Monday, October 31, 2005

Mother love

I've been in sort of a hole lately, not returning phone calls, staying home to read at night (after reading and writing all day), and some of it has to do with the, ahem, quickie engagement but mostly, it's about me. I am embarrassed to have spent so long in such a volatile relationship because it's been exhausting for my friends and family to hear about. On and off and on and off and I decided last week that I needed, more than anything, to spend some time with my family. My flight to St. Louis was scheduled to leave LaGuardia at ten in the morning and at six-fifteen, Robert showed up at the apartment. So we went for pumpkin spice coffee at Kudo Beans and he told me that he's more certain of us than ever and that he is planning to look for a place to buy in New York and then move here. I listened to him and spilled coffee down my sweater and I said, "I'm not angry at you but I'm not ready to do that with you."
He said, "I love you. I'm sure of it."
I said, "But that wasn't enough two weeks ago...why should it be enough now?"
We hailed a taxi, I went to St. Louis and spent the weekend with my family, wondering, "Who is my real family?" Is it my parents and sister, and orbital aunts and cousins and grandparents, or is it the people I choose -- my friends and my love? Which one of those sides is more constant? With which one am I more myself?

At the St. Louis airport, I got off the plane and found that I'd gotten my period. When I called Meg and asked her bring me a tampon, she said No, she didn't have time. When I asked her if we could go out for a salad, she said Couldn't I just get myself food at the airport? By the time I saw her, I had worked myself up into a storm-cloud mood, I felt so jilted, and then, I spotted her blonde hair and it just went away. We don't have anything in common anymore, other than our childhoods (which, I know, is no small thing) and our ski-jump noses, but being with her feels like talking with a fun-house mirror version of myself. So much of it is familiar that I start to make assumptions and then, as soon as I think I know her, I realize again how wrong I am.

She teaches at an elementary school called Jefferson, surrounded by government-subsidized housing, and she and the other volunteer teachers were the only white people in the building. An Italian girl told me that people are always asking if she and Meg are sisters and when I was there, little kids ran up to me and said, "You related to Miss Meg?" Imagine this Halloween party. Imagine 400 kids in a darkened haunted house/gymnasium, screaming at each other, "I'm gonna kick your ass!" And add parents to the mix, women and men in their twenties and thirties and forties, and some of them, too, screaming, "I'm gonna kick your ass!" Now turn on the radio and a lot of strobe lights.

Meg loves it. She loves what she does, loves St. Louis, loves her apartment and roommate, her church and friends. I am happy for her in that regard (what more could you want for your sister?) but also worry for her. In some ways, I love her the way I will love my own daughter and in others, I know, she is my mother. We worry for each other. I want her to have a boyfriend, to date a man who knows himself and who will care for her and protect her and tell her she is beautiful. I worry that she has never really dated. She probably worries that I have dated too much, have now become too embroiled in this relationship with Robert. It makes her uncomfortable to hear about Shannon. She is reading a book entitled Real Sex: The Truth About Chastity, and plans to remain a virgin until she is married. I have not been a virgin since I was sixteen and when I get dressed up, I love a low-cut dress and high heels. Meg prefers baggy clothes and tennis shoes. Our mother suggested this weekend, after I bought a Sponge Bath Betty nurse's costume for Halloween, that perhaps we have divided things up too well. In so many ways, I am bad and Meg is, well...Meg is very, very good.

We spent Saturday night in a hotel suite with our parents, playing "2 Truths and a Lie" and guessing which was the lie. My mother's truth: when she was a girl, she spent 6 weeks every year sharing a bed with her visiting grandmother and they read Nancy Drew books together. My father's truth: as a boy, he owned a black widow spider. Meg's truth: she fell down one step and broke her leg in two places. We drank a bottle of Shiraz and ate in the hotel room after a trip to the grocery store: smoked salmon with whole black peppercorns, black olives, fresh shrimp, steamed brocolli with parmesan cheese, Neal's Yard cheddar cheese, goat's cheese and crackers, and later, fruit salad and a Honeycrisp apple. It's strange to say but the best part of the whole weekend was waking up to hear Meg's steady breathing, still asleep three feet away from me.

I left on Sunday morning, came home and found that Robert had filled the apartment with flowers. We went for a walk and stopped at Angelica's Herbs to buy a half-pound of tea because I think I'm getting a cold. We saw the movie Shopgirl (which I loved) and ate dinner at Angelica's Kitchen, steamed vegetables and kukicha twig tea. At home, we got into bed at eight-fifteen and held onto each other for ten hours straight.

At the end of Shopgirl, Steve Martin's character says, "Funny how you can miss a woman you kept a distance the whole time you were together so that when she was gone, you would not miss her." He is, like, thirty years older than Claire Danes, and when we talked about the movie, Robert said, "It's not fair to do that to her. He's elderly and she has her whole life in front of her."

I said, "Yes, but when I think about it, it's not fair to myself to spend years in a long-distance relationship, either. We make choices that sometimes aren't ideal but...who can account for feelings? Life goes on, no matter how you choose to live it."

My mother's favorite question, about anything, is, "If you had it to do over again, would you do it differently?" -- I hate this question. I think it's impossible to answer honestly because you are always a different person than you were before you lived it. If I could go back and talk to myself two-and-a-half years ago, I'd like to think I would have gone for Robert anyway, despite everything. If I could go back and talk to myself as a little girl, with a littler sister, I'd tell myself to be less of a bully and more of a friend. "Don't bite your sister!" I'd say. "Let her play with your toys. Share your clothes and your friends and access to the treehouse."

The worst that could happen, I think, would be for your family, chosen or blood-related, to be strangers to you. Isn't it better to be riled up or put out or interrupted or crazy with mother love than to be in the company of someone who makes you feel like you're alone? That's what I'm unsure about with Robert. I love him, I love him, but sometimes I have been in his company and just felt so lonely. I don't feel that way now but how do you know it won't come back?


Blogger Unsane said...

Excellent writing.

10:34 PM  

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