WORK IN PROGRESS!!
She speaks a language of blame. With her, blame will explain why she “never saw another butterfly.” Blame can fix her torn blouse, assuage her guilt, and make the wound that life has become tolerable. Her emotional ups and downs are the start of a merry go round, and she is the one that sits on the ground and pulls the stick that makes you stay up there, puking your guts out, or sends you speeding, crashing headface as you so merrily flop into a tug of war with the night.
Steam builds up in her all the time until she goes off like the kitchen kettle. You leave the kettle on, you forget it’s bound to go off. Only one can never turn her off.The speed may change, but the ultimatums never do.
They force you into a set of circumstances, cutting off your choice here, then there, and now there. And when you’re finally boxed in, they lurch at you, picking at you. You are at their mercy, dependent on them from now on, as you forgot how to utilize your ability to make any choice except one- to choose what you won’t choose- so now you you no longer know how to make that static fossilized muscle tissue work. Finally, you ask for too much. An extra bout of freedom. YOU never had any privacy here- they are always finding fault with the way you run your time. It’s your stage show, and you should never have elected a man on the stage to say the word “row.” It’s politically wrong, morally wrong, and it shows how idiotic people are. (The blame game again! It rhymes! Gimme a dime!)
Now, the box changes. Screaming runs across like snakes and paint. Someone is thrown onto your winddshield. Paint rains down your car window in different colors, it’s hard to drive. Stick doesn’t work anymore. The sound rises from behind, and now beneath you, raising you up until you are turned over. Your car dives off into the water below. You rise to the top, enjoying the rinsing- that clean feeling you forgot existed.
But remember here- even what’s horrible is the familiar when it comes to family. You’ll miss it when it’s gone. No matter how black and blue you get, their methods caused a madness to outgrow, and because you had to run so fast to outgrow it now, you are too tired to run anymore, when the stakes really seem to matter. It’s just the stakes were always so high to prepare you for when it counted, that you stopped caring about stakes altogether. After all, it’s your fault- if only you hadn’t been born, the world would be such a better place. If you you weren’t such a horribel person, I would be happy. If only you didn’t speak aloud, I would have language to myself. If only you didn’t make mistakes! I wouldn’t have to clean the carpets, or clean after your messes- YOU CANT WIPE YOUR ASS BY YOURSELF!! My GOD! WHAT A CHARADE! THOSE IDIOTS OUT THERE!!! HOW COULD I THINK THEY COULD EVEN BE SO NICE AS TO EXIST WITHOUT CASTING SUCH A TERRIBLE PALLOR ON MY LIFE!
I tiptoe downstairs to the kitchen, hoping nobody is around. No such luck. My mom is there, talking to herself. Ask her a question and you have a one in three chance she will respond. Once she responds, the chance that what she says will be helpful goes down from there. However, the odds are high that if she isn’t helpful, she will be derogatory, rude, nasty, and bitter. She likes sour foods, and that’s how she dishes it out, her words every bit as bitter as the balsamic vinegar she dishes onto her salads, heaping it on in large portions.
“I’m doing this for you,” she says in an angry outburst.
“I know, you keep reminding me,” I say. I can’t be grateful, I can’t be nice, I can’t be anything but wrong in this house.
“We boo, she bahs,” my dad mutters at my mom as they laugh in agreement. It’s them against the world, them against the neighbors and them against their insane daughters.
My dad considers my observations reliable, even astute, unless it’s them I’m observing.
“The way you act! Do you think I want to do this stupid paperwork? It’s for you!” She rustles around the room I’m sleeping in as if it were a mudslide she has to fight her way through.
The room is her office, though it used to be my sisters room. I liked it better when my sister Monica painted it black, but I’m sure my parents must have painted over the black days after they discovered it. Monica was sane then- well, as sane as any rebellious hell-fire raising teenager under this roof gets, anyway.
The doctors says she suffers from schizophrenia. During her treatment phase, they also tossed around the terms adjustment disorder, depression, aspergers symdrome, anorexia, and bipolar. They forgot about obsessive compulsive disorder, but all doctors slip up.
I’ve heard some parents keep their childrens room the same once they leave for college. Not here. My mom throws my old stuff into the dumpster if I don’t act in what she considers timely fashion. If she thought my stuff was trashy, there’s a good chance she’d throw it away, too. I’m surprised she hasn’t tried to throw me away. Except…
I swore I’d run away before I stayed here again.
But there was a fire at my apartment. It was here, or the clingy mathematician whose dingy room smells of death. I’d have chosen him, but he wants to marry me, and after a minute in his company, his neediness becomes a deadweight, and if I happen to be treading water, I can’t help him swim if I’m already drowning.
My belongings were mostly burnt rubble, and the stuff that was salvageable is stored at a cleaning facility that won’t give it back until I choke up thousands of dollars. Disasters destroy paperwork. But then, more paperwork must be filled out after a disaster.
I feel like a paper or file myself, caught in the system. Anytime I tell somebody what happened or how I lost the comfort that stopped me from suicide so many times- a small exotic cat that was everything good about my world- I’m repeating the same drastic facts in a robotic way. But the fire has lost most of its emotional weight. I cried in my dreams. I might as well have a number tattooed onto me. Mercury was more than a cat, and she taught me more about love than most people in my life. Anybody who knew her agrees, but most people didn’t know her. It’s not like I’m a cat person. I was a one-cat-only person.
When I have a migraine, the words in this house become so loud it’s as if words are unwelcome, radioactive thoughts being screamed inside my head. It’s not just my head that’s clanging, but the screams as well.When my mom talks on the phone, she pretty much yells, thinking that if everyone in the house can hear her, there won’t be any confusion on the other end of the phone. Your eardrum is her punching bag. The flip side of her voice is the Latino accent, which any male would consider sexy-unless they got to know the overbearing, bossy side of her personality. Then again, dominatrix’s are in big demand these days.
“Where is that STUPID file?” she yells in exasperation.
“Are you talking to me?” I don’t know why I ask. I’ve forgotten how the real world has a way of drifting away from their clockwork orange looking entry to our house.
I have my computer open to a chess game that is now lost due to the noise around me. Any idiot could see that I’m busy. But not everyone would care, and that includes my mother.
“I need to xerox the same thing first on both sides. Extended liability,” she says as she thumbs through the papers, leaving the door wide open.
Noise from the washer and dryer spins around my consciousness. Yesterdays migraine has depleted me. My sense of center feels adrift. My computer goes into one of its timed flare-ups: “You win!” It’s an ad.
My mom demands to know if I’ve fallen for any scams lately.
“What happened to pens?” She brings noise and enough complaints for three geminis to the table.
Yet when my computer made its sound she jumped.I have all the screwy sensitivity of her reactions working on my insides, boycotting the outside, causing enough desire for release to wage a world ware three. My therapist suggested that I make decisions emotionally. It’s not that simple, but I do find a way to upload my emotions into my art and my interactions with people outside my immediate family.
“I can’t believe people are so incompetent!” is one of her favorite pet phrases. Every time it’s said with the same amount of amazement and betrayal, as if a neighbor shot her in the arm and she just realized she can’t move her hands.
Then there’s my sister.
Monica is a victim to the age of controlling parents. Perfectionism, genetics- and yes, mother, your parenting- met up on a collision course. My sister and I were raised to be concert pianists. We became good at music, but the sacrifice was tremendous.
Monica hides from them using mental problems as a cloak. My parents intrusive interrogations give rise to panic. That’s not to say her problems aren’t real.
The neighbors whisper about her crystal meth problem. My sister doesn’t have one, but one look at her pretty face, scarred by red scratches that sometimes look like burns, and that anorexic body, and they have something tangible to blame the behavior on.
When she gets paranoid, she writes dangerous emails to and about Trey Raymand, a guy she dated in college. He is a pianist, like she was. Perhaps he represents the alternative Monica, the achievements she never could make. More than anybody else, I know this feeling all too well. Seeing classmates make a name for themselves and then turn into a completely different person. A public persona that talks and walks a route calculated ahead of time by their goals. I admire such people, but there is a sense of betrayal in such friendships. How could you leave me behind? I have goals too, I just didn’t calibrate them the same way.
Every six months, Monica finds her way into an Internet cafe, or gets into the locked room where my mom keeps her computer. She tells Trey’s piano students that he is a child molester; an obscene monster not fit for society. He is making porn, he is raping little girls, he is out there doing things to your children. I have never seen these emails, but I imagine they reflect a repression so deep and so dark that it’s like watching one of those classic mothers from the 50′s- a women who prides herself on how she cares for her children, her husband, her laundry, and every tiny household detail- turn around and start murdering people. Mary Mary, so contrary: one of James Patterson’s finest moments. Seriously, what other outlet does Monica have besides writing Trey? I imagine the shame overwhelms her afterwards, as well as the desire to escalate-
Not to drag somebody’s name through the mud. But some primitive carnal call- the one that got taken from her when her therapist molested her- is trapped inside her. Funny how I didn’t blame the therapist nearly as much as my mother. It was her lack of guilt that tripped me up, for nothing is one hundred percent genetics. But what do I know of her feelings? All I know is what she shows me.
Trey is convinced she is going to kill him one of these days. When she was first being diagnosed, I heard stories about her hiding in his laundry room. I don’t know where he lives, it’s a subject that isn’t talked about, except with my father, always in hushed tones so Monica won’t hear.
In the meantime, my sister- my BIG sister- collects my little pony. She watches Disney movies. Her musical tastes still encompass Chopin, but they also include the latest celebrity hits. The only show that we both happen to like is Gossip Girl. With her big sunglasses, small skirts, 3 foot platform heels and boots, and scarves wrapped around her, not to mention all the pink that makes up her new wardrobe- she looks like a mini Nicole Richie. Or a very tiny, damaged, and short Paris Hilton.
“Monica can’t live on her own! If she was in a bad neighborhood, a man would rape her because she’s so pretty!” my mom says. The way she says “pretty” suggests that she means “little” or “defenseless” or “innocent.” I may be the only person that is aware of the fact that she is almost a virgin, save one night in Italy. I don’t think the therapist took it any farther, but even rape victims don’t usually end up hiding in tree and almost dying of hypothermia, or joining a cult. The firemen found her. That was Monicas behavior before her indictment- I mean diagnosis- and if we go back to her as a teenager, we get a pot smoking, acid tripping wild child that went from kleptomania to burning down a tree with her friends. That Monica seemed the most sane of them all, because she could let loose. Her anger was normal, teenage hormones and rebellion in their reckless wedding.
My parents complain vindictively about all the noises at night, the flushing toilets that bring many plumbers through their hallways. It wasn’t until I got here that I saw she used up two rolls of toilet paper a day. Laxatives are her way of remaining a skeleton.
My sister treats her bathroom like a place of prayer. She’s put up decorations, and it’s obviously the most important room in the house to her. Before she agreed to let me have a kitten sleep over while my parents were gone without them knowing, she made me promise that I wouldn’t let the kitten into her bathroom. Not her room, not the piano room, but her bathroom. The long, luxurious bubble baths that my mom used to take in there are long gone. How Monica kicked my mom out of her own bathroom and relegated her to a life of showers, I will never know. Monica lets me use her bathroom, but I was her little sister.
Sometimes I think my sister used up all her maternal instincs on me, her younger sister, and has none left for herself, or anybody else for that matter. While she was still the manipulative older sister who bit me while babysitting me, or lied to my parents as a game to get me in trouble for something I didn’t do, she also was the one holding a cold towel to my face when I cried so hard my face got swollen and hot and red. Sometimes she crawled into my bed when she had nightmares, coming to me for comfort.
I had seizures as a child. Sometimes I think it was my bodies way of trying to take in all the energy around me. You lose all control in a seizure. If I was accidentally taught that losing control was the worst thing possible, then perhaps my subconscious found a way to do it while relinquishing responsibilty for the act. I remember them as night terrors.
One of my earliest memories is jumping into a duck pond while we were on vacation. The ducks fluttered around and dove for cover.
My sister claimed I was always “getting lost on purpose” in department stores. I remember trying to run away when I was seven over a spat with my mom about the dishes. My sister was the one who dragged me back. My destination? A church two blocks nearby.
“Why is she so incompetent? Why couldn’t she tell me?” More expletives from my mom.
“Who?” I ask her.
“Who?” I say again.
Typical of our exchanges. Unless she is barricading or persecuting, she is not interested in anything I have to say. It’s what I don’t say and don’t do that is a topic of much protestation.
“Just don’t know what they expect people to do. Now I have to dash down there because who- Rosie couldn’t let me know.”
She recognized that I asked her something. Mid-sentence, but it was there. So I’m not invisible. Just something nobody can stand to look at. Well, my dad seems to love me, but he’s physically blind. When my mom does look at me, her gaze is a laser beam that scares me.
Weeks later, I ask her about how I was speaking to her in the morning. She didn’t remember. “I don’t remember you being down here..” Finally, she remembers me saying hi. But me talking to her and making some remark about how I’m just talking to myself fell on deaf ears. “You must have talked really softly,” my mom rationalizes. I would have agreed, if it weren’t for the way I tried so hard to get her attention, the reoccurence of these moments, and the way that I never seem to be large enough to fit into her attention span… Unless I want to hide, of course. Then my own defiance comes out in sharp, agonizing tones: “Just leave me the fuck alone!” it cries out. I’m reacting to harshness with my last line of defense- hiding. I know better than to try a disappearing act, since invisibility in this house only works when you want to be seen.
She reads romance novels, a perversed indulgence my 9 year old self felt was a tarnish on an otherwise cool mother.
I read hundreds of books a year, yet I’ve never once read one of her romance novels. I guess I felt it would somehow damage me…
She met my dad on a plane. He asked to sit next to the most beautiful women and presto. A women with long curls of black hair cascading down her shoulders, a voice that can sound like perfume to the ears, and the face of a Madonna. He has a rare disorder that affects the retina, but he could see a little bit back then. It’s interesting that my mother, a women so concerned with appearances and looks, fell in love with a man who couldn’t see her. Recently, she dyed her hair blonde: my dad didn’t know about it for six months. He joked that he had been sleeping with a blond without knowing it, and what a full life he had! When they met on the plane, my mom was getting a doctorate in linguistics. Their courtship was a fast one, though, and they ended up married in a year.
My mom didn’t finish her doctorates, blamed it on having kids, and taught hebrew at different academies. I didn’t understand- if she didn’t do what she wanted, why did she blame it on us? I’m sure my sister was her favorite- after all, my sister loves clothes, and she can starve herself. My sister could always manipulate my mother when I was young in a way I never could. And yet, strangely enough, I remember a time, when my mom told me I was her favorite. It had to be a lie, born out of guilt, to cancel out the attachment she felt for my sister.
My sister wouldn’t know consistency if she was locked up in jail with the same rules day in and day out. My mother still gives in. Especially when it comes to money, or the tug and war they have about my sister turning the heat up to 90 degrees in her room.
“I just feel so sorry for her,” my mom says.
That’s what she wants you to feel, I think.
I tried to get my parents to read books that explained the reasons girls try to use contol as a weapon by not eating, or using laxatives. They retaliated, however, yelling that they had to live with her, they could not stand to read about her. I was surprised, probably because if I had a child with a problem I would feel the urge to read everything I could about it.
But if my mom was here, she would probably say “yeah right, wait until you have kids.”
She’s told me that she wouldn’t have chosen me for a daughter, either, even though I never said that I wouldn’t have wanted her for a mother. Nor would I ever.
She’s told me that if I ever had a kid and needed their help taking care of it, she would resent me and the kid.
She’s told me many horrible things that mothers aren’t “supposed” to tell their daughters.
Is it any wonder that I like extreme tenderness, but I can’t seem to find it without extreme cruelty? Even in the case of Mercury, my cat, I was told she was mistreated before I got her. Is my sister the way she is because she didn’t experience enough suffering? I’d like to see that theory run in some psychiatry journal- “abused kids turn out better than kids who were spoiled.”
My mom was born in Romania. The system was oppresive, and she has never really opened up to me about her trauamatic childhood. For years I’ve over-shared with my friends to compensate for the way I can’t tell my parents anything. She doesn’t like television or movies much, but she has four copies of the movie, The Lives of Others, and whenever anybody asks her about her past now she references it, saying that although the movie is held in Germany, before the collapse of the Berlin wall, the particulars captured in the movie is what her life was.
The movie shows a life where every interest is monitored. Children are questioned, and if they accidentally reveal the wrong thing about their parents, their parents can go to prison. Fear is everywhere, paranoia runs the power system, and appearance is what counts. Maybe you have to hide your views from the person you marry. If a powerful official asks for your hand in marriage and you turn him down, you can’t exactly turn him down. Nor can you tell him about your secret passion for any artist that isn’t permitted under the regime.
My mom last her mother at the age of 15. Romania sold the Jews to Israel for 2000 dollars a pop, and while my mother made it out, her memories of Romania are about poverty and physically feeling unclean. Not having enough money for toilet paper. Her mother standing in line, begging not to get the rotten potatoes. In a couple of my photos, my mom says that I look like her mother, who she says was a forties movie beauty. I know from pictures, and the crumbs I’ve gotten from my mothers memories, that she was good-natured.
My dad calls me too much, and if I don’t pick up, he’ll call many times in a row. His conversations are always curt. The formatt of our conversations is most like a list, or handful of reminders. When I do try to start a long conversation he gets curt, sounding strangely flat, and I feel embarrassed for myself, for saying too much, for admitting to weaknesses and wrongdoings. Sometimes my mom and I have a rich conversation, but I feel like she holds my words against me like weaponry. She and my dad operate as a unit, and I can’t trust her not to relay everything back to him, and vice versa.
Trust is not a word that gets much credit around this place.
She never skips her morning aerobic workout. It’s something I respect, but don’t fully understand. How can somebody devote that much time to a workout? I am a person of extremes; I can go 8 months without using my gym membership and then suddenly be there every day for eight hours a day. But it never lasts. I want to be better. It’s so hard when I’m judging my parents, feeling I can’t even meet up to an image I don’t always respect, because she chose not to get to know me, and it was her loss, her loss. Yet isn’t judging what I accuse Her of doing? My dad is a judge, but he’s normally giving me the benefit of the doubt, or congratulating me for something so minor that I feel odd taking the credit.
I’ve only been staying here a month but every day is an oasis devoid of power. This place feels haunted by souls that were murdered. Screams that went unheard. The beautiful yard outside our house has an eerie layer of complexity. Shrubs conceal our house from sunlight. I think it’s the most interesting house on the block. However, stay here for very long and helplessness seeps into your skin. You might question your ability to wake up in the mornings. From there, it’s a short path to mental deterioration.
My boyfriends have often been bullies that showed their tender side only to me- and oh how reduced and cliched that statement sounds- and I’ve known for a long time what relationship I’m trying to fix with my adult walk-ins, but still. Bully is too strong a word. But either I was running into their arms to get the intimacy, tenderness, and forgiveness I didn’t feel with mother, or I was running into their arms to get the same kind of tenderness I did sometimes feel from my mother, only to get a withdrawal or mood change that shook my entire foundation.
“Fuck,” my mom whispers.
She speaks four other languages, but she always curses in english.
“Why do they do this to me?” she says.
I’m praying for silence, but there isn’t any today.
“Awww!” A loud groan from the other side of the room.
She’s not talking to me, but she’s still talking.
The phone rings, and she rushes to answer it, yelling at me for not picking up the phone on the first ring.
Rona is on the line. Rona, her secretary.
When Rona calls, she coos, acts friendly, as if Rosie were the most competent women in the world. When Rona is off the line, she swears, talks about wanting to fire Rosi-the-idiot, Rona, the lady who can’t do anything right today. And yet, there’s a chance that tomorrow Rosi will be the lady that had incredible foresight.
No wonder my sister and I don’t meet expectations. We couldn’t take away my moms sickness: the one nobody will acknowledge, not even my dad. She loves him the best.
“Don’t make noise, daddy is sleeping.”
For him, she becomes a clawing bear, tearing into us about how hard “daddy” works, how good “daddy” is, and how disruptive we are. Ironic, then, that when she’s not around, my dad treats me like I am a loving and helpful daughter.
Daddy knows best!
He tells me when to turn the volume down or to get off the phone. He loves politics and a rousing debate, but if you follow my mom’s trail, his outspoken views are the exception, not the rule. She pads reality with fear, condensing the truth to fit her anger. Despite his sometimes curt mannerism, the fuse he shows to phone-salesman, and the fact that he is a lawyer- somebody faced with confrontation all day long- he must be a slave and a martyr to our indecent lives. You’d think he finds it agonizing to handle us, for in her eyes he is “too nice” to us; we “force” him to worry more. We induce stress.
Her tone says, Your fault. Her voice rises, inflamed, insisting that you are worthless. You should kill yourself, except it would be too messy!
“You are going to give him a heart attack one of these days,” she says. “Oh my god,” she sighs.
She says he can’t tell us what he doesn’t like, or when we are hurting him. Although this description doesn’t come close to fitting the relationship I have with my father- someone I care deeply about, and worry about on my own time- it’s clear from her attitude that niceness is something her children don’t deserve.
She’s back on the phone, screaming into the receiver. I recoil from the blast.
The shower runs in the background; it’s my sisters third shower of the day.
“I hate this,” my mom says. She lets out a grumble.
She’s not the only one.