A glass of crazy, p.23
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       A Glass of Crazy, p.23

           Tina Laningham
On the way home from the Applegate's holiday fiasco, Mom slowed in front of a Christmas tree lot with a big sign that read, Benefiting St. Chamuel's Homeless Shelter for Children.

  The angel of love-the curandera had asked St. Chamuel to watch over me.

  "We need a tree," Mom said. "How's this lot?"

  I gazed at the sign. "Perfect."

  We strolled through the lot inhaling fresh-cut pine and bypassed the twelve-foot trees that we used to put in our way-too-big house.

  "Over here," Mom said, pointing to the six-foot trees. "We need room at the top for an angel."

  "We have a star, Mom, not an angel."

  "Oh, I got rid of those decorations. We're starting anew."

  A skinny old man with stubby gray whiskers hurried over and pulled a tree out for us to examine. "This here's a fine one," he said, smiling proudly with two teeth missing.

  Mom raised her eyebrows at me and I nodded.

  "We'll take it," she said.

  At the register, the old man pointed to a display of angels. "Need a tree topper?"

  "As a matter of fact, we do," Mom said all cheery.

  Every angel was exactly the same. I picked up one of the boxes and read, St. Chamuel-Archangel of Love and Tolerance. Goose bumps prickled my arms when I got to the small print at the bottom that read, Made in Mexico, like some kind of weird cosmic synchronicity thing was happening.

  The old man tied the tree to the top of the car and when we got home, Mom and I dragged it in the house. That's when I started missing Rafa because he would have loved dragging the tree in and setting it up in the stand.

  Mom smiled in a peaceful way I had never seen before when the tree fit perfectly in the smaller living room with a lower ceiling. Clearly, Mom planned to set up camp right here for the rest of her life.

  "Won't you miss the Society of Modern Victorian Women?" I asked.

  She smirked. "I thought I needed all that, but this is who we really are."

  I wrapped a string of lights around the tree and hoped Mom wasn't referring to the Christmas muzak playing softly in the background when she said this was who we were. When Mom asked, "How're things at school, honey?" I nearly fell off the stepladder.

  I untangled more lights and said, "Fine."

  "They can't be fine if you made Megan faint and Rafa's not coming over anymore."

  My heart sank. I pulled out my phone and sent Rafa a text:

  Abby: I miss you.

  "Abby," she pleaded.

  Oh God, Mom looked all needy.

  "Talk to me, Abby," she said.

  I squished my eyes. "I can't."

  "Why not?"

  "You always think the worst of me."

  "What has happened to you?" She looked perplexed and said softly, "I told everyone at the party how proud I am of you."

  I rolled my eyes. "That was all show."

  "Abby, come sit." Mom patted the sofa.

  Not what I wanted to do. My other choice was to bolt, but that seemed childish, so I climbed down the ladder and sat at the other end of the sofa with my arms crossed.

  "Honey, please." Mom scooted closer. "We can talk about anything."

  "Right." I smirked. "Anything but Dad. And school. And boys."

  Okay, now she looked hurt.

  "Sweetheart, I know we haven't been close and I used to blame your father for that. But I've come to realize it's not his fault." She stared at her hands folded neatly on her lap. "It's my fault."

  I did not see that coming.

  "I told you about the painkillers I used to take, but I really shouldn't have blamed your father for that." She shook her head. "It's not like he was forcing them down my throat. I did have a choice."

  I stayed quiet.

  "When your father's girlfriend first appeared on the news, I thought it was just another storm we'd have to ride out. You know, as a family." Her eyes grew moist. "But when I received those divorce papers?" Mom cleared her throat.

  My stomach twisted.

  "I'd been off the painkillers a few years, since I filed the lawsuit against Price Pharmaceuticals, but when I got the divorce papers, I needed them again."

  "You probably did for those migraines," I said.

  "No, sweetie. The pills caused the migraines."

  Mom calling me "sweetie" made me feel soft inside. I bristled.

  "I couldn't bear to read those divorce papers. I just signed them, sent 'em back, and called my doctor." She looked at me and said, "A person in their right mind would've called their lawyer, not their doctor."

  "I thought you and Dad argued over who got custody of me?"

  "I didn't argue over anything. I just signed. The doctor prescribed a new painkiller that had just come on the market. After we moved into that dreadful apartment, I couldn't get enough of those pills."

  For the first time ever, I could see inside Mom.

  "I know I've been a terrible mother."

  I wanted to tell her she'd been a good mother. The well mannered girl Queen Doreen had created wanted to say that. But really, she was telling the truth.

  "When you went to visit your father for Thanksgiving, I checked myself into a rehab center." She studied my eyes. "That's why you couldn't reach me."

  "You didn't have a phone?"

  "It's their policy," she said. "They took away my phone and Internet so I could focus on the treatment." Mom took my hand and put her face close to mine. "I'm sorry I didn't respond, but it was the only time I could get help. I didn't want to abandon you while you were home."

  "Well," I said, "I felt alone a lot when you were here."

  "I know you did," Mom said softly. "That's why I'm asking you to give me another chance."

  My head went all fuzzy, but I managed to nod.

  Mom put her arm around me and kissed my forehead. "Now I want to hear about your dad and school and boys."

  I nestled my head in Mom's neck and let her hold me. I'm not sure how long I sniffled and wiped away tears, but I felt things might actually get better.

  "I'll tell you in the morning."

  My mouth was dry. Mom hung an ornament on the Christmas tree when I shuffled in the living room. "Please tell me there's coffee." Saying words out loud made my head feel worse. Yes, I finished off the vodka last night and with Mom's newfound sobriety, I definitely needed to find a new alcohol and drug provider.

  Mom came back with two mugs and placed them on the little table in front of the sofa and I figured that's why it was called a coffee table.

  "Sleep well?" Mom asked.

  I nodded and slurped the creamy coffee that tasted like mocha ice cream, except hot. Clearly, the old Queen Doreen was not in the room because she would've had something to say about the slurping. Not being constantly judged by Mom might take some getting used to. I melted back into the sofa and checked the top of the tree to make sure Chamuel was still there.

  "So what happened on your visit with your dad?" Mom asked.

  Ohmygod, where do I start? Surely Mom didn't want all the gory details.

  And then as if she'd read my mind, Mom said, "Tell me everything."

  "Thought you didn't want to know."

  "It's not that I want to know." Mom nuzzled back into the sofa too. "I want us to tell each other everything so we don't have to face the world alone."

  I choked on that one. When I finally stopped coughing, I said, "First of all, there's no Thanksgiving in Mexico," and then proceeded to tell her about Dad's drinking and all the mean things the Kat had said. When I told her how Dad and the Kat were either all over each other or nowhere to be found, Mom fumed a bit, but kept listening.

  Finally I said, "Remember when our old Persian cat kept peeing on the Turkish rug in the dining room?"

  "Oh, First Lady!" Mom rolled her eyes. "We never did break her of that habit."

  "Kat's like that. An annoying creature."

  "Your father used that cat's bad habit as an opportunity to teach you a history lesson."

  "No way. Did y
ou just say something nice about Dad?"

  "I hope you remember some of the good things from your childhood, honey."

  "Oh yeah." I boinged my palm against my forehead, which set off a new hammer-pounding episode in my brain. Oh God, please make it stop.

  "I think I remember," I finally said when my brain started working again. "The Persian cat was peeing on the Turkish rug because he was pissed that a thousand years ago, the Turks defeated the Persians in some battle."

  Mom grinned. "Your father's not all bad."

  "Ohmygod, Mom! What did they do to you in that rehab? They must have had all kinds of personalities on a shelf, like in a clothing store, and you said, 'I'll take that cheery one.' And you took off your old personality and put on a new one, like changing sweaters or something. Maybe I should go to rehab, except they probably wouldn't take me since I'm not a drug addict or an alcoholic like you and Dad, respectively-." When I heard what I was saying, I quickly added, "and respectfully, too."

  I needed to shut up or change the subject and since I couldn't shut up, I told Mom how sweet Gabby and Berta had been, and she seemed relieved, but I didn't tell her about the wine or the curandera because I wasn't quite ready to divulge anything that made me look like the bad or crazy person. I preferred pinning those labels on the Kat creature.

  The whole time I blabbered on about Mexico, Mom was forcing herself to not speak. I could tell because every time she'd start to say something, she'd close her eyes and take a deep breath. But she did stay snuggled up next to me, so I guessed she wanted me to keep going.

  When I finished, she said, "Sorry you didn't get to have Thanksgiving."

  "Yeah, that was weird." I patted my chest. "I didn't know it meant that much to me until we didn't do it." Oh God, Mom could see my eyes welling up.

  "Who says you can only make a turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving Day." Mom slapped her leg. "Let's go to the store."

  Three grocery stores later, we found a small turkey that wasn't frozen. I was busy peeling the sweet potatoes we had baked when I smelled something burning. Since Mom's hands were stuffing cornbread dressing up the turkey's butt, I grabbed a pot holder and pulled open the oven door, expecting smoke to come billowing out, setting off the fire alarm, and ruining our whole Thanksgiving by making the house smell like a crematorium. But there was no smoke or alarm or stench. Just a bit of burned sugar from drippings of pecan pie filling that had bubbled over the edge of the crust and splattered on the bottom of the oven. I guess things had gone terribly wrong for so long, I was surprised when they didn't.

  "Take it out, honey," Mom said.

  The rich aroma of pecan pie swooping up my nose opened the floodgates of my saliva glands and made my stomach growl like First Lady when Mom used to lift her in mid-pee off the Persian rug. I gingerly placed the pie on the cooling rack and that's when it hit me Mom could quite possibly be the best cook in the world. Seriously, she could've had her own TV show: Queen Doreen's N'awlins Cuisine. She always said, "If God intended us to cook low-cal, he would've never made butter and brown sugar."

  Mom's mom was a true Texan, but her dad was a jazz guitarist from New Orleans. I never got to call them Grandma and Grandpa because one day, when Mom was little, Grandpa drifted off with his guitar and never came back. A year later, Grandma died of a broken heart and Mom had to go live with an aunt in the one-stoplight town known mostly for its swap meets. Maybe that's why Mom became the Queen of Control and why it took so long for her to let go of Dad. I'd never thought of Mom as an actual human being with issues until now.

  I mashed the sweet potatoes and Mom poured melted butter in the bowl. "Just a pinch of salt and cinnamon." she said. "Then we'll get started on the praline topping."

  "You're finally revealing your secret recipe?"

  Mom squeezed my shoulder and said, "No more secrets."

  That sounded fantastic, except I still wasn't ready to tell her about the curandera or St. Chamuel. "Does this new policy go into effect from this point on?" I asked, hoping for a loophole.

  Mom peered at me sideways. "You're going to be a lawyer like your father, aren't you?"

  "Is that a bad thing?"

  "I would be so proud."

  I figured it was the perfect time to tell Mom about all the horrible things Megan had done to me at school, but complaining about it now seemed whiney and pointless. I could deal with Megan. It was Rafa who had me all confused.

  Mom was pouring vanilla extract into the bubbly butter and brown sugar mixture on the stove when I said, "If you're serious about the no-secrets policy, we need to talk about Rafa."

  She nearly spilled half the bottle of extract into the saucepan.

  "Sorry," I said frantically. "Did I ruin it?"

  "You can never have too much vanilla," she said sweetly.

  I definitely needed to check out that rehab facility.

  Slowly, Mom stirred the thick, brown mixture. "What's going on with Rafa?" She lowered her nose to take a whiff.

  When I told Mom how suddenly, right in the middle of our normal, everyday friendship, Rafa had asked me to be his girlfriend, she didn't even flinch, so I kept talking.

  "It seemed like he just felt sorry for me, though. I mean, the whole time I was in Mexico, I kept telling him how awful it was and as soon as I got back, he gave me a ring." I leaned on the counter to look Mom in the eye. "I don't want a boyfriend who feels sorry for me."

  "Perhaps he missed you," Mom said. "You do spend all your time with him."

  "I never looked at it that way."

  "Are you going to accept?" Mom asked.

  "That's the thing. I did. But from the second he gave me the ring, I stopped trusting him. A week later, I gave it back."

  "You broke up with him?"

  Mom looked so stunned that I was glad I hadn't mentioned the part where I threw the ring at poor Rafa like a complete lunatic. "Now he's hurt and I've lost the only friend I had left."

  "Oh, honey."

  "What should I do?"

  "It depends," Mom said, pouring the praline sauce over the sweet potatoes, "what do you want?"

  I shrugged. "I kind of want a boyfriend, but at the same time, it seems weird."

  "Listen to your heart," Mom said. "You'll know."

  - 24 -

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