(written: May 5, 2007)
That’s what she wanted us to call her, no matter how old we got.
She was strict. She was hard. She was tough. And dammit, did I love her! I pushed all her buttons, and I know she pushed mine. Criticized me, but praised me behind my back. She didn’t want me to get big-headed, you see.
I triggered her temper on many occasions. I seemed to have the knack for it. “Who pissed Mommy off again?” “Susan.”
I wanted her approval desperately. I never knew that I’d already had it.
She hated heavy metal, but she came to see my first band. We played originals and also covered Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Ozzy. That night, I forgot the words and swore into the mic, “Shit, I forgot the words to this song.” She didn’t leave. After the show, she said, “I don’t know how you stand it!” To her friends, she said, “My daughter sings in a band.”
I appeared in a video for a band called Raven. I was in the crowd. You could only see the back of my head and my arm. I caught her pausing the video to show a friend. “That’s my daughter’s head.”
I got a job as a secretary at CBS. I got the chance to get her and her bowling team tickets to “The Price is Right.” They got the royal tour. Mommy was treated like a queen. Her friends told her, “Your daughter must have an important job at CBS.” She said, “My daughter is very important.”
I got hooked on cocaine. I lost my job, lost weight, lost hair. I lived in an apartment without power for several months, ashamed to go home and show my family what I had become. My father begged me to come home. I finally did. My mother said, “What did I do wrong that my daughter is on drugs?” She didn’t say, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” I promised her that I would never do it again. That was almost 19 years ago and I haven’t touched the stuff.
I couldn’t hold down a job. I had the reputation of staying for a year at a time, then getting bored and moving to another job. My mother called me “Queen of the Part Time Jobs.” But she didn’t kick me out of the house.
I moved to Alabama, got a job in TV news. I got promoted, again and again. One year stretched to two, three, five. Mommy was proud. I was moving up at the TV station. But she missed me, she said. “Come home.” I said, “No, Mommy. I found a job I really like. I’ll see you at Christmas.” I didn’t go home for Christmas. I couldn’t afford it.
The next year, Mommy asked me to come home again. “Mommy, I’m the 10pm producer now. I’m producing the main show. I can’t come home.” My older sister helped me fly home to surprise her for Thanksgiving. I wondered why our dinner tasted so bland. “Mommy can’t have salty foods,” said my sister. “She’s sick.” Mommy was happy to see me. When I left to fly back to Alabama from New Jersey, she said, “I love you.” She rarely said that. When i would tell her, “I love you, Mommy,” she would say, “Me, too.”
I didn’t go home for Christmas. I had to work. January turned to February, March, April. At the beginning of May, my father called. “You mother needs a liver transplant. We’re flying to Pittsburgh for the surgery.” He put Mommy on the phone. “I love you and everything I ever did was to make you the best you can be.” I shushed her. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk about that. You focus on getting better. I love you, Mommy.” “Me, too.”
But she didn’t get better. She was sicker than we thought. She couldn’t have the transplant. Instead, on May 8, several days before Mother’s Day, our mother left us. Our strong, tough mother couldn’t beat the illness that ravaged her.
Here’s where I’m a bad daughter. I can never remember whether the year was 1990 or 1991. Did I have her a year less or a year more? It seems like yesterday.. and it feels like forever.
Dammit, how I miss you, Mommy.