Distance is my favorite family value.

Dreams are usually better than my pathetic life, but now, apparently, I go to the movies in my dreams. What was playing I don't know, but I had popcorn and Black Vines and someone was talking too loud in the seat behind me, so I turned around to yell at 'em — and it was my mom.

I moved to a different seat, settled in and got comfortable, and someone tapped my shoulder and yup, it was Mom again, still talking. I don't remember what she was talking about — Jesus, probably — but the movie was on and I didn't want to hear it.

To lose her trail, I went into the men's room , sat in a stall, closed the door, latched it, but she somehow opened it so as to maintain constant eye contact with me as she talked.

I told her to shut up and go away, and then I buckled up and went away, but everywhere I went in the dream, Mom was there. Eventually I founda jagged shard of glass and slashed my arm to wake myself up.

Awake, I looked around and under my bed, and she isn't here, but jeez, shaking that crazy dream is as difficult as shaking my mother.

I clicked the lamp on to think about it, write about it, and it's illuminated a pattern of my life which I was certainly aware of, but hadn't given my conscious thought to lately.

♦ ♦ ♦  

As long ago as I can remember, my mother has always wanted to nose into my business. Of course, that's what a mother is supposed to do, when you're little, and really, she was a pretty good mother.

She just wanted to watch me and tend me, more than I ever wanted to be watched or tended. So I backed away, and when I backed away, she came closer, to watch and tend me better. So I backed away further, and I'm still backing away.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

I don't remember much before school, but my mom was always there, even when I wished she'd let me alone for a while.

When school started, I immediately hated it. I'm anti-social, and being surrounded by all those other kids was just a guaranteed anxiety attack, pretty much all day, every day. 

And on top of that, my mother showed up at school, quite often, and not only when I was in trouble. 

Parent-teacher night, second grade: I was supposed to be there with my mom, and already wasn't looking forward to it, but at least I'd be able to come home and hibernate in my room before going to this stupid adult event, right?

Nope. Mom showed up at the classroom door as school let out, and spent four hours with me, 'preparing' for parent-teacher night. She asked me a thousand questions about the lessons, the teacher, the other students, the playground equipment even.

She also came to school during school hours, to see me. It didn't happen often enough to say it happened often, but it happened far too often for me. 

When you're an acknowledged loser and misfit at school, having your Mom come at you across the playground to talk to you at recess, or getting called to the office because your mom is waiting to bring you a birthday present or take you to lunch — it was a real crimp to my 7-year-old self. 

I asked her not to visit me at school, every time she visited me at school. Said it was embarrassing as hell, only of course I had to say 'heck'. She always said she wouldn't visit the school again, but a few weeks later she'd dropped in unexpectedly.

At the time, it felt like she was there just about every day. Maybe she was only there once a week, or even once a month, but whatever, it was way way more often than I wanted to see my mother at school, and I lived in fear of it.

What did she want, when she came to my elementary school? Sometimes she wanted to talk about Jesus. Sometimes she brought Twinkies to add to my lunch. Always she wanted to ask me a thousand questions, and if I wasn't talkative enough, she'd talk to my teacher, other teachers, or random kids walking down the hall. Most often, she was there when the last bell rang, to walk me home from school.

Once, she was somehow there when we all lined up outside for a fire drill. How did she even know?

Jeez, it's been almost thirty years and I hate even writing about all this. Even if she hadn't been at the school in a month, I was still a little kid on edge, thinking today might be the day.

"Are you embarrassed at your own mother?" she would ask as I begged her not to surprise me again.

"Yes!" I screamed, but not as often and not as loud as whatever it might have taken to get through to her and make her understand.

I was smart enough to start varying my path out of the school building, to ditch her at the door. But sometimes she outwitted me, or outwaited me. Once when I thought she hadn't seen me, I hid in the boys' room for forever, but she was still leaning on the wall in the hall, waiting for me to come out. "Well, that must've been a difficult bowel movement, Douggie. You need to eat more fiber."

♦ ♦ ♦ 

When I moved up to junior high, Mom was still there sometimes, at first. It was a much bigger building, though, a whole block long, with hundreds of kids for crowd cover, more doors for entrance and egress. When she stopped being able to find me, she stopped showing up to walk me home.

At 15, I volunteered one summer at a day-care for disabled and retarded kids. It was hard work, but rewarding, and I enjoyed it. Dear old Mom started visiting me there, of course.

Same story at my first paying job, McDonald's, when I was 16. She didn't like the food, but she ate there any time I was working there, sometimes bringing her friends, sometimes dining alone. I'd be frying burgers, and she'd be chewing one and smiling at me through that weird little window on the side.

OK, this part still hurts: There was a girl at our church I had a crush on, but my mom asked her out before I did. She invited this girl to join her for lunch at McDonald's, while I'd be working.

The girl had the good sense to decline Mom's invitation, and the better sense to decline mine when I got around to asking her out. She told me about it, though, else I never would've known.

I started carrying my McDonald's work schedule in my wallet, instead of leaving it tacked to my bedroom wall, so Mom wouldn't be sure when I was working. That seemed to help.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

On my 18th birthday, I moved to an apartment of my own, where I could finally eat what I wanted, do what I wanted, stay up late, not go to church, etc. It was marvelous. One night I was lucky enough to bring a young lady to my apartment, and Mom was waiting at the door, same as when I was in second grade.

After that explosion, Mom didn't stop by without warning nearly as often. I'll give her credit for that. She was there often enough, though, to make "my place" feel like it wasn't really my place. More like a distant outpost of Mom's house.

I didn't call home as often as I should, or so Mom always told me when she saw me. And she didn't see me as often as she should, or so she always told me.

When I started working in offices, a grown-up man at least legally, she showed up to surprise me a few times. I remember coming back to my desk one afterlunch, and a much older co-worker asked, "Who was that woman you were yelling at?"

My mother, I said, who'd shown up unexpectedly. This earned me a scolding from that woman at work. "You shouldn't treat your own mother like that!"

Mom also liked calling at my desk phone. After 2-3 times saying "Don't call me here," I started hanging up as soon as I heard her voice. 

At one of the family dinners I attended increasingly rarely, we had it out, yet again. "Why, Mom? Why do you call me at work, without even anything to talk about, when you know I won't talk, can't talk while I'm on the clock?"

"Well," she said, "I like hearing the sound of your voice, and Lord knows, you don't call me very often."

Which struck me as a good start to be improved on, so when my employer transferred me to a different department, I pointedly did not give Mom the new phone number. When she asked, I told her why I wouldn't give it, but she called the switchboard and asked for me by name, and started calling me at work anyway.

When I took a better job at a different company, I didn't tell my mother. When she called my old desk and they said, "He doesn't work here any more," she was furious at me, but I didn't tell her where I was working, and I told her why.

"OK, I promise I won't call you there, but you have to at least tell me where you're working." 

"No, actually I don't." 

I moved to a new apartment, closer to the new job, and I was making big bucks so I chose a place with a closed-circuit camera at the entrance. When anyone rang my buzzer, I could turn my TV to channel 3, and see who it was, 19 floors below. Too often, it was Mom. She'd gotten my address, because my brothers had helped me move in. 

So the next buffer I tried to enforce was, I ignored her at the doorbell unless she'd phoned first. And when she finally began phoning before visiting, I used my answering machine to ignore most of her calls — invitations to family or church events I didn't care about, and long nagging  stories that were always cut off by the machine's ten-minute per message maximum.

Next time I moved, I hired college kids to help me carry the couch, and gave the family only a maildrop address. Oh, how I savored the inevitable report, and I knew it was coming, when the staff at the maildrop told me that some lady had stopped by with a housewarming present, and asked, "Where's Doug?"

They explained that I didn't live there, only rented a box, and of course they wouldn't give her my physical address.

At last there was no contact with my mother unless I called her, and as she always reminded me, I didn't call often. I was never one of those guys who moves out, but comes home to do laundry.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Now I live in Berkeley, California, much farther away from my mother. She's not the main reason I came here — I can avoid her from much closer — but it's certainly not a drawback.

Since I came to Cali, she's invited herself and visited, three times. None of the visits were surprises, but she's promised — in so many words — that she will surprise me, "some day soon."

That's why she doesn't know where I live, or where I work. She doesn't even have my maildrop address, nor my phone number or voice mail. She doesn't know whether I'm alive or dead, and I don't know whether she is.

Certainly, I do hope she's alive and well. I love her, and hope she lives a long and happy life. Other than my few mild complaints, she's a pretty good mom. I never went hungry, always felt loved.

For at least a few years, though, I need the wide open space of knowing that my mom won't be at my doorstep. Distance is my favorite family value.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

And yet, there she was, in my dream. I awoke at around 3AM, after the gunshots had woken me at midnight. Not much sleeping tonight, and now I'm as wide awake as if Mom was right here knocking at my door.

"Dou-uuuuug! I'm here to surprise you!"

From Pathetic Life #20
Monday, January 1, 1996

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.


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