October 6, 2000
Port Lincoln, New Jersey 10:15 PM
The phone rang. I didn’t answer, but waited for the machine to record the
It began: “This is Janet Emerald. I live next door to your mother. She’s in the Frenchtown jail. She was arrested for drunk driving after she drove her car into a restaurant.
She called us from jail. We’ll post her bond and take her home. Call me. 901-751-
Immediately, I called her back. Janet sounded totally in control. She explained that my mother drove her Volvo through the side of the Trafalgar Cafeteria around 5:00 PM.
Miraculously, no one was hurt!
After she rammed through one side of the dining room, she backed up and totally demolished a lamp pole. My 81-year-old mother’s face was bruised, but she had no other injuries. Not even her glasses were broken. (Great TV ad for Volvo!)I had been waiting for THE EMERGENCY for years. I had predicted that only a crisis would make it possible for me to move her out of her home and into an assisted-living facility.
When I entered her house—with the help of her lawyer (because she refused to give me a key; I might steal something!)—I was horrified.
The walls were lined with empty half-gallon plastic jugs of cheap Scotch. The handle of each jug was precisely pointed to the right. Even in the throes of alcoholism and dementia, my mother’s obsessive-compulsive nature reigned.
Cigarette butts covered the once beautiful parquet floor in the hallway that I had frequently polished on my hands and knees when I was a child, as she glowered above me like the Colossus of Rhodes. Large black garbage bags filled every room; she never took the garbage out. But each bag was meticulously tied at the top with string. Stains in the shape of inchoate embryos covered the wooden floor and bedroom carpets upstairs. She was incontinent and had urinated everywhere. All of the toilets were stopped up and overflowing with shit. She had been using plastic buckets, which were never emptied.
The kitchen appliances were almost black with filth; the dishwasher had not been used for more than a decade. The rubber and plastic inside of it had disintegrated like the yellowed pages from an ancient library book.
My relationship with my mother had always been strained; I was terrified of her.
There had never been any kind of emotional intimacy between us: no affectionate caresses, no bedtime stories, no nicknames, no birthday parties, no Santa Claus, no tooth fairy, no hugs and kisses, no cuddling, no appearances at the camp horse show or water ballet or school spelling bee, no phone calls, no care packages…nothing—even when I was very young.