My mother loved Verdi, Puccini, and the rest of those hot-blooded yet elegant Italians, but our discussions of music never went anywhere. It seemed to split us. I claimed Beethoven’s symphonies conveyed as much drama as any opera. Mom disagreed. No way. Operas have stories. Symphonies don’t.
Maybe I projected onto her a sensitivity or intelligence that she didn't have. I idealized her. I wanted so much to believe she was exactly like me. But she really wasn't. Which meant I was alone in my craziness.
“Betty could never think of anybody but herself,” one of my cousins told me. This was not a criticism or a judgment, rather the words of someone close to her stating a simple biographical fact.
“But she always loved you, Johnny,” my cousin added. “And your two kids. She talked about them all the time. Always showed everybody the pictures she had of them.”
I don't think I ever came to truly love her. Rather I felt sympathy, and also felt her deep sadness. All her life she suffered the consequences of her hurtful actions, her bad choices. I had nothing to do with it, other than being the child she abandoned.
How could I love someone who, until I was nine or ten, simply did not exist? I always thought she was dead. That’s what my father told me, and I believed it.
But, no. There she is. An amazingly beautiful woman in a light blue dress. Who is serving my father and me a dinner of roast beef, peas, mashed potatoes and gravy and apple pie and ice cream for desert. On the record player is the Cara nome
aria, from Rigoletto, sung by Maria Callas.
My father demands still another crème de menthe. He’s getting ugly drunk, and he’s flashing evil glances at me. Which I try to ignore when after desert I sit on the couch next to my mother—my mother!
—and she gently overcomes my resistance and pulls me toward her, and I close my eyes and feel the warmth and softness of her breasts, and the scent of lavender. My mother! ( Collapse )