My mother kept a tidy house, albeit smoky, it was immaculate tidy, nothing askew, a nervous habit with her to constantly keep moving and I suspect, not keeping things tidy would make her less efficient, looking into blank eyes, very seldom was she ever really present, she had plenty of clutter upstairs….in her whirring constantly thinking brain. She had her good traits. She was a loyal friend, tough, a well behaved drinker. She kept secrets where they belonged. Her work ethic was unmatched and she taught us to always be unafraid. Although she was consumed with constant panic daily.
It always impressed me that my mom mowed our huge corner lot of green perfect grass…and as a kid I could cartwheel endlessly with the soft touch of grass at my fingertips. Not a day in my dad’s life did he ever mow our lawn. Later, much later, it occurred to me, perhaps he knew she could do it better, faster and what a waste it’d be to try and convince her otherwise. She had no time to sit and listen or watch anyone do a job that she could easily do herself. Late in life, in my twenties when my live-in boyfriend taught me how to make the bed, it came to me….she butt in and took over every task….my whole life.
My mother, well let’s be honest, as loyal and pleasant to look as she was, was also a control freak. To say she is a control freak, is like saying the Pope is holy. My wavering indifference towards her was constant. She was only encouraging when it was showing me off or dressing me up……like a doll, to look at. For many, like my mother with hyperactivity and SEVERE anxiety, the excess energy, the abundance of hutzpah seems welcome. Then I realize that she really doesn’t come with an off switch. She has to smoke to take a break? Like clockwork, she awakens to each day completely refreshed, nary a yawn. On my recent ten day camping trip with her in her cozy but small trailer- I was reminded……of what an anomaly she is, a robot. She awakes readied like sleep never happened. She goes from horizontal to vertical she could take on for her first round of questioning in Jeopardy when moments before she was dead to the world. A train wouldn’t wake her. She’s smart too, she may win, but she’s risky in the end she might wager too much.
When I start to thinking…….. how little she requires, a little rest upstairs in the old brain I wonder what her brain was like at 15 pre-nicotine saturation. 51 years of it, and like many of that era, the entire time I was in the womb. She smokes like an old Indian Chief…and indeed it is her peace pipe. Other 50’s women may have smoked like her, I knew them, they have all stopped. It got me to thinking…she needs it. So, indeed rather than be bitter by the thought that her cigarettes were clearly chosen over her own children, cigarettes, more near and dear than a best friend. I thought about it. There must be something more to addiction than ritual and a quick perk? So I did some research, and things started making real sense. http://discovermagazine.com/2014/march/13-nicotine-fix Something must appease the person who must channel all the extra muck between the ears? I was right, she has to remedy her brain, she HAS to smoke.
Whether it was mowing or cooking or sheet folding or driving, as a child I recall thinking I was simply no good…..but really her energy spilled over to me . After a while I didn’t even bother to try anything, I let my mother do it. At the age of 44, where my mother and I are concerned, still nothing I did or do is any good. I know this to be true as hurtful as it is. In May I wrote a mother’s day poem for her and won a bouquet of roses delivered to her door, never did she ask to hear my winning poem. On the camping trip we all took this summer I was overtly re-aware of how powerfully stifling that familiar smell was for me. Her cigarettes, how could I forget came along…..their effect stirred me- taking me back to my fogged in childhood home. It scared me as much as her affinity for the morbid. To turn the most cheerful of all subject sour almost seemed, an excuse so she had reason to dip into the pack and wander about with her truest savior a smoke. A long shut wound had opened for me. The olfactory senses damned me…. drudging up the depths of the charcoal in my heart that remained of my childhood. That smell, that indescribably bingo parlor “pairs so well with half-drunk stale beer in the morning” smell……. that impossible to shed, clings to your hair, smell had triggered a bout of anger only a Siberian tiger could accommodate in his chest. Since I don’t drink anymore for fear of being addicted…… I avoid casinos, bars, trendy hip or seedy streets, China….. in the last 20 years I haven’t had to smell cigarette smoke for ten days in a row…….I watched her, as she nervously sucked away at her American Spirits, that for my whole childhood had always been Winston Lights. I can still see the Gold Packet and the white and Gold Cartons that she’d a get when we crossed the border to see her Canadian family. What a world my kids never knew, how can I explain to them the disdain, the pent up anger, the volcano this induces, this smell doesn’t attach meaning for them. They’d never get into a car and have people sneer and curl their noses up……”your parents smoke.” I wasn’t alone, others smoked, but I smelled like I came from the trailer park and never once picked up a newspaper or rode my bike. I was saturated. The rainbow of sturdy plastic colored ashtrays would never be a decorative feature for my kids home. Butt after butt piling up until they took a ride through the dishwasher cause who wouldn’t need a fresh ashtray? My stepfather and she would smoke, as if for sport, sucking away one after the other, until only the tan nub was left. I can taste it. My mother once put her cigarette out in my McDonalds cup filled with ice, I slurped the remains, yes I have tasted it. I can still hear my dad tap, tap tapping his Pal Malls at the edge of the bar, white paper sticks the kind that today are perfect for stuffing some green into. I grew fond of the sound pressing up against his teeth, shooting spurts of air and dislodging tobacco that looked like fine loose tea. Dualing cigarettes, no reprieve. Thankfully it didn’t occur to me back then why I could only run the 50 yard dash in gym class, and never finish the 600 despite how fast my legs could go. I’d topple midway guffawing desperately at the air like a donkey with his teeth bared and his chin up hoping the embarrassment and the whinnying would stop. The incline on my hikes through Glacier last week reminded me. my legs didn’t suffer, my lungs haunt me still with their inability to fill fully with pristine mountain air.
It seemed so fun, my parents lifestyle, music, laugher filling our basement, the neon beer signs my dad smiling telling the stories of how he acquired each one. It seemed like “the life” until their friends cleared away taking a back seat to their favorite pastime. One day my wheezing must have made me light headed. I went further than simply hiding her cigarettes. I would never hide my step dads, he scared me. I must have been fourteen when I finally asked…..Can, you please, please, please stop smoking inside? She looked at me briefly shaking her head, “oh Lisa, go outside.” It didn’t end there. She preceded to tell me that the very asthma attack I was having was psychosomatic. Anorexia is psychosomatic. “It’s all in your head,” I would hear this several more times, yes, It was MY problem. I am fourty four and I want desperately as desperately as I wanted to fill my lungs with air to forgive my mother. I remember that day, and yes, I stepped outside. At that moment, outside the sliding glass door, looking into the living room with the family sitting around, Star Trek on TV, happily puffing away, I could never predict I would carry this hatred, this betrayal, this feeling of not being chosen. My point being…..I get it. I was that kid too. I will forever have conflicted feelings of both hatred and love for my mother and it burdens my big fully pumping healthy heart to carry it still today, triggered from a simple lingering smell.