Sometimes Mom doesn’t let me sleep in. Of course I am aware that I’m an adult, there is work to be done, but a few more minutes wouldn’t do anyone irreparable harm, would it? Her insistence that I am incorrigibly lazy is her interpretation of what most mortals commonly refer to as the nightly ritual of enjoying dreams.
Most people, and by that I intend to focus on my coworkers, have no trouble arriving at work punctually, sometimes a full twenty minutes before they are due. All of them are permitted to luxuriate within whatever nocturnal fantasies their unconscious grey matter has in store, from start to finish. While they enjoy every act of their plays, I consider myself blessed if Mother allows me to find my theater seat, much less catch the first act.
Lately, she has become quite adept at making noises capable of waking the dead. She claims that I sleep far too much, often preaching, “You can sleep when you’re dead. Besides, “ she often says, “Sleep is only practice. Practice those things you want to be good at.” My reply has routinely been “I want to be healthy,” although I would dearly love to say something vindictive or sarcastic. Those are the times I get tempted to throw her poetry books hard enough to knock her over.
That was uncalled for, I know. But, hey, you don’t know my Mother, and I have yet to tell how early she invades my dreams. I’m scheduled to start work no later than 7:00 a.m. Since my workplace is located in a room just down the hall, a mere twenty feet or so from where I attempt sleep, it should seem reasonable to assume timely arrival can be accomplished by leaving my bedroom between six-thirty and six forty-five. Mother has deemed it imperative I rise at four a.m. There have been times she has relented, generously conceding my argument for more rest bears merit, and on those happy occasions, she rousts me at four thirty. Sleep deprivation, practiced over an extended period of time, eliminates one’s ability to express courtesy, even to one who gave birth to you.
Don’t get me wrong - I love my Mother dearly. No matter how much I may joke about tossing her out the window or depositing her on a deserted roadside, I know such acts do not truly reside in the capabilities of my character. Fun though the ideas may be to entertain, I would never willingly act upon them, no matter how enticing her actions make them. Such deliciously tempting thoughts do creep in, especially at four in the morning. I know at heart she means well, she just has not been the same as she used to be, not after last week.
Let me fill in some blanks for a moment. Without a full night’s rest, I’m a little edgy and scatterbrained. My name is common, but my title gives me pride. I am President, Founder and CEO of Arkade, a consultation firm specializing in video game troubleshooting. Odd as it may sound, there never has been a shortage of clients or money. Before you get the idea that I offer help to kids stuck trying to solve computer game riddles, let me explain.
My business began as freelance trouble shooting for game companies before their titles hit the market. In the early days I was referred to as ‘King of the Beta Testers’. One of my clients nicknamed me their Alpha and Omega, since I was their first line of defense in finding problems and many times their last hope for solutions. Now, I not only see their games prior to marketing, but Arkade’s input is strategic in solving problems that confound their staff of in house testers. Next time you play Donkey Dragon or Super Rabbit Express, look at the small print. Arkade is usually mentioned, one of the first credits you will spot.
If the company contracted feels generous, they allow the addition of my coworkers, usually in subliminal background text, no more than 20 letters. That’s fine with them and me, since Sunshine and Whiskers fit nicely within those confines. They work cheap, too. A toy mouse, some catnip, and they take all the naps they desire. I should be so lucky. Now that I think of it, they also enjoy another perk, in that Mother never seems to disturb them. Fact is, they often curl up on either side of her to nap in her shadow.
My work ethic is to put in a forty hour week, 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., averaging an hour daily to break for snacks, stretching and motivational speeches to my coworkers. I give myself a straight salary, no bonuses or overtime, and can happily report my staff seems to have no problems with their furnishings. Since they are my biggest overhead expenditure, much of the surplus income is invested well. Going to work in the buff is their right, not mine. My business attire includes sandals, pajama bottoms, a tee shirt and unshaven scruff. For today, at least, that’s the case. Normally, casual street clothes are worn after morning calisthenics. Today, however, is one of those 4:00 a.m. wakeys, when the argument resurfaces for about an hour. Being too ticked off to relax, exercise or think straight, my crushed emotional state carries me into fits of useless rage, unspoken and bottled within, erupting in slammed doors, ending in unwarranted threats of eviction. After this, she disappears to her sanctuary, while I find consolation in my coworkers, promise them a bonus, and use the living room sofa to cuddle them into peaceful negotiations. I couldn’t bear them striking and staging a walkout. They’re perhaps the world’s best employees - dependable, quiet, loyal and they never waste time on telephone chatter.
When Mother calms down, allowing enough time to realize that I am the one keeping a roof over her head, she finds the office occupants enjoying the results of our peaceful negotiations, nestled together with me in front of the television. Not one to acquiesce or admit defeat meekly, she finds it unthinkable to comprehend these matters, until all three fuzzy faces are on the brink of sleep. That is when it begins anew.
There are times when I wonder how long this will last, and times when I could swear it’s already been too long, and she’s only been here ten days. Yes, I felt sorry for her when no one else in the family wanted to take her in, (sad how some families consider their parents to be a burden, expelling them from long due reciprocal care). Though philanthropy is not my strong suit, it seemed to me while growing up that she would never end up homeless. I love my Mother, and sympathize with her plight all too well.
Mother’s name was not common, and how her parents decided on it was never divulged to me. Priscilla Jeanne was her name before she was saddled with the nickname Mom. Her maiden name Wood was the inside joke during elementary school years, as whenever a sibling wished for good luck, a light rap on our heads was accompanied by, “Knock on Wood.” Our cousins called her Aunt Jeanne, and Dad called her Jeannie. When he passed away, she stoically held her public persona high, only confessing privately to me that her heart was shattered. Her words were, “Johnny was a flighty bird, but he always returned to me, his favorite tree, where his heart and his family nest was.” Through silent sobs, she hugged tightly, whispering, “He was a woodpecker that carved a hole in my heart.” His death left her hollow.
I am not a sentimentalist, but these memories that come and go convince me to keep the old bird around. She’s not an albatross, but this habit of interrupting my sleep has continued with such fervor that it is beginning to play on my nerves. It’s damaging my health, and threatening to also endanger my standard of living in many respects. If my ability to think is compromised, productivity is similarly affected. The vicious cycle of work, paying bills, buying food, is a fragile assembly line that could get sent wildly off balance.
I’ve tried to tell her the importance of the work I do, but she never joins the discussion unless she gets in both first and last words. her first word is usually spoken while I am asleep.
Striving for the world’s record for nights of interrupted slumber does not interest me. No, I am not going to pretend being in that dubious pursuit. I would love to hold a record for continuous log sawing. All I want is peace of mind and at least five hours uninterrupted snoring.
My Dad was a snoring monster, a champion without equal. Though I did not inherit his knack for impersonating a combination locomotive-chainsaw-cyclone while in repose, I have long desired his talent for instant hibernation. World War 3 could be waged between his brood of six, and he simply laid down, effectively escaping Earth for hours of solitude.
It’s possible Mom is wreaking revenge after the fact, taking out her frustrations on me for all the times she had to be the sole peacekeeping force among warring factions. Lately, however, she showed more traits of a criminal than conference mediator. These past ten days, she has snuck about noiselessly, creeping around corners, opening the onslaught with all the fury of a marauding medieval army’s first volley of cannon fire. Following a distended interlude, dour yammering jangles me into one-eyed vigilance, urgently hastening to seize whatever shield of sanity is left on my crumbling carcass of reasoning. Holding on with hope against her arrows of condemning censure and desultory attacks don’t follow any logical progression or bearing on any daily events in particular. Her austere attacks are simply designed, for all I can construe, for maximum malaise.
This is where we stand: for better or worse, we both have drawn lines that cannot be crossed. On my side, the line may as well be visible, for all the effort expended vocally stressing it. She should know that the one Golden Rule, which even Sunshine and Whiskers understand, is Do Not Disturb. This is the primary factor which influenced purchasing a secluded home amid Amish farmlands, why the approaching dirt road never received modernization, as well as why the umbrage of advancing forest is welcomed. My telephone is only plugged in when I deem a reply is necessary for incoming messages, (the machine’s volume never above a whisper), and my mail waits at an anonymous Post Office box. Checks, banking, and payroll are all done online. I am not a miserly recluse; I just adore my privacy, cherishing the solitude that permits unencumbered thought as well as sleep.
Mom’s line in the proverbial sand is not as easy to elucidate. You would think that, after decades of being raised in her presence, observing all possible manner of moods and problem solving techniques, a clear knowledge of her desires would be the simplest thing to understand. A reference point, second nature, comparable to remembering her birthday, but such is not the case. Mom always was quite the enigma. Take her musical tastes as an example. She loved listening to Mario Lanza, Conway Twitty, and Elvis. In her reflective moods, she would put an album of Vivaldi or Schopan on her study’s turntable, and when prodded where she wished her children would go musically, she would answer, “If it ain’t baroque, don’t mess with it.” Her children were reared knowing their ascendants populated concert halls from Bangkok to Bermuda, ranging in varying levels of expertise. Some were first chair violinists, a few pianists worthy of solo status, and then came Dad, the alcoholic night watchman noted for his alleyway arias on the way home, and his belief that Mom was a timpano. Somewhere between the music and the mayhem, it’s feasible that her limits of tolerance or her ability to enforce them smeared past resuscitation. From what our grandparents told us over the years, Priscilla’s brain was hard wired for limitless possible futures, which she apparently tried remembering during meditative retreats to her study, and its eclectic vinyl collection. By even the most elastic stretch of imagination, nothing existed to reinforce ideas of abuse on her part. That was now being compensated for, in spades.
The timepiece strapped to my wrist confirmed fifteen minutes had passed since her latest denunciating diatribe of 4:00 a.m. Distant mountains wearing misty veils of white smoke clouds beckoned me to escape, pull back their enticing curtains, to run free of this imprisonment. Proscribing the inkling of action cued by my thoughts, she started anew. It was as if the separation of time never occurred since her last protracted string of insults.
“And another thing. What are you saving all that money for? You going to leave a Last Will and Testament giving it all to those flea bitten couch manglers?”
Sunshine stayed close to her, guarding a favored spot of shade from daylight. Whiskers, already finished his morning tongue bath, stopped mid-yawn, casting a quick look of surprise at Mom’s increased fervor. A snapshot of his open mouthed pose would have been easy to mistake for a human saying, “What the . . .”
I devalued her conversation’s currency by reclining on the couch slowly, purposely pointing the remote directly at her, and faking surprise. “Hmm! Mute button’s not working again.” Without more than a second of mock appraisal spent on their imaginary conundrum, I switched the television on, setting the volume high enough to drown out her speech, but not enough to scare my coworkers.
Agitated more than ever, she began humming a Mozart melody, slightly off key, dancing about in front of the screen. My view of CNN was not compromised, so her prancing only disturbed the cats, whose eyes could not agree on whether to follow her feet or her flailing arms. Coverage of the ball game began as I turned the volume up just enough to cover the sound of her ivory castanets. Both felines crouched in a position suggesting a combination of fear, impending attack, and searching. Their body language and dilated eyes skittering about the room suggested they sought a safe hiding place. Morning mews competed with Strauss, with the latter looking like the odds-on favorite. Channels were flipped until Baywatch sent a long pop fly to center field. Relying now on amplified bass, an obscure dirge by Stravinsky caught it. Playboy channel sent a line drive whizzing past the pitcher’s heels, Hefner getting to third before Enrico Caruso trumpeted boldly, holding the score at a stalemate. A pay per view I’d recorded was my secret weapon, my Babe Ruth on steroids. With a smug, “So you want to play dirty?” smirk, I pressed the remote only once. Obscene grunts and groans drove out the maniacal droning, overwhelming amounts of flesh vibrating on the video screen striking an unquestionable home run. She stood there, aghast at impossibly imaginative positions practiced before her eyes.
Blood drained completely from her face, her age multiplied by ten. Slowly, she whirled around to stare at me. Tensed in defensive tackle pose, her explosive last attack visibly roiled, feet to face, clouds of silt shadowing her volcanic rage. When she erupted, it finally became clear that we can attribute more power to memory than necessary.
Books went flying, my remote was snatched from my grip, and couch pillows were hurled at me. In hope of sparing every room this violent redecoration, I stood my ground, rising nothing more to defend myself than hands and limited acrobatics. Luckily for them, my room mates found shelter immediately upon the first launching of furnishing projectiles.
Scenes like this are indeed a contributing factor to living alone. I’ve wished at times to share my future memories with a loved one, maybe even family. I couldn’t, however, imagine any peaceful co-existence with this. Between dodging pillows and picture frames, a quick review of possible futures streamed forward, blotting out her banshee wailing. Both avenues of life, with and without her presence, flashed like wind blown embers, brightly drawn in detail, carving an undeniable truth: It had to end, yet it had to end now. Second thoughts were given no opportunity to be entertained. The nearest object not permanently affixed in position gravitated into my hand, and was tossed in her direction.
As drywall fingerprinted the ashtray, I saw her place a palm on her forehead. Everything stopped with the clang of glass on metal. I realized that the TV was off as well. She looked at me, dismayed, almost insulted. Her chin was directly in front of the dented wall. Removing her hand from the ethereal opening in her face, she began to cry, its slender river exposing transparent entrails. “That really hurt.” Then I was sure of what I had done. On the shelf directly below the fresh indentation, a silver urn had been displaced. Her nagging screams were evaporating.
Outside, a fresh wind wakened the trees, shaking their coverlets of snow. An easterly facing window was opened, a rejuvenating breath of December intoxicating my stagnant spirit.
“No, you can’t,” she begged, as I picked up the cinerary chalice, amazed its lid was still intact. Her misty form hovered nearby. “How can you?” she pleaded, standing beside me, looking into my eyes, astounded there was no pity found.
“Like this, Mother.” Extending the gilded goblet at arm’s length past the second story casement, a dull, hollow shifting of granules echoed within, as I rotated it sideways. My right hand was firmly in control of the stem as I said “Goodbye.” No prayers or regretful words, no remorseful tears, not even anger paused my left hand as it clasped the lid shut and began turning.
Sweetness beyond measure filled my spirit, while entreaties, lies from the very pit of Hell’s boiling furnaces roasted my ears. She opened the pearled gates of Heaven in her heart wrenching promises, saintly arms parting, open palms begging mercy.
My hands distanced, spilling incinerated contents to winter’s decision. Her voice joined a wind that kissed my cheeks as it passed before my eyes in fleeting gusts, dusting the breeze. I threw out her ashes along with all the phantoms of regret.