being near the ocean, going up elevators, heights, driving on the highway, and riding up escalators, to any form of public transportation. So, for example, none of us learned to really swim until we left home, and those of us that were able had to learn how to overcome the trepidation of all those other crazy notions of hers. Some we conquered on our own, others with the help of various stable adults in our lives when we dared to venture out away from her crazy clutches and go out into that “dangerous” external world.

I’m not sure exactly when it was that it first dawned on me that our parents were such a formidable threat to us. Dad was of course for his open, unpredictable, violent and abusive behavior, and moving us around from place to place so often we simply had no sense of a permanent home, and Ma for standing by, appearing unwilling or unable to stop it, and mainly because of what I later realized could be best described as her virulent attempts to infect us all with her neurosis. These were the obvious and immediate dangers, but none of us could know then that for some there would be long term affects from them years after the physical threat had passed.

So not long after me came Loretta. She was the acorn that, unfortunately for her, fell closest to the maternal tree as the trite expression goes, and I guess Eddie only about a foot further away. Loretta and I were Irish twins, with my birthday in December and hers the following November. George and Gert didn’t take many nights off in the bedroom. Almost from when she could walk and talk, she was pretty timid, nervous, and quite afraid of her own shadow, and Ma, like with she was with the rest of us, did nothing to prevent her from believing the boogey man was behind every door and under every bed.

Chapter 4, Continues Still…

Readville Sign

It was mid-September, and I was scheduled to take leave back in Boston in early October and learned that Lowell had started holding a festival of a sort each fall to celebrate Kerouac, one of its most famous native sons. In spite of all the constant moves my family had made in my childhood, none had reached as far as Lowell. Between the memory of that first trip to Lowell with my mother and all that I was now learning, I started to develop a connection I couldn’t explain and I decided at by now, some thirty years later, I’d include in my trip back home taking my second ever ride up Route 3 to Lowell from Boston to see for myself what seemed to be this “holy ground” that could so inspire one soul to produce such a prodigious and poetic testimony to its very essence. I read everything Kerouac I could before taking that trip, with hopes of making my time in Lowell as meaningful as possible as I retraced the streets, steps and places prominent in his life and works.

I parked my rented Dodge in the lot designated for the Lowell Visitor’s Center, and found my way to the main entrance. It was a cold but brilliant and sunny day, and I felt excited and alive to be on this unexpected adventure, about to take my own Kerouac city tour. The Visitor Center was nestled among some of those old brick factories I’d seen so long ago, now repurposed to house it and what appeared to be apartments or condos. It was a treasure trove of Lowell history, and had a wonderful collection of books for sale. I grabbed some free literature and a map and set out on my quest.

My first stop was to take a look at the Paradise Diner on Bridge Street, then across the Merrimack River to snap a picture of Jack’s birthplace on Lupine Road. I continued on for the next few hours visiting places and haunts I’d read about to include the Franco American School’s Grotto, the Pawtucketville Social Club where he played pool, and the Boot Mill Museum to see what few items he’d left behind in this world, including his knapsack and typewriter. At every stop there were others like me, or clusters of people on guided tours huddling up close to their guide, straining to hear. I eavesdropped when I could for any nuggets of information and ended my tour at Jack’s grave site at Edson Cemetery where a group stood by silent by as someone read from one of his works.

After listening for a few moments I drifted back toward the car, reflecting on the last few, amazing hours, and felt as if I’d discovered something for which I’d been searching but couldn’t name. Some connection. It came to me as part of a subtle feeling of Déjà vu and that sense of having been there before. Something mystical, but comforting and familiar. I’d moved so many times as a kid and now with the military, but none of those places made me feel as if I belonged there. Lowell somehow did. Standing by my car I gave the cemetery one last long look as I said a silent prayer to Jack, and felt a firmness in my feet as though they were taking root there, telling me with certainty, I’d be back, little knowing that I’d end up attending graduate school there at UMASS so many years later.

Dad’s last job, before he got sick, was in a carpentry shop at the loading dock for a company in Dedham, Hersey Inc., that built water meters, some as large as a small car and were buried underground, and where he served as shop steward. He led his crew in making wooden crates large and sturdy enough in which to ship those giant meters and he relished his role as their union representative. They were also prodigious in trading porn magazines and dime store novels with each other. He’d come home some nights and hold court at the kitchen table and in his toughest voice make us listen as he told us how he was handling this or that grievance on behalf of a fellow union member. “I’m the fucking shop steward and I’ll take ‘em to the fuckin’ judge!” he’d say talking about management and slapping his palm on the table, flecks of spit coming from his toothless mouth. He always took his full upper and lower dentures out the minute he came home, and his cheeks would deflate like popped balloons, instantly aging him ten years. He’d wrap them in the snot filled handkerchief he always kept stuffed in his back pocket to store them away. “They’ll see who they’re fuckin’ wit!” he’d lisp.

Truth was he was a blowhard who when challenged “had no lead in his pencil” as my old hockey coach used to say. There was a time we were out driving when I was in the fourth grade and he started swearing, his neck craned out the window, and honking his horn at the driver in front of us for what he thought was the guy cutting him off. The guy jammed on the brakes, ran back to my father’s driver side window, and caught him squarely on the side of the head with a thumping right hand as my father desperately cranked on the window handle trying to roll it up. Seeing my father had no fight in him, the guy just threw his head back and laughed as he walked away. I remember the lump on his head and the fear in my father’s eyes as he drove away, pale and sweaty. Not exactly a lesson in manhood for me.

To be continued….

Chapter 4…continues still

Readville Sign

George was the only son of eight children and third oldest. His mother’s parents (our Nana Boudreau’s) were born in Sicily and immigrated to Boston making her a first generation American and us one quarter Italian. My grandfather was pure French-Canadian, his parents having moved to Boston from St. John, New Brunswick with original roots in Richmond, Nova Scotia. But that’s really all I knew about them. He served in the army in World War I and was discharged in 1918. He’d died in 1955 before I was born, just as I assumed my mother’s father had since he was never mentioned. It turns out he had died in 1968, never discussed and long-estranged from the family, so I never knew either of my grandfathers.

Dad’s parents still lived there in the Mission Hill projects at the time of his discharge following a short hitch in the Coast Guard during World War II where he served as a cook in a ship’s galley. He used to tell us he was an aerial gunner who “shot down those damn gooks” and we should have been there when his ship went through the Panama Canal to see such a sight as the locks were opened and closed, raising and lowering the massive grey hull. Funny enough, I did end up actually seeing that engineering marvel during my travels with the Air Force. We later learned he had merely cooked, and although he could technically be pressed into action as a gunner when it was all hands on deck in battle, the only action his ship ever saw was when it sailed on that training mission that took it down to Panama for a ride through the canal and back up to the Coast Guard Station in Boston from which it was based.

He wasn’t quite the Admiral Nelson type as he tended to describe himself in his stories, and I could more imagine him running the bars with the boys in safety back in Boston in the now long gone Scolley Square, a mecca for servicemen, than his being engaged in naval warfare.

There’s a cracked black and white photo of him somewhere that shows him wearing one of the old style pea coats, his hands stuffed into the side pockets, and a white Coast Guard cap cocked jauntily to one side almost touching his eyebrow. He looked like a teenager, and his face was thin and gaunt, and he was smiling, a cigarette dangling almost straight down from the right corner of his mouth. His expression belied any of the dark thoughts that I assumed must already have already been percolating in his mind. His thinness made me wonder if he’d had to eat a bit extra to make the weight to enlist in the military just as I had.

So when he met my mother in late 1950, it seemed he’d just come back to Boston from living in Texas for a while, and moved back into that small apartment in the projects in Roxbury with his parents, that oddly enough, was just a few hundred yards from where we’d all later end up at 33 Plant Court. He spent the next few years bouncing from job to job, mostly as a laborer. As a high school dropout he didn’t have many skills beyond the cooking he’d learned in the ship’s galley, but there were plenty of industrial jobs around at the time so he ended up working at warehouses, loading docks, and factories in towns like Chelsea and Medford, and one of which for some reason I always remembered that was way up in Lowell, about a forty minute drive from Boston, at one of the now long-dormant brick factories with their spewing smokestacks.

Other than my mother dragging me along with her one December day in the early sixties for the long ride up Route 3 to pick up Dad from work, Lowell was “foreign” to kids like me from “JP” where we were now living following, yet again, another eviction. To us, places like Lowell, we presumed, were populated by dangerous and territorial kids, far afield from the sanctuary of our own friends and neighborhood. I couldn’t say now where the factory was exactly, but I remember being amazed at all of the huge, beautiful brick buildings and the sense of strength the city seem to give off. It didn’t look scary to me.

I sat in the back seat, shivering, as the car heater had given out weeks before, and listening to my mother cursing that Dad was late getting off work and her constant muttering saying “where the hell is he?” Finally, just as it was getting dark, Dad came out from the heavy metal door by which we waited parked at the back of the building. The sky was steely colored, and the feel of snow to come was in the air making the skyline look more white than gray in contrast to the bright red bricks of the factories. Ma slid over to the passenger side of the Rambler’s bench seat as Dad got in and took the wheel as he always did, not saying a word to either of us. Quickly, we were back on Route 3, headed south as both of my parents blew cigarette smoke out of their cracked windows. As we drove, I remember thinking Lowell was nothing like I’d imagined it would be. Way more interesting than intimidating, but once back in Boston I didn’t give it another thought until 1990.

I was stationed with the Air Force about fifty miles north of London and taking a creative writing class I’d chosen as an elective in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at night, when the professor told us of his personal adventures with a band of drop out writers and poets, including a guy named Ken Kesey, that called themselves the “Merry Pranksters.” This led to more revelations about this “revolutionary” group of writers and an introduction to Jack Kerouac and his works, and to learning how the Mill City, as it was called, and his having grown up there served as his muse for an impressive body of literary work. I sat in class thinking how it seemed impossible that having been born less than an hour from Kerouac’s very stomping grounds that I’d never heard of him, his book “On the Road,” and this phenomenon that came to be called “the Beat Generation” of which I later learned he was a reluctant pioneer. Reflecting on Lowell now, in a classroom a world away, I remembered Dad coming out of that factory door so long ago, and my mother and I sitting and shivering in the parked Rambler waiting, lost among the bricks.

To be continued….

Chapter 4, Continues…

Readville Sign

These days it was just Diane, Susan and I who really had anything to do with Gert. As far as Judy was concerned, Ma was “dead, to her,” and she considered our Aunt, Esther to be her “real mother.” Besides me, Judy was the only other one of us to graduate high school and we kind of lost touch after I joined the Air Force although some of the others went on to get their GED. She moved up north to New Hampshire to get away from anything to do with the family and to raise her own. She’d decided early on she’d head for the hills and so she did.

Aunt Esther was one of my mother’s five sisters and she was everything my mother wasn’t and we wished she were. We all looked forward to seeing her and my cousins. She was always laughing and was a working mother who always made sure her kids were well-fed, happy, and full of life. Such a stark contrast to the world we lived in.
She once told my sister Judy and I that when my mother was due to give birth to Eddie, she offered to take David, who was about two years old, to stay with her this time.

We all got farmed out to other relatives again, as usual, whenever my mother was going into the hospital to give birth. And I, as always, got to stay with Nana Bovaird, and I loved sleeping on the couch, listening to her cuckoo clock strike in the quiet morning hours. It was a gift from one of my uncles who’d been stationed in Germany with the Army, much in the same way I’d brought one back for my mother.

Aunt Esther explained that when David was there she was feeding him and some of mycousins their dinner. When she placed Dave in the high chair and put his dish on the tray, “he started to scream,” she said, and “scared the shit out of me.” My two young cousins looked at David with an odd expression, but dug into their own plates with gusto. My aunt and my Uncle Bud couldn’t figure out what the hell was wrong with him. Uncle Bud pointed out to my aunt that David was staring at the pork chop on his plate and instructed her to take if off. When she did he stopped crying and went quiet, eating the potatoes, beans and applesauce that remained on his plate.

She surmised that the poor kid didn’t know what meat was. She went into another room and cried. Later, when she was readying the kids for bed she filled the kitchen sink and then proceeded to bathe each of them one at a time. Her kids loved bath time and getting their hair washed. When it was David’s turn he screamed when she tried to put him in the water, so she sat him on the counter top and gave him a sponge bath.

She said it was the last time she took any one of us to stay over saying it was just too distressing for her to see our reaction to a normal household. When my parents came to get David she said cried her eyes out and didn’t want to give him back, but Uncle Bud said he wasn’t her kid so she had to.

She was just a few years younger than my mother, and had made her own way in the world including earning her own retirement. She was determined and independent, unlike my mother who was always dependent upon everyone else. Ma had a job for maybe two weeks in her entire life. Like my father, she never finished high school but she did work for a very short time at the old Sears building in Kenmore Square not too far from Fenway Park. She worked in the mail room and stuffed envelopes into pneumatic tubes destined for the various departments in the store along with the other girls in the mail room. Then she met Georgie and had her eight children, almost each about a year apart. There were also a couple of miscarriages along the way.

My father, George William Boudreau, was born on September 8, 1927 to Angela (Boccuzzi) and Simon Aloysius Boudreau. They were living in the Mission Hill projects that sat at the foot of the Mission Hill district in the Roxbury section of Boston and in the shadow of the Mission Hill Church and its beautiful gothic spires. Technically, the church was elevated to a basilica status in 1956 by Pope Pius XII and its full name is The Basilica and Shrine of our Lady of Perpetual Help, although everyone still calls it the Mission Hill Church.

Mission Church

I went to parochial school there for part of one year when we later lived in those same projects, and all the kids called it “Our Lady of Perpetual Motion,” driving the nuns crazy. The Redemptionist Fathers first built it as a modest wooden mission church on the location in 1870, but the present day church was built in 1868 and made of Roxbury puddingstone, and its spires were added in 1910. Puddingstone played a historic role in the area, and there was a quarry that ran between Tremont Street and Allegany Street that produced the stone foundations of most of the late nineteenth century houses in the surrounding neighborhood. The stained glass was exquisite and detailed and boasted the most brilliant colors, and there were dozens of abandoned crutches mounted above the altar in one of the cavernous apses to the left side of the main altar. All left behind by those they say experienced a healing miracle, right there in the basilica.

Next to the Vatican itself, I’d never felt myself to be in a more holy place. So when we ourselves later lived in those same Mission Hill projects for a short time during the late sixties after we’d been evicted from a place in Roslindale, I often slipped off to five o’clock mass on Saturday afternoons even though I’d have to get up and go again on Sunday morning. Of all of the benign and forgotten addresses over the many years and moves, 33 Plant Court would turn out to be the most indelible and impactful one for me. It was there that as a ten year old boy that I first discovered a real sense of spirituality beyond my first communion, and to gain a sense of understanding that although there were many fears that would have to be overcome in life, somehow I would. I captured some sense of hope and optimism on Mission Hill that never left me.

To be continued…

Chapter 4, Continues…

Readville Sign

Back in Ma’s kitchen Jody turned to me and said, “She’s got enough crap in there to feed an army,” as she at last managed to get the freezer door fully shut. “If I see another frozen Salisbury steak dinner I am going to puke.”

“Me too,” I replied, squirting the green dish soap into my palm and scrubbing my hands together briskly under the almost scalding water. As usual, the feeling of wanting a shower as soon as possible after arriving at Ma’s place began to creep in. Jody’s hands were already red so I knew she’d washed them at least twice since we got there. Being a nurse, she was extra cautious. We avoided surface contact with anything in the house as much as we could, and of course always kept hand sanitizer at the ready in the car for the ride home. We’d also divert Ma’s attention from trying to get us to go down the hall to her bedroom for any reason for fear of a lone, surviving bed bug somehow stowing away on one of our socks or something.

Washing her hands one last time, Jody said over her shoulder, “I’m going next door to chat with the neighbor. Gosh, I forget her name. She’s outside with her new baby and I’ve been dying to see him. Did you see all that red hair?” And lowering her voice said, “Give you and Miss Sunshine a chance to talk.”

“That’s it, abandon ship,” I said, sighing.

“Oh c’mon, just listen to her same old crap for a few minutes and we’ll be on our way to a martini and a fried clam plate. Yum.”

Jody descended the short flight of stairs to the front door, and I heard her say, “See you mum,” just as the screen slammed and she headed next door, leaving me to rejoin the pity party I knew my mother was throwing for herself in the other room. I walked back to the living room and resumed my position on the edge of the arm of the couch.
The “Game Show Network” was now on the television showing old re-runs of “The Match Game.”

The audience was laughing. I glanced to see Gene Rayburn holding a skinny two foot microphone, and he had just said something funny to Charles Nelson Reilly who was pushing his oversized glasses up onto his nose with a long pointy finger. By the flowery shirt he was wearing, it had to be an episode from the middle seventies.
Besides “Days of Our Lives,” that was the only channel she ever watched except for when the Boston Bruins or Red Sox were playing. She’d call me up ten times on the day of a game to make sure she had the game time right and knew what channel to turn to so she didn’t miss it.

Her enjoyment at watching those teams was really the only thing we had in common, and it at least gave us something to talk about besides her personal soap opera or her bowels. The channel that carried the Red Sox would often replay a game from the night before for those that had missed it. They called it “Sox in Two.” Even though she’d seen the original broadcast, Ma would sometimes watch the replay of the game and when next we spoke on the phone would say “Did you see the game today? It was the same score as yesterday!” I gave up trying to explain it to her when she’d always insist “no, no, it was a brand new game.”

“Remember I had a shirt just like that?” I said referring to Charles Nelson Reilly. Dad hated it or anything else that made any of us kids look like “dirty hippies.”
“Oh yes, I remember it. Your father didn’t want you to have it, but I made him let you get it” she said. “Wasn’t it for back to school? We got it at Bradlees.”
“Yeah, I think so. No, you didn’t make him get it, you bought it using your ‘sneakies,’ remember? Then we told Dad Aunt Kay bought it for me.” I detected a tiny smirk at the old reference to one of her former secret successes.

“So what do you think about that chair for Diane?” Ma asked.

“Sure, if she really wants it, who cares? I’ll bring my truck down next time and bring it to her if she can wait that long. She’ll have to get someone to get it up the stairs to her place though. I’ll give her a call later.”

“Oh don’t worry, she’ll wait for anything that’s free,” she said bitterly while conveniently ignoring the fact that anything she ever owned herself had come to her free.

“Why do you have to be so nasty Ma? Diane does more for you than anyone, and only God knows why. You should be glad to help her out when you can. She runs all over creation for you, getting your pills, picking up orange juice or whatever, coming over anytime you have a meltdown over dead batteries in the remote or a smoke alarm that won’t shut off. She just came by last week to plunge your toilet for crying out loud. You should be grateful!”

I always tried to speak in a calm voice, as though to a child, in dealing with her, but my tone was firm and a little angry. God, she was relentless.

“I’m the mother and an old lady! My kids should do things for me,” she insisted. What did I ever do to them?” she asked, indignant, starting to sob like a spoiled child and for no apparent reason. Here we go again about “her kids.” Freud ran through my mind. “She’s demonstrating regressive behavior as a defense mechanism for being remonstrated for her selfishness and narcissistic personality.”

She’d never understand that her bitterness towards being ‘abandoned’ by her own children was more than matched by their disdain for her. What she also didn’t fully realize, was that although most of them had established a firm physical detachment from her, they still allowed her to keep a psychological grip over them to some extent. Even as they lived out their lives at a distance, clinging to their anger and blaming her and Georgie for what they perceived as the irreparable damage they’d done in corrupting our childhoods in every way. It really wouldn’t have mattered to her one way or the other even if she were aware, because how others felt about anything was of little concern to her.

“Look,” I said, now more controlled and trying to ignore her exaggerated weeping as her psychologist had instructed. “Diane’s got a ton on her plate right now, you know that. Dealing with Eddie, and her own crazy health too! She just had three stents placed into her heart, she’s a full-blown diabetic, she raised Loretta’s kids and now she’s got her own son’s kid to take care of. And she’s sixty years old! You have to really try not to stress her out any more Ma okay?”

Diane was followed by Judy, then me, Loretta, Karen, David, Eddie, and then Susan. Susan was the outlier having been born seven years after Eddie when we lived at that house on Walworth Street. We always called her “the baby,” well into her twenties.

Boudreau Children

I have a framed, grainy, black and white picture taken sometime in the early sixties of all of us kids save Susan. Eddie was just an infant in Judy’s arms and we’re standing in the living room with everyone smiling at the camera except me, standing there in the back, peeking out with a face too serious for a child, and gazing right into the lens. We looked unexpectedly well-nourished, and were just a little too young yet to understand the psychological and physical dangers already percolating in our midst.

To be continued….

Chapter 4 Begins…

Readville Sign

Chapter 4
You [men] are not our protectors…. If you were, who would there be to protect us from?” – Mary Edwards Walker

I shook the recliner from side to side to test it to see if it really was literally being held together at this point only by the sticky gray duct tape. I didn’t want Diane’s grandkids jumping on it, as I knew they surely would, only to find themselves flung to the floor when the back of the chair snapped off or something. But to my surprise, the old “throne” was still pretty solid. Might even be a decent chair again if she could have afforded to get it re-upholstered. The good news was in its current condition it would be a perfect complement to her apartment’s hand-me-down, garage sale motif.

I shut the bedroom door with just the tips of my thumb and forefinger grabbing the knob, then headed back down the hall to the kitchen to wash the tackiness from my hands. Jody was finishing up putting the groceries away, pushing on the freezer door with both hands trying to get it to close. She pushed so hard that a faded photo, one of those old Polaroids with the white border slipped out from behind the previous year’s magnetic Red Sox schedule that was plastered on the freezer door, and it drifted to the floor. It was probably taken with the same camera my father used to take those pictures of my mother in the bedroom that she’d shown to my sisters when they were young telling them what a pig he was for making her pose like that, but she nonetheless kept them hidden under her mattress in a sort of collection.

I picked it up and looked at the faded picture of my brother, Eddie’s, fourth grade picture and slid it back into place behind the magnet. His dirty blond hair was cut straight across at the bangs and he was wearing a striped shirt and black horn-rimmed glasses and was missing a front tooth. He resembled a young Austin Powers. He was about fifty now, and still housebound and living out his life in a bedroom at Diane’s place in Dedham suffering from a severe case of obsessive compulsive disorder that had kept him paralyzed with ritual behavior and crippling agoraphobia for the last eight years. Poor guy was so afraid to leave the room some days that he’d just hide out there no matter how hungry he may have been or how badly he may have needed to use the bathroom.

I had no idea that if we’d only recognized the clear signs pointing to where he was headed going as far back as when he was the age he was in that photo we might have done something to help prevent just how rotten things would turn out for him although we were really just kids as well. My parents certainly didn’t pay any attention to those signs, that’s for sure, or even if they did, I doubt it would have mattered much for the kid. In fact they hardly paid attention to him at all once Susan was born replacing him as the youngest so maybe that was the start of it all or at least a part of it.

When he was a kid he’d often wake up screaming with night terrors or would come sleepwalking into the kitchen while we played cribbage around the kitchen table some nights after the younger ones had been sent to bed. And there was that constant tic accompanied by a slight stutter, most noticeable when he was excited about something. His head would snap repeatedly to the right, his eyes squinting in unison as his bangs bounced in time against his forehead, his body sort of wiggling all over as he struggled for the words. Ma always said he’d just grow out of it and to pay it no mind and my parents never took him in to see a single doctor. Having left for the military when I was still a teenager and then being gone most of the time after that, it was quite a shock to see just how troubled he was becoming during one of my trips back home.

It was in the fall of 1986 and I’d caught a military flight back to the states from Germany to visit for a week. I had been sent back there to Augsburg, just north of Munich, in 1983 to my old unit a couple of years after my father died. All you had to do was sit around on stand-by at the flight line terminal on the base and wait for the next available seat on whatever aircraft was manifested back to the states and closest to where you wanted to go and it was a free ride. It was pretty cold being strapped against cargo netting in a jump seat on the C-130 that lumbered at thirty thousand feet westward into a headwind over the Atlantic towards Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, but the price was definitely more than right.

With Dad gone for five years at that point, only Eddie and Susan were still living at home with Ma, then in another new place in Roslindale on Florence Street on the second floor of a triple decker just off of Hyde Park Avenue. It was within walking distance of a package store where I walked over to pick up a twelve pack of Michelob and drank in its entirety one night while watching a Red Sox game. After drinking potent German beer for the last couple of years, American beer had a kick like Kool-Aid. Ma was aghast at my consumption and asked if I was an alcoholic. I started to explain about chemical tolerance but she only got confused so I just grinned at her and said “Yup, and so is everyone in the military.”

I slept on the couch, and the next morning got awoken by the sound of the front door knob rattling and un-rattling in a very peculiar way. I was lying on my side and lifting my head a little to see over the green vase with the dusty yellow plastic tulips, I saw Eddie performing some version of what looked like the “hully-gully” in the doorway, one of those dances we’d all do at someone’s wedding reception at the American Legion Hall or Italian-American Club.

Fascinated, I just watched in silence as he grabbed the tarnished brass door knob in his right hand pulling the door ajar just enough for him to stick his left foot out into the musty hallway and tap his toes four times as he jiggled the doorknob furiously. He then switched his hand and foot and repeated this behavior, all the while counting aloud to himself “one, two, three, four, one two, three, four.” He repeated this pattern four times, twice on each side, then on his final utterance of “four,” he slipped sideways through the door closing it sharply behind him making sure he made no contact with anything. I was only a fledgling psychology student by night at the time, but knew Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when I saw it. It seemed to grow worse every year after that, and was steadfastly fearful of seeking the treatment he really needed and would go into a panic at the very thought of seeking treatment or hospitalization.

He never had any close friends, and certainly and sadly no intimate relationships I was aware of. Years later, I tried to help him to understand that OCD is among the most easy to cure on the list of anxiety disorders, but unfortunately, for whatever his reasons and despite all the encouragement by all of us for him to seek treatment, he could only remain trapped inside his own distress, his days now spent more or less confined to a single room with the help of enablers who just didn’t know what else to do. When I got stationed back in Massachusetts for my last tour of duty, I visited with him once a week for six months to continue to try to help him better understand and confront his disorder, but to no avail.

His anxiety still exerted its power over all attempts by anyone to help him, and it became clear that the only way he’d ever get to a better life would be to finally go out and get the professional help he needed but refused to get. All I could do was keep praying for him that he’d find the courage one day to take on the battle I knew he could win.

To be continued…

Chapter 3, Conclusion…

The most memorable of one of my “turns” with the belt was back in the summer of 1964, the year that I made my First Communion where I wasn’t quite so lucky as my sisters.  We lived in Jamaica Plain on Green Street, and I loved going to church and catechism classes and the way it made me feel holy, and was thrilled when finally the Sunday came that I got to put on the white suit and shoes, and walked with pride up the aisle at Our Lady of Lourdes church, hands clasped, to receive the Eucharist.  My parents never went to church except for weddings or funerals but they insisted that we all did every Sunday.  Not sure why they cared about our spirituality when they neglected theirs, but I didn’t care because going to church made me feel safe and it was full of goodness.  I wore the suit all day feeling like a celebrity, and got cards with money in them from relatives and ate candy and was very happy.  

As I was getting dressed for school the next day, my mother poked her head into the room.  “Wait, what are you doing?  Put on your nice communion clothes for school!”

I was mortified.  She’d mentioned doing that the night before but I pretended not to hear her.  Proud as I was of making my First Communion and wearing that white suit, no way was I going to face the humiliation I knew would come from my fellow first graders at public school if I showed up in it.  

“But I don’t want to wear it Mommy!” I heard myself shout.

“That suit cost twenty dollars, so get your ass in it now!” she snapped back.

I didn’t want to disobey, as after all, I had just taken a giant step closer to God by performing my first confession, reciting the Act of Contrition, and receiving the Eucharist.  What could I do?  Crying, I got dressed, grabbed my lunch bag that I knew contained a sandwich made with a thick cut slab of government cheese with mustard, and slammed the door to the apartment on my way out.  I had to walk up Green Street to where it intersected with Washington Street, then go up the iron steps, thick with layers of green paint, and cross over the pedestrian walkway that took you to the now long gone “El” platform to catch the train, then down the stairs to the other side of the street to continue up Green towards the red brick school at the top of the hill.  As I climbed the stairs, eyes red, I made up my mind that I’d just play hooky!  I knew that was wrong, but I knew every bully in school would seek me out if I showed up dressed that way.

Wandering around the neighborhood I must have realized I stuck out like a miniature Pat Boone wearing that white suit and those shoes and that I couldn’t do that all day.  So, heart racing, I decided I’d just go home and surely mommy would understand.  She wouldn’t want me to get beat up at school would she?  I knew God wouldn’t want that.  I trudged back up the stairs to the apartment and opened the door.  My mother turned to me, looking stunned.

“Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” she demanded, cigarette smoke streaming from her nostrils.

“Please mommy, I don’t want the other kids to tease me!” I said pleading.

“Are you ashamed of being a damn Catholic?  Is that it?” she sneered.

“No!  But I just want to dress normal, that’s all.”

“Go change and stay in your room until your father gets home!”

Now the fear really set in.  Maybe she wouldn’t say anything.  Although she always used that threat she didn’t always follow through.  After all, wasn’t it all of us against him?  We’d hear them in their bedroom some nights and sometimes heard loud but muffled voices, and sometimes what sounded like her crying.  Next day she’d tell my sisters that it was awful, and she’d warn them that they all had to “watch out” for my father, whatever that meant.

I heard him come into the apartment and he and my mother talking in the kitchen although I couldn’t make out a word of what they were saying.  I was in my room when he came storming in.   I faked left and went right and slipped around him, running to the living room where I tripped over the hassock in my failed escape attempt narrowly missing bumping my head on Jerry, then dropped to the floor and curled up in a defensive ball, readying myself for the first blow.  He grabbed me roughly by the left wrist and held me in a semi-dangling position as I struggled unable to break his grip with my other hand, another useless tactic, all the while writhing like a skinny fish on a hook.  I could see my mother’s silent shadow in the hallway just as he twisted me around.

“Come here you little prick!” he bellowed.

“Please Daddy!” I begged.  No use.  

By the time he was finished (and exhausted) I had a series of striped welts that had raised themselves on an angle down my back.  I remember going in the bathroom right after it happened and looking at them over my shoulder using my mother’s make-up mirror and thinking how odd that they could be so red and yet not bleed.  It was hot and humid the next day, and my mother made me wear a T-shirt to the MDC pool so that no one could see as I ran through the sprinkler because we weren’t allowed in the pool itself because she was afraid of the water.  But once the shirt got soaked, people saw the welts anyway and I was embarrassed by their stares.  She stopped me by the front door as I was leaving.

“You know your father cried about hitting you,” she said.

Good, I wanted him to feel bad.  I imagined him, sobbing in the dark sorry for what he did after he must have realized that no little boy would want to go to school dressed in their First Communion suit and what was he thinking beating me over it and then him coming to my room to rub my head and tell me so and promising never to do it again but the image faded.  I would have forgiven him in exchange for that.

The way she said it made me feel as if it was I that should reach out and somehow console him rather than the other way around.  I guess I never forgot that beating in particular because making my First Communion was such a big deal to me.   No, if he really did cry that way as she had said, it must have been because he was seeking her forgiveness, not mine.  

How else would he have gotten her to go into the bedroom that night and not lay on the couch with a wet facecloth on her forehead?  Looking back I could see how he had proven me correct later that evening when they went out and came home from shopping with Trudy clutching on to whatever was her latest treasure stuffed into the crinkled plastic bag from a trip to Zayre’s.   This time the bag contained a new pearly white blouse with ruffled, puffy sleeves.  It was just like the one she’d seen and admired that this dancer was wearing on the Lawrence Welk show the previous Saturday.  She held it up under her chin and spread the sleeves wide for us all to see saying “isn’t it pretty?”  We’d show vague interest as hope slipped away, as always, that there might be something in the bag for one of us.

Right before bed that night I asked her; “Mommy, why didn’t you stop him when he was hitting me so hard?  I saw you watching.”  She just looked at me with a blank expression and answered in what we had all come to know by then was her patented, helpless tone.

“But honey, what can I do?”  That was the same answer she gave whenever we asked why there was never anything for any of us in the Zayres bag.

Chapter 3, Continues some more…

Readville Sign

The recliner had started out forest green, but over the years through so many moves it became more a splotchy battleship gray and green checkerboard because of all the duct tape used to repair the tears.   No matter what, like with his food, Georgie always made sure he had his own creature comforts. In addition to his constant cups of coffee, he was also a chain smoker, and if not yelling yet again for Trudy or one of my sisters to bring him another cup of coffee, he would yell to any one of us within his line of sight to “come empty Jerry” as he constantly filled the amber colored ashtray to overflowing.

Jerry and the recliner were the centerpieces of Dad’s world wherever we lived and where from their placement in the living room he ruled over his castle. Most weekdays he’d come home from working the loading dock or carpentry shop, hang up his grey or green work shirt with “George” embroidered over its left pocket, then head right to the television, turn on “Candlepins for Cash”, then plunk down, push back in the recliner, and light up. I guess Ma really did have a thing for men that wore shirts with embroidered name patches.

After settling in, he’d yell for a cup of coffee after lighting his Camel, no filter (later on when he went to a filtered cigarette, it’d be a Winston), then have one of us stand or sit by the television to change the channel on demand. Thank God those were the days of only five channels. It wouldn’t be long before his eyes would start drooping, cigarette dangling from between his fingers. Whoever was on television duty would watch the head of ashes on the cigarette grow longer and longer as Georgie’s head started to bob and he began to snore aloud, mouth drooped open. Then, being very quiet, slip the ashtray out of the top of Jerry’s head and hold it impatiently under Georgie’s gradually spreading fingers until the cigarette fell safely into it.

We each learned early on to stay out of that chair or risk provoking his wrath for that egregious violation. Of course we’d dare each other to get in the chair when he was at work or napping on his bed after falling asleep yet again, often with a dime store porn novel spread open across his chest. The picture magazines in his night stand drawer would become an adolescent treasure for me and my friends.

If anyone took a dare to sit in the chair we’d hang the threat of tattling on them over their head for use as leverage later if needed. Getting caught in the chair could bring any one of a number of different punishments depending upon his mood. If you were lucky, only a verbal assault peppered with profanities, but if you weren’t, you’d find yourself running for cover with Georgie in hot and furious pursuit unbuckling his belt as he charged after you, muttering curses.

Other transgressions like whispering to each other after being sent to bed at 6:00 on one of those summer evenings while the sun was still shining or making too much noise while washing the dishes could easily propel him to make the unpredictable leap from verbal to physical assault. Keeping us off balance was one of his major sources of power. “The belt,” was another of Georgie’s trademarks and he wielded it with athletic prowess. It was almost with awe that I’d watch him unbuckle the belt, grab it by the buckle with his right hand, and then pull it off in a flourish with the elegance of Zorro. He’d then fold it in half, adjust a firm grip where the buckle met the tip, and then with a hearty “come here you little bastard!” or “you little bitch” if that were the case, he’d seek his quarry! It was pretty comical—as long as it wasn’t you he was chasing. We joked that if you could get him huffing and puffing enough that he’d literally foam at the mouth, although it wasn’t funny when he caught up with you and gave you extra for trying to get away from him in the first place.

He got hold of me once when I had no place to run or hide, mainly because my pants were around my ankles. It was somewhere around first or second grade, and I’d been regaling my sister Judy with exaggerated stories about all of the toys and books our teacher kept on the shelves in the cloak room at the back of the classroom, and how we were free to take them home and borrow them anytime we wanted. Of course this wasn’t true, and she teased me without mercy about what a liar I was, and dared me to prove it by bringing something home. She kept hounding me so one afternoon I slipped into the cloak room on the way out and put a couple of those treasured “Golden Books” under my coat to prove her wrong.

It wasn’t stealing I rationalized like a seven year old would, because I’d bring them straight back to school the next day and nobody would ever know! I had chosen two of my favorites, a story about Robin Hood and his merry men, and one full of pictures of jungle animals. I walked home, my heart pounding, and then with gusto waved them under Judy’s nose upstairs in the bedroom. In a surprising and cruel twist of fate, she immediately went squealing to my mother that I’d stolen things from school! Of course Ma made the obligatory “wait until your father gets home” pronouncement, so the unexpected dread set in.

With a sigh I took my ill-gotten gains into the bathroom with me and sat on the toilet to try to at least distract myself with the books that had caused me so much trouble when my father came barging in, his belt already raised high and poised to strike. With a swift yank on my wrist he had me up on my feet and swung the belt hard across my bottom and the back of my thighs as I grabbed for my pants to pull them up with my free hand while screaming for mercy. There, of course, wouldn’t be any. I hated Judy for weeks after, and looked on with a constant glaring anger as she stayed on her best behavior to avoid giving me any opportunity for paybacks as I nursed my welts.

We were always trying figure out ways to soften the blows once Georgie caught up with you. Sometimes just flopping around could help make him miss, or grabbing at the belt helped to stop it in its tracks on the way down although that just made him madder. My two oldest sisters have permanent claim on having pulled off probably the most ingenious ploy of all when it came to coming away from a “belt beating” with the least amount of damage—in this case, none! It was right after Christmas one year, and they had each received these life size dolls from Globe Santa that looked more like linebackers than little girls.

Globe Santa was a toy charity drive put on each Christmas by the Boston Globe newspaper to get donated new toys into the hands of underprivileged children. I guess we met the criteria since they were the main source of anything to be found under our Christmas tree along with our individual gifts from our respective godparents who never let us down. Globe Santa even wrapped them and put your name on the tag and each was hand-signed “From Santa.” I especially looked forward to getting my annual “activity kit” that was always on my wish list. I loved to draw and sketch and the box was always full of beautiful colored pencils and a sharpener.

As my two oldest sisters remembered it, they were whispering too loud after “lights out,” and after a second warning, Georgie came clomping up the stairs towards their bedroom unbuckling his belt feverishly as he climbed. My sisters shared a bed, and in a flash they buried their dolls side by side under the pile of tattered heavy covers and positioned themselves directly beneath the bed lined up with the dolls above.

With only the light from the stairway shining in, Georgie began wailing away at who he thought were my sisters to the beat of his usual cadence of profanities. Right on cue, my sisters began kicking up at the bedsprings at approximately where the dolls asses would be so it looked as though they were squirming around, and with their best muffled cries of “please Daddy, no!” kept up the kicking and wailing and only stopped when he stopped turning away muttering, “Now shut the fuck up, the both of ya!” Biting their lips to keep from giggling, they lay still until his footsteps disappeared then they crawled back into bed and kissed their dolls.

Chapter 3 will continue…..

Chapter 3..Continues still….

Readville Sign

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…