March 1, 2003
My mother had a bad heart…
by Kevin Keck
y parents had to think that I had gone to the movies with my brother. It was the only explanation that seemed reasonable when I reached the top of the stairs and froze as I saw their entwined legs dangling from the edge of the couch. I heard my father's determined grunting, and my mother sounded either very sick, or horny beyond the point of intelligible communication.
My mother actually was very sick. Even though it was the day after Christmas, it was not the holidays which were the occasion for my visit. I had been staying at my childhood home for the past month because my mother had cancer. She had told me that it was her dying wish to have all 'her babies'meaning my brother and meat home for one last Christmas.
This was easy to accomplish because my younger brother (at twenty-six) had yet to leave home. Also, mother's impending demise was a matter of great suspicion on the part of everyone. No one doubted that she would survive the cancer: the tumor in her breast had been caught so early that it seemed as though the doctors didn't take her disease that seriously. Her prognosis for recovery was something like ninety-five percent. However, there was one complication: my mother had a bad heart. (She had extolled this fact for years in a metaphorical sense; it was ironic that her malady became a literal one.) Because of her weak heart muscle, the mastectomy posed the risk of sending her into cardiac arrest.
Which was a risk she ran all the time, to a certain degree. Too much stress, overexertion, overexcitementthese things could kill my mother. After I realized that my father was, indeed, humping my mommy on the sofa, I thought about her heart pumping wildly in her chest and how it could simply give out at any moment. My father knew that, too, and so I wondered what might possess him to give mom a stiff poke with all the stress she was afflicted with anyway. My father had acquired the need for Viagra years ago (a prescription I had abused, to much amusement, from time to time), and so any sex he undertook was more or less premeditated.
Any concern for my mother's health quickly dissipated when I came to my senses and realized I was listening to my parents have sex. I turned to descend the stairs and immediately stepped on the one creaky spot in the steps that I first learned to avoid in high school when I would sneak out of the house. Clearly, it had been awhile since I had needed to be covert about my comings and goings.
I did not move, but heard my mother say, "Howard…"
My dad didn't respond, keeping up his impassioned pace.
From where I was standing, we were out of sight of each other. I stayed put, loathing myself for invading the privacy of my parents in the midst of their intimacy. The disapproval I felt toward myself wasn't so much a result of the fact that I was hearing my parents have sex, but because I knew if the tables were turned, that if it were me up there with my girlfriend, my mother would be standing right where I was now and she wouldn't feel the least bit guilty for listening.
When I was sixteen my mother poisoned her boss. She didn't kill her, or even come close, but she did make her violently ill in a way that most people have probably dreamed of doing to one supervisor or another. I found this out when my mother came home from work that day, glowing in a manner which was uncharacteristic for her. I listened to her tale with marginal interestI was still too naïve to imagine that my mother's madness could be turned against anyone that she loved as dearly as her family. She was, after all, still my mother and not some fantastic version of a psychopathic, Lifetime Channel, movie-of-the-week mom, out to destroy the lives of everyone who crossed her in some fashion.
It was only three years later, while home on summer break after my first year of college, that I woke up with a knife to my throat and my mother screaming, "Get up you fucking bitch or I'll kill you! You don't sleep late in my goddamned house!" On the contrary, I had been sleeping late in her house for years. However, I was able to rouse myself out of bed quite quickly that morning. A few hours later, when I confronted mom about her outburst, she had no idea what I was talking about. She would go on to have several episodes similar to this, but I wasn't around for most of them. I was able to escape to the safety and calm of college, a luxury that I felt my father and brother always held against me.
But no matter how far away I went, I could never escape her grasp. When I lived in Central New York, as a graduate student, I ultimately had to disconnect my phone in order to abate her constant calling. And then she started calling the head of the English Department and leaving messages for me. It was usually her custom to be crying when she left these messages; when her guilt tactics did not work on me directly, she was brilliant at enlisting the unwitting help of friends and colleagues who couldn't understand how I could be so cruel to a woman who obviously loved me so much.
Which was precisely the problem: her love for me was excessive. It was as if she had decided, when I was four and she stayed up for three nights straight with me in the hospitallooking at me on the other side of the oxygen tent where my lungs labored for airto never let anything come between the two of us again. Once I was freed from the tent, it was her protectiveness that began to shield me from the world, and then somewhere her love went astray.
Tell me, knowledgeable reader, if your mother doted upon your privates with pride, would this be a sign of her maternal love? My mother has grabbed me so many times since I was sixteen, making lewd comments in the process, that I've lost count. She does this to my brother as well (though, curiously, I've never seen her do this to my father), and despite our protests it has continued.
How does one reconcile this behavior with the fact that I have always counted on my mother to take care of me when no one else would? And she has. And I have always found this to be one of her most noble qualities.
When I was twenty-one, I inadvertently killed my father's wiener dog, Max. (Have there been acts committed that were more unbelievably Freudian? Even my therapist suggested that I was lying because it was 'simply too perfect' to be true.) I was driving a rather large van at the time, and the wiener dog was known to roam freely about our property. When I pulled in the driveway the dog ran in front of me and I stopped. He crossed in front of the car safely, I drove forward, and as I did so he ran back under one of the van's rear tires. It broke his back and he died gasping for breath as I cradled him. When Max had expired I ran to my mother, weeping, begging for forgiveness, not entirely ignorant of the fact that I carried my father's limp wiener (dog) to my mother, asking for her love.
My father came home from work early, walked into my room and tore every book from the shelf. From where I stood outside, I believe I heard him refer to me as 'bastard' more than just once. Max was buried at a private service, to which I was not invited, and an 8x10 glossy photo of him sits on an end table in the living room, just a few inches from where my parents' sweaty heads are pressed together right now. Whenever anyone from outside the family inquires about the photo, my parents respond with, "That's Max, the dog our oldest son murdered."
But when I was living back at home in the fall of 1998 while on a break from graduate school, she had my dog sent to the pound without my knowledge. She carried out the deed as I slept (indeed, as I slept late in her house). I had stayed up all night chatting on the net, and so if there was a struggle (which I doubt there was, because that was the sweetest dog you've ever met), I was oblivious to it. When I questioned mother about Sophie, she claimed she knew nothing of it. She did, however, give me a lecture about how irresponsible I was to let my dog run free without watching her. She concluded the lecture by telling me it was my own fault if Sophie was gone.
Just several months ago, when my mother claims to have been visited by an angel of the Lord, she admitted to having the Animal Control Department cart my dog to the death chamber. I can't say I was particularly surprised. As a point of fact, she had made at least two other pets of mine disappear in a similar manner during the course of my upbringing.
Around the time she confessed to being the culprit in the case of my disappearing dog, she confessed to many other things. (The angel that visited her had apparently 'washed her soul clean,' so that my mother felt she could admit to past transgressions since they had all been forgiven by the Lord. The morning after her vision, she flushed all of her prescription medications down the toiletand from the quantities of antidepressants and sleeping pills and pain relievers that I know she kept, I'm sure that was more than a single flush. I have not yet decided if her sudden distaste for her little helpers was a result of her 'healing,' or a desire to never encounter an angel of the Lord again.) Among the many other things that she confessed was never having poisoned her boss, and clearly remembering holding a knife to my throat when I overslept one summer.
This was a complete mind-fuck to me. Why tell your sixteen-year-old son that you poisoned your boss? I'm not sure if it's more insane to confide a secret like that if it's true, or to make it up for shits and giggles and pass it off as the truth. It doesn't matter. Not long after my mother cavalierly told me that yarn, I became obsessed with people potentially putting things in my beverage, and for years I would insist that drinks be brought to me in bottles and with the cap still on.
And then to remember holding a knife to my throat? And to have lied about it all these years, and not just to me, but to my dad and brother, who have accused me all this time of simply having had a vivid dream?
When I was around ten, and not long after I had my first erection spring up on a warm summer day as I lay nude in the sun with my mother (upon this event, mother proudly led me inside to relay the news 'in the flesh' to my father), I began playing a new 'wrestling' game with the girl next door. She was a few years younger than I, but she seemed just as delighted as I to roll around in the grass and feel me 'pin her.' One day I looked up to see my mother smiling at me through the kitchen window, and later she said, "I saw what you were doing today. I know you weren't wrestling."
Her tone was not at all disapproving, as most parents might react. It was more conspiratorial, as if she wanted me to confide in her about my confusing urges, to make her a participant somehow.
When I was older she passed by me one night as I went to the bathroom and her hand lashed out for my crotch. I turned quickly and she instead grabbed my pocket, feeling something hard inside.
"What do you have there? Is that my Vaseline?" She punctuated this with the universal hand gesture for male self-indulgence. I most likely told her to shut-up, or something to that effect, because she suddenly began to treat me as though she had caught me stealing money from her.
"Show me what you have in your pocket. Give it to me now." I pleaded with her not to humiliate me, and after she had extracted enough remorse from me, she moved on. I went into the bathroom and removed one of her toys from my pocket, hating my mother for nearly discovering my secret. I didn't understand the way she behaved, wanting to shame me, because she had told me that she had felt shame often as a child, at the hands of her tormentors, her siblings.
There was the time her younger brother and his friends nearly raped her. There was the other time when her older sisters and their boyfriends ran her down and stripped her and made fun of her for being on the rag. And being from a poor, farming family from the Appalachian mountains, her tampon was quite literally a rag. She made a point about this, and about the other conditions of her poverty: having to share a bed, outdoor plumbing, cracks in the floor so wide you could see the chickens that lived under the house. She went to great lengths to underscore to my brother and me just how poor she was. Most often those stories came up when we had gone for a suitable amount of time without giving her another reason to inflict guilt on us.
I didn't really think about that too much as I kneeled in the bathroom. But I listened for the sound of her footsteps approaching the door, to burst in on me, or eavesdrop on my ministrations.
And how can I say to you, kind reader, that when I stood on those steps listening to my parents' lovemaking, the ultimate sound I listened for was not the finale of orgasm, but the end of my mother's life? I thought of her heart heaving in her heavy chest, the smallness of the tumor that harbored the weight of a star that had collapsed on itself, my father's meaty body balanced on hers like a bulldozerI wanted him to fuck her to death. I saw no more fitting end to my mother's life than to die by the dick, the very one she claimed never to have placed in any unnatural place, and I wanted her to die because no child should ever need to know that sort of information about his parents.
But I also wanted to make some sort of move, some noise to alert them to my presence so that they might stop. I did not want my mother to die in that instant, even though her life was a ceiling to my own and I longed for nothing more than to be free of her canopy of misguided intentions. I started up the steps again.
In my moment of princely indecision they had concluded their activities and my father was collapsed in my mother's arms, his head on her breasts that would be gone at the end of the week. He looked like Odysseus, unlashed from the mast and clinging to the rocks, called by the song of the siren's heart.
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