Iowa Writes

TINA DOLEN
The Chill of Death


        The year President Kennedy was assassinated, I told my mother I was quitting high school at St. Joseph's Academy. 
        We were standing in the kitchen next to what we called the breakfast bar, a slab of Formica with a high yellow stool that was used for any meal, in spite of its name.  For a family whose mealtimes were rocky, the breakfast bar was the one place to eat in peace.  It fit just one of us at a time and had room for a newspaper, the preferred mealtime companion. 
        Once a smashing bathing beauty, my mother had grown heavy, sad and angry.  She was trapped, living in the shadow of my father's sixteen-year affair with "Gloria," a woman he'd met in the grocery store while my mother was in the hospital delivering me.  Her favorite phrase, "The chill of death is in the air," became more and more appropriate as her family life disintegrated.
        I stood near her in the school uniform that never met her standards.  She could find fault in the dip of my sock or the curl of my collar.  I was stifled in the ungainly outfit, reined in by plaid wool cover-ups designed to repel men and boys.
        On weekends I loved the relief of sliding into my skin tight "greaser" pants with peasant blouses, hoping my tiny bulges would give me some sex appeal.  My jackets had fur collars.  My boots shone with patent leather.
        We were uncomfortably close to each other as we stood in the kitchen.  When I turned to look at the tangled cord of the yellow wall phone, my mother suddenly spun.
        "How could you do this to me?  You have no right to leave St. Joseph's."

        The year President Kennedy was assassinated, I told my mother I was quitting high school at St. Joseph's Academy. 
        We were standing in the kitchen next to what we called the breakfast bar, a slab of Formica with a high yellow stool that was used for any meal, in spite of its name.  For a family whose mealtimes were rocky, the breakfast bar was the one place to eat in peace.  It fit just one of us at a time and had room for a newspaper, the preferred mealtime companion. 
        Once a smashing bathing beauty, my mother had grown heavy, sad and angry.  She was trapped, living in the shadow of my father's sixteen-year affair with "Gloria," a woman he'd met in the grocery store while my mother was in the hospital delivering me.  Her favorite phrase, "The chill of death is in the air," became more and more appropriate as her family life disintegrated.
        I stood near her in the school uniform that never met her standards.  She could find fault in the dip of my sock or the curl of my collar.  I was stifled in the ungainly outfit, reined in by plaid wool cover-ups designed to repel men and boys.
        On weekends I loved the relief of sliding into my skin tight "greaser" pants with peasant blouses, hoping my tiny bulges would give me some sex appeal.  My jackets had fur collars.  My boots shone with patent leather.
        We were uncomfortably close to each other as we stood in the kitchen.  When I turned to look at the tangled cord of the yellow wall phone, my mother suddenly spun.
        "How could you do this to me?  You have no right to leave St. Joseph's." 
        "Mom, I can't stay there.  The nuns hate us, none of my friends are there, and it's run like a penitentiary.  You'd be better off training a dog there."
        She was starting to get worked up.  Perspiration stained her purple satin blouse.  She lit one Camel after another.  A foul-smelling drink waited on the countertop. 
        "Mom, I won't go and you can't make me.  I'm almost an adult."
        My mother shrieked, "You're no adult, you're a slut.  Mrs. McKenna told me she saw you with a boy last week."
        I wanted to disappear.  I would never go back to St. Joseph's, no matter what she said.  I already pictured myself at Amityville High School, cheering on the football team with my best friends.  It could turn into a good year after all. 
        "Don't think you'll get a free ride if you leave St. Joseph's.  There will be no running around, no dancing with those greasers at the Knights of Columbus, no sitting in the movies with the boys and no more telephone."
        I knew I had to move fast.  I tried to shove my way ahead of her as she heaved herself up the stairs to my room.  My curvy, baby-blue Princess Phone sparkled on the nightstand, ready for calls from Tony, Barry, Allison, Ricky and dozens of others.  I loved that phone with all my heart.
        Before I could stop her, my mother yanked the cord out of the jack and hurled the phone into the hall, where it bounced off the brocade wallpaper and settled on the gray wall-to-wall carpeting.
        "You can't do this to me!  That's my phone. You're taking my friends away."
        "You're taking my dreams away," she replied.
        My mother walked over to me and stood so close we almost touched.  Her hands were trembling and her breathing heavy.
        I could see the tiny hairs over her lips as she leaned into my face and hissed, "You'll be the death of me yet."
        She was dead within the year.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


TINA DOLEN

Tina Dolen spent years directing non-profits, but eventually turned to memoir to overcome a lifetime of adversity.  A past attendee of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, she is passionate about the arts, sports, equality, and her only daughter, Erica.  Tina lives in Newport, Rhode Island, and has published several stories.

This page was first displayed
on May 05, 2014

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