It hasn’t been easy growing up as a test tube baby. As soon as I was old enough to realize no dad showed up at my soccer games or was there to read me stories, I started asking questions.
“You’re extra special Billy,” my mom assured me. “I wanted you so badly that I put in the order for a handsome, tall and smart boy who likes music and sports and look what I got… perfect you”.
“But Mom,” I protested, I’m short, can’t sing and never get picked for a team. Maybe they got the order mixed up like when they put tomatoes on my burger and I hate tomatoes.”
She’d laugh, tussle my red hair and blink away tears. Even though Mom does her best as mother and father, when I turned ten, I got in my head that one day a magic genie would appear to give me three chances to find MY REAL FATHER. First I was sure he was the owner of Moran’s Super. Then I was convinced he was my pediatrician, Dr. Goldberg. But I settled on Mr. Purdy, our laughing, red-headed mailman. When he recognizes me, he’ll give me a man-hug and ask polite questions about my life. Then he’ll come to my soccer games, take me for pizza. I’ll go for a one night sleep-over at his house where I’ll meet his daughters, then spend Christmas in Hawaii, and summers together. Now if only that genie will hurry up.
Category Archives: Joanne Jagoda
“Living my life in a slow hell”…Kid Rock has it right. I drop my backpack with a thud. She’s at her desk wearing her stupid half glasses… doesn’t look up.
“You’re late. Maria left dinner.”
What happened to the days when I would walk in and grab her ass and nuzzle her neck in that soft spot that turned her on.
I mumble, “…faculty meeting.”
She doesn’t answer.
I open the frig. Chicken breast, broccoli, mound of white rice covered in cellophane. I pitch it down the disposal. I just devoured a super grande burrito oozing black beans and guacamole and drowned in mango salsa. She wouldn’t approve of the six glazed donuts in my backpack either.
Her nagging refrain chips away at me like a relentless ice pick. “You’re getting a big gut. You’ve got to watch your cholesterol.” She never eats anything.
I try to be civil. “How was your day?”
She’s mastered the raised-eyebrow look, “Big liability case… court next week. Look, I’m too busy to chat. We’ll uh…catch up soon.”
“Oh, sure, no prob….” Icicles of indifference surround her. I swear her breath comes out in wafts of cold vapor. I can’t stop thinking about Tess, the new librarian. Hell, she’s chubby and cute, and I want to melt in her chocolate eyes. I know she likes me…brought me muffins this morning, still warm. Tess just can’t seem to get you off my mind. … Isn’t that what it says in that song.
I have my ritual on this day. When I hear him leave, I shut the bedroom door, walk to the dresser, open the top drawer. I feel around for the red velvet bag that used to hold my beaded necklace. It’s not there. I panic. Fear washes over me. John must have taken it.
“You have to move on. Don’t keep those broken shells. They only make you upset.”
That sonofabitch. How could he. They’re all I have. I know he blames me. I yank the drawer and dump it on the bed, bras and underpants in a tangled pile.
There it us… under my panties. I clutch the bag like it’s a holy relic, pouring the shards in my hand, caressing them, hearing their familiar clacking. Fourteen precious pieces, cream and pink. I count them twice. I close my eyes.
The morning is warm and Hawaiian perfect, a cloudless cobalt sky. John is at his meeting, and I’m on a lounge chair in my floppy sunhat lazily watching the gentle waves break. Billy is running back and forth collecting broken shells in his yellow bucket. He doesn’t mind they’re not perfect.
“Careful honey,” I call. “Don’t get too near the waves.”
A rogue wave, they called it, crashes in and pulls Billy. A man dives in but Billy is gone, swept away. I am in my own bad dream, but can’t wake up. I hear disembodied screams.They are coming from me.
If I get dressed in the bathroom, maybe mama won’t see the finger marks turning purple and green. Lord, they make me feel sick.
After he forced me I told him we were done and he started beggin …“ It was the whiskey Del, I’m sorry.. I won’t force you no more. ‘Ya got to believe me.” I love Billy but he can be a brute.
Mama invited him to Sunday supper. She thinks he’s something ‘cause he sells cars at the Auto Mart. The fried chicken smell and the apple pies are makin’ me sick. I’m afraid Grandma’s going to see right through Billy but I can’t give him up. He’s like a drug.
The Baxter women are cursed with a third eye. Mama has it and I reckon I’ve got it. You can see the good and bad in people down to their bones and sinew, into their core. Grandma knew my daddy was a no good bum when he rang the bell selling brushes and took mama away. When she came home, she was pregnant with me.
The screen door slams and Billy walks in like he’s some celebrity just ‘cause he’s movie star handsome. I know he’s trying to impress them, all cleaned up in his white shirt and best blue jeans.
Grandma grips his hand hard. She stares at him with her evil eye, drops the bowl with the peas she’s shelling, and they skitter everywhere. Billy starts to sweat and runs out the door.
Hey Richie, when ya’ going to bring her ‘round?
Richie, you a Homo or something?
When he heard that word he wanted to puke. Dribbling down court, high tops thumping and pounding, Richie grabbed the ball and took off. Huffing, he wiped his face on his sleeveless undershirt, sweat stinging his eyes. His twenty first birthday was coming, the big one. The guys were taking him drinkin’ to O’Brien’s. He made a quick decision.
“Hey you dorks, I’m gonna’ bring her Saturday.”
Tony yelled on the run, “Richie, she a dog? Wow wow?”
They howled. Someone shouted, “does she have hair on her upper lip?”
Richie shook his head and grinned, his gut clenching. The teasing made him play harder. “There see that.” He landed a perfect three pointer.
The guys crowded the bar, joking, downing shots waiting for the birthday boy to show up. Eyes on the door, finally he walked in spiffed in a clean shirt, tight jeans with his flat-top perfectly bryl-creamed, Old Spice aftershave filling the air.
At first hidden behind him, he pulled her forward, put his arm tight across her bare shoulders and smugly said, “Meet Sylvia.”
They were drooling. She was a drop dead gorgeous brunette in a red sundress. They stood with their mouths open then crowded her teasing and flirting.
When they left holding hands the guys stared, watching her whisper in his ear.
“Richie ya’ promised me twenty bucks, but I did so good I want thirty.”
In the middle of a video conference with Japanese clients, my assistant mouthed, “your mom.” I scribbled a note to my boss eyeing me, “ mom emergency” slipped out and grabbed a phone. A feeling of dread bubbled in my stomach. She probably misplaced her keys again. I kept a spare set. She was forgetting simple tasks too. Last Saturday at 6am I got a panicked call.
“Dede, my coffee maker is broken. I put in the coffee but it is not working. I hate it.”
I rolled over in bed and groaned. “ Ma, give me half an hour and I’ll check it out.” She had put the coffee where the water was supposed to go.
I refused to believe my vital, intelligent sixty four year old mother; retired business woman, bridge player, and crossword whiz, could be showing signs of dementia. I attributed these changes to her getting over the sudden loss of my dad last year. My husband Stan was trying to prepare me that this was more than normal grieving.
“Ma, please, I’m in the middle of work.”
“Dede, I tried to get money out but someone changed my password. I tried it over and over, but the machine ate my card.”
I closed my eyes and tried to breathe. Tears filled my eyes. “I’ll come and find out who changed your PIN, uh..your password. Ma, where are you?”
She answered sheepishly, “I’m not sure. This nice man here in the handsome uniform will tell you.”
Clarice waitressed at the last truck stop at the border where the men came for showers, hot food and diesel before the grueling trek through the mountains. When she arrived at work each morning, she went into the back to change. She never brought her uniform home because everything reeked of her mother’s cigarettes. Mama coughed half the night, and if she saw her spitting brown juice into pink tissues one more time she was going to scream.
She forced the uniform down over her wide hips and could barely close the buttons gaping over her full breasts. It had belonged to Steph, an itty bitty size six bitch. She begged Irv, that cheapskate, to replace it but he refused. He said the men liked eyeing her over their ham and eggs, and it was good for business.
She dreamed about getting out of this crummy place and mama’s stinkin’ house. Across the border she could breathe and start over.
Wiping the sticky counter, the door tinkled and a stranger came in, beer belly hanging over his jeans. Acting all manly because he just got out of the shower outside, he reeked of cheap aftershave.
“Hey Sugar. Give me your Special.” He devoured her with hungry eyes as she poured his coffee.
Clarice weighed her options. His pockmarked face repulsed her, but if she gave him what he wanted he might take her across the border. Then she could ditch him.
She pushed her chest out. “Hey baby,…”