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My father died courteously a few years ago. We stayed in touch through the period of his decline. I visited as often as I could and he seemed grateful for my company. There was never any particular beef between us; he was mostly absent when I was a kid. Lots of dads hung around the periphery of their children’s lives in the sixties and seventies.  When I told him we should talk about him not living alone any longer, he said he understood. The following day, he told me he was checking into a nursing home to rehabilitate himself. I was baffled, but already had plans to see him in a week.  We’d work it out then. He waited for me, health declining. We both knew no “rehabilitation” would occur. When he saw me, he smiled, said he loved me, everything was good, and then he died. Before the next morning. Done.

My mother won’t be so easy. She’s losing her memory. She’s spent all of her money. She’s in great physical health and just moved into my house last week.  She seems to believe that most things are either my fault for nagging her too much or Barack Obama’s fault. This is, at least in part, because he’s a Black Democrat Muslim. The worst kind of each of those things.

What happens when the mind begins to misfire? And then a relationship begins to misfire? Rewind. What happens when a relationship misfires and then the mind misfires and? Playback. Misfires create misfires create minds. Forward. Where do we go from here?

Elizabeth

By Liska Jacobs

Essay

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There are times when she is gentle, but there are also times when she is not gentle, when she is fierce and unrelenting toward him or them all, and she knows it is the strange spirit of her mother in her then.

– “Her Mother’s Mother” by Lydia Davis

 

Every oldest daughter of an oldest daughter is named Elizabeth. We are all Elizabeths, except one.

I pick her up, the one not named Elizabeth—my oldest—at her apartment in Mar Vista. She’s packed only one suitcase for the trip and when she sees me, asks if she should drive. I am crying again so I say OK.

We stop at the house in Van Nuys to pick up my mother. It’s near the wash and has been remodeled often, the courtyard bricked in, a fountain in the side wall, jasmine and rose bushes and stone steps leading to the back. Every room smells like cigarette smoke and when she comes out, my mother looks smaller, thinner, cheekbones severe, her green eyes dark. I let her take the front seat. It is, after all, her mother who has died.

I watch her closely. She plays with the radio station, one hand over her mouth. My daughter, thank God, has enough sense to put on a cd, to talk about trivial things, like the length of the flight, where we are staying in Binghamton.

On the plane, getting us seated is a hassle. My mother wants to sit by the window and she’s been assigned an aisle. For a moment I’m reminded of our childhood. Her bouts of depression, her anger, how she used to, as punishment for some slight—perhaps the dishes were not completely dry—ignore us for long periods of time. Mom, I would cry. Mom, Mom, Momplease talk to me. But she would continue puffing on her cigarette, switching through television channels or reading some thick hardcover book. I was wind outside a window.

Liza Monroy_005Wait, you did what?

I married my best friend for his green card shortly after September 11, 2001. He’s gay and from a Middle Eastern country I call Emiristan to help protect his identity. His student visa was expiring and he would have had to return to live in the closet in a homeland where he could be killed were it found out that he happened to share a gender with the person he romantically loved. I much preferred for him to stay in West Hollywood and with me. In Emiristan, he would likely have had to enter an arranged marriage with a woman, so he entered one with me, instead. Ours had fewer restrictions and no expectations.

Domenica_Ruta_ 32

The Library of Congress breaks down your book into these categories: Children of drug addicts—Massachusetts—biography—drug addicts. What genre would you put your book into?

I really dislike reducing any work of art to a DSM-IV listing. My mother was more than her addictions and mental illness. And I am more than her daughter.

RUTA_WithWithoutYou_trP R O L O G U E

Glass

My mother grabbed the iron poker from the fireplace and said, “Get in the car.”

I pulled on my sneakers and followed her outside. She had that look on her face, distracted and mean, as though she’d just been dragged out of a deep sleep full of dreams. She was mad, I could tell right away, but not at me, not this time.

Her car was a lime-green hatchback with blotches and stripes of putty smeared over the dents. The Shitbox, she called it. We called it, actually. My mother hated the thing so much she didn’t mind if I swore at it. “What a piece of shit,” I’d grumble whenever it stalled on us, which we could gamble on happening at least once a day, more if it was snowing. Far and away the most unreliable car we ever had in our life together, it was a machine that ran on prayer.

ag2Like writing this memoir wasn’t exercise enough in accelerating through self-consciousness and isolation, now I have to interview myself about it?

Apparently.

 

You’ve been quoted calling your new memoir, The End of Eve, “a comedy about domestic violence.” What’s up with that?

When I was working on the book I found it a bit tricky to explain to people what I was doing.

I’m writing about lung cancer!”

“A great project about watching my beautiful, crazy, abusive mom die!”

I must have sounded so depressing. People would go all doe-eyed. So I started saying I was writing a comedy about domestic violence. Well, that didn’t go over so well, either. Because, of course, domestic violence isn’t something to laugh about. But here’s the truth: I grew up in a violent household. My relationship with my mother always included some level of violence. But it also included a lot of humor. Some days, aking my mom laugh was the only way to get her to put down her weapons. It was the only way to get her to drop the drama. And laughter is a real way to relieve tension—that’s not just a quirk of MY family of origin, it is what is true.

 

“We need to talk,” said my mom. I was 14, and this could have meant any number of ominous things. We’d had many “talks” over the years, most of them related to my adolescent misbehavior, which arrived at 12 in particularly worrying form.

We sat together at our breakfast counter, she with a mug of Bengal spice tea, me with a glass of OJ. My mother was, and is, a very pretty woman, with bright blue eyes, skyscraper cheekbones, and an easy laugh. She sipped her tea and took a breath.

“Karen and I aren’t just friends, honey.” Her features tightened, but her eyes met mine, clear and steady. “We’re more than friends.”

Mothers I love to fry
Mothers imparting feral logic
Mothers in lactation frenzy
Mothers iterating life’s fullness
Mothers in like flint
Mothers in lustrous fortitude
Mothers in lonely friction
Mothers in Lucifer’s foliage
Mothers in lockstep formation.
Mothers’ irascible leverage force
Mothers I’d like to fluoridate
Mothers I’d like to forget
Mothers issuing lyric phraseology
Mothers insipid loady frights

 

My dog’s ashes are currently in a small silver gift box on my bookshelf. I loved my dog, but I hate that ugly box and its stupid tassel.

When my husband and I decided to cremate Bernie, we thought we would scatter his ashes along one of his favorite hiking trails, but doing so is illegal where we live. I hated the idea of us furtively dumping a baggy of remains in the always-crowded park. It didn’t feel like an appropriately jubilant celebration of his life.

Out of Focus

By Paula Younger

Memoir

Two years after my wedding I stood behind bulletproof glass searching evidence tables piled with pictures of smiling brides and grooms.  Jenny, the police officer assigned to photo viewing day, led me to the Misc. box, a cardboard beast overflowing with pictures and negatives.  She warned, “This might take a while.”  A blond woman flanked by her husband and her parents said, “Can you believe we have to do this?”  She rifled through boxes for a glimpse of the dress she had so carefully picked out, her husband’s smile, photos of friends and family.  I was looking for those things too.  But I was also looking for something else.  In that police basement I was searching for the last pictures ever taken of my mother and me.

I wish the magazine Parenting would just go the full shot and rename itself Mothering; it’s never too late to be honest.

It’s a magazine by women, about women, and for women, with only a few obligatory Man Ghettos, a page or two on which fathers rear their dense and uncomprehending heads. I won’t bore you with comparative page counts or (follow the money!) an analysis of the advertising: more tampons than pickup trucks (and the latter at least can be gender neutral).

Author’s note: The following are annotated highlights from the morning show playlist on WTMD 89.7 out of Towson, Maryland on the morning of Wed. April 13, 2011. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the DJ Erik Deatherage, who has unknowingly nursed me through many a difficult morning.

What motivated you to write this book?

Same thing that motivated me to learn karate—having the last name “Faries,” and I can show you how good I am, just like I showed Donnie Manfredi in 1981 when I did a round-house kick over a five-foot fence and knocked Donnie into the dirt. He didn’t take the bus for two weeks after that.

 

Tell me about music and its place in the book.

The book is music. If you put it to your ear I am sure you can hear a guitar solo. I’m just not sure if it is acoustic or electric. When the first box of review copies arrived in Thunderbolt, GA, the UPS driver strutted to my door snapping his fingers and swaggering through the humidity. He put the box on the porch, did an about-face, and abruptly dropped his head and shuffled back to the truck.

Each chapter is framed in a particular song that helps contextualize the emotion of place. In the 70s, rock and roll was still defining itself and it seemed to change monthly. It was moving, just like Mother and me. In trying to find itself, it was screaming, “Hey, where am I? What am I supposed to be doing? This feels good! How about this? Oh, you don’t like that sound? Well fuck you…. How about this? Can you feel that grinding? Can you feel my chest expanding and my britches getting bigger?” I am chopping down mountains with the edge of my hand. I am chopping down palm trees and they are landing on your back.

 

When writing a memoir, is there such a thing as objectivity?

No. Objectivity in writing is a myth because the very act of selecting content is by nature subjective. Now, in my book I was incredibly objective. For example, when Mother was making love to John P. on the mattress above the Jack-o-Lantern Bar I objectively described the situation: I was happily bouncing up and down because there was only one mattress. It was as if we were all playing together. There were strippers from out of town blowing men in the parking lot while we hid from Mother’s boyfriend , Junior, in this wonderful little upstairs apartment. That scene was just described objectively (sic).

 

Tell us a little about your concept of truth in memoir, or at least truth in this memoir.

Well, my narrator will likely be accused of making certain things up. But if you ask a first grader—raised by parents who were always tripping on psychedelics—why the family had 18 dogs, he would likely recount this mystical experience where he saw them all emerge from a vaginal opening in a barn door. And that is exactly what happened. If you are going to be a little magical, just remind your reader that you are a magician and not the messiah. They will watch your magic show and even accept some of your failures, like when you pull a monkey out of a hat when everyone was expecting the same old rabbit.

 

What’s the story behind your trailer?

The story is that two wonderfully fascinating mothers trusted me with their boys for a day. I transformed them both into Chadillacs (that’s been my nickname since birth) with Big Wheels, Barbies, classic cars, motorcycles, and music. It was the closest I ever came to being a parent. And Ashley Newsome, who plays my mother in the trailer, I spotted her at a coffeehouse where we were both watching the band Shovels and Rope perform, the song “Boxcar.” It had the same emotion as the book, and I looked over and saw Ashley in bell-bottom corduroys with a beer in her hand and knew she had to play my mother. We shot various scenes from the book. took a bunch of stills, and recreated the 70s. The most disturbing element was playing Mother’s boyfriend.

 

After what is now over 40 houses in 40 years, have you managed to stay put, or are you still rambling?

I’ve got rambling on my mind. I say I’ve got rambling, rambling on my mind. But I’ve now lived in the same house for four years. That is the longest I have ever lived in a single space, though I transform that space constantly. I am a carpenter, and I have created fantastic nooks and tree houses on my property so I can ramble from space to space. But I am not very successful at that either. I run away to ape sanctuaries and mountains on my motorcycle at least once a month. Rambling does have some costs I suppose. I really only have two childhood friends. And my friends from high school always treated me as a second-class citizen. Yeah, you know who you are and you are going to be in trouble. I know karate.

 

You are at your grandmother’s deathbed right now, on the release date of your memoir. I know it might be difficult, but can you contextualize the scene for us?

I am in Iron River, Michigan in the Northstar Hospital on the shore of Ice Lake. There is a window and I can see the water. I pissed in that water, cut my foot open in that water, had sex in that water. And I think Gramma did all of those things in that same water. And aunt Molly too. She is on the other side of the bed. Grandma calls us “the smart ones” sarcastically. That is one of the last full sentences she got out. The sun hasn’t shone in three days. Gramma has that death rattle people describe. It sounds like a car crash played in slow motion., complete with people screaming. But occasionally she will cough out a feverish laugh. Sometimes she sighs and lifts her eyebrows. When I touch her hand she breaths heavily and squeezes. “Grandma, I made the cover of the paper today” I tell her. I play the music from my trailer for her, “Boxcar.” Ain’t it just like you and me to go down like that? The dust jacket on the hardcover has an excerpt that reads “We talked fast because we thought we had a lot to live. And we did. Still do. We are all still alive, even with the years of damaging relationships and drug treatment behind us—years of cheap Wonder bread full of mold, and sour milk. No one has died, at least none of the women. They have centuries left I am sure.” Well, surely not. I am a damn stinking liar. I am telling you this now so you know there are no surprises.

 

Is there something you want to say to your grandmother?

There is a difference between scratching your ass and tearing a hole in it. Step up to the magic and disappear.

Viktor Frankl conceived of three elements every person must face in life, and in fact must resolve in order to find life meaning.  Frankl’s tragic triad[i] is comprised of pain, guilt, and suffering.  I believe how we face these generational and humanity-wide inner crucibles with determination, individually and in community with others, builds our capacity to heal and be healed, and affirms our capacity to love and be loved.  In coming to a better understanding of our own existence, we must pass through the history of our mothers and fathers, and our choices in this regard are of paramount importance.

In case you didn’t know, puking sucks.

Friday night, my boyfriend Alex and I picked up some food from our favorite Vietnamese place to settle in for a nerdy evening of Fringe and website designing. We feasted happily on our five-spice chicken, kebabs, rice with meat sauce, and imperial rolls.

I took a bite of a roll and knew immediately something was off. The meat was well, sort of pinkish, and the roll wasn’t as delectable as other times. But I dismissed my gut (so to speak) and ate it all, thinking, Even if it’s a little off, my stomach can take it.

Wrong.  Oh so very wrong.



Like Jerry Seinfeld, I’ve had a long non-vomit streak. Nine years ago was the last time, when I caught a nasty stomach bug that had me retching till I burst a capillary in my eye. Since then, somehow, I’ve avoided blowing chunks, even after feasting on raw beef, questionable goulash, and cod sperm sacs (of course not all in one sitting).

Sure, there’ve been close calls. Some bad stop-and-go taxi rides. Some stomach-dropping airplane turbulence. All that spinning in Black Swan. But nothing to actually induce the spew.

For Jerry it was the black-and-white cookie. For me: an undercooked imperial roll.



We finished eating around nine, and I went to bed at midnight. I was tired but didn’t sleep well. Weird thoughts whirled through my head. I kept thinking about my website. In my mind parts of it grew and shrank, like when I was a kid and took too much cough medicine and hallucinated that my curtains were one moment gigantic, and the next, far away, as looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

Finally, at about three AM, I woke up. Something is very wrong, I thought, but wasn’t sure what. I had the chills and my belly was distended and felt VERY full, like when I had that stomach bug. It had been six hours since I’d eaten. By then I should have been hungry and fantasizing about breakfast (yes, I fantasize about breakfast).

Lying in the dark, I felt more and more wrong. I began to feel nauseous. Please don’t let it be that, I thought. Anything but that. My period maybe. Or maybe I’m knocked up. But I knew. I remembered my dinner and felt even worse. Maybe I can suck it up. C’mon stomach, just digest it. Digest, damn you, digest!

My stomach did not digest. I ran to the bathroom, and that was that. The beginning of the end.



Why is puke found on the sidewalk Sunday mornings always pink? Or else orange. Is it all those margaritas on an empty stomach?

Puke in movies seems to always be white (unless of course you’re possessed), with the consistency of clam chowder.  In reality, throw-up looks pretty much like a watery version your last meal.

Mine, however, looked exactly like my meal. Whole chunks first of meat sauce, then meat sauce and rice, and along the way, bits of the cursed imperial roll. It also tasted exactly like my meal, only, you know, disgusting.

The one time I was sick in China (don’t eat the shellfish), I disgorged a vertiable rainbow of the food I had eaten that day, in backwards order: bright yellow cornmeal, red cherry tomatoes, pink shrimp, and finally, the culprit, gray mussels.

This weekend my barf was far less pretty.



At four AM, Alex, the night owl, came to bed.

“I barfed,” I told him. “I think it’s food poisoning.”

He felt my forehead for fever. “Are you sure?” he asked. “We ate the same thing, and I feel okay.”

“Maybe it was the meat sauce.” He had skipped the meat sauce.

“Maybe.” He rose to get me some water.

Three hours later, he was running to the bathroom.



I’ve yet to mention the flip side of food poisoning. The other end, so to speak.

The runs. The trots. The Aztec two-step. Yes, diarrhea.

In China I had it coming out both ends. I had to choose: which was worse? There was no right answer.

There is never a right answer.

This time I was lucky enough to have to deal with just the mouth end. Poor Alex, on the other hand, had to contend with both, though, luckily for the both of us, not simultaneously.



When you’re nauseous, you don’t want to puke but you do. You know that afterward you’ll feel tremendous, albeit temporary, relief. While it’s happening, it seems it will never end. You will always be heaving, you will always be gagging.  You will always feel this insufferably bad.

Maybe after this wave, it’ll be over. Maybe after this one. Or this one.

Then when it’s over, you feel, finally, unbelievably good. You’re sweating. You’re shaking. But you’re no longer nauseous.

Till the next time.



For the entire day, we lay unmoving in our bad-pork-induced semi-comas, rising only to toss our cookies, or, in Alex’s case, crap his brains out, or, in my case, dry heave when I had nothing left to hoark.

At noon, we thought about getting up. “I’m going to try,” Alex said. He stumbled into the kitchen to get some water, and immediately returned, collapsing beside me. “Fuck that shit.”

The whole time, even as I fitfully slept, I couldn’t turn off my brain. I kept imagining the food I had eaten the night before, making myself sick again. I kept remembering all the other times I’ve been sick, in chronological order (when I was four and after having just finished a bath, turning to the side and neatly throwing up in the toilet; when I was 13 and got sick off a bad Italian sub; all the countless times I’ve had the flu and lay on the couch feeling queasy; and of course my bout with deadly Chinese shellfish).

I kept thinking about Mischa Barton’s dead-by-Pine-Sol ghost in The Sixth Sense covered in chunder and saying, “I’m feeling much better now.”

And that scene in the movie version of Flowers in the Attic when little Cory Dollanganger, unknowingly being slowly poisoned to death by his wacko mom, says to his big sister, “Cathy, I have to throw up.” (And by the way, have you seen this movie? It’s awful. I mean, really really bad. Yes, sure, take OUT the incest in the movie version of a trashy incest book! That’s why we read it!)

As well as that scene in Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade when Jenny slumps on the bathroom floor sweating after having blown her chicken dinner, and her mother comes in saying (guiltily because they’ve just had a fight), “Oh, honey, you’re sick!” and then her mother takes care of her till she collapses from exhaustion, and I kept thinking, I want my mom too.



Because with both Alex and me lying moaning in bed (and not in a good way), we had no one to take care of us.

No one to run out and get us Pepto-Bismol.

No one to mash up aspirin and put it in a spoonful of orange juice.

No one to refill our glasses of ginger ale.

Of course I haven’t lived with my mother in quite in some time, but I used to live in New York, just an hour’s train ride from my parents’ house in New Jersey, and now I live in San Francisco, three thousand miles away.

Normally, Alex and I are good at taking care of each other, but now we were both incapacitated.

“I’ll get you ginger ale,” he mumbled before passing out again.



Only worse than yacking, is doing so in public. I’ve only done so once (an ill-fated New Year’s Eve when I downed an amaretto sour after sangria), and threatened to do so once, on my first day at a boring internship with a literary agency, when my period was really bad, and the agent’s assistant said, “I hope it’s not because of this job” (it’s not all about you, dude!), and I thought it would be perfectly acceptable to lie down for five minutes in the middle of Broadway (I didn’t), and groaned unabashedly on the entirely too long subway ride from 23rd Street back up to 116th.

When I think about puking in public (as I often do), I think of Christopher Olson, the poor fat kid in my kindergarten class, whom we all made fun of, like the time my best friend Kristin and I pressed ourselves against the wall as we passed him, to stay as far away from him as possible, and our teacher Mrs. Gardner scolded us afterward, and she seemed really mad, and I didn’t understand why.

One thing Chris liked to do was lift his eyebrows up and down, Groucho Marx style. He did it often, especially at the girls, and once he did so at me during music class. He did his eyebrow thing, I turned away, and when I turned back, he had ralphed all over the carpet (it was white by the way, the ralphing, not the carpet).

From then on, I connected eyebrow lifting with ralphing, the way I connected my friend Kristin’s hairy arms with her being Catholic.

I also think of the second grade and my best friend Kari. One moment she was standing there perfectly fine, and the next she was red-faced beside a vomitous orange pool that smelled of Doritoes.



Why is it that as children, we can go from perfectly fine one moment to hurling processed cheese snacks the next? Are we simply not as aware of our bodies? Do we lack the experience to know, the way I did at three o’clock Saturday morning, Houston, we have a problem?



Finally, 15 hours later, we knew it was over. We had puked our last puke, had shat our last shit. We had convulsed our last dry heave.

We could string together coherent sentences. We could sit up and not feel as though we were going to die. We could take some aspirin for our dehydration headaches and down Gatorade and ginger ale. We were even, dare we say, hungry.

Though not for imperial rolls. Never again.



The next morning I called my mother to wish her a happy mother’s day but also, I admit, for some sympathy.

“We were so sick last night!” I said.  “We ate some bad food.”

“Oh no!” she cried.  “That’s too terrible.”

I smiled to myself.  Just what I wanted.  Then she went on.

“You know, you really shouldn’t eat out so much. You should really learn how to cook.”

Thanks, Mom.  I’m feeling much better now.