The latest Memoir I’ll Never Write: Confessions of a Mayonnaise Addict isn’t exactly on par with Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), a wildly successful and poetic account of his laudanum addiction, but there are a few parallels.
In Part I, “Preliminary Confessions,” de Quincey talks about the childhood emotional experiences and psychological factors which paved the way for his opium addiction. Part I of my latest “Memoir I’ll Never Write” depicts a childhood experience, which resulted in my lifelong addiction to mayonnaise starting at age 9.
I’ve refrained from writing about it because mayo addiction lacks the cool factor of heroin or opium … probably because mayo makes you fat, not terrifyingly thin like H and Opium … and thin, whatever the cause, is tres fashionable!
Slathering mayo on bread is gross compared to chic addictions requiring snorting, free-basing or shooting up. Face it: No mayo-addict fashion model ever graces the pages of Vogue! Smack chic? Sure. Mayo chic? NFW.
Part I: Preliminary Confessions
I remember walking home from grammar school, opening the front door and entering a dust-mote still house just after 3:00 pm. The livingroom was mortuary-quiet with curtains drawn with the unspoken rule writ loud in my brain: “Don’t disturb your Mother."
Sometimes I’d go straight to the kitchen and hurriedly make myself a sandwich slathered with mayo and some mystery luncheon meat and stuff it down. I was starved for my mother’s attention/love but the sandwich sufficed like an understudy on opening night; not quite the real thing but good enough given the circumstances.
Sometimes instead of going straight to the kitchen, I’d tip-toe upstairs where I’d inevitably find the hallway dark and the outer doors to my parent’s bedroom and adjoining bathroom, locked.
My younger sister remembers the darkened house and locked doors too, and the feeling of missing our mother every day after school, but she won’t discuss it (or speak to me) because it's a betrayal of our mother. For me it's a self-betrayal if I don't look, remember, sift/sort, feel and write about it.
Why was she taking a nap everyday we came home from school and refused to see us? It was a taboo subject. Discussions or explanations were off limits. I understood her nap (and all her needs) were far more important than those of two energetic, smart, loving, silly school girls. We soldiered on, learning without words that our craving for a quick hug or a “how was school today?” were frivolous expectations.
Homelife was governed by unspoken rules that revolved around her, our glamorous changeable high-octane attention-starved brilliant but frustrated and furious Oscar-winning narcissistic mother. I knew to never ask for or expect any form of attention, physical or otherwise, so I suppressed my childlike need to interact and be seen/heard/loved.
My surrogate mother?
A gooey, salty, fat oozing sandwich.
Stuffing the mayo-sodden bread in my mouth I felt instantly better, the hallow feeling in my stomach fades along with the question: why did my mother not want to see or talk to me? Whatever. Just one more bite ... I remember ...
The mayo is luscious
Sliding past my lips
Into my mouth like
An imaginary kiss.
My mother would appear around 5:30-5:45 PM: turning on the lights, descending the stairs like an older but still dewy-cheeked starlet, her red lipstick freshly applied, glossy dark brown hair newly combed, posture erect, her eyes toggling between intelligence and fury as she prepared the evening’s dinner.
By the time my father arrived home she was gregarious and charming, at least in the early years. He never knew how my sister and I, only 20 months apart in age, came home everyday to a dark house after school with a mother at home but refusing to greet or see us. We were happy to keep the secret because we loved her and besides our family was perfect.
Did her nap behind locked doors involve a discrete glass or two of Almaden? I remember, as does my younger sister, finding half-drunk wine bottles in the laundry hamper or in the hall closet … Wine played a large part in the dinner dramas starring my mother in those early years … so perhaps.
Part III: Mayo As Pain Relief
It was lovely discovering how slathering mayo on pimento loaf distracted me from my mother’s theatrical disdain/fury and calmed the loneliness/confusion I experienced not knowing what was happening or why. But a mayo-slicked sandwich seemed to work...
I ate the scream back into my throat, swallowed it into my belly where it grew ... and before long ... I was fat.
A fat girl.
Never a good thing.
Still I engaged life with a vengeance.
By seventh grade I played varsity volleyball for hours after school; and was out of the house as much as possible. In high school I continued varsity volleyball and added a new-found love: theater. I took drama class, was cast in 2 major musicals/plays every year at my all-girl school and at the Catholic all-boys high school spring musicals and began to direct plays. Junior year I added student government to my interests and by senior year I was elected Student Body President and basically was never home.
At the age of 17 I fled as far as I could from San Francisco and went back east.
At age 19 I embraced New York City for university. After graduating I worked bread-and-butter jobs, then I founded/started/ran two avant-garde theaters in downtown Manhattan and eventually went to grad school thanks to a two-year Oscar Hammerstein scholarship earning me an MFA from NYU TSOA.
Living in Manhattan I felt at home, weaving thru crowds of strangers/ stories/worlds, searching for the doors that were mine to open/explore/become. I learned all I could, inventing and remembering myself while discovering the great poets, musicians, classical composers, contemporary playwrights, painters, sculptors and authors whose work inspired me to create and in time develop my own.
During these years I never craved mayo. Rarely ate it.
I got thin.
Not so much these days.
Do I still eat mayo?
Sure but I’ve found other ways to soothe my agitated spirit like meditating, swimming, walking my dogs, stretching, writing, sharing company with trees, listening to Bach and Couperin, and making myself remember the roses of my childhood along with the thorns.
Final Confession: I still love mayo … the fatty silky ribbon tickling my throat … taste buds zinging … mainlining fat and salt … my heart distracted … forgetting.
I’ll always be addicted to mayo and one day I’ll have to go cold turkey but I won’t mind because cold turkey on toasted rye with lettuce and a generous slather of mayo, in the words of Mr. de Quincey, still “brings an assuaging balm.”
© Didi Balle. October 2020
Husband or Handyman? After 12 years of being married to someone who did both with flair, I know a little something about men who can make, build and fix things and the power of seduction it holds over a woman like myself who, while smart and self-reliant, isn’t exactly skilled with a skill saw.
My ex-hubs was clever enough to seduce me with his prowess in bed and in the workshop. I was living in Manhattan when we met and after a few dates (he lived in Boston) he stood in my tiny kitchen and asked nonchalantly, “Do you like your cabinets like this?”
“Like what?” I asked, not sure what he was talking about.
"Some of the hinges are loose, a few doors need to be rehung and the shelves need supports, unless you like them like this.”
It took me a moment to realize he was suggesting (or was he?) that he could fix them.
“I guess I haven’t gotten ‘round to fixing them,” I hedged.
He smiled slowly. “Would you mind if I fixed them?”
I stopped myself from clawing his chest and shouting: "God yes! Please!" but instead said: "Nope."
A few weeks later after the cabinets were straight, the shelves steady, and we’d had marathon sex, he showed me a design he’d made to build me a new writer’s desk so I could get rid of the secondhand 1950s monstrosity I’d been using. The desk he designed was a gracefully curved, u-shaped desk with legs of Scandinavian design, painted with pale grey lacquer. It looked like something Jackie O would have dreamt up for her bay window in her Martha’s Vineyard home overlooking the harbor.
“I’d like to build it for you, if you like the design. We could throw out the old desk ... it’s seen better days,“ he said.
“OK,” I said suppressing the crazy glee I felt.
“I’ll need a few things.”
“I’ll bring the lumber pre-cut from Boston but I’ll make it here and will need a place to store a few tools. Would you mind clearing out a drawer in your closet so I don’t have to bring my tools back and forth every weekend?”
I looked at him and knew the relationship was taking a turn. When a man asks to leave his power tools behind but not his toothbrush, you know it’s getting serious. I stopped myself from shouting: “Fuck! I’ll empty my entire closet!”
Instead I nodded, “I’ll move my shoes if you want to use that drawer.”
And that was the beginning of a 12-year relationship, 11 of which were married years, in which he built everything from a giant sculpting studio (we moved to the country), an incredible writing studio for me with four skylights, garden beds, gates, a sauna, most of the furniture for our new home including an ultra-modern ship-strong platform bed that seemed to float in space.
Our home was filled with his art and beautifully crafted furniture, while I designed everything from the gardens to the rooms, to the landscaping. He could fix anything (and I could cook anything) from a washing machine to a gas stove and if he couldn’t figure it out, he read books until he knew what and how to build or fix anything.
It was a wonderful amazing marriage and partnership … until it wasn’t. We were proverbial soulmates, something he said often which, in hindsight I realized after reading many psychological books, is a flashing red light indicating you may be involved with a charming, clever, and oh-so-covert narcissist. During the good 10 1/2 years we both gave and gave and gave, building a life, until he decided it was over … without telling me.
When it ended, which I won’t discuss because it was so devastating, I was saved by three things: continuous commissioned work as a produced playwright and stage director, a great therapist, and a few close friends … plus swimming, meditation, and my two giant poodles who kept me sane with their humor, humanity and daily needs.
And now, like many other women who (unwillingly) escaped marriage from a covert narcissist but didn’t realize it at the time because a covert narcissist husband can be so skilled, charming, brilliant, crafty and seemingly loving, you’re clueless. I realize now it was for the best it ended.
Today as a single woman who owns a small 100-year-old craftsman cottage I daily face a huge amount of work, mainly the repairs and maintenance required to keep an old home loved and in good standing. Plus the gardens I've made need to be maintained so I’ve needed occasional gardeners to prune huge trees and install irrigation. There are 27 incredible trees on the property, 9 are bare-root fruit trees I planted, and all need tending and love.
The house maintenance and repairs (cleaning storm drains, snaking pipes, roof repairs, rewiring electrical circuits, sanding layers of old wallpaper etc.) requires a handyman or two or three. Since handymen don’t always show up when they say they will (part of the job description apparently), it’s good to have two or three to call on and hope one shows up before Christmas.
The first time I paid a handyman as a divorced woman I felt oddly elated! I felt unburdened having repairs made without feeling like I had to cook a fabulous dinner, bake bread and make jam or whatever to payback his effort with several more of my own in thanks. I could just pay someone and they’d do the job, and go home.
It was a revelation.
Still there are challenges. Finding a reliable, capable and trustworthy handyman is a process; the road is bumpy with no-shows, half-done or poorly-done jobs or the flaky handymen who appear to do a job only to disappear before completion. The fact none of them come anywhere near my ex-hub's level of execution/excellence is something I accept knowing his level of artistry was rare.
For the most part I’ve been blessed with wonderful handymen who’ve helped maintain and improve this old house. I appreciate their kindness and skill, especially Eddy, and Greg.
I’ve come to appreciate the lack of emotional exchange paying a handyman, and wonder if this is how men feel paying for sex.
A divorced friend recently asked if I’ll ever date or marry again. Or seek a life-partner. My heart stopped … I can’t see jumping back into the fire. It would take someone pretty exceptional and the exceptional ones like my ex are often narcissists and that's a no-go zone for me.
The next time a rafter needs replacing and one of my guys is busy, I’ll get on the web. Did you know there are pages of Rent A Husband Handymen Services online?
My favs? A company called “The Sometime Spouse.”
Another: “Rent My Husband” with the tag line:
“Why marry when you can rent?”
Exactly! _ Didi Balle
The main reason “Diary of a Poodle Au Pair” is A Memoir I’ll Never Write aside from the embarrassment of publicly admitting to a self-inflicted servile existence as a canine valet/cook/housekeeper/ball-thrower and chauffeur is because the diary entries I write about my two giant poodles are insanely brief (“WTF?!?”) and mind-numbingly repetitive.
Name one person who doesn’t harbor a secret desire to tell/write their life’s story and have it become a New York Times bestseller. My dogs Oscar and Sasha aren’t much interested in penning memoirs but a lot of humans are despite the memoir market being “over-saturated.”
Upcoming Blog Posts: Excerpts from the Lazy Ass Host Handbook by Didi Balle.