Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Memory-Repeater's Daughter

My mother always has a memory or a story to tell... and retell and retell and retell. It's come to the point that each time she tells me, my sisters, Forty-One and Forty-Six, a story, she prefaces it with, Now stop me if I'm repeating myself. Did I tell you about the time when daddy got drunk...


Whenever she's in New York, there's never, ever a story she doesn't retell. She can tell me one in the kitchen, yet when we move into the living room five minutes later, she inevitably begins to tell me the same thing, even if she re-words it somehow in order to make it seem like something fresh and new.

Thirty-Eight Plus One: "MOM!"

Sixty-Six: "Oh, I don't know who I tell what."

Me and Forty-One laugh. Hysterically at times.

Sixty-Six: "Just keep laughing at your old mother. You'll miss me when I drop dead."

More laughter.

A few months ago, I went to Forty-One's, and sat at the kitchen table, our usual spot to wax totally unpoetic about life. Sixty-Six happened to be present, as she likes to fly north for the winter to spend Hannukahmas with her grandkids. So I plopped my ass down and started doodling on a scrap of paper from the ever-present pile o'papers whose purpose, I decided, seems to be for doodle-friendly people. I begin my normal doodle, Slash from Guns N Roses.

Me: (sighing) "I hate everyone."

Forty-One: (bigger sigh) "Me too."

Nota Bene: This is how we usually start our daily conversations.

Sixty-Six, plopping into her spot, coffee mug in one hand, a brand new, undoodled newspaper under her arm, throws her Snappy, which is the name of her cigarette case, onto the doodle pile: "Stop me if I'm repeating myself, now. Did I tell you about your cousin's dog? He has cancer and it started in his toe.

Now thankfully, we can allow her to continue, as this story is not part of her usual repertoire. She tells us about the dog's toe and how it was infected and that the vet discovered cancer. Sad stuff.

A few more doodles, a half-hearted glance at Forty-One's almost-completed Cryptoquote and Word Jumble, a fruitless search in her fridge for something I can pluck out and pop in my mouth, and I'm done with them... for a while. I always find myself back there later, though, sitting in the same seat, doodling on the same paper.

Round Two, two hours later:

Me: "Everyone annoys me.

Forty-One: "Me too."

Sixty-Six: "Oh, you two are annoying. Did I tell you your cousin's dog..."

Us, Eighty: "Stop!"

Sixty-Six: "Oh, I don't know who I tell what.

This goes on all day, the next day, and then the following three days after that. (I had actually warned Sixty-Six before she got to NY that she should save up some new material for when she gets here, that way, there'd be no repetition). So after day six of doodles, word jumbles and me and Forty-One driving Sixty-six to the brink of madness with our banter about how people suck, the conversations tend to get stale really quickly. When I sense that they're both about to kick me out of Forty-One's kitchen, though, I start talking about anything random because even though there's nothing left to rant about, there are times when I'm just not ready to leave.

Me: "Eleven scored three baskets the other night."

Sixty-Six: "Oh, good, good."

Forty-One: "He's so handsome."


Sixty-Six lights up her Doral cigarette, which is like the no-name version of a Camel and a constant source for jokes. They taste and smell worse than any other cigarette but because they're so cheap, she maintains it's worth it. They're like ten bucks a carton but they contain questionable ingredients. That Sixty-Six; she's a thrifty ol' lady with lungs of steel.

Pausing continues. When there's too much silence, the sudden death of the conversation unnerves me because it means we've exhausted all facets of the "why people suck" and "remember when we were little..." stories and I know I'm going to have to leave. But when nobody makes a move to dress or if there's still furious doodling happening, I know we're good. We somehow find our way back to the default conversation that never gets tiresome:

Forty-One: "I'm hungry."

And there it is.

The subject of food invariably leads to what could be hours of sometimes exciting, often times frustrating, conversation. While the excitement of talking about gobs of melted, browning cheese and chili covered with Fritos is still hot, I always manage to quash the entire, exhilirating exchange:

Thirty-Eight Plus One: "Well... all this talk is making me hungry too but I still have to lose seven pounds."

A new cloud of Doral smoke pollutes the air.

Sixty-Six: "Shut up already!"

Forty-One: "Yeah, really! We're sick of hearing it already!"

Sixty-Six: "I'm going back to Florida. Can't you find something new to say?"

I sit there, simultaneously astounded by her nerve and my sudden impulse to eat the refrigerator, and because I'm dietarily challenged, vomit it back up. She gets up and lets the dog, Five, inside, who's been outside barking incessantly.

Sixty-Six: "Oh, did I tell you about your cousin's dog...?"

Eighty: "Yes!!"

By the time I leave there, it's time to get the kids from school. I remind Eleven that he has a game and needs to do homework right away. No hanging out with friends, either.

Eleven: "I know. You told me last night."

We eat dinner at five because his game is at 6:45. At five-thirty I tell him to do his homework.

Eleven: "I KNOW! You told me already."

At six o'clock, he's laying upside down on the couch watching Family Guy.

T.E.P.O.: "Your homework is all done?"

Eleven: "No."

Just like that. He answers without fear of getting in trouble. He answers the question evenly, like I just asked him if he likes peas.

T.E.P.O.: "Do your homework! You have a game tonight!"

Eleven: "I know! How many times do you have to repeat yourself?!"

Who the ef is this kid anyway, talking to me like that? I only repeat myself because apparently, telling him three times isn't sufficiently getting the idea through his skull.

I need a talkative adult around me so I force my mom to come to my house the next day, thinking a change of scenery might spark something interesting to talk about. She sits on the couch and we talk about how annoying children are when it comes to homework. She starts telling me how annoying I was when I was a kid because if I got a ninety on something, I would come home and re-do it because I wasn't happy with the original mark.

T.E.P.O: "I know, Mom! You tell me that every time we talk about my kids or my horribly low self esteem."

Seven hurls herself onto my lap room several times throughout the night and each time, I tell her to shower. Each time she comes back, she's still dry.

T.E.P.O: "You'll smell really bad if you don't. When I was your age, there was a girl that smelled like pee pee and once at a sleepover...

"Seven: "STOP! You always repeat yourself, Mommy."

I know there's an evil giggle burbling inside my mother somewhere deep down; she gets this sick satisfaction when one of the kids does something to me that either me, Forty-One or Forty-Six do, or had done, to her. I think I hear a quiet little "ha-ha" as she passes me to go outside to smoke. So I go outside to sit with her as she puffs her Dorals.

Sixty-Six: "See what happens? No matter how much you kids say you're not like me, you are."

And it's true. I've become the Memory Repeater's Daughter.

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