Behind Every Crazy Woman, There’s an Even More Batshit Mother
My mom was always more of a friend than an authority figure. But not like a laid-back friend who comes over to watch Homeland—more like an annoying friend who comes over with two dudes you don’t know and starts doing body shots off your sleeping roommate at 3 A.M. on a Wednesday.
Everyone’s mom is fucking crazy to some degree, and my mom is no different. Except that she’s completely different because she is infinitely crazier than your mom. She is a product of Ashland, Oregon, in the 1960s, a reaction to a generation of Betty Homemakers and Goody Two-Shoes, and a man-eater with a serious penchant for partying. In her youth, my mom looked like a real-life Barbie. She has blond hair, one green eye and one blue eye, and tits that I inherited only after surgery. Though she always emphasized brains over beauty—by talking shit about any woman who didn’t make her own money and own at least one copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull—my mom’s identity was heavily wrapped up in her physical appearance, and attention from the opposite sex was a prize I could never compete with. After dissecting her psychologically over the years, I feel I understand why she never stayed in one place for more than a year, why she’s been married to every name in Paul Simon’s song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” and why after a summer at sleepaway camp, she sat my sister and me down to tell us we needed to go live with our father because she didn’t “know how to be a mom anymore.” (All of this was a step up from her mom, a lady who allowed my sister and me to sleep in cribs when we visited up until age nine.)
At times she felt like my child, especially when she would remind me that in another lifetime, I was the parent and she was the daughter. But mostly she felt like an older sister I was always trying to keep up with.
And according to everyone around me, I had it great! My mom was the “fun mom.” She was the woman who had her nipple pierced in front of my eighth-grade boyfriend. The woman who one time disclosed to a table full of dinner guests that I had recently taken a Bic razor and accidentally given my pussy a mohawk. And the woman who, when I was fifteen, told me I needed to get a fake ID if I wanted to keep hanging out with her.
* * *
“It’s just the way it is. You have one week to figure it out before your spring break,” Mom threatened through the phone. At this point, I was living with my dad in Arizona, but every March I went out to visit my mom in San Diego for a week of mother/daughter debauchery.
“I’m serious, Jen. I had like three IDs when I was your age. Maybe four.”
“You were dating a drug dealer! I live in Scottsdale.” I tried to contain my barking so as not to let my father hear our discussion.
“Just figure it out. Okay?” I heard the click of her thirty-pound cell phone hanging up.
There was no way I was going to figure it out. I was a sophomore in high school in one of the most conservative states in the country. I was a prep who wore business suits to school and carried a briefcase. I took myself incredibly serious and always threw big words around to let my peers know I was destined for a better life than them. The downside of elitism in high school is not having access to any illegal shit. I was on student government and the president of FACS (Fine Arts Community Service, a fake club I made up strictly for college applications). I had a gay boyfriend who claimed to be straight but was still on the tumbling team, and the two of us spent our wildest nights dancing around my bedroom acting out the Aladdin soundtrack. I would never even have seen marijuana if it weren’t for my mom having gotten me stoned the summer before eighth grade because she felt it might prevent me from smoking cigarettes.
I decided the easiest route would be to look for an older person I resembled, then ask them if they had a spare credit card, license, or gym membership with their birthday on it that I could possibly borrow. Unfortunately, everyone I approached seemed uneager to help.
So I arrived in San Diego the following week empty-handed.
“Unbelievable,” my mom moaned as she handed me her coffee mug filled with Coors Light and flipped a U-turn out of the airport.
For the first two days, we lay low. We saw a few movies, tried to talk about periods, and even played a couple rounds of “Which of your husbands had the most money?” But by the end of the week, my mom was restless and in need of a bronski. She decided our only option was to cross the border into Mexico.
“Nobody cards in Mexico!” she said, slipping into a bikini.
“I still think you have to be eighteen.”
“You’re basically eighteen. Want a thong or a full bottom?” she asked, holding up two equally slutty bikinis, the kind I imagine she got for free with her last six-pack of beer.
Within the hour, we were headed south. We stopped to pick up Mandy, my mom’s manicurist, and Mandy’s cokehead sister, Cody. Mandy was petite, redheaded, and surprisingly not Asian. She met my mom at a Shirley MacLaine “past lives” seminar in La Jolla several years prior and had been doing her acrylic French manicures ever since. She had a boyfriend I still don’t believe existed and a secret tattoo of flames just above her vagina, which she constantly flashed to strangers as if it were the most hilarious thing ever. Mandy was one of those seemingly innocent, shy girls from a wealthy family who mysteriously ends up stripping in college and having eight abortions and an annulled marriage to a guy named Feather.
Her little sister was a different story. Cody looked like she’d been hanging on to the back of a motorcycle since the late ’80s. She was at least six feet tall with teal hair and a bald spot near her bangs, which she used to pick and eat. She was thirty, which to me at fifteen meant her life was pretty much over. Cody was a bad drunk before she started drinking. She was brash and sloppy and always had one nipple peeking out of her lace halter top. It was hard to believe she and Mandy knew each other, let alone shared the same parents. My mom, Mandy, and Cody all had college degrees, financial stability, and the right to vote. But looking around the car, it was obvious that, even without a license, I’d be the driver getting us home.
* * *
After a thirty-five-minute ride past the border, we were in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. Rosarito is a coastal town on the Baja Peninsula notorious for fun, sun, and underage drinking. Tourism dominated the Anglo-friendly economy. You couldn’t walk ten feet without accidentally getting your hair braided or having someone write your name on a grain of rice. The lobster tacos and ocean views were without comparison, but the real reason everyone congregated there was to drink their body weight in cervezas.
The girls and I pulled into Papas and Beer around twelve noon. By twelve fifteen, I was being turned away for being underage.
“But she forgot her ID in the car,” my mom insisted to the bouncer.
“Then go back to your car. Isn’t that it right there?” He pointed to the convertible we’d just hopped out of, no more than twenty feet from where we were currently standing.
Busted. She took a different approach.
“Fine, we’ll go in. Jen, wait in the car.” When the bouncer wasn’t looking, she whispered in my ear for me to meet her behind the club. “I guess she’s just gonna wait in the car,” Mom announced, as if the thought of me not having fun was somehow going to guilt the bouncer into breaking the law.
I wandered around back and saw a large fence covered in black tarp separating the club from the rest of the beach. I tried to look in but saw nothing. Exhausted, I bought a mango on a stick, sat down by the fence, and considered getting a caricature of my head riding a whale while I waited for my mom’s plan B to go into effect. I fantasized about ditching my mom and her posse and disappearing into the streets of Rosarito. Maybe my mom would think I’d been kidnapped and frantically search for me. Maybe I’d meet a new Mexican mom who made tortillas from scratch and loved doing my laundry.
This obviously wasn’t the first time I’d gotten wrapped up in one of her harebrained schemes. As children, my sister and I watched her almost get arrested in the middle of the night for public nudity after the three of us were caught doing something she fondly referred to as “butt waving” on Coronado Beach. Butt waving is where you go to the beach late at night, strip off your clothes, and basically moon the waves. The result feels like a cross between a bidet and a freezing cold colonic, but as a kid, or a heavily intoxicated parent, it was thrilling. Then there was the time she broke her leg, drunkenly trying to climb the cupboards in our kitchen. She claimed she was fine, sober, and totally didn’t need a doctor, suggesting instead that we pour dish soap and water all over the linoleum floor and turn the room into an indoor bubble lake. After seven minutes, she was in so much pain that my sister and I had to raft into the living room and call an ambulance. I was used to my mom being nuts, but like all kids, my willing suspension of disbelief made every time feel like the first. (Except when she misjudged and waxed off my right eyebrow before my freshman formal; that time it felt like she needed to die.)
Fishing mango hairs out of my teeth, I heard struggling on the other side of the fence, then vague whispers, followed by my mom’s hands popping out and pinching my ass.
“Mom? What are you doing?” I asked her hands.
I could hear Cody’s voice in reply. “We are digging you in!” she said, overly excited, confirming my suspicions that she was a total coke whore.
“Jesus!” I whispered through the fence. “You guys are a disaster. Please, just leave me out here. I’ll meet up with you later.”
These three weren’t exactly the Viet Cong when it came to digging tunnels, but they seemed determined to make their plan work. I stood up with my back to the fence, looking around once more for my future Mexican mother, when two sets of hands gripped onto my ankles and pulled my legs out from under me. Once I was on my stomach, it was too late to fight it. Half my body was inside the club.
“Okay, Jen! Now push the rest through!” coached my mom, a regular Bela fucking Karolyi. I couldn’t push. I was buried in sand, and there was nothing to grip on to. I tried to rock back and forth, but it was useless.
“I’m stuck!” I shouted loud enough that the guy selling mangos came rushing over to see if I was okay.
“¿Está todo bien?”
I looked at him hard, sending the universal look that translates to “my mom is unstable,” and reached up to him for help. While at the same time, my mom and her weird friends started tugging on me from the other side.
“You guys, let go! I’m not coming in!” I shouted through the fence. My legs kicked and squirmed until they had at last emerged and rejoined the rest of my body on the beach.
About half an hour later, my mom and her posse came out to meet me.
“We were gonna leave immediately, but they wouldn’t let us take our drinks,” explained Mandy.
“Should we try a different bar?” my mom suggested.
“No! I’m done! This is stupid!” I said. I began walking away.
“Just remember, you chose me, Jen! You could have just as easily reincarnated yourself into a family with a normal mom, but how boring would that be?” she rationalized in true narcissistic form.
Before I could gain any real distance, an American couple stopped me.
“Excuse us, do you guys know where Papas and Beer is?” asked the man.
“It’s—,” I started, before my mom cut me off.
“You wouldn’t by chance have an ID we could buy off you for my daughter, would you?” I took a second look at the woman and realized she did kind of resemble me.
Karen Bryce Masters was five feet six inches and 120 pounds, with sandy blond hair and green eyes. Everything about her matched me more or less perfectly, aside from the fact that she was fifteen years my senior. I don’t remember much more about her except that she was a Leo, lived at 2454 Mango Way, Del Mar, California, 92014, and didn’t plan on donating her organs.
“Umm. Well, I don’t need your money, but I did just get a new license and I still have my old, almost-expired one if you want it.”
“We totally aren’t weirdos,” Cody inserted in a creepy weirdo voice. She was dripping in post-coke-binge sweat and, after only an hour in the heat, starting to look like the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock.
“I just want my daughter to be able to hang with us, you know?” said my mom, flashing her perfect, capped-tooth smile.
Karen and her boyfriend lightened up once they realized my mom was, in fact, my mom.
“Wow, you are so cool! My parents would never take me out to bars,” said Karen, handing me the ID and shooting me a look that implied she too hated her mother, but for the opposite reasons.
“Kinda the coolest.” My mom smirked. I could see her landing a perfect backflip in her mind.
“Thank you so much,” Cody added. “We promise she won’t get caught with it, or get you in any kind of trouble, or say that we ever met, or that her mom offered you money, or that you were kind of totally fine with a kid having it, knowing she was underage and probably using it to—,” she nervously babbled before Karen’s boyfriend mercifully cut her off.
* * *
That day we went everywhere. And after several hours of sun and margaritas, I probably did look twenty-seven. Granted, most of the time it was hard to see my face because some guy with a whistle had me bent over a barstool, funneling tequila down my throat. Before I had Karen, I was more or less apathetic about going to bars. Growing up with alcohol being not only suggested but encouraged, I never had a deep desire for it. My only real objective was to appease my mom. But once Karen was secured under the plastic window in my wallet, she felt kind of empowering. She allowed me to sort of step away from myself. When I walked into a room as Karen, the weight of being my mother’s keeper was lifted. I could detach and almost have a modicum of fun. It wasn’t my problem if my mom and Cody were on top of the bar, swinging their bras around like lassos. Karen knew those strange women only peripherally, and she was far too mature to judge others.
I went home to Arizona the following week like a conquering hero. Whispers of Karen were all over school, and before lunch, I’d earned the approval of five different cliques, who all asked if I’d buy them beer. I was too scared to actually use Karen on American soil, but I did practice signing her signature at least ten times a day, just in case. The truth of the matter was that I had no real need for her. My gay boyfriend didn’t want the carbs, and all my other friends were prudes. Eventually, I passed Karen off to my friend Sky, who just transferred to another school and needed an ID to hang out with her Mexican drug lord boyfriend. Even after Karen expired, Sky claimed to have used her successfully all through college.
I’m thirty-three now, and I can calmly walk into a bar through the front door. Though I have been known to tunnel out on occasion. Especially when my mom’s bra is in sight.
Copyright © 2014 by Jenny Mollen