martians could land in the car-park and no one would care

27 05 2011

Matt and Paul are in the living room of what i’ve started thinking of as “our old apartment” despite the fact that we still live here, practicing and fine-tuning their already brilliant second-nature harmonies to Del Amitri:

Synching up with tabs in the laptop glow

nothing ever happens
nothing happens at all
the needle returns to the start of the track
and we all sing along like before
and we’ll all be lonely tonight
and lonely tomorrow

this is very, very high on the list of things i’m going to miss about living here: in these rooms on this block of this street in this neighborhood. and it’s a long list, which i’m not going to bother ranking–which i might not even bother writing, because forward always seems like a better direction to turn, and there will–there will have to be–brilliant things about where we’re headed just like there will always be irreplaceable joys about whatever we’ve left behind. that’s how living–and growing–works. i know this; some of the house’s current denizens aren’t so sure, however.

my mother, who loves live music, loves acoustic guitar, and loves listening to Matt sing and play, is in our guest room at the other end of the apartment, reading with the door closed in protest. she’s not protesting the music itself, or the particulars of any of the day’s conversations. she’s protesting the fact that i, at almost 37, don’t need her in order to live my life, and to her this seems like a distortion of the way the world is supposed to work.

we had a successful afternoon–even braving the Wegman’s together, cooking several batches of ginger scones for Hanah’s birthday party, making delightful combinations of vegetables for dinner (vine-ripened tomatoes layered with fresh basil leaves, and sliced mozzarella with olive oil, basalmic vinegar, sea salt & white pepper; corn on the cob with butter; and a salad with romaine and new CSA butter-lettuce, mizuna, avocado, tri-colored sliced peppers, hydroponic cucumber, sliced niçoise olives, crumbled, herbed feta, and the few pine-nuts i managed to toast without burning), playing with the little boy while Matt made lemon-garlic cod, and sharing the whole out on the porch in the breezy music of the linden tree in the front yard, which is pretty high on the list itself, cleaning the kitchen together, then all gathering in the little boy’s bed for storytime.

but then the sadness set in. while watching Matt’s son out on the porch, scampering from person to person, dominating the room, and trustingly taking olives from my fork like a baby bird with an open mouth, she said she was thinking about how i was becoming a parent in my involvement with his life, and how important that role is when you’re in it, and she just doesn’t understand how or why a separation has to set in later after that connection has been established. she’s hurt because she wasn’t included in many of the things that we’ve been through in the past few months, and she takes the disconnect implied in that exclusion personally: my explanations that i didn’t want anybody included in many of them, that i don’t like to tell other people about potential troubles until i know enough about the situation to have answers to their questions, that i’m just not the kind who wants to share everything with anybody didn’t help at all. “but you’re supposed to want to share with your family,” she said; “that’s what family is for.”

why i have no answer for this, why this conversation ended there, digressing into silence and petting the cat and her saying she wanted to read now, thank you, is that my reticence is so far from the way she thinks, and those sorts of gaps really trouble her. in some ways, it’s already too much to ask her to believe that “what family is for” is not universal. it’s too hard for her to imagine, for starters, that a word that she thinks of as representing something safe and singular has that much flexibility in it for me. it’s harder for her to grasp the idea that me thinking differently about it isn’t a criticism of her–because she defaults to that easily. then add to that the paradox of how, in her view, i should have learned what family meant from her, so i should by default have to have learned the same meaning, and the question is obvious: how can i look at family differently, when she and her way of seeing it were my first family, and my first lessons in what family means?

i love my family. they’re my home-base, my grounding point, my safe zone to which i can always return and know that i’m loved, that if i need help they’ll offer what they can, and that our common memory pool will always give us shared stories to go back to. but they’re not the first people i share troubles with–not because there’s anything wrong with them, but because i’d rather not share troubles at all, and if i do share them, it’s with somebody close by who can help me solve whatever the problem is, hopefully as efficiently as possible, so that there won’t be troubles anymore. i’m not the sort who wants to talk a thing up and down and sideways before i do something about it; i’d rather have a hammer. my mother and father and brother, who live in three different states very, very far away from one another (virginia, texas, and california) factor in my life like many of my best-beloved long-distance friends: i talk to them once in a while, miss them in unpredictable flashes, enjoy the chance to visit with or catch up with them when i get it, and don’t pester them with the trivia of my day-to-days. when we do have chances for long conversations, we talk about utopias and how we’d like to shape our worlds. we talk about trivia only as it springboards to bigger dreams. it’s not how every family interacts, but it’s what tends to happen among the folks in mine, and i like it.

the problem, though, is that my dad likes it, and i think (insofar as anyone can ever be sure) my brother likes it, but it’s not how my mom wants the adulthood of this family to be, and she’s simply outvoted, by time more than by how there are three of us and one of her: that’s what happens, nine conversations out of ten. and she likes those conversations, but she wants them to be nine out of a hundred, instead. she wants there to be a hundred, instead of ten, and to hear about every bump and bruise and question mark–and not just as an obligatory laundry list. she wants us to want her input about every bump and bruise and question mark, and i simply don’t. and i’m not–and have never been, which has gotten me into more trouble with her than probably every miserable childhood habit i had put together–a pretender.

when i was sixteen, i’d have been sulking in the back room because i had evoked her displeasure by being too honest in my complaints or my disinterest in something she was excited about and i was sure this was just evidence that i was rotten and unloveable and negative about everything and i would never be good enough. i know, now, both the value of being polite for the sake of kindness and that having different wants from hers and not being afraid to voice them doesn’t make me insufficient as a human being. which i guess is why, now that it’s my house and twenty years of self-scrutiny have gone by, i’m the one on the outside of the door, in the room with company and music, and she’s missing them. the balladeers have moved on to u2, although by now she’s probably not awake to hear them anymore, so the poignancy here will go unremarked:

now, you’ve got to get yourself together
you’ve got stuck in a moment
and you can’t get out of it
don’t say that later will be better
you’re stuck in a moment…

in a lot of ways, nothing really does ever happen–or at least none of the things that happen change the things that i really wish would change. i don’t like the closed door–i never did. and i know she doesn’t like it either. but there’s no way in when she’s hurt by things that nobody can change for her. martians really could land in the car-park, and it wouldn’t shake that wall. so she’ll be lonely tonight, and although i hope for everybody’s sake we find cheer in it anyway, we’ll probably all, doomed to be just different enough to keep from ever quite landing on the kinds of perfect harmony that Matt and Paul keep falling in and out of behind me, exploring old tunes in new configurations (the way my friends have always been better at doing with me than my family), be at least a little bit lonely tomorrow.

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