My mother’s in a love affair with her IPhone.
She’s always on it, she doesn’t know how to get off of it, and it annoys the fuck out of me.
On a recent trip down to Miami, my boyfriend and I arranged to go bike riding in the Everglades with her through this 15-mile-cement loop called Shark Valley that cuts right through the River of Grass and provides nauseatingly gorgeous views of the endless amber and nectar sea where Alligator and Anhinga take to the clearings and bathe in the winter sun as people in single-speed bikes pedal past them underneath an ever-expanding sky that is larger than the flatland below any piece of its own horizon.
She was very excited to be biking with us. She’s not in particular good shape, and she blames her old age for everything, and while I am usually one to tell her, ‘just do more Pilates’, ‘Fifty-six is nothing’, there’s still an undeniable whiff of validated doubt lagging in the air. That you can usually tell through her smile, the way it’s exhausted in the way it’s pursed, and by how frequently she takes pictures of all of her immediate surroundings, no matter how superfluous it actually is to everything else surrounding her.
As we walked towards the rental bike shack, she’d stop every two minutes for five minutes at a time to take another video of Sandhill cranes taking flight into the sky while wistfully narrating over the capture: ‘Time to fly with the birds.’ At the bike rental shack she’d wrapped her pink scarf on the handle bars of her bike, holding onto them with one hand while with the other, making another narrated video: ‘Time to hit the road…’, followed by a haphazardly shot panoramic of the flooded plains surrounding us. In my head, I was calculating how many ten’s of minutes were being wasted because of my mother’s need to capture everything on her phone, then review everything on her phone, and then delete mostly everything on her phone so that later when she was on her phone again she’d be able to properly broadcast her life in the Everglades with her son and his ‘BF’ on ‘The Facebook’. She needed four angles, seven shots each angle of a single thing, she needed a money shot; it took her so long trying to get a perfect shot out of a stork it must’ve been wondering when the fluffer was gonna come over to keep it craning its beak out in full frontal glory.
I could feel this anxiety inside of me: my boyfriend and I had only two hours to check into our hotel on South Beach that serviced homosexuals with dildos in their vending machines and blackboards on the hotel room doors where you could write if you preferred getting DP or DP’ing. Dare I ever said it, but being here in the Everglades was supposed to be a joyful time constraint, a chore in disguise of simply wanting to be with my mother. We had somewhere else to be and so I implored to rush her, I had said, ‘I’m pretty sure all the other gators are waiting to see ya, Ma!’
I say, ‘Ma’ because that sounds butch and because I had a podiatrist from Craigslist suck my feet so I’m allowed to speak like a real New Yorker whenever I damn please.
My boyfriend encouraged me to shake it off, and as we finally set off to conquer the fifteen miles of road before us, half hour after getting our bikes, I thought I had.
However, twenty minutes in having only conquered three miles because of my mother’s need to stop and take a picture of another seven-foot alligator two feet off the side of the road, I decided to pedal as fast as I fucking could. I decided I’d just bike alone, she’d be fine talking shit with my boyfriend, I for whatever reason had to get as far as I possibly could from her, most likely, so that I’d have even longer time having to wait for her, giving me more of a reason to be even angrier.
As I sped past the sun-bathing lizards and glorified parrots, I found myself tracing back to the first time I’d recalled my mother being so transfixed by her phone- preferring to look into a screen rather than everything else around her, you know, ‘living in the moment’.
It’d been Sophomore year of college and she’d come to visit me in New York City in the wake of me calling her late one evening to tell her that I was gay and that trying to score dates with freshmen girls from New Jersey really wasn’t working out for me anymore.
I felt the need to show off how capable I was living in the city on my own, you know: how well I knew it. And so like all real New Yorkers do, I persuaded my mother into taking us to the Natural History Museum to catch Whoopi Goldberg narrate the story of our Solar System. I’d told her that Whoopi’s performance was apparently all the ‘rave’ in the Voice, but truthfully I was just really excited about seeing a fifty-foot Sister Deloris projected on the underside of a giant, nebulous dome.
But the entirety of the time being at the museum, she was always on her phone taking pictures. It had occurred to me that maybe the same way I was deflecting my own insecurities of telling my mother in person that I was a homo, she was deflecting her own insecurities of believing that I didn’t care about her opinion, or worse, I didn’t want it.
That all changed though the moment we’d gotten into the subway to head back home. A woman in a sundress was leaning over a stroller where inside, a baby boy slept. She was looking down at him as if he were her epitome and her paragon of her everything. And as train approached the station, the rumbling sounding like dinosaurs, this woman without any thought to it covered her baby’s ears. And she just smiled as the train thundered on by. And her baby remained fast asleep. Not a moment between either of them goes detached. The train passes and the sound fades away and all goes quiet. And then the mother had a moment, I remember her look as clear as I remember this morning; I saw her eyes wander into wonder; she was wondering if she should keep her boy’s ears protected, and let him sleep, or if she should leave her baby alone, and that the baby should be left to dream and wake on his own, without his mother’s hands covering his ears.
And I said, ‘Wow.’
And finally breaking away from her phone, my mother asked me what I’d seen.
I tell her and she looks over at the woman.
“She doesn’t know if she should let go.” She finally says.
“She’ll figure it out.” I muttered.
My mother sighs, tears growing from underneath her eyes, “She never will,” she chokes.
After waiting a half hour for my mother and my boyfriend to meet me at the midway point of the loop, they’d finally made it. I was sad that I lacked the ability to bike with my mother even though it was what I wanted and I was mad that she lacked the ability to want to keep up with me even though it was what she wanted.
My boyfriend had pulled me aside when we’d all finally taken a break. He insisted that I be patient. I insisted that we had other obligations and we couldn’t spend all day in the middle of the fucking Everglades.
So I told her that. She nodded her head, and I could see the wallowing behind her face, but I didn’t care. I wanted to move, and I wanted her off of her fucking phone.
The wind was hitting against us on the way back.
The next stretch of eight miles was going to be far more about getting back to the bike rental shack than it was going to be about enjoying the scenery.
I began to peddle faster and harder, I wanted this all to end as much as I wanted to pretend that I was getting a solid thigh workout on a single-speed bike. But more so, I wanted to apologize to my mom, I wanted to tell her that I was proud of her, I wanted to apologize to my boyfriend for being angry, for snapping at him – I just wanted to turn around the bike right then and there and feed my arm to an alligator in front of them both for making her feel like shit because she loves using her phone, and –
Behind me, I hear the shattering of a phone, followed by a body hitting the floor, then a bike hitting the cement, then my mother whimpering in pain. She is on the floor, and so is the bike. She’s unable to move, and scattered across the cement path: her fucking phone.
And I raced to her. The longer I ran the faster I became. I was terrified the shadows surrounding her were blood, I was scared that something was broken, I was mortified that I was more worried about missing more time on South Beach, I was nauseous at the notion that I was just a dick of a son who pushes his own mother up until she fucking collapses in the middle of the Everglades, a dick of a son, who when finally getting to her, instead of saying, ‘Are you okay’, or ‘Mom, I’m here’, or, ‘Oh My God, I love you I’m sorry’ –something that would elicit general love and concern – instead – having looked at her phone right before glancing at her fallen body says, ‘Goddamn it I fucking knew this was going to happen.’
People stopped. My boyfriend took me aside to told me to be supportive. Well, obviously. He told me to encourage her to get back up and bike home. To not mention the fact that she should’ve kept her phone in her pocket while she road a fucking bike against the wind. To congratulate her the moment she’d finally passed the fifteen-mile marker.
He told me that she wanted to prove to me that she could do it. That she could go so far. I believe it was more for herself, but maybe I’m all wrong still. Either way, I did all that was asked of me. In the tears that ran down her face upon congratulating her for making fifteen miles, she had smiled. Even today, we don’t speak about the reason she’d really fallen down, that it had ever happened, or that she has two more months of physical therapy to make up for taking a picture on a bike. We’d never speak about the first thing I’d said to her when I’d heard that she’d fallen off. I guess we’re both good at avoiding things.
The aggravating truth about growing older is that before you’re able to see yourself in your children, you’re forced to see yourself in your parents. No one’s every told me that I’d have to. Nobody’s ever told me that I supposed to. You begin to see the child in them. You begin to see the adult in you. You begin to see the kind of protector you’ll be for them. You begin to see yourself wondering if you should cover their ears and let them take pictures, or if you should let themselves realize that all they’re doing is taking up storage on a phone. I’m scared I’ll be the one who does neither. I’m scared that I’ll be the one who speeds as far ahead as I possibly can, to be as far away from the truth as can be. That truth?
The older she gets all she’s gonna wanna do is take more pictures.