Never at a loss for words, mom kept up a running commentary on our lives using a particularly colorful lexicon of expressions. Only now that I've opened the door to my 40s have I gotten an appreciation for these mom'isms.
"What am I, an asshole?" tops the list. Loosely translated, "I'm not some doormat, a servant, some idiot here to cater to greedy people at the expense of me or my family."
"What am I, an asshole?" whenever someone acted inconsiderate or rude, or took advantage of her generosity or hospitality, or tried to pull one over on her by lying to her face when they weren't aware that she knew the back-story already. "What am I, an asshole?" many times thanks to fairly inconsiderate in-laws. For example, that aunt who brought four extra people unannounced to dinner.
"What am I, an asshole?" the exclamatory footnote to unthinkable rudeness.
"Can you believe her? What balls! I've never in my life. Who does that? Without even asking? What am I, an asshole?"This could go on for hours. Sometimes just inside her head, even. Like a whole afternoon could pass without a single word...but as she went about the house, scrubbing this, sweeping that, the extra-loud slam of cabinets and a ruthless attack on the baseboards with the vacuum gave away that she's silently stewing. Then out of nowhere, "ALSO," as though appending a sentence she'd just said a moment before. "ALSO, she never even THANKED ME! What am I, an asshole?"
The rant had three stages.
Phase One: the act itself. Four surprise strangers for a sit-down dinner.
Phase Two: Next-level sub-topics. In this early stage, you're still on board and you can offer all of the empathy in the world.
Phase Three is where it starts to get surreal.
Consider as a metaphor that the event itself, the dinner fiasco, was a rock heaved into the middle of a pond. Phase Two is the expanding concentric rings on the water. Phase Three is like the fading ripples lapping the shore.
Anyone can get on board with the original rock -- you're all "fuck her and her weird friends!"
You're even on board with the first few rings on the pond. "When do they ever invite US over?" or "SHRIMP IS EXPENSIVE, YOU KNOW!" "Yeah!" you agree. "It's true. I only got two shrimp." The whole family gets riled up. We were looking forward to that shrimp all week, now some random people are here ruining everything? What are we, assholes?
By Phase Three you're realizing that original rock was more of a pebble, when you consider that the dinner turned into a party and everyone did have fun. By Phase Three, no detail would go unexamined. The microscope is on full-power and we're scrutinizing at a thousand-percent. "AND she wore those red shoes! She only BOUGHT those shoes because she saw them on ME, and how did she know I wouldn't be wearing MINE? I should have KNOWN not to tell her where I got those shoes! What am I, an asshole?"
I mean, it would get super intense. There were many mom'isms, but none matched the intensity of "What am I, an asshole!"
"You can't bullshit a bullshitter."
"My fucking word!"
"You don't know because you haven't lived."
How that would rile me. "You don't know because you haven't lived" came out in my pre-teen years. Right after Barbie dolls, but before dating. Eleven, twelve. You know, when we know absolutely everything about everything? Whenever I was mouthing off about some social issue, "you don't know because you haven't lived" would throw gasoline on my fire.
We lived in a pretty rough neighborhood in Waterbury, Connecticut. My mother was on full alert to shield me from making mistakes, mostly concerning which people I should trust and which people I should avoid, or if not avoid, at least be wary of; naturally, being an expert in all subjects the world over, having met at least, oh, 30 or 40 people by then and having traveled in the backseat of the family car over 75 miles away from home that one time, I would haughtily inform her that she didn't know what she was talking about.
Turns out she knew was she was talking about.
Which, if you think about it, is astonishing. She got pregnant with me when she was sixteen years old. She was a baby when she had a baby. Mid-20s and she was dealing with two kids, serious money problems, family on both sides crazier than ten lunatics riding pink elephants in hell, and on top of it all, that bitch came over with four extra people and gobbled up all the shrimp, AND SHE IS WEARING THE SAME RED SHOES.
She might have fucked up here and there -- used me too much as a housekeeper when I should have been studying, made a mess of the "sex talk" like you wouldn't believe, had zero idea how to budget or handle money -- but here I am. I'm educated, I'm well-read, I have the best friends a person could have, I have the courage of my convictions, I have a strong work ethic and a rock-solid belief system. That doesn't just happen, does it? Now that I'm in my forties, I know for a fact that I would have stumbled a lot more if I'd had to walk a day in her red shoes. I would have fallen flat on my stupid face on a daily basis. Damn if she didn't manage to pull it off, the fiery, stubborn little thing.
No mom, you're not an asshole.
Those shoes, by the way, they were more of a deep burgundy, with gold heel detailing. Stiletto. Christian Dior. Yes, she should have paid the oil bill or the rent instead of buying them.
But they were fucking fabulous.