Friday, July 12, 2013

Happy birthday, momma

July 28, 1977

I’m always confusing my mother’s birthday with the day she got married, then recall the marriage came earlier in July, and how by the time the 28th came along, she was alone again because my father had to travel to Washington D.C. to straighten out his dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Navy.
Now all these years later, I have abandoned her the way my father did, refusing to let my family force me into living with her again.
I’m 26 years old. The last thing I need is to live with my mother, which is exactly what I told them, and so forced her to move south with her mother and her brother and his family, she seeing it as some kind of prison sentence similar to when they locked her up in the mental institution when I was a kid.
This is her first birthday in Toms River – her first birthday out of Paterson.
She doesn’t hate the sea shore, but she has to rely on other people to get around now when back up in Paterson she could walk or take a bus.
I was supposed to go to see the New York Yankees with Cliff from work, a rare Thursday excursion to the bleachers where he and I usually get falling down drunk, more than enough excuse not to show up at the warehouse tomorrow. Now I have no excuse.
I have to visit my mother instead, driving down the Garden State Parkway waiting for the Yankee came to come on the radio and my hero Thurmond Munson to come to the plate, but all I get is some newscaster ranting about some oil pipeline in Alaska so I tune to FM and the fading WNEW playing old rock and roll I know by heart.
It is not hot. But I have no air conditioning. I have the windows open and like the looks I get from other people seeing me in my brand new Ford Pinto, my first new car ever after a series of broken down hotrods I spent most of my time trying to fix. I love the car even some news reports claim it might blow up if hit from behind.
My mother turns 49 years old today, and sadly, she’s already started to show the gray. She was my grandparent’s first baby, back in 1928 when they had so much hope, only to have the stock market crash a year later ruining their dreams and forcing them into hard labor.
I suppose they got drunk that night. I would have.
I wonder if my mother ever got drunk. I know my father did, often. My uncle Ritchie told me. My father was a sailor and a rowdy one at that, a boy who joined a medical corps. early in the war only to have the Navy take over even when he was still under age.  A sailor on the Yancy, his ship sat in Tokyo Harbor during the surrender, and later sailed through an atomic cloud, and still later to the North Pole before he was drummed out for a reason I never knew. He worked for my grandfather building houses after the Navy, and often snuck off the work site with Ritchie and Little Bill to drink in a Haledon bar.
I don’t know what my mother saw in him.
Maybe she thought she could reform him, just as she tries to reform me with her constant rosaries.
And as I drive I keep thinking of how lonely that birthday was, a two-week newlywed whose husband deserted her, looking out that window that July 28 wondering if he would ever come back. Did she know I was already taking shape inside her?
So I press down harder on the gas, determined not to let her spend her first birthday away from Paterson alone.
My present to her is me.

It’s the best I have to offer.

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