It is utter agony
to be forced to search for an entire weekend
for a pair of scissors
. It's hard for many people to fully understand how that turns into hours of crying
and apologizing and cleaning up the piles of furiously emptied drawers
- when you know those scissors are in the freezer, or somewhere equally unthinkable. But you start to question yourself.
"Did I take the scissors?"
My mother had a pair of scissors for every job. Paper-cutting scissors, a pair for hair, another for fabric, serrated scissors, kitchen scissors, bathroom scissors, it was ridiculous. But they were as much a part of our house as her buckets of rotting clothes, and the bags full of Pringles cans she'd hoard for years.
"You could do so much with a Pringles can, with a little imagination, and the right scissors."
Then, after the second day of tip-toeing and going to bed with an empty belly as punishment, she'd find the damn scissors in between her mattresses, where she hid them for "safe-keeping".
Of course, there's no apology, not even the kind of behavior that says "I'm sorry." Only a smug half-grin. Maybe an "Oops", but only to herself.
She'd watch us devour our reward meal in shame. They were the best grilled cheese sandwiches we'd ever eaten. We'd keep our eyes on our plates, stare into the swirled reflections. Pretend they weren't that good. Try not to catch the flutter of her eyes as if to say, "See how you'd be lost without me?"
She was maniacal manipulation by day, toddling drunken white noise by night. We feared one and hated the other.
This was the evolution of my mother. She was chronically suicidal. Each attempt was more gruesome than the last, and it was clear to me that she wasn't an aspirin-swallower, or a woman in desperate need of attention. She meant it. I've tried to imagine what it must have been like to wake up each time in a whole new place and realize that once again you failed at a seemingly basic task.
She'd come back home, and my sister and I would avoid looking at her new scars. The fragments of face that was once our beautiful mousy mother. But in a week or two, she'd look better than ever, and be twice as empty inside, and laugh much less, until she became a bridge connecting the remote control to the cigarette burned furniture.
My mother was a natural quitter. So, it only seemed fitting that she retired from suicide. There were times when I wished she'd take it up again.
But having a sister to sleep next to made things bearable. She was older and wiser, and better at just about everything. Even survival. She was my teacher. My mother. My idol. We'd lay in the dark, she on her big, ugly, orange flowered couch, I on my cot, and listen to eachother breathing. Sometimes Sarah would put her headphones on and sing loudly to Throwing Muses.
Dizzy with your bright yellow gun counting backwards.
Dizzy dizzy dizzy dizzy.
When it was dark enough, I'd sing too. In the light, singing, dancing, listening to fast music, even eating made us hot in the face. These were acts that oozed sexuality, and we knew if we enjoyed it too much, our mother would say it out loud and turn us inside out. I'm not sure if Sarah ever knew I sang with her. We didn't dare speak of such personal things in the morning.
We were afraid of each other. I, afraid of her honesty, and vulnerability, and she, afraid of my silence, afraid of the power I may or may not have in my pocket. I was Mom's favorite. This was not a secret. I had a charming dimple in my cheek and the look of my father. And she was grateful that I pretended to love her when she needed it most. Intimidation was just as good as respect for her.
She appreciated my fear. Sarah stood taller than our mother. In every way. But I would cower when she'd reach to hug me. I think she preferred that.
After Sarah left home, sprinting to the state line, she'd call and we'd make small talk, until she'd cut through my Ums and say, "How are you really? Are you ready to kill her yet?" And I'd find a shady reason to hang up before answering.
I did want to kill her. I fantasized about pushing her when we'd be at the top of the stairs playing the I-love-you-more-than-you-know-why-are-you-trying-get-away? game.
Every night was the same. After Sarah moved out, I became the last attentive ear in the house. And it wasn't until then that I realized why Sarah didn't like me very much when we were kids. I got to sleep at night, while she was trapped in the kitchen hearing stories that were so horrid, they branded our memories. So vivid, they became our own experiences.
"So, is there anyone you're interested in? Any boys in your life?"
This was the question to set the mood. It was loaded, and if it wasn't answered carefully, your brains just might be speckling the wall behind you. I learned this early, when Sarah was ten, and I was five and my mother asked this question for the first time. She played good sweet attentive Mommy for an afternoon, and Sarah got giggly and told her about a boy named Paul who carried her books to science class.
The next day, as she was heading out to score some pot, she stopped at the door and pushed a long finger into Sarah's face. "I'll be back in an hour. Don't have sex in my bed."
The answer to "Tell me about the boys in your life." was better left at, "There aren't any."
But some nights, there was no stopping her. I was twelve after all, and sporting a fine rack. It was time to get more "hands-on" about sex. She was out of the room and back again before I could slink away. She held two crinkly silver squares that I recognized as the trademark of the carpet guy, the amputee from the bar, the window guy, the carnie from the Detroit festival, my father. Condoms were left around the house as casually as business cards. Before I had time to protest, I was unrolling a condom over a banana, and she, a cucumber.
Every so often, my mother felt the need to protect the household vegetables from STD's. The first time I actually had sex, I couldn't stop thinking of inanimate, phallic objects.
"I have to tell you something very important." she'd slur, her thin mouth letting out cigarette smoke directly into my face. "If you're a lesbian, you can tell me. It'll be very hard for you to be gay in this world. That's why I'm not. But I love you more than you know, and you can tell me." Then she'd sit back and wait for my confession.
"I'm not gay, Ma." I'd say, like I said the night before. "I'm not gay, I swear."
"How would you know? You're so young. I'll bet you're gay."
"I'm not gay."
"I've had a few gay experiences ya' know." She'd lift her chin and puff out her chest with pride. "Dykes love me."
"That's nice mom."
"If your dad ever went to prison, or died or somethin', I'd go be gay with his friend Marilyn. She's a big fat pig, but I don't care." She said it as if it were honorable. "You know, I have a gift. I have sex with men that nobody wants. I give them hope. It's divine really." By now, she's gleaming with pride, this sexual muse. Staring past me, she smiles big to reveal that her back teeth are rotten, most of them missing.
"That's great mom."
"So, if you're gay..."
"I'm not gay." This conversation was repeated regularly until I was sixteen. Pregnancy was apparantly sufficient proof of my heterosexuality. After four years, it became a looking-for-the-scissors kind of dance. And after a while, I'd think to myself, "Am I gay?"
Four years and some hours have gone by, and the clock behind me is saying "RUN! It's bedtime." I'd have to escape soon. I had school in the morning. Just as I am about to say good-night...
"I gotta pee." Then the dreaded, "Can you help me?"
This was a routine I'd rather forget. Helping a falling woman, stinking of vodka and dirty hair and cigarettes... Crawling step by step up a narrow staircase, until reaching the bathroom, where she'll stay for at least a half hour. It was my job to sit across from her on the edge of the bathtub and make sure she stayed on the toilet.
My plan at this point was to get her off the toilet and into her bedroom across the hall. But every night the plan would unravel. Like taking care of a retarded monkey, she just didn't absorb directions, or logic of any kind. A retarded monkey with porn star intellect.
So, down the stairs we went, again, and into the kitchen, again, and she pours an overflowing juice glass with vodka, and grabs a beer, again.
It was best this way, I reasoned. In the kitchen, she most likely wouldn't make it up the stairs on her own again, and I could take a shower. If I took one with her in her bedroom, she'd be in there eventually, telling me she could watch and touch what she wanted, because "Godddddamitt, I made your body."
After removing the bucket of slimy clothing that nested in the bathtub, careful not to spill any crazy-nectar on my legs, I'd run the water as hot as I could stand it. Standing under the stream, my face burned with embarrassment for this game I hated to play. This game I was quite good at playing.
I find myself full of what it takes to cry. But I know better. Never cry in the shower. The sounds could be easily construed as masturbation, and my mother would be waiting with a stern, disgusted face that she'd hold until the corners of her mouth and creases of her forehead were pronounced with a permanent look of something bad. She'd immediately call a relative to confirm that her daughter had a sex addiction, and the next family event would leave me in the corner feeling like a creep.
I'm in the middle of my hot-face, not-crying thing, when I hear the stairs creaking. I am not in the mood to be eye-raped tonight, so I hurry up and turn of the water and leap into a robe just as the bathroom door opens. There is conditioner running down my back.
"I have to pee again."
So, of course I help her again. And I'm sitting at the edge of the bathtub when she starts wailing.
"I'm a bad person." She spouts, trusting that I will give her what she needs.
Hunched over, with her head almost folded into her naked lap, I am struck with the urge to hurt her. I stare at her special bathroom scissors, sitting next to the special hair scissors. I eye her neck draped with muddy-brown strands of greasy hair. The scissors, her neck, the scissors, her neck. I would do it right, I think to myself. I would put you out of your misery. She would probably thank me if she could. My hands reach toward her head, when she moves to face me, and I am startled back to sanity.
"Am I bad mother?" She raises her face from her hands, and stares into my guilt. She waits for me to save her. I pull the right words out of my mouth. I lull her with my forked tongue.