And this was it. (Though, unfortunately, I had to take out some of the much funnier parts now that I am totally sure that my whole family reads this blog…)
Writing around the holidays (and most especially that melancholy period shortly after—when the tree is dead, the spirit gone, but neither removed from sight) has always suited me. In the aftermath of the gift giving, gorging and memory-erasing drinking, I find myself sorting through a year’s worth of afflictions, all the while chanting that never, ever again will I subject myself to those people. I am going to hole up in the East and pretend they do not exist. I cannot put up with the dysfunction. From the pain and agony comes the prose. Some go to therapy, I write it down. Lord knows I need an record of this, if for no other reason to prove that I was right. I was sane, and every last fucking one of them was cooked.
As far back as I can remember, Christmases have been pre-planned disasters, fueled by our inability to look around and realize that 80% of us are shitheads, and the other 20% too stupid to stop us from ruining the season. Being from the South (all hail the great state of Texas) holidays are not about Jesus, but how Jesus managed to give your family the upper hand, whether it be your wife’s phenomenal new breasts or your son’s completion of his second senior year of college. I only pack my best outfits for trips home. No sense in bringing something comfortable and then running into someone that I know. My mother would only be upset that I didn’t look like I turned out better. Of course we are all best friends, and have been since before we could talk.
Meet the Family
About a year ago, my mother called me up on the phone. I was living in Boston with my husband, working for a commercial real estate company, and spending my nights drinking rose and wishing that something slightly terrible would happen to me, mostly so I wouldn’t have to go to work anymore. I started a blog so that when people asked me what I was doing (in reference to the writing degree I had received) I could say something smart and slightly untrue like “Oh, yes, I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing. I actually have a blog if you want to check it out.” The truth of course was that the only writing I was doing was via Yahoo, and the blog was a half-assed effort to remain visible. Occasionally I would post something and send the link to my immediate family. They always got a kick out of it, thus calling me to tell me what I genius I was. It was a sick, but sustaining kind of validation that kept me from feeling altogether shitty about myself for the whole of that year.
Anyway, after one of my more fantastic bi-yearly blog posts, I received that phone call from my mother. She had recently moved to a small farming town in Texas and spent most of her early days trying not to remind herself that after twenty-six years of marriage, a nasty divorce, and a recent remarriage there wasn’t going to much in her future to rival the drama of the previous three years. While she was outwardly relieved that life had finally settled into something “more manageable” there wasn’t a soul around who didn’t wonder what she was going to do with no one to talk about. In lieu of local gossip, she started an outreached program. She reached out to me a few times a day to see what was going on. On this particular day, she didn’t seem to have much interest in what was going on in my life. It was too bad that I couldn’t get her going with news of an unexpected pregnancy or something of the sort, but she didn’t seem to mind. She had found an old collection of stories that I had written. My writings go back as far as elementary school, and though the transition hardly noticeable, continue into the present. For fifteen years my mother had been reading my tormented memoirs, laughing, and calling to remind me that she thought I was a genius. I could hear her flipping through printed pages, whispering lines while she looked for one she wanted to read to me. I reminded her that I wrote the stories, and had likely referenced them numerous times recently, trying to piece them into something worthy of the Pulitzer. It was a baited hook, but it had been a rough week, and I just needed to hear someone tell me I was better than some stupid prestigious award. It was a gimme shot.
“Have you started writing your book?”
I knew that if I answered affirmatively, she would send out a bulletin to the family, prompting them to call and email about the book, its subject, its title, and ask whether or not they would be making an appearance. I responded that writing a book was something that most writing people were doing on an on-going basis, and I was pretty sure that most of them never actually finished, and those that did weren’t guaranteed that it would ever see the shelf of a Barnes and Noble. She pulled through with a savory bit about my book most certainly being a best seller.
It was after about thirty minutes that she remembered why she had called me in the first place. She was reading through my stories, and it occurred to her that most of them were about the family. She was wondering what I was writing about now, having resolved that I wouldn’t write anything about the family in any potentially published works.
I was suddenly sitting in my senior introspective writing class, listening to my professor talk about the “rules” (spoken and understood, though not written anywhere—to my knowledge) about writing non-fiction. I was straining to remember what it was that he told me about writing unflattering details about the unsuspecting members of one’s family. If memory served me correctly, I was technically allowed to write anything I wanted about anyone that I wanted. As a general rule, writers who wished to maintain interpersonal relationships after their work was published did tend to share the contents of their work with family members, but it seemed to me that the worst-case scenario was simply enduring a brief period of exile from family gathering and holidays. To my knowledge, families seemed to come around after they realized that being infamous is pretty close to being famous.
I didn’t really trust that my mom was going to buy into that, so I told her that I was writing book about myself.
“That’s great! You are so interesting, successful, young, funny, perfect, poignant, charming, smart. . . . “
Since I’m a female, I endured (or should I say my mother endured) the requisite mother-hating period of my young adult life. I’m not sure the median duration for these bouts of concentrated hatred, but I can say that my mother and I locked horns for a solid two-year period, one that I’m quite certain the better part of my immediate family thought would end in fatal bloodshed. I started out a daddy’s girl, so it was no surprise that I remained fiercely loyal to Camp Father during those years, as well as the divorce years. What will be a surprise is how I managed to stockpile such delicious bits on my father all those years and how I seemingly have no code of honor keeping me from sharing them. My moral fiber has always been a loose weave.
My dad and I were simpatico from as far back as I can remember. My mother was a southern gardener, which meant that every square inch of her prize-winning, potted, planted, pruned, weeded, and seeded grounds were the product of slave driving her children at hours of the morning that could have landed her flowery ass in jail for abuse. We were desperate to escape the rounds, but unless you had chemotherapy for terminal cancer at eight am on Saturday morning, you could assume that you were going to spend the first half of your day playing fertilizer roulette, while kneeling on the pond stone walkway.
Once a friend of my mother’s slowed in front of the house for the sole purpose of admiring and commenting on the gardens. (Drive-by conversation is something that I have yet to witness on the East Coast, but growing up my mother would have hour and a half conversations through the driver’s side window of a neighbors Suburban.) As my mother sat there, beaming from the glowing commendations, I was seized by the need to blurt out the unimaginable roots of my mother’s flora. I was a small Indonesian child listening to a Nike exec talk about the quality and craftsmanship of his company’s American-made sneakers. I knew that if I could just tell her about the abuse my Saturdays would suddenly open-up. (Not the mention the thrill of watching the mighty and revered gardener fall beneath accusations of deception!)