Never have too many chairs at a party. You don’t want everyone to have a seat; it kills conversation. People socialize more when they’re standing up. Always invite an interesting mix of people – gay, straight, black, white, Italian, non-Italian. Don’t serve the food too early – you want people to be able to get a buzz first. Never put an end time on the invitation.
What I learned from my mother. Be tough. Don’t take any shit from people. Stand up for yourself. If you don’t like the food, send it back. If you don’t like the drink, ask them to make you a new one. Men are assholes. Most people are slobs. Men are definitely slobs. Marriage sucks; people shouldn’t get married. My mother will never get married again, except maybe to Ernie, if he really wants to.
My mother taught me that family is everything, and nothing. Family is totally there for you, unless they disown you, or they decide you’re dead to them. Or you decide they’re dead to you. Family should be forever, but it’s not. Sometimes friends will become more important parts of your family than your family. You never get over the death of a child.
I learned that you should love with all your heart and be a good friend. Help people whenever you can, and be there for people the way you would want them to be there for you. But don’t expect them to be there for you, because they might let you down. Be there because you want to be there and for no other reason. Be there for love.
The world isn’t perfect and people will hurt you, they will break your heart, even the people who you think never will. What I learned from my mother is how to survive, but that while you’re busy surviving, you will probably go a little crazy. What I learned from my mother is how to enjoy life – how to have fun, how to laugh, how to care, how not to care.
What I learned from my mother is that your greatest joy can be your children, and your greatest heartache, as well. But I don’t have any children, and that is my greatest heartache.
My mother showed me that love is complicated, that relationships are hard, and that families don’t always stay together. Sometimes the losses you live through do make you stronger, but it can be so, so hard to let go of the pain. Sometimes that pain can make you bitter and, after a while, the bitter can turn to crazy. What I learned from my mother is that when my twin brother died, two weeks before our first birthday, a part of her died, too, and she held on to me even tighter from then on, afraid I might die, suddenly, in my crib, in the night. What I learned from my mother is that you go ahead with the birthday party anyway.
What I learned from my mother and what I do is not always the same thing. I learned to put on make-up by watching her every day – how to apply lighter make-up for the daytime and slightly heavier for the night. I learned that you don’t want to over-do it, or you’ll look cheap – like Mitzi, who lived two floors down from us in the apartments. But if you do it right, it can really enhance your features, or “make up” for the features you don’t have. You can make your eyelashes look longer and darker, your cheekbones higher, your lips fuller and redder. But I rarely wear make-up, not because I think I’m such a natural beauty and I don’t need it, but because, well, actually, I’m not really sure why. It’s complicated. Sometimes it bothers my mother, though she’s certainly gotten used to it by now. Still, she asks, as she has every so often for the past 28 years: “Why couldn’t you be a lipstick lesbian??” I love this question because, after all this time, I think she has finally given herself – and me – a break from trying to figure out why I’m a lesbian. The lipstick thing, however, remains an issue.
What I learned from my mother is that children break your heart. They get sick. They die – even tiny, little babies, like we were, like Chris was - my twin brother – the other half of me that could have been my best friend. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to. Life doesn’t always cooperate. Life has its own plans, and they don’t always match up with yours.
What I learned from my mother is all I know of my brother: that he was 4 pounds when we were born and that I was only 3; that he had cerebral palsy and couldn’t hold his head up by himself. He needed to be propped up in a chair, or have someone’s hand behind his neck to keep him steady. What I learned from my mother is that he used to laugh when I would crawl all over him, that he had strawberry blonde hair, that he loved me, that he died in his sleep, in our room, in the crib next to mine.
What I learned from my mother is everything – how to live and how not to live; how to love and how not to love, how to be and how not to be.
What I learned from my mother confuses me sometimes. She taught me to worry about everything and then tells me I worry too much. She taught me to take care of everyone else and then tells me I need to take better care of myself. She taught me to criticize everyone and everything and then tells me I’m too negative. What I learned from my mother is that I should do what I really want to do in life, and that I should put myself first, and then she tells me not to be selfish.
What I learned from my mother is that, to be my mother’s daughter, you have to be tough. Brooklyn tough. New York tough. Sicilian tough. You have to stand up for yourself and your family and your friends and anyone else you love. You have to be strong; you have to survive. What I learned from my mother is that you have to do it right, make it perfect, but that – for my mother – it is never right and it’s not perfect enough. What I learned from my mother is that you have to do it yourself if you want it done right; that the world is messy and you should try to keep it neat; that life is amazing and hurts like hell.
What I learned from my mother is the story of our family, though the story is not always clear or complete, and the timing of events not always accurate. What I learned from my mother is that she and my father were married in 1956, my older brother born two years later, and then, in 1962 my twin brother and I arrived – two months early – and that we nearly died, our lungs not fully developed, our little bodies so…little. What I learned from my mother is the sad story of our family: my twin brother’s death in the spring of 1963, Uncle Charlie’s inoperable brain tumor, Uncle Joe’s sudden, fatal heart attack, and Granny’s fall down the dark, unfinished staircase in the auto shop, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down, destined to live out the rest of her days in pain and despair in the old, brick infirmary – while her family – our family - slowly unraveled.
What I learned from my mother is how to keep living, even when life is breaking your heart. I learned that you have to depend on yourself, and your devoted daughter, if you’re lucky enough to have one, or a true friend, if you can find one. And if you do find one, try your best to keep that friend forever, even if you know forever is just a fantasy. What I learned from my mother is that you just keep going, no matter what. You keep working, you keep fighting, you keep dancing, you keep crying, and still, you keep laughing. What I learned from my mother is that life is beautiful, and life is pain, until life is beautiful again. Just keep walking.