My mother almost hit me once. It happened when I was 9 or 10 and had started a fire in the weeds that threatened the houses nearby, including my own. That was the day my mother almost hit me and everything bad I have become -- including lying to Master Charge about the check being, you know, in the mail -- is her fault. Mother, can you hear my pain?
I am confessing this because Bette Davis' daughter, B. D. Hyman, has shown once again that the way to personal salvation, not to mention Certificates of Deposit by the bunch, comes through dumping all over a parent. Hyman blames her mother, as she should, for her early promiscuity, and says that her book, "My Mother's Keeper," is not an expose but "an open letter to my mother." Alas, I had no early promiscuity, but my pain -- maybe for that reason -- is no less intense.
Folks, you would not believe the things my mother and her husband did to me. About twice a month, in my early and therefore formative years, my parents would have either "the boys" or "the girls" over. "The girls" played mah-jongg, and everything wrong with me today -- my poor spelling, for instance -- can be attributed to lying in my room listening to women call out, "Four crack. Three bang. South." Sometimes I would drift off and then be awakened with a start as the women would push their tiles into the center of the table. It sounded like the ice breaking up in the Bering Sea.
I know. I know. It's hard to believe. But there's worse to come. Listen to this. My mother used to insist that brown was a neutral color and would go with anything. To this day, I do not know what she meant by this, but I do know the result. I had to wear brown shoes. You are, of course, aghast at this. We would go into a shoe store and buy something called Boy Scout shoes. I did not want Boy Scout shoes. I wanted black shoes with taps so that I could walk down the hall of the school clickety-clack -- cool.
My mother had a thing about shoes. Cruel woman that she was, she and her first husband (also her last, but who's counting?) would not let me wear sneakers except to play ball. Or cowboy boots. In fact, there were thousands of things I could not wear, including pegged pants and a black leather jacket. It's just as well. I would have looked stupid dressed in a black leather jacket, pegged pants -- and Boy Scout shoes.
My mother lied to me all the time. When I was among the shortest kids in the class, she told me I could still be tall. I'm waiting. She told me it was just as easy to marry a rich girl as a poor girl. No longer relevant. She told me money wasn't everything, and one time when I got very sick and needed emergency surgery, she told me nothing was wrong and I would be all right. Imagine!
God, I know you are having a hard time believing this, but the worst -- the very worst -- is yet to come. My mother believed in something called "night air." Other mothers drank or hit their kids or kept them for days in the closet, but my mother believed in night air. No matter how hot and muggy it was, if the sun had gone down, she made me wear a jacket to "guard against the night air." The other kids would be wearing next to nothing and I would be running around in a jacket and, of course, my brown shoes.
My mother made me eat spinach. She made me drink milk. She forced me to have cod-liver oil every morning. Sometimes she paid attention to my sister. She went to "open school night" to meet my teachers and believed the lies they told her. She put braces on my teeth and would not let me eat lunch meat. She made me study and limited comic books to one a week. I almost never could have soda pop, and later in my puberty she sent me to a dermatologist who did nothing but inflict pain and forbid me from eating chocolate -- still more pain.
Like Hyman, I have had no choice but to involve the whole world in what is really a family matter. It's not that my mother won't listen or accept a collect call, it's just that when I tell her how she's warped me, she waves her hand at me and trivializes my complaint by saying, "Oh, phooey." As for Hyman, after readings lots about her book in every magazine I get, I think I know what her problem is.
She went out in the night air.