So I’m sitting watching Cadillac Records with Leslie and my mom calls. I’ve also just painted my fingernails purple. I had to file them down because I scratched my face like a baby, and they’re still wet. I’m holding the phone precariously to my ear.
I answer cheerfully, as I always do and tell her what I’m doing, and she says, this’ll be quick. Of course it will because I just told you I’m watching a movie and poisoning myself inhaling paint fumes (which isn’t as bad as people say). She asks “do you know what I was doing 23 years ago today? Getting high.”
I thought, that’s funny, I just got high too. Then she asked what she was doing 23 years ago tomorrow- not getting high. I was thinking, where’s my pot? “And,” she continued, “and it was all because of my baby.” That baby would be me and that’s not a kid’s responsibility. I told her well, congratulations.
In addition to being drunks, my mother also likey-ed the cocaine. I guess it was called crack if that’s still the same as freebasing, but since we were in a different tax bracket and she actually bought powder and cooked it up herself, I guess we’re safe on the freebasing. She worked for Amtrak and ran the line from Chicago to NY to LA and San Francisco. They partied on those trains like it was actually 1999, so she got all the best drugs (and records) from all over the country.
I remember walking into the kitchen one day and it’s covered in all kinds of bowls, butane, what looked like metal medical supplies and shit I’d never seen in the fucking kitchen before. Besides the fact my mom was the worst cook ever and when trying to make me biscuits invented “breakfast cookies”, so much seeming activity in the kitchen surprised me. I asked what all this stuff was and she said, “Something I don’t ever want you to do”. Well, that was clear I knew she smoked pot, but I assumed everyone smoked pot. She smoked pot with her dad, so why would I think it’s strange. And she drank, but everybody drank. I didn’t see anything wrong with the way we lived. . I didn’t really understand about the drugs until she went into rehab.
23 years ago today I suppose. I do remember it was the end of school. The sixth grade. It had been a tough year for everybody and I was one worn out 12 year old. My mother had abandoned me in France. I don’t mean she left me to fend for myself in the French/ Swiss Alps, but she didn’t send me any letters or call. No one in my family did. It was so bad they called my house so I could talk to someone and no one was home. I wrote every day at first, then every other day, and then I just stopped. Later she told me, all fucked up, that she’d sent me a huge care package with all of the newspapers of the important events I’d missed in the mountains. Like, the Bears winning the Super Bowl and Challenger blowing up. She also sent some Championship t-shirts and hats, she said.
Then, my Granny had died. She’d been sick while I was gone and my Granddad says that she waited for me to get home safely before she died. I wasn’t home two weeks. I was on some Brownie trip that day. It was Presidents Day. Michelle had on too much of her mom’s perfume. (I don’t know the name of it, but whenever I get a sniff of it in my nose I think of this time and want to throw up.) Granddad had dropped me off for it before he headed to the hospital because my mom was M.I.A, California run. I’d barely seen her since I got home. I was staying upstairs with my other Grandma, Granny’s daughter, and my Aunt Donna. Uncle Sidney was around but he was so strung out and evil I didn’t miss him. And Uncle Torry was sitting around smoking cigarettes and looking maudlin as usual. Aunt Donna was also on a tear and Grandma was waist deep in Crown Royal and black assed days.
From February through June it was just Granddad and me. He was about 76 then and still took me everywhere I needed to go. I got cookbooks to learn how to take care of us. Even though everybody was around, except of course for my mom, nobody was really there.
In March I got my period and didn’t have anyone to go through the talk with me or go get me pads or rejoice in my becoming a woman. So I scavenged through my mom’s stuff and found this long pad that needed a belt and stuffed it in my panties. Luckily that first one was only a little spotting and only lasted a day.
At school it was tough too. I was awkward and too smart and my boobs were getting gigantic. I was also becoming chubbier because I was trying to feed my grandpa and myself and didn’t know what I was doing. And my Grandma was dead and no one would talk to me about it. I was pulling stuff out of the pantry that had been in there for years. I made egg foo young and we ate a lot of Vienna sausages. I was also nervous about boys and had a crush on Chris Fryison who was also chubby but had a great smile and made me laugh and bought me Chinese jacks in the 3rd grade. But since I was getting busty, the 8th grade boys started paying attention to me. I was still an early hip hop tomboy wearing bandana’s around my knees, plastic bangles that later had to be cut off, one earring like Janet Jackson and tons of neon pink and green. I had no female adult supervision so I looked a mess. And I had a curl.
One day in June, after my mother had been gone for weeks we were in the bathroom together in my Grandpa’s house. I was sitting on the toilet and she was in the mirror behind the sink. We were facing each other. I remember that part, but then I don’t remember the part of the mythology where I say “Mommy, what’s wrong with you?” I’m afraid that sounds a little too naïve for a girl who’d just told her uncle that he wasn’t coming in her house to look in the safe. My Uncle Sidney was a junkie and a thief and had Drunk Eric from down the street with him. He’s already broken into the safe and stole all the silver dollars and coins Granddad and I had been collecting my whole life. I stood myself in the doorway and told him he was coming in over my dead body and to get the fuck off of my front porch. Which is, ironically, the same thing I said to all the ladies who started bringing my Granddad cakes after Gram died.)
But that’s the story she likes to tell because it makes me her conscience. She needs me to be her mirror, but I can’t anymore because it’s too heavy. I can’t be the perfect reflection of her good intentions.
We got off the phone quickly. I hung up and harrumphed. Leslie looked in my direction and I picked up my pipe. Bouncy was screeching in the background and I just looked at him and took a hit. He asked what? And I answered, “nothin’, bullshit.”
That Beyonce sho cain’t sing.