I had been awaiting this birthday for a long time. My Mom and I had made an agreement--a verbal contract, if you will--and today was the day for her to fill her end of the bargain. Lord knows, I certainly had upheld my end.
Some background is in order here. My name is Ariana Fleischer. The day we are talking about happens to be my twenty-first birthday, and my mother had promised me a kind of unique birthday present if I agreed to follow certain conditions. These conditions were almost more than I could bear, but I did it, and now it's her turn. Here is how it happened.
When I was growing up, my mother, Beth Jamison, and I had always been close. We were able to talk about everything, which, from what I heard from my friends, was not very common. She was a typical, normal mother--and I thought she was relatively cool. I was her only child, and she showered me with attention--especially after Dad died when I was fourteen.
All that changed three years ago. Mom had met a guy, and she was serious about him. I had my reservations. Ted was a nice enough guy, especially in the beginning. But he had a dark side, or I guess in fairness I should say a light side--basically he was a religious nut. I had been raised Catholic and we went to Church on Sundays, but the Church was definitely not the center of our lives. But for Ted, his Church is everything to him. He is a member of one of those sects where drinking and smoking, even dancing, are big-time sins.
I couldn't believe that Mom had fallen for a guy with this belief system, but I guess she was lonely and tired of all the guys out there who always tried to use her. "Ted is a real gentleman," Mom said often. Yeah, but, I thought to myself, he's a real asshole too.
I was shocked when Mom started using the same language that Ted used all the time. I couldn't believe all the personality changes either. She stopped smoking and stopped watching all the "trash," as Ted put it, on television. Mom was not a big drinker, but she liked her Saturday night martini--her "weekly reward," as she put it, and the occasional drink at a party. Ted didn't like drinking at all, so Mom quit that too.
She seemed to be happy, but I always believed that she was somehow hiding her feelings from herself. I was torn between wanting her to be happy with her choices and my growing dislike of Ted. When they got married the day before my twentieth birthday, I cried for the first time since my Daddy died--and they weren't tears of joy.
Because I was going to the local Community College, I was still living at home. My friends didn't want to hang around my house anymore--it was no longer fun with Ted around. And we were typical college students, meaning that fun was a very important part of our lives. Ted was also starting to try to exert control over me. It was his duty as the head of the house, he said. Smoking, drinking, and normal dating were forbidden. I didn't smoke, but I do enjoy my wine, and I like being with my male friends. Ted insisted that I would meet "nice boys" in the Church, not at the bars.
One night I was getting ready to go out, and he made such a big deal out of it that Mom started crying. "She's just a girl, honey. She needs to get out with her friends sometimes." Ted would have none of it. "She needs to find wholesome friends and activities. She lives in our house and needs to follow our rules. That's the end of it." I was, of course, furious, but the look in Mom's eyes somehow made me give in. She told me quietly, "We'll talk tomorrow."
The next day, Ted was out and Mom and I had a long talk. I won't bore you with all the details, but Mom begged me to give Ted a chance. "Just come to the church with us, Ariana. The people are lovely and you need to get saved. Your eternal soul is in grave danger and Ted only wants the best for you." She cajoled and pleaded and, after thinking about it, a plan began to form in my head.
"OK Mom, you win. We'll do it your way. I'll go with you guys on Sunday."
Mom was overjoyed. "I knew you'd see the light, darling. You'll be glad you did it. I can't wait to tell Ted."
"There's just one thing Mom."
What's that Ariana?"
"I want to make a deal. I'll try it your way, but you have to promise me something too."
She looked perplexed. "What do you mean..."
"This is the deal, Mom. I go to Ted's church for the next six months, until I graduate the two-year program at Community College. If I like it, I stay, obviously. If I don't like it, I leave."
"And...?" said Mom.
"And you agree that on my next birthday, you will do whatever I ask of you. It won't be anything illegal," I laughed. "Trust me."
"I'm not sure I like the sound of that."
"Look Mom, I'm making a big sacrifice for you and taking a big chance. You know I wouldn't do anything that would hurt you. It sounds like you're getting a great bargain. Please?"
"OK Ariana, I'll trust your judgment. I'm sure that after you get to know the life of the spirit, you'll leave all of this silliness behind you. It's a deal."
"Yes, I promise."
"OK, just don't tell Ted we have a deal. That would ruin it."
I had her.
The next six months would have been pure hell, but I took the time to catch up on my schoolwork, studying harder than I ever had. I went to Church with Mom and Ted and it was as bad as I expected. The people were all very "nice," but I felt weirded out with all the holy roller stuff. It was totally foreign to anything I had ever experienced. After a couple of weeks,some of the boys at church started to ask me out, but I used school as an excuse to say no. I played my part well but had to admit that, being honest, a person really could find great peace living their lifestyle--it just wasn't me though.
I had clued in my best friends as to what was happening, and they thought I was nuts.
"Why the charade?" asked Maria. "You're an adult and shouldn't have to play games."
"I know. But it's only for a short time, and I'm developing a plan to get my mother back. It's not worked out yet, but believe me, I have to get her out of this marriage. This guy is a control freak and has turned my mother into something she's not--his own little Stepford wife."
* * *
And that brings us to today. The story resumes.
"Happy birthday, Ariana." It was Mom. "I can't believe my little girl is a full-fledged woman today. It seems like only yesterday..."
I cut her off. "Thanks Mom, but we've got a big day ahead." I hhad been waiting for this day for six months and could not control my excitement.
Mom had arranged for my birthday party to be held today--she was going to keep her bargain. She was now against "wild" parties, but had agreed to have a group of my old girlfriends at the Spa Ranch. Ted was against even that, but he had deferred to Mom for once on this one. "At least there won't be drinking and smoking," he had said. I smile inside at that particular memory.
"Don't forget one thing Mom," I said. "You remember that you agreed to do anything I want today. Remember?"
Mom looked discomfited. "What on earth do you mean? Isn't the party what you wanted?"
"Yeah Mom, but just remember, you're all mine today."
"Well, you have kept your word Ariana, and you're saved now. I'll do whatever you want. I'm just happy that you're with us in the church."
"Uh, Mom...there's something I have to say about that too. I've been with you on this for six months and I really tried to make a go of it. But I can't do it anymore."
"I thought you had found yourself Ariana. What happened. Come on, we'll pray about it."
"No Mom, it's just not me. I believe in God and all that stuff, but I can't go for all the stuff they preach at Wordly Mission Church. Asking you to give up ten percent of your income? So the preacher can ride around in his fancy cars? All the miraculous "healings" that never really happen. People getting bopped by the spirit and falling and acting crazy? Come on Mom, I know you can't believe all of this. At least not if you're being honest with yourself."
She looked pained, but I continued. "You made me a promise. As a Christian woman, you are bound by your word. Today you have to do whatever I ask. I promised you that there would be nothing illegal involved, and there won't be. But a deal's a deal, and you wouldn't go back on your word, would you?"
Mom looked at me, coldly this time. "All right Ariana. You win. I don't know what you're up to, but I don't like it. I will keep my promise. What do you have in mind?"
"Actually Mom, it's nothing that you wouldn't want to do. We're going to my party at the Spa Ranch, which you already planned, after all. You remember the great times we had there the few times we could afford to go. That's all--no big conspiracy. But if I ask you a favor or two while we're there, I would hope that you'd agree. It's my birthday"
Mom's face brightened. This was going to work out OK.
The Spa Ranch is a luxury "camp," where ladies go for the day for total relaxation. There are natural hot-spring pools, any kind of massage you might want, body rubs, facials, and almost anything else a woman could want in the way of total indulgence. It is obscenely expensive, but worth every penny. We had booked a six-hour appointment for a few of us--me, Mom, and my friends Maria and Kate. I had secretly also arranged for Mom's former best friend Jaqui, to come. Jaqui is a fun-loving, flamboyant lady who was Mom's best friend for many years. Of course Ted doesn't like her, and the friendship was put on hold around the time Mom and Ted got married. I'm sure Jaqui was devastated by this. When I called to invite her, she was overjoyed.
"How is your mother, Ariana? I am seriously worried about her."
I couldn't lie. "I am too, Jaqui. But I think we might be able to wake her up."
We arrived at the Spa Ranch by limo. That was a nice touch that I hadn't expected Mom to provide. There's still some life inside of her, I thought happily. The girls were waiting for us as we arrived. Shortly, Jaqui came walking up the path, her cigarette holder dangling from her lips, with a More cigarette in it. As I said, she's a bit flamboyant. Mom was very surprised to see Jaqui, but smiled deeply and went outside to greet her old friend. Jaqui took a langorous puff, inhaled it, and blew the smoke away from Mom. They greeted each other warmly. I was relieved at this, as I wasn't sure what Mom's reaction would be. Things were looking up.
"Sometimes I do miss smoking," Mom said. "Especially when I see you with one Jaqui. But that's in the past now, thank God."
Jaqui laughed. "Anytime you want to change your mind, just let me know, dear."
We went through the entrance and commenced with the day's activities. First we had our massages and our facials. After a light lunch, we lounged for a time in the hot spring pool, and had the most wonderful body rubs. When we were done, we still had another hour and a half.
"What can we do now" wondered Mom.
"I know," replied Jaqui. We'll go to the pool bar. That was always my favorite part of this Ranch."
The pool bar is just what it sounds like--only better. It's a really nice pool, made to look like some kind of tropical lagoon. They have all kinds of water seats that are really comfortable. You're actally down in the water, with only your upper body out, and with the built-in trays, you can have drinks and even snacks,while you drift around the pool. Of course, there's a gorgeous bar right in the center of the pool, well-stocked with anything you could think of. And it is the only place in the entire Spa Ranch in which smoking is allowed.
"I don't know," Mom said. "It's not really my thing anymore."
"Nonsense. It's your daughter's day, darling." It was Jaqui again.
"Mom, remember our deal. You have to do anything I want."
"OK, dear, I give in. What harm could there be? And I could use a dip in the pool." With that, we walked to the pool bar and went in.
We were all smiling as we were assisted into our seats. It was wonderful being there. Jaqui immediately headed, in her "reclino-floater," to the bar and ordered a margarita. She whispered to the bartender and smiled when the rest of us joined her.
The girls and I were about to order our drinks when the bartender announced that champagne had been already ordered for us, courtesy of Jaqui. He poured our flutes, including one for Mom.
"I'll just have some bottled water, if you don't mind."
Jaqui intervened. "Beth, I have never known you to turn down a glass of champagne. It's Ariana's twent-first birthday. I insist."
Mom started to talk again, but this time I jumped in. "Mom, I really want you to have a glass--just one. How else will you be able to toast the birthday girl?"
We all laughed, and Mom said, "OK, but just one."
Jaqui lit another cigarette and this time Maria joined her. Maria loved her cigarettes. As I mentioned, I was a non-smoker and Kate had been trying to quit. Jaqui offered Mom one of her Mores, but Mom wouldn't go that far, although I'm sure she wanted to.
The bartender then arrived again and told me, "Miss Fleischer, in honor of your twenty-first birthday, Jaqui has requested that I present you with a special gift. You may open it now.
"I am honored Jaqui. Thank you."
I opened the small package and inside found a big cigar! This was a total surprise. Everyone (except Mom) began laughing and telling me to smoke it.
"But I've never smoked anything. I wouldn't know where to begin." I really didn't want to smoke the cigar, but I knew that Jaqui would be disappointed if I didn't.
"We'll have to give you a lesson," remarked Jaqui.
Mom interjected at this point. "I really do not like this. Jaqui, this was inappropriate. My daughter is a non-smoker and she is not about to start. Especially a cigar"
At that point, I was determined to do it.
"Sir, my lesson please."
The bartender gave me a brief tutorial on the art of cutting, lighting, and smoking a cigar. He then produced a box of large matches, toasted the end and told me to put the cigar in my mouth.
"Just remember not to inhale!"
"Until you get used to it," laughed Jaqui.
I closed my eyes and tentatively took a few light puffs as the cigar came to life. To my great surprise, rather than being disgusted, I rather liked the taste.
"Not bad? That's an understatement. It's a Cohiba Esplendido, darling" said Jaqui. "It's one of the best Cuban cigars you can get. I got a couple of boxes last month when I was in Cabo. I tried my first cigar down there and, although they'll never replace my cigarettes, I enjoy them immensely now and then."
Mom was looking a bit angry and finished her champagne in one gulp before the bartender poured her another. She downed that one rather quickly too.
I continued to smoke the cigar, taking more substantial puffs and was really enjoying it. Both of the girls asked if they could try it.
"You can each have one of your own," said Jaqui. The bartender has my humidor under the couner. I thought it would be a nice way to celebrate Ariana's birthday.
Kate and Maria enthusiastically took Jaqui up on her offer, and before you knew it, we were all smoking up a storm, and drawing the stares of the other ladies in the pool. We liked knowing that they were all watching us and we knew like this was something we would be doing again.
"Let me have a cigarette, please."
It was Mom. I was flabbergasted. It was now apparent that her year of not drinking had left her without much tolerance. She was half-shot, and the alcohol had triggered her old desire to smoke.
"Mom, are you sure?"
"She's sure," said Jaqui.
Mom put the More in her lips and the bartender quickly ignited the cigarette. Mom took a deep drag, inhaled it and blew out the smoke. "I really miss this," was all she said.
"Of course you do, darling, opined Jaqui. You don't have to be a puritan to be a good person. Smoking and drinking are two things that help make life fun. Enjoy yourself."
"Fun...what a concept," replied Mom wistfully, and we all laughed again.
We smoked our cigars and cigarettes and drank our champagne and, before we knew it, our time was up. The bartender told us that because it was my birthday, we could stay as long as we wanted to. Our party lasted into the night and I, at least, now knew that I wanted to smoke cigars for the rest of my life. And to be happy like this. And I was grateful that I had my mother back. At least for today. It was the best birthday I could ever have.
* * *
Needless to say, the day's activities did not go over well with Ted. I have never seen him so angry. He accused Mom of having acted like a slut, and I thought he was actually going to hit her when she told him that from now on she was going to be herself and that, if he didn't like it, she was out of the marriage.
"I'm a good person, Ted. Smoking a cigarette doesn't make me evil and neither does having a drink. Do you remember what Jesus's first miracle was? He made wine, so it can't be that bad for us to drink it.
"I won't tolerate drinking and smoking in my house."
"Our house, Ted. And yes you will."
Mom then proceeded to light her cigarette and took a deep drag. Ted's veins bulged and looked like he would explode.
I did the only thing I could. In solidarity with my mother, I lit a cigar. When Ted saw the Cohiba dangling between my lips, he screamed with rage and told me to put it out immediately. He walked over to me in a threatening manner and I took the biggest drag I could and blew the smoke directly in his face.
* * *
Looking back, I am glad that all of this happened. Ted is now out of our lives and Mom is herself again. Our home is fun to be in again. I am also happy that I have discovered the joy of smoking cigars. I even got Mom to try one and she now joins me every now and then when I have my nightly cigar. I love to turn heads when I smoke them in public and I just love everything about them. Life is beautiful!