The Art of Conversation
Today would be special. It was Mother’s Day.
I thought by taking her to her favorite restaurant, it would ease whatever rage, or self pity that was currently festering in her mind, if only for an hour or two.
Driving in her silence for the 20 minutes it took to get to the restaurant, I was constantly trying to engage her in some inane conversation about anything. Anything, just to make her talk to me. You think I might have learned about 30 some odd years that this was an exercise in futility. But no, I kept on yakking like Pinky Lee, trying to entertain and inquire about her life. Any semblance of normality would have sufficed. “Happy Mother’s Day mom.” “How did you sleep last night?” “That’s a nice dress, mom”. “How is Mrs. Dolan your neighbor”? On and on until I couldn’t stand hearing myself anymore. Her response was nothing. It was like having a deaf mute for a mother. She had mastered the “silent treatment’ as she called it, and was proud of it. Being with her was an exercise in delivering a monologue. No dialogue existed.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the mall, she exited the car exactly as she entered it, slamming the door.
We walked into the restaurant, with my mother well ahead of me by 10 steps, as a teenager would do at a mall, not wanting to be identified with their parents.
How ironic that her favorite restaurant was “Friendly’s.” She stormed over to a booth and sat down. I followed.
Her first words to me were, “I’m not even hungry and I don’t know why we even came here,” she said staring off into the distance as if she were talking to herself.
I told her that it was Mother’s Day and I wanted to take her out to dinner at a place she liked. I reminded her that she agreed to this the previous night. With this she picked up the menu and began her tirade of how “this food wasn’t good” and “I guess if you don’t have any money, we can eat here”, she said.
As the waitress leaned across the booth to place the knives and forks, she wished my mother a Happy Mother’s Day. No response. The waitress didn’t exist either. I of course responded for my mother and myself, inquiring if the waitress herself had any children, blah, blah, blah. I was talking for two. It was always like this. I never wanted people to think I was as miserable as my mother.
Without looking up from the menu my mother, in her icy style, ordered a grilled cheese and a coffee. “But the coffee now”, she rudely demanded, and was promptly served or in my estimation was promptly shut up so she wouldn’t complain.
I ordered the quickest item on the menu, both to prepare and to eat. I wanted this hell day to end quickly.
I always notice when I go out to eat and see people together eating but not talking, what their problem is. Do they not like each other? Do they not like the food? Do they not have anything to say? Or are they like my mother? Completely and utterly unhappy?
Not soon enough for me, the Friendly's waitress returned with our orders. As the waitress was placing the grilled cheese in front of my mother, my mother spoke. She spoke to me the way I had wished she would for years.
Her words were precise, direct and on target, and finally eye contact.
“Want to know the one regret I have in life”? “It was having you.”
“My entire life changed for the worse.” “You are the biggest disappointment in my life and I will never forgive you.”
The waitress at this point is frozen in time, as I am; only this really wasn’t news to me. This was an affirmation of our life together. At least it was out in the open. No more guessing for me. No more thinking I could change her, no more thinking that maybe the older she got, the nicer she might become. No more thinking and wishing that there might be just one thing I could do, to make her just like me, let alone love me.
The waitress however, stood there with my salad in her hand, unable to decipher what she was hearing. She looked at me, and just with a tilt of her head, I knew she felt bad. I just shook my head and shrugged it off. I felt worse.
My mother had this perfectly timed. What a performance! She was performing for this waitress. Did she think the waitress would agree with her?
Me, awkward, sad, embarassed.
My mother, relentless, impenetrable, cruel.
Time stood still for me on occasions like this. It took me 3 days to get over these encounters. She was an artist at making me feel as though I owed her everything and anything. My lot in life was to serve her. I never fully came to terms with her mandates, that's where the problems and the hate resided. I tired to fight her off and still be a "good daughter". It just wasn't meant to be.
I danced around her demands like Mr. Bojangles, always trying somehow to please her without giving up the soul she was trying to take.
The amazing thing is that she actually blamed me. I still can’t understand her thought process on this one. So, it was my fault that I was born. Yeh, right.
Nah, I don’t require therapy or medication.
Oh, and the Mother’s Day Present I got for her? As she got out of the car, I handed her a box wrapped up with a couple of blouses inside. She didn’t even look at it, didn’t say goodbye and once again, her trademark, slammed the door.
Yeh, I really like Mother’s Day.