It was one of those moments when you say something you know you shouldn't. But I couldn't help myself. I was fourteen and still in the throes of teenage-girl-smart-ass disease.
25 years ago tomorrow, I was sitting in the backyard listening to the radio when I heard the news. I went inside and found my mother in her room, making her bed.
"Hey, mom. Guess you won't be going to that Elvis concert next week."
I may have snickered, I don't know.
Mom ran into the bathroom and turned on the little radio she kept in there. I remember the voice. I remember the exact sound of the tinny, staticy voice that relayed the news to my mother in a much softer way than I did.
Elvis was dead.
My mother's eyes filled with tears and despair while her face registered only that small "o" one's mouth makes when they hear shocking news. That "o" stayed there for a while, but the despair in her eyes had become hard and angry. She was pissed at me.
How could I have told her like that, knowing that she idolized Elvis in a pure, passionate way? How could I do that? What kind of daughter was i?
Well, I was fourteen. That's my only excuse.
I was a fourteen year old whose mother made fun of her own idolization of another self-obsessed, overly dramatic singer who similarly became a bloated replica of himself. And later, dead and bloated. Maybe it was my way of evening up the score.
My mother had this friend Noreen. Noreen was the largest woman I ever knew. Not just heavy large, but tall and wide and her hair was piled up on her head so she looked even taller. Her voice roared even when she whispered and her sneezes were legend in the neighborhood, said to be heard from at least three blocks away. She wore mumus and housecoats and tons of hairspray and sometimes she wore an ugly fur coat that made her look like a small woodland creature was nesting on her shouler.
Noreen and my mom were the Elvis duo. They worshiped him. They loved him. They knew everything about him and owned everything to do with him including Elvis commemorative plates and I think one of them had an Elvis wristwatch.
I grew up with Elvis's hips grinding in my face and his voice grinding in my ears and I have to admit that at some point, I realized what the attraction was. When I would lay in bed on summer nights, trying to sleep while my mother and Noreen and the rest of their crew played Pinochle in the kitchen and had Elvis on the stereo, I knew. His voice would come drifting into my room and I could feel the sensuality, the danger, the passion that lied within his words.
I would never tell anyone this, of course. I went about my daily business of bowing before Jim Morrison and Robert Plant and never let on that I thought Elvis was cool. Especially to my mother. That would just ruin the taut, tenous relationship that we both thrived on. Who was I to break the rite of passage of mother-teenage daughter bitterness and anger?
Noreen and my mother were going to see Elvis in August, 1977 at the Nassau Coliseum. They had seen him many times before but this one was special. They had a feeling this would be his last tour ever.
They were like little giddy school girls in the weeks leading up to the show. Sometimes my mother would take out her ticket and look at it. As I write this I realize that my mother was 39 at the time. The same age I am now. When I was fourteen, 39 was old and withered and wrinkled. 39 was too old to be getting worked up over a hip-shaking idol. Yet, here I am at 39 and I'm not old or withered or wrinkled and I would certainly get worked up over my hip-gyrating idol.
She was so happy. And I crushed her world. It would have been a much softer blow if it came from Cousin Brucie or Uncle somebody on whichever oldies station she was listening to. It would have been a bit easier to take if her teenage bag of hormones didn't make some smarmy remark about dying like a fat, beached whale.
When Noreen found out we heard her from two blocks away, bellowing and carrying on. Her booming voice sounded through the neighborhood like a siren, a mourning call for all Elvis fans in East Meadow to gather on her lawn and weep.
Not really. But it was something like that. I don't think my mother ever told Noreen the way in which she found out about the death of their hero. I probably wouldn't have lived to tell this tale if she knew. She would have kicked my ass all over town.
When Noreen died, my first thought was that she would finally get to see Elvis again. My second was that I was now safe from my mother ever spilling the beans to Noreen about my youthful indiscretion.
25 years later,my mother still has not forgiven me. Maybe that's what drives every argument we have, every nit-picky little fight we endure. Maybe she's still mad at me. I know she still resents it, still thinks about because yesterday she told my daughter that I laughed at her when Elvis died.
I didn't laugh. I may have snickered a little. Maybe.
I sent an email to my mother this morning:
I'm sorry, mom. I'm sorry I told you like that. But in a way it's your fault for making me sit through Viva Las Vegas and Jailhouse Rock, for forcing that horrid "In the Ghetto" on my ears, for making me tried fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
It's been 25 years, mom. I promise to play Elvis at my wedding next week if you promise to get over it already. Deal?
Maybe I should reword that.