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A call unanswered

A mother's love knows no bounds

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Grant and Daniel have been calling me "Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch" ever since I accidentally almost ran down a crack addict in my car and he hollered that at me as he scrambled out of the way.

I don't always answer to that moniker -- it depends on who is doing the calling -- but I suppose it's a step up from "Teenage Prostitute to the Stars," which, as a joke, is what I once told someone was my profession. Grant liked that title so much that he made it into a bumper sticker and slapped it on my car. I drove around with it for years, until around the time my baby was 3 months old and it didn't seem so funny any more. And even then I wasn't the one who actually tore it off my car. That was done by my former neighbor Honnie, who lived one street over from Metropolitan Parkway, where school-age whoring isn't exactly a joke.

"Time for this to go," she said and simply ripped it away. There went part of my identity, I thought. What will I replace it with?

"You're a mommy now," Daniel said, but he said it with wonder, like I might as well have turned into a circus acrobat. Like who would have thought? "Hey, Mommy," Grant called to me at the coffee house, but I had no idea he was talking to me. "Mommy," he called again. Finally I got it, "Oh, you mean me!"

To get back at him I call him Aunt Grant, but he doesn't even mind. He has a hundred identities, just like he has a hundred pairs of horned-rimmed eyeglasses. One of his personalities is Sister Louisa, a disgraced nun from Baton Rouge who ran away with a janitor and now creates folk art out of trash. She has exhibits and everything, like the one right now at Radial Cafe in Candler Park. Last I heard, Grant was planning to attend the opening with horns sprouting from his forehead.

And let's not forget Otis, who is Lary's alter ego. We refer to him as "Evil Otis," though Lary is always evil no matter what people call him. And he doesn't even know how it happened, this habit of people calling him Otis. There is a rumor that years ago he passed out in an elevator and woke up with its manufacturer's name, "Otis," imbedded backward on his head. Other than that, he can't offer an explanation. "I'm just Otis sometimes," Lary shrugs. "But you," he adds, "you take the prize for personality transformation. When Mae learns to call for her Mommy, she's gonna mean you!"

Grant and Daniel and Lary laugh about it, like I won't know she's talking to me or something. But I know I will because of what happened to me recently. I was sitting at my favorite outdoor cafe picking the raisins out of my chicken-curry salad when I happened across an article in this month's GQ magazine titled "A Prayer for Tina Marie" about Tina Marie Cornelius, the 24-year-old girl in Austin who faces 60 years in prison for throwing her two toddlers off a cliff. They died, of course, the little boy instantly, but the little girl, Tina Marie told writer Robert Draper, managed to stand after hitting the rocky creek bed below and call out, "MOMMY!"

Maybe I'm stupid for not expecting what happened to me after I read that. But the fact is, I'm as surprised as anyone that I actually spawned, and as a result here's this whole human being with eyes and fingers and toes and ears -- I could spend an hour just looking in her ears, they're like tiny, intricate sea shells, all pearly and smooth and perfect. To this day it's hard for me to believe she's mine. I didn't expect her, I didn't expect parenthood at all, and once it happened to me I didn't expect that whole primal attachment thing that happens with healthy motherhood. I'd heard about it, I just didn't expect it to be so strong, so encompassing.

So, it just goes to show that, after reading about how these two children were tossed away like used tissue, I didn't expect to collapse into a useless blob of heaving sobs right there in public. I mean people were wondering if I was all right. "Jesus God," I thought as I blobbered, "where is this coming from?" The wait staff was patient with me. After all, they'd seen me in there plenty of times before and I didn't disintegrate into a gibbering wreck. But I couldn't stop.

A waiter tried to comfort me. "Did you say someone is calling you?" he asked. "Who is calling you?" But I couldn't answer him coherently. The images of the little girl and her brother were murdering me. "MOMMY," she called. Mommy, I thought, that's me. She's calling me and I can't reach her. "MOMMY," the little girl called, and even though she wasn't mine, my heart tried to answer her anyway, but it couldn't so it simply broke instead.

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