Thursday, June 21, 2007


Ten years ago today, I lost my mother.

I don’t want to talk about her illness or her death; that ground has been covered before, and all this time later, it’s still just too fucking hard to deal with. Instead, I want to talk about HER.

Mom was born in Indiana to a former beauty queen and a mailman who received a Purple Heart in WWII for taking a leg full of shot while dragging two injured comrades to safety. She told me that, for the most part, her childhood and adolescence were happy, although her relationship with my grandmother wasn’t always the best. She was very close to her own grandmother, who got divorced in the twenties, moved in with a female friend---lesbian rumors ran rampant, but as far as I know, they were never proven---and opened her own successful beauty parlor. She had a terrific relationship with my great-aunt Sue; because they were only 12 years apart in age, they were more like sisters. Aunt Sue told me that my mom was really popular in high school. She went steady with a boy named Ed Watkins, played the drums, and worked as a carhop at the Penguin Point.

After graduation, Mom went to Indiana University, where she had to take an 8AM psychology class because the later classes were all filled up. Daddy-O was also in that class, and he told me that the first time he saw her walk into the room, all other women ceased to exist. He asked her out, and because he was in one of IU’s most notorious fraternities, she said no. But he kept asking her out, and on the fourth try, she turned to him and said, “If I go out with you once, will you stop bothering me?” He said, “If we go out and you don’t have a good time, I promise I will never bother you again.” Apparently she had a good time, even though he took her on a hay ride and kept jumping off the wagon to go pee in the bushes, because they were married less than a year later. My brother was born about a year after that, and I followed four years later.

Mom used to make us the coolest Halloween costumes from scratch. One year, she dressed R and me up as Snoopy and Woodstock and took us to a costume contest at the Muncie Mall. We won first place, and we went up to the stage to collect our gift certificates from celebrity judge Wolfman Jack, whose voice scared the crap out of me.

I inherited my love of reading from her, and she never vetoed any of my choices because she believed that the suppression of thoughts and ideas were far more dangerous than any words could ever be. This caused problems for her when I wandered into the living room of my grandparents’ condo, holding a copy of Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline, and loudly asked, “Mom, what’s a French letter?” (It’s a condom, by the way.)

When my fourth grade class had Japan Week (which, incidentally, was the genesis of my Japan obsession, not anime), she made me a kimono to wear.

When a boy I had a crush on broke my heart, she went out and bought me a big stack of my favorite magazines and a cheesecake.

We used to go to a hairstylist named Sam who was obsessed with my thick hair, and she loved to play with it. Since she never did anything permanent, I didn’t mind too much. One afternoon, Sam decided to give us matching mother/daughter hairdos that made us look like toy poodles. When we left, we sat in the car howling with laughter, and just when we’d calm down, we’d look at each other and go off again. I think it was at least an hour before we calmed down enough to drive home.

We saw Silence of the Lambs together, and when the movie ended, it was dark outside. We grabbed each other’s hands and ran screaming to the car.

She absolutely loved kids; I’m still surprised she only had two. One day, I told her that I didn’t think I ever wanted kids, and I asked her how she would feel if she never had any grandchildren. She said, “Well, honey, I’d be sad, but I’d be utterly devastated if you or your brother ever had kids you didn’t want just to please me, or anyone else for that matter.”

Just about everybody loved my mom because she was usually so sweet and friendly, but God help you if you ever hurt someone she loved. I remember when she got a call from my high school guidance counselor telling her that he wanted to move me to a different English class because he didn’t think I was bright enough to pass. She calmly told him that she’d like to discuss the situation with him in person, and then she drove to school and asked the secretary to have me paged. When I arrived, we went into his office and she put her palms down on his desk, leaned forward, and said, “If you had told me that she was having trouble in a math class, I would have believed you. But an ENGLISH class? I don’t know if you have a problem with my daughter for whatever reason, or if you’ve got your wires crossed or what, but she’s staying where she is, and I bet you anything she’ll get an A. I’m going to the principal’s office and I’m having her assigned to another counselor because frankly I don’t think you know what you’re doing.”

After my brother went to college, Mom got a job at a day care center. One of the little boys loved to play with dolls and dress up in the princess costumes, and the head of the day care center held an employee meeting to see if anyone had any suggestions as to what should be done about it. Mom said that he should be allowed to play with whatever he wanted, and when someone said, “But he might turn out gay!”, Mom looked her right in the eye and said, “So?”

When M1 and I broke up, he sent back my personal items in a huge plastic trash barrel with a piece of plywood nailed shut over the top. As Mom and I pried the nails loose, she looked up at me and said, “Wow, he turned out to be kind of a dick, didn’t he?”

She went to Hot Topic to buy me a Misfits shirt for Christmas, and the smartass clerk said, “Oh, big Misfits fan, are you? What’s your favorite song?” He obviously didn’t expect an answer, but she said, “I kind of like ‘Where Eagles Dare’.”

She didn’t like all of my music---for example, she had an unbelievably violent reaction to They Might Be Giants, which I still don’t understand---but she tolerated most of it, and liked quite a bit of it. She had bad insomnia, and one night, she came out to the living room, where I was watching MTV. The video for “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails came on, and I was worried that she’d find it disturbing. But then they showed Trent Reznor blindfolded, bare-chested, and hanging from his wrists, singing “I wanna fuck you like an animal,” and she turned to me and said, “Is it wrong that I’m finding this somewhat arousing?”

Because of her illness, she was paralyzed from the waist down for about a year. One day, we were watching a TV show about disabilities, and someone used the phrase “handicapable”. Mom said, “If anyone ever uses that condescending phrase with me, I’m going to run over their foot with my wheelchair.”

There’s so much more…so many memories, so many things she did for me and for others, that I can’t even begin to list or remember them all. I hope I made her proud. I hope she knew how much I love her, and how so very fucking sorry I am for all the times I ever hurt her. I hope she knew that I didn’t mean it.

One last memory.

We were sprawled out on her bed one humid summer afternoon, reading. Mom handed me her magazine and said, “Look at this.”

There was a picture of a woman laying on her back on a plump white comforter, surrounded by kittens. She was holding one of them up in the air, laughing. Mom said, “Throw in an old-fashioned sugar cream pie and Elvis circa 1957, and that’s my idea of heaven right there.”

I hope that’s what she found.

I love you, Mom.