is my mother talking
be careful, honey, because when you're picking a husband, you're
also picking an ex-husband. So think rich. And no pre-nups."
This is my mother talking to me, my mother, for crying
out loud, in the car, talking to me about Jason, on the way to meet
Jason, my fiancé, for the first time. And you'd think she'd
tone it down a little, just out of some kind of respect for the
ring on my finger and how much I told her I love the guy.
When I tried to explain it, I didn't use words like
"kindred spirit" or "my other half" if
I had, she would have fallen on me with those pink claws of hers
and ripped my voice box out. No. All I said was: "I'm happy,
Mom. I really love him, Mom. Please don't kill him, Mom." Or
at least, "Please don't kill the part of him that wants to
But she will not tone it down. In the car, all she
wants to know is how much money he makes. Well, I don't have the
exact figures, Mom. I'm not his accountant. He drives a Lexus, isn't
that good enough? "Good enough for who, honey?" she wants
to know. "Good enough for him or good enough for you?
"Because," she says, "there's a big
I can't believe how tired I am of her already and
we only left the airport 20 minutes ago. I haven't seen her in eight
months. How can she still be talking like this after all the divorces
and Robert's cancer? How can she talk like she hates love, after
Robert? I saw her by his hospital bed the day before he died. I
saw her stroking his hand and kissing his face even though he was
out cold from the surgery and his mouth and eyes were crusty and
his skin looked dead. Oh, Robert. I saw her crying all over his
stiff, yellow hand, so how can she still talk about love like it's
made out of plastic?
She is now asking me and I can't believe this
if I want Stepdaddy Ted or Stepdaddy Jojo to walk me down
the aisle. Because, she explains, those are the two who still keep
in touch with me, don't they, and send me money for school.
She starts talking about Jojo, and how hurt he'll
be if I don't ask him, especially after I didn't even bother to
tell him about graduation, not even one day in advance, out of consideration
for his investment. He had to find out from someone he barely knew,
a month later, that I had my degree and was working for a firm downtown.
I'm pulling up to the hotel, still listening to Mom
rave about Jojo's generosity. For the first time since the airport,
I look at her. She's wearing a pink-and-white suit that looks bunchy
on her short torso, and pink heels. Well, good going, Mom, I want
to say. That looks like another Chanel suit in fact that
looks like some of Jojo's fabulous generosity spread all over you
like a soothing coat of Pepto Bismol. Just let the money medicate
you until you find another life-donor with deep pockets, someone
as shallow as you deserve. You don't deserve another Robert.
Robert was too good for my mother. I mean, I don't
say that to her face, but I think it, and it's true. He was too
real, too much his own person, for all of her face-plastering, chemically-pheromoned,
When I met Jason I thought, you're a lot like Robert,
with your books and your music and your deep eyes. And you talk
to me, like Robert, about something besides clothes and dreams in
relation to money. So, yes, I'll go out with you. Yes, after three
months, I'll marry you.
And I loved it that Jason's family was poor and sprawling
with, I swear, one hundred cousins all as red-necked as roosters.
He laughed when I told him about my screwed-up life and all my "stepdaddies."
"You poor kid," he'd say. "You poor,
sad kid. Money's a bitch."
But that was his happy sarcasm because he didn't know
my mother. He could joke about it and think it was like some movie
if he wanted, because he had no idea what it's like to be 10 and
washing the dried crust of scotch out of glass after glass
half of them printed with pink lipstick, half of them bare
on a Saturday morning. Watching Scooby-Doo on the tiny kitchen TV
with the volume turned low in respect for hangovers.
He didn't know about "making nice" and "turning
on the charm" and, in general, he didn't know anything about
being a prop. How could I explain to him about me as set dressing
in the same way as a chair, a table, a painting carefully
placed in a room to exude the right kind of aura?
I always had nice clothes, I'll say that. But I never
chose them. I always had nice manners, but behind them I was hating
my mother, hating her boyfriends, lovers, husbands. All of them
I remember when my mother brought him home, how she
was smiling her fake, demure smile her victory smile. (She
never brought a man home unless he had spent some "decent money"
on her. In Robert's case, it was a first-edition Proust, in French,
which she didn't care to read. I read it, though. It was a beautiful
book and I took it with me when I moved out. She never even noticed
it was gone, which says, I think, quite a lot about how small-minded
Anyway, the first time she brought Robert home he
looked at me, actually into my eyes, you know, down into them because
he was tall. And he wouldn't let my mother rush me off to my room
or to a friend's place because, he said, he wanted to talk to me,
to find out about me.
I loved all his questions. Nothing about boyfriends,
or schoolwork, or if my hobbies were shopping or talking on the
phone. No verbal pats on the head like that, as if I were some species
of intelligent canine. We talked about politics and literature,
world events, music.
In the background, after a while, my mother started
complaining (whining, really) about a headache. I wanted to scream
at her when she sent me to the kitchen for aspirin and a glass of
water, but I didn't dare.
Just inside the kitchen door, I could hear Robert
saying to my mother that I was a lovely woman. Those were the exact
words, too: A lovely woman. I felt a little buzz when he said it,
as if my mother were somewhere else and he was speaking right to
me, feeling with his voice right to my ear on the other side of
the kitchen door.
"No," my mother said. "No. She's a
young woman, Robert. She's a young woman and that amounts to being
At that moment, I wanted to be fierce to show
her how mad I was, for once. I wanted to slap her, I think. It was
only later, thinking about it in my room, that I realized she was
jealous. Jealous of me.
She didn't bring him home as often as the others because
sometimes when she did, Robert's conversations with me would go
on for hours. Oh, she would hold out for a while, bleating about
a headache or nausea, then finally (at last!) sway dramatically
off to her bedroom to lie down.
It was then that I came alive, for the first time,
really, with another person.
I felt as if I had an existence, unknown before, that
Robert had discovered and was leading me to. And he cared enough
to actually do it; that's what was amazing, to me at least. I wouldn't
even think twice about my mother when she had gone to bed, alone.
(That had to be a new experience for her.)
In the morning when she would tell me how gauche it
was to monopolize the time of her guest (believe it or not, she
always referred to her men as "guests," even the ones
I would catch wandering out of her bedroom in nothing but a pair
of boxers) and how, even if it didn't embarrass me, it certainly
was humiliating to her to have such a forward child. I didn't care.
For once, she couldn't even touch the inside of me.
I don't want her to be able to touch me now. I'm telling
myself, as we get out of the car and I watch her pink heels click
through the thick, glass hotel doors and up the short marble staircase
to the concierge's desk, I'm telling myself (is she really letting
her hair go gray?), I'm telling myself that I've passed whatever
barrier of time kept me an emotional slave to her opinion of me,
but I'm not sure if it's true.
I don't want to be around her long enough to find
out that it isn't, but I'm doomed to her company for a few more
hours at least, while we have lunch with Jason and then, after lunch,
I know she'll send him off without me. And she'll insist on a talk,
a real heart-to-heart as she says, which just means she'll do all
the talking and I'll do the acceptable nodding and yessing and casting
of my eyes downward so that she'll think I'm sincere and maybe the
whole process won't take so long.
She's talking to the concierge at the hotel's reception
counter and he's bowing his dapper gray head at her like we've entered
a more refined state of existence simply by gliding into his hotel,
bowing over her hand as she slides her platinum card across to him.
I wonder if he's bowing to her or to the card and
then it comes to me (with a smile that I hide from her) that it's
really the same thing. But it's crazy the way she's loving it
all the attention, the fawning, the compliments without the
slightest understanding that it's all just customer service, the
same as Jason's mom dished out to the barefoot crowd at the rundown
hillbilly grocery she worked at for years and years and now says
that she misses. (Can you believe she would actually have any kind
of melancholy feelings about being the clerk at the Swamp Mart or
whatever it's called?)
Not that it was a bad job (I'm not bourgeois) or that
I don't like Jason's mom (I do), but that my mother thinks she's
getting some kind of special treatment because of who she is, instead
of how much money she throws around in these situations.
We go into the hotel restaurant finally, after
she gives her room a long once-over while the bellhop watches nervously
(she actually runs her finger over the tops of picture frames looking
for dust) and after she presses the right amount of cash into his
sweaty hand. Oh, and I have to mention how long it takes her to
primp in front of the mirror, raking her nails through the dusty
blonde hair that has been chestnut, ebony, platinum and titian (anything
but gray, which it really is under all that dye).
We go into the restaurant and Jason waves from the
table he's gotten us by the glittering bank of windows. My mother's
going to hate that. Not the windows being on display is exactly
her kind of thing but the waving. Boisterous waving smacks
of eagerness, excitement, delight ... all insipid emotions to her.
I don't care, though, whether my mother likes Jason
or not. He's got one thing in his favor he's male. So when
she gets to the table and Jason is on his feet and holding her hand
and then her chair, she's rolling her eyes in a way that women of
a certain age think is flirtatious, while sighing out breathless
Her fluttering nauseates me but I know that, later,
Jason and I will laugh about it. Later, he'll hold me and tell me
how he finally understands how horrible it must have been for me
growing up with such a vacuous fraud of a mother. Jason and I can
hate her together and then I won't feel so alone like I sometimes
do when he thinks I'm being dramatic or "poignantly melancholy,"
as he puts it.
Lunch, frankly, is going much better than I expected.
Jason is always a good socializer (that's one of the things I love
about him how simple it is for him to put people at their
ease), but today he is charming. Expansively charming, even. My
mother is lapping it up, thinking it's all meant for her, not knowing
how much effort he is putting into this lunch for my sake. Well,
this one's mine, mother, and he's got money (a lot) and he's intellectual.
So bat your eyelashes, croon his name, lean in close enough to count
his pores, but hands off.
I can't stand watching her.
Jason is asking all sorts of questions designed to
arouse some sort of empathy between them. He was raised by a single
mother. He knows the sacrifices. How did she manage it? Isn't she
proud now? Wasn't it worth it her daughter now an impressively
intelligent young lady with a career all her own ahead of her?
I'm nauseous at this point. Sacrifices! What a word!
What did she ever give up for me? I'd like to ask that question
shout it at her but there's no answer. I'm sure there's
I'm so relieved when lunch is finally over
there's an extravagant battle over the check (as if my mother would
ever pick up a check when there's a man around) that results in
Jason pulling out a couple of hundred dollar bills, which is going
to irritate my mother because that kind of gesture is nouveau riche
(like she's got old money).
I'm so relieved that I even give my mother a little
shoulder-hug. She suggests that Jason "finish handling the
business end of lunch" while I walk her to her room, which
is just a way of getting me alone so she can talk to me.
Out in the lobby, she starts in. "Honey,"
she sighs and sighs and sighs. "Honey, how long has he had
money? Did his father have money? That is certainly a question you
should have asked, but apparently didn't (or perhaps you did and
didn't pay enough attention to the answer). He's far too eager and,
really, nothing is worse ..."
And so she goes. I shouldn't be surprised that she
doesn't like him. I mean, what was I really expecting? She keeps
it up all the way to her room, but she's losing me. With each pathetically
critical stab of the hypocritical dagger she slides out of the sheath
of her narrow mind, I am falling more and more in love with soon
being Mrs. Jason.
She drones on, but I don't even hear her because my
mind is already making plans to move the wedding up a couple of
Ha-ha, mother! I can't wait (and I'm imagining the
whole scene, preferably as it takes place in Jason's mother's Elvis-themed
living room and we're all enjoying tall glasses of hideous sweet
tea). I can't wait until my mother meets Jason's family.
She sends me back down to the lobby so I can say goodbye
to Jason. She wants me to "get rid of him, honey, so we can
figure a way out of this mess." It won't matter what she says,
although she doesn't know it yet. It won't matter to me that she
rants and raves and throws a fit I'm marrying Jason. And
she can just go to hell.
In the lobby, Jason is waiting in one of the huge
and uncomfortable club chairs underneath the monstrous potted olive
trees. My heart swells when I see him I can't wait to tell
him how difficult my mother is being (and will continue to be, as
he'll understand more and more during our marriage). He wants me
to sit beside him and, when I do, he takes my face in his hands.
"Baby," he says, "this is all going
to work out just fine. I was a little worried, yes, about things.
Especially the way you talk about her."
He's talking about my mother, I guess, and who wouldn't
"She's a champ, really, if you think about how
hard it is to get by in this world ..."
He's still talking, his hands warm on my face, his
freckled smile moving just inches away from me. He's telling me
about my mother. Get this he is telling me about her!
I take his hands off of me. He's still talking. Why
won't he stop?
"Stop!" I want to scream.
Now (I don't have a choice), I'm pulling off the ring
he gave me and putting it hard into his palm. At last he's quiet.
I take a last look at Jason's stunned face as I leave
him to go back up to my mother's room, back up to her because I'm
finally getting it. Finally getting that there's no escape.