My mother’s been gone eight years now, dead in three weeks of a brain tumor at age 84 after a lifetime of chain smoking. As the cancer slowly devoured who she was, Mom became a mellow, quiet lady, a far cry from the woman I had known all my life.
So when the hospice nurse caring for her in her apartment tried to reassure me that she was comfortable, not in any pain, etc., etc., etc., my response was not what she probably usually got from a son:
“But my mother was a bitch, and I miss that.”
Case in point.
Flashback to Mother’s Day 1993, the first Mother’s Day after the death of my Dad. Mom and I hadn’t talked for two weeks after some blow-out over what who the fuck remembers now. But filled with the kind of guilt complex that apparently doesn’t affect the younger generation, I tried calling her to set up a date to take her out for the obligatory Mother’s Day dinner. Getting no response after repeated calls, I decided to schlep on the Big Day the hour and a half from Staten Island where I lived to where my mother, widowed the year before, still lived in one of those “Leave It To Beaver” 55 and over retirement communities in south Jersey where everything was peachy keen while your spouse was alive but where you were excess baggage and a threat to other women once hubby was gone.
I pulled up and since mom didn’t drive – she had sold my father’s car at his wake – I told you she was a bitch – there was no quick way to know if she was home or not. I banged on the door, heard no stirring from within, tried her again on my cell but nothing. I walked around the house, went into the backyard, but there was no sign she was around. She had changed the locks after Dad died and I had stupidly left the new key to her front door back in my bedroom bureau, so after spending an hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Garden State Parkway, I now had three options: go back home; try to sneak in the house somehow like a thief; or, assuming she had gone out with one or more of the 2.5 friends she still had left in the development, kill time somewhere and come back in an hour to see if she had returned. If not, it was me and the highway. I didn’t even have a pen on me to leave a note to stir up some guilt in her – not exactly an easy thing to do – but I guess I could leave some soppy voice mail on her phone so that the gas and tolls weren’t totally wasted.
About the only place within reasonable distance to occupy my time was the local humane shelter. My other half George and I had recently adopted our black lab mix, Mickey, from a shelter on Staten Island just a month after Bennie, our cute little beagle, was lost in the woods near our home in the Poconos, the most heartbreaking thing to happen to a pet owner, never to be seen again.
Sadly, the shelter in Toms River was loaded with the usual big, loud dogs that few people wanted or could take in. But there at the end of corridor of pens, sitting quite regally, was a pretty female beagle pup who could have been Bennie’s sister. Even the most hardened of us have our weak moments and mine came looking at her. Twenty minutes later, already projecting in my mind how George would tear me apart for getting another dog, Cleo – her eyes reminded me of the shadowed eyes Liz Taylor sported in “Cleopatra” – was in the backseat of my car, ever the lady.
OK, now I had a real reason to get back home, but, cognizant of my original mission, I returned to Mom’s where, yes, there she was in the backyard, lying on a chaise lounge, sunning herself and smoking a cigarette, the evil weed that would finally kill her thirteen years later.
“I – I was here an hour ago,” I stuttered.
“Yea, I know,” she replied defiantly, “I saw you from my bedroom window.”
“So why, why didn’t you answer the door?”
“Because I’m still mad at you.”
“Yea, but because of you, I went to the shelter and ended up with another dog.”
Ignoring what I just said, she got up from the lounge and beckoned me inside. “If you wanna be fed, I got cold cuts in the frig. But next time you’re down, you owe me a big veal parmesan dinner with two black Russians.”
It was getting warm and I retrieved Cleo from my backseat and walked her across the street in a small wooded area. I could see Mom watching us with that numbing stare of hers, as if Cleo was her competitor for my attention.
True to form, George, Syrian American, played the mad Arab when I strolled in two hours later with Cleo, but a dog lover addict, he was feeding her cookies by that night. And because neither she nor Mickey was fixed, we ended up a few months later with eleven puppies, born in a cardboard box beneath our basement stairs, three of which we ended up keeping.
How’s that for Mother’s Day Royal Fuck-ups?