Suicide is Not Your Friend
or “Flesh and Blood”
By Sara Jacobelli
© copyright 2012
“Yeah, I guess.” I stood at the pay phone and jiggled the change holder. I never knew what to say when she got into this stuff. I didn’t really feel like fighting. Besides, who ever heard of an Irish Catholic mother extolling the virtues of suicide?
“Well, ever since your father died, I’ve been very depressed. And the people in this group are the only ones who understand. Nicky tries, but he’s so busy with Chuck and the wiener dogs and his job.”
Now that Papi was dead, she acted like he was straight out of Father Knows Best. His heart attack made him a saint.
“I know, Mom. But maybe another interest besides suicide would be healthier for you, you know?” The Lucky Bead Lady walked by, eyeing me. She loved to pick up the receiver of the pay phone and babble voodoo curses in some mysterious language. She probably put a curse on me for using the phone.
“You wouldn’t understand. First of all, I wouldn’t be so depressed if you didn’t give away my grandbabies.” This was a low blow, and she knew it. I’m sure she puffed out a triumphant little smoke circle.
“Mom, that’s not fair. Tony’s mother got custody, what was I supposed to do? I didn’t have any money, OR a lawyer, OR any family that could help me.” I felt like we were playing a deranged game of backgammon, hitting each other’s little men and knocking them off the board.
“She could at least let me see them. Miami’s not that far from Brooklyn. I could get on a plane, IF I was invited.”
What did Lillian Hellman say in her memoirs? My mother was dead for many years before I realized I loved her very much. Really, Lillian? How many years does it take?
“Yeah, I remember, I only heard the story a million times. Mom, look what I went through when Tony went to jail. I’ve been there too.”
“I felt so sorry for her. Just a couple young kids, trying to survive. A nice young couple. They had their whole lives ahead of them. You should have seen his picture, as handsome as your father. Oh, and did I tell you I joined the Hemlock Society?”
“That’s great, Mom.”
“You don’t have to be so sarcastic. Anyhow, I called them because I didn’t get my membership card, and I spoke to Derek Humphries, in person, on the telephone. Can you believe it?”
“Humphry. I think it’s Derek Humphry.”
“Well, whatever. The point is I TALKED to him on the phone. Oh, and I made a friend, this nice young man, from the Miami Suicide Hotline. His name is Paul.”
“Oh, that’s good.” I decided no more fighting, I was just going to get off the phone and not call again for a few months. “Mom, this must be expensive, a collect call and all.”
“Well, let me tell you this.” I could hear the TV news blaring on the portable in the background. “One thing about Miami, their Suicide Hotline always has a real person pick up the phone. Not a recording. Can you believe, at 3:00 am, in San Francisco, their Suicide Hotline put me ON HOLD?”
“Why were you calling their Suicide Hotline? I thought you were visiting Nicky and Chuck.”
“Oh, they’re so busy. Nicky cooks for these rich snobs. They’re in the Forbes 400. Chuck works for the Customs Department, they have all those spoiled wiener dogs, they didn’t really have time for me, so I was depressed. But it’s a beautiful city and they have a lovely apartment, just filled with antiques. You should see it. They have all of these wonderful friends. You should see it. You should see Chinatown. And when are you getting a job?”
“I have one, I’m bartending in the Quarter. It’s this place called The Sugar Shack.” The Bead Lady stopped pacing, stood and stared at me. I was cursed.
“Well, you don’t need to be in those places. You should be a good mother, and move closer to Jersey to be near your children.”
“Mom, I don’t even have visitation. And it’s Brooklyn, not Jersey.”
“Well, maybe you could get visitation if you didn’t live with that drug dealer, whats-his-name.”
“We split up.” The Bead Lady spit on the ground and stared at me, emitting a low ominous growl.
“I never heard, really, of a mother giving up her parental rights. Men, sure, they don’t care. But a mother, a woman who gives birth–“
“Mom, it’s complicated. I didn’t have a job, I was being evicted from my apartment, I had nowhere to go–”
“So she should get custody, and she goes to AA, her husband’s a bum, he gambles, you know. Her house is a pigsty—“
“Mom, it’s not that bad. It’s better than foster care. Besides, Papi gambled too. You guys spent your whole paychecks on cigarettes, booze, and lottery tickets.”
“We never did that! I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU! I’ll. Never. Understand. You. “
“Alright, Mom, gotta go. “
“IF your father was alive, this never would have happened. New Orleans, drugs, giving away the babies.”
“OK, you’ve made your point. This is painful for me, you know.”
“For you? I should be raising MY grandchildren, not that bitch. Antonio and Allessandro don’t even know me. She gets to watch them grow up.”
“Mom, you don’t have any money, you live in a studio apartment. If you could make peace with Tony’s mother, you could see them. They’re really smart, they speak Italian, they go to Head Start.”
“Italian? They should speak Irish, and those names, what’s wrong with nice Irish names like Patrick or Ryan? And Fran, she never sends me pictures. She could send pictures.”
Pictures. No point in telling her I couldn’t even bear to look at their pictures.
“Mom, it’s not called Irish, it’s called Gaelic. And you don’t speak it either. You hate Irish music, what’s with this whole Irish thing now?”
“It doesn’t matter what I say. You don’t listen. That’s why I like the people at my club, they listen.”
“ I’ve gotta go. I’m going to need your Suicide Club if you keep this up.”
“Sure. Go ahead. Go ahead to the bar and tell all your friends your mother’s crazy.”
“Mom, you’re not even Jewish and you’re laying a guilt trip on me.”
“I should be Jewish. Every Jewish girl, her parents give her her own little bank account, her own little pot of money. She never has to depend on a man, she never has to worry about a thing. But have you ever heard of an Irish American princess? There’s no such thing. You know how many years I worked in Reliable laundry on Stillman Street? And for what? For nothing, that’s what.”
“OK, gotta go. The Lucky Bead Lady needs the phone. Not too many phone booths left around here.”
I hung up. She was still talking, something about the generations of O’Hara women forced to toil in laundries. I walked down Chartres Street to the square, sat on a bench and thought about the boys. The Legal Aid guy told me I had a chance at supervised visitation, but there was a lot I had to do.
I completed probation, that was good. But there was more. A long line of Things I Had to Do. Parenting classes, drug tests, a job, maybe a GED. The young lawyer was friendly, with longish hair. He didn’t think I should keep the bartending job, he didn’t think the judge would like the sound of it. He also said I had to buy some clothes for court, and wear a watch to cover up the tattoo on my wrist.
Everything seemed so hard and so complicated. The boys would be grown by the time I could do all that stuff. If Papi were alive he wouldn’t wait around for paper pushers and follow all the rules. He’d just get a gun and grab the boys, cuss everyone out in Italian, and hit the road. I could just picture him, grabbing the boys, shoving them in his Cadillac, and shouting about “carne e sangue, carne e sangue.”
I didn’t want to think about that stuff anymore. I walked down St. Peter and headed for Johnny White’s. I was broke, but someone would buy me a drink.
1] The actual quote is “My mother was dead for five years before I knew that I had loved her very much.” Hellman, Lillian. An Unfinished Woman: A Memoir. New York: Little Brown & Company, 1969. 5.
Artwork Credit: Wikipedia, Robert Vickers, “Laundry Day”
Photo Credit: Wikipedia, “The Roaring Twenties,” James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, Public Domain Photo.