The Kitchen Table
My mother was a master at being a homemaker. The house was spotless and she was always cooking and caring for someone. She spent her free time obsessively decorating herself and the house. I have visions of my mom wearing all white with frosted hair, heels and enough gold adorning her body to make Ft. Knox jealous. She was an 80’s mom that took her fashion cues from watching Erica Cane on All My Children and Krystle Carrington on Dynasty. I came home many times after school to see her talking on the home phone with a cord long enough to reach outside so she could sit by the pool and smoke while drinking a coke or an occasional rum and coke while gossiping. These were the Camelot years for my family. Well…mostly…
I pulled into the driveway in my canary yellow jeep. Roof off, a cassette tape of Depeche Mode blaring as I took the turn a little too quickly and crunched a few of my mom’s precious Lilly of the Valley flowers. I hoped out and fluffed them up before opening the garage door. There was a new BMW in the garage. “Sweet”, I thought. I’ll be driving that baby tonight. But wait, a new car, that must mean my dad is home. As I approached the door, I could hear him inside. “You cock sucker no good mother fucking dick breath prick!” my dad bellowed. “I will fuck you all the way to god damn Mexico if you don’t wire that money to me today.” He’s pacing and his face is red. He’s wearing a MC Hammer style jogging suit. White with Neon green and blue designs. He looks ridiculous. A thick gold chain lays brightly against his reddened skin. His glasses are tinted dark. A gold Rolex flashes from his wrist. He looks like fat Elvis I think. A mad fat Elvis in the basement of a house in Omaha, Nebraska. It doesn’t fit but it’s what it is. We live in an affluent part of town and everyone is pretty much living the same life except our family. We are odd but we don’t know. Fat Elvis is so irate that he doesn’t notice my six year old little sister walking around in a suit jacket carrying a briefcase with a pretend phone pacing around the next room screaming “You mother fucker, I told you to send me money!”. My dad doesn’t acknowledge me either. I take my sister, Jeni upstairs and find my mom doing laundry. A poster of Tom Selleck hangs above the washer. She’s looking at it. “Hey mom.”, I say. “Hi Lori honey”, she says as she gives me a hug and scoops up Jeni. (I don’t tell her about what I heard her say downstairs) She’s pregnant and the weight of my sister who everyone calls affectionately, “Beasty”, is a strain on her tiny body. I didn’t want her to pick up Jeni, I was worried about her being pregnant at 36. Jeni’s birth almost killed her. I would have done anything to protect my mother.
When Jeni was born her mother told her she needed another child like she needed a hole in her head. Now she’s pregnant again with child number 4. I wonder what she said to her when she told her about this baby. It doesn’t matter, my mom always wanted to be a mom and she is great at it. She’s the kind of mom that sees the best in everyone, even my dad.
Beasty doesn't like to be held long. She’s soon scrambling out of my mother’s hug and wrapping a tea towel around her neck. She goes to the kitchen drawer and takes out a knife and fork. The cat is hiding at the edge of the kitchen cabinets. Jeni is walking with determined confidence but as she rounds the corner, the cat leaps and attacks her. Not like a paw swipe but a full body pounce….claws out…teeth digging into the neck assault. My mom doesn’t seem to notice. I look from my mom to the Beast and back to my mom. Normal daily activity around here I guess. Beasty rips the attached cat from her corduroy blazer and starts chasing the cat, knife and fork in hand, screaming “Come back here chicken, I’m going to cook you!”. Mom is gazing at Tom Sellack above the washer and folding my dad’s big fat tighty-whitey underwear. “Do you want to go look at lamps with me?, she asks. “Sure” I say even though I’ve gone with her several times already to look at lamps and she just buys whichever ones she wants. My opinion means nothing. We have a lot of lamps. We have a lot of everything. One year she had 14 Christmas trees decorated in our house….14!
We leave the Beast with my dad, which is always a risky move, but we are lamp shopping…one store and then back home. I should have known better that it wouldn’t be one store and done. By the time we got home my mother had purchased lamps, a new kitchen table, Christmas ornaments (it was June) but they were on sale and they were angels and she loved angels and knew it was a sign she should buy them.
We made it home with our haul of goodies but when we pulled into the driveway the garage door was open with no car inside. My mom went into mom mode face. She stared into space going through whatever it is a mom goes through and just said “Emergency Room”, like she saw a vision. We head to the hospital closest to our house and sure enough they are there. The Beast is getting stitches and has a broken arm. My dad was talking to the Dr. and when we approach we can hear him say “Well, we generally need to do a potential child abuse report every time a child comes in but your story is so over the top that we know it was an accident.”. “Next time don’t use duct tape to attach anything to your child. Thank you Mr. Bourke?”
“Duct tape?” my mom whispers to herself
“She wanted to be a god damn helicopter Anita. I’m on the phone with Senor Aguesse about a helicopter deal and she’s hears me talking about it and she’s monkeying around me saying she wants a helicopter and I find her one to play with and she doesn’t want it…she wants to BE a helicopter…not play with a toy one…be one. After 4 hours of that bullshit, I tell her to go out and get me a stick and I’ll turn her into a helicopter. So I duct tapped the stick to her head.” He says this like it’s a normal option for turning a kid into a helicopter. My mom puts her hand over her mouth. “It just pulled out some of her hair Anita. The kids’s fine.”
“So how did she break her arm Jim?”
“Oh that, well after that Todd came home and they were playing outside. They asked if they could roll down the driveway in garbage cans and I said yes. Apparently Todd rolled over Jeni and broke her arm.” My mother started tearing up. “And the stiches?” “Come on Anita, don’t cry, the kids fine, they didn’t even numb the eye for the stitches, she’s tough.” My mom looks like she’s going to vomit. She sits down in a chair and I sit next to her both of us giving my dad a “look”.
The Beast emerges from the ER room in a wheelchair. She’s all smiles but looks horrific with bandages all over her face and a blue cast on her right arm. My mom leaps us and kneels down next to her stroking her patchy blond hair. More than a few strands were pulled out by the duct tape. She looks like a plucked chicken. My father is carrying around a big suitcase phone. It’s ringing. He leaves talking to someone in broken Spanish. My mom and I take Jeni and Todd to get ice cream. By the time we get home, it’s dinner time.
“What in the hell is that?”, my dad says. “It’s a new kitchen table. Lori and I got it today. Do you like it?”, my mom asks. “For you yes, but for me and anyone else in the world, NO! Someone is going to get hurt on that thing. It looks rickety as hell, my mom will break through that chair at Thanksgiving.” “Oh Jim, it’s rattan, it’s sturdy. No one will get hurt.”, said my mom to which my dad chirps...“And that glass top? That’s stiches waiting to happen with our kids. What were you thinking Anita?”
My mom looks dejected and my dad just looks angry. He goes into the living room to watch football and I help my mom cook dinner. “I love the new table mom”, I say. “It reminds me of something you would see in a beach house.” “Thanks Lori.”, is all she says as she peels potatoes. I want to ask her right then why do you stay with him, but I don’t.
We are at the new table and dinner is ready. Todd is late and walks in reading a comic book. He’s always reading comic books. My dad hates them. “Todd, put that thing down and eat. Your mother went to a lot of work to prepare this meal.” Says my dad in a gruff voice. We say grace. We pass potatoes. Todd asks for catsup. I get up to get it. I open the refrigerator door and the cat jumps out. “My chicken!”, Jeni squeals and she leaps out of her chair to chase the terrified thing. My dad screams at her to get back to the dinner table and that’s when it happens. The chair he’s sitting on starts to crack. His glass eye looks straight ahead but his good eye is piercing anger and fear as he lands on his fat Elvis butt on the kitchen floor. “I told you this was a piece of shit!”, He takes his chair and drags it into the living room. My mom follows him in. All of us kids just freeze. Cussing and cracking sounds come from the next room. My dad approaches the kitchen and I sit petrified. “Get up”, he says. We scatter together by the sink. My mom is in the doorway and is mouthing “stay out of his way”. He drags every chair in to the living room. Three sets of eyes peek around the corner. He breaking them apart and burning them in the fireplace. “You stupidiot”, said Jeni. (This was how she combined stupid and idiot.) We all laughed and had our dinner as a picnic on the floor.