How to Live With Your Mother When You’re 37, Childless and Unemployed

by Deborah Kennedy

1. Try to wake up before your mother goes to her water aerobics class at 9. Even if you’re hungover from polishing off that double bottle of Gato Negro, get the fuck up. Make the coffee so she thinks you’re a productive member of the household. After she leaves, go back to bed. Masturbate for a while to visions of Clive Owen in a Forever Lazy. Don’t bother finishing. You don’t finish anything anymore.

2. Do your best to be awake and staring, with great purpose, at your computer screen when your mother comes back from the pool at 10:30. Yell at said screen as she walks by, even if it’s stuck on something completely innocuous, like a bunch of smiling Pinterest giraffes or an inspirational poster of a kid riding a Great Dane. Then mumble about “technology” and “ghosts in the machine.” Use air quotes and cite Dante. This will signal to your mother that you are still the sweet overachiever she’s always loved and not a barnacle in human form.

3. When it’s time for lunch, offer to make your mother a sandwich, knowing that she never eats sandwiches. You don’t either: what you really want is a bowl of potato chips and a handful of raw cookie dough. Eat both while flipping through a J. Crew catalog. Imagine how different your life would have turned out if 1) you looked good in skinny sailor-front pants and 2) you hadn’t dumped your last boyfriend because he used baby talk in bed. Get on Facebook and cyber-stalk your ex-boyfriend for an hour. Tag yourself in the pictures of him and his naturally beautiful wife on vacation in Prague. Untag yourself. Update your status to say: “YOLO! Amiright?” Consider suicide. Consider updating your status to say: “Considering suicide.” Cry a little. Read an article about how the clay diet is the key to good skin. Study your large pores in your mother’s magnifying mirror, the one she uses to spot chin hairs. Cry some more.

4. Prepare yourself for the afternoon, which will stretch out before you like an endless desert of nothingness, a terrifying black hole of emptiness in which neuroses and anxiety and self-doubt reign supreme. There are many ways to deal with this. You could watch reruns of Castle with your mother, but after a while the sight of that stupid-hot detective and Nathan Fillion trying not to fall in love will sap you of your will to live. So make an effort. Resolve to read something, anything. How about that book about income inequality everyone was talking about at the Meetup for New Gals in Town Who Like Locally Sourced Soap? Maybe they have it at the library. As you’re getting dressed, allow yourself to get momentarily distracted, first by what soap and the distribution of wealth have in common, and second, by the fact that the girl you chatted with there, the one with perfect eyebrows, never returned your “let’s get coffee sometime” email. Was it because you signed off with a walrus emoji? Decide she’s a bitch and not worth your time. Decide income inequality is bullshit. Decide soap is bullshit too. Then get on Etsy and browse for monogrammed dish towels. Consider buying ones with your ex-boyfriend’s initials set in white against periwinkle plush. Log-on to your online banking site and check your accounts. Cry again. Make choking, walrus-like sounds while you do so. Binge-watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer to forget. Or don’t. It really doesn’t matter.

5. Check Craigslist for writing/editing jobs. This is what you are. A writer/editor. Or at least that is what you were before the economy took a giant shit. Notice that the writing jobs listed in your town are not jobs at all but unpaid internships. Recall that most of your classmates at the fancy MFA program you graduated from and went into deep debt for had, at one time or another, unpaid internships at fancy websites/publishing houses/Conde Nast. They also had perfect skin. Every last fucking one of them. Now they have novels out with Random House/Knopf/FSG. Log on to Twitter and pose this question: “Hey motherfuckers with whom I attended graduate school: Are you on the clay diet?”

6. Ponder for the millionth time why, given that you graduated fourth in your high school class, have two masters degrees, are reasonably attractive (at least post-concealer), and not a complete cray-cray, no one will a) hire or b) impregnate you. Glance at the clock. It isn’t five yet. It isn’t even close. Pull the bottle of Absolut from under your bed anyway. Take a swig. Decide you are a sexy swigger. Add that to your resume under “special skills.”

7. Reassure your worried mother that no, you weren’t just drinking right from the vodka bottle at three in the afternoon but were instead rehearsing for a bit part you got in your friend’s Off-Off-Off Broadway musical about fetal alcoholism. “Fetal alcohol syndrome?” your mother asks. “No. Fetuses with drinking problems.” Promise her free tickets. Tell her, “Hey! Castle’s back on!”

8. Look up “Ten Signs You’re an Alcoholic” on WebMD. Decide that WebMD is a bitch and not worth your time.

9. Refresh your Facebook page. Note that no one has liked your “YOLO” status or bothered to comment. Refresh your Twitter feed. Crickets. Fucking crickets. Have another swig of Absolut. Tweet this: “Absolut fuck all y’all.” Smell yourself. It’s not good. Draw a bath, a really long, scorching one because your mother pays the water bill. She pays the gas bill, too, and the trash bill and the internet bill, even though she thinks websites are where you go to get murdered. Your mother pays for everything. You tell yourself that this is okay because, when you finish that novel you started in graduate school, you’ll be hella-rich and able to take your mother on an extended vacation to the Caribbean or Italy or Prague or wherever the fuck she wants to go. From your bath, ask your mother where she would go if she had a million dollars. She can’t hear you over the sound of splashing and Nathan Fillion’s sexy voice. “What?” she says. “Where would you go if you had a million dollars?” You holler. “Safeway?” “No, I mean like on a trip. On vacation. Where would you go if money were no object?” Wait patiently while your mother weighs her options. Run your fingers over your spiky calves. You need to shave. You need a mani-pedi. You need to start taking some fucking pride in your appearance, for fuck’s sake. “Dollywood,” your mother says. Finally.

10. It’s dinner time and let’s be honest, you’re more than a little drunk. Make some Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese to soak up the vodka. While you stir the noodles, practice saying “It’s the cheesiest” in different accents. Tell your mother you’re rehearsing for the play again. When she asks you what cheese has to do with fetal alcoholism, grow serious. Say, “Everything.” Eat your Mac ‘N Cheese like a complete asshole.

11. Your stomach full of processed cheese food and uncomplex carbohydrates, grab a glass of Gato Negro and watch Matlock with your mother. Tell yourself you’re watching Matlock with your mother because a) the two of you could really use some quality mother/daughter time and b) there’s nothing else on. Acknowledge in your heart of hearts that you watch Matlock because you like it. You like everything about it — Andy Griffith’s gray suits and folksy charm and bushy eyebrows (suck it, Meetup girl). You love the simple plots, the happy endings, the women in huge shoulder pads and the men in mullets. Conclude that watching Matlock with your mother is better than being desired by a man or getting pregnant or landing a job. Conclude that watching Matlock with your mother is the secret to happiness. Tell the world this on Facebook and Twitter. Wait two minutes. Notice that your ex-boyfriend has liked your Facebook status and retweeted your Tweet. See that he has written “IKR” under your Facebook post. Wait another two minutes. Do not comment back. Whatever you do, do not comment back. Remain silent. Remain a mystery. A mystery wrapped in an enigma.

12. Take your mysterious ass to bed. Dream about Clive Owen and drunk babies and Warren Buffett in a walrus suit. Dream about waking up with perfect skin. Dream about making your mother proud. Someday.

Deborah Kennedy recently earned an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has appeared in Third Coast Magazine, Sou’wester, The North American Review, and Salon. Originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Deborah currently lives with her mother and obese Chow mix in Portland, Oregon.