Sunday, May 20, 2012

Nephew of Sam

It was the summer of 2007. I was up and down, falling apart and being built back together. At the time I was making an attempt to stop drinking which would ultimately be successful as well as to kick the diet pills as well as the destructive eating habits. Most of the time I was tired. In between meltdowns I fought with my mother. While usually my best friend, she had become something of an adversary. I was twenty two, desperate to live my own life. She didn’t understand that I didn’t want to tell her who my friends were, what club I was performing at, and I didn’t want to wish her a goodnight over the computer.
At the same time I wasn’t acting like an adult. About a year earlier, I had been stalked by an ex-fiance of mine who wanted me dead. My mother had every reason to worry, after all, she had my ex’s name on her refrigerator in case I were to disappear. During this phase in my development I was dating ex-cons. Nice guys were scared away when they found out my an old lover was stalking me, shame on them. Especially when he would start harassing them online. However, cons weren’t scared of that sort of thing. Being crazy and messy like myself, they sort of welcomed the drama.
At the time, I was seeing an ex con by the name of Keith. I had met Keith in the neighborhood, and while we weren’t serious per se, we were friendly and he always was taking me out. Keith had escaped from prison at one point. Although recaptured, Keith was still a bad boy. My mother wasn’t thrilled about my choice in men and goaded me to dump him. Somehow though, I couldn’t. In between my ex-fiance and the damage there and wanting to live my own life, I didn’t want to listen to one word she said.
On this particular day, my mother and I had a terrible fight. It was one so horrible I hung up on her. I remember slamming down the phone, cutting her off coldly. Who was she to control me, or what I believed to be controlling. I believe I even told her I hated her. Looking back, the defiance was rather childish, but at the time I felt like an adult.
That day, I was at the diner with Keith when I met one of his old friends, Darryl. Keith had known Darryl during one of his many times when he had been a guest of the state. Darryl was on and off drugs, and he had gotten so bad at one point his dealer had apparently cut him off. He looked like someone who had been through the mill. His hair was brown and scraggly, combed over to hide the fact he was balding at the top. The shirt he wore was too big, probably torn off of a corpse somewhere. The shorts he wore were too tight, hot pants. When Keith asked Darryl where he found this fashion collision of hell he replied, “The lost and found of the flophouse I am staying in.”
We laughed, as Darryl revealed a mouth with missing teeth, probably from hitting the pipe a tinge too hard. The teeth in his mouth were black from decay, which would have been the nightmare of any dentist there was. Nonetheless, despite the fact his face was eaten by years of wear and tear from hard living, he seemed like an okay dude. 
We sat outside where Keith and Darryl could both smoke. Keith and Darryl both needed the nicotine seeing that they were trying to kick respective drug habits. While Keith was more successful, Darryl was struggling. Both men bitched about the law, the prison system, parole, and life following the law. Keith reminisced about the cat burglaries he committed, and Darryl regaled us with stories about the car radios he used to steal while living in the Bronx. I sat silent as the third wheel companion.
Finally, the subject of David Berkowitz came up. It was after some man, crazy as hell, came running down the block screaming about a dog giving him orders. “It is certainly hot enough that I could kill, dog speaking to me or not.” I said laughing.
“Actually, he was the minister once when I was in prison.” Darryl told me.
“What?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s a serial killer turned minister. I never bother with serial killers. I steal, don’t kill. Too much blood.” Keith said as he took a puff from his cigarette. Despite the worn out look he had from years on the street, Keith had a machismo about him that was dead sexy.
“You guys knew Son of Sam?” I asked in disbelief.
Both men shook their heads. “Yeah, he was a good guy. After being imprisoned, he became a Born Again Christian. I became skeptical at first, but then I saw him preach and said, ‘I could get into this.’ So I started going to church whenever he was preaching in chapel. He was good to hear.”
“Wow.” I said, “Did you guys ever talk?”
“All the time. Once he told me I had anger issues.” Darryl replied.
Both Keith and I burst out laughing. “That’s like Robert Downey Junior telling you that you have a drug problem.” I said.
“Or Kate Moss telling you to eat.” Keith countered. We all laughed again.
“Yeah, he said that once I managed my anger I could manage my life.” Darryl told us.
“But he takes his orders from dogs.” Keith reminded Darryl. I shook my head in agreement.
“I know. I told him this and instead of fighting with me, he leveled. He said that he was doing a bunch of LSD, had a psychotic break, and that the dog talked to him and told him to kill. Really, the LSD opened the door because he couldn’t keep a lid on his anger.” Darryl said.
Keith and I sat silently for a minute. That was intense, heavy, and ultimately strange. “That was a memorable defense he had in court. Never had one like that.” Keith said.
Just then I looked down at my phone. My mom had called twice. I wasn’t talking. There was nothing to say. “Who called?” Darryl asked.
“My mom.” I said contemptuously. “She’s nagging me again.”
“Mom’s do that.” Keith said.
“Yeah, but she’s being a pain in the ass.” I growled and proceeded to tell them the story.
Instead of an agreeing audience, I got two people who stared at me as if I were speaking a foreign language. When I finished, Keith proceeded to tell me how hard being a parent was. While his eighteen year old son was not speaking to him at the moment, he said he missed his kid and was ashamed of getting arrested and being away. And he also told me he wondered if things would have been different if he had a mother that nagged him. Maybe he wouldn’t have started committing burglaries at ten years old. Then maybe he could be there for Keith Jr., instead of constantly worrying about whether or not his son was okay.
“My mother makes me so crazy I think I might start taking orders from dogs.” I said, still not convinced they understood.
That’s when Darryl decided to lay the proverbial smackdown. “You think you know everything and you want to live your own life don’t you? You think you can just hang up on your mother and it will be okay. Well let me tell you, after years of fucking up my family won’t speak to me. At least you have your family calling you to nag you. Stop being such a little brat and call your damn mother and apologize.”
“It’s late.” I whined.
“I’m sure she would love to hear from you, especially thank you and I’m sorry.” Darryl snapped. “And maybe I love you would be good. Your mother just doesn’t want to see you screw up your life. Shame on her for being a good person and caring about her child and who she hangs around with.”
I nodded. “Can I go around the corner?” I asked as I threw down five dollars.
Keith handed it back to me. “I got you.” He said.
I bid both men goodbye and then called my mother. To my pleasant surprise she was up. We ended up having a fifteen minute heart to heart conversation where I apologized and told her how grateful I was that she was my mom, but most importantly that I loved her. She told me she just wanted to know who I was with so I would be safe, and that’s all she wanted. What was best for me.
When I hung up the phone I realized in my quest to prove I could be my own person, I had made plenty of bad decisions. I had almost married a nightmare, and dated plenty more after. The best part was that while I was being my own person, guidance was only one dial away. Sure that guidance might not have always approved of my male company, but she supported me in anything I did. She was my mother and my best friend, and I was blessed to have her.
After that evening I never saw Darryl again. I heard through the grapevine that he had relapsed and was locked up again. Maybe he never got the whole living sober thing, or got the memo on how to live a so called successful life, but he taught me one of the most important lessons of my young adult life:
Your mother is always your mother. You may not agree with her on everything, but she always has your best interest in mind. Don’t treat her as an enemy.

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