When I was born, the first thing my mother said to my father was,
“Well, I guess I’ll get used to it.”
For years mom neglected to mention that what she actually had meant by “IT” was not me.
She had been talking about my genitals.
I found this out one afternoon when I was in my early twenties.
I confronted her, saying,
“Goddamn it, mom, I am not an IT!”
“That’s good,” she nonchalantly remarked, blowing smoke out of her nostrils like a perplexed dragon. “Who said you were?” Now she looked like a ruffled owl.
“You, that’s who, YOU! It always pisses me off when you tell that tired old story about what you said when you first saw me.”
She threw her head back and laughed the way she always laughed when the absurdity in the room was beyond all bounds.
She laughed full out,
with hysterical tears,
with a deep awareness of the ridiculousness of life, especially hers,
with an unbearable black cathartic cleansing mirth at the general futility of the human condition…especially her human condition.
After catching her breath, she patiently reminded me that she was one of five daughters and that she did not have any brothers.
“You see, I was not used to penises,” she sighed.
I said, “Well, no one ever is,” and we both went into apoplectic convulsions of laughter…uproarious laughter my father used to scratch his head over, shrug his shoulders, and then look for an escape route like some inept Union general who realized too late that he had been outflanked by Stonewall Jackson.
I have always wondered if mom ever really got used to all the other ITs in her life.
Like her schizophrenia.
She would have had to be really crazy to get used to that.
To get used to that IT, she would have had to deny that she had ever been sane in the first place.
After all, she was once sane…I guess.
Dad would not have married her if she had not been sane in the first place…I guess.
You would have to be insane to marry someone who was crazy,
and my father was so sane he was almost crazy.
But who knows anything anyway when you’re in love?
My father and mother had been in love.
And they had always stayed in love.
Of that I am sure,
because you could always be sure of adults from that generation,
from the Great Depression/World War II generation.
Anyway, mom was the sanest person I had ever known up to that point in my life. Maybe the sanest person I will ever know.
I guess a kid cannot really grasp that his mother is insane. My sister and I certainly couldn’t. To us, it was just mom being mom.
We couldn’t understand why she was sad,
why she cried during our happy times and laughed during the sad ones,
why she once took her false teeth out of her mouth in a rage, smashed them on the bathroom tile, and broke everything in our house…including our father’s heart.
Why she thought actors in commercials were threatening her when they walked toward the camera trying to sell something.
We thought she was just kidding when she yelled at them.
Once, I said to her, “Mom, it’s not like they can hear you.”
She said, “I know, but if they could, then I would know for sure that we’re all crazy.”
Maybe she just wanted more company, but she did have a point.
Mom always had a point,
although she came upon it in her own roundabout way.
Ways like baking hundreds of 4 kinds of cookies every Christmas, carefully placing them in layers separated by wax paper into 2 huge tin cans painted with reindeer, Santa, elves, the North Pole, and stars in the clear polar night.
Like starching and ironing my cassock and surplus so that I looked even better than Father Miesch did when I served Mass at St. Cecilia’s.
Like showing me how to diagram sentences so that I could dissect and analyze language and therefore thought.
Like making a belt and a comb holder for me once when she was recovering at the sanitarium from one of her nervous breakdowns.
Like making my sister and me a hot breakfast every morning.
Like blowing smoke rings.
Like singing better than most women sang on records, radio, and television.
Like crying whenever she saw or heard something beautiful.
Like looking like Hedy Lamarr according to dad.
Like being probably the first-ever politically incorrect person in the whole world.
Like loving Mario Lanza, Julius La Rosa, and Liberace.
Like being fascinated with Bishop Sheen’s showmanship and totally bored with his theology.
Like when we would argue and she would finally give up, light a Chesterfield, and huff, “You’d rather be right than President.”
Like when she had the lobotomy and still cooked, cleaned, washed, ironed, starched, and blew smoke rings like nothing had ever happened to her...but of course it had.
Like how she got used to it all with more cigarettes, less church, and no more suicide attempts.
I guess she got used to it all before she died of a heart attack in a hospital very much like the one where she had first said, “I guess I’ll get used to it.”
But I will never get used to missing her cookies, her singing, her smoke rings. And I’ll certainly never get used to being wrong about her and about so many other things.
I’ll never get used to all those ITs.