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“OK, Mom. You win. You got into my room.”

Mom had asked me to shower in her room, and I said I would, so I rolled out of bed and into some ratty sweatpants and a t-shirt (I don’t have a bathrobe). I trudged down to her room ... and I’ve gotten so weary of that walk, down the stairs, down the hall, down go my spirits, that I used my head instead of my hand to knock on her door.

She let me in and said, “I’m so happy you’ll be using my shower, even though I still don’t know why you refused to trade rooms.” That’s my mother — her first sentence of the day, and she’s already trying to pry into my personal space and launch a guilt trip.

I grunted good morning, and stepped into the bathroom. I closed and very much locked the door, stripped, opened a bar of soap, and turned the shower faucet to get it running nice and hot … and that’s when Mom knocked. 

“Yes?”

“I need to use the toilet before you shower, if that’s OK.” So I re-dressed, let her into the bathroom, and sat on her bed for ten minutes. It seemed symbolic of everything about Mom’s visit, that I was sitting on her bed doing nothing, while she took a dump.

When she finished, I returned to the now-stinky bathroom and showered. Then I was going back to my room to get dressed in real clothes instead of the sweatpants, but Mom said, “Oh no, don’t go yet! I have something I want to tell you,” so I sat on the bed and listened.

And listened. Yesterday’s relative silence was over, and today she was her talkative motherself again. 

She wanted to tell me an anecdote about Dad on his deathbed at the hospital. It's a story she’s told me before. Then she told me about the day Dad got his diagnosis, which she’d told me about yesterday.

I’ve invented a word for this: reconversing. It’s a verb, and Mom and I did a lot of reconversing. We reconversed about how I need to lose weight, and about how I should visit her in Seattle, and about how sad it must be to live all alone in San Francisco. And of course, "This is the day that the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” — that’s her favorite Bible verse, and she says it like dialogue two or three times every morning, so I think that counts as reconversing, too.

“Uh, I’m going to go to my room and get dressed now,” I said.

“Well, all right,” she said, “but before you go, can I tell you a quick story? This won’t take long.” It was long, and very judgmental, all about Sheryl, Gus, LeeAnn, and Rita. I’ve never met any of them, and I’m not sure how Mom knows them, but LeeAnn is raising Gus’s son, and Gus wants nothing to do with the boy, because he’s shacking up with Rita now, and besides, he doesn’t think the kid is his. Gus has two other children by Sheryl, but he never married her because she’s a slut, and he’s a deadbeat who never makes child support payments for any of his kids, but now Rita is pregnant and wants him to marry her. Or something like that.

It was confusing, and when I interrupted to ask a question, Mom snapped that it was Sheryl who’s the slut, not LeeAnn. Or something like that.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged,” I quoted from the Bible, probably incorrectly. When I said that, Mom’s face brightened like a sunrise, and she asked if I wanted to talk about religion now.

“No, and uh, I’m going to go get dressed now.”

She said, “Oh, but I wanted to tell you  …” and started telling me something about my father’s chemotherapy, but I kept walking, upstairs to my room to get dressed.

When I returned several minutes later, dressed at last, she picked up right where she’d left off, with stories about Dad’s cancer and chemotherapy, his last days, his death, and his funeral. 

And you know, I don’t mind hearing about my father. Tell me stories about my father, please. But I’ve heard enough about his cancer and chemo and funeral. Could we maybe remember something about when he was alive and well?

Maybe some day, but not today. Mom handed me a copy of the program for his funeral, and said, “Read this.”

Dutifully I began reading.

“No, read it out loud,” she said.

So I read out loud, every word from the program for my father’s funeral. I’ll do almost anything you ask, Mom, if you’ll just stay out of my room and fly home tonight. 

There was a long quote from the Bible, and I read it out loud, and Mom said, “Your father selected that scripture himself.”

I read Dad’s birth date and death date, and read that Pastor Alvarez had officiated. Mom said, “I wish we could’ve had dinner with him.”

As I read the list of my father’s pallbearers, Mom said, “Do you remember Eddy Darnell? Do you remember Luther Watkins?” Some of the pallbearers I remembered, some of them I didn’t. She asked about all six.

As I read the names of the organist, the pianist, and the vocalists, Mom asked me if I remembered each of them, and told me how wonderful each performance had been. Then she sang the hymns they’d performed: “Fill My Cup, Lord,” and “Matchless Grace of Jesus,” and a third one I’ve forgotten. She didn’t need her hymnal; she had the songs memorized.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Then Mom wanted my “man’s opinion” on whether she should wear the pink sandals with lavender or blue socks, or the purple sandals with blue or pink socks. To help me with this decision, she modeled both selections. I playfully suggested pink sandals with pink socks, or purple sandals with lavender socks, but Mom said, “No, I’ve got to have contrast!”

My mom’s wardrobe is very ‘her’. She gets a generous stipend from my father’s insurance every month, but prides herself on dressing inexpensively, and shops for clothes only in thrift stores. Today, top to bottom, she wore a bright purple headband, a violet and pink striped blouse with a lavender patterned vest, and purple pants. Oh, and she went with the purple sandals, and pink socks — you were on the edge of your seat about that, I know. She was a walking shock of color, and I saw people stare on the sidewalk, but honestly, I kind of liked the look.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

And then we gave her key to Mr Patel, and checked Mom out of the hotel. Just a few hours to go. High point of the morning, definitely.

We were going to fart around in the city for a while, so I stashed her luggage in my room, and of course, Mom insisted on accompanying me on this two-minute errand. I wanted to drop her suitcases inside the room and be on our way, but she pushed the door open and slipped past me, and sat on the bed, and started talking.

“OK, Mom. You win. You got into my room.”

I pointed at the door, and when she kept talking I took her hand and (gently, mind you) pulled her out of my room.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

She needed money, so we went to the ATM as BofA at Market & Powell. She inserted her card and pushed all the right buttons, but then she decided she didn’t like BofA’s cash machine because withdrawals had to be in multiples of $20, and she wanted $70.

I certainly hadn’t asked, but Mom had casually mentioned her bank balance, and it’s more than I make in a year. And yet, instead of withdrawing an extra $10, she wanted to find a different cash machine.

“The closest ATM I know of is at Nordstrom, across Market Street,” I said, "but I don't know whether it'll let you take out exactly $70.

She said she was sure it would, and as we waited to jaywalk she was transfixed by the Powell Street preacher. He’s a well-known local wingnut with a sandwich-board and a megaphone, who shouts all day that America needs to quit its whoring ways, that too many women are whores, that women must stop making themselves whores, and that all whores are going to Hell. Mesmerized, Mom read both sides of his very wordy sign, all about whores, whoring, whorehouses, and how sex should be only between married virgins (which means, I guess, one sex act per married couple?).

“I agree with all of it,”” Mom announced, “everything he said.” Then she turned to me and asked, “What do you think?”

“I think he’s mildly insane, probably harmless, and he gets a rush out of saying ‘whore’ into his megaphone all day long.”

“Well,” she huffed. “I think he’s absolutely right on the money.”

To my surprise, the ATM at Nordstrom gave Mom the $70 she wanted. We crossed the street again, and she gave ten dollars to the street preacher.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

We spent the morning and early afternoon in Japantown, stopped at the giant Japanese bookstore, and browsed through several of the smaller shops. We ate at May’s Coffee Shop, where they make a great bacon-cheeseburger.

Mom speaks a few words of Japanese, so she eavesdropped on conversations at the other tables, and interrupted a Japanese couple who seemed about my age.

She apologized to them for her somewhat basic, broken Japanese, and they struggled to understand her through what must have been a thick American accent, but they seemed genuinely delighted that an old white woman was trying the speak the language. When the conversation ended, Mom bowed to them, and they bowed back. It was charming, and my favorite Mom moment of her visit.

It might surprise you if you only know her from my frustrated account of her visits, but my mother can be a very nice lady. It helps if she’s not your mother, not nagging at you to lose weight, or move back home, or switch rooms.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

All day as she had all week, Mom walked slowly, not because she’s frail (she’s pretty tough for 62) but because she’s looking at the sites. That’s understandable — SF is a beautiful place. And then, when I got accustomed to her slow pace, she’d break into a brisk almost-jogging walk, which meant she was thinking about burning calories. She’s not fat like me and never has been, but she’s been on a diet for longer than I’ve been alive. Western society is brutal to women’s body image.

All day as she had all week, Mom's demeanor was happy and chipper as Mary Tyler Moore when she was talking to other people, or when she was talking to me about Jesus or the church or whatever we were looking at. But she’d become dark and scowlingly critical if my remarks weren’t equally upbeat, if I expressed an opinion at odds with her own, if I didn’t answer every prying personal question at length and at once, or if I didn’t seem riveted as she told me about strangers’ lives. The story of Sheryl and Gus and LeeAnn and Rita was repeated shortly after lunch, and I wasn’t riveted.

All day as we had all week, we reconversed. Mom reminded me to lose weight, visit her in Seattle, go to church, and call more often, and an hour later she'd repeat one of the above. Once I said, “I wish you'd stop telling me I’m overweight, because I have a mirror and I'm aware of that,” but for the most part I just listened and occasionally glanced at my watch. Four hours more, three hours and fifty minutes more, etc.

When my watch ticked down to about 2½ hours, we were in a Goodwill store and Mom was buying some outrageous plaid pants, and I said, “Time to start back.” I had to do some Mom-level nagging of my own to get her out of the thrift store, and onto a bus headed downtown again.

Some psycho on the bus was talking too loud to the driver, and the driver was ignoring him, and I didn’t see this coming or I would’ve warned her away. My mother, good Christian that she is but possessing zero street sense, touched this guy’s arm and asked him, “What’s the matter?”

He began frantically brushing her germs off his sleeve, and talking too loud to ner instead of the driver. Mom and the psycho bum were both sitting down, and I was standing in the aisle, calculating that my first punch would be full-force to his nose if he laid a hand on her, but hoping he wouldn’t because I’m a wuss. I distracted him by talking too loud at him, and he started talking too loud at me, and we continued talking too loud at each other until Mom and I got off the bus at my rez hotel.

“What was wrong with that man?,” my mother asked. 

“He’s a lunatic, Mom. Don’t they have lunatics in Seattle? We don’t talk to the lunatics, and definitely don’t touch them, OK?”

“The Lord protected me,” she said, beaming. 

“Great, Mom. The Lord protected you. Let’s not bother him for protection again, OK? He’s a busy guy, I’m sure.”

♦ ♦ ♦ 

We’d come back to my rez hotel to pick up Mom’s luggage and begin our journey to the airport, but Mom found that she’d dribbled some bacon-cheeseburger juice on her blouse. She needed to change clothes, but she didn’t have a room at the hotel any more, so where could she change her blouse?

Yeah. My room. She was going to be in my room, alone — just what she always wanted. I not accusing her, but I suspect that she stained her blouse on purpose.

So we rode the elevator up to my room, and she asked me to lift one of her suitcases onto the bed. As I picked it up, Mom spotted something across the room, something I wouldn’t have wanted her to see.

Celebrate the Self,” she said, reading the title from a zine on the floor in the corner. “That sounds interesting. What’s it about?”

It is, of course, a zine about masturbation, but I didn’t say that. I said, “Gee, Mom, whatever happened to ‘I won’t snoop’?”

By this point I had no privacy left anyway, so I excused myself, stepped out of the room, and let her change, and explore. Five minutes later, I knocked, and when she didn’t answer I turned the doorknob — but she’d double-locked the door. I don’t even have a key for the bottom lock. Jeez, Mom sure is concerned about her privacy.

Whatever she saw while she was poking around in my room, and I’m sure she saw plenty, she had the decency not to mention it to me. 

We gathered her bags together, I locked the door behind us, and a stranger was passing in the hallway. I'd never seen him before — he was an old, balding man, very friendly, and at first I thought he was hitting on my mother. Instantly forgetting the lesson I’d hoped she’d learned on the bus, Mom shook his hand, told him her name, and told him she was visiting from Seattle. We all introduced ourselves, and the man said his name was Luke.

“Oh, a name from the Bible,” Mom said happily. 

“The Bible, phooey,” said Luke. “Keep that Christian shit away from me.”

Mom, in her cheerful and Christlike gotta-save-the-world way, began giving her Sunday School sermon of faith, and my new best friend Luke interrupted her and argued back about the idiocy of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. Luke has no soft spot in his heart for religion, and after lecturing Mom for a minute he turned to me and said, “Are you as religious as your mother?”

“No sir,” I said, “I am not.”

Mom soon grew flustered and excused herself, saying, “We have to be going,” and yanking at my sleeve.

“Hey, Luke,” I said, “it was great meeting you. Remember, I’m Doug, and I’m not as religious as my mother. Say hey if you see me in the lobby or the hallway.” 

Mom didn’t say anything as we rode the elevator down, but as we walked toward the SamTrans bus stop, she said, “Well, Luke seems like an interesting character, but he’s not going to make it to Heaven.”

I said nothing, because what could I say?

"What do you think?," she asked.

"I agreed with all of it," I said. "He was just absolutely right on the money." But I don't think Mom recognized her own words as I repeated them. All through her visit, my half-witty remarks sailed right past her. My mom's sense of humor usually eludes me, as mine eludes her.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

When we got to the airport, Mom started saying the things you say at an airport. “It was wonderful seeing you, Doug,” and so on. I said the expected things, too.

We kept walking, hoping we were walking toward her gate, and Mom kept talking. “I wanted us to get closer, wanted to know you and your life better, wanted to meet some of your friends and so forth, and I didn’t get to do any of that. But I think we got to know each other a little better, right?”

“Yes, Mom,” said I. “I know you better than I did a week ago,” which I don’t think is true but it’s what she wanted to hear.

“And you wouldn’t even let us trade rooms.” Ca-chinga, ring the bell, that’s gotta be the one-hundredth time she’s mentioned it.

“When I come next time,” she said, “I should come on a weekend, so we can go to church.”

With only two or three exceptions, I’d kept my sarcastic comments to myself all week, but this was just too much. I said, “I’d rather shove a rusty spike up my ass,” though at the very last moment I was able to swap “through my skull” for “up my ass.” 

She smiled, and said, “When I come next time, could I stay for a few weeks, or a month even?”

I said nothing. She had to be trying to push my buttons, right? Her visit had been a disaster, and there’s no way she didn’t know it.

When I didn’t say anything she asked, “Are you mad at me?”

“Uh, the thought of having you here for a month is frightening,” I said. “I couldn’t handle that, Mom.” And she simply smiled, that fake smile she’d been showing me through her entire visit.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

I thought walking Mom to her gate would be a joy, but I’d forgotten about the security bullshit at the airport. A man in a funny blue suit with a badge said he was “confiscating” my mace, since it’s illegal in California without a permit and I sure didn’t have a permit. It’s a damned stupid law, but of course it was damned stupid of me to forget the law and bring mace to the airport. Everyone knows ya got no Constitutional rights at an airport.

This left me in not the best mood for saying goodbye to Mom, especially since the whole incident with me and the fake cop had unfolded in front of her.

“Why would you carry mace if it’s illegal?,” Mom asked afterwards. I was thankful she didn’t ask that question while I was being manhandled.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Even after that, she had one final Mom-ism for me before she left. They announced her flight, and she got in line for boarding, and I was standing beside her, and she said, “When the spirit strikes me, wouldn’t it be a nice surprise if I flew to San Francisco unannounced, and I was waiting in the lobby of your hotel when you got home from work one night?”

She said it with a smile, and a mischievous glint in her eye. Maybe she was needling me. Maybe she was seriously daydreaming about doing it.

As kindly as I could force myself to be, I explained, “It’s a public hotel. Anyone who pays the rent can stay there. But if I get any unexpected visitors I will treat them as strangers.”

And she still smiled. All through her stay, it was either smiles or tears, and I don’t know which were eerier.

We hugged, and she said she loves me, and I said I love her, and it wasn’t a lie, but sweet Jesus I was glad to see her walking into the tunnel toward her airplane. 

I looked around and noticed that several other people at the gate were crying as they hugged and said their goodbyes. Guess their families are kinda different than mine. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

On the bus home, looking out the window, riding past even the crappiest corners of San Francisco, I was so glad that I live here, and not within easy visiting distance of my mother. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

I suppose it becomes redundant, reading page after page about my mother. Well bub, try living around her day after day. That gets even redundanter. I’d like to break the monotony here by telling about the week's happy moments with Mom, but there weren’t many. Um, let’s see…

I did enjoy seeing her speak Japanese with the Japanese people. … 

It was nice, I guess, when she gave the whore-hating street preacher ten dollars.

Most of her long stories about people I don’t know were pointless and boring, but some of them had humorous endings. … 

And I enjoyed the times when we were talking and she wasn't making me feel fat, heathen, and like an awful person just for moving to San Francisco.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Mom wanted to convert me, but I don’t want to be converted.

She wanted to rescue me from my perpetual solitude, but I like being alone.

She wanted to get into my room, but I want that door locked.

She doesn’t approve of my life, but why should I care?

She wants me to visit her in Seattle, but I’m not coming.

She asked about the next time she visits, but you know what? There isn’t going to be a next time she visits.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Yeah, I love her. Of course I love her. She's my mom.

But those were four days that felt like four weeks, and I'm glad it's over. Tonight she’s flying back to her life, and I've returned to mine. I’m home, and alone, and it's frickin' marvelous.

From Pathetic Life #3
Saturday, August 20, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised. 

 

PATHETIC LIFE 

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7 comments:

  1. Captain HampocketsJune 3, 2021 at 9:12 AM

    >All day as she had all week, Mom walked slowly, not because she’s frail (she’s pretty tough for 62)

    I forget your birth date, but I *think* you just turned 63? So older than she was when you wrote this...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Captain HampocketsJune 3, 2021 at 9:19 AM

    Okay, you're gonna think it's ridiculous that I remember this. And I may be wrong. But I swear that when I read this diary entry in the zine, the episode with Luke the atheist was a little different. I recall it ending with you using your Mom's “I think he’s absolutely right on the money” line back at her, with her not catching the irony.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not ridiculous & maybe it's flattering. You remember it right. That happened & I said that.

      In retyping, I trimmed a lot on this entry — I really was a whiny little bastard with a typewriter, and I just droned on and on and on.

      Maybe I'm not my best editor, though. Maybe it's funnier than I thought. I'll put it back in.

      Delete
    2. Captain HampocketsJune 4, 2021 at 6:35 AM

      I can be your editor. I charge a dollar a word.

      Delete
  3. That gave flashbacks to my mum's visits, my visits to her & phone calls. Nothing I ever do will be good enough for her, which ahe frequently reminds me of with "Wjy can't you be more like Emma?" And "Emma would never do/say..." or tell me what shitty BS my sister said about me doing or not doing whatever my mum was claiming. Even though my mum's version of reality, has no relationship with reality. Her version of reality os that I'm evil, the Devil, she doesn't understand what she did wrong to have such a terrible daughter. One of my crimes is being honest about my disability & need for 24 hour support. My mum tells everyone I'm fine...

    I hope my sons will have far, far more hood things to say about our relationship than bad. At least they know I love them & am proud of them everyday. I've given up on ever achieving that. I achieved excgrades my sister the opposite, my mum congratulated my friend who got slightly lower marks than me. But when hearing mine she said "I don't know what that means? Is that good or bad? Abyway it doesn't matter, I'm too upset, I can't believe how selfish you are.." I still almost 26 years later don't know what I did to her. I also 100% know she knows which grade letters are good & which are bad. She just can't say well done or congratulations to me. She didn't even manage on my wedding day or birth of my two sons, she managed to complain to me though.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sounds like your mom and my mom should go bowling together. They could be the best of friends.

    And people wonder why I've become a hermit? It's because people are people, and usually drive me nuts. Even normal people get on my nerves, but the especially annoying people — like your mum, your sister, and my mom — make me glad I'm 2,000 miles away, with the door locked and the phone unplugged.

    ReplyDelete

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