Uh-oh, here she comes:. “You’re just like your father!”
That was a witch’s curse when it flew spinning from your mother’s lips. Your father (a.k.a. “that bastard”) had run off when you were a kid, and your mother used you afterward like a voodoo doll to jab out her hate against men ( a.k.a “those selfish pigs”).
Her sharpest weapon was her tongue. If you got an A on a test, she was appalled by the sloppy penmanship. If you bought her a gift she had admired, it was really the one in green she had wanted. When you laughed on the phone with your friends, you were “giggling like a girl.” But when you ripped a tendon during volleyball practice and were laid up in your room for a week, then you were a “typical man” who expected to be waited on hand and foot.
There was no pleasing your mother.
Eventually you stopped trying. This was your rebel phase. You got a startling haircut only another teenage boy could love, dealt serious drugs from your bedroom and roared down mountain roads at neck-breaking speeds.
One day during a yelling match, you shook you mother by the shoulders and blurted that you hated her so much, you had turned gay.
You knew hate had nothing to do with it but the poison dart hit its mark. For the first time you saw the Nightmare on Elm Street shrink down to the size of a harmless old woman.
Soon after, you left the house forever. You never visit now, or even call. Oddly, though, you tend to look for your mother in the men you meet, preferring those who are masters of verbal abuse and dungeon torture. Then you ditch them.
Just like your father.
The Smother Mother
Ten you were and she still brushed your hair, tied your shoes, bundled you up like an Eskimo. In your lunch box, she crammed multiple-choice sandwiches, a festival of cupcakes, and an extra thermos of hot cocoa to drink on the bus. (Your lifelong battle with the scale dates from these days.)
She forbade you to play rough, and if you so much as scraped your knee (because you were skipping rope in secret with some screamy girls down the street), your mother would band-aid and iodine and Mercurochrome the cut as if she were going out of her mind.
Trouble rocked your high school years. Mom never liked any of the chatty girls you scared up for school dances and for weeks she moped about the house, wondering aloud if they were really interested in you or your second-hand Volks, that priceless junkheap.
Possessiveness made her snoop about your room, reading harmless letters you had left out. This reassured her…for a time, but stealth reconnaissance through the minefield of a teenage boy’s bedroom can never end well. One never-to-be-forgotten day, she tripped over a shoebox at the bottom of your closet and out spilled a slew of magazines, jam-packed with beefy men in a variety of unhygienic positions.
Oh, the wailing and breast-beating that day. Shocked, stunned, betrayed — you mother ran through her entire catalog of soap opera words. Coolly, you pointed out that it was your privacy, actually, that had been violated. She was too worked up to hear and took to her bed for the remainder of the night, wan and with labored breath. The cruelest cut of all: you had to microwave your own dinner.
The carrying on (and microwaving) lasted a month. You tried to calm her by dating some girls, but this had just the opposite effect.
“You were such a beautiful baby,” she bawled. “What happened to that … little boy?” Days of Our Lives, you wondered, or All My Children. (You are one cool customer, thanks to all that cooing and oohing over you in the cradle.)
Today, you live not far from her. Mom thinks nothing of turning her very own key in your very own door without calling first — though, more than once she made you drain a ghastly white as you scrambled to put away certain toys. She has endured all your lovers with a bright, pasted-on smile, but in private tells you exactly what’s wrong with them.
Even now, though you are a grown man, she takes over your kitchen once a week with a flotilla of her own pots and prepared side dishes, shooing your boyfriend aside. With steam rising everywhere, she cooks up a devilishly complicated meal, looking wistfully into the sauce as she stirs.
“This,” she says with a long, ragged sigh, “was always your favorite dish … at home.”