As I sat in the restaurant being toasted by my good friends, I was finally proud of an accomplishment we were celebrating. I had just closed on the purchase of my first house, thanks to my friend’s Karen and Sid. We had invested in a 3 family house across from the water in New Haven. I would be living there and maintaining the rents. Sid and Karen had their house with their 2 boys about a mile away. I was in my 40’s, always on my own and working at Yale University. Never in my wildest imagination had I dreamed I would be owning my own home.
At the table were the friends of my life, Richard, Gilles, Margo from England and a few others. During the evening I had gotten up from the table several times to call my mother and tell her that the closing had gone well. Not that she would care, but I was the dutiful daughter.
At one point Richard questioned me as to why I kept calling. My mother had this game where I would call and she either wouldn’t answer or the phone would be off the hook.
The bait was that I should worry about either scenario and think that something had happened to her. To her satisfaction, I always took the bait. It was a way for me to worry, stop what I was doing and go over there to check.
This nonsense had been going on for years. I would get there and she’d just be sitting, staring out the window. I’d ask her why she didn’t answer the phone and her answers were things like, “who cares if I live or die,” “why bother, you have your own life and never worry about me,” to “I wasn’t in the mood.” True she did have a heart condition and did have a mild stroke at one point, but I did manage to talk to her just about every day. If I didn’t, she would call my apartment late at night and just hang up. Once when I was angry at her for playing these games and didn’t call her for 2 days, she called Yale where I worked and asked to speak with my boss and then asked him if I was still working there. Yep, that’s my mom. I then lied to her and told her I couldn’t accept personal phone calls at work.
She was also a hypochondriac. That was fun.
I’m at work and she calls.
Mary: Call Dr. Cruz (heart doctor)
Me: What’s wrong?
Mary: Something’s not right.
Mary: There are bubbles in my urine and I can smell the rug.
Yes, you read this correctly, bubbles in her urine and she could smell the rug. I swear on my dog’s eyeballs this happened.
It turned out that she peed in the toilet and saw “bubbles”, then went into the living room and the rug had some odor. Apparently the combination of these two incidents sent her into a tailspin.
I did some quick calculating and basically told her that she probably “peed” really fast and caused the water to bubble (yes I am my mother’s daughter and sometimes find myself using the same logic). She argued a bit over this explanation, but finally accepted it. The rug odor explanation didn’t take as much creativity. It was summer and I explained that it probably was the humidity.
Well, back to the house closing dinner. After the 5th attempt at trying to reach her I sat back down. Richard turned to me and said, “Listen, she’s either breaking your balls or she’s dead. Let it go.”
Ok- she hadn’t been talking to me for 2 weeks because I was buying this house. She was angry because I wouldn’t let her live with me. She said it was a daughter’s duty to take care of her mother. Her famous line was, “A son is a son ‘til he takes a wife, but a daughter is a daughter for the rest of her life.” I hated this fucking jingle. She wore it out.
So I followed Richard’s advice and gave up calling. Later that night, 3:30am, I get a call from the hospital. Yep, Mary had been taken to the hospital the night before with a heart attack. Her neighbor had found her on the floor and of course I couldn't be found. No one called my brother. I had to call him.
I went to the hospital first thing. As I walked in her room, the nurse was giving her a sponge bath. The nurse said that they had basically ruled out a heart attack and that it probably was pneumonia. I tried to speak to my mother and ask her how she was feeling.
Without giving me an answer, she asked me if I went through with the closing. I said yes, and she began to sob. The nurse asked me not to upset her, so I told her I would see her the next day because I was moving that very day.
That afternoon as I was moving a couch up to a 2nd floor, Sid and Karen stopped by to tell me that “she was dead.” At first I didn't know who they were talking about. It seems that after I left she had a heart attack. My brother had just gotten to the hospital minutes before she died.
I met my brother at my mother’s apartment to pick out clothes for the funeral. My mother lived in a one room apartment and owned nothing. She lived on social security and her pension from the White Tower. She had ~ $200 in her checking account, and no savings. I bought her groceries every week and made sure she had enough money for her medications. My brother was convinced there was cash somewhere in the house. There wasn’t. I knew my mother like a book. But my brother insisted we look. We went through her cedar chest and found 2 letters, one addressed to me and one to Frankie from my mother. I knew the drama would continue.
The letter to Frankie simply stated that he was a son she was proud of and to “please take care of Suzy, she doesn’t have much.” Yeh, I would almost let that happen. My letter of course was filled with the inconsistency of our relationship. She stated that all her life, all she ever needed or wanted was for me to love her, and that I fell short of that. With that she wished me the best of luck with my life and the hope that someday, someone would not hurt me the way I had hurt her. My brother, the ever pompous arrogant ass that he was, simply stated that if I had agreed to let “Mommy” live with me in my new house, she would still be alive and he didn’t judge me for this, but this is what he felt. He may have been right. But this was her choice indeed.
As my brother was going through her closet, he noticed about 30 or so packages wrapped in Christmas paper. Assuming she had been Christmas shopping (this was December 1st). I watched him remove the packages one by one. As he glanced at the name tags, he then realized what I had known for years. They were presents for her from myself and my brother that we had given her over the years. She had never unwrapped them. She was never happy, no matter what anyone did. His reply was, “but she asked for these,” and “this is what she said she wanted.” He just didn’t get it. She wanted everything and nothing.
We ended up exchanging the presents with each other. I ended up throwing each and everything away. I wanted nothing more to do with her. I wanted to be finished with her.
Easier said than done.