By Ed Friedman
The Prism is a one-act play consisting of seven monologues which express our perception of aging in the U.S. through the lens of culture and economic class. Gloria is an Italian-American waitress in her early forties living and working in the Bronx. She is sitting at a booth in the diner where she works, wearing her uniform, emptying half empty bottles into other half empty bottles and talking to another waitress (unseen) sitting opposite her.
(Her eyes trailing someone walking by her.) You see that? That guy with the old lady? That's his mother. They're in here three times a week. Sometimes he just comes in by himself to get her some cheesecake. Ya know what it would take to get one of my brothers to do something for my mother? She'd have to be held hostage by terrorists. I'm not kidding. Nine brothers, none of them do squat. She has to go to the doctor, I take her. She needs shopping, I do it. She wants to visit somebody, go to a wedding, go to a funeral, its me, me and me. I don't mind, but come on. If I had a couple of sisters ok, but it's just me. Plus, 'cause I'm divorced and got no kids, the sky's the limit. (Pause.) If that asshole I married woulda kept it in his pants, I woulda already been livin' upstate twenty years. Instead I'm still livin' in my mother's building. I swear if it wasn't rent controlled I'd be outta there...
This is what I mean: her friend's granddaughter was getting married in Brooklyn. My mother just wanted to go to the church. I was planning to get my hair done that day. I hadn't done it in about two months so I say to her, "Ma, I'm kinda busy, do you think one of the boys can take you?" "Who?" she says. "Who? How about Anthony, Emilio, Vincent..." I start goin' down the list. She goes, "They're busy with their families." I don't even get into that, that's a crock of shit, so I say, "What about John?" "He's got a girlfriend." "What about Danny?" "Oh Danny works so hard." So I say, "Are you kiddin me Ma? I'm on my feet sixty hours a week." Know what she says? "Forget it, I'll stay home." ...What'd I do? Look at my hair, whadda think I did? Ya know all that stuff about Jewish guilt? My mother could teach them, lemme tell ya. Ya know why she's like this don'tcha? You wouldn't get this, you're not Italian. In Italian families, the sons don't do nothin', they're all princes. The daughters got to do everything. That's the way she was raised. That's the way they were all raised around here. When my grandmother got married she had no say. Her father said, "See that guy? He's gonna be your husband." And that was that. When the family went to my grandparents for dinner, the women would be running around cooking and serving and making sure the men had everything. The wives were like slaves. When the men were finished then they could eat. And these women, when their husbands died, they'd dress in black - I mean, forever, no matter how old they were when their husbands died. (She laughs at what she's about to remember.) When I was young, I thought the women who wore black were letting the men know they were available. I'm not kidding. (Beat.)
And nothing ever changes. About two weeks ago, I'm in my mother's apartment. I'm ironing, right? Who comes in? My brother Vincent. You woulda thought he just came back from the war. He runs a goddam exterminating business in Bellmore. But he's like the waddayacall, prodigal son. Shit, they're all the prodigal son. And guess who has to wait on him? ...Good guess. Before he has his coat off, my mother goes. "Gloria, make some coffee, make Vincent a sandwich." And you know if I didn't do it, he'd sit there and let her wait on him. So, not to make my mother do it, I'm makin' the coffee, makin' the sandwich. Him? He just sits on his ass like a king, eatin' and drinkin'. God forbid he brings her something. How do you get raised in an Italian family and come over somebody's house empty-handed? Ya think he asks her how she's feeling? Not that she'd complain to him, that she saves for me. Or ya think he'd say to me, "I know this is all on you, can you use any help?" Nah. He just leaves after an hour, and I gotta watch this pathetic scene:
"Vincent, come next week with Rosemarie and the kids."
"I'll try Ma. But the kids have so much goin' on with school, and homework, and soccer. Rosemarie's got her hands full with the house and the kids..."
I know he's not comin' back any time soon, but I see her slip him two tens and she says, "Here, for the kids."
"Thanks, Ma; they'll give you a call."
They don't call. They could give a shit. You know when they see her? Once a year, Christmas. Each year one of the sisters-in-laws gets stuck makin' dinner. Thank God they all have houses and I'm still in an apartment or I'd be doin' that too. So this past Christmas, it's Anthony and Donna's turn. Of course, I take my mother. They're all seein' that she can't make it from the dinner table to the bathroom without help, but all they say is "Gee, doesn't Mom look great?" They don't pick up that she hears like every fifth word they're sayin'. And she won't let them know she can't hear. But between the pasta and the roast beef she'll grab my arm and like sneakily try to whisper, "Who are they talking about?"
...What? Please, the wives are as bad as my brothers. Last time we were at Emilio's, I grabbed his wife Lorraine to the side. I want her to try to get my brother to do the right thing, right? So I say to her, "Lorraine, ya know Mom's not doin so good. It would be nice if you guys came by, ya know for a visit, bring the kids." So she says to me, "Oh sure, but you know we've been so busy. And ya know it's not like she's on death's door, she'll be around for a long time." And I'm thinking, "She's eighty-six, what do you consider a long time?" So I try Victoria, Joey's wife and I'm tryin' to be honest. I say, "Vicki, I'm really getting worn down with Ma and work, and I'm just havin' trouble takin care of her. So I thought maybe you could talk to the other girls and come over once in a while to help take care of her." So she goes, "Ya know who's upstate, (by the way they consider Westchester upstate) who's out on the island, and let's face it, Glo, nobody can take care of her like you. You know what she likes, what she needs. She don't want us there. Besides, I'll tell ya, she looks like she's doin OK. Maybe you just need some vitamins." So I go, "Why don't you take this vitamin, my foot up your ass."
...No, but I wanted to. I was just so pissed. So, I grab Anthony in between football games, and I go, "Listen I can't manage her anymore, I'm gonna look for a nursing home." He looks at me like I'm speakin' Martian. I tell him that I can't take care of her by myself, and he goes, "Whadda ya talking about, she's fine."I say, "She can't be by herself anymore. I'm nervous when I leave to go to work. When I'm home she don't want me to go out. I'm gonna bring somebody in." "Fuggedaboutit, he goes," they're all moolinyam. She don't want one in her house, and I don't want one neither. Why don't you just move into her apartment? You'll be right there and you'll save on rent." I just fuckin' lost it. "Are you listenin' to me?" I tell him. "I have no life, I have no energy, and she needs more help. So she's goin' into a nursing home. You can ignore her there the same way you do now." So now he's getting crazy, turning red. "You listen to me. My mother's not goin' into a fuckin' nursing home and that's that." And he leaves. And I realize, I'm screwed, I'm just screwed.
Sometimes when my Mother makes me so mad I could spit nails, I imagine packin' up all her stuff without her knowin', puttin' it in the trunk and say, "Mom, we're goin to Vincent's." I'd drive up there, ring the bell and when they'd open the door, I'd say, "She's all yours, good luck." I'd get back in the car and keep driving till I got to Florida. I could never really do that, but I'm standin' there in my brother's den, hearin' all the voices upstairs and thinking I can't be here another minute. So I grab my coat, get in the car and go. Seriously. I didn't say goodbye to nobody, I didn't even say anything to my Mother. I just went home. They called my house, yellin' into my machine, "How could you leave your mother here?" Stuff like that. I knew eventually one of them would bring her home. (Pause.) I could never leave my Mother. I used to be mad at her for bein' the way she is. Then I got even more pissed at my brothers. Now I'm thinking, maybe this is my own fault. I've been goin' along with this for so many years. How the hell did this happen?