Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Return of the Matron

Dr. Jekyll had Mr. Hyde.  I have The Prison Matron.  She’s about 57, has steel grey hair, drinks vodka, wears a polyester uniform, carries a night stick.  She doesn’t have a kind word for anyone, especially the inmates, and she doesn’t suffer fools.  To The Matron, everyone is a fool. 

The Matron first appeared while I was in high school.  She was forged in the fiery furnace of bedroom-sharing (“GET OFF MY SIDE OF THE ROOM!”) and she gained strength in her daily battle against three younger siblings (“QUIT IT!  YOU’RE SO ANNOYING!”).  She is most likely to bellow commands in an unbecoming, guttural tone but she has also been known to sneer insults.  No one invites The Matron to parties, which is just as well because she wouldn’t waste her time at your stupid idiot festival, anyhow. 

It was my mother who named The Matron.  Whenever I roared at one of my siblings, in quintessential Mary Devine fashion, she made light of my torrent of negative emotions.  “Oh, Prison Matron!” she would coo.  “Matron, are you upset?” If you think that approach pacified The Matron, you’re dead wrong.  “Unnnh!” she would grunt.  “Don’t (grumble, grumble)…not fair (grumble).”  She would stomp away in her steel-toed boots to punch a speed bag.  

The Matron didn’t come with me to college, thank God.  She also never showed up in Manhattan after my graduation, or during my stints in Rochester, Worcester, or Philadelphia.  I’m fairly sure that none of my friends know her, and even my husband Tim has only met The Matron’s sister, Lady Naggy Von Whinerstein.  So imagine my surprise – shock, even – when she burst into my kitchen last week! 

How could The Matron yell at these two?
I was attempting to get my beautiful, cherubic 2-year-old son Charlie into his coat and boots so that we could get to an appointment on time.  His sister Libby was already coated, hatted, and buckled into her car seat.  I was outfitted head-to-toe in down and wool and was in no mood or wardrobe to chase a wily toddler around the kitchen table.  But Charlie … well, Charlie had other ideas.  I’d get one arm into his jacket and realize that he had kicked off both boots.  When the boots were back on, he tossed his hat into the cats’ litter box.  When the hat had been recovered and a suitable replacement found, one mitten was missing.  When I turned around to pick up the diaper bag, Charlie made a beeline for the living room for his “cello” (a toy guitar that he turns vertical and plays with an unsharpened pencil “bow”).  And without warning, out came The Matron.

“CHARLIE MAXWELL, YOU GET OVER HERE RIGHT NOW! I WILL NOT TELL YOU AGAIN!”  You’d think her voice would be rusty after all that time in hibernation, but it was as fresh and horrible as it was in 1995.  Upon hearing The Matron, at first I was startled—like running into your high school nemesis in the grocery store, it was an encounter I just hadn’t prepared for.  Then I was dismayed—did this mean that The Matron would, against my will, become my signature “Mom’s Mad Voice”?  Next, I was embarrassed—had my friendly downstairs neighbors heard me, and would this change how they say hello to me in the foyer?  And finally I just started laughing.  When he heard me laughing, Charlie started laughing, too, and we laughed for a good, solid five minutes.  Tears rolled down my cheeks and Charlie laughed at the tears. 

The Matron was stunned.  No one but my mom had ever disrespected her like this. She was accustomed to fear.  This … this was ridicule!  And from a 2-year-old!  If her methods didn’t work on a child, who could they be expected to work on?  She huffed and puffed and grabbed her ill-fitting hat and ring of 200 keys.  “I’m leaving,” she said, but her eyes were begging me to stop her.  “I’ll go,” she warned, “and I won’t ever come back.  I’m serious!” 

Still laughing, Charlie, Libby and I gathered our things and walked out the door, locking it behind us.  I think I saw The Matron’s lip quiver.