A Conversation with My Mother
Lori Horvitz

A Conversation with My Mother

Sometimes I called friends and family from a phone booth using stolen calling card numbers, numbers belonging to oil companies or multi-national corporations. These were listed in the centerfold of The Yipster Times, a newspaper put out by an anarchist collective on Bleecker Street. A roommate from college worked on the paper, and she handed out copies of the latest edition with updated numbers. I told my mother about them, and she asked for one. “You can’t use them from a home phone,” I said. And I couldn’t use them in Europe.

I try to imagine what my mother did after she got off the phone with the Norwegian operator. Maybe she went antique shopping, or maybe she hummed to herself while searching for shoes at Roosevelt Field Mall, or maybe she went to Frederick’s Beauty School, where she stared at her freckled face in the mirror and made sure her hair color was red but not too red. Did she think at any point she should have accepted my call?

It’s not like she couldn’t afford to—my parents were schoolteachers: not rich, but not poor, either. Yet we had never been the “keep in touch, call me when you get there” type of family. So I continued to step on and off trains. I traveled with Golf Guy up to Narvik, where golds and reds and oranges lit up the sky, where we played Frisbee under the midnight sun. And I traveled to a dusty, gray town in Finland and stayed in a youth hostel, where the only other person in a room full of bunk beds was an older German woman who talked to herself and wore glasses with no glass in them.


Traveling to Europe had been a sure way to get distance from my boyfriend of two years, the charming intellect who looked like John Lennon and called himself an anarchist. Every once in a while, he’d rage at me and call me a cheap Jew, yelling that all museums should be smashed and made into community centers for The People. After I graduated college, we sublet a room in New York City, but he left a month later and went home to Syracuse, claiming he hated the city and all of its corporate Yuppie scum. In September, we moved into a gas-smelling apartment on a slant, just north of Manhattan. Two months later, he left me again to finish his degree. I found an apartment share in Hell’s Kitchen with an aspiring, cross-eyed actress named Twyla and saved money to travel. The boyfriend reappeared and wanted to move to Minneapolis, where he said we could start a new life, that his best buddy had just moved there to attend graduate school and now claimed that Minneapolis was full of jobs and anarchists. I told the boyfriend I was going to Europe and didn’t know how long I’d be there.

After my mother said no, however, I made a collect call to the boyfriend. He accepted. He told me he loved me and missed me, and I said yes. I wanted to go with him to Minneapolis.

That is how it started. My mother said no, and the boyfriend said yes.

I flew back to New York and phoned my parents from Kennedy Airport. No one answered. Since I had nowhere else to go, I took the Long Island Railroad to my hometown and walked into my house. No one was there, not even the dog, but her water bowl, filled to the brim, was under the table. I called my brother, who lived with a friend in the next town, and he said that my parents had gone to Cape Cod, that the poodle had died of a heart attack in her sleep.

The boyfriend said his friend in Minneapolis would pay for a rental truck if he hauled the friend’s furniture, and, a week later, the boyfriend drove a truck from upstate New York and parked it in front of my childhood home while we loaded my stuff. My mother stared straight ahead, and my father said, “You’ll be back in a month.” The truck broke down in Harlem, and we spent hours waiting for a mechanic to fix it. Once we got on the road, the headlights didn’t work. We slept in the back of the truck in a hotel parking lot because the hotel was booked up, and we couldn’t drive in the dark.

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Lori Horvitz

has contributed to Chattahoochee Review, South Dakota Review, Southeast Review, Epiphany, Hotel Amerika, and many other journals and anthologies. Her book of memoir-essays, The Girls of Usually, was published in 2015 by Truman State University Press. She is a professor of English at UNC Asheville.