Why I’m Like This
This is something we all wonder from time to time, isn’t it? Admit it, you know you’re weird, and you know it’s someone’s fault. And while it is tempting (and sometimes necessary) to point judgy, bitter fingers at our childhood caretakers, I’m a steadfast proponent of strapping on our Big Girl and Boy, um, strap-ons, sacking up, and taking responsibility for our own adult shit. With that said, I ask you, dear readers, to think of this entry not as an Ode on Blame, but as a Lovesong to Unintentional Hilarity. (It is also a Lovesong to One Very Beleaguered [but rich!] Therapist in Northern New Jersey.)
So yeah. My mom. She’s *kind of* a piece of work. The primary lesson I learned as a child was that whatever was troubling, bothering, aching, ailing, or itching you was Probably Cancer. My moles and freckles were inventoried on a regular basis, and my mother’s display of laden dread at the appearance of a new one was always Oscar-worthy. Poops were checked for form and consistency. Temperatures were taken on the sly with the seemingly innocent brush of hand against forehead. Swollen glands, headaches, fatigue – no matter how occasional – were all indisputable proof that Death was coming at me from all angles as my mother kept vigilant watch, using her extensive medical reference library as both a shield and a weapon. The clear message being, “You need me. Without me protecting you, you will die. And it will hurt like a mo-fo.” This was enough to keep me poised in a state of quiet, obedient horror for much of my childhood. And yes, by “childhood” I mean “until somewhere around last Thursday.”
Theoretically, this could have been something of a burden on a young lass. But not me. While other, less informed children were sniffling over their everyday “boo boos,” I was expressing my sincere concern over the possibility (probability, let’s face it) that those little playground tumbles and gym-glass collisions – brought on, obviously, by rare but deadly Pediatric TIAs – would result in a spate of fatal subdural hematomata that the school nurse never saw coming. My classmates would surely all be dead by morning.
As I grew older, the threats mounted. Bicycles, cars, sports, air travel, choking, strangers, rogue tidal waves, errant space-debris, “mashers” – to this day, I’ve never heard anyone else use this word, but I consider it a classic nonetheless – all lay in wait, coiled and ready to strike. My college years were defined by the 5-times-weekly greeting cards I received from my mother – much to the envy of my friends and roommates. See, the cards all contained $5 bills – ostensibly, lunch money; but more often than not used to buy cigarettes and Grateful Dead decals for my car – tucked, always, inside a current news clipping about the gruesome demise of some unsuspecting (aka disobedient) co-ed who made the mistake of leaving the house, ever. Detailed accounts of chopped up lady-pieces, kidnapping victims turned to skin-suits, severed limbs from careless car-waving….all peppered my daily intake of information and education. I came to understand that the $5 bills were little daily bribes to Not Do whatever activity led to that day’s featured atrocity. It sometimes worked.
After college I returned to my hometown and sooner than later got my own place. My comings and going were, of course, closely monitored by my mother on what she called her nightly “Rounds” (NJ State Law, oddly enough, calls it “Stalking”). Every night around 11, I would see the headlights slowly approach my dwelling and come to a meaningful stop. My mother would then make some sort of ingenious 37-point turn in a triumphant maneuver designed to bright-light every inch of the front and sides of my house – most notably, the bushes (evidently a favorite haunt for lurking mashers). When my property was scrutinized to her satisfaction, she would quietly drive away, only to return the next night, and the next. If, by some miracle I was not at home during Rounds, she would simply wait for my return…at which time, she and her headlights would silently illuminate my way, ensuring that I was not bludgeoned to death on my short journey from driveway to doorstep.
On one particularly perilous winter day during graduate school, my mother called me crying – a sure sign that some crafty plot was afoot. Please, she begged, don’t go to school today. IT’S TOO DANGEROUS! I told her firmly that I had an exam and that the matter was not up for discussion – I would wear my seat belt and drive very slowly, but that I was GOING to school. The crying became more fevered as she frantically asked if I still had my polo helmet (a remnant from one of the more peculiar life-enhancing skill-sets I was forced to acquire as a child), which she “strongly suggested” I wear for protection while walking across the snowy campus if I insisted upon disobeying her (did I mention, Graduate School?). As I snidely assured her that I would do no such thing, her hysteria reached a feverish new cant – culminating in a high-pitched, frantic command to fetch my colander from the kitchen and affix it to my head with some shoelaces or fancy gift-wrap ribbon. I shit you not, my friends. I shit you not. You laugh – but this was my life, and it was getting worse. The bright spot in the tale is that somehow this particular benchmark of my Parental Anti-Neglect evolved into a totally awesome and legendary drinking game called, obviously, Colander Head. Similar in nature to Telephone, the last player to fumble the sequence was forced to wear the colander while the rest of us drank from our Solo cups and chanted, “Colander head, colander head! What the f*ck is a colander head?”
Despite her expert surveillance, my mother would routinely become convinced that I was dead at the bottom of my own staircase if I did not return her calls in a timely manner. These fits would usually end in her breaking into and entering my home in search of my crumpled corpse, inevitably setting off the alarm system which I obtained for this reason alone. The day I knew for sure that I had to move away was the day my mother’s break-in resulted in the entire Police AND Fire departments of my small, small town responding to the call and traipsing through my home, radios crackling and weapons at the ready. Alas, they did not find any cagey intruders or my rotting, fileted remains – but they DID find the Playgirl Magazine (opened to centerfold), sequined pasties, penis straws and chain-mail thong I had purchased for a friend’s bachelorette, sitting shiny-and-new on my kitchen counter. It was time, I knew. I had to go.
And go I did. Far, far away and never to return. And though I love my mother dearly and ache for her burdens, they are no longer my burdens. So friends, while we take a moment and together marvel at my (relative) sanity, there’s just one last thing. To the rented-kitchen full of overprivileged twenty-somethings enjoying a raucous round of Colander Head somewhere on the Jersey shore at this very moment: You’re welcome.