Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Meet the parent bourbon-guzzling, foul-mouthed shrew

2:30. My phone rings. I don't recognize the number.


"Hey! Is Lila around?" Says the smooth voice on the other end.

OK, who the FUCK is this? And why is he looking for Lila? And why does he sound like a used car salesman?

Ahhh, the car guy. Lila gave him my number. Let's see if I can get rid of him.

"Who's THIS?" I say, angrily.

"Well, I, er, I met her the other day, and she gave me this number, and...."

"How old are you, friend?"

"Ah, well, if this is a big deal, you know, well, ah-"

"The questions get harder as they go along!" I say naggingly.

"I'm, uh, 28."

"Do you know how old Lila is?"


"SEVENTEEN." Yeah, a little exaggeration.

"Oh, well, I didn't know that. I'm sorry about that, sir. I mean, SHE gave me her number, so I was just calling..."

"Yeah, well she's SEVENTEEN, friend." I'm a little too good at this father-of-a-teenage-girl thing. Should I be afraid?

"Well, as I said," he says, recovering, "she was the one who offered-"

"I don't care," I say dismissively. "Maybe you ought to find someone your own age."

Perfect. He thought I was her dad, but I never actually said so. More truth than lie, just the way I like it.


I can't stop thinking about my run-in with mom yesterday. She did not deserve to be treated that way. Who cares if she was ascerbic and confrontational? My job is to be better than that, to keep my poker face and not let her get to me. Besides, she is sick in the hospital and does not need that kind of stress. I owe her an apology.

I tell Lila what happened.

"You said WHAT?!" Lila says.

"Lila, you have to know the relationship mom and I have."

"Oh, Steve."

"What do you mean, 'Oh, Steve'?"

"Steve, YOU are stronger than that. She's just trying to annoy you. MY mother does it, too."

"Yeah, well, like I said, I'm gonna go apologize."

"Oh, ok, well, I'll talk to you after-"

"You wanna meet her?" I ask.

Yeah, I want her to meet my family. It's almost like SHE is family too.

Am I crazy? Definitely. But my feelings for Lila are starting to spill over into other areas of my life. I'm helping old men change tires. I'm waving to kids on school buses. I smell candles in card shops and say, "Lila would LOVE this one!!"

Oh shit. I go to card shops.

I just hope mom hasn't been sneaking any booze. I imagine her stealing a syringe and injecting vodka into her IV bag, or better yet, mainlining it right up the vein in the crook of her elbow. Don't laugh. mom is a desperate woman.

Lila and I get to mom's room. "Wait here," I say, and head inside.

It's around 6:00. Mom's dinner tray is cast aside, resting on a tall cart. An uneaten plate of roast beef and mashed potatoes is strewn with a chewed styrofoam cup and crumbled napkins.

I stand in the doorway and knock lightly on the jamb.

Mom's eyebrows jump. "Honey!" she shrieks.

Moms have a way of saying "honey" that makes it impossible not to hug them. I walk to her and we embrace. It's hard making myself relax: Part of me fears that mom has swiped a scalpel and is waiting for the right moment to slice a red smiley face between my ears.

"Where was my hard-working man yesterday? Your two brothers came, you know."

She's beaming. Mom has two thin lines on either side of her mouth when she smiles; they make her attractive in a warm, cozy kind of way. It's the smile of mothers in aspirin commercials.

Wait a minute. I WAS here yesterday! Was mom blacked out the whole time?

"Mom, I was here!" I say.

Her smile fades. "What time?" she asks.

"Two, two-thirty."

She rubs the right side of her face with an open palm. "Ho God. I didn't wake up until five."

"Mom, you were awake."

"My eyes were open. I wasn't awake. I don't remember seeing you."

"I see."

"Did I yell? Did I swear at you? I did, didn't I?"

"Nothing unusual, mom."

"C'mere," she says, holding an arm out to me. She takes me by the back of the neck and pulls my head to her chest. She plays with my hair. "Your mommy loves you. You know that, right?"

"I love you too, mom."

She lets me go. "Dr. Patel wants me to go to rehab," she sighs.

"You gonna do it?"

"I don't know." She pulls her lips into her mouth; her eyes close slowly. "I'm scared, honey."

"Me too, mom."

She rubs my chin and studies my face as if readying to paint a portrait. It occurs to me she is trying to memorize my face before she dies.

"Mom, I want you to meet someone," I say.

I lean out the door and motion Lila inside.

She peeks around the door frame, then enters gingerly, with a sheepish smile.

Lila doesn't dress up much, and she's not dressed up today: Faded jeans and my old t-shirt, with her hair flipped over one shoulder. She's the kind of girl who doesn't mind if we can't think of anything to do on a Saturday night.

Mom gasps audibly. "Who are YOU," she says, wide-eyed.

"Lila, this is my mom, Louise. Mom, this is my girlfriend Lila," I say.

My girlfriend Lila. My girlfriend, Lila. Lila, my girlfriend. I don't think I've ever introduced her that way before.

I'm overwhelmed with pride. I'm WITH her! My stomach leaps.

Hey, guess what, mom? I'm actually in something remotely resembling a healthy relationship!!

"My GOD, you are gorgeous," mom says. "Look at those EYES!"

Lila puckers her lips to the side, stifling a grin. I put my arm around her and she pulls me closer.

"It's nice to meet you," Lila says, finally. "I'm so sorry you're sick."

"So how long have you two been dating? Ooooo, sit down, I wanna know ALL about you!" Mom says.

Mom finds out that Lila knits. That's it. Lila's hooked. Mom can be quite the charmer. Now, until Lila sees her drunk, she's going to think that I am the most ungrateful, disrespectful progeny ever to squeeze my way down a birth canal.

They talk for almost an hour. "Steve, go get us some pizza," mom says finally, never taking her eyes off Lila.

And just like that, Mr. hot-shot VP is dodging cars across a busy street, toting the flat, square cardboard box like a pimple-faced delivery boy.

It's 9:30. The pizza box lays open, engulfing the barbie doll-sized sink, with one cold and lonely pepperoni-dotted slice stuck in a corner, facing the wrong way.

Mom and Lila sigh heavily, almost at the same time, then laugh as they subconsciously touch each others' arms.

"Will you come back and see me soon?" Mom says.

"Of COURSE I will, Louise!"

Mom gives her her pretty mom-smile, her head tilted to the side, her eyes absorbing every detail. She's like a photographer, or a documentarian. She's making another memory.

I wonder how long the memory will live.