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‘I’m leaving and I’m never coming back!’

INSIDE/OUT

I called my mother the other day to see if she wanted to get

together for dinner and a movie. Mom didn’t know it, but I had this

whole plan laid out, in which I would take her to a nice restaurant,

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then catch one of the movies she’s been saying she wanted to see. It

would be nice, I thought. We’d share Raisinettes and gossip about my

brothers and sisters.

“No way, Jose,” my mother said in her “don’t-bother- asking-again”

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tone of voice. “I’ve had it with you kids. I’m going to a party and

you’ll be lucky if I ever come back.”

It had been awhile since I’d heard my mother pull one of her

famous “You’ll be lucky if you ever see me again” routines, and it

surprised me. She typically doesn’t threaten us with a disappearing

act unless she’s at her wit’s end with one or several of her

children, and I hadn’t realized things were getting to that point. I

asked her what was going on, and the complaints started pouring out

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of her.

“I’ve just had it with your sisters,” she said so loudly I had to

hold the phone away from my ear. “You have no idea, the drama I’ve

been putting up with here. I’ve got this one, Yvonne, saying she

wants to move back home, and that other one, The Beeper -- you just

don’t know. Anyway, I’ve had it -- I’ve had it, I tell you! I’m going

to fly back East and never come back!”

Yvonne has been hassling my mother about moving back home ever

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since her girlfriend moved out and left her holding the rent bag. My

sister Linda has been a thorn in Mom’s side since a judge recently

ordered her to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet as a condition

of probation. The bracelet bothers my mother so much she’s taken to

calling Linda “The Beeper.”

“Is that what I raised you kids to be?” Mom continued.

“Freeloaders and beepers? Was that what I sacrificed everything for?

Well, I’ve just had it. I’m flying back home and you kids will never

see me again!”

For as long as I can remember, my mom’s had this fantasy in which

she’d pack up and fly off to live out the remainder of her days with

her sister and nieces in New York. She would buy a one-way ticket and

conveniently forget to leave anyone a forwarding address. Whenever

things got too thick at home, whenever my brothers or sisters or I

would cause more headaches than she felt she could handle, she’d

threaten to turn her back on all her troubles and just fly away. Back

to problem-free Manhattan.

“Mom,” I said, attempting a rational approach. “Do you really

think life in New York City right now would be any better than here?”

“Don’t underestimate your sisters,” she answered.

I suppose there had to be a time once, back before Mom had a track

record, when her threats of abandonment actually inspired concern.

Perhaps there were moments many decades ago when Yvonne, the oldest,

would break into trembling tears and plead with Mom not to go. But no

one takes the threats seriously anymore.

My mother knows this. She sees the rolling eyes and the poorly

hidden smirks, and they make her even angrier; they make her put on a

bigger show of it. It used to be that just threatening to run away

let out enough steam to bring her frustration below the boiling

point. But as her children grew older and the problems we got into

grew more sophisticated, mere verbal threats became no longer enough.

By the time I was in high school, Mom had taken to supplementing her

threats with phone calls to her sister.

“You’d better get that room ready, Rosie, I’m coming home!” she’d

say into the receiver, her voice carrying throughout the house. “Yep,

I’m serious this time! These kids don’t deserve me! I’m coming home

and I’m never going back!”

When this failed to inspire the desired level of fear among her

children, Mom began using visual props. We’d come by the house and

she’d have two suitcases by the door.

We’d sit down on her couch and notice the New York City hotel

brochures conspicuously fanned out on the coffee table. Whenever we

would ask her about them, she would just smile mischie- vously and

walk away. But eventually the brochures would disappear and the

suitcases would go back into the closet.

The furthest Mom ever took it was when, about seven years ago, she

stumbled upon some drug paraphernalia hidden in Yvonne’s coat. We had

long known Yvonne had a drug problem, but until she held the evidence

in her hands, Mom had managed to maintain her denial. To everyone’s

surprise, she reacted to the discovery by actually buying a plane

ticket.

“You thought I was kidding before, but now you’ll see!” she

shouted. “This is it! I’m leaving and I’m never coming back!”

Out came the suitcases and the hotel brochures, along with garment

bags, a couple of romance novels and Dramamine. It was the Dramamine

that made Linda nervous enough to sneak a look at Mom’s plane ticket.

When she reported to the rest of us the ticket was round trip, we all

relaxed.

Still, in hindsight, I wish we had made a better show of acting

concerned.

“I want you to promise me you’ll take care of yourself,” Mom told

my brother Michael as he drove her to the airport. “And check in on

Davey every once and awhile. It’ll be really hard on him now that I’m

gone. And make sure someone waters my plants!”

“I will, Mom,” Michael said, pulling into LAX. “Bring me back

something nice.”

“I’m not coming back!”

“Oh, that’s right. Well, have a good time.”

A week later, Mom called me at work to tell me she was having the

time of her life. She had looked up old relations, was getting fat on

New York pizza and had even checked out the view from the top of the

World Trade Center. “Is somebody watering my plants?” she demanded to

know.

A week after that, she called to see if I could pick her up when

her flight arrived. Driving to her house, she told me all about her

visit.

“Ay, mijo, I don’t how people can live like that, all packed in

like sardines. And the humidity! You could swim in it! Still, it was

good to be back home.”

We pulled into the driveway. I was happy that she was back safe,

and though I’m usually pretty clueless as to her needs, it occurred

to me that she needed to hear something.

“Mom, I want you to promise me that you’ll never take off like

that again. We were so worried, you have no idea. We thought you were

never coming back!”

“I’m not going to promise anything. I’ll promise if you can

promise that you and your brothers and sisters will behave.”

“I can’t promise that, Mom.”

“OK, then,” Mom got out of the car and looked at her garden. “Oh

for Pete’s sake, Davey, my roses! Nobody’s been watering them! You

see? I can’t leave you alone for a minute!”

* DAVID SILVA is the city editor at the Leader’s sister paper,

the News-Press. His column runs Saturdays. Reach him at 637-3231, or

by e-mail at david.silva@latimes.com.


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