The Lady in White Gloves
This prim lady dabs an imaginary crumb from her mouth, speaks in subdued tones about music (and, of course, God), and just may have had you through some sort of virgin birth.
The spotless gloves she wears to church are never quite taken off. They stay buttoned on as ghostly afterimages, keeping her at one remove from any reality grimier than the one she reads about in her inspirational books by Joel Osteen.
For your mother, it is always Sunday morning at the Crystal Cathedral. She tried to instill these values in you. How she beamed when you decided to study for the ministry (“The Lord’s gift to a mother!”) But oh the reproachful looks when you became an evolutionary biologist instead.
That you are still unmarried at 37 draws no puzzled looks from her. As long as your personal life is never mentioned, polite coexistence can go on.
And you do more than coexist.
You visit her every Sunday after church. Entering your mother’s house is like stepping into a picture in a lady’s magazine. Everything is perfect, airless, antiseptic. A vase of fresh mums stands under two symmetric frames. One is a photo portrait of you and the other is of your mother. They were taken around the time of your high-school graduation, enlarged black and whites colorized by the photographer in faint, painted on oils, each with a somewhat jarring dab of blush at the cheek. There you face each other forever, looking off into the middle distance, with the same sort of banged hair that resembles hardened plaster. Like her — and you are very like her — you chose to pose for the photo with your glasses on.
Mother brought you up to do everything as she did, the right way — that is, to do everything for appearance’s sake. And it is for appearances now that you bring female dates to faculty parties and feign fiancées who never quite materialize.
Close friends worry about your actual private life. You seem to fancy none of the soft-spoken gentlemen they press on you. It seems you can only have sex in the gutter, with the lowest possible trash.
Trash, after all, is meant to be discarded, while a serious boyfriend — how would you ever explain that to Mother!
The Great Actress
Your mother can never simply come into a room; she makes an entrance worthy of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Scenes have gone down in her kitchen that only a shameless run for the Oscar could explain.
She is a master of the piercing stare, the spine-tingling rejoinder, the silvery laugh. She has perfect the catch in the voice, and, ah yes, the brave eyes shimmering with tears that go unshed — a whole repertory of fire and ice stage effects that turns the most ordinary conversation into something out of Edward Albee.
The cameras are always filming when Mother’s around, and you, like everyone else in the world, are one of her many supporting players. She brooks no costars.
In the role of The Son, you are cast always as comic relief or as a doted-upon prop in a scene meant to show off her warm womanly glow.
One day you decide to tell her your secret. After all, you too are a budding tragedian with a red-velvet curtain of your own to ring up. But just as you begin your confession, you are bumped to the sidelines as Mother takes the spotlight to give her greatest performance of all: the dying swan pierced by the arrow of a heartless son turned gay.
Silly extra, you made the mistake of bringing her only your soul on a platter. Now you see, as she ends her elegy to pained love, that what you should have brought was a dozen red roses to fling at her feet.