I love my mom, but she’s crazy.
The first time Sara met her, we were at dinner and I told the following story so that she’d know what kinds of things I had to deal with growing up. A bit of background: my mom stands about 5’0″, 100 pounds maybe, but every kid who’s grown up with an Italian mom will tell you how much ferocity can be crammed into little packages.
When I was about 7 and my brother was 5 we found ourselves in the midst of a warm California October evening on our way to Round-Up — the western themed carnival held annually at our elementary school. 30 minutes away from Disneyland, 20 from Knott’s Berry farm; we would have taken Round-Up over both of them.
This year, my mom was volunteering and it’d be the first year we were allowed to wander the carnival parent-free. On top of this, we were given the other-worldly sum of five dollars to do with as we pleased except for one thing: no goldfish.
Round-Up always had a booth where there were dozens of goldfish swimming around dozens of little glass bowls having ping-pong balls hurled at them. Land a ball in the water, win a fish. Simple.
For the first hour or so, my brother and I stretched our money winning Chinese yo-yos and little plastic bugs; meeting up with our friends and for the most part causing trouble that the adults were too busy to pay attention to. Things were starting to lull when there was a crowd gathering around the goldfish booth my brother and I had been so carefully avoiding. The school’s fifth grade teacher Mr. Prange was at the center of a sea of cheering and shrieking monsters half his height.
The crowd went silent as Mr. Prange picked up one of the plastic bags a goldfish was held in, plucked up the fish by its tail and lifted it above his head. The cheering, blood-thirsty swarm gasped as Prange lifted the fish above his head, opened his maw and dropped the fish down his gullet.
I would have none of this.
With the remaining quarters in my pocket I grabbed my brother and ran to the volunteer running the goldfish booth. Fifty cents and ten ping-pong balls later, I had won a fish. No, saved a fish from being eaten for the depraved amusement of my peers.
I was so proud. My brother and I walked right up to the booth my mom was running and I presented my fish. That was when I was introduced to the look. It was a look that I couldn’t comprehend as a seven-year old, but that I still fear as a 35-year old adult; a look that says, “Your world has ended, you just haven’t figured that out yet.”
I can’t remember what happened in the time between the look and getting home. I’m sure it was filled with self-righteous fantasy and the joy of having my first pet. When we walked through the door, my mom offered to put my fish in a bowl. Finally she had accepted the reality of our new family member.
She brought the plastic bag to the sink, and pulled down a cognac snifter from the shelf far beyond the reach of destructive children. She placed the snifter at the bottom of the sink and began to pour the fish into it when disaster struck: the fish missed the glass, and swam it’s way down the drain. A moment of panic passed quickly when I realized that the fish would likely be happier seeing as how all fish who fall down a drain quickly meet up with their goldfish friends in the ocean.
It was then in my complacency that I understood the look I had received earlier. Glancing back over her shoulder, my mom once again assumed the visage of prophetic apocalypse, reached her hand over to a switch and turned on the garbage disposal.
Flash forward to then present day when Sara and my mom are both cracking up as I’m telling this horrible story. Through the tears, Sara asked my mom if it was true at all. Mom responded simply, “Yes, it’s all true, that’s exactly what happened except for one detail. My boys had actually brought home two fish that night, and the first one that went into the garbage disposal was an accident.” She then looked at me and concluded, “The second, was on purpose.”
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