I Blame My Mother
Every writer has some sob story to tell. We all have our little excuses for being deviant or, as they more politely mutter with a fake smile, “somewhat off.” Why else would one waste so much time in such a self-absorbed, underappreciated, and delusional pursuit? A balanced person would never intentionally lock himself away for long hours struggling to string words into fanciful fabrications. That’s arrested development, a kind of childish behavior better suited for kindergarten pre-nap story-time. Instead, I am frequently told, a person who is right-in-the-head should “grow up,” put his little fantasies and traumas behind him, and “move on” to become a plumber or proctologist or politician, or any of the myriad other trades that contribute to society by furthering the gross national product. But writers, ever moping and seeking excuses, are a sorry lot. They are a blight on humanity. They are bitter baggage on the planet’s great forward journey through the cosmos. They are, from Homer to Hemingway, a bunch of whining nincompoops.
Still, a few of us have very good reasons for being the way we are. The time has come for me to tell you mine.
My mother killed me when I was a still a baby.
Not tried to kill me, but actually killed me.
Now everyone knows. The years of carrying that dark secret are finally over.
Granted, I recovered. But not without side effects. The grip of Death held me for but part of a single second, and yet a person doesn’t easily return from such a grim journey. They’re all up-messed afterwards. (Remember how, after his resuscitation, Lazarus was never any fun at parties?)
And for the record, I don’t mean to get my mom in trouble. She’s old now. Doddering and pathetic. At this late hour, what good would it do to have her serve time for what she did? And heaven forbid that she should be made to wear an unflattering beige smock with the scarlet letters BK (Baby Killer) printed on the back just so everyone can know that she’s the one who did me wrong. That, although arguably justified, is not truly what I want. No. Not really. What I want instead is to tell my side of the story. I want people to know what happened. I want, at last, to offer up an explanation for myself and my many failings as a legitimate human being.
Now I’m sure there are those who would argue that a person is not capable of clearly remembering his life’s earliest experiences, no matter how harrowing they might have been. But I’ll wager that none of those supposed baby experts have ever been murdered by their mums. I recall everything quite vividly. God knows I’ve replayed that shocking scene a thousand times in my head, trying to find some way out for my mom, some good alibi for what she did. But alas! No matter how badly I want to prove her innocence, the evidence remains.
It was a chill morning. Snow was falling outside. I watched the flakes tumbling past the bathroom window from the changing table where I was sprawled and airing out. I kicked my legs and broke infantile wind. Life was lovely.
Or at least I thought life was lovely. Little did I suspect that my mother felt otherwise. Obviously motherhood was not as she had hoped; it was not the beatific experience so touted in certain propaganda pamphlets handed out in Sunday School classes for young wives. No. It wasn’t that at all. It was far more tiring. What with spit-up and diapers, it was far more unsavory. One could even say that motherhood was a major impediment to one’s dreams for a happy life. One could say that motherhood, so life-affirming on its storybook surface, was, in fact, a sort of giant, dreary toothache of the soul. This, I now understand, is what my mom was pondering as she prepared, that fateful morning, to give me a bath.
She filled the sink with tepid water. (Wouldn’t want to scald the little nipper, now would we?) She was eerily silent as she went about her task. One expects a mother to hum a soothing lullaby in such moments, but her unsmiling lips, in between yawns, were quite firmly sealed. Her eyes were barely open.
Oh, well, I thought. Maybe in my limited life experience I am unable to know all there is to know about how a mother should act. (I really do remember thinking that, or, anyway, something like that.)
Like an automaton, cold-hearted and mechanical, she soaped me up good. I must say, I felt no love in her touch that morning, no mother-child connection. I could have been a dirty plate she was washing to put away in the cupboard. But then, after another of her exaggerated yawns, she finally spoke. “Golly, little guy, I sure wish you’d let me sleep at night.”
Sure, I suppose you could say I was a bit of a night owl back then. I liked to wake in the wee hours and have a sip of milk while watching the stars and moon through the window. Life was new for me, and magical. I didn’t want to miss that wonderful nocturnal show by sleeping through it. And of course I wanted my mom to share it with me. That’s the kind of thing, I reasoned, that creates a lasting bond. That I softly cried to get her attention… No. Okay – that I howled to let her know it was two A.M. and time for her to lift me from my crib for a little bonding was just how we had set up our system for communication. I’m so sorry that it wasn’t more pleasant. But I was a baby, for crying out loud! What were my options? At any rate, Mom seemed a little put out about our nighttime cuddling. And now, feigning sleep deprivation, she was putting the blame on me.
She soaped my tummy, and wearily gazed down upon me in my vulnerable state. Not with the love one might expect, but with a look that I would later understand was her trying to figure a way to off me.
“Oh,” she said. “Are you cold?”
I didn’t answer.
And that’s when she came up with her devious plan. She reached across the counter to the electric heater waiting beside the toothbrush holder; she slid it to the edge of the sink; she switched it on to Hi.
It hummed as the current coursed through its wiring. The red coils came to life with electricity. An unnatural heat breathed over me in my sudsy sink.
Now I didn’t know a lot about stuff back then. I was only a few months old, after all. But even as an infant I sensed that this particular arrangement was a recipe for the proverbial disaster.
“Heh-heh,” I laughed. “Mom, what do you think about maybe moving that heater back a ways from the sink’s edge?”
Of course, this came out “Gloob.” But isn’t a mother supposed to understand her child’s language? At least, a mother who loves her son and wants to proudly watch him grow into a plumber or proctologist or politician?
She didn’t respond, but left me alone in the sink and turned toward the towel rack. I remember so clearly that next short moment. Haven’t I replayed it a million times in my par-boiled brain? Haven’t I awakened in the night in a cold sweat with that haunting memory looping back around for another go at my already frayed psyche?
Mom swung back with the towel, intentionally dragging it low through the air over the heater.
“Gloob!” I cried. “Flormp!”
But it was too late.
They say you’ll see a bright light when you die. I’d like to verify that, and further that macabre bit of information by telling the world that said light is bright blue. In my case, the light’s flash was punctuated by a loud Pop! and an ensuing sizzle.
As I said, I was dead only for a short time. But it was long enough for me to go on a journey into Neverland or Limbo Land or Oz or Whereverville. I’m not quite sure what you would actually call the place. But time stood still. I remember walking a path through a field of colorful flowers. I remember sweet sweet music, as if sung by angels, or honeybees. And I remember coming to a fork in the path. A flickering neon sign pointing one direction read – Plumbing – Proctology – Politics. And another sign pointing the other direction read – Self-Absorbed, Underappreciated, Delusional Pursuits.
And that’s my legitimate excuse.
Surely I can’t be held responsible for stumbling down the wrong path. I was a baby, and dead, and I had some serious mother issues. How can anyone blame me for choosing that more erroneous route through life? It’s not my fault. I was forced into making the kind of decision that a person shouldn’t have to make until they’re older, after a few years of life, once they’ve been exposed to examples of the harm inflicted by bad choices.
When I came to, I found myself bundled in my mother’s arms. She was weeping, rocking back and forth, and kissing me repeatedly. Apparently she had had a change of heart since she had tried to electrocute me. But of course it was too late for me. My path had been irrevocably chosen. My barometer was fried, my moral compass demagnetized. I was but a mere shell of my former potential. From that moment forward I was destined to a sort of weird progression through life. Rites of passage that most people assume will fall chronologically came to me all scattered. (For example, I had my first mid-life crisis when I was only six years old, and I might have actually fulfilled its promise with the widow down the street had I been physiologically capable.) My actions have always been, to say the least, shocking. Go figure!
My mother apologized profusely. After realizing the horror of what she had done to me, she was all sweetness and cuddling and moonlit milk parties. For a couple of years she seemed truly remorseful for her abominable sin. We had what one might look upon as a normal mother-child relationship. Albeit, with the child part of the equation being “somewhat off.” And I might have grown to trust her again entirely if not for a day in my toddlerhood when she once again was overcome with her demonic urge to be rid of me, this time by way of a blow to the head, followed by a rather painful spinal tap.
But that’s another sob story altogether.