Thursday, May 6, 2010
The Eye and I
An ear-splitting scream bore through the thick veil of sleep and my eyes opened to see the ballerina wallpaper that still adorned the walls of my childhood bedroom. Ugh!
I scrambled for my bath robe and staggered into the hall, barely avoiding a head-on collision with my step-father, Roger. We mumbled apologies to each other and then charged down the hall toward the source of the scream that had jarred us out of our beds. At the front entrance to the house Roger and I found my mother, pale and shaking, pointing at the object of her horror. I rolled my eyes and bent down to scoop it up.
That’s when my mother dropped to the floor in a dead faint. Roger and I looked at her crumpled body, then at each other. I held out the object. “It’s glass,” I said. And that’s when Roger dropped to the floor in a dead faint right next to my mother. “Tory!” I yelled, stepping over the inert bodies of my parents and marched back up the hall to the room next to mine where my eleven-year-old daughter lay blissfully sleeping and oblivious to the havoc she had just caused.
An overwhelming urge to strangle my little angel coursed through me, but I decided to let her sleep. The longer she slept, the less trauma she could instigate. I closed the door, leaving her to her dreams. I looked down at the reason my parents were in a heap in the foyer and the urge to kill my baby was replaced by a huge grin.
I tucked the offending object, a glass eyeball, into the pocket in my robe and returned to the foyer to find Mom and Roger stirring back to life. I assisted them both to their feet and herded them into the kitchen where I poured them each a cup of coffee. They were both very pale and even swallowing the strong liquid took some effort.
“That child of yours is a ghoul,” my mother said.
I removed the eyeball from my pocket and set it down on the table. I have to admit that I took some little pleasure at watching my mother blanch to an even whiter shade of pale. “It’s glass,” I repeated my earlier elucidation. Roger reached out a tentative finger and poked the thing to confirm the truth of it. Mother squealed, but managed not to pass out a second time.
“Put it away!” she cried. “For God’s sake, Aileen, put it away.”
“Oh for the love of Pete,” I said. “It’s just a glass eye. It can’t hurt you.” I sipped my own soothing java.
“Why do you let her have things like that?” Mother spat. “It’s disgusting.”
“It’s just a chunk of glass.” I said slowly, as if speaking to an errant child.
“It’s not just a chunk of glass. It’s an eyeball. And I want it out of my house.
Do you hear me, Aileen? I want it out.” Mother’s hysteria was escalating. Tears were actually rolling down her cheeks.
I took a deep breath. “Fine,” I said. “Me and the ghoul will get out too.” I picked up the eyeball and stomped out of the kitchen.
My mother and I had never seen eye-to-eye, so to speak. Particularly since Tory was born out of wedlock eleven years earlier. Mother saw her granddaughter as an embarrassment rather than the amazing, beautiful child that she was. For a baby-boomer, Mother was hyper conservative. She considered wearing navy and green living on the edge.
While I was throwing my stuff back into my suitcase, I heard Tory rousing in the next room. I flipped the suitcase closed and went to head her off before she crossed paths with her grandmother. “Tory,” I whispered just as she was entering the bathroom across from her bedroom. She turned and looked at me with her sparkling green eyes. “When you’re done in there, come straight to my room. Okay?”
Tory nodded and closed the bathroom door. I returned to my packing.
A sudden sadness overcame me. I had worked hard to nurture Tory’s curiosity and creativity; something that had always been stifled in me when I was growing up. I wished my mother could accept the wonder and joy with which my daughter experienced life.
I pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and was just twisting my hair into a loose pony when Tory opened the door. “Morning Mom,” she said in her cheerful voice that always reminded me of laughing cherubs.
“Morning, Sweetpea,” I said and gave her a big hug. “Come sit down with me for a minute.”
“Am I in trouble?” Tory was nothing if not perceptive.
“No. Well, maybe just a little.” I tweaked her nose to let her know that I was not angry with her.
“What did I do, Mom?” she asked. It always amazed me how she could take responsibility.
I took the glass eyeball out of my robe pocket and held it out. “Your grandmother found this under your jacket. Which you left on the floor by the front door by the way.”
“Oh, yeah,” Tory said. She took the eyeball from my hand. “I guess I forgot.”
“Hmmm. Well, Grandma nearly had a heart attack.”
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
“It’s not me you have to apologize to, Tory. Grandma is... well she’s...”
“Uptight?” Tory suggested. Sometimes precocious isn’t all that cute!
“Something like that,” I agreed. “She was quite upset when she found the eye. She even fainted.”
“Really?” Somehow there was far too much delight in those two syllables.
“Tory,” I admonished.
“Mom, why doesn’t Grandma like me?”
The sound of a heart breaking is as loud as thunder and as silent as the grave at the same time. My eleven year old daughter was acutely aware that she was not accepted by her own flesh and blood. It hurt both of us more than either of us could possibly deserve. “I don’t know,” I said. “You are the most likeable kid that ever walked the earth.”
Tory rolled her eyes. (She was going to make a great teenager.) Then she hugged me. At least my little girl still did that.
“Tell you what,” I said. “We’re going to go to a hotel for the rest of the weekend. How does that sound?”
“Sounds like Grandma kicked us out.”
“Actually, she just kicked the eyeball out.” We both laughed.
Tory went back to her room, got dressed and packed her things. We met in the hall and, hand in hand, dragged our matching, rolling purple suitcases across the shiny click-lock flooring to the front door. The sound of the wheels brought my mother and step-father out of the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” my mother asked.
“The ghoul and I are going to a hotel for the rest of the weekend. We’ll find our own way to Jason’s wedding.” Jason is my brother and his wedding was the reason we were there.
“Nonsense,” my mother retorted. “There’s no reason for all this drama. Take your things back to your rooms.”
“Ghoul?” Tory said.
“Good-bye, Mother.” I turned to open the door and leave.
“Ghoul?” Tory asked again.
“Tory, don’t interrupt,” Mother scolded.
“You called me a ghoul?” Tory stepped closer to my mother, who, in turn, backed away.
“I didn’t mean it,” Mother stammered. “I was just taken by surprise and I... Well, I over-reacted just a little.”
“I’m very sorry that I forgot to hang up my jacket, Grandma. And I’m very, very sorry that you were scared by my eyeball. But I’m not sorry that Mom and me are going to stay at a hotel. I don’t know why you don’t like me, but it doesn’t matter. I still love you, even if you do think I’m a ghoul.” With that, my darling little girl turned on her heel and marched out the door.
I wiggled my fingers at Mother and Roger and followed her out to the car. Tory flung her suitcase into the trunk and slid into the passenger seat. I slid into the driver`s seat, started the car and backed down the driveway. Tory was holding the glass eyeball, turning it over and over between her fingers.
“Mom,” Tory said, “would it be mean to leave this in the mailbox for Grandma to find again later?”
“A little.” I accelerated so she wouldn’t jump out and run back to the mailbox.
“That’s what I thought.”
“Grandma doesn’t mean to be like that,” I said. It’s weird how easy it is to defend the woman.
We drove on in silence, found a hotel with a decent room and checked in. I agreed to Mickey D’s for breakfast and then treated my baby girl to some shopping before we had to get ready for the wedding. I made a mental note to call Jason and warn him about the ice age that was going to move through the reception later. I was relatively sure he would not be all that surprised. He’d probably want to know where Tory got the cool glass eyeball.
I was on the dance floor, trying to get through the Chicken Dance without being groped by some crazy old dude that had been stalking me since dinner when an ear-splitting scream pierced the celebratory din and brought the entire reception to a grinding halt. What now? I wondered as I made my way to the front of the hall.
There was my brother’s bride, in a heap of white taffeta out cold on the floor next to the wedding cake.
And there was a glass eyeball embedded into the frosting between the top and middle tiers.