When we left off our little tale, Part One ended with me having won a cruise, my mother snapping a little bit and begging - yes, begging - me to take me with her, and my father coming to my rescue and reigning my mother in.
The reason my mom went a little pooky on me was because she had always wanted to go on a cruise, always - and my dad? Well, let's just say he wasn't the type. Dad's only real interest outside the house was target shooting, and they discourage that on board a cruise ship these days (although I did get to shoot skeet off the stern of the ship back in '89: lead shot and everything. Really responsible, Princess Cruises).
Also, you should remember that 20 years ago, cruising was a lot more upscale than it is now; it was actually more expensive than it is now, not even factoring in inflation, and though the old man could have afforded it, Dad was proud of his blue-collar life and disdained the trappings of wealth. He would always tell us to remember that we come from peasant stock, to never ever forget that. It was a valuable lesson that allowed me to keep most of the money I made and not piss it away.
Most of you know the next part of the story: Dad died May 5th, 2008. And that sort of blew the family apart. Don't get me wrong, we love our mother, but she is not the most pleasant person to spend time with on a day-to-day basis. She can be manipulative, telling you the things she thinks you want to hear, changing the subject when she gets caught and you get angry, plotting in her way to make things go her way.
And this has made my visits to her more and more infrequent. When Dad was alive I spent every single Wednesday there; my work knew I took off a little early on Wednesdays and looked the other way. Now, yes, poker night is not every week like it used to be, but even when it takes place I find myself not going over there to visit. Part of that is because I perceive my father's shadow in every room of the house and even four years on it's still a little jarring to be there without him. But mostly it's because I grow tired of my mother, bitching about my weight when she herself is 140 pounds overweight, needling me about getting a job again and saying things like she's not judging my life, inviting me over and not telling me she invited half the friggin family so they could see me - the list goes on and on.
In fact - and this informs a later element of this tale - one of the most annoying things my mother does is call me sixteen times a day if I don't answer the phone. And the tone of the messages she leaves gets more and more belligerent with every phone call. The two biggest arguments we've ever had - both of which had me screaming, literally screaming down the phone line - were because of this. Sometimes I don't answer the phone, don't want to talk to anyone, just want to be left alone. She knows this because first I told her calmly, then angrily, then at the very top of my voice. I told her that if she didn't stop doing this I wouldn't take her calls at all: I'm her son, always will be, but I'm nobody's child. At 43 I think I've earned the right to decide when and with whom to speak on the phone, and her berating me over my answering machine is about as counterproductive as it gets.
So Mom is basically a lonely old woman, knocking about in a house several sizes too big for her. And yes, to an extent she lies in a bed of her own making, but that doesn't mean I'm unsympathetic to her state.
Now for the last few years, Tootsie and I have gone on the same cruise: a four-day affair up the New England coast, stopping at St. John, New Brunswick (which we couldn't care less about). We like the cruise because it's almost all cruise: there's only that one port of call and it's over in about eight hours. It's short enough that we don't get on each other's nerves, and I usually do really well at the poker table there, especially insofar as they spread a 1/2NL cash table, my favorite game. The only suck about it is that it left via the New York cruise terminal, which was a 3+ hour drive and about a million mile walk on the way home.
Well this year we weren't going to go, to sort of preserve our cash, but a while back out of curiosity I took a look at the prices for this year's cruise and found that they were about $200 PER PERSON less than they were last year, and they moved from New York to Boston! Score on both counts.
So as I was making my booking, I mentioned to Ma that we were going again and said that if she had a friend, she could go too - inside cabins were going for under $300. I thought this was a perfect scenario: she could cross something off her bucket list, her friend would keep her out of our hair, and I make big big son points. Not only did she agree, but she and her friend Lois, who were best friends since they were 8, decided to take a balcony cabin and do it right. I pitched it to Tootsie and she saw things the same way I did. All was on schedule to go smoothly.
While making the reservations, I took out trip insurance on us all, after having been given assurances that if Mom and Lois didn't want it, it would be immediately and courteously refunded. So I tell Mom that I spent sixty bucks of her and Lois's money, told her on what, and told her that if either one of them didn't want it, that was fine, just let me know in the next couple of weeks and I'll have it removed from the itinerary.
And then, I get the call that still haunts my dreams and my waking.
Lois had pulled out.
I asked my mother, incredulously, what the hell happened. And after three days of half-truths, omissions, and outright lies, I got what I believe to be the true story: Mom called Lois, about the trip insurance thing, and she was away.
So Mom called back.
And called back again.
And called back again.
And she made such a pest of herself that Lois exploded, screaming at her that she wasn't her child (sound familiar?) and that she would call back when she was god damned good and ready. Mom, as usual, in her delusional way, denied having done anything wrong and didn't understand why Lois was so pissed.
Well, the bottom line is that not only did Lois pull out of the cruise, but pulled out of my Mom's life. A sixty-year friendship was dashed to the rocks because of my mother's psychotic short fuse about picking up the phone. She still, by the way, denies that she did anything to contribute to this; it's ALL LOIS'S FAULT.
Ye Gods, my family is fucked up.
So there it is: Tootsie and I are going on a cruise, with my mother, who is now going by herself. And at first she promised that she'd give us plenty of space, and maybe we could take a few meals together, but mostly she'd sit on her balcony and watch the waves and the stars.
Then she asked how much time I spend in the casino, and wondered if we were going to do anything together. And then she asked what Toots does with her day and if they could hang out.
All in all, I foresee my mother hanging around my neck like a millstone. It wouldn't be so bad if she were better company, but she just isn't.
If you hear a story of a man overboard on a cruise up the Atlantic coast, keep a kind thought in your head for the Crafty Southpaw. I'm in a better place. A much, much better place.