“Your mom scares me,” my friends informed me. It was in the sixth or seventh grade and I wasn’t about to disagree with them, I needed to fit in after all. My mother was somewhat strange. She was and is a short woman whose smile is slightly left-sided, like her politics. She sets odd rules that people must stick to—forcing everyone who enters our house to immediately remove their shoes, keeping everything clean and in perfect order. I smiled, rolled my eyes and said, “I know, I don’t know what’s wrong with her…” My friends still say this but these days, my response is a little different.
After school one day in March, I hopped into the front seat of my mother’s car. I was in the sixth grade and had just decided that I wanted to become a writer so I was overwhelmed by my earth-shattering ambitions. After school was usually the time that Mom and me would discuss my future—or candied dreams for my future—Harvard acceptance, my first Pulitzer, the dramatic list continued…That day, however, was different. That day, my mother was crying.
“Stephanie, I have to tell you something,” she began. Oh God, I thought, someone must have died. I scrunched up my little round face, trying to show as much concern as possible. “We won’t be seeing your Uncle Wayne and Aunt Donna anymore,” she finished. My face loosened and I became confused. “Why?” I asked, but I already knew.
My mother and her brother, have a very deep, complex history that I have learned about over time. Mom has always told me that family was everything. She and her brother were born in a small town outside of Pittsburg to Mary and John Wasulko. They were a poor family of coal miners—Mom once told me that on Thanksgiving, they couldn’t afford a turkey, so they went to a park and ate turkey hotdogs. The Wasulko’s were hard workers but my uncle hated their poverty. When they moved to California, he began to sell boats, and at sixteen years old, made enough money to move out of the house. My mother remained with her parents and worked hard in school until her parents paid her admission at the University of California, San Francisco School of Pharmacy. “I don’t care if you have kids,” she once told me, “but you have to promise me that you will pay for one child’s college education. My parents did it for me, I’m going to do it for you, and you need to do it for somebody else.”
When her father died, Mom took care of her mother. Nana lived with us and every morning I would sit and watch “The Price is Right” with her. She was a small, wrinkled Italian woman and I loved listening to her shout out prices at Bob Barker; she was usually right. Dad would have to poke her finger every few hours because she had Diabetes and Mom didn’t like seeing her wince at the pain. After a while, Nana had to live at the hospital and we would come and visit her. Mom would scream at the doctors from time to time. “You get my mother treatment or I’ll see to it that you never work again,” she would say. One day when I was seven, the phone rang, it was the hospital, and Mom started sobbing. I ran upstairs, pulled my sheets over my head, and tried to cry.
My attention returned to the present and my mother answered my question. “Because Uncle Wayne doesn’t want to talk to me anymore,” she said. “You know that we’ve been going to therapy, right?” she asked. I didn’t know, but I nodded. They had apparently been attending counseling to mend their problems but Uncle Wayne’s wife openly loathed my mother. She had performed several acts of cruelty to my family like calling my mother a bitch, forcing us out of their mansion because my brother had a cold, kicking my puppy and telling me that I was stupid. “I tried as hard as I could,” Mom said, choking on her words. I knew this, and told her that I hated them anyway, that I was glad I never had to see my uncle and aunt again. My mom had clung to her relationship with her brother for so long: he was all that she had left of her family, of her childhood. That day in March, my mother finally let go.
Though they live within 5 miles of our house, we haven’t seen or heard of my uncle and aunt for 6 years. My mother “Googles” them on occasion and Uncle Wayne is as rich and successful as ever. One day last week, I came home from school and in an eerie déjà vu of that day in sixth grade, found my mother upset. She saw her brother and his family eating lunch at Chevy’s, they didn’t see her or talk to her. It must have been like a movie. “His hair was white, like snow,” she said. I knew seeing her brother showing such visible signs of age killed her—though their fight was eternal, her brother was not.
“Your mother scares me,” my friends still say, but I don’t agree anymore. “You don’t understand her,” I say. My eyes still roll, not at my mother’s oddness, but at their ignorance. I still want to be a writer “when I grow up” and I think of everyone I meet as characters in a book. My mother remains my favorite. She is one of the strongest women I know. She doesn’t fit in. Her politics are liberal; she has a fiery personality and never surrenders until she gets what she wants. She demands that family be more important to my brother and me than our friends. She supports my brother, my father and me in everything that we do. “Family is everything,” she says.



Granite Bay, United States

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