THE DEVOTED SON
Donnie’s mother moved into her son’s waterfront home in L.A. two weeks before Thanksgiving.
“Lower Alabama,” Donnie, owner of Eternal Tranquil Chapel, explained to his friends. “A euphemism for redneck culture on the Southern Gulf Coast. Though, actually, SummerSound isn’t excruciatingly bad. There hasn’t been a lynching in months. Sort of an artsy resort community infested with urban bohemians yearly and northern snowbirds seasonally.”
Donnie described his mother, Mrs. Hershel Donald Lawrence or Virginia Adel, in four s’s, “Short, scented, seventy-six, silver-gray.” Rattled off the reasons she moved in with him on his fingers. “A. Didn’t want to live alone. Even surrounded by domestics—foreign or domestic, legal or illegal, or any combination of the four. B. Couldn’t tolerate that retirement community in Fort Lauderdale anymore, claimed allergic reactions to bingo and shuffleboard. C. Way too active and alert to stick inside a nursing home with the assisted living label attached.”
He loved his mother beyond death. Was convinced she and his father only had sex once which conceived him. Shut her eyes frantically repeating the Twenty-third Psalm in silence until the deed was done. Didn’t get past the valley of the shadow line. Yet she kept torturing him with the “When are you getting married?” question.
Every other sentence was “I want grandchildren before I die” or “The patter of little feet will be like beating to my heart.” She also liked to throw in that by not multiplying he would end the Lawrence line forever (stressed in capital letters); “A proud heritage which has produced soldiers for two wars.” She didn’t count Vietnam because it wasn’t legally declared. (Uncle Leland’s only son Tommy, three years older than Donnie, who skipped to Canada to avoid the draft, was killed in a car accident coming back to the States after being pardoned. Donnie’s mother would sigh, shake her head, and whisper that Tommy was a wild one and his reproductions, if any, also weren’t legal).
Tommy’s past lifestyle was one of Donnie’s family’s ironies. He guessed his was another. Donnie didn’t want to disappoint his mother, but she was fighting nature. Donnie was a homosexual. He was gay, queer, a fairy, fag, queen or whatever the current degrading slang or politically correct euphemism was.
In the mirror Donnie saw cute, maybe moderately attractive after strenuous effort plus low light. (In his profession the correct illumination made the presentation.) The hundreds lost imagined through diets, handfuls of minerals, supplements and multivitamins were yet to materialize. Exercise videos ineffective just by watching.
Donnie was born on September 15, 1965, a Thursday morning at 4:23 after 72 hours of labor his mother made more disgusting and longer with each frequent telling. “Did I tell you I bit off the tip of my tongue?”
In 43 years Donnie grew from six and three-quarter inches to five foot seven, eight pounds and thirteen ounces to 254. There was about the same amount of white-blond hair on his head then as now. The hairpiece looked like road kill and there wasn’t enough to plug unless they took it from his back. Inside his Charlie Brown face were Dizzy Gillespie’s blowing cheeks. Between no lobed, pinned back ears, the tops nearly pointed like an elf’s. Little space between scalp and eyes, the upper and lower foreheads proportionally reversed. A dimpled trying to double chin—liposuction, peels, resurfacing was now closer to necessity than option. A sandy bushy mustache matching his eyebrows sat above lizard lips. A slightly crooked, but barely noticeable pug nose he thought distinguished a past shrink labeled “guilt”.
The incident happened in Booger Butts park when he was five-years-old. Harry Nelson pushed him too high in the swing. He fell out and busted his nose. This was after Harry let Donnie touch his “wee-wee” behind the bushes. The shrink said not getting the nose fixed was wanted punishment, his personal scarlet letter. Donnie decided the shrink and the plastic surgeon, which happened to be brothers, were only after his money. How vain do they think I am? A minor flaw doesn’t make me the Elephant Man? I’ve read ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’. Appearance is only superficial. Those two are even more unscrupulous than lawyers! The only way they will ever see Heaven is denying their professions and taking up something less repulsive like pimping teenage boys.
His suits were 39-inch shorts. Embellished with silks, leathers, and designer fragrance; the right leg about a quarter inch longer than the left with the 40-inch waist extending or shrinking depending on the approaching or departing holiday. (He only watched the videos never did them, especially Super Studs. Masturbation, unfortunately, doesn’t classify as aerobics.) A nine doublewide shoe usually Italian made (of course the leather is exotic and being on my foot extinct). His underwear (boxers, briefs or bikini—okay, a thong) bore someone else’s name. The only and only time DONNIE circled his behind was six weeks the summer he was 11-years-old at Camp Tomahawk.
“A terrifying and horrible experience that has stunned me forever. All of the camp slasher films pale in comparison to the realities of ‘Heap Big Brave’ life. Eating Spam three times a day. Sitting in an outhouse trying not to fart. Getting naked before strange male bodies.” Stopped. Pressed his forefinger against his chin remembering a night in the Jacuzzi long ago. Smiled. Sighed. “Some things do change.”
Donnie was permanently pale, an almost albino. Sometimes when going out looking for that hunk which never appeared, he used his profession’s cosmetics to appear more lifelike. Dabs of bronze foundation and rouge work wonders properly rubbed in. After all, I am a professional. Overnight creams left him looking like a bloated carrot and there wasn’t time for tanning beds. As with everything else, from computers to cell phones to breathing, there was that risk of cancer. Good for business, but bad for my social life.
Each week the nails on his hands and feet were manicured then shellacked. His Rolex coordinated with his suit. He wore a diamond-clustered ring on his left hand and away from work a wide gold wedding band on his right ring finger. When dealing with the populace one must be careful not to offend though one’s personal life isn’t public opinion. God knows pretending politeness to the unwashed makes up for a multiple of sins.
Primping and pampering paraphernalia (oils, gels, soaps, beads, salts, masks, creams, powders, lotions, shampoos, deodorants) orderly cluttered his bathroom. Twice as large as his childhood bedroom with a garden tub, separate no-wall shower, walls of shelves opening to a walk-in closet. Currently painted turquoise, but considering cyan or indigo.
According to Masters and Johnson, Donnie below the belt was in the range of normal. Those lengthening and thickening devices are also a waste of money.
Donnie had always been big. “Bulk inherited from Father, flair from Mother.” Even his diapers were hefty, promoting a dictionary of childhood nicknames ending the same: “Apple Butt”, “Buddha Butt”, “Chunky Butt”, “Dough Butt”, “Elephant Butt”, “Fat Butt”, “Goliath Butt”, “Hippo Butt”, “Jelly Butt”, “Killer Butt”, “Lard Butt”, “Span Butt”, “Thunder Butt”, “Ultra Butt”, “Volcano Butt”, “Whale Butt”, “X-Marks-the-Spot Butt”, “Yard Butt”, “The Every Time Zone Butt.” Some of the name callers used ass.
Adolescence brought additional onslaught. Especially the dreaded word “sissy”, the first euphemism on the male homosexual’s ladder. Or is it “Titty Baby”, “Momma’s Boy”, or “You throw like a girl?” Not only was Donnie fat (“Big-boned” was Grandmother Sutton’s euphemism for his size), he was cursed with Shirley Temple’s “On the Good Ship Lollipop” voice. In nine out of ten anonymous telephone calls he was “Ma’amed.” Once went to a speech therapist but there was less luck in losing his pitch than his sweet magnolia slur. Finally decided there were things you were born to die with. Went out and bought more art.
Donnie fancied himself a modern Renaissance man, a New World Master, an amateur connoisseur. Among his collection, his floor-to-ceiling art rivaled any metropolitan gallery, were a signed Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Ricardo. “An unknown now, but someday her abstract watercolors will be worth millions.” Male torsos posed in marble, bronze, and wood. A saltwater aquarium, an almost miniature replica of the Great Barrier Reef, bubbled. Televisions with double-digit screens scattered the multi-thousand square feet. A gym containing thousands of dollars of exercise equipment was sometimes used for its sauna. Both his SummerSound home and an equally fabulous chalet in the Smoky Mountains, with constant police monitoring, had been featured in Southern Living. “The Genial Living channel’s offer still pending.”
Owned a white convertible BMW with chocolate leather interior, jet-black fully equipped Ford 4 X 4, and a 150 custom-made yacht. His portfolio, a cornucopia of stocks, bonds, securities, commodities, and mutual funds increased while he dreamed. Didn’t care what people thought or said about him. Except for Mother of course.
Drank red wine with fish if he wanted.
Still, after heart-wrenching deliberation, decided to out himself to his mother. Another term truly loathed. It sounds so exposed. But she will finally stop asking THE QUESTION.
So they had THE TALK. After breakfast the Sunday before Thanksgiving in his glassed-in balcony garden nook overlooking the bay. The coming out all his shrinks agreed would make the repressed Donnie feel better. THE TALK a day was wrapped around. Only all of his shrinks were totally wrong. Damn, I should’ve crawled further into the closet. Slammed and locked the door. At least then I was sleeping nights.
Donnie wiped his hands across the cloth napkin in his lap. Stared across the table at his mother wrapped in a full-length blue-silver velvet-trimmed robe. His was calf-length and red, initials on left shoulder. Her head down buttering an English muffin, bouffant hair perfect like always. He’d just finished a cinnamon roll.
Took a cleansing breath. Exhaled. Closed his eyes and whispered out loud the words he had been hollering inside all of his life. “Mother, I’m gay.” At that moment the politically correct euphemism sounded less threatening than the technical term. Kind of like genitalia deviation for tiny or functionally despondent for can’t get it up.
Opened his eyes. Heart spent stronger than after release. Still breathing.
The sun beamed through clouds glittering the bay. Mozart played in the background. At that moment life seemed the same whether Donnie was in or out of the closet.
His mother kept buttering her English muffin. Light reflected off her no-line trifocals in silver-blue designer frames. Each outfit had a matching pair. Shrugged her shoulders. Grunted like his father did when Donnie was growing up.
Donnie swallowed. Thought maybe she didn’t understand the current meaning of the word. Everybody has trouble keeping up. Thank God for ‘People’. Tried again. Voice louder, but softer. “Mother, I’m a homosexual.”
She looked up. The matching eye color somewhat faded. Lowered her lids halfway. That morning sparkling silver, but sometimes gold, and always false lashes. Shook her head and proclaimed, “Darling, you don’t need to explain. I know. I watch Oprah.” Her slur was refined, but rusty Southern belle—a Tallulah Bankhead-Marlene Dietrich-Bette Davis mix. His mother was a stereotypical original.
He drummed his fingers against his thighs. Pondered the items on the starched linen tablecloth before: Cherokee Rose crystal water glasses, King Richard sterling silver, Royal Windsor china, the pale pink phalaenopis. Orchids were his mother’s favorite flower. Breakfast consisted of a seafood omelet (crab, shrimp, scallops, mushrooms, Leicester, Dunlop, Samsoe cheese), hash browns (Grits are so plebeian ethnic), English muffins, cinnamon rolls, freshly squeezed orange juice, freshly ground arabica coffee, an assortment of jellies, jams and preserves.
Fingers stopped. Folded together into his lap. Oh yeah, the power of Oprah. I forget there aren’t any secrets in the psyche anymore. He wasn’t surprised. His mother screamed enlightenment. While he was growing up she was always attending clubs, a few he thought politically motivated. Once she and a group of ladies saved a 100-year-old oak with yellow ribbons from chain saws before lightning struck the tree.
Paused. Pursed his lips. Nodded. Pressed his forefinger against his chin. Wondered if that was a good thing. “For how long?”
She crisscrossed her knife on the edge of her muffin like a sword scraping off excess butter. Set it carefully across the edge of her plate. “I don’t know. Forever. The moment you were born.” Dripped strawberry preserves onto her muffin.
Curled his upper lip and shook his head. “No way.”
“You flirted with Doctor Gleason, tinkled in his face.” Glanced over. Waved a silver spoon. Flashed her wonderful smile. “Just kidding, Darling, I thought this conversation might go better for you if I injected a little humor here.” Spread apricot preserves on her muffin in swirls.
“Certainly,” he nodded. Sipped coffee. Thought, An awful little, but of course would never say that to his mother. Swallowed. Wiped his hands on his napkin. Leaned forward, hands spread upward. “Then why do you keep asking me when I’m getting married if you already know?”
His mother set her spoon by her knife, after doing the same crisscrossing. Nibbled her English muffin. Gently placed it on her plate. Dabbed around her lips with her napkin. He was an expert now at soaking to get lipstick out. Hairspray and nail polish remover also work.
Finally she answered as though he asked a question a child could answer correctly. “Because it will make you happy, you don’t want ending up alone.”
BINGO! His mother struck the primal fear nagged on since Day One. Even God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Donnie ten, twenty, thirty years and/or minutes from now didn’t want to turn into a silly old Gloria Swanson Sunset Boulevard queen surrounded by cats. Persian, Siamese, tabby, alley. Hairballs and that ammoniac fishy litter box odor soaking the air. Thank God I’m allergic. Wouldn’t even see ‘Cats’ and I’m gay.
Sighed. Dropped his hands. Leaned back into his chair. Count to ten and reason in a calm, rational voice. He knew how. Took an anger management course. Would have even if it weren’t required. One, two, six, ten.
“Now, Mother,” his voice started racing to the top instead of climbing. “You know getting married just to be married isn’t right. I’ll be living a lie.” Started to add like Uncle Horace, but stopped to breathe. God knows one coming out in a lifetime is enough for anybody.
His mother closed her silver shadowed eyes. Shook her head fast like a pouting child. Crossed her arms before her Indian style. Or maybe it’s American native or native hyphen American style? There aren’t just Americans anymore.
“Sometimes one must choose happiness over what is right,” she said.
His face poked forward. Brow wrinkled. Eyes bulged. Jaw dropped like a fish. He’d never heard that voice before. “But that’s selfish.” His lips spluttered.
His mother opened her eyes. Shrugged her shoulders. Put a hand to her throat. Bracelets jingling. Fingers cluttered with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. “No, Darling, that’s life.” She paused, dramatic effect he supposed, and said, “Let me tell you a story.”
The Mozart sonata became a concerto.
Donnie sighed. Shifted in his chair. Grabbed a cinnamon roll. Gobbled fast. Guess one more won’t kill me. Sometimes eating is a very good thing.
“Son, I always knew about your father’s infidelities. I knew he wouldn’t be faithful to me before walking up the aisle.” Right thumb and diamonded index finger lifted the cup. Of course her pinkie was up.
He swallowed the final bite of cinnamon roll. “Then why did you say, ‘I do’? You’re an attractive, intelligent woman, I’m sure it wasn’t the fear of thinking somebody else wouldn’t come along. Somebody a whole lot better.” Instantly “Hurting My Mother” shot to the top of his “Why I Hate My Father” list. Wiped his fingers on his napkin. Grabbed his water glass. Sipped and swallowed.
Her cup touched down. Stared up. Shook her head. Closed her eyes. “No, Darling. Before Hershel I had plenty of beaus and even now I can catch an old man’s, and a few younger one’s, eye.” Glanced at her son. Winked and smiled. “But your father was the most interesting, charming, delightful one of them all. Enchanting with a marvelous sense of humor. Plus he offered security, something I had never had. To say we were poor is a gross understatement. All I had to offer was my infinite charm. I wasn’t stupid thinking I would change him after marriage, those who do always fail, so I made a compromise with myself. People do it every day, adjust to endure. Ours was a mutual satisfying marriage. I had everything I needed and more.”
“But it was a loveless marriage.” Donnie picked up his coffee cup. You’ve got to have passion! All of the books say so, not just the fairy tales!
She chuckled. Shook her head. Fingers spread touching her throat. At least three rings and three bracelets graced each hand. “Heavens, no. Hershel and I dearly adored and respected each other. He treated me better than a queen. He built my family a home, made their lives better than it was. Who do you think bankrolled Sutton Lumber when it first got started? Hershel’s affairs were solely about sex, which I never actually cared for. Rather unpleasant and silly if you ask me. Two civilized people…”
Quickly stopped. Popped a hand over her lips. Blushed. “But I guess you probably know.”
He was still sipping from his cup. Nodding rapidly inside. Yes, Ma’am. Have even seen some videos.
She picked up her coffee cup. “Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but there are some things I would rather not discuss with my son.”
Thank God, he thought. Gulped instead of sipped. ‘Talking Sex With My Mother’ is at the top of my ‘Things I Never Want to Do in My Life’ list. Maybe I should talk this over with my new shrink next time? What’s his name? I swear I do believe it would be easier to refer to them by number, but I’ve lost count long ago. No, not discussing intimacies with your mother is normal. All children pretend their mother conceived like Mary. Tried to keep his fingers from trembling setting down his cup. Wanted another cinnamon roll, but decided not. Eating can make anything better. No, three’s enough at least till I’m alone.
“The only good thing to ever come out of our coupling was you. Afterwards I preferred not to, but Hershel needed to. It would have been extremely selfish of me to deny him. Barbarian and illegal for him to force me.”
He tried not staring at his mother, which of course was the only thing he saw. I really do not want to hear this he shouted inside pounding his fists on the table yanking out what was left of his hair. Besides isn’t that what marriage is all about? Sex is how people manipulate each other. Then you have children to ensure the suffering. Breathed. Swallowed. Tried to recall anything from…My God, there must have been a course!
Mozart sounded like a kid pounding piano keys.
Finally, after counting the weaves in his napkin, knowing he must speak since they were intellectual people and this was the Twenty-first Century, mumbled, “You probably should’ve gone to a doctor. Maybe there was a medical reason you didn’t want to, uh, you know.” Slapped a hand over his lips feeling more than stupid. Oh my God, I’m talking sex with my mother! And worst than that I’m talking Oprah!
She gave her Lauren Bacall laugh. Waved both hands about her face. “Darling, something to make me want to mess up my hair? Thank you, but no.” Donnie’s mother was booked at a beauty parlor somewhere in the world every Friday afternoon at four for the rest of her life.
Donnie wanted to light a cigarette, maybe smoke through a pack, but didn’t want his mother to know he smoked. Or drank. Or had sex. Or enjoyed a dozen more non-Boy Scout virtues. Rubbed his brow, the pressure erupting inside. Brought up his snarky voice. “Mother, please, you’re just trying to justify Father’s whoring.”
Instantly she snapped. Both fists pounded the table. “Don’t ever let me hear you speak of your father that way again!” Each word was worst than a slap.
Immediately he shot to six-years-old. Tightened the slash around his waist needing to feel pain. Whimpered, “Yes, Ma’am. I’m sorry.” He couldn’t remember his mother ever scolding. The inner child cried, “Will she ever love me anymore?”
His mother turned toward the glass. Stared out across the bay. Spoke in another voice never heard before. Donnie began wondering if he even knew his mother. “Maybe our marriage was unconventional, but it worked for us. That was our preference. We were satisfied together and apart.” Wrapped her arms around her, each hand stroking the opposite arm.
Donnie leaned forward. Strong direct light showed too much. There weren’t that many wrinkles around her eyes, across her brow, about her mouth before. There is too much skin sagging from her throat. Maybe I’ll get us both a face-lift for Christmas? The Joan Rivers/Dolly Parton special. Her last one was right after Father died. I would use a soft indirect rose-colored light with…
Stopped. What in the hell am I thinking? Oh God please let her stay with me a long, long time.
Alive his father was an insurance salesman. Scotch guzzling, cigar smoking, overweight with elevated blood pressure and cholesterol numbers workaholic. These days you aren’t considered normal unless you’re some sort of holic. Seven steps can take you anywhere. Found slumped over his desk facedown in a pile of policies by Lucille his 27 year-old cologne soaked, gum smacking, butt swaying secretary slash mistress. Dead from a massive coronary three years ago on Valentine’s Day.
Donnie’s voice became like his inner child’s. “Why didn’t you divorce? Back then it was permissible even in the South.”
“Why should we?” his mother asked turning toward him. “We were both happy. We both had what we wanted. Respect in the community, the church, wonderful friends, a lovely home. Hershel had his business and I had my clubs.”
He sighed. Shook his head, fingers drumming either side of his plate. “But it wasn’t right.”
She smiled. Swished a wrist. Shrugged a shoulder. “Maybe. It depends who’s judging.” Leaned forward. “I’ve heard about those storybook marriages. Read about them in books. Seen them on television and in theaters. But never met a real life one. None of my friends had the perfect marriage, even those whose husband didn’t stray. They sacrificed themselves for the family. In a way my marriage was better than theirs, at least I knew for sure and those poor women were always wringing their hands wondering. Doubting their husband’s stories. Afraid of what would happen if something better came along. But I was sure. I knew whenever a sweet young thing sashayed by Hershel would enjoy her for the moment then come home to me.”
“But were you sometimes afraid he wouldn’t?”
Laughed again. That time sounding like her. “Good heavens, no. If anything I felt sorry for some of those girls who thought they were in love like that silly secretary, Lucille. Hershel was going to fire her the day he died you know.”
Tried not to smile. Sometimes at cocktail parties, Donnie illustrated Lucille’s reaction to his father’s demise complete with swirling fingers and slurry whine. “It was all so icky and gross. I’ll never date a man older than my father again!” Here his voice would drop to normal. “Yeah, sure. Why do you think there’s a connection between Viagra and Sugar Daddies?”
Then the dark side popped out. “Do you think she…?”
His mother shuddered. Face cringed. Bracelets and head shook. “Good Heavens, Darling, no! That girl made dumb blonde jokes true. She could barely make a decent cup of coffee. Her secretarial skills were atrocious. Of course those weren’t what Hershel hired her for.”
Donnie squinted, left hand propping up his chin. Bite his lower lip. “Mother, I can’t believe this. Even in your time divorce would not have been frowned upon, especially under those conditions.”
His mother giggled. Touched her breast, her nails a delicate pink shade. (Most women as they age make the mistake of selecting harsh colors. See it all the time. I’ve made more people better looking dead than they ever were alive.) “In my time? Darling, I’m not a relic. At least not yet. Besides people never actually change, the hemlines just go up and down. Some may say I sold out, but isn’t that what we all do? There is just the illusion of having it all.” She reached for the silver coffeepot. Refilled her cup. “Care for some more?”
“No, Ma’am. Thank you though.” He swallowed. Glanced at his plants, his paintings, his house, his more than lavish lifestyle. “Maybe, but still…”
She plopped two cubes of sugar into her cup. Stirred with her spoon. “I know. I’ve heard all of the arguments. It’s like with you cigarette smokers.”
Donnie got that fish look again. For months his consumption of mouthwash, breath sprays, and ‘Touch of Resin’ mints had steadily increased. Even thought about gargling with perfume like Scarlett. Of course, Gone With the Wind was his and his mother’s favorite movie.
She smiled. Giggled. Waved a hand. “Darling, Silly Boy, why do you look so guilty? Of course I know you smoke. Just like I know you drink alcohol, have sex with men and…”
He buried his head into his hands, cheeks flaming, more than ashamed. Oh my God, please let me die now…
“But that’s not the point…”
His black cloud busted. Okay, I’ll die later. Lifted his head. Coughed. Stared forward. “So there is a point?” Of course there is, Silly Boy, Mother always has a point. She ran my life logically.
“You know very well the dangers of smoking, drinking too much, having unprotected sex. I don’t need to remind you.”
Thank God. Sighed inside.
“Maybe my marriage was unconventional to those who knew the truth, and believe me few did and most of them are dead, but it appeared normal to our indifferent world. I look into the mirror and am not ashamed, so why should anybody be? Maybe it wasn’t the clear shining image I wanted as a child when we’re all innocent and idealistic, but you must remember life is light years from perfect. We do what we must to survive.”
She smiled. Shook her head. Swished her forefingers like windshield wipers back and forth. “No butts about it. Besides, my life is nearly over.”
Donnie stretched out his arms. “Mother, please don’t talk like that! You know how it tears me up. Besides today’s life expectancy is better than ever before. Reaching a hundred isn’t uncommon.” Okay, so after the old man’s funeral I went out to Dearly Beloved and got drunk, but Mother’s will be different. Slapped his face inside. Damn, it sounds like I’m planning.
She sipped from her cup. “Donnie Darling, don’t be naïve. You’re in the funeral home business. I’m sure you’re aware of the need. Everybody dies and unfortunately there are those among us who don’t do it soon enough.”
He pounded his chest with his hand. “Mother!”
Flashed her wonderful smile. Set down the cup. “Just kidding, Darling. I thought we needed a little humor here too.” Wrapped her robe around her closer. Blew on her right hand nails. (Women do this with their palms spread, men with fingers bent, and gays either way.) “I’m only saying I’m not always going to be around to make sure you’re taken care of, to make sure you’re happy. And in my heart I know you’ll be happier married with children. Nobody needs to be alone.”
Okay, I’ll get a dog. He folded his hands before him. “Mother, I am happy. Sometimes almost ecstatic.” Stared down his napkin, still in its French fold. Okay, so my mood sometimes relies on Saint John’s wort and other drugs. Wonder if I can get that Prozac refilled again? “Just look around! I have a successful business, a marvelous home, a…”
“Those are material things, Darling, even though they are all very lovely, some even exquisite…”
He frowned inside. I thought they all were.
“You need someone. A future, a purpose. Somebody to come home to each night.”
“I thought I had a purpose.” Muttered inside. Which right now is to find out which one of my possessions isn’t exquisite. “But…”
“Mother, please, I just explained my lifestyle. It’s difficult enough being me. You even said yourself you can’t have everything.” Heaved. Sighed. Glanced around. Suddenly his paintings looked like cave drawings, his home a rickety shack. Even Mozart sounded flat.
Her fingertips touched together under her chin. “I did say that, but you can still be happy. You need an unconditional loving relationship.”
Stared at his mother. Nodded, his tongue licking his teeth. “I know.” Had spent many hours pondering the R word. Didn’t want to believe a person couldn’t be happy unless part of a pair. Whoever grouped Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve together really hated single people. Life isn’t Noah’s Ark, we don’t have to march two-by-two. If God wanted us joined, we would come like clothes with matching tags.
She sipped again from her cup. “So you prefer the intimacy of men over women. So what? So did your Uncle Horace. Ida didn’t find out until a week after his funeral though I suspected it all along.”
Again his head fell into his hands. My God, isn’t anything sacred anymore! Damn Oprah!
“Nobody knows why life is. We must live it the best we can. Still you can find someone and be happy.”
Donnie looked up at his mother. “Yes, Ma’am. Of course I know.” Sometimes he wondered if there was that special someone for everyone. Maybe it’s unrealistic to hope to find one person who will make you never want to make love to anybody else anymore? Lips spluttered. “It’s just that…”
His mother winked. Waved her hands. Flashed her wonderful smile. “What you need, Darling, is some help.”
His head fell back into his hands. O God, no! Instantly Abbey Marie Rhodes, one of his mother’s sorority sisters’ daughters, flashed through his mind. They were forced into going to his Senior Prom together. Lifted his head, hoping maybe she would forget if he got on his knees and begged. Of course she won’t Silly Boy! “Mother, please, you’re not Carol Channing. This isn’t the ‘Hello Dolly!’ road show.”
She flapped a hand. “Oh, don’t be a Silly Boy. Whenever did it become a crime for a mother to want to help her son?”
Probably with Eve, she probably nagged Cain and Abel until one had to kill the other so they could both get relief. Still Donnie knew he must suffer along like the devoted son until his mother got tired of this project like those a hundred times before. Hopefully in a few days or maybe a week, ten days tops. The “We Need to Get You Fit” project that stopped and started throughout his high school years flashed through his mind. Even now there were nightmares of cottage cheese and What’s-His-Name, the exercise guy in the awful leopard print jump suit. He needed to set some ground rules, which of course would be broken. “Mother, please I beg you no personal ads and don’t even think about the Internet.”
She laughed. “Silly Boy, I don’t even know how to turn on a computer.”
Yeah, but I’m damn sure you can find somebody who does. Bit his bottom lip. Scratched his chin. He was an adult. Would not be tortured this time. I’m sure one of those shrinks told me I had to stand up for myself. I’m not going to whine. “Really, Mother, please, you don’t need to bother. I’m doing okay by myself.” Actually, the last time he had sex with another person was… When, a couple of months ago? And I believe that was a bar pickup out-of-town.
“Oh, are you now?” his mother asked swishing her head left and right. “I don’t see anybody. Where is he hiding?”
Sighed inside at her feeble attempt at sarcasm. “Mother, please, I’m not in high school anymore. Remember Abbey Marie Rhodes?” My Joan Crawford is much better.
“Helen’s daughter? A perfectly marvelous girl. I hear she’s married now to a lawyer in Mobile, Stanley Butler Taylor the third. You know his father is that brain specialist Ida went to…”
He jerked forward. “Aunt Ida went to a brain specialist? When? Is she all right?”
His mother squinted. Waved her hands and shook her head. “I thought I told you? Besides, that was years ago, before Horace died. The tumor wasn’t anywhere near the brain.”
Donnie settled back into his chair. “Thank God.” What else has she forgotten to tell me or I haven’t heard?
“Yes, she was lucky. Three years older than me though she says younger and healthy as a horse.” His mother stared at her nibbled muffin. “Oh, yes, I was talking about Abbey Marie. They have a girl, Christy, four, a boy, Jason, two, and another on the way. Helen brags constantly. She was in that retirement center in Fort Lauderdale too you know.”
He bit both lips. Probably the main reason you left. Real sisters don’t fight as much. “Well, I’m very happy Abbey Marie has a wonderful life. I’m just reminding you that your time at playing matchmaker failed. Terribly.”
She didn’t seem to hear. “Gladys Peterson, another Alpha Delta Kappa, has a son, Neil, who’s gay about your age. Wonder if he’s attached to anyone? Of course Gladys is hopelessly unsophisticated when it comes to these things. Living in the nineteenth century all by herself. I never would have know about Neil except for Helen telling me…”
“Neil’s a plastic surgeon in Birmingham.”
Well, maybe I’ll let her fix me up again this once. I could make an appointment… Heard himself, imagined Abbey Marie’s face on a male body. Shook his head back and forth fast. “Mother, you really don’t need to go to the trouble because…”
His mother stared at him. Fingertips again touching, eyes behind her lens almost sparkling. “So you do have someone?”
It was an immediate unconscious response. Nodded. The bell rang and the dog raced to its supper. Okay, I know it’s wrong to lie. But I don’t want to disappoint Mother and I don’t want to go through… Stopped. He was trapped in a situation comedy. Where there’s no such thing as good.
She smiled, teeth huge and white, the biggest ever seen. “Who?”
His was the first name to pop into Donnie’s mind. Maybe someday some shrink will tell me that is who I really want? Maybe I should set up an appointment right now? “You remember Rodney Lauder don’t you? Well, he’s my, uh…” Donnie wasn’t sure what they were. They were okay friends, bounced between distant and smothery close. Went from talking three times a day on the telephone to every couple of weeks. Were steady for a while then took a break with others. They did go to Jamaica last summer and it was nearly a week before they were bitching at each other about something he couldn’t remember. Ended up taking separate flights home. Rodney can be such a Neanderthal. As Rodney described it, they “scrumped”.
Donnie’s mother glowed. “You mean that nice young man I’ve seen over here sometimes? I thought he was your real estate agent?”
“He is, but he’s also my…” Oh my God, I lied to my mother. How many times does that make now? I really should be ashamed but…
“He’s very handsome. Love the mustache and curly hair. Looks like an Italian background. Dark, mysterious, romantic. A marvelous catch. How long have you been dating?”
Donnie twisted his fingers together in his lap. Sighed. Mumbled, “Well, we’re not exactly…”
His mother’s face started to crumble so he quickly added in his customer pleasing voice, “A couple of years.” I really hate myself now. I should confess, but damn, she is so happy. It’s only natural for a mother to want her child to have someone. I bet even mother birds pushing theirs kids out the nest hope they’ll be caught. Let her enjoy the moment. Maybe in the morning or in a couple of days I can tell her the truth? We’ll have a good laugh and then, I don’t know, maybe go shopping. I do need a new rug in the front foyer.
She shook her index finger at him. A ring bobbed up and down. “Shame on you, Darling, for not telling your mother. I’m utterly shocked you didn’t think I would understand. Does your young man make you happy?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Especially when we’re scrumping. But of course I would rather die than tell her that part.
His mother shrugged. Picked up her muffin. “Good, then you can get married.”
He froze. Whoa. Stop. Halt! Good God, no! Again his blood drained through his toes, his life spun out of control. Help! I need time to think. I seldom even let Rodney stay over night because he snores, squeezes the toothpaste tube in the middle, drinks out of the carton. He’s a breathing irritation. Of course he’s good in bed, but…
That singsong voice butted in. Oh, what a tangled web we weave…
Stared at himself in his dirty, but empty plate. Oh, shut up! Swallowed. Blinked. Bit his bottom lip. Brought up his smoothing voice, his fingers tearing into his napkin destroying the fold. “Mother, you know we can’t do that, it’s not legal.” Thank God, Jerry Falwell, and Jessie Helms.
“But you two could have a union ceremony.”
Freezing water drenched him from above. “How do you know about that?”
“I told you I watch Oprah.”
Damn her again! Whoever said television rots the mind is right. At least I should be thankful Mother doesn’t watch Jerry Springer. I would be in a union with my cousin. Paused a moment. Actually, Uncle Horace’s son, Jake is…. No, that’s just wrong. Incest has no sexual preference. Came back to his senses. Gulped air. Tore at the napkin again. “Yes, Ma’am, we could, but…”
She crossed her arms before her. Leaned forward. Glared. “But what?” It was her Charlton Heston as God voice.
Donnie looked away. Waved his hands. Climbed up on his soapbox. “Mother, really, what good is a formality, which means virtually nothing to most of the world? And even if it were legal what good would it be? Straights have mangled marriage since the beginning of time; do you actually believe gays can do better? Do you really want to hear ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’ in disco? As usual, lawyers will be the only ones profiting in the end.” Sighed. Added, “Bloodsucking leeches.” Hopefully this will work. Everybody hates lawyers.
His mother leaned back. Hands cupped on table. Eyes glistening. “Of course there will be minor adjustments like two grooms on top of the cake but everything else will be the same. We could have it here or does SummerSound have a gay church? Religion is supposed to be accepting you know. It’ll be simple, but elegant, candlelight and white flowers everywhere. The sound of harps will fill the air. We can release doves and throw rose petals after you and Rodney exchange vows.”
“Mother,” he began then quit. What’s the point? There isn’t one, Silly Boy. She’s grabbed this like a pit bull dog and won’t let go until she wants. It has to run its course. I must save my strength for the coming horrors. I have lied and am being punished. There truly is a hell. He couldn’t see, smell, taste, or feel only hear his mother’s voice.
“Then you and Rodney can start adopting. I want a house full of grandchildren…”
Even it that’s legal we would probably only get foreign or minority crack babies nobody else wants…
“Or find a surrogate mother. They can take your or Rodney’s sperm, I don’t know if they can mix them together, but that would be more romantic, put it in a syringe, like you use to baste turkey or chicken or any other meat…”
Another pail of water fell. “Mother, please! We’re not even married or unioned or…” Anything yet. “Please, I just don’t want a full-blown production.” Or even a tiny one. Childhood birthday parties of magicians, pony rides, puppet shows, and far-off trips flashed through his mind. Mother’s circuses put The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey to shame.
Donnie’s mother reached over and patted his hand. “Certainly, Darling, I know. Not everybody understands.”
He smiled. Cupped her hand in his. More than you know. Glanced up. O God, how did this happen? Save me and I promise never to doubt You anymore. Stared at his mother. Brought up his most humble voice. “Mother, I love you and have tried never to disappoint you…”
“You never have, Darling. You have always been the perfect son.”
“Thank you, but…”
She jerked her hand out from his. Her rings scratched his palms. Picked up her coffee cup. “So, when are the festivities?”
“Uh?” I’m not through begging yet!
She sipped. Picked up her English muffin with her other hand. “I know you have to check with Rodney first, Darling, but please do it before I die.” Took a bite.
“Mother, please, I don’t like you talking like that.”
She set her muffin and cup down. Pushed back her plate. Got up from the table. Dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. “I’m going to my room now, Darling, and rest. There’s a wedding, no, a union ceremony to plan. I’m sure you know an exquisite caterer.” Crumbled her napkin into her plate. Flashed her wonderful smile. Twirled and left.
Donnie sat there staring as his mother shuffled across the floor. Last year after her Christmas visit she complained about the stairs so he converted the first floor study into a bedroom. Damn, she’s even humming the ‘Wedding March’.
Thought about running after her and confessing, but couldn’t move.
Finally she disappeared behind the bedroom door.
He jerked up from the table rattling the dishes. Threw his napkin into his plate surprised there wasn’t a hole. God, I need a smoke! Maybe even a drink, at least a couple of doubles.
Stared at the English muffin on his mother’s plate and shook his head. A couple of nibbles and one bite after all that work! She barely eats enough to keep a bird alive. When I was growing up she made me eat everything on my plate before leaving the table. That’s why I’m in the mess I’m in.
Reached over. Grabbed her muffin and started crunching. After swallowing, then smoking, and breaking last week’s vow never to start drinking before noon, he would call Rodney. Tell him about the ceremony. Slip in “Guess what? We’re lovers.”
Poured more coffee.
Went to the liquor cabinet and spiked it with rum. (more)