I don’t want to call this a genuine Christmas miracle or anything, 1) because it was the day after and 2) they eventually ended their odd relationship and 3) blasphemy.
But! While hyped up on sugar cookies and post-holiday euphoria, my children got into a fight which involved flinging dirty laundry and their stocking gifts at each other. Charming, I know. The upshot being this:
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? The unbroken circle of my underpants leg magically looped on this closed loop of metal wire. Homemade brainteaser puzzle. Anyway, it took two college educated adults half a day to figure out how to separate them. Not sure if I feel very clever or not very clever at all.
I saw my parents for the holiday. During dinner, my dad got pretty confused while helping my mom serve guests.
He tried to give a plate of food to someone who already had one. For long moments after the guest explained she’d already been served, my dad stood in front of her, holding out the plate, not understanding what to do. There was this horribly awkward silence and people (me included) averted their eyes. Finally, my dad simply set the second plate down in front of the guest. I guess that in lieu of not being able to resolve the problem himself (e.g., if someone already has a plate, give the full plate to someone who doesn’t yet have one ), he trusted what my mom had told him (e.g., please take this plate to Mrs. X).
To me, it didn’t seem like the same level of forgetfulness he had a year ago. It made me worry about what might be going on when we’re not around: How could you find yourself in periods of such confusion without all this anger accumulating? How could you not be mad at the people who averted their eyes when you were vulnerable? If that was me, I’d be so pissed off, and scared, and lost. And fuck it. This IS me, overwhelmed, pissed off, and scared by all those things. They’re not even happening to me.
My mom took me shopping the next day, which is, was, and forever will be known as a huge fucking disaster. Every year, my mom wants to take me shopping for my birthday. But really, this pilgrimage between my mother and me is a fucked up catharsis in which she pretends she’s forgotten that I loathe trying on clothes worse than a root canal. Like any ritual, it begins when she says, “I want to get you something special for your birthday. Let’s go shopping.” And in my well-worn, online-purchased, ill-fitting clothes, it is hard to argue. But I do.
I tell her I don’t want to go about five times before I give in and drag my ass out so she can dress me in old lady clothes that I’ll never wear. It is my perennial Charlie Brown moment, always hoping it will go differently, that everything will fit and I won’t look like I’m dressed as Barbara Bush for Halloween.
But what happens: My mother leads me to Macy’s/ Chico’s/old lady boutique, and I have to look at my own naked body in fluorescent lights. In the dressing room, I am stripped of my notions that I am cute with a reasonably cute figure. In every outfit I put on, I’m forced to face the fact that my arms are huge and I have cankles. Muffin top or swimming in a rowboat of fabric, size mammoth. By the tenth pair of ill-fitting jeans, I am a human whale. They don’t even make clothes that fit my misshapen ogre ass. The three-way mirror assures I have piglet pink skin and a saggy double chin. Surely, the Most Perfect Way To Spend Your Birthday Ever.
By that time, I’ve started crying in the dressing stall. Undeterred, my mom throws a dozen hideous outfits over the top of the door before running off again. I am standing in a bra and pants with the pleats blossoming out like origami balloons, waiting for her to return so I can show her I am having no fucking luck whatsoever. But she doesn’t come back and I can’t bear looking at myself anymore, so I peel everything off like I’m some overripe banana. I get strangled by those invisible plastic tapes they hide inside some shirts. Even though I double-dosed the deodorant, I’m starting to stink. Finally I have to scream, “Do not bring another fucking thing. I am getting dressed and I am leaving!”
My mother always yells back from some farthest corner of the store, “Just try on those last few things!” I wonder if perhaps I am just being an asshole. It’s probably the delirium onset from dehydration. She sounds so happy! So I try on three more things, and they are hideous, but they were the last items on hangers. Daughterly duty done.
Gratefully yank on my own pants. She dumps five more outfits over the top of the door. And when I whimper through the slatted door: please,dear god, I’m really done, I hear her sigh deeply. She says, “Well… let’s at least buy all the rest of these things, and you can try them on at home, and I’ll bring the ones you don’t like back.”
The sales woman’s eyes light up like a jackpot. I can’t see this happen, since I’m under the avalanche of clothes inside the dressing stall, but I know they do because I can hear the ding-ding-ding coming from her ears, and the flashing lights strobe the carpet near my feet.
From under the hot, sweaty pile of shitty clothes, I scream, “Get me the living fuck out of here!” I can’t open the door to escape because there are so many clothes shoved inside my stall.
My mom and the sales lady dig me out, and neither seems to understand why I refuse to let mom purchase a single item of clothing. The sales lady shoots daggers at me, cursing under her breath that I’m such a spoiled bitch and there goes her commission. I shoot daggers back – why does she think I’m the kind of person who’d be caught dead in a fishnet pink leisure suit? How about that purple/orange houndstooth shoulder-padded nightmare? Lycra jeggings with booty implants?
All the way home, Mom tries to reframe the day as ‘a learning process’ and eventually I escape to my room where I have to reconsider whether or not I should have let her spend a thousand dollars to dress me like I was Macklemore. But mostly, that afternoon drive is all about trying not to cry in front of her while as I begin the process of repressing any memory of the past twenty four hours.
But this time, I ask her about Dad.
“I’m sad about what’s happening,” she says. “But I know it’s also part of life.” After a moment, I tell her how I’m worried how he’ll deal with this change in his abilities. The dad of my childhood was a creature driven to excellence, aggravated by a long slope in anyone’s learning process. When I was a teenager he took me golfing. Irritated that I wasn’t that good, he decided to follow me around the golf course with a video camera, so he could show me in depth all the things I was doing wrong with my swing. Don’t think I’ve played the game since, now that I think on it.
He also once diagnosed a kid with a rare genetic anomaly by noticing her hands at a dinner party. The kid’s mom burst into tears – she’d known something was wrong, but it had taken two years before any specialist could tell her what was going on.
“Fuck you! Where were you when we didn’t know?!” She yelled at my dad when he mentioned it, full f bomb in a room full of people, not having met my dad before that day. He felt guilty. As if somehow he could’ve helped that kid by running into them sooner. How would my dad’s ego survive not being the sharpest person in the room anymore? What about not even being in the top half?
“Then you are missing the best part of your father,” she says to me. “He knows what’s happening to him. Does he seem angry to you?”
Her question makes me remember how he’d set down that second dinner plate with a smile and a shrug. He hadn’t seemed angry, only confused. I run back through the other memories of this visit. He’s stumbled on a forgotten word or lost train of thought, only to smile wanly, apparently knowing he’s lost but not how to get back to where he was. It’s always been me that’s angry and scared. Not him. In the car, my mother is crying. “Your dad has always been more than smart,” she says. “He’s a courageous fucker too.”