Mother’s Day

by

01/02/2003

40 Seventh Avenue s ny 10014

Neighborhood: West Village

My brother is a twenty-eight-year-old millionaire living in Greenwich Village. He drives a Boxster, owns a beach house in East Hampton, and recently bought an original one-sheet of Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the bargain price of twenty thousand dollars. Sometimes he asks me, his older and poorer sister, what I want or could use—cable TV, a new set of bike wheels, a Palm perhaps? But I always say the same thing: I’m a writer, I’m writing, and someday my writing will pay off.

He respects me, of course. Believes in my talent, though it has yet to be discovered. Thinks I have integrity, even if I did let him “pay off” that $13,000 debt last spring. His profound generosity is matched only by his lifelong shame: for having a dead-beat dad, for having red hair, and for all the rest of the having and not-having that continues to put him at odds with the other haves and have-nots on the planet, myself among them.

As it is, I’ve been sick for a few months. It’s nothing serious, by definition: What began as a virus turned into a sinus infection that turned into a bronchial infection that, in conjunction with seasonal allergies and writer’s block and my ex’s new wife and the New York Times Magazine crossword puzzle I can’t finish and the water bug that crawled under my bed last night, has blossomed into plain-old, garden-variety depression. Which is to say that yes, I am clinically depressed; but on most days—with the right recipe of SSRIs, exercise, friends, and cigarettes—I am perfectly fine and functional, despite the fact that I’m (a) self-involved, (b) self-pitying, (c) annoying, and (d) downwardly mobile. Which brings me back to my brother.

Drew, as he is named, thinks that I am too nice, and that I’ll go nowhere in life if I don’t ask for the things I need. Like a gift from him, or a chicken-soup delivery from one of my friends. “Let people help you once in a while,” he said to me last night as I opened and closed cabinet doors in my barren kitchen, trying to find something, anything, for him eat. “And stop trying to please everybody!”

“I don’t do that anymore,” I said. “You know, I have become very, very selfish.”

“You have?” he asked.

“I screen my phone calls,” I said. “And I take lots of naps.”

I poured oil into a frying pan, dumped in some popcorn kernels.

“Do you think I suffer from Jewish Mother syndrome?” I asked.

“Not by the looks of your refrigerator,” he said.

We were waiting for my groceries to be delivered. It was a Sunday night, and I hadn’t been out of my apartment all weekend. I spent hours cleaning the dust beneath the bed, the dirt on the window-bars, the grout on the bathroom floor. Martha Stewart, for whom I work, once told me that “housekeeping is an art, not a chore.” I was quick to agree, adding that, for me, housekeeping is essential to my mental health; it’s the only thing I can do to “clean up my dirty mind.” I had meant to use the word messy, to note the head-clearing aspect of cleaning. Needless to say, Martha hasn’t chatted me up much since then.

“So,” said Drew, once we finally sat down for dinner.

“So,” I said back.

“When is all this supposed to end?” he asked.

Translation: When is your supposed literary agent going to sell your supposed novel for this supposed large sum of cash? When are you going to stop obsessing over your ex, and the ex before him, and get on with your life? When are you going to stop smoking and start running and get into shape and look better and feel better about yourself? (Do you want me to buy you a treadmill for your thirtieth birthday?) When are you going to accept the fact that sometimes life truly does suck. That even though I may seem to have it together, I too am looking for love in all the same, rotten places. That driving out to the Island in my convertible, alone, is the closest thing to true happiness I can foresee for myself right now. That I still carry a picture of (our childhood cat) Dottie in my wallet. That you can’t go on living in this studio on this crummy block. That you can’t be so giving to so many of the wrong people. That you can’t address your old boss’ envelopes for free just because you have good penmanship. That you can’t date someone who you call “dumb boy,” even if he does live in DUMBO. That I can’t keep on coming over here and picking up the pieces of your life, gluing them back together, and serving them to you on a cracked plate.

I took a swig of Robitussin and washed it down with a Dos Equis.

“Remember when we took Dottie to the vet and got pulled over for speeding?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” Drew said.

“And the police officer saw sick little Dottie in the front seat? And then apologized? And ripped up the ticket?”

“Yeah,” Drew smiled. “I remember.”

“I think about that a lot,” I said.

“Poor Dottie,” Drew said.

Nebach, he added, in Yiddish.

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