CONVERSATION WITH MY MOTHER LAST NIGHT
ME: So I’ve been working this week on a story about angry women.
ME: I’m unnerved how even writing about being an angry woman feels dangerous. And then feeling stupid for being so scared. They’re just words in a story.
Mom: Being an angry woman IS dangerous. It shouldn’t be, and sometimes people pretend it isn’t. But it is. It can be.
ME: So basically, this character I’m writing has a sexual abuse history and has gone a little insane in Trump’s ‘grab em by the pussy’ America. She gets sucked into accidental revenge on a real deserving dickhead.
ME: I’m real nervous about putting it up, what it might say about me. But at the same time, I can’t change it. It has to be that way.
ME: But I’m scared.
Mom: *big sigh*
Mom: Well, as long as you make it funny.
ME:…. *head explodes, dies from internal injuries from suppressed, hysterical laughter at this requirement*
Reanimated ME, deadpan: It is.
Little called a week or so ago. After our last conversation, I hadn’t reached out, although it didn’t break any established habits not to do so.
Since I last posted about her, I’d been thinking about your questions, in regards to behavior. It’s always so interesting to find what other people think is socially inappropriate!
In my family, my mother used to always say, “I’ll tell you if you have spinach between your teeth,” with the explanation that she loved us enough to tell us the truth, even if it wasn’t pretty.
It became code within our family – my sisters or mother might tell unpleasant truths, but the love and trust between us meant the information was to help and not harm.
To say ‘don’t tell me,’ as I did to Little, was me firing the first shot, violating our family’s pact by refusing the contract of love/trust/truth.
Anyway, our phone conversation = a bit awkward. Little asked about my life, and I answered, testing her response to varying degrees of personal information. Each thing I said, she reframed in a negative light.
For example, I told her about a business venture I felt ambivalent about, because I’m not super skilled in business matters. I said, “It’s a big learning curve for sure.”
She said, “Wow that sucks,” and “too bad it’s not working out for you.”
I told her the kids were busy with sports. She said it was too bad I was so busy.
Then she said something she’d mentioned before, maybe a year ago. “I always call you, and leave a message, and you never get back to me. It makes me feel bad, like I’m not important to you.”
This accusation is completely true, except for the part that Little’s not important to me.
I do often get messages and don’t call back. Am an asshole that way. My only defense – I usually have to wait until after 8 pm to call anyone, as my day with kids/work + other people’s working hours doesn’t afford open blocks of time until night.
Which is usually when I’m crawling into the shower, and then bed, exhausted. Phone callers must fend for themselves.
But also probably true that on my Top Ten list of People I’d Jump Over a Chair to Reach the Phone, anyone I suspect is just calling to touch base/stay in contact/ be friends usually gets a hard pass. So maybe Little has a nub of truth about all of it. See rule #1: I’m an asshole.
Then she told me the baby is pulling out her hair when he nurses, and he won’t stop, and did I know any tricks?
That’s when it finally occurred to me that maybe Little’s acting like such a tremendous jerk because she’s miserable. Maybe she sees my life in such a negative light because she’s in a place where everything is shaded by pessimism and depression.
I had to do an accounting of how easy it was for me to write her off as an asshole, when she’s had a whole lifetime of being my sister and NOT being an asshole.
I was a bit ashamed. It’s not just my family that blew up, but hers too. She lost a child about this time two years ago, and probably every day this season has an anniversary of something mournful. Her dad has dementia, and her own sisters won’t call her back, even though she calls them and asks about their days. She’s got a baby that pulls her hair out by the roots, and God, don’t I remember those days when a baby hurts you, and your instant, exhausted reaction is rage, but you can’t rage at a baby, and so they laugh at the game that is literally making you weep.
“God, I’m trying to remember a trick to get kids to stop doing that,” I said. “But mostly, I’m just thinking how glad I am to be past that stage.” Which felt like a bad thing to say, but I said it anyway.
“I’m sure big kids have shitty behaviors too.” she said, remaining true to her negative reframe.
I was thinking how (knock wood) they at least don’t rip out your hair while draining you of life juice out the nipple. But I didn’t say anything, because Little might have been crying a bit.
So maybe I can do a little better in the future. Even if Little’s acting like a total buttwad lately.