The night after a meal at my favorite Indian Restaurant in New York, the entire contents of my stomach heave onto the pillow on my childhood bed. My mom makes the bed with the same sheets and pillowcases from 1975 – the ones with the prints of the Grand Canyon on them. The mattress is still surprisingly comfortable, but my adolescent bedroom has been converted into a drab storage room. The stench of ammonia leaks from the closet where my mother stores woolens. The walls have never been painted; there are blotches of spackling paste dotting the dirty, mottled surface of the old plaster. My father’s bizarre black and white photos of a Manhattan mannequin shop decorate the room. There are file folders full of memorabilia stacked on the perimeter, which leaves a small patch of the 70s brown shag carpet, thoroughly worn and matted after 40 years. My mom refuses to throw anything out.
I have food poisoning or perhaps a stomach virus that is causing me to lose everything from both major orifices. Although my mom is 83 and wears a prosthetic leg, she fetches a plastic container from the kitchen but I’ve already puked the entire contents of my stomach onto the Grand Canyon pillowcase, the old shag carpet, the soiled rug that leads to the bathroom and all over the vintage 1950s pink tile of their bathroom. It’s total visceral carnage. My mom remains calm, concerned, and says she’ll take care of the mess but I don’t want her to clean up after me – even at her age, the maternal instinct is intact. At age 50 I’m standing in my t-shirt and undershorts, covered in puke and she cares more about me than the mess- that is, until she realizes the next morning that I’ve put the thoroughly vomit soaked 40 yr. old pillow in the washing machine. She stares at me with her nearly alien green-eyed scowl- the same look she gave me as a child that terrified me. Now it just pisses me off. I rarely am angry about anything, but mom can push the old buttons. The conversation goes somewhat like this: “You DON”T put the pillow in the washing machine, it will ruin it!” (big scowl, green-eyed stare, ugly throat noises).
“Mom, it’s a FUCKING 40-year old pillow…it’s GARBAGE. Why the FUCK do you want to keep all this old shit in your house. Especially a puked-on pillow!”
I always tease my mom that when she dies I’m going to get a 30-yard dumpster and throw all the shit out that she’s saved since 1968: stacks of National Geographics, New York Times, a plaid cotton hammock that would fall apart if anyone sat in it, a horrendously ugly sculpture of an ant I made in second grade that sits on my shelf. Even my sister has picked up her habit of never letting go of anything. She has clippings from the Mets 1986 World Series victory pasted all over her bedroom door.
The argument continues. Mom yells, “It’s MY house and I get to decide what I do with the pillow!”
I yell back, “Mom, do you realize how FUCKING stupid this argument is, how absurd it is that we are screaming about this $10 pillow!!”
“We don’t have the money to buy another pillow!!!”
The old money argument comes up again. I know now why I didn’t pay taxes for 17 years. My mom went into a catatonic state every April when taxes were due. She drilled into my mind that we never had enough money. Taxes seemed to be the worst evil in a life that a human being would have to face.
“Mom, you’re just being a bitch because you want to have control over everything and everyone!!” My dad is standing in the bedroom next door and chimes in “you can’t talk to your mother that way.” And my mom yells back, “How dare you talk to me like that!!”
He’s always been passive-aggressive. He’s always ceded to her authority. He’d fight back in their endless character assassinations of each other when I was younger, but now on a cocktail of anti-depressants, he’s more submissive. My sister is in her room about to have a meltdown because she always does when my dad is about to take her back to the group home she lives in 20 minutes away. At age 48, her emotional age is closer to 12. She was diagnosed as having a lack of oxygen to her brain when she was born and thus, mildly retarded. She’s a sweet soul and pure of heart, but still a child. She is yelling and adding to the fray and I yell back at her, “Shut the fuck up.” I don’t think I’ve ever said that to her. She breaks down and cries. My dad leaves to take her back home and I walk around the house to cool down. Five minutes later I hug my mom and tell her I’m sorry and I love her and we both laugh. She has no hard feelings. I tell her I will mail her another pillow. She doesn’t care anymore.