PUBLISHED ESSAYS


The Reason I screen my calls

 

originally published at Fresh Yarn


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        My mother's been married and divorced seven times. She calls herself "The Liz Taylor of Fresno." Like Liz she is rich, drunk and used to be pretty. Unlike Liz she has colitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and only one eye. Her last husband, Cliff, was a manure salesman with an extended stomach and racist sense of humor. They were married almost a year when she convinced herself, and then others, that he was trying to kill her. She "remembered" that he had been in the CIA, and was a trained hit man. So of course she kicked him out, filed for divorce and hired a large Mexican named Julian, who carried a gun, to protect her like she was a rap star and needed her back covered when she rolled out in the hood. I should mention she never rolled out. Her lack of driver's license and eyeball, combined with her colitis, made driving not only illegal but messy. Her hairdressers, husbands and psychiatrists always came to her. So her armed bodyguard basically followed her around the house while she was in her robe.After a few months with only her Spanish-speaking gunslinger and her many personalities to keep her company, she grew lonely. One night Mom found a lump in her breast and decided she had cancer, which spurred her reconciliation with Cliff because who cared if he killed her now that she was already dying? Of course she didn't have cancer, it was just an excuse to get him back after she'd ruined his name, reputation and manure business.

 

She felt it unfair to fire Julian, who had done such a good job protecting her life, so she kept him on as a live-in bartender. This way when Cliff came home from a hard day of looking for work, Julian was there to mix him a drink. Not wanting Julian to sit idle all day, she got up as early as possible and drank until Cliff came home. And still the marriage didn't last. One day, for unknown reasons, Mom fired both Julian and Cliff and decided to put herself back on the market.

My mother is the reason I screen my calls. And yet tonight I'm so caught up watching NYPD Blue that I pick up the phone when it rings.

"Sis, I've met someone." (My mother calls me her sister -- don't ask.)

It's only been a few weeks since Cliff hit the road, and I can't help but wonder how my attractive, functional and single friends go months on end without meeting someone, yet my one-eyed mother who shits herself reels them in.

"Sis, this is it. He's 43, his name is Rudy. He's a jazz musician and very sexy."

She can't see me cringe over the phone as she describes the gory details of their sex life. After she boasts that she no longer needs her vibrator, she comes to the point.

"I'm thinking of getting married again, Sis."

I can hear the ice in her glass hit the side as she takes a drink.

"But, the thing I'm worried about is -- he's never had any kids."

This is what she's worried about? She drops the phone and falls out of bed. As she bangs around on the floor, I'm able to catch up on the NYPD Blue plot. The snitch who Franz got his information from on the guy he's holding in custody for homicide might actually be the perpetrator. Love this show.

After a while my mother rights herself. "Sorry, the damn maid puts so much lemon oil on my bedside table that everything just falls off. Anyway Sis, I need a favor -- will you have Rudy's child for me?"

"What?"

"Be our surrogate. You don't have to have sex with him if you don't want to."

She assures me that she'd pay for me to be artificially inseminated -- even though it's more expensive than the old-fashioned way.

"It's a win-win situation, Sis. Will you do it?"

I can't wait to tell my friends about this. Their parents are boring compared to mine. They don't projectile vomit, or hold conversations with bits of blood leaking out of their mouth, let alone ask them to birth their own brothers and sisters.

"I don't understand why you're not jumping at this chance Sis. You know I'd do it for you! I love you and if you don't do this for me then ... I'll know you've never loved me."


 

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She has worked herself into a grief known only to mothers of wartime heroes. Still she manages to talk through her sobs, "Don't forget, I gave you life, so really I'm just asking for you to pay me back!"

There is no way in the world that I would say "yes," but since she is upset, to calm her down I tell her I'll think about it. Oddly, she takes this as a slap in the face, either because she can see through my veiled "no," which would be amazing considering the few brain cells she has left, or because she's insane -- which I'm leaning towards.

She takes a dark turn. "So you won't have my child?! Because you are a greedy goddamn vulture! You won't help me have another baby because there will be less fucking money for you when I die!"

 

 

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We are in a bad place now. So, I suggest politely that I'd rather talk to her when she's... "had some sleep" is the euphemism I settle for. The ensuing scream would make any horror movie actress jealous.

"I'm not drunk!!! Tell her, Rudy!"

A male voice slurs on the line. "Your Mom isn't drunk."

I discover that Rudy's been on the phone the entire time. "What's wrong with that?!" she defends him. "We're talking about his children, he has every right to be involved!"

She has a point. Still, what can I say? I'm missing all of NYPD Blue.

 

After a few seconds of silence my Mom speaks. She's no longer upset. Her next emotion has arrived and must be expressed. "Rudy," she says gaily, "You know what we'll do? We'll call Alyse."

"Who?" He's confused.

"Alyse, my younger daughter, she's much prettier than Andrea. A far better choice."

And with that she hangs up. I look at Dennis Franz eating a hot dog as the credits roll. I'll never know who murdered that florist, or how my mother could pick my sister over me.

Andrea Abbate