The Hollywood Tropicana
It was another late night, Justin and I had worked our 3pm-11pm shift. After cleaning the pizza ovens, mopping up and getting everything in order, we caught the bus back to Hollywood from Century City. We usually got back to Hollywood somewhere between 12:30 am- 1:30am.
It was dark as we entered the apartment and we were both quiet as we went in. I tiptoed and didn’t see mom in her bed, which was snuggly located next to the refrigerator, but saw the bathroom light on through the cracks of the closed door. I could hear a fuss and crying behind it.
I pressed my ear to the door and listened for a few minutes. I could hear my mom crying and whispering, “Damn, damn!” Listening for a couple more seconds, I put my mouth as close to the door as I could and whispered, “Mom, are you in there?” She replied, “Yes, I’m doing something.” Concerned, I asked, “Are you ok, is anything wrong?” Mom said, “Hold on.” She opened the door and was standing topless with only jeans on.
She said, “Come in.” and then quietly closed the door behind me. She said, “I’m scared, Elena, I think the girl I was wrestling tonight may have burst my implant, and if it’s leaking, it could be poisonous.” Mom asked me if I thought it had ruptured. I said, “I have no idea. I have no way of knowing. I don’t even know what an un-ruptured implant feels or looks like.”
Mom was clearly scared and went on telling me that this girl wasn’t supposed to hurt her. She was just supposed to act like it was real. The mud wrestling is supposed to be for the men to see the girls in sexy-skimpy clothes, rolling on top of each other in the mud. But, the dingbat girl was really going for it and beat her up.
Of course there wasn’t anything that I could say that would be helpful, nor did I want to risk insulting my mom, by asking her not to work at the Tropicana. It was a sleazy mud-wrestling bar in Hollywood. I know she did it because we so desperately needed the money, but I hated it. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and scream, “Please, stop working in that hellhole!!” But, my mom didn’t know of another way.
She wanted an education, but the fact of the matter was, that she was an uneducated, damaged woman born into poverty. She had big dreams for herself, but her first mistake was getting saddled with four kids at a young age. Her dreams had been replaced by the reality of living an ugly life on the margins of society.
Instead of stating anything that could be taken the wrong way, I just said, “I’ll get you some ice and maybe you should see a doctor.” Mom replied, “No, no doctor we can’t afford that.” I said, “Agreed, we can’t afford it, but what if your implant is ruptured, are you going to let silicone migrate into your system and poison you?”
Mom pale as a ghost said, “Do you think this is going to kill me?” I said, “I don’t know, but at the very least, it has to be unhealthy for your body.”
I went to get the ice, came back to mom and gave it to her. As I was walking out of the bathroom to go to bed, she stopped me. Holding back tears, mom said, “Elena, will you sleep with me in my bed? I’m scared of dying in my sleep.”
I reassured her, saying, “You are not going to die in your sleep and I’m more comfortable alone.” Mom stood in front of me continuing to look petrified, so I said, “Ok, I will lay with you, until you fall asleep.” She hugged me and said thank you.
I laid next to mom, listening to the hum of the refrigerator motor and the crinkling of the ice bag. She had closed her eyes, which gave me a chance to study her face. We typically didn’t spend much time together. She was always working and rarely home. Her biggest fear was that we would be taken away from her or that she would have to give us up because she couldn’t really afford to keep us. In her resting state, I was reminded of how beautiful she was; her skin, eyebrows, nose and hair.
Once I felt that mom was asleep, I slowly crept out of her bed, back to the bedroom Anna, Justin and I shared. Still in my clothes from the day, I put myself to bed. I had grown up sleeping in my clothes and felt most comfortable this way.
Out of the darkness and half asleep, Justin whispered, “Is Mom, alright?” I didn’t want to get into it and replied, “Yeah, she’s fine.” Justin said, “Goodnight, I love you, sis….”
I was becoming an expert at not feeling and tried my best to stick to thinking, which took less out of me. In an attempt at being prepared for the next shoe to drop, which was routine for us, I thought about what would happen if my mom didn’t wake-up in the morning. What would we do? How would we manage to stay together and not get separated by Child Protective Services?
In an attempt not to get myself worked up, I started thinking about modeling and how, if I could get an agent and make a lot of money, I could fix all of our problems that stemmed from being poor. I hated that my mom worked as a part time mud wrestler. I hated it because it was so degrading. This is what hurt me the most. She wasn’t a perfect mom by any stretch of the imagination, but I loved her and wanted better for her.
I made my way into the kitchen the next morning and my mom was still sleeping. I walked towards her hoping she wasn’t dead. I thought since my dad had died less than a year before in his sleep, it would be mathematically impossible for my mom to also die in her sleep.
I put my hand on her shoulder, nudging her and said, “Mom, are you up?” She was groggy, but she responded and said, “Yes, I’m up.” I asked, “Are you ok? Half out of it, she responded, “Yeah, I think so, but, I’m sore.” She stopped herself mid-sentence and said, why haven’t you left for school? You better go, Anna and Justin already left.”
I showered, changed my filthy clothes and passed mom one last time to check on her and she was already dressed and on her way out the door. She said, “Run to school, you’re already late.”
I walked out the door pretending that I was headed to school. Mom didn’t know that I had stopped going. Instead, I spent part of the day in the basement-laundry room of the apartment building we lived in reading, writing and enjoying being alone. No one really used it during the week. The machines were often broken and it gave me somewhere safe to be until it was time to go to work at the Cultured Cow again..….