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In Memory Of Nessa MAG
"Tell whomever it is that they're disturbing dinner," my mother said, munching on a soggy piece of lettuce, the oily salad dressing dripping down her chin. I sat there staring at her, now completely absorbed in her heaping salad, ignoring the shrill telephone. I got up in disgust, wiping my mouth with a napkin, crumpling it into a semi-ball, and attempting to throw it down onto my plate, hoping my mother would see or hear the slamming of the napkin. She did not, and kept on eating, as I picked up the phone and glowered at her.
"Hello?" I said in a matter-of-fact fashion.
"Alo?" The voice unmistakable. The loud, melodramatic, sing-songy voice, with a heavy Polish accent, pierced the static of the phone. She sounded like a classical stage diva. "Alo, Raaaastie? Chow are you, mameleh."
"No, Nessa. It's Marin. How are you?" There was silence on the other end and my mom looked up, doe-eyed from the combination of her salad-frenzy and Nessa calling.
"Oh, Marin, mameleh? Chow are you, darling? Nessa loves you! I kiss you; I kiss you again. Chow are you, sweedhard?" I blushed at this, and locked eyes with my mom, for that was Nessa's opening line of every conversation, telephonic or personal. I did not often speak with her, and I wanted to hear every mellifluous word that rolled off her tongue.
"I'm fine, Nessa. How are you?" I did not really have to ask, because the answer was always the same. Nessa was good, but oh, she couldn't remember who she was anymore. She's had so many stage names that, oy yuh yoy, she just couldn't think. She would have to ring her best friend - my grandma - to remind her. That always got a chuckle from us. In spite of the diva aura that she worked so hard to create - an aura of fame, flowers, and wild applause - to me, she was only Nessa, the sweet, aging Polish has-been whose past kept mocking her.
I pictured her as she always was: sitting on a white leather couch, drowning in her ankle-length musty fox coat, with its hairs tickling her face. Her dyed-once-too-many-times salon-created brown hair was thinning at the crown, matted with the beauty parlor's hair junk and flipped at her shoulders. She would pet Shaina, her old Golden Retriever, as she stared off into space. That was the thing about Nessa. Her wide, dentured smile betrayed the pain and longing that her watery green eyes always revealed. She was always thinking about something else, perhaps a memory.
"I am fine, darling. Just fine. Chow is de acting?" No. I sucked in my breath, and I felt my ears sizzle and protrude from my skull. I could never tell her that it embarrassed me when she talked about my acting. What she was really asking was, "Remember my acting? No? Well, no one does anymore." How could I say that I remembered the way it used to be in Poland? How could I pretend that she's as renowned as Liza Minelli or Carol Burnett? The truth was, Nessa was a old Polish stage actress, nothing more. She had had her heyday in the '30s, with men flocking her, and guards to protect her from fanatical fans. The clamor of large crowds and standing ovations echoed in her mind, and was never far from her thoughts. But then she left Poland, assuming that she'd be big here, the newest sensation in America. How pitiful that she was a nothing, an old woman who needed Social Security - an old woman reduced to clipping coupons.
Right now I heard her breathe heavily into her old rotary phone. Her crystalline eyes were burning right through that receiver - her thousand gaping pores and carefully placed moles were all beseeching me to tell her what she wanted to hear. I heard the madding crowds, the applause - like claps of thunder crashing through her brain, like tidal waves on a rocky shore. The blood rushed through my jugular veins in heated thumpidy thumps, mirroring the pulsing tear-like liquids that swam in her eyes below that caking liner and blue shadow.
"Well, nothing right now, Nessa, but tell me again about you in Poland." I stared straight forward, seeing my reflection in the mirror. I knew what Nessa would say, I knew it all, and I lowered my head, unable to look myself in the face. I felt her pause on the other line, a sigh of relief creeping across her knotted body, contorted under that fur coat.
"Sank you, darling," she whispered, gripping the phone with her hands. "Sank you." c