Happy Mother’s Day to this bouffant-crowned, sarcastically gifted lady, wherever she is. It’s been six years now, and I still find myself feeling awkward on this day of days meant to celebrate her. I know she is at peace in her ever-after. I hope that it’s a place filled with happiness and love, and that some of the friends and family who were able to see her attitude at its best are there, eliciting MORE attitude and sarcasm.
The look she has on her face in this photo was, believe it or not, how I know she was happy when it was taken. She wore her ballsy attitude like a proud vestment of Queendome when she was in the company of friends and family. This was a face I loved to see, her biting comments always deadpan, her voice modulated and dripping with disdain. A takedown from my mother was to be put in your place in such a permanent way that you thought you belonged there. My mother, when in her element, was the epitome of every synonym for sarcasm that exists. Here is the thesaurus entry for “sarcastic”. Read this to know her the way I loved her:
“Synonyms: saucy, derisive, disrespectful, acerbic, trenchant, brusque, disparaging, sardonic, satirical, caustic, biting, mordant, acid, bitter, arrogant, acrimonious, austere, backhanded, captious, carping, contemptuous, corrosive, cutting, cynical, disillusioned, evil, hostile, irascible, mean, offensive, ornery, salty, scorching, scornful, scurrilous, severe, sharp, sneering, acerb, contumelious, ironical, smart-alecky, chaffing, cussed, needling, snarling, taunting, twitting, weisenheiming”
That – ALL OF THAT – was my mother the way I always hoped to see her, and the way I wish to remember her. Some of that could be construed as less-than complimentary, but when we love someone, we love the bad witch in them as well as the Glenda. She could be those negative things, and often was, in her darker moments. I saw more of those than I wanted, and she fell victim to them more than she deserved. In turn, I fell victim, as well.
It doesn’t matter, though. She went through things. We all do, and we all tend to judge others by the way they handle the shit that’s dealt them. She handled adversity; the challenges, the disappointments, the low valleys of sorrow that so often benched her at the kitchen table with only her tormented thoughts, her cigarettes, her coffee, and a deck of cards with which to play solitaire. Sometimes, the cards stayed in their deck and I would find her with her head bowed into her arms. There was no sarcasm then; only desolation. At those moments, I did not know how to elicit that which I hoped to see on her face. I knew that rousing her would only invite those bad synonyms, their barbs cutting into my flesh as she shot those arrows with precise aim at me. I was target practice for the real dragons she wished to slay. I was there, and available. And I loved her. I didn’t know that I wasn’t strong enough to withstand those poison-tipped arrows. Their venom was both immediate and slow-acting. It afflicted me in ways that, even now, I find myself looking for an antidote for.
But no matter. Because I found enough of an antidote to counteract the worst of it, I can think to myself that maybe that shit was savage as fuck, but that it taught me well. It taught me that I had, within myself, those same elements. I inherited her gift for sarcastic wit and I grew it, encouraged and nurtured it, with an expansion of attitude that colors my writing, my interactions, and my every thought. I bring it out, like she did, and put it on full display when it simply needs to be seen, like the crown jewels in a museum. I go one farther than she did, though: I bench it when my thoughts are too dark. I bench it when it would serve only to hit the batter right square in the face when I pitch my vitriole-tinged words. I consign it to the depths and darkened corners and tunnels of my mind when it would do harm if let loose into the world. There, in its cage, it torments only me. And I am good with that, because I know what a steady diet of acidic, cutting, contumelious, vomitus verbiage can do to break down an unwitting (or witting) victim. It wounds, it desensitizes, it changes the chemistry in their brains. It scars.
It scars forever.
She could not contain herself, no. But I can. So, when I go quiet, it’s because the lessons my mother taught me have taken hold, and I have done what I learned to do long ago, and I have consigned them to the basement boiler room of my inner schoolhouse for a time-out. Sarcasm has its place, but when it schools only to hurt, in turn it seeks only to offend.
And it’s Mother’s Day, after all. This is the day to revere our mothers and to reflect upon all the love, the sacrifices, and the countless life lessons. It’s just that, for some of us, there’s a small mountain of salt to go with. If you have more sugar than salt, embrace that. Embrace your mom. Bake her a cake or take her out for ice cream and celebrate all that sweetness.
I’m just gonna sit over here and eat a whole bag of potato chips.