Monday, September 13, 2004

Where's Norman Rockwell when you need him?

1:00 pm, Monday, September 6. My phone rings.

"This is Steve."

"Steven." My father says, gravely.

When dad uses the name "Steven," he's either pissed at me, or someone died.

Did mom die? Is she dead?

"Dad? What is it," I say.

"Your mother's back in the hospital. She had an....incident last night."

"Oh, no."

"She was drinking all night at Pins n' Needles."

Charming establishment, by the way. Singular ambience. Twenty-five-cent drafts just taste a little sweeter with that bowling alley smell mixed in.

"She's off the wagon ALREADY?"

"Yes, Steve. Evidently, she left there around closing time, and someone found her in the morning, about 100 yards from her house."


"Neighbor's front lawn."


"Guy got up and saw her, and called 911, and they took her to the hospital."

"So are you there now, at the hospital?"

"Yeah, just got here. I only heard about a half hour ago."


"Yeah. Your mother doesn't carry identification, so they had no idea who she was. Luckily Dr. Patel was on duty and he recognized her."

"So how is she? Did she wake up?"

"She's very, very bad, Steve. Her blood alcohol level was over .20 when they brought her in."


"And that's after being passed out for a few hours. Dr. Patel says one more like that and she won't wake up again."

"So she did wake up?"

"Yeah, she's still kind of out of it, but she's awake. You should come see her."

It should be easy to explain to your coworkers that you are leaving the office to see a sick parent: "Sorry guys, gotta go see my dad. He fell off his tractor and broke his collarbone." Or, "Mom's diverticulitis is acting up again. See you in the morning." But in my case, I have to be careful.

The truth, the WHOLE truth, wouldn't sound good: "Well, mom pretty much wants to die, and what with the high cost of embalming, she figured she'd defray her posthumous expenses by pickling her internal organs with Southern Comfort before she croaks. But sometimes she gets a little overzealous and wakes up in a puddle of her own puke."

I tell a few people where I am off to. "Mom's got cirrhosis very bad," I say. Yeah, it's true. But that's not why she's at the hospital, so I guess I am lying. Not that it's anyone's business anyway.

2:30. I am standing next to mom's bed. Her eyelids are half-open, and her skin has again turned to a sickly yellow. There is an IV in the back of her hand. Monitors beep and flash red numbers behind her bed.

"You look like you could use a drink," I say.

"Make itta double," she slurrs.

"Mom, what are you trying to do here, huh? I thought you were on the wagon!"

"Fuck th'wagon," she says drowsily. She blinks a few times and her eyes open wider.

"Mom, if we're gonna get you a liver we have to-"

"They're not gonna give me a liver," she says, fully awake now. "You think they're gonna give a liver to an old drunk like me? Fergeddit! They don't give a shit about me! They're gonna let me die!"

"But mom, if you stay sober...."

"AAAAAAAHHHH," she says, waving her had at me and averting her eyes. "Steve, your mother is gonna die."

"Mom, you don't know that!"

"Yes I do," she says. "And I'll be damned if I'm gonna stop having fun."

"Yeah mom. Passing out and wetting your pants sounds like a real party."

"I didn't wet my pants."

"And that catheter going up your front porch? Just like a ride on Space Mountain, right?"

"I'm leaving here today. I'm not staying anymore. No more doctors, no more medicine, NOTHING. I'm DONE," she says. "What the hell is the point? Stop drinking, so I can stay sick for another 4 or 5 months before I go? Forget about it."

"WE are the point, mom. Greg and Chris and me, and dad. And Jenny, and everyone else who gives a crap about you. You wanna have fun? Spend time with the family. Make it count!"

"You don't care about me ONE bit. All this time none of ya bothered to spend any time with yer mother. Now I'm sick and you're all around."

"Yeah, we obviously have ulterior motives. We're all fighting over who gets your refrigerator magnets in the will."

"Don't be a fucking smart ass," she snaps.

"You know what, mom? You've got a lot of nerve. After walking the hell out on us, now YOU'RE pissed that WE didn't come looking for you? YOU'RE the parent. YOU'RE the one who's supposed to find US, not the other way around."

"Just watch your smart little mouth," she growls, her lips pulled so far back that her gums are exposed. "You're such a goddamn know-it-all. You didn't get that from me, that's for sure."

"Yeah, that's true mom, 'cause you don't know shit!" I'm starting to raise my voice.

"Yeah, I don't know shit. It's all your mother's fault. Blame your mother for everything. I musta done something right! The three of ya's have good jobs, nice cars, everything. So I guess I'm not as bad as you say."

"Yeah, you did something right. You left."

"FINE, Steve, FINE!!!" She yells. "I'm the biggest loser in the world! So don't whine and bitch and piss and moan at me about not coming back! If you're better off without me, then what the FUCK are you doing here?"

"Good question, mom." I grab my keys.

"You're an ungrateful little motherfucker, you know that? You never appreciate anything. You never once said thank you for anything. It's all about you, Steve! ALLL about you! Your big job and all your fucking money, and you don't give a shit about anything."

"I learn from my mother, I guess!" I sneer.

"Get outta here!" she yells.


"GET THE HELL OUT!" She shrieks.

Another heartwarming family memory. Gotta remember this one for the Thanksgiving dinner table.