“I’M SICK OF THIS,” MOM SAYS. “SICK of it.”
I am lying on the love seat and hear Mom come grousing into the living room. Cocking my head, I see she is upset but have no idea why. I ignore her and continue to watch TV, a dull sitcom from the 60s.
My little brothers retreat from the living room to the front porch. Still complaining, Mom continues into the kitchen. I can hear the kettle being filled with water for coffee as Terri heads up the stairs toward her room, calling for Tina to follow.
When Mom’s mood plummets, everyone knows to leave her alone. She makes coffee, calls one of her sisters, or just sits at the kitchen table, staring across the room. This has been going on for as long as I can remember. When I was little, Mom would regularly throw everyone out of the house. I remember staggering into the afternoon sunlight, after being in the cool of the living room, curled up with a book. Mom would say, “Run around, play! Have fun like a normal kid, for Christ’s sake.”
Although I can go hang out with my new friends at their apartment on Front Street, I decide to hold my ground here in the living room instead. I haven’t had an opportunity to swipe any cigarettes, and I hate to arrive at the girls’ apartment empty handed. I focus on the TV, even though I’m not that interested in the program.
Mom stands in the entrance to the living room.
“Out,” she commands.
Reaching down, she snaps the TV off, and then goes back into the kitchen. Scowling at the empty doorway, I listen to the TV cool. This is the point were I would typically sulk up to my room or wander outside. Why does she get to throw us out whenever her day goes bad? If you ask her this question, her response is always the same: “Because I’m the Mom.”
Chest hammering, I decide I don’t have to take it anymore. Reaching forward, I snap the TV on and settle back into the love seat. I try to look relaxed, but my body is on high alert. Mom comes to the door and looks at me incredulously, her hands on her hips.
I don’t look into her eyes or smile. My best bet is to pretend she didn’t realize I was watching, that her turning the TV off was some sort of accident.
“I want this off,” Mom says.
She snaps it off.
“I’m watching this, Mom.”
Leaning forward, I turn the TV back on. The picture wobbles into focus as I fall back onto the couch. Mom is looking at me as if I were some stranger sitting in her living room.
“It’ll be over in a bit,” I say. “You want me to turn it down?” I throw these last few lines out as a concession, but Mom clearly doesn’t want to negotiate. She has her hands on her hips and her one eyebrow is riding high on her forehead, the internationally recognized facial expression for, “Child, Have You Lost Your Mind?”
Realizing I am in deep trouble but not yet ready to give up the charade of being in control, I use my peripheral vision to scan the room for things my mother might hurl at me. When Mom loses her temper, it’s nothing like Dad; she is mostly manageable. Mom has thrown handfuls of cooked rice at me, and if she ever gives you the ultimatum, “Eat It Or Wear It,” you know you had better start eating. I don’t see anything she might use as a weapon at first, but then I notice a broom propped in the corner. I can easily imagine my mom swatting me with that broom. Not wanting to give her any ideas, I casually glance back toward her but then I see I am already too late: Mom has spotted the broom.
Watching her move quickly toward the corner, I throw off all pretense of being in control and spring from the couch. Not sure what I am going to do, I just don’t want to suffer the humiliation of being swatted with the broom.
Mom and I reach for the broom handle at the same time. Both of us end up clutching it with two hands, the handle jutting out horizontally between us. My palms are sweaty and my heart jack-hammers in my chest. I start formulating a plan where I let go unexpectedly and then run away as fast as I can. Looking down, I notice my mom’s pursed lips. For the first time in my life I realize that I’m a little taller than her. Mom winces and groans, trying to twist the broom from my grasp. Suddenly I become certain she can’t do it. I believe I am stronger than her. To test my theory, I put a little pressure on just one end of the broom handle, and watch it fall easily, like the loser in a lopsided arm wrestling match. When I see this, I am surprised. I feel myself start to grin, even as Mom grimly sets her face to the task at hand.
Not quite sure what to do with my advantage, I stand there and watch my mother struggle. And then suddenly, in the most smarmy adult voice I can muster, I whisper,
“It’s never okay to hit, Mom.”
This voice makes my mom go crazy.
She gets a last burst of energy and I almost lose control of the broom in my sweaty hands. Then as she peters out, I whisper,
“Come on now, Mom. This is not okay.”
Mom groans in disgust and lets go of the broom. She is breathing hard, a lock of her long dark hair has fallen into her face. I prop the broom back in its corner and whisper one final time in my adult voice,
“Let’s try to act like adults. Okay?”
The kettle whistles from the kitchen. Storming out of the living room, Mom grabs the kettle off the burner. I settle onto the love seat to watch what’s left of Gilligan’s Island. From the kitchen I hear my mom say,
“No dinner for you, boy. You hear me? Nothin’. That’s it for you.”
Snuggling deep into the couch, I realize I am so full of myself, I am not even a little bit hungry.