Wednesday, September 01, 2004

"Little Cocksucker" and other terms of endearment

"Little cocksucker."

That was mom's nickname for me.

She's been a drunk for as long as I can remember. Bourbon, mostly, but she also drinks wine, beer, and pretty much anything else with alcohol in it. When mom comes over, I hide the NyQuil and the paint thinner.

Mom has a bad temper. And I'm not just talking about your average bad temper. I'm talking vein-popping, eyebrow-furrowing, teeth-baring, red-faced, spit-flying, shreiking-at-the-top-of-her-lungs bad temper. When she gets angry, she reminds me of someone who is in need of an exorcism.

She's a small woman, maybe 5'3" and 110 pounds, with hollow, deep-set eyes and sunken cheeks. But she has the worst temper of anyone I've ever met. She's not the loudest, or the strongest, but she's the meanest. And when I was growing up, the worst part about mom was her unpredictability. She'd go for days, or weeks, at a time without one outburst; we kids could put a baseball through the window, and she'd just sweep the glass and tape the window, smiling all the while, and the next day I could drop a spoon on the kitchen floor, and she'd rip out a clump of my hair.

When mom was out of control, we just ran away. Out the door, down the street, anywhere but where she was. If we got away, we could let her cool off for two hours, and were usually all set. But sometimes she caught us. And when she did, pretty much anything was fair game: She'd slap, punch, pull hair, kick, scratch, and throw things, cursing all the way.

It was like clockwork: During holiday get-togethers, with a house full of aunts and uncles, mom would always find a reason to crack me across the mouth at the dinner table, in front of everyone.

The worst beating I ever got was when I was 11. Mom was supposed to be home to meet us boys when we got home from school each day, but she never was; if we were lucky, she'd get back around 6:00 and make us dinner. If we weren't lucky, we'd eat peanut butter and jelly in front of the TV.

Mom always told me to leave her stereo system alone. But the batteries on my Walkman had run out, or something, and I really wanted to listen to my Beatles tape.

Figuring she wouldn't be home for hours, I pop the cassette into her tape deck and groove along with "Dear Prudence" and "Back in the USSR".

In mid-"Twist and Shout," John Lennon's voice speeds up, chipmunk-style, and my heart skips a beat. I know what that sound means. I press the eject button, and my stomach sinks in horror as I see the contents of the tape unravelled everywhere, a thin, brown, shiny snake twisting around every capstan, wheel and pulley.

My fat fingers work furiously to untangle the tape as I shoot nervous, panting glances at the door, praying mom doesn't come home.

The doorknob shakes. The door opens. Mom stands there.

She stares at me for a moment, her mouth open.

"You little LITTLE COCKSUCKER!!!!" she screams, diving at me.

I turn to run. Too slow. She grabs my shoulder and spins me around, slapping me across the cheek. Her nails scratch me, leaving three thin bloody streaks. I cry out in pain.

"What did I tell you? WHAT THE FUCK DID I TELL YOU, YOU NO GOOD LITTLE SHIT!!!" She throws me to the floor, and I watch in mute terror as she removes her flip-flop and hits me with it, full-force, across the back of my neck, making a high THWACK! sound. Then she hits me again. And again, and again, until finally the sandal breaks in two, the top half dropping harmlessly to the floor. My neck throbs and stings, like a bad sunburn.

I lay on the floor, whimpering like a scared puppy, curled into a ball, my quivering hands in front of my face. "Please mom, please stop..."

"Little fucking cocksucker," she says, almost to herself. She grabs me by the hair and turns me over on my back.

Then she puts her cigarette out on my forearm. I am screaming.

I still have the scar.

A few minutes later, (I assume after changing her shoes) she storms out the door and doesn't come back for hours.

Dad usually got home from work around 8:30. Tonight, dad sees the scratches on my face, and the burn on my arm. He doesn't say a word; he just cleans them with alcohol and antibiotic ointment, hugs me and tells me it will be better soon.

Late that night, I am awakened by screaming.

I turn over. It's 11:22 by the bedside digital clock. I remember it like it was yesterday.

"Don't you EVER touch him again, you hear me?!" dad is saying. "You're out of control. You are OUT of fucking control!"

"You don't have any idea how hard it is," mom says. "I got three goddamn kids to take care of, and you're god knows where! It must be nice to have a little peace and quiet!"

"I'M the one earning the money, Louise. YOU'RE the one drinking it up!"

"Fuck you, you lousy son of a bitch!" I hear grunting and jostling, as if she is attacking him.

"Never again! You hear me?" dad is saying. "You touch him again, and I'll fucking kill you with my bare hands!"

I cry softly into my pillow. Dad never gets angry. I know you might not believe it now, but he is a really gentle person. I don't think he could ever hurt mom; I think he was just trying to scare her. He was definitely scaring me.

Mom never hit me again.

I don't want revenge. I don't want mom to "find out how it feels". I don't want to beat her up or scream at her. I just want her to leave me alone. For a long time, I have known what is best for me, and mom usually impedes that somehow. I'm better off with her not in my life, at least not as a parent.

She left home not too long after that incident, and part of me was sad to see her go. But I was also overjoyed. Even at 11, I knew that life would be more stable without her. I wouldn't have to shrink in fear as I walked through the front door and saw mom at the kitchen table, drinking hard liquor from a beer stein.

Leaving home was probably the only good parenting decision mom has ever made.


It's Thursday. Mom's appointment is at 11:00. I meet Jenny at her mother's place at 9:30.

Mom is drunk. She's wearing a torn housedress of faded flowers and pale blue bathroom slippers that used to be fuzzy. Her hair is twisted into a sloppy bun, held in place with a chewed-up pencil.

"Aunt Louise," Jenn says, "Steve and I are really concerned about you. You're pretty jaundiced, and you seem very tired lately...."

"Jennifer, you're a nice girl," mom says, "but you dunno what you're talkin' about."

"Aunt Louise, you've been drinking a lot lately-"

"NEVER MIND my drinkin'," mom says, sneering.

This is stupid. Time to rip off the band-aid. "Mom, we're taking you to the doctor. Now."

"The hell you are!" she says, matter-of-factly.

My expression doesn't change. "Mom, one way or another, you're going. We're not leaving until you do, so you might as well-"

She lunges at me, her face contorted into a hideous mask of evil. I jump.

She puts a finger in my face. "You don't tell me what to do, you little son of a bitch!"

Don't you mean "Little Cocksucker"?

"I'm the mother here! I'M the mother! Not you! You don't tell me what the hell I can and cannot do..."

She is teetering in place, as if struggling to keep her balance.

"I do when you're killing yourself, mom. You have a family who cares about you, and we're gonna help you even if you don't want us to."

"If I wanna kill myself, it's MY goddamn business! No one else's!"

"It wouldn't take long," says Jenn. "The doctor is expecting us-"

"Just shut your mouth, honey," mom snaps. "Now you two get the hell outta here, because I'm not going anywhere!"

She storms off to a bedroom and slams the door; I hear the pop of the door lock.

Suddenly, classical music blares loudly from the room. One hundred twenty decibels is fine for Led Zeppelin; for Mozart, it's just creepy.

We wait. Five minutes go by, and the music continues, as loud as ever.

I bang on the door. "Mom, we're not leaving!"


I open the thin, gray metal cover mounted to the wall next to the kitchen, exposing the circuit breakers for the apartment. I find the one at the top marked "MAIN", and pull down hard on it.

Lights flick off. The refrigerator stops running. Digital clocks go dark. The music stops.

"jesus fucking christ!" we hear wafting faintly from mom's room.

I grab mom's purse off the kitchen chair, and again approach her door.

"Mom, if you don't come out, I'm not turning the power on. And I've got your purse, with all your drinking money in it."

"Gimme back my purse NOW!"

"You'll get it after your doctor's appointment!"

The door opens, slowly.


Mom is sweet as pie to Dr. Patel; apparently, she thinks she can charm her way out of whatever tests he wants to run. "So doya have any kids?" she asks nervously as she lays down on the examination table.

Dr. Patel conducts a full examination. At several points, I look at Jenny and she is grimacing. Mom is not doing well, I gather.

"I vood like to doo a SEEtee scan," says Dr. Patel. He's got a very thick accent.

"A CITY scan?" says mom.

"No, a C.T. scan," says Jenn. "They want to take a picture of your liver to see if there's any internal damage."

"Ve also need to take a blood sample," he says.

"Oh GOD," mom says.

There are two cancellations for CT scans later today. We convince mom to take the earlier one.

"Steve, can I see you oustide," Jenn says.

We huddle a few steps past the door. "From what I could see, the exam went really bad. I think she's worse than I thought."


"They might not even let her out of the hospital."

"You mean they're going to admit her?"

"Maybe. It depends on the results of the CT scan. But it's possible she's going to need a transplant."


"Steve, I think you better call your dad."