These are the memories I have of my dear mother, Brenda (1954-1986). She died of complications from sickle cell anemia, a painful disease that she dealt with her entire life.
My memory is incredibly sharp, or at least other people tell me it has to be, because my mother is still very strong in my mind, even though she died when I was ten years old. Certainly a couple of pictures I've seen over the years keeps the memories of what she looked like sharp, but I've only seen a few pics, and I don't see any pics of her on a regular basis. I have a pic of her helping me open my Christmas presents when I was four, but I don't look at it much. It's safely in my folder next to a note she wrote to my father while she was pregnant with me; my dad sent me the pic and the note about five years ago. It showed how sensitive my mom was. It was actually scary how similar the note was to my own insecurities. I never knew my mom was insecure about herself before reading this note, and it made me wonder how much of my fear of not measuring up like everyone else is in a way hereditary.
"I had a new doctor who...said that my blood hemoglobin was so low that he can't see how I'm still living," she wrote. "He said that most people with blood as low as mine die by the age of 16. Well anyway this cuts the chances of survival for our child. But he said I'll have a better chance at normal delivery because I've (reached) the 4th month of my pregnancy...The reason I'm writing instead of telling you over the telephone or in person is because I can't stop the tears...I'm just drowning in self-pity...I feel that I'm only half a woman and you deserve better. So get yourself a woman you can love and be happy with. Don't think you owe me something just because I'm carrying your child...You know you are the first whole man I ever loved. Yes loved...Oh yes I know I've tried to play a hard person. But the day I found out I was pregnant I loved this child. I told you a number of times that I would like to get rid of him or her but it was a lie right from the beginning. I just didn't want to be hurt anymore."
I was stunned when my dad sent this to me. I knew how difficult it was for my mom to have a child because once I asked her why I didn't have any siblings, and she matter-of-factly said, "Because it would kill me." I was so young, I didn't know she wasn't kidding until much later. But I wasn't aware of all the feelings that surrounded her pregnancy. I didn't know exactly how much danger she and I were in just from her carrying me. I didn't know how close I was to not existing, either due to abortion or from pregnancy complications. And that's why I know today that whatever I am feeling and going through may be rough, and I may feel like doing things that would jeopardize my freedom and my life, but ultimately I can't do that because my mother went through too much to give me life for me to waste it. It's the big overriding motivation for me every day I go to school: I have to try to make something of myself, if not for me then for my mother.
My earliest memories of my mother include how much she cared about her public appearance. Despite being tall, in the neighborhood of six feet by my memory, slender, and beautiful, she would hold up our trips out of the house by twenty or thirty minutes applying makeup and lipstick and fixing her hair. Our trips weren't very frequent because of her health. We lived with her mother, her brother, and her sister in a three-bedroom place on the second floor of a duplex her mother's brother owned. My dad visited but not often. My mom didn't drive, so trips would basically occur when we tagged along when her brother or sister went shopping, and also just me and her shopping on Madison St. on the west side of Chicago, taking the bus on a given day and never staying out until dark. It was in this environment that I learned that drinking and drugs were not a part of our lives, and they have never been a part of mine. Her mother smoked three packs a day, but no one else in the house did. And if my mother did any of those things, I certainly would have wanted to. One thing she did that I wanted to imitate but never did was the practice of taking handfuls of powdered starch and eating them. I never understood why she did that, but I knew not to tell anyone when I saw her do it, because no one wanted her to do it. And she wouldn't let me try to do it; she hid the box high on a shelf in the pantry so that I couldn't imitate her.
My mother was a lot of fun. I recall her huge blowout afro as the first hairdo of hers I ever saw, but once she abandoned that in the '80s, she didn't change styles much. Straight and smooth, no hair coloring ever, plain but beautiful. But her personality wasn't plain. She was very colorful. She read to me. She encouraged any little crazy thing that I said or thought. She would wake me up if a game of Uno or gin rummy or keeno was breaking out because she knew how much I loved to play. She was a romantic; her love of Teddy Pendergrass songs was so strong that I remember not wanting to hear a Teddy song called "Joy" when it came out shortly after her death because it reminded me of her. She was a hell of a woman with many facets. To be honest, she's a hell of an act for anyone to live up to as far as whom I choose to date. Sensitive, tall, slim, naturally beautiful, whipsmart, sober, warm-hearted, with enough love to fill the planet Earth? And would literally die for her loved ones? As far as I'm concerned, no one can possibly measure up.
She and I tried to be a family with my dad for about a half-year while I was in pre-school. We lived on a street called Lakeside near the lake in Chicago. It wasn't a typical rich North Shore neighborhood though. We were in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that wasn't very comfortable, especially for me, since I had to sleep in the living room on a foldout couch. But she woke me up around 5:30A and took me on a nearly two-hour bus ride every morning to the pre-school that I was attending on the west side about a block from her mother's house. The program that I was in was a good program, and she liked the faculty, so nothing was going to stop her from continuing my education there, not even moving so far away. In fact, it was my mom that insisted on getting me into a top-notch classical primary school after a teacher at the pre-school told her that I was "gifted." My dad's temper may have been a big factor in us leaving. I saw him once put his hands around her neck; I had to climb the bed and beat him in the head with the back of a hairbrush in order to show my displeasure, although that happened when he was visiting her mother's house, not when we were living with him. Who knows what other methods of controlling her he tried. I know he beat me like a dog. It wasn't unusual for me to accidentally fall asleep watching The Three Stooges or Benny Hill and be awakened by hard belt lashes because I failed to get up and turn the TV off before I fell asleep, as if I knew exactly when I was going to fall asleep. (I now sleep with either the TV or radio on every night without fail no matter where I am, probably as a sign of rebellion against him after all these years.) I have absolutely no idea if my mother knew this, but once when she was out of the apartment (meaning she was either shopping, at her mother's house, or in the hospital), the bastard brought a blonde hooker there in cutoff blue jean shorts and swore me to secrecy by intimidating me. Then they went in the same bedroom that he and his wife--my mother, the woman he married in front of me and everyone else in 1980--shared, and they didn't come out for a long time. I'm sure whatever else he was fooling around with, she had an idea, and that may be the real reason we moved out and back to her mother's house.
My mom didn't have much of a social life. She had one close friend since childhood, a woman named Barbara who is so kind-hearted that to this day she still calls me on my birthday even though no one in my family does. Around 1985 my mom fell in love again. She met a new man, a guy we called Mac, and I think they were planning on getting married. In fact, my mom and dad were not legally divorced before she died, but I believe she was pushing the proceedings in order to marry Mac. Mac made her happy when he showed up. I'll give him that. He actually seemed to make my mom happy. And he was good to me, letting me hang out with him in his Maywood apartment some weekends and watch sports with him. It was Mac that gave me my first racetrack experience. I think I placed a $2 show bet with him and won back $3 and change, which thrilled me immensely. It was Mac that also gave me my first taste of beer. I was begging to have a sip of his beer, and he and my mom kept telling me that I wouldn't like it, but I insisted, so he let me have a sip, and oh my God was that the nastiest shit I ever tasted. It was out of a 24-oz. Schlitz can. I still have the can because Mac started a penny collection for me in that can. It's been full of pennies for years now. I may cash it in someday, but only if I have to.
My mother was in and out of the hospital all her life. It became routine for her to disappear for several weeks at a time. My grandmother would take care of me when this happened, as well as my uncle and aunt. Once, when I was about eight or nine, my mother tried to discipline me with a belt, but she extended so much energy that right in the middle she passed out. I thought I had killed her. My uncle told me as much when they were taking her to the hospital. He'd probably deny it today, but he did say, "You keep acting the way you act, you're going to kill your mother." She survived that, but she was getting weaker and weaker. She left the house less frequently, and she didn't seem to be as much fun to me. But she, Mac and I were going to spend a weekend as a "family" at a downstate resort, complete with swimming pool, which I had never been in before, so I was really looking forward to it. This was going to happen in late September 1986.
In late August 1986 my mother went into the hospital again. She assured me that we were still going to make our weekend trip, and because she went to the hospital so often, I didn't think anything of her going this time. She slowly descended the steps like she always did, and said goodbye to me after she made it downstairs. I yelled "Bye" and went back to playing pretend baseball in the living room. That was the last time I ever saw my mother. The events of her death are very rapid to me. She had been in the hospital several weeks, as usual, and I was starting to get a little antsy, probably because our trip was upcoming. Then all of a sudden my family, including my grandmother, who didn't speak much, and my play aunt who lived downstairs started gathering around me daily gently asking if I wanted to visit my mother in the hospital. I kept saying no, partly because I didn't like hospitals, and partly because I didn't see the need--after all, she'll he back home shortly like she usually is. This went on for close to a week. Then on September 4, they gathered in my bedroom. All except my uncle were crying. Through the tears, they tried their best to explain to me that my mom was being kept alive by machine, and that with my blessing, they were going to pull the plug. But I actually misunderstood them to mean that they had already pulled the plug and that my mom was already dead. But I was trying to be a big boy and not let anything affect me, so I agreed to whatever they were telling me, and then we all had a long group hug. It wasn't until they came back into my room the next day and told me that my mom was now dead that I realized that she was still alive the day before. They kept asking me if I wanted to come to the hospital to see her one last time, but I thought she was already gone, and I didn't want to see her dead, so I kept saying no. I think I would have gone to see her if I knew that she was still alive. So officially, September 5, 1986, the day before I was to start fifth grade, my mom died, 41 days before her 32nd birthday.
My "be a big boy and be strong" act started almost immediately. I didn't cry when they told me they were pulling the plug, nor when they told me she was finally at rest. I matter-of-factly told everyone when I went to school that my mom just died. These were kids that I had been classmates with since first grade at that same classical school that my mom enrolled me in, so they weren't cold, uncaring strangers. Just the opposite, they expressed remorse and sorrow, along with my teachers. One boy, Parrish, the tough, bully-like kid but someone I never had a beef with, said, "Boy, I don't know what I would do if my mother died." I didn't know how to react to that. I felt like maybe something was wrong because I wasn't feeling as sad as I should. I felt more stunned than anything. I really wasn't expecting her to die. I thought she would live forever. Another exchange that I will never forget highlighted how much I was blocking out anything that would make me feel sad. Timothy, one of my best friends, came to me and said, "I heard about your mother. I'm sorry." To which I responded: "Don't be sorry. You didn't kill her." The standard for nervous laughter was set by Timothy and everyone around us at that moment. But I was determined not to let anything penetrate me. My penchant for keeping my feelings bottled up started with my mother's death. For some reason I would not allow anything to show that I was sad in any way. Not even my mother's funeral. I may have shown sadness or maybe even cried at my mother's funeral, and I wasn't going to let that happen, so I simply didn't go. I would rather remember her the last time I saw her, in pain but upright and still fighting and still alive. No one was going to take that from me. I got the feeling that my family was very disappointed in my decision not to go to the funeral, but they would have had to pick me up and take me there if they wanted me to go. I was not acknowledging the greatest woman in my life in the state she was now in.
All kinds of acting out and attention-grabbing antics by me followed. My grades dropped sharply. I wanted to use my mom's death as an excuse, but I couldn't come up with a good reason why her death would affect my grades. Everyone else knew that had something to do with it, but they didn't know how to deal with it, so eventually they just gave up and started calling me lazy and distracted by my other interests such as sports, music, and pro wrestling and took those things away. My dad threatened to take me away with him for the summer if my final grades for 5th grade contained any Fs, and knowing my history with his brand of discipline, of course that's the last thing I wanted. So why did I fail many subjects anyway? I don't know. My solution to the problem didn't help matters--I tried to white-out the bad grades before taking them home, but my folks found my 5th-grade teacher's grandfather's phone number in the phone book because her last name was rare, and she happened to be at her grandfather's house at that moment and confirmed that she had not whited out my grades. I felt ashamed, mad, afraid. But I wouldn't let go of that lie until it was proven wrong. At that moment I had my mom, my TV, my radio, my wrestling magazines, and now my summer taken away from me in the past year. That lie was all I had left.
But my grades never got better, and my actions continued to worsen, including molesting classmates, writing dirty stories (with my limited knowledge of sex not slowing me down a bit) and flipping off teachers...bascially anything that went against my image of a good guy nerd. Several counselors and psychiatrists came in and out, but when they asked how I felt about my mom, I indicated that I didn't have a problem with my mom, and that was that. It was kinda true though. I didn't think about her because I was so busy running around getting into all kinds of situations that I didn't have time, which I think was the point. When my dad made me stop before walking into the 1990 Chicagoland Spelling Bee and pray that my mom was there with us and would help me to win, it was the longest I had stopped to think about her in a long time. But I felt invincible from that point on, and I won. However, I was still more comfortable avoiding all thoughts about her until my first girlfriend "Giselle" came along and pointed out that maybe I didn't trust her because I was so afraid of her suddenly leaving me, just like my mother did. I told her she was crazy. But from that moment on, I've thought about my mother almost every day and how her loss has impacted me and my actions. And I think Giselle was exactly right.
I now live every day knowing that part of the reason my relationships with women are so dysfunctional is because I'm looking for someone to replace my mother. When I give my love to a woman that I'm with, which I do often even if I don't fully trust her, I do it looking to be loved back because I don't care who it is, I just want someone to love me unconditionally like my mother did. Yes, I date fat women mostly because they give up the pussy easily, but it's also because any thin, tall, attractive woman has to be at a certain level as far as her personality for me to even consider her. She has to be a saintly woman with a heart of gold, a total sweetheart, a smart cookie, confident in herself, really and truly believes in me, and I have to feel like someday she could love me with every fiber of her being, just like I would love her. But I project those expectations upon the fat women that I'm dating because I'm looking for that from whomever I'm with, and so far I haven't met one that measures up yet. The reason that I have such hatred for "Karen" is because I had such love for her because she exhibited those characteristics to me. When I gave her my love, she gave it back. When I invited her to meet my family Christmas Day 2003, she accepted and we welcomed her in and we all, not just me, gave her our love and she returned it, or so I thought. We stopped just short of giving her that group hug that they gave me when my mom died. I explained all of this to her, and she said that she understood. And when Karen refused to explain herself to me after I found out about her skanky side, it was like she spit in the face of me, my family, and my mother, and I can take being insulted--I'm insulted every fucking day by somebody--but I can't take insulting my family or especially my mother. It has created a very confusing next step for me as far as relationships go. I wanted to jump into something immediately after Karen so that I could be loved by someone, anyone, and "Sarah" was the next one. But at the same time, I felt like a part of me will never trust someone again the way I trusted Karen, and sure enough, I didn't trust Sarah. Sure, I told her about my mother, and she met my family, but there was a bit of a wedge between us, and I made sure of it. Then I thought that "Jane" was that woman with the ability to love me like that, then she canceled meeting me after I already booked the trip. That was like what Karen did to me--took my love, found out how deep it was, then abandoned me. Now I'm dealing with "Torrie," who plays that cool role of hearing about all I've been through and what I'm looking for and doesn't indicate where she stands as far as being the type of woman I want. She's fine just the way things are. And why not? I fly to Minnesota, fuck her, and leave. But now after I gave her my love the last time I saw her and got no response, I'm starting to get the wandering eye again because inside I feel that it's either find it somewhere else or settle for what I'm getting now, which is not what I'm looking for. But at least I've now put out the story of me and my mother, so that those still reading can get a better sense of why I am the way I am. On my left biceps is a rose and below it "R.I.P. BRENDA ROSS 1954-1986" in permanent ink. On my wall is a portrait of her in pencil that's very similar to how she really looked. Every woman in my life has to live up to her. I don't know if I ever will find the one that does, but if I do, I've been storing up love inside since September 5, 1986, and she will receive all of it. And if she really is deserving, then I have no doubt that she'll be able to handle it and give it back to me.