We’re Sorry, But the Party You Are Trying to Reach is Unavailable…

Posted: April 17, 2013 in Acting, Life, Mom
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

That’s how I used to feel when I tried to talk to Mom. Like I was placing a call and the number just wouldn’t connect. I knew the number, dialed, and waited. Sometimes it would be 20 rings, and she’d pick up. Sometimes I’d get an error message. Sometimes we’d talk, and it would be clear as a bell. Those conversations were somewhat rare, though. At first I didn’t notice it so much – when I was a kid, I’d just chatter away. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized I was talking at her, not to her.

I used to be quite the little chatterbox when I was little. I used to wander up to adults (I’m talking like, when I was 5 or 6) and just talk to them about dinosaurs or whatever. It really didn’t matter who it was – a casting person, an agent, Tim, Mom, or some stranger at a truck stop. I’d find something to talk about. I remember us going to a buffet when I was a kid, and for whatever reason I started talking to this lady. She wandered around the restaurant and I followed her. My parents realized I had wandered off, and panicked. They found me just chatting away about whatever. Turns out the lady was the owner, and when she found out I sang and did shows, she hired me to do some singing gigs.

When you’re in the car – especially on long trips, like the drives to NYC were – there’s long silences. Anyone who has ever been on a road trip understand this. If you’re lucky, those silences are comfortable. If you’re not, they can be awkward. When your mentally ill mother is driving you, and you have no idea what she’s thinking about, those silences can be anxiety inducing. Long silences meant she was thinking, usually. If she got that thousand yard stare, that was very bad. She might burst out crying (that was typical), she might become very, very depressed and suicidal, or she might become angry. She might harp about Russ and the Mafia, and become paranoid. When she thought – and she had plenty of time to do so in the car ride – it was like spinning a roulette wheel where every slot but one or two was pretty bad. The only answer I could come up with was to try to distract her – to try to engage her in conversation, about whatever. Mostly I’d talk about comics or books I was reading, or dinosaurs, or TV shows. If she tried to steer the conversation towards Russ, I tried to keep it positive. This was sort of my Hail Mary play – if she insisted on making the topic Russ or the Mafia or something, I would insist on it being positive. I wasn’t sure she was crazy yet – I still trusted her – but I was sure things weren’t quite as bad as she seemed to think.

Remember when I told you that Mom and I used to be very close, and then a series of breaks happened? This is the first of them, and it happened like this. I was about 12, and I had spent some time quietly reading in the car (another gargantuan novel – I don’t remember what it was now). I finally looked up, and saw her staring off into space. I called out to her. No response. I waited. I called her name again. Still no response. Gingerly, I put my hand on her arm.

Me: Mom.

She snapped out of it, but I could see immediately she was pissed.

Mom: What.

Me: Um.

Mom: What, Danny. I am trying to THINK.

Me: I was, uh, concerned. You looked tired.

Mom: I’m thinking.

Me: Oh, okay. I didn’t know.

The hell I didn’t. I knew perfectly well what was going on. She was inside herself, replaying some event (real or imagined) and would come out with some new thing to be worried or obsess about. I went back to reading for a while. When I looked up again, she was still distant. I decided she’d been zoning out long enough (the fact that she was zoning out while driving wasn’t a big concern to me, though it probably should have been). I decided to take some tentative steps into a conversation.

Me: So, uh. I’m reading this book.


Me: It’s about this guy…and he’s a time traveler. And he goes back to King Arthur’s court.


Me: It’s really cool. He invents electric fences and stuff…

Hearing no response, I continued talking. I pretty much gave her a full, running narrative of the book. Every once in a while I would look over to see if she was listening. I wasn’t sure if she was, but she did look a little less distant, I thought. That was good.

Me: …what do you think about that?

I had been talking for maybe 20 minutes. I watched her. She was tilting her head in this funny way. Remember the old RCA dog? The one that listened at the Victrola and heard “his master’s voice”? That’s kind of what she looked like, though I have no idea what voice she might have been hearing.

Mom: Danny.

I felt cold. She did not sound very happy.

Mom: Shut. The fuck. UP.

I shrank. My plan had backfired. I was supposed to bring her out of her trance, not piss her off.

Me: I’m sorry. I just, uh. Got bored. Was trying to talk to you.

Mom: I am trying to THINK!

She jammed two fingers into her temple when she said “THINK”, emphasizing her point. At this juncture, all I wanted to do was calm her down and get back to the status quo.

Me: Okay, okay. I’m sorry. I’ll stop talking.

Mom: THANK you.

I stuck my nose back in my book. I was hurt and angry.  I don’t think I looked up for most of the ride home, until she spoke again.

Mom: It’s just the things you talk about, they’re so far over my head.

I looked at her. I didn’t think they were that difficult to comprehend. It was a book for God’s sake.

Me: Okay.

Mom: I just…have a lot on my mind.

Me: Alright.

She tried to open up the conversation again, but I was having none of it. I was pissed at having been yelled at just for talking.

I did get over it – eventually – but it took me a couple weeks. We went back to the old routine of me chattering away to her while she drove. Hell, I even talked while she didn’t drive. I remember we were walking through a mall and I was just going on and on about some idea I had for a commercial. I was excited about it.

Me: What do you think? Pretty cool, right?

She was clearly distracted.

Mom: Uh, yeah. Cool.

Later on, we got a call from the agent – I had an audition where I had to tell an original joke. I told her I didn’t have one ready, and I’d have to think about it.

Mom: But you do. Didn’t you tell me that joke in the mall?

Me: A joke?

Mom: Yeah. 

Me: That wasn’t a joke…that was an idea I had for a script.

It dawned on me then that she wasn’t listening at all – in fact, I don’t think she paid attention enough to have any idea of what I was talking about most of the time. I reflected on many of our past “conversations”, and saw that she wasn’t actually listening, but rather letting my words wash over her – like I was a wave and she was a pier. I shouldn’t have reacted like this, but it was too much for me to handle. I shut down. I stopped talking to her almost completely, unless she initiated it. I kept my nose in my book and inhabited my own inner world. In an ironic sort of way, I wasn’t much different than she was.

It took her months to notice I had stopped talking, which upset me more. I had hoped she would notice and say something. When she did, it wasn’t in a way that I anticipated.

Mom: You’ve become a bit of an introvert.

Me: Hm.

Mom: I don’t think that’s good, Danny.

Me: Oh?

Mom: You’re not outgoing with people anymore. I think it’s bad. It makes you look like you’re not interested at auditions. You need to be more outgoing. Like you used to be.

I was pissed.

Me: Oh, ok.

I put my nose back in my book. Sometimes, when you keep trying to place a call that doesn’t go through, you hang up.

  1. dustandsoul says:

    A wonderful, heartfelt piece of writing.

    Yes, this has really touched me. Thank you for that.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting. =)

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