MY MOTHER’S NYMPHOMANIAC
wore a snug black tee-shirt with spaghetti straps that did nothing to hide her neon pink
bra, and blue pajama pants decorated with pink socks, the Red Sox logo, faded. She’d
teased her hair, forgotten to tame it, and caked on makeup like a colorblind clown.
“Check out Lady Gaga,” my wife said, and I laughed.
It was hard to look at her, but even harder to look away as
she made her way up the bleacher steps, balancing beers, glancing down at her feet, then
up at the seats. I was on the aisle. When we made eye contact her face lit up.
She stopped right in front of me, nearly on top of me. Her
two overfull beers sloshed in her precariously balanced snack box. I crouched up and held
out my hand to steady her.
“Scott!” She sounded sure.
Up close, I could tell she’d been pretty once, sexy even.
She was probably in her early forties, maybe late thirties. I somehow recognized her, but
I didn't want to engage her.
“Sorry. No,” I said. Her beers teetered. I stood all
the way up and helped her balance the beverages and a pair of Fenway Franks. There was
something soft in her eyes and a glistening invitation in her lips that was negated by
a nasty sore on one corner of her mouth.
said. “You look just like…”
“No,” I interrupted.
her hotdog buns, turning them pink with ketchup and Budweiser. She didn’t notice.
down in front!” a voice called from behind. It was the bottom of the first inning;
the Red Sox were coming to the plate.
“You look just like this guy I met at…”
talked over her. “You’ve got the wrong guy.”
She was disappointed in me. The open look
on her face closed and her beers stopped lapping the edges of their plastic cups.
to bother you,” she said as I sat down.
I resisted the urge to turn and watch her go.
the hell was that?” my wife asked.
“I have no idea.”
guess I look like a Scott.”
“What a train wreck.”
the game went on, I kept looking back. She’d be easy to spot, I thought, but she
was nowhere to be found.
“What are you looking at?”
Barbara asked after my seventh or eighth turn-around.
"The game’s over there," she
said, nodding toward the field.
"Duh," I said, looking
back deliberately. It was between innings. They were showing fans on the big board in different,
more expensive sections of the stands yucking it up for the camera. I rubbed my neck.
“No Ben Gay," Barbara said. “You’re not coming to bed
with that shit on.”
I stopped turning around.
top of the sixth inning I made my way under the stands. Barbara wanted a beer and I volunteered
to get it.
like this guy I met at…” she’d said
and I’d cut her off. What was I afraid of?
Scott. Scott,” I said, talking to myself as I searched for the nearest beer concession,
trying to jar something loose. Why would she call me Scott?
And there she was, right
in the back of a short beer line. She’d tied up some of her hair. It seemed random,
one big spray scrunched up on top of her head. I stepped in behind her. Her fleece pajama
bottoms looked soft but threadbare, thrift-store chic. There was a tiny hole in the middle
of her right buttock. Her panties were yellow.
glanced back and once again beamed when she saw me.
“Scott,” she said
then I remembered.
McLean. Just like this guy I met at McLean.
was the one my mother had called the nymphomaniac. She’d called me Scott, my stepfather’s
name. I may or may not have corrected her.
“It’s Steve,” I said.
“No. You’re messing with me.”
Steve. My mother might have told you. But she was into the Scope back then. I can’t
imagine you would have listened to anything she said.”
“How is your
gone,” I said. This staggered her.
“Oh, God,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
died last year. She was lucky to live as long as she did.”
“Lucky to live,” the nymphomaniac said,
her voice trailing off, her eyes blinking rapidly. "As long as she did," she whispered.
sorry. Your name was?”
“Scott,” she said.
The trace of humor surprised me, so quickly after I had shocked her with the news of my
“It’s Mandy,” she said.
offered her my hand. She held hers out, palm down, an incongruous bit of gentility. I thought
about kissing it, but lightly shook her fingers instead.
"I should have kept in
touch. Your mother was good to me."
sorry I was so short with you up there, Mandy. I couldn’t place you.”
Even guests block it out if they can. We don’t have reunions, you know?”
was next in line. She ordered two beers, and then waited for me as I ordered Barbara’s
beer and a Diet Coke for myself. I stepped toward Mandy when I was done, held out my soda-bearing
arm to guide her back toward the stands.
“Why were you there?”
I asked as we walked back, wanting to hear it from her. Do they actually institutionalize
nymphomaniacs? I wondered.
sorry. That’s personal,” I said.
“I don’t mind.”
mother spoke so freely about her struggles. I kind of assume everybody wants to talk.”
get it,” Mandy said. “Let’s just say I had issues.”
“It was a locked
ward,” I said. “I would assume as much.”
I’m better now," she said. Then she smiled and stopped walking. "Mostly," she added.
What is mostly better for a nymphomaniac?
remember how you teased me,” I said, stopping beside her.
“You were cute,” Mandy said. “Still
cheer went up. The Sox had retired the side and a mid-inning crush of people came pouring
out of the stands, splitting Mandy and me, forcing us to step aside.
only visited my mother at McLean once. I spent an afternoon there with my stepfather and
my sister. Mom had introduced us to a few of the other patients and whispered what ailed
them. “Her husband died,” she said of one patient, “She thinks she’s
Queen Elizabeth,” of another, and, memorably, “She’s a nymphomaniac.”
Mandy had joined us for a board game in my mother's room. I think it was Life. I think
it was the only way she could hide from the scrutiny of the staff, by hanging out with
our family. But even though she was just hiding, she seemed to genuinely enjoy our company.
I certainly enjoyed having her there. It kept my mind off my mother.
sat close to me, touched my arm, my chest, and whispered in my ear. "Are you my doctor,
Scott?" And I'd said, "No."
"Do you want to be my doctor?" she'd said thickly, saliva
dampening the inside of my ear. I remember I pulled away, even though I really wanted to
lean in. She was a gravitational force.
I was seventeen then.
She was a young adult, maybe twenty. My mother didn't seem to notice that Mandy was toying
with me. Mom was just giddy that we were all there, her eyes darting around like she was
looking for something but not really seeing anything. My stepfather noticed Mandy’s
teasing, but I think he found it amusing. He smirked. There was an implied wink in the
glances he took in our direction. I don't think my sister saw anything. She was fourteen;
she barely had her eyes open.
“Twenty years later,” I said, moving back
in closer to Mandy. “I can’t believe you recognized me.”
look like your mother.”
“A little bit.”
not a bad way to look.” Mandy smiled.
She wanted to continue talking; so did I. As the hungry crowd thinned,
queuing up for snacks and drinks, I looked for a quiet corner but couldn’t find one.
I nodded toward the nearest surface, a hot dog fixings station, and led Mandy
there. We rested our drinks on the stainless steel counter. Suddenly conscious of my hands,
I anchored one on Barbara's beer and put the other in my pocket and asked Mandy where she
lived. Nearby, she said, and when I told her I lived in Vermont she was surprised.
mother wasn’t from Vermont.”
that where she was? In the end?”
I nodded. “She died of pleurisy.”
think it was everything, though. All the booze. And the drugs. All wrapped up
in time. She was sort of sober when she died. She had an opioid issue, but she wasn’t
was she there?”
don’t lock you up for drinking mouthwash.”
I explained what I knew. That she was there because
of her fear of vomiting. It’s what Mom told everyone. It was a debilitating phobia
and when they put her on Antabuse to encourage her to stop drinking, she flipped. It had
never seemed reason enough to lock her up, but she wasn’t out of place at McLean.
I never thought she didn’t belong there.
was awfully nice,” Mandy said.
“She called you a nymphomaniac,” I said. I felt like
I was tattling.
Mandy opened her eyes wide. She said nothing.
sorry,” I said.
are drugs for that.”
crowd erupted then; the roar carried down under the stands. People ran back toward their
seats, calling out “Who hit it?” Normally I’d be right there with them.
“No! Not really!” Mandy shouted above the noise. “But
there are anti-depressants. They gave me plenty of those.”
sorry, I didn’t mean to pry,” I said. Things quieted down a bit as a large
portion of the fans who’d been milling around found their way back to the action.
There was talk of a homerun.
“Drugs and sex. I had that too,” Mandy said. I couldn’t
tell if she was joking. "The best cure for nymphomania is to feed it."
I guess," I stammered, "I, I, I guess you can’t just abstain.”
She licked her lips and
reached out for my face. I let her touch me.
“Sometimes I can’t help myself,” she said.
took my hand off Barbara’s beer and held Mandy lightly by the wrist, which felt hot
under my condensation-cold hand.
“I was so tempted then,” I said, holding her hand to
my face. “It was such a turn-on. I was seventeen for Christ’s sake.”
I hate to disappoint you,” she said softly, “but I'm not a nympho."
I pulled my hand back
as if her wrist were on fire.
She continued touching me, caressing my face with the back of her
"I wasn’t saying you were. You know? I'm just saying that's what my mother said."
called hypersexuality. It comes and goes,” she said. She pulled her hand back. “They
call it sex addiction now, but they never diagnosed me as a nymphomaniac. I was there because
I was suicidal.”
my mother wasn't that nice, was she?”
“She didn’t make it up. I told her I was a nympho.”
turned her on," Mandy said, and she smiled.
"That's probably more than I need to know."
enough,” I said.
got her some vodka."
don't want to know."
was a human being," Mandy said. She sounded disappointed again, but she was still smiling.
I don't think I was the man she wanted me to be, but she seemed to take pleasure in my
helped me, Scott. I helped her.”
I was done trying to correct her. Scott I was, Scott I would be.
fucked-up people are really good at telling other fucked-up people the things they need
to hear,” Mandy continued, her smile fading. “Your mother always told me to
respect myself. ‘There's no one on earth for you unless you're for yourself first,' she said. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I'm for me. I asked her to repeat it. She
moved the words around, but it came out close. ‘You have to be for you,’
mother said that?"
a couple days later I passed her in the hall and I said 'I'm for me, Sally!' and she just
looked at me all glassy-eyed like she had no idea who I was or what I was talking about.
That was right around the time of your visit."
of the worst days of my life,” I said.
“Was it?” Mandy smiled. "Did I scare you that bad?"
was visiting my mother in a locked ward.”
Mandy shrugged. "So?"
wanted to show me the padded room at the end of the hallway. Somehow she thought it was
something I'd like to see. She whispered 'that's where they put the crazy people,' and
she laughed. But she couldn't show me the room because there was a patient locked up there.
In a fucking padded cell. Right down the hallway from my mother."
Gretchen. She was a biter."
music rose up from the field. The public address announcer’s deep baritone rumbled
as a new rush of people queued up for refreshments. I thought of Barbara.
You look good,” I lied.
"I feel good," she said.
Barbara's beer and picked up my soda and told Mandy I had to get back.
"Coke for your wife?"
It’s for me. I'm a friend of Bill's," I said.
“It’s an AA thing. I'm sober,” I said, raising
my Coke and leading the way back toward the ramp. “I'm for me."
smiled and stepped in beside me.
"I miss it," she said.
hated high school. I barely went to college. But I was at McLean for more than a year.
I got close to your mother. To Gretchen. To all the girls, really. I've never felt more
alive than I did there. You try to forget it, but I don’t know. It remembers you."
had no hot dogs this time, no snack tray to mess with her balance. We stepped out into
the sunshine and walked up the aisle together. I glanced up at Barbara. She was watching
something on the field and didn’t see us.
"Enjoy the rest of the
game," I said as we reached my row. I stepped in beside Barbara and handed over her beer.
Barbara and Mandy looked at one another. I made no effort to introduce them.
Mandy. I knew Scott's mother."
"Oh,” Barbara said, ignoring the misnomer. “I’m
They moved to shake hands, but both of Mandy's were
occupied. Barbara looked relieved.
"Hey," I said, before
Mandy could walk away. "My Mom's obituary is still online. There's not a lot there, but
you might want to see it. It's Adenzio's Funeral Home."
In Worcester. You can still leave a comment, if you'd like. There's a few there. Adenzio's."
I was hoping she might leave an email address. Some way for me to keep track of her. I
didn’t even know her last name and it was too late to ask.
she said, raising her beers in some sort of toast.
"Adenzio's," I echoed, raising my soda. "Sorry I didn't
recognize you earlier."
"You do now,” she said. “It was nice meeting
you," she added, nodding to Barbara, then she turned and started back up the aisle. I watched
It had been a memorable day, my day at McLean. Just
one day in my mother's six months there; one day in Mandy’s year. I remember the
visit mostly in non-sequential snippets: my mother's darting eyes; her pride when she showed
us her room; her project, a biographical collage she'd made from pictures and words
clipped from magazines and pasted on poster board; her toiletries lined up on her institutional
dresser, no sign of anything she might drink. And I remember Mandy, and my immediate, unstoppable
erection trying to make room for itself in a fold in my jeans as I fended her off weakly.
There was electricity there: for her, habitual, clinically obsessive; for me, an arousal
the likes of which I had never felt before. I would lose my virginity later that year,
but as thrilling as that event would be, I have since forgotten the details: I
beer’s warm,” Barbara said.
turned back toward my wife.
“She turns you on, doesn’t she?” Barbara said,
and she laughed.
"No." I sat down. I was ashamed.
what?” Barbara said, sipping her tepid Budweiser. “Did they give her a day
think," I said, glancing over my shoulder. I’d lost sight of her. I
thought about her beer. They wouldn't let her drink if she were institutionalized.
looks like a nut-job.”
"She said my mother helped her," I said, and I turned around more
deliberately now, trying to find Mandy, rubbing my neck. “She said she helped my
fits. She could have been one of your mother's projects."
"Yeah, but they're people."
know,” Barbara said. “I’m just saying.”
I stood back up now, turned my back to the field, and
searched the seats above us. This time I spotted Mandy. She had turned into one of the
last rows near the back of the bleachers under a huge Dunkin' Donuts sign. As she made
her way back to her seat people bowed up just enough to let her through. She held out
one of the beers. A large woman in a sleeveless t-shirt (a “wife-beater”) stood
and took it from her. Mandy squeezed in beside her. Before she sat, she held
her girlfriend’s arm and guided her line of sight toward me. She pointed. When
she saw that I was standing up, she waved and smiled.
“Hey, down in front!”
someone shouted. The game was back on.
I waved back.
Sean McElhiney is a
writer and radio announcer. He lives in southwestern New Hampshire with his
wife and two pugs.