Mom is not usually one for family functions. Everytime there is a reunion, a party, or a family get together, she generally feigns an illness. But she wasn’t getting away with it this year. She’s done enough of sitting in the house feeling sorry for herself–so I told her there would be no “migraines”, no “upset stomachs”, and no sudden onsets of “the flu.” “Sick” or not, I was dragging her ass to my aunt and uncle’s house for some family time.
Now, mom has a tendency to overmedicate herself. So it wasn’t altogether shocking to show up at her house and find her a little out of it, eyes not quite open as far as they should be, her movements just a bit slower than usual. As we made the fifteen minute trip to my uncle’s house, she opened up her purse and pulled out a bottle of pills.
“What are you taking?” I asked.
“My pain medicine”
“I think you’ve had enough of that.”
“No, it’s time to take it again.” (Nevermind that several hours earlier she already sounded out of it on the phone, and when I phoned her just before I got there, she told me she was taking something for her aching back.)
“Well, why don’t you wait til you have some food on your stomach.” I said.
“Well, ok.” she said. We stopped a few miles later because she needed a pack of cigarettes, and when I came back to the car from the convenience store, she was hurriedly closing her purse, and I was fairly certain she’d popped something. When we pulled into the driveway she said, “I’m just gonna take half of one, I’m hurtin’ awful bad.”
We walked into the house and said our hellos. Everyone had sat down to eat, so mom and I had to crowd around the table to make ourselves a plate. Twice mom nearly dropped hers, and she was so unaware that she dragged her plate through the back of Grandma’s freshly curled hair.
We took a seat in the sunroom and started eating. Before we were finished, my cousin “Midge” and her husband arrived. Mom stopped them in the small foyer and hugged them, and as usual referred to Midge’s husband as “Jeff Gordon.” She hugged them again, and blocked the door into the family room. Midge has been in a couple of local TV commercials, so mom had to tell her how pretty she looked and how she had been telling everyone it was her neice on the TV. “I see it all the time cause I only got two channels”
“Let’s go inside.” Midge said.
“Well let me get a hug first!” Mom said, as if she had forgotten she already had two from them. While Mom was holding Midge and Jeff Gordon hostage in the foyer, most of the rest of the family had come into the sunroom. As mom walked back to her seat at the table, she stumbled around like a child on roller skates. Moving at a shuffle, tripping over the threshold, and utterly unable to maneuver the swivel chair she was trying to sit in.
“Oh God, she’s gonna fall!” someone said. I went and pulled the chair out. Mom turned to my aunt, and complimented her sweater, slurring out the words to ask her where she got it and how much she paid for it. She tried to finish eating, but by that point, she didn’t even have the motor skills to bring the fork to her mouth.
“What is wrong with you?” my grandmother asked.
“You’ve been taking too many of your pills!” Grandma said.
“No I haven’t!” mom said, “I’m just tard (tard, not tired) from eating so much! It’s the triptolene (sic) in this turkey!”
“You can’t even keep your eyes open!” Grandma said.
“I’ve got a tearduct infected.” excuses, excuses.
I was trying to ignore her at this point, and was talking to my cousin Midge about her recent cruise. Mom interrupted.
“I’ve only got two channels on my TV, so I see your commercial all the time. I heard it one day in the kitchen and went runnin’ in the living room cause I knew that was my niece.” My aunt asked Midge if she got paid for her commercial appearances. As Midge and my aunt talked about how she came to be in the commercials, mom repeated herself for the third time.
“I see that commercial three or four times a day, cause I’ve only got two channels. They don’t have telecable out where I live yet.” The aunt wearing the pretty sweater walked past. “That is the prettiest sweater! Where did you find it?”
“Mom, why don’t we get some fresh air.”
“Yeah, I need a cigarette” She got up from her chair and fell back in it, then slowly got to her feet, with the help of my uncle, and had to take my arm to even get outside the house. As we stood in the driveway she decided to check to see if her gentleman friend had called. Her phone was in a small cosmetics bag, and she sifted through it for several minutes.
“I know it’s in here.” she slurred. “Call me, so I can find it.” I flipped open my phone and dialed hers. Her bag began to ring, and the light from her phone became visible. By the time she actually found it, though, my call had gone to her voicemail. She flipped it open.
“Missed call!” she shouted. “I wish he’d leave me the fuck alone!”
“The missed call is from me just now!” But she didn’t understand that…instead she flipped open the phone and tried a half dozen times to hit the enter button and see her missed call.
“I don’t wanna go back in there.” she said, “They all think I’m drunk.” I explained that no one thought that, but it was quite obvious she was overmedicated. “I am not! I only take what the doctor says I can!”
“Then your doctor needs to be turned over to the medical board. You can’t even walk. You’re repeating yourself, and you can barely keep your eyes open!”
“It’s these new shoes! They hurt my feet. They ain’t broke in yet!”
We made it a few feet further. “Look at my legs shakin” mom said.
“Are you cold? Let’s get back inside.”
“No, I’m sposed to take a valium when I get like this, it will calm me down.”
“The hell you are! You’ve had quite enough pills for one day.”
Back inside, I went to the bathroom, and came back to find Grandma asking mom what she had just taken.
“They said I’m supposed to take a valium when I’m feelin this way.I wish everyone would leave me alone! I am not drunk!” By this point, everyone was doing their best to just ignore her.
It was time to open gifts, and I had to help mom walk into the family room. She whispered that my aunt “hadn’t said ten words” to her. I suggested it might be because she asked her twice already where she purchased her sweater. This year, we’d decided just to exchange baked goods and candies, but most of us had still gotten a “real” present for grandma. Grandma had a pile of gifts at her feet.
“Open up that purple one!” mom shouted, trying to get Grandma to open the gift from her first. But Grandma had already grabbed another gift, and before she could even finish thanking the person who gave it to her, mom was yelling again “That purple one is from me! Open that one up!” Grandma opened mom’s gift, a pair of pajamas, thanked her, and then reached for another gift. Mom stopped her from opening it, instead telling grandma what kind of material the pajamas were, what store they came from, and then climbing up on my 80-something grandmother’s lap, curling herself into a fetal position and cooing “I love you!”
Now, I do not embarass easily under any circumstances, and it’s next to impossible to embarass me in front of my family, but I was well beyond embarassed at that point. When mom got off grandma’s lap and sat next to my aunt, asking for the third time where her sweater had come from and what price she had paid, I knew it was time to go.
Next year, if mom has a “migraine” I’ll just let her sit at home.