Read an Excerpt
From Why Moms Are Weird
To Whom It May Concern . . .
I thought I should write this just in case I ever accidentally kill my mother on purpose.
Charles Whitman did this, before he climbed the tower at the University of Texas in Austin and shot all of those people. He wrote a letter, to whoever found it after his death, because he had a feeling he was about to kill his mother and then a whole bunch of other people for good measure.
I'm not as positive as Whitman was. In fact, I think he ended his letter with "P.S.: By the way, I'm pretty sure there's a gigantic tumor pressing against my brain." (Which there was.)
I wanted to write all of this down just in case somehow something horrible happens to my mother. This is for if the coroner says, "It looks like she fell down the stairs. Three times." If the cops all look at each other with stern concern because they know this was a case of accidental matricide (a second- or third-degree offense, I'm sure), this will be something tangible in my defense.
And no, this isn't a confirmation of premeditation. This is anti-premeditation. A preretraction. A remnant from before I went crazy, before I do all of the things the little voice in my head tells me to do. I don't mean "little voice" like Whitman's tumor voice, either. This is the little voice that says, "This isn't how your life is supposed to be! Now go shake your mother!"
Just in case. You understand.
Your honor. Kind jury. Dear reader. Whoever it is holding this book, wondering what the hell happened to that nice girl Belinda Bernstein. The one with the pretty brown hair and the big, blue eyes. Just in case I have to run away to Mexico after accidentally feeding my mother rat poison.
I'm not going to do it. I'm totally not going to do it.
I'm writing this all down, though.
Just. In. Case.
"Hi, honey, it's just your mom."
This is how my mother starts all of our phone conversations. Actually, I knew it was her long before I said hello. I can tell by the ring. It has a certain need to it.
"You sound busy."
She always says this no matter how I sound. It's so I can say, "No, I'm not busy."
I hear her suck on her front teeth. "I never know what time it is over there."
"I'm three hours back." I once made the mistake of joking that Los Angeles was "in the past" compared to Virginia, and Mom's understanding of time shattered forever. "What's up?"
"Are you sure you've got time?" she asks.
"You're not busy?"
I was microwaving a bag of popcorn, ready to watch the entire fourth season of Mr. Show on DVD yet again. I was busy according to my own terms, but maybe not by anyone else's.
"What's going on?"
"I think I have chlamydia."
That can't have been what she said. I must have misheard. Bad connection. Terrible reception. Ear infection. Temporary mental retardation. Any and all other explanations are preferable to the possibility that my mother has just told me she has contracted a sexually transmitted disease.
"What? Ma, what?" I'm yelling like I'm actually in the past now, holding a giant horn to my ear while screaming into the machine hardwired to the wall. Operator! Give me Poughkeepsie 5-472!
"Boobs? Are you alone?"
That's my nickname. It's short for "Benny Boobenstein," which is what she started calling me when my chest arrived at thirteen. I know; it's fucking hilarious.
And the answer to her question is, of course, "Yes." This is Mom fishing for info on my personal life without coming right out and asking, "Are you dating someone yet?" I swear, sometimes she calls the house and holds the receiver up to a ticking clock. I cannot seem to get through to my mother that I have no desire to get married anytime soon.
I know you're thinking, "She just asked three words. 'Are you alone?' It's a simple question, Benny. I might ask you that myself if I called to discuss chlamydia." But you're new, and you don't know my mother never says three words without five different intentions behind them. You'll see.
Now Mom's saying, "I have this thmurmur?"
She mumbles. She does this a lot. It also often sounds like she's falling, or putting the phone down midsentence. It's as if she gives up, right in the middle of the conversation, the phone too heavy to continue. Or maybe she gets bored with me.
Actually, I think Mom gets distracted. She's probably still talking, but she's remembered she needs to take some clothes out of the dryer. So she's still talking to me, but from down the hall. She hates that I won't let her put me on the speakerphone.
"Chlamydia? Isn't that how you say it?" She sounds it out, like English is a second language. "Chlam . . . clam . . . clammid?"
"Hold on, Ma." I put the phone between my knees and glance at the smirking faces from the DVD on my coffee table. Bob and David seem to be taking great joy in my suffering. I take a breath and put the phone back to my ear.
"Boobs?" she says. I wonder how many times she said that while I put her on hold. I clearly indicated I was going to put the phone down. Why does that not mean anything to her? Why does she have to call out my name like I've abandoned her?
"Ma. I need you to repeat what you just said you had."
"Now I need you to never say that again." With the heel of my free hand I rub my eyes, one after another. I have to figure this out. There's an explanation for all of this. Perhaps she's finally entered dementia. Is that how you say it? Do you "enter" dementia, or do you "come down" with dementia, or is it more of a "hit with" kind of thing?
Mom's succumbed to dementia.
"I hate bothering you, honey," she says. She goes into the martyr thing pretty easily. "I know you're busy. I'm sorry."
"You're not bothering me, Ma." Not if my mother's vagina is in peril. Holy fucking shit, I have to think about my mother's vagina. There aren't enough curse words to handle this current situation.
I haven't had to think about this place since I left it, since that eviction notice was tacked to the inside of the womb and the tongs pulled me out of there. Mom said I was stubborn -- not only was I a week late, she was in labor for thirty-six hours. So long, in fact, that Dad had gone to work. Even my grandparents missed showtime, assuming if I had taken a day and a half, a few hours more weren't going to make a difference. They were at a Denny's, eating breakfast. Gramma wanted to name me after her eggs Benedict, even after she found out I was a girl. Mom had the good sense to name me Belinda. Gramma was stubborn, though, and called me Benny. It stuck. A girl named Benny. Crazy families sure know how to jack up a girl's name, don't they?
I'm Belinda "Benny" Boobenstein Bernstein. Sometimes I'm simply known as "Boobs." Clearly I'm going to kill someone someday. It's just a matter of time before I snap, and everyone will understand.
"I didn't know what else to do," Mom says, referring, I suppose, to her calling me for medical advice.
"Did you ask Jami?" That's my younger sister, who currently lives with my mother in a Grey Gardens way. Neither of them has ever seen the documentary, and I hope, for their sake, it stays that way. I don't want them picking up any tips on how to let a hundred cats live in their home.
If my mother mumbles, Jami shouts. She's the opposite of me in many ways. Jami's favorite things include tattoos, cigarettes, and boys who have stood in front of courtrooms pleading "Guilty."
"It doesn't itch," Mom says.
"What doesn't?" I ask, already dreading the answer.
"The bumps. On my legs."
"And the bumps are from that thing you said you had?"
"I don't know. Didn't you say you had it, too?"
"No!" I don't care that I sound insulted at having something in common with my mother. This isn't something I'd like to bond over, and I can't believe she thinks I'm the one to call when bumps appear. "When did I say that? No!"
"From your . . . last . . . boyfriend."
Okay, here's where it'd be so easy to say to Mom that there is no way she has chlamydia, because I'm pretty sure you can't get it without having sex with someone who has chlamydia. I'd like it to be easy as pie to say, "Ma, you can't have it." But the truth is I can't say that, and it's the fact that I can't say it that I hate more than anything on earth.
My father died three years ago. This means my mom is now "entertaining gentlemen." This is how she puts it. It sounds like she's dancing in front of a row of horny men, pulling her clothes off to the sound of a three-piece jazz band.
My mom? Oh, she's a "Gentlemen Entertainer." Yes, it's a real job. She makes her own hours.
She is entertaining gentlemen because legally, morally, and spiritually she's supposed to be "out there" searching for other men who could make her happy. I can't stop using quotation marks when I talk about it because I'd like to keep as much distance as possible from my mother's love life. Unfortunately, my mom doesn't have the same desire. She'd rather have me create her a MySpace page, and then help define the parameters of her sexual interests. I say this only because last year that's exactly what happened. And that's the first time I ever hung up the phone in the middle of a conversation with my mother. And no, I still don't feel guilty about it.
My father died of cancer. There's a long story I don't have to tell, because you get this one word, cancer, and everybody can picture it -- the hospital visits, the chemo, the sound of machines counting down the moments you have left with the person who brought you into this world (even if he was behind a desk at a mortgage company at the time of my arrival). He died of cancer, and he died rather quickly. They had airplane tickets to see Paris for the first time. It was going to be their thirtieth anniversary present to each other. You know how people say, "We'll always have Paris"? Well, my parents won't. As far as I'm concerned, I won't either. Paris is every missed dream, every broken promise. You only have Paris when you didn't get what you actually wanted. That's when people say, "We'll always have Paris." When it's over. When everything is ruined.
Copyright © 2006 by Pamela Ribon